October 2010 Archives

To Be Nothing

| No Comments

Earlier this summer, a friend was flipping through my sketchbook on the subway. She came across a page where I had hastily drawn an atmospheric, ephemeral sort of idea with a figure-type shape that was distorted in a field, as if dissipated through the focus going soft, to become a light, energetic point in the midst of gradients of color. (That was the idea, anyway - the drawing itself was some wavy lines on green paper.) To me, it was a moment of sublimation, clarity, freedom -- of connecting with the universe on an existential level and vibrating at just the right frequency to exist wholly in the present moment. I dug that feeling, and I scribbled beneath it "the sense of being nothing at all."

My friend frowned and said, "Oh, that's so sad!"

I was perplexed by what she meant -- had she stumbled on my unsuccessful attempt at a chiaroscuro landscape? She pointed to the phrase and gave me a sympathetic look. It still took me a bit to figure out why those were sad words, until I realized that she was reading them in terms of insignificance, meaninglessness, and neglect. Her take on "being" was somewhat synonymous with mattering, and she elaborated that to be nothing was to have no existence of importance, that you're not even a thing.

I've thought here and there about our different interpretations of that idea and where we each were coming from. She was at a place in her life where she was seeking definitions, I think, while I was trying to shirk mine and escape the things that were overwhelming me. To me, "being" was a term loaded with pressure and expectations, demands for consistency of character and logical actions. Being meant maintaining who I was and behaving accordingly. Being all that I'd been meant forging a future that demonstrated the potential generated by my attributes and circumstances and my various attempts at living up to it (tell me that doesn't sound like a total drag, all the time). Being meant carrying all the emotional baggage I had to carry and wearing elated smile lines and heartbreak equally on a brave face. Being, when you really think about it, is a genuinely exhausting task, and when I was in that place, the idea of Not Being, or of Being Nothing, was as close as I could imagine to peace.

After spending some time together last spring, a different friend said it was the first time he'd felt at ease in a long while. I wanted to ask why, or what he was thinking to put such a great smile on his face, but I saw there was no point: finally, he wasn't thinking about anything at all, and that's why he was so content. I think about that smile from time to time, the palpable relief in catching one's breath and remembering not to take everything so seriously, and it puts me at ease too. Somewhere in this world, someone is sinking into a sand chair and inhaling the scent of the ocean. Cats are napping in the sunshine, lovers hold hands in their sleep.

I have been on a quest for simplicity and gentleness in my life, and mostly I've been finding it. I've been trying to calm down, remind myself that there is plenty of time to do all I'm trying to, and that at the end of the day, everything is okay.

I've been trying really hard to think positively and eliminate the really awful things I say to and about myself (again, with varying success and plenty of relapses). I still get worked up about things and consumed with anxiety and stress, but I'm getting better at calming down and recentering, so I can focus on one thing at a time. I've been breathing.

Since this summer, I've adjusted my system of rewards. I used to frame goals around what I would get to do or be if I achieved them, but that in itself is a tremendous weight to carry. Lately, I tell myself that when I finish all the tasks at hand, I can rest and I don't have to do or be anything. I can do nothing. I can be nothing. I can have perfect stillness and calm, and from that place of peace, when I am ready and unconstrained with Being, I can become anything I want.

Terrific night at the opera

| No Comments

Last season I saw at least a dozen performances at the Metropolitan Opera, but I hardly wrote about any of them. Having arranged a pretty spectacular subscription for this season, I've resolved to remedy that tendency.

I was very excited over the summer when I read about Agnes Varis, an extraordinarily generous woman and new personal hero. Among her other philanthropic projects, she felt it was important to target younger patrons by making orchestra seats available on the weekend for $25 instead of the going rate of around $130-320. Each Monday there is a drawing, and the winners can buy these specially-priced tickets for that Saturday's matinee and evening performances.

This week my mother and I were both fortunate enough to win in the drawing for the evening performance of Rigoletto. Because we selected our tickets for purchase within seconds of one another, we really lucked out and got four seats together, in an incredible location.

We invited our friends Nancy and Maria to join us - Nancy took the train in with my mom and the three of us had dinner at Il Melograno, then we met Maria at the Met. I would be remiss if I didn't show you the amazing dinner I had: a special tagliatelle with lobster and herbs in a light tomato sauce.

I really love pretty food.

We were all stunned by how close we were sitting to the stage. My mother and I had been in nearly the same section when I got student tickets in the orchestra for two other performances, but it's still startling to be so close I can see the facial expressions and every detail of the singers' costumes. The orchestra, obviously, sounds amazing when you are that close, and the power of the voices resonates in your chest. It's an incredible experience, and my mother and I repeatedly agreed during the intermissions that we could certainly get used to this.

The cast of this particular production had apparently had a rough opening night, and critics had been calling them out for it (that was probably the gentlest review I read). I think by our performance, the tenor Francesco Meli had sorted out whatever illness or nerves were troubling him, and he gave a splendid performance as the Duke. I have a very particular relationship with that role, since it was as the Duke that we first fell in love with my favorite tenor, Joseph Calleja. Realizing that Meli probably could not top that amazing performance, I still thought he was great and really enjoyed his voice.

Our Rigoletto, sung by Lado Ataneli, was superb. He was almost too handsome, with too smooth and beautiful a baritone voice, to be believable as a corrupt, vengeance-obsessed hunchback. I say that playfully, as his acting was great and he really conveyed the complexity and struggle of such a fascinating character, without the unnatural strain or awkwardness I've sometimes seen. I plan to keep an eye out for him in future.

I wasn't in love with Andrea Silvestrelli as the assassin Sparafucile at first, though I rarely love basses. Something about his diction or tone was a little murky to me, and I realize that he's meant to be a foreigner (hence the accent) and an unlikable sort, but his first few phrases were distractingly gravelly. His acting was marvelous, though, and he captured an ambiguity and reluctance I haven't seen to that extent in portrayals of Sparafucile before. That aspect of his performance won me over and I became quite fond of him by the end.

Our Gilda and Maddalena (sung by Christine Schäfer and Nino Surguladze respectively) were both lovely, and I particularly enjoyed this Maddalena's sensuality and physicality in her performance. While the plot of Rigoletto revolves around women and their honor, I think it can become all about the men and their egos sometimes. Rigoletto seeks revenge on the Duke for deflowering and betraying his daughter, yet he becomes so wrapped up in his frothy wrath to defend her honor and extract his revenge that she ends up brutally murdered by the assassin he hired. To that end, in performances, I've seen sopranos take on Gilda as the picture of light and innocence so she feels like a hapless victim, but Schäfer gave just enough thoughtful pause and contemplative expression to communicate her culpability in deceiving her father, then coming back to Sparafucile's house to die in the Duke's place.

Our friend Nancy pointed out that every character in Rigoletto was flawed or corrupt in some way, even down to Gilda's maid taking a bribe. This facet of the opera makes it really enjoyable to me, since it deals with big, powerful emotions at the level of complexity and ambiguity they deserve.

One question often posed about Rigoletto is whether the Duke actually loves Gilda, or if she was simply another conquest, and every time I think about it, I change my opinion. This performance preserved that uncertainty, and I've enjoyed thinking about it all over again.

Aside from the opera itself, which I obviously enjoyed, it was a real treat to see good friends and my mama, and to kick off the '10-'11 season earlier than expected. There is something magical about the ritual of getting dressed up and going to Lincoln Center that I patently adore, and I look forward to many more evenings at the opera.

Bonus: I was even able to wear my very favorite black leather peep-toe heels all night without incident even though the last time I wore them they cut my feet up so badly I thought they would fill with blood. Why they remained my favorites all this time in spite of that fact is a mystery as nonsensical as Gilda dying for a cad, but there you have it.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

September 2010 is the previous archive.

November 2010 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.