Tiny worlds & admiring singers: a mid-pandemic wellness check

Tiny worlds & admiring singers: a mid-pandemic wellness check

Jenna Simeonov

So, readers: How the &$%# are you?

Are you finding a quarantine groove, yet? I imagine plenty of you are now deft at making bread, ordering groceries online, and remembering to keep a mask handy. You probably have a now-acute sense of what six-feet-apart looks like. You’re probably a little Zoomed out.

I know it’s not a barrel of fun or anything, but I do hope that the above resonates with you, readers. Because if these aren’t your problems, maybe you’re instead out there panicking. Maybe you’ve got a fever, or a dry cough, or some other symptom that makes your stomach drop. You might be missing family something fierce, because you’re making that brutal decision between seeing your loved ones and taking needless risks. Or you might be in a fight with someone you love who’s being reckless.

Or - and this one hurts, my artsy freelancer types - you might be at a career stand-still. I hope you’re in a position where you’re not looking seriously at homelessness (I’m not trying to be trite, it’s what’s happening out there), and I hope you have a place to go if Plan A isn’t working out. And even if you’re staying financially afloat, I’m still thinking of you, readers - because it’s fucking hard to stay motivated about working in the performing arts in times like these.

Just like the proverbial tree in the forest - if I’m not seen by friends, colleagues, and strangers, am I even really here?

Sometimes I talk to and about performing artists - singers, really - like I’m included in their bubble. I’m not, actually. I used to be really emotionally invested, though; in my days as a voice coach and répétiteur, the motivation and achievement of the singers I worked with was something that gave me energy and inspiration. Hearing you guys get applause, after seeing how effing hard you worked, gave me such pride and admiration. And when something happened that wasn’t right - some catty critic wrote garbage about you, a director was a bitch to you, someone made you feel like you and your voice weren’t enough - I jumped to your defence. Fuck that critic; I’ll start my own goddamn opera blog.

So, because I still feel that connection to singers and their fellow performers, I’ve been thinking about all of you guys during this pandemic. Of course not all of you - I haven’t met you all, not yet. But I do think about specific singers and wonder about their mental health. She was sounding so fantastic in that new rep, I wonder if she’s motivated to keep up the practice. Or, He’s a sensitive artist on the best of days…I really hope he’s not taking everything too personally. Or even if they’re singers I don’t know personally, I felt for you, whether you wanted my emotional support or not.

I don’t live in the vast world of opera, anymore, and it’s fucking sad.

Maybe it’s like survivor’s guilt, this thing I’m feeling. I don’t pay my bills by performing anymore, and our family income isn’t the volatile stress ball that is freelance arts work. So, I’m okay. But there are still weird losses that I’m feeling with the empty stages; I took for granted the fact that my social life was hugely intertwined with the opera-going circuit. There are so many people whose faces I miss seeing, casually, from across a crowded theatre lobby. And there’s a chunk of my identity that’s vanished, now that I’m not out and about in the city, wearing great outfits and experiencing the streetcar and grabbing dinner at the Queen Mother after a matinee. Just like the proverbial tree in the forest - if I’m not seen by friends, colleagues, and strangers, am I even really here?

My life is tiny, surrounded by tiny things. Tiny condo, tiny little walks to the park with the tiny little person whom I’ve got to keep safe. Tiny joys (like a batch of new books for Tiny and I to read together) and tiny sadnesses (my watch broke…does it even matter, now? Who needs a watch in a pandemic?). I’m living along this tiny, squished spectrum of life experience, where the highs are capped at camping trips and toddler smiles (okay, those are pretty great) and the lows are, thankfully, restricted to rainy days and stress about too much screen time.

Alex, rocking his mask.

I don’t live in the vast, emotionally generous world of opera, anymore, and it’s fucking sad. I haven’t had one of those heart-racing experiences at a live show since February. I haven’t had that happy, vibrating commute home in the magical night-time after seeing something incredible. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the relief of taking off high heels at the end of the night, or placed those heels gently back on their shelf, for next time. I don’t even know where my red lipstick is.

If I were in their shoes, I’d be curled in a ball, angry and sad and lost.

I know I’ve been a bit silent over here, lately. But I’ve been yammering away on my podcast, which is something I really encourage you to put on in the background of your days. It’s called The Everything Will Be Okay Podcast, because when I gave it that title I was feeling super-duper cynical. But everyone, literally everyone, that I’ve had on the show has told me, in no sarcastic tones, that things will indeed be okay. No one is really saying that things will go back to the way they used to be, because we’re too smart to say that shit now. But they’re saying it’ll be okay.

But the performers I’ve talked to on the podcast - from the cerebral Barbara Hannigan to the too-real Christine Goerke - are all making their ways through this insane time like total champs. They’re finding so much silver lining, staying so patient, checking in with their life decisions. If I were in their shoes, I’d be curled in a ball, angry and sad and lost. But these people, they’re doing amazing things.

Original artwork for The Everything Will Be Okay Podcast, by singer and illustrator, Danika Lorèn.

Weird analogy (stay with me): when I was pregnant with Alex, I was freaked out about labour and delivery, so I asked my doctor about opting to have a cesarean section. I know, it’s insane, but I was scared and curious and figured I’d at least ask. My doctor, and then two other doctors, told me it wasn’t a good idea. I was ticked at the time, thinking that it was my body, and why the eff couldn’t I at least entertain the idea of a c-section? But when I took a step back, I realized that I was resisting advice from three doctors. If I kept it up, I’d have serious things in common with anti-vaxxers and, in a more current comparison, anti-maskers.

All that is to say it took me about thirteen conversations with working singers, all of whom telling me that things would indeed be okay and that they are finding blessings and happiness in their unexpected free time, to start believing them. I was so convinced that the performing artists of today were fragile, that they were easily broken by tough times and that their identities were solely linked to their ability to make noise with their mouths for money.

Turns out, they’re not. They’re fucking great. They’re not all having one amazing day after another, I’m sure; but they’re strong and versatile and patient and they’re hustlers. Turns out, singers are effing amazing, even when they’re silent.

Stay safe out there, readers. And write to me ([email protected]) to tell me how you’re doing, what you’re watching online, and how the arts are existing in your corner of the world. Send me recipes, mask fashion-shoot photos, book recommendations.

You’re all doing great.


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