Monday, January 4, 2010

Learning from Every Experience

The new year is always an opportunity to think about the past, good things to be grateful for and not-so-good things to deal with or try to change. For the few days I’ve been thinking about an interview I heard a few days back on the Diane Rehm show (NPR) with an opera singer, Denyce Graves. The Andante link below is another interview you can read, but you can hear the interview on various websites that carry Diane's show.

As part of the interview Denyce described a really bad period in her life not so long ago that involved her 15-year marriage falling apart and her vocal cords having trouble. What caught my attention was that she was having killer headaches, so I wondered if she had a condition like what my sister has. Denyce later had a polyp removed in surgery and then had to recuperate. During all this she couldn’t talk about it; apparently singers don't like to let it out that they're having vocal problems since it has a bad effect on their careers. So she only told a few close friends.

An additional stressor was that she'd wanted to have children and had been trying for years and she couldn't. Then no more marriage either. So life was bad all the way around.

She said that the loss of her voice made her ask herself what she was supposed to learn from this loss, and that seemed a good approach to me. To ask, what can I learn from this loss - something we no doubt already know, but in a crisis it seems like it's the kind of thing one forgets.

Her words made me start thinking about what am I supposed to learn from this time in my life - loss of job, loss of personal space, loss of income, structure, etc. No answer on that yet, but Denyce didn't talk about what she learned or realized either. Instead, it's what happened in her life after that that gives me hope. She did ultimately get her voice back and the medical procedure on her vocal chords went well. Despite everything, she did find herself pregnant, by her current boyfriend, and despite all warnings of miscarrage or a Down Syndrome baby, she has a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Her operatic performances are considered stronger than ever - as if her difficult experiences have infused her voice with more richness. And life is better than ever. It gives me hope..

And last, just a note for writer friends. Denyce said that as a public performer, she finds it best to ignore critics and reviews. She described seeing two critics practically coming to blows about Puccini. Imagine there even being an argument about Puccini! He’s fabulous - what more is there to say? I expect it’s the kind of attitude that becomes a bit easier over the years. Plus, it’s another opportunity to ask, what can I learn from this, right?


Cheri J. Crane said...

Great insights, Val. I'm so glad you shared Denyce's interview. It gives us all hope. Happy New Year!!!

Michele Ashman Bell said...

I needed to read this today. You said just what I needed to hear, Val. What an inspiring post! Thank you.