Archive | February, 2014

The Great Email Purge Of 2014

27 Feb

I am terrified of the television show “Hoarders.” Not only because they find dead things buried under years of hamburger wrappers and old Lillian Vernon catalogues, but because I’m scared that I could quite easily become a hoarder myself. Understand that my personal definition of hoarding is not defined by what we are shown on TV, but by what my mother would consider hoarding. That is to say, what most other people would just consider clutter.

When I first moved to New York, I shared a one-and-a-half room apartment with my friend Jennifer for a few weeks before moving into my first place with her boyfriend, Charlie. He ended up staying at her place, which got crowded, and I had a large first floor apartment basically to myself, so we eventually switched places and I took Jenn’s apartment and she and Charlie stayed in the bigger place. Jenn’s place was furnished, and I had furniture of my own, so the one and half rooms filled up very quickly. I had no intention of staying in that apartment very long – there was no kitchen and I had to share a bathroom in the hallway with everyone else that lived on my floor – so I kept all my moving boxes so I wouldn’t have to buy more when the time came to move out. No one was more surprised than I when it took me 2 years to leave that place.

One can accumulate a lot of things in two years. I seem to accumulate mail. I have an ever-increasing fear of identity theft, so I don’t ever throw anything out that has my personal information on it unless it’s been shredded first. I’ve already blown out the motors on two shredders. I also have a fear of the IRS coming after me and demanding I present all my bank and credit card statements to them. Why they would do this, I couldn’t say, but I never said the fear was rational. So I have shoeboxes full of old bank and credit card and student loan statements in my storage unit in New York. I should probably throw them out or spend the time to scan them into my computer and throw out the hard copies, but that requires time. And a scanner. And who has either of those these days? Not me!

I am always amazed at how much junk I tend to accumulate. Every time I move – and that’s been a lot – especially since The Incident – I get angry at myself for the amount of clothing and paper and books and just…stuff…that I’ve collected and then I spend far more time that I’d like to sort through everything and purge.

Purging is hard, though. You have to let go and trust that you will not, in fact, wear that t-shirt that you bought at Old Navy three years ago ever again not only because the armpits are stained and it doesn’t fit you anymore, but because there will always be more $12 graphic tees at Old Navy. That you don’t have to feel guilty about throwing out those personalized flip flops from so-and-so’s beach wedding 9 months ago or that birthday card that your grandmother sent you because really, no one else has to know but you. But I still feel guilty sometimes.

Last night I started to get frustrated with myself not because of the amount of stuff I’ve accumulated in my suitcases, but how much stuff seems to be taking up space on the hard drive of my MacBook. It’s a 320GB hard drive and I only have 50GB of space left. How is that possible? All of my music and movies are stored on external hard drives. The last time I checked, I only had 90GB of photos on my computer – now I have over 200GB. I don’t know how that happened. Then I took at look at my email accounts and realized that I had over 2000 “archived” emails – most of which could be tossed (and many that I thought I had already deleted). I may be hesitant to let go of things, but even I can recognize that I have no need for dozens of emails from Lumosity and Groupon or notifications from Facebook that someone mentioned me in a comment from four years ago.

So I began the arduous task of sorting through and deleting non-essential emails. I started by doing specific searches for things like LivingSocial and Groupon and then moved up to old emails from Flashdance and Evita from last year that I don’t need anymore. Like I said, non-essential stuff. Even after clearing out all of that stuff, I still had about 1700 archived emails, so I decided to start from the very beginning. I’ve heard it’s a very good place to start.

I scrolled all the way down to the bottom of my archives file and started deleting, one by one, all the emails I didn’t need. The archive went back to 2009 and, while there were some emails I decided to keep, I tossed most of them. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was the journey back in time as I read each subject line, revisiting events in my life that were both marvelous and humiliating…joyful and painful. There were the emails from the marketing/promo company that I worked for – a job that had been a life saver that turned sour. I traced my history with them from the day I was hired up to the day that I was fired from a promotion because of my looks, reliving and remembering all of the humiliating details. Emails back and forth from my employers at the other merchandise company I worked for in New York with abbreviations that no longer make sense to me, though I know they did back then. Shift requests and scheduling emails and emails about signing contracts for my tour of Junie B. Jones, about which I was so excited. And then the emails after Junie B. and The Incident between me and my former roommate about when I would be in to collect my things. The seemingly endless correspondence looking for places to live. It was a lot to take in.

Then I started finding the emails about Japan. “You should audition this year,” and “Welcome to DOC 2011!” Emails sent between cast mates before we’d even met one another, messages from our producers in Tokyo. I kept those. And then the return to New York…buying tickets to see Barry Manilow and Barbra Streisand in concert…unemployment paperwork…job offers from the company I work for now. It was all there. And then there was the paper trail of emails from the marketing company after things changed and I was no longer the golden child and eventually was let go for being “imperfect” and “overly emotional.” I was happy to delete those.

It’s amazing to me how quickly I was taken back to how I felt when I wrote each of those emails. The emotions still there, raw, captured in time on my computer screen whether I wanted to acknowledge them or not. But, hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and looking back of the narrative of the last two years that I was in New York actually opened my eyes to just how miserable I really was compared to where I am now and where I hope to be in a few months. I couldn’t believe how much I was hustling to secure work to just pay my rent and barely get by. I had emails from the promo company saying, “Sorry – we can’t get you on the schedule…we’ve filled all the available shifts in the 2 minutes since we sent out the first email.” You know what I didn’t have a lot of emails about? Auditions. Singing. Acting. Almost none, in fact. There were a lot that pertained to looking for places to live – I ended up moving to new places almost every 5 months after The Incident because of money issues. There were a few emails about flying home for the holidays or pathetic, halfhearted attempts at meeting people online through dating sites. I wasn’t living the life I wanted. I wasn’t having any fun. I was surviving – not living.

I’ve recently been accused of sounding unhappy with my job and my life as it is on the road by a “friend” on Facebook. While there may be a tiny amount of truth to that – I am starting to nest and plan for my new apartment in San Diego, though I have no idea when that move will be happening – I can honestly say that I am in such a better place now than I was 2 or 3 years ago. I’m certainly happier and more stable than I was just before I left New York, and honestly, I think a lot of that has to do with being away from New York. Yes, I’m fatter. Yes, I miss my friends in New York and sometimes I get very lonely and yes, I deal with idiots every day, but I don’t worry anymore that the FBI is going to come to my door. I don’t get calls from collection agencies anymore. I’ve seen parts of the country I never imagined I’d get to see. I’ve made dear, dear friends and I’ve decided what I want to do next. Those are all good things in my book.

Today as I was purging I posted this status on Facebook:

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My friend Ryan commented a few minutes later, simply saying, “It’s liberating clearing out that inbox, isn’t it?”

Yes, it really is.


Zoobilee Zoo…Cincinnati Style

22 Feb

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The MerchWhore And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

21 Feb


You know those days where things just don’t go your way? The guy at McDonald’s put extra onions on the cheeseburger your ordered without onions. Your favorite sweater came back from the cleaners with a loose thread that ended up unraveling the whole thing. Your dog peed on your bed. You know how frustrating that can be, right?

Now imagine that, only you’re nowhere near home. It stinks.

After our bitterly cold week in Milwaukee we had a much needed week off, so I flew home to Kentucky to stay with my family. It was a pretty nice stay – fairly relaxed and chock full of heavy foods (and the subsequent acid reflux), sweet tea and lots of time playing with the dog. It was relaxing and allowed me to decompress a little. It was great.

Because our next city was Cincinnati, which is only an hour and a half from my parents’ place, my Dad drove me up on Tuesday afternoon and dropped me off at the Millennium Hotel in downtown Cincy. Now, when I think of the Millennium Hotel, I think of the high-end skyscraper hotel in midtown Manhattan, so I was very excited to think that we were staying in the same chain here. Unfortunately, the Cincinnati property is not so high-end, but it’s certainly not the worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in. I dropped my bags and a couple of weeks’ worth of snacks and canned sodas off in the room and headed to the venue to load in the show.

When I arrived at the theatre, I discovered that one of the new casters on the booth had not just broken, but had broken in half with a clean break, so the caster was flat on one side. I don’t even know how that’s possible – I’ve never seen anything like it before – but our head carpenter, Noah, came out and replaced the wheel like a boss and the night went swimmingly. After the show I ran into a couple of the cast members and we decided to meet up and order a pizza in their room.

How does a wheel even break like this?

How does a wheel even break like this?

We decided on Domino’s, and so Ryan called the nearest store and tried to place an order. After being on hold for more than 10 minutes, he was told that he’d called the wrong store – they didn’t deliver to our address – and he was given the number of another Domino’s that was actually further away. He was on hold with the second store for 20 minutes before they finally answered and one hour later our food was finally delivered. Whatever…we had been watching Jimmy Fallon and the Olympics and part of “Titanic,” so we didn’t care too much, but still…an hour and half to get a pizza??

Wednesday was a low-key day spent in the hotel, but I left early enough to stop at Skyline Chili, which is famous for their Cincinnati-style chili, which has cinnamon in it and is served over spaghetti under about 10 pounds of shredded cheese. After about four bites of the stuff, I paid the bill and left. I know many people love it, but that was some of the most disgusting stuff I’ve ever eaten. By the time I got home from the show I was starving, and I had enjoyed our pizza so much the night before that I decided to order one for myself, so I put in an online order with Domino’s and enjoyed my pepperoni, beef and green pepper pizza for the second night in a row.

Skyline's Cincinnati-style Chili

Skyline’s Cincinnati-style Chili

Thursday I planned to venture out and visit a museum or two in town. I specifically had decided on the National Underground Railroad Museum and maybe the Harriet Beecher Stowe house if there was time. I invited the entire company to come along if anyone wanted to. Apparently no one did, so I stayed in and started to get stir crazy. I left in time to get some dinner at the Chipotle that I’d found on my AroundMe app on my phone. Of course I couldn’t find the Chipotle, so I ended up at Subway. Still, I ate before the show and everything seemed to be going well until I got an email from our company managers. Apparently there was a bed bug scare in the hotel and we were being offered the chance to move to another hotel a few blocks away (and closer to the theatre). I had planned on going back to Louisville on Sunday night after the show, so I thought it would be silly to move for just two days, so I decided to stay at the Millennium…stick it out…stiff upper lip and all that. The hotel wasn’t that bad and, having had bed bugs back in New York, I’d have been keenly aware if I’d been bitten by anything. Still, it leaves one a little unnerved.

The night just went downhill from that email. My sales were absolutely abysmal – maybe the worst night I’ve ever had on the road. I mean…awful. By the time I got out of work, I was hungry, so I went across the street to the tavern that I’d heard had a late night menu. I walked in the door at 10:15 and the woman who greeted me told me the kitchen had closed at 10:00, but I was welcome to call in future orders at 9:45 and pick it up when I finished with work – usually around 10:30 or 10:45 if I’m busy. As appealing as cold food sounds, I think I’ll pass on that idea.

I headed back to the hotel, hoping to find something that was open, but everything near our hotel apparently shuts down at dusk. I mean, not one thing was open. The area near our hotel is strangely dark and eerily desolate – there’s no light and no one on the street. There’s also a huge construction site on the backside of the hotel – another reason people were eager to move. It’s gigantic and dark and not somewhere I want to be by myself late at night. When I got “home,” I went to the restaurant/bar in the hotel and asked to see a menu. It was 10:20 and I was told that the kitchen had just closed, but I could still order room service until 11:00. (Isn’t the food all coming from the same kitchen?)

I resigned myself to breaking my “No Room Service” policy and dashed up to my room to look over the menu and get the call in before 11:00. I tried the Room Service extension four times and each time I called I got an automated message from Verizon Wireless. Certain that the extension was incorrect, I called the front desk and asked them to connect me directly. I got the same voice message twice more. I decided to try one last time and lo and behold the call was answered!!

The menu listed the hamburger plate (a burger and fries) as $10 plus $.50 for cheese. That’s $3 cheaper than a salad, by the way. Before I hung up the phone, the woman on the other end of the line said, “OK…with tax, delivery charge and tip that’ll be $18.50.” I called her back and cancelled the order. I’d seen someone downstairs with one of their burgers, and it certainly didn’t look like an $18 burger to me.

I went downstairs to the front desk and asked for delivery menus – anything that wasn’t pizza. They handed me a Chinese take-out menu for a restaurant that had closed just 5 minutes before. The only other option was Rosa’s – an Italian place known for their pizzas. By this time I was fuming. I knew I had leftover pizza in the fridge upstairs, but I really didn’t want pizza for a third night in a row. But I ate it. I choked down two slices and had to put it away. If I’d eaten another slice, I’d have thrown it back up. I don’t want to look at another pizza….maybe ever.

After begrudgingly eating my cold pizza, I settled into bed to watch the ladies’ figure skating finals. The wind had started to pick up and I heard some rain hitting my windows, but we knew that some storms were supposed to come through. No big deal. Just after Ashley Wagner finished her freestyle program, however, the cable went out. No more TV. Not long after that, the internet cut out. It wasn’t even 12:30 yet! Luckily, Ryan had invited me over to his room to watch a movie, and his internet was working, so I was able to keep myself occupied for the rest of the evening. But I missed the rest of the figure skating finals. The cable still wasn’t back on at 11:00 this morning.

I made a plan to cheer myself up by going to the Cincinnati Zoo today. I decided I would wake up early and take a cab out there and just spend the day shooting pictures and taking in the sunshine. I ended up sleeping a little later than I’d planned, but I still had plenty of time – the zoo is only 3 miles from the hotel, so by cab it should have only taken about 10 minutes. I showered, I ate breakfast and I headed downstairs out to the valet station where I was told I could get a cab.

The valet walked over to the three cabs that were parked out front and started talking to the drivers. Of the three cabbies, only one was willing to drive me the 3 miles to the zoo and, of course, he took the longest route possible to get there. He offered to give me his number for when I was ready to come back, but considering it was $22 to go just 3 miles, I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I was certain I could get a cab to take me back and cheaper. Yeah…about that…

The zoo was great. The temperature was chilly but not cold, the sun was out though most of the animals weren’t and there was no one there. Well…that’s not true. There was a family that kept taunting the snow leopards, including the father who kept sticking his fingers between the wooden slates of the exhibit gate. I overheard him say, “They keep biting at my fingers!” and I secretly wished they’d take one off, just to teach him a lesson. He taunted them so much that I actually considered finding a zookeeper and reporting him, but there weren’t any to be found. I wonder if he made it out alive today?

I wanted to make sure I left for the hotel with plenty of cushion time for traffic and such. As fun as these little excursions can be, I’m here for work, so I have to make sure I get there on time. Our company managers send us what’s called a city sheet every week for each new city we go to. On that sheet are the names, addresses and phone numbers of various hospitals, doctors, hotels, restaurants, points of interest, etc. as well as taxi companies, so that’s where I went first to call a cab. I called Company A at 3:40 and they told me they’d be there in 15-20 minutes to pick me up. By 3:48 they’d called back and left a message saying they wouldn’t be able to make it. At all. So I called Company B. They also told me 20 minutes. After 30 minutes, they still hadn’t shown up, so I called back and the dispatcher hung up on me. I called the hotel for more taxi suggestions and they connected me to Company C who told me they didn’t have any cabs in Cincinnati. Huh?? I then took to my iPhone and started searching for cab companies. By this time it was 4:30 and my goal had been to be home by then. I called two more companies (that’s D and E, for those of you keeping track) before one finally could guarantee me that the driver would show up, which he did – 15 minutes later. Because it was so late in the day, and on a Friday, no less, the traffic was kind of bad and again the ride ended up being about $17. With the exception of the San Diego Zoo, this might have been my most expensive zoo day yet.

I try not to complain too much – I really do. I may make jokes and poke fun at the stupid things that people say and do, but I try to keep away from full-out complaining and whining about things because that generally does no good and turns people off. And there is a difference between being sarcastic and sardonic and just flat-out complaining, by the way, but sometimes you just have those weeks on tour when you just hate whatever bloody city you’re in.

Some of my friends that live in Cincinnati seem to have taken some offense to my frustration with their city. I commend people for sticking up for their home, but living here and being stuck here for two weeks with no car and no way of getting food after 10pm are two totally different things. Having to move mid-week because of bed bugs – or even the threat of bed bugs – isn’t something someone who lives here typically has to deal with. Or maybe it is – Cincinnati is the #2 city for bed bug infestations in the country according to a 2012 survey by Terminix. Cincinnasty! (To be fair, New York was #3). I’ve never been to any city where I’ve had to call five different cab companies to get service, but since I don’t have a car, it was the only way I knew of to get home. People who live here know where to go and what parts of town to avoid and while the denizens of Cincinnati may know or claim it’s safe, I don’t know that as a visitor. The area around our hotel certainly doesn’t feel safe or comfortable. A friend of mine who lives here now used the “you used to live in New York, walking around at all hours of the night” retort when I said I didn’t feel comfortable walking back to the hotel late at night, but the difference is that you are surrounded by people in New York. Here, the streets are completely quiet. There’s no one out. No one to help you if you’re in trouble…no safety in numbers. This is, of course, no one’s fault, but all of these things added together have made for a miserable two or three days and the prospect of 8 more days of it makes it all the more maddening.

One silver lining? I’m supposed to have dinner between shows tomorrow with one of my very best friends from middle and high school and his wife. I think we may be having breakfast on Sunday before the show, as well. Wade and Jenny are expecting their first child together very soon, so I’m glad I’ll get to see them for a bit before things get really hectic in their lives. I’m also supposed to meet a friend from college for lunch at some point next week and a friend from Dayton is coming down next Saturday to see the show, so we’ll have dinner Saturday night before the show, as well. All good things. It’s getting through the rest of our time here that concerns me. Still, I’m going to try to have a better outlook on things the rest of the week. We’ll see how that works out…I’m nearly out of Twinkies and I can’t make any promises once those are gone.

Have you been to Cincinnati? What did you do here? What do you recommend?

It’s Miller Time

17 Feb

I can’t believe it’s been 9 days since I last wrote an entry. Nine days since the 2014 Winter Olympics began in Sochi, Russia. These Olympics have been a bit confusing and disappointing, I think, for a lot of the American favorites, but one in particular has been having a particularly hard time with these Games, and not just because of the condition of the snow on which he’s been skiing.

Bode Miller, skiing in his fourth Olympics, came into these games with an enormous amount of pressure on him to go out on top, hoping to win Olympic gold and become the oldest skier in Olympic history to medal. He also had a lot of baggage coming into the games – his wife, Morgan, miscarried in January 2013 and his brother, snowboarder and 2014 Olympic hopeful Chelone “Chilly” Miller, passed away in April 2013 from a seizure that was apparently related to a head injury he suffered in a motorcycle accident a couple of years earlier.

Add to all of that the notorious inconsistence of the snow in Sochi, it’s no wonder Bode Miller hasn’t performed to people’s expectations. He did manage to tie for bronze in the Super-G alpine skiing event, making him the oldest Olympic alpine skiing medalist in history leaving him with the second-highest medal total for a male ski racer and tied for second among U.S. Winter Olympians in any sport. I think that’s pretty amazing.

Bode Miller with his 6th Olympic medal - the bronze he won for the Super-G alpine ski in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

Bode Miller with his 6th Olympic medal – the bronze he won for the Super-G alpine ski in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

What I didn’t think was amazing, however, was the post-race interview that NBC’s Christin Cooper – a former Olympian herself – conducted with Bode. It was to be expected that she would ask him about what the medal meant to him and how his brother figured into all of it. When Mr. Miller started getting choked up during his interview, Ms. Cooper continued to push the subject, asking him three more times about his dead brother.

: This was a little different. With my brother passing away, I really wanted to come back here and race the way he sends it. So this was a little different.

Cooper: Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here. What’s going through your mind?

Miller: (Long pause) A lot, obviously. A long struggle coming in here. And, uh, just a tough year.

Cooper: I know you wanted to be here with Chilly experiencing these games, how much does it mean to you to come up with a great performance for him? And was it for him?

Miller: I mean, I don’t know it’s really for him. But I wanted to come here and uh — I don’t know, I guess make my self proud. (Pauses, then wipes away tears.)

Cooper: When you’re looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it just looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?

Finally Miller broke down and fell to his knees on camera and had to remove himself from the interview.

NBC's Christin Cooper looks on as Bode Miller breaks down during their interview at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

NBC’s Christin Cooper looks on as Bode Miller breaks down during their interview at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

I understand that journalists have jobs to do, and this is a human interest story, but there’s a time and place for everything and there’s propriety – knowing when enough is enough. Couldn’t she have stopped with the first question about his brother when she could see that he was getting emotional? Yes, those questions would eventually be asked of him, but couldn’t they have been saved for Matt Lauer to ask during the late night interview after Mr. Miller had some time to catch his breath, hug his wife and sort out an emotion or two? Why did those questions have to be asked right then? What’s even ickier to me is that NBC had several hours to choose to edit out that section of the interview before it aired in the States and they chose to leave it in. You can watch the full interview here:  NBC’s Christin Cooper Makes Bode Miller Cry In Interview

Many have gone to the internet to share their feelings about Ms. Cooper’s interview and Bode Miller responded with a lot more class and dignity than I think I could have mustered:

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Bode Miller's response to Christin Cooper's interview with him on NBC following his bronze medal win in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Bode Miller’s response to Christin Cooper’s interview with him on NBC following his bronze medal win in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

So what do you think?

Sochi? Oh, Gee…

8 Feb

The Olympic rings. "...the six colors [including the flag’s white background] thus combined reproduce the colors of all the nations, with no exception. The blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the tri- colors of France, England and America, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, the yellow and red of Spain next to the novelties of Brazil or Australia, with old Japan and new China. Here is truly an international symbol." - Pierre de Coubertin

The Olympic rings. “…the six colors [including the flag’s white background] thus combined reproduce the colors of all the nations, with no exception. The blue and yellow of Sweden, the blue and white of Greece, the tri- colors of France, England and America, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, the yellow and red of Spain next to the novelties of Brazil or Australia, with old Japan and new China. Here is truly an international symbol.” – Pierre de Coubertin

Well, folks, they are here…the much-discussed, highly controversial 2014 Sochi Olympic Games have officially begun. I love the Olympics…summer or winter, it doesn’t matter. I am so inspired by what these folks are able to do – pushing their minds and bodies to their absolute limits for the bragging rights of being the best in the world at what they do. Sadly, I have a terrible memory for the names of a lot of the athletes who have inspired me in Olympics past, but the one that stands out most in my memory is that of Joannie Rochette who in 2010, just 2 days after her mother died of a heart attack, figure skated her way into the world’s hearts in memory of her mother, going on to eventually win the bronze metal. I simply cannot imagine what was going through her head or how difficult it must have been for her, but I remember being so proud of her and being in absolute awe of her strength. It still moves me today. In case you didn’t get to see her 2010 short program, you can watch it by clicking here.

The Olympics have always represented incredible strength, determination, peace and tolerance, but this year the Winter Olympics have drawn much criticism because of where they’re being held – Sochi, Russia – where Russian president Vladimir Putin has initiated a law banning all propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations.” Not exactly tolerant. Despite his claims that all gay people should feel welcomed and comfortable in Sochi, as long as they “leave [the] children in peace.” Because all gay people are also pedophiles…? The threat of imprisonment for what is still an unclear definition of what is considered “gay propaganda” and stories of  people being stoned or having bottles of urine thrown at them because of their sexual orientation have raised many concerns amongst human rights organizations and, obviously, the International Olympic Committee as well as heads of state around the world. President Obama is not attending, but in a sly move, sent Brian Boitano and Caitlin Cahow – two openly gay athletes – as delegates. Tennis legend Billie Jean King was also to attend, but had to bow out because of a family medical emergency. Unfortunately, her mother passed away a few hours ago. The Canadian Institute for Diversity and Inclusion released a commercial in response to Putin’s propaganda law. Here it is:

The Games being held in Russia this year are an opportunity for the country to try to reclaim some of its lost street cred. The U.S. and 64 other countries, including Canada and Japan, boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which was a huge blotch in the country’s Olympic history book. The early post-Soviet history of Russia has appeared to the world to be one embarrassment after another, but these Olympic games are a national symbol of pride, almost reassuring the Russian people that they, as a country, are back. But credible terrorist threats have already been made, raising more concern than usual about the safety of the athletes and spectators.  The entire world is watching, as it always does, but this time with more scrutiny. Russia has to get this right.

So far, things aren’t looking so good, though. Thanks to the immediacy of social media, the snafus and failures in Sochi (#SochiFail) so far have been publicized around the world – often with photographic evidence. Unfinished hotel rooms, hastily put-together toilets, live wires sticking out of walls next to shower heads, toilet stalls with two toilets and no privacy walls, unfinished paving and even painting dead grass green…it’s all been documented.

And then today, during the opening ceremony, during a moment when lighted snowflakes were supposed to open up into the five Olympic rings, this happened:

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremonies

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremonies

Yep…they screwed up what is the universal symbol of the very games that they are hosting. Officially, it was a stage manager’s fault. But while the rest of the world saw it happen in real time, the Russian TV affiliate broadcasting the games cut to rehearsal footage where the fifth ring actually opened so that the Russian people wouldn’t see. Karma?

Now, I don’t mean to focus only on what’s gone wrong so far. The Russians certainly pulled out all the stops for the opening ceremonies – unopened snowflake be damned! The ceremonies featured some of the most innovative (and coolest) projections I’ve ever seen and a state-of-the-art fly system that allowed gigantic set pieces to fly in, spin, flip and move independently of one another. In addition to the impressive amount of Russian classical music that was featured, there was a lovely section devoted to the Ballet Russes, featuring a huge corps and Bolshoi Theatre’s prima ballerina, Svetlana Zakharova, dancing as Rostova in a “War and Peace” ballet set to Eugen Doga’s “My Sweet and Tender Beast Waltz.” The Peace Dove presentation featured prima ballerina Diana Vishneva and a corps of twenty or so whirling dervishes in fringe-like LED costumes dancing to Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” of course. Anna Netrebko, one of the most famous operatic sopranos in the world, also made an appearance, singing the Olympic Anthem. It really was a pretty spectacular opening and it makes me curious to know what they could possibly have left to do for the Closing Ceremonies.

For the sake of the athletes, I hope for the best for these games and I hope we can get past the politics and support the young men and women who are living out their dreams on an international stage. Go USA!

Frozen: In Deutsche (Die Eiskönigin: Völlig Unverfroren)

6 Feb
Artwork for "Die Eiskönigin - Völlig Unverfroren" - the German version of Disney's "Frozen"

Artwork for “Die Eiskönigin – Völlig Unverfroren” – the German version of Disney’s “Frozen”

Continuing in our Foreign Language “Frozen” series, tonight we tackle the German version of “Let It Go,” or “Lass jetzt los,” which translates to “Let Go Now.” I always liked singing in German. There’s nothing like being able to clear your throat in the middle of a song. But seriously, I will preface this entry by stating that I do not speak German, but I have sung in German a lot, so I have a singer’s knowledge of the language. I am familiar with a lot of the vocabulary from having sung Brahms and Schumann and Schubert, but I am also relying heavily on my good friend Google Translate for much of the translation you’ll read below. So, if any German speakers out there happen to be reading and have a suggestion for a better translation, by all means – share it!!

Der Schnee glänzt weiß auf den Bergen heut Nacht
Keine Spuren sind zu sehen
Ein einsames Königreich und ich bin die Königin
Der Wind, er heult so wie der Sturm ganz tief in mir
Mich zu kontrollieren, ich hab es versucht
Lass sie nicht rein, lass sie nicht seh’n
Wie du bist, nein, das darf niemals gescheh’n!
Du darfst nichts fühlen, zeig ihnen nicht
Dein wahres Ich!

Ich lass los, lass jetzt los
Die Kraft sie ist grenzenlos!
Ich lass los, lass jetzt los
Und ich schlag die Türen zu!
Es ist Zeit, nun bin ich bereit
Und ein Sturm zieht auf
Die Kälte, sie ist nun ein Teil von mir

Es ist schon eigenartig, wie klein jetzt alles scheint
Und die Ängste, die in mir waren
Kommen nicht mehr an mich ran!
Was ich wohl alles machen kann?
Die Kraft in mir treibt mich voran
Was hinter mir liegt ist vorbei, endlich frei!

Ich lass los, lass jetzt los
Nun bin ich endlich soweit!
Ich lass los, lass jetzt los
Doch Tränen seht ihr nicht
Hier bin ich und bleibe hier!
Und ein Sturm zieht auf

Ich spüre diese Kraft, sie ist ein Teil von mir
Sie fließt in meine Seele und in all die Schönheit hier
Nur ein Gedanke und die Welt wird ganz aus Eis!
Ich geh nie mehr zurück, das ist Vergangenheit!

Ich bin frei, endlich frei!
Und ich fühl mich wie neugeboren
Ich bin frei, endlich frei
Was war ist jetzt vorbei!

Hier bin ich in dem hellen Licht!
Und ein Sturm zieht auf
Die Kälte, sie ist nun ein Teil von mir

The snow shines white on the mountains tonight
No traces are to be seen
A lonely Kingdom and I am the Queen.
The wind howls like the storm that’s deep in me
To control me, I’ve tried it.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
What you are, no, that must never happen!
You can not feel anything, do not show them
The real you!

I let go, let go now
The power is limitless!
I let go, let go now
And I will slam the doors!
It is time, now I’m ready
And a storm is coming
The cold, it is now a part of me.

It’s strange how small everything now seems
And the fears that were in me
Come not to get me!
What can I possibly do?
The strength in me keeps me going
What is behind me is gone, finally free!

I let go, let go now
Now I’m finally done!
I let go, let go now
But you don’t see me cry.
Here I am and here I stay!
And a storm is coming
I feel this force, it’s part of me.

It flows into my soul and in all the beauty here
Just a thought and the world is made ​​of ice!
I will never go back, that’s past!

I’m free, free at last!
And I feel like a new person
I’m free, free at last
What was is over now!

Here I am in the bright light!
And a storm is coming
The cold, it is now a part of me.

Of all the translations I’ve read so far, this is the closest to the original English lyrics. As I expected, it’s not terribly flowery or romantic like the French translation because…well, that’s not really what the Germans are known for, is it?

I also want to say that out of all the foreign versions of “Frozen” I’ve listened to, the German Elsa (Willemijn Verkaik) has one heck of a set of pipes on her. She may be my favorite Elsa next to Idina Menzel herself. Listen to this clip of the reprise of “For the First Time In Forever” (“Zum ersten Mal”) where you can hear her open up and screlt “NEIN! GEH WEG!” at 2:00. Let it go, fräulein!

America The Beautiful?

5 Feb

Two events happened this past Sunday that have sparked national conversations about two completely different problems that we face in America: addiction and racism. The discussion has permeated social media, continuing to flood Facebook and Twitter streams even four days later, as well as traditional media outlets following the sad death of Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman as well as a controversial Super Bowl commercial for Coke. 

I’m not fully prepared to write about my thoughts on Mr. Hoffman’s passing yet. There is a history of drug, alcohol and food abuse in my family and the subject just hits a little too close to home. I will say, however, that’s it’s very easy to be judgmental and shame addicts of any sort – drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, food, shopping, etc. – for their inability to control themselves, but addiction is a real illness that can often begin with one or two bad choices and, unfortunately, can end in death and heartbreak. I caution against judgment and encourage you to be compassionate. Mr. Hoffman had a family, though many would consider it unconventional or non-traditional because he wasn’t married to the mother of his three children. But let me repeat the most important part of that last statement: He had three children and a partner who loved him very much who are now grieving for the man they lost to a hateful, non-discriminatory disease. It affects every gender, race, and age and even “religious” people. Addiction exists not only in the ghettos and slums of our nation’s inner cities, but also in the posh suburbs, surrounded by white picket fences and lush green lawns where everything appears to be happy and healthy. Unless you are or were an addict or are close with someone who is or was, you cannot know what they go through. Show some compassion. God forbid, your brother or uncle or mother could be next.

That was an awfully long paragraph about something that I claimed to be unprepared to write about, wasn’t it? Moving right along…

The Coca Cola company stirred up a lot of controversy during the Super Bowl with their commercial in which people of different nationalities and creeds sang “America the Beautiful” in their native tongues. It also included the first gay couple to be shown in a Super Bowl commercial. And it spawned a new hashtag: #boycottcoke, along with a slew of ignorant tweets. Let’s have a look, shall we?

And now let’s read some of the tweets that followed.

BetterPlanet (@RefinedPlanet) wrote:
#boycottcoke after that over #coke display of unAmerican ideals on #Superbowl commercial. We speak ENGLISH in this country @coke

Caleb Riley (@c_riley10) wrote:
Since when is “America the Beautiful” sang in foreign languages? #English

spencinator (@taylorspencer3) wrote:
You can’t sing an American song in another language! #boycottcoke

Chase Floyd (@DiscJockeyChaZ) wrote:
This is an outrage. America the Beautiful in foreign languages #SuperBowlAds #boycottcoke

The Kevin (@Go_Kev) wrote:
Never buying coke again…America the Beautiful in a language other than English is just wrong. #boycottcoke #SuperBowl #commercial

And finally, d-stall (@dstallin) wrote:
Hey coca cola we live in the USA where we speak American #boycottcoke

Is “American” a universally recognized language now? I wasn’t aware. I thought that most of us spoke American English, but…that’s just a technicality. I mean…English is English, and it started here in good old ‘Murica, where, thanks to our efforts, “ridic” and “vacay” are now officially recognized in the Oxford English Language Dictionary! Am I right, Brits?*

But seriously…I just want to take a moment to share this little nugget with all of you. There is no official language for the United States, English or otherwise. Some states list English as their official language but, as a country, we are free to speak whatever language we choose. Freedom…wasn’t that something upon which this country was founded?

There is no official language for the United States of America, English or otherwise.

There is no official language for the United States of America, English or otherwise.

If so many people are so concerned about English being the official language of our country, shouldn’t the same people be appalled by the fact that a 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Education showed that 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read or that we, as a country, let 19% of high school graduates get a diploma without being able to read what’s printed on it? Their diploma could be written in Albanian and they wouldn’t know the difference.

Shouldn’t the people who are boycotting Coca Cola products for having the audacity to imply that we, as Americans, should be tolerant of other languages and cultures (including, by the way, those of the Native Americans from whom we took the land we live on) also be concerned about spelling and grammar? If they hold themselves to a higher standard, then I expect their tweets to be grammatically perfect. Caleb Riley (@c_riley10), I’m looking at you, bud. “America the Beautiful” is not sang in foreign languages…it is sung. #English.

To spencinator (@taylorspencer3), who is boycotting Coke because “you can’t sing an American song in another language!,” I posit this: Disney, considered around the world to be one of the shining beacons of the idea of “America” disagrees with you. For your consideration, an American song (written by a Latino man and his wife), sung in 25 different languages, from a film that has made over $900 million worldwide. How much more American can you get?

Now, I’m being literal here. Obviously what spencinator intended to say was, “You shouldn’t sing an American patriotic song in another language.” But…if s/he were such a master of the language which s/he is defending, wouldn’t s/he have written what s/he meant? If we’re just taking what spencinator wrote literally, then my answer to him/her is yes, you can, in fact, sing an American song – patriotic or otherwise – in another language. Coke just did it. Maybe you yourself can’t do it, because that would require having studied other languages and expanding your horizons, but since you clearly have not mastered your native language yet, perhaps a second one might be a bit much for you at this time.

This country is made up of people who came from different places with different skin colors, speaking different languages, eating different foods and wearing different clothes, believe different things and all looking for a better life. One doesn’t have to go back many generations to find that many of our ancestors didn’t speak English when they came here. They eventually learned…or maybe they didn’t. How many dialects of American English do we have in this country that came out of the melding of languages? Creole – a language in and of itself – came from the melding of English and French and is still spoken today in Louisiana. What we consider to be “country” or “hillbilly” stems from Scottish and Irish influences and what we could call “deep Southern” emerged from the soft, rounded tones of British English. Here in Milwaukee, the dialect is riddled with verbal vestiges of the German and Nordic people that ended up here. There is no such thing as pure American English.

To respond to BetterPlanet (his/her screen name must be a joke, right?), I’d like to present these numbers from a 2011 American Community Survey that states that there are nearly 38 million homes in the U.S. in which Spanish is the first language spoken. Chinese, French, Hindu, Tagalog, German, Vietnamese and Korean are also listed in that survey. So no, BetterPlanet…not all of us speak English in this country.

But this isn’t about language. This is about hiding discrimination behind patriotism. One tweet that I’ve saved for last is this one that comes from Tyler Wyckoff (@tylerwyckoff24). Tyler says, “Nice to see that coke likes to sing an AMERICAN song in the terrorist’s language. Way to go coke. You can leave America.” 

I don’t even know how to respond to that. So I’ll let Coke do it for me. Please watch this. Hear it. Live it. America Is Beautiful.

*Those words actually already existed in what must now be considered their much-too-difficult-to-pronounce full versions: “ridiculous” and “vacation.” Those one or two extra syllables proved to be just too much.**

**Don’t get me started on the common usage of abbreviated verbiage in everyday conversation. It totes makes me want to cut a B. But that’s a different blog entry for another day.

And Now Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming…

4 Feb

I’ve been quiet the last couple of days since posting the entry I wrote about my friend Erin’s death. It was a long, heavy piece that stirred up a lot of memories and emotions not only for me, but for so many others who knew Erin, as well.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to publish the entry. I didn’t want to dredge up old, painful memories – it seemed morbid and unnecessary and I was afraid that I would unintentionally open old wounds, even sixteen years later. But ultimately I decided to share it with all of you because of my own personal insecurities. I think it’s human nature to wonder if anyone will remember us after we’re gone…whether we’ll be missed or thought of fondly or just forgotten. Hoping that someone would do the same for me someday after I’m gone, I felt it important to put her story to paper, so to speak, and remember her.

What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming response I received because of what I’d written. I have received so many comments, emails and Facebook messages from people all over the world – some of whom didn’t even know Erin. The blog somehow found its way to Erin’s sister and ultimately her Mom, Marie and dozens of friends reposted the link and shared their own memories of Erin and that day.

Now, I don’t write this blog for the numbers. Really. I don’t. I don’t write these blog entries with the hopes of making money off of them, though I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to that. I do it for fun and as a creative and emotional release. I don’t get thousands of hits on this blog on a daily basis – or even a weekly basis, for that matter – but I do a fair amount of self-promotion whenever I write something. Typically I’ll send out three Facebook posts and three tweets for a new piece and hope for the best. On an average day I might get 120-140 views. My highest-read entry until this past Sunday was the entry I wrote about my body image issues, which got 195 hits the day I published it back in June. I published “Remembering Erin” at 1:30 in the morning and I sent out two links – one on Facebook and one on Twitter. By 11:30 on Sunday night, 645 people had read the story with about 100 more visiting other entries, as well. Monday was more of the same – 263 people read about Erin and another 30 have today, and I haven’t promoted the article since I published it 1:30 on Sunday morning. That may not sound like much, but let me put it in perspective for you – almost as many people have read Erin’s story alone in these first four days of February than read all of my entries for the month of January. She may have been gone for sixteen years, but people from all over the world have read about her. They know she existed. They know she was loved immensely. And her friends and loved ones came together to remember her. Who says you can’t accomplish much by the time you’re 22?

My blog stats on Sunday evening. Before the end of the night, another 300 people would visit my blog to read Erin's story. I couldn't believe the traffic.

My blog stats on Sunday evening. Before the end of the night, another 300 people would visit my blog to read Erin’s story. I couldn’t believe the traffic.

If you’ve followed my blog at all over the last 9 months or so, you know I don’t always write maudlin entries about death and feeling fat. I often write frivolous things about “Frozen” or men twerking at Flashdance, but every once in a while I do try to give you some substance, and I appreciate each of you who continue to read whatever my twisted brain decides to give you on any give day. Thank you for making me feel that what I write is worthwhile, and thank you for remembering Erin.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Remembering Erin

2 Feb

Undergraduate school was, for me, a charmed life. I had the best friends I would ever know in my life and we spent almost every waking moment together singing and dancing and painting sets and making costumes and basically living the dream of anyone who wants to be in the arts. It was like a Mickey and Judy “Let’s put on a show in a barn!” movie, only we had to go to class, too. We were silly and we laughed and, despite our ages, we played as if we were children. Rather than going out drinking or getting into trouble, my friends Maria and Julie and I would color. Granted, we would rewrite the stories being told in the coloring books to fit our whimsy. They weren’t always in good taste, but they were always hilarious and always well colored.

A sampling of the art that Maria, Julie and I created with mere crayons and coloring books.

A sampling of the art that Maria, Julie and I created with mere crayons and coloring books.

The music and theatre kids would go to big parties in the park that our friend Marc would throw, but there weren’t any drugs or booze there – just lots and lots of cheap Bubba Cola, loud music and a lot of fun. One night a bunch of us went to a white trash party, and, being artsy people, we dressed the part. I went in a white undershirt that I stained and I blacked out my teeth and gave myself a black eye. I dressed my friend Nathan in a robe and pajamas and made him up to look like a crackhead and put tons of blue eyeshadow on his girlfriend’s lids while Maria teased her hair. And then we walked through Wal-Mart dressed like that before going to the party. Because that’s what we did, and I loved every one of those freaks. We even threw a Titanic-themed “Prom.”

Lauren, Nathan and I prepare to go to the White Trash Party.

Lauren, Nathan and I prepare to go to the White Trash Party.

It was an innocent time where money had no hold over any of us as long as we had enough money in our pocket or on our Racer Card to get lunch. We didn’t have credit cards or student loans to pay off yet, we didn’t have to think about health insurance or whether our vacation time would be paid or not. Really, we just had to show up to class and do what we loved to do. What I wouldn’t give to go back to that sometimes.

My junior year of college, though, all of that changed. I was living with three friends in a small house off campus called the HAPE (pronounced ‘happy’) House. The name came from the first initials of the original four people living in the house – Heidi, A.J., Patrick and Ellen. The name was later changed to the JAPE house when Holly moved out and Julie moved in, and when Patrick and Ellen started realizing they had some feelings for each other, Patrick decided it was best to move out, so I moved in. We never bothered to change the name after I came in, but I didn’t care. I loved being with my friends and, ultimately, I would need to be near them soon enough. 

One of the courses I was required to take as part of my degree program was Opera Workshop – a class in which we basically learned an aria or duet and staged it. My old voice teacher, Norman Wurgler, was taking over Opera Workshop, which really excited me because he was willing to introduce some musical theatre pieces into the curriculum, like Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd which, if you’re getting really technical, is an opera. I loved Mr. Wurgler and I couldn’t wait to spend the semester working with him and all of my friends.

Monday, February 2, 1998 started out as any old Monday usually would. We started the day with Music History, which was about as interesting as it sounds. Erin Conn, a beautiful young woman with long, silky brown hair, a giant smile and freckled hands with long, thin fingers, came into class that day with a giant mug of hot coffee to try to keep her awake. Her father had been suffering from cancer and was scheduled to go into surgery that Friday for what they hoped would be a lifesaving procedure. Obviously this had been taking a toll on Erin, though she rarely ever spoke of it.

Honestly, I thought Erin hated me in our first couple of years of school together. She had been dating this guy named Justin, who I was certain hated me because he’d been my Big Brother when I’d pledged Phi Mu Alpha, which I dropped out of after three days. I just knew that the two of them had a mutual hatred of me, so when I was assigned a seat next to Erin in concert choir I thought, “Oh, joy! This’ll be fun.” It turned out…it was

During the fall semester in choir, she and I found that we made each other laugh. We bonded over some great music and really started getting to be friendly. She’d come over once to study and we baked cookies and we passed little notes back and forth during our required weekly recital hour. We did the chamber choir madrigal dinner together and she had done the small walk-on part of Sleeping Beauty in our recent production of Into the Woods. She and I were finally friends.

The poster for the 1998 Murray State University production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods"

The poster for the 1998 Murray State University production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”

I could tell that Erin wasn’t herself that morning, but I chalked it up to exhaustion and stress. Later in the day, we had an advanced music theory class together, which we both hated, so we sat together toward the back of the room. At some point during the class, she reached over and grabbed my hands and said, “I am so cold.” And she was. Icy. She sort of shrugged it off and stole my highlighter out of my hand. In my textbook she drew a smiley face and wrote “A smile from Erin.” 

During choir that day we were rehearsing a piece by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina called “Super flumina babylonis,” or “By the waters of Babylon.” Erin leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, “I think this is the music the angels sing in Heaven.”

After choir, I went to the costume shop in the basement of the theatre to do my required hour of work for the day and then I headed toward the new music building to go to Opera Workshop. We were rehearsing in the new Performing Arts Hall, which we called “Pah.” As I approached the front doors of the building, I noticed an ambulance parked out front. As I took the stairs up to the second floor, I started worrying that maybe they were there for Mr. Wurgler – had he had a heart attack?? When I stepped into the recital hall, I wasn’t at all prepared to see Erin laid out on the stage, laying completely still as her gorgeous brown hair pooled around her head. 

The EMTs had been just ahead of me and they immediately started their work on Erin. The entire class, including Mr. Wurgler, had moved to the back of the hall and everyone was in full panic mode. The girls were crying and the guys were trying to comfort them, though they were white as sheets themselves. Poor Mr. Wurgler looked like he had no idea what to do. Who would? I can only imagine that as a teacher and a parent, he was living his worst nightmare. As they put Erin on the gurney and wheeled her out to the ambulance, I could see that she had started to turn blue. 

I tried to get someone to tell me what had happened. From what I could piece together, Mr. Wurgler had asked everyone in the class to get up onstage, one by one, and pantomime a scene and the rest of the class was to guess what they were doing. Erin got up and pretended to open a refrigerator door and then dropped to the ground and started to convulse. Everyone thought this was part of her scene, but it went on just long enough to make them realize that she wasn’t acting. I don’t remember all the details very clearly, but I think one of the guys in our class had CPR training and had been giving her mouth to mouth until the medics got there. I may be wrong about that, but I think that’s right.

After the ambulance took off, class was obviously cancelled. Erin’s roommate, Lauren, who was also in Opera Workshop, headed off to the hospital as did Mr. Wurgler and a few of the other kids in class. I headed back down to the costume shop – I don’t know why that was my first instinct – where I had a full blown panic attack and meltdown. Randy, the costume shop manager, couldn’t understand anything I was saying at first, so she sat me down, gave me some candy and waited for me to calm down a little. She kept reassuring me that Erin was young and healthy and would be fine, but I had seen her…I had seen her face and I knew that she wasn’t fine. Randy encouraged me and some friends to go to the hospital with our friends, so we did. 

The waiting room outside the emergency room at Murray-Calloway County Hospital was packed with friends and teachers. The room was pretty much silent as we waited for what seemed an eternity – the silence only broken by an occasional sob or a soft prayer being said in the corner somewhere. Hands were being held, hugs were being given freely – we were all there, just waiting to hear that she was going to be fine. 

I saw Erin’s mom run in and she was immediately ushered into the emergency room. She and her husband lived a good hour and a half away and she had rushed down as quickly as she could, but obviously her husband was in no shape to come with her. By this time we’d been waiting for a long time, though I couldn’t tell you exactly how long, but it felt like days. A little while after Erin’s mom arrived, a doctor came into the waiting room to talk to us. The poor man looked terrified as he entered the room and had to face us – there had to have been 50 or more of us there. All I heard was, “We did everything we could do…” and I heard Mrs. Bates, Erin’s voice teacher scream. After that I didn’t hear anything else. “We did all we could do…we did all we could do…” and that horrible shriek just kept playing over and over in my mind.

I got up and left the room because I thought I was going to throw up. I went outside and started pacing, hyperventilating with my hand to my mouth and burning tears streaming down my face. I kept walking around, looking at all my friends who were suddenly, equally burdened with this awful grief, and it was as if I didn’t recognize any of them. My friends didn’t cry – we sang and laughed and loved our lives – but here they were trembling and weeping and making sounds that I didn’t know could be made by human beings. I couldn’t find my voice. I couldn’t make a sound. I didn’t understand or know what to do. She was only 22 – she couldn’t possibly be dead! 

I don’t remember much of the rest of that evening. I can’t remember going home to the JAPE House at all, but I got there somehow. I do remember calling my parents. My Dad answered and could hear that I was crying. When he asked me what was wrong, the words literally exploded from somewhere deep within me, “She’s dead! Erin is dead!” My poor Dad didn’t know who I was talking about and when he asked me, “Who? Who is dead??,” I answered, “Erin! My Erin!” 

The next day most of our classes were cancelled but a department meeting was held in one of the recital halls where we were offered on-campus grief counseling. The only class we had that day was concert choir. Our choir director, Dr. Almquist, thought it would be best for us to continue with our regular routines – to keep some sort of normalcy – and to honor Erin’s memory by coming together to make some of her favorite music. He spoke to us frankly about balancing our emotions with our ability to do the task at hand and I hated him for it. I know now that it was the best thing he could have asked us to do. He distributed a new piece of music by Johannes Brahms, Erin’s favorite composer, and told us that were going to sing it at her funeral. It was the fourth movement of the German Requiem, “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen,” or “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place.” We started working through the piece and I completely broke down. Before I knew it, Justin had his arms around me telling me everything would be OK.

The funeral was Friday – the day that Erin’s father was supposed to have his surgery. We piled into the church for the service and, to my amazement, Lauren – Erin’s roommate and best friend – got up and sang. I still don’t know how she did it. When it came time for the choir to get up and sing, I literally had to prop myself up on the railing just to stay standing upright and I’m fairly certain I didn’t sing one note. In addition to singing the Brahms, we also sang the Palestrina piece that Erin had told me she thought was the angel’s music.

When we arrived at the cemetery, we gathered around Erin’s grave with Mr. and Mrs. Conn and Erin’s sister sitting under a tent that had been set up. After the graveside service, as we started to walk back to our cars, a light snow started to fall. I couldn’t help but think that Erin was looking down over us. Maybe she was preparing the way for her father, who passed away just a couple of months later.

For months after that – and sometimes even now – I feel like Erin’s nearby. It’s been 16 years since her passing and I still find myself thinking about her and that incredible time when so many of us came together to love and support one another. Her death brought me and Justin closer together, for which I am so very grateful. Lauren and Nathan grew closer, too, during that time and are now married and have a family in Illinois. 

Erin’s death touched all of us and changed things for us. We all grew up, whether we were ready to or not. I think of her often and wonder how her mom and sister are doing. A couple of years ago, while I was visiting Western Kentucky for the first time in years, I stopped by her gravesite to pay my respects. Being there brought back so many memories of that time and of those marvelous people that I call my friends. We got each other through that horrible time. It wasn’t easy, but we did it, and we would be there for each other again the next year when we’d lose another student in our department. 

But that’s another story for another time.

Today I want to remind the world that there once was a woman named Erin Conn. She was bright, funny, talented, kind, generous, smart, loving and beautiful. I cherish the time I got to spend with her and I will remember her always.

There is an Erin Conn Memorial Scholarship at Murray State University in her remembrance. The music program at MSU is one of the best kept secrets in the country and any student should be lucky to study there. If you feel inclined to do so, please make a donation to that scholarship. Email or call the music department directly at 270.809.4288 for more information on how to make a contribution.

The program and dedication page from my Junior Voice Recital at Murray State University.

The program and dedication page from my Junior Voice Recital at Murray State University.

Edit: A friend who was there just confirmed that someone did, indeed, perform CPR until the paramedics arrived. Two someones, in fact:  Matt and Autumn. 

Frozen: In Japanese (日本語で「アナと雪の女王」)

1 Feb
Japanese artwork for Disney's "Frozen"

Japanese artwork for Disney’s “Frozen”

Today in our Foreign “Frozen” series: Japanese! Disney has officially released the “Let It Go” sequence, sung in Japanese by Matsu Takako, on YouTube! Unfortunately, beyond asking where the toilet is or how much something costs, my Japanese is not nearly good enough to give you a line-by-line translation of the song this time.

I can tell you that the Japanese title of the film translates to “Ana and the Snow Queen” and it opens in Japan on March 15. That’s right – the movie has made nearly $900 million and it hasn’t even opened in Japan yet – a country that is absolutely obsessed with all things Disney. From what I’m seeing on my Facebook feed, the Japanese are very ready for Elsa and Ana.

I hope you enjoy!