Posts Tagged ‘fail’

Back in 2008 when I won the Eckhardt-Grammate competition, I went from having zero hope of a conventional music career to…a bit of hope. Getting any encouragement whatsoever from an “official” channel was such a novel experience that I thought “Hey, maybe I CAN do this!”

So I tried. I mean, I didn’t go back to school, though maybe I should have done, and I didn’t do a bunch of pay-to-sing training programmes, which I don’t regret (don’t fucking get me started about pay-to-sing). But I tried. I took lessons. I had coachings. I learned common, standard, REALLY HARD repertoire. And I did auditions. A million auditions. For a couple of months I probably had one audition per week, some for specific things, some where I just called an Opera Person and said “Hey, can I sing for you?”

And I got nothing. NOTHING. Nothing. Some encouraging feedback. Some compliments. Some maybe-we’ll-be-interested-in-the-future-but-not-for-this. But no roles, no concerts, bupkis.

So I started to get really, really discouraged. I told myself intellectually that it wasn’t my fault; I was doing my best and doing everything right. The economy was in the shitter and there wasn’t anywhere near enough work to go around. I just had to keep trying and eventually I’d get a break.

I did, sort of. I got two roles in the spring of 2010. I had fun, I did well, but…nothing came of either. In fall 2010 I produced Fallen Voices, had fun, did well, and…was back to square one when it was over.

And of course once I got pregnant I stopped auditioning, reasoning that if no one would hire me non-pregnant they certainly wouldn’t hire me pregnant and I might as well stop banging my head against the door and save my time, energy, and money. I tried to get some self-productions going but I couldn’t muster the energy or resources to do it.

So the past year or so I’ve been focused on gestating, having, and looking after the baby. And it’s great, and I love it. But he isn’t a tiny little newborn anymore. He doesn’t absorb every waking minute of my life, and as Ben and I start sharing our parenting more equally I am faced with the problem: what do I do about this?

Back when I was auditioning all over town I said my philosophy was “just ask”. Just ask if you can sing for them. They can say no, but they could also say yes.

Well, I’ve asked. I have collectively asked the opera world if I could be part of it, and the answer is NO.

So I have to decide: do I keep asking? Do I keep working on my own and ask again? Do I keep trying to produce stuff on my own and struggle against entropy, apathy, and the very real financial drain of production? Do I just give up?

I don’t know. First of all I have to deal with my own anger about this. Not that I think that the world owes me a fantastic career and an exclusive contract with the Met. Life is unfair. This business particularly so. But I’m sick of pretending I’m OK with this. I am not OK with this. I am angry that all the work I’ve done, all the beauty I’ve created has gotten me more or less nowhere. I am angry that I can’t even get a small part with a penny-ante local company. I am angry that realistically, the only way I have a shot at any kind of career is going back to school then spending ~ $20,000 on various pay-to-sing programmes over 3 or 4 years. I am angry that there is no way in hell I can afford to do this. I am angry at the profession for being insular and rife with favouritism and nepotism. And I’m angry at myself for failing. Big time. Really, really angry with myself.

So I don’t know what I’m going to do about this. Now that I have time to practice pretty much every day I’m just going to focus on finding my enjoyment in singing again. My feelings of shame and anger have made it difficult for me to listen to music and enjoy watching performances, so I’m going to try to get over that and just listen again. And then, whatever. I have asked. I’ve gotten my answer. Now I have to figure out when it’s time to let go.


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Back in 2008 – 2008 – when Troy Davis was last making the news, I wrote about my feelings on the death penalty. This is what I wrote:

Here is why I’m against the death penalty: Every system has a certain amount of fail built in. No matter what it is, it is bound to fail in a certain percentage of cases. If it’s a good system, the fail might be as little as 0.1%. Let’s assume the US justice system is that good. OK, so there were about 3050 murders in 2007 in America. (I’m using America because – GUESS WHAT – Canada doesn’t have the death penalty.) Let’s assume that 50% of those are unsolved and never brought to trial. That leaves us with 1525 murder trials. Let’s assume a 25% aquittal rate. That’s 1143 convicted murderers/year. If every one is sentenced to death, assuming a 0.1 fail rate, at least one person who is put to death is innocent.

If you put the fail rate at 1%, that’s 11 innocent people. If you put it at 10%, that’s 114.

Now compared to the number of people who die in car accidents it’s not much, but this is no accident – it’s deliberate murder on the part of the state. You get in a car, you take your chances. But the justice system is designed to protect the citizens. I don’t think the fact – not the risk, the fact – that it kills innocent people every single year is acceptable.

(Link to the original post.)

So, you might say, this was pure speculation on my part. Forget that every other human endeavour fails every now and then, no matter how high the stakes (babies get switched at birth, doctors occasionally amputate the wrong leg, nuclear plants are not as earthquake-proof as we’d like to think), who am I to say that state executions aren’t an exemption to this general principle? Maybe no one ever IS wrongly executed, even though they’re wrongly imprisoned pretty much all the time!

Well, Illinois went back and did some checking, and this is what they found:

In the quarter century between restoration of the Illinois death penalty and Governor George Ryan’s blanket clemency order, 298 men and women were sentenced to death in Illinois. Of those, 18 have been exonerated — a rate of 6%, the highest exoneration rate of the 38 states with death penalties on their books.

I am against the death penalty myself, not just because of this, but because I do think it’s wrong to take lives without a really good reason (and I don’t think either “revenge” or “being really tasty” are good enough), but I understand that this is a minority position. Most people are perfectly OK with killing people for revenge, whether individual or collective, just like most people are perfectly OK with killing animals to eat them.

One of the major changes in my thinking since I became a vegan is this: I finally realized – really realized – that people are animals. I always knew that we were part of Animalia, obviously, but I didn’t really understand it. Deep down I believed we were able to overcome our animal instincts if we tried hard enough/thought hard enough/became enough like Jesus.

But when I became a vegan I tried to stop thinking about humans as being so very different from every other species of animal, and it finally sunk in that we really are animals, just animals with excellent communication skills and superb manual dexterity and endless possibilities for self-justification. And that a lot of the things we do and believe and have excellent rationalizations for are no more logical and well-thought-out than the way Gus turns around three times and scratches at the couch before he lies down.

So I accept that even though the death penalty is morally wrong, unjust, expensive, and proven to lead to the deaths of innocents, some of us will continue to support it. Because we are not gods, angels, or shining creatures of pure reason, but predatory mammals whose bloodlust is satisfied by revenge. Horrible as it is to say this, seeing a “bad guy” get killed makes people feel good. So as long as execution is there and culturally sanctioned some people will fight for it. And I don’t know whether to feel good or bad about that, but I do know that I wish – I really wish – that when it came to this one thing we could put bloodlust aside.

But I’m not holding my breath.

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Dear Rita,

Many years ago I read your book Rubyfruit Jungle with great pleasure. It’s not every writer that can make a lesbian Bildungsroman a light-hearted and fun read. Also, if you had never written anything except the title of your first book of poetry, you would have earned my respect, because The Hand that Cradles the Rock is an awesome title for a book of feminist poems.

True, I haven’t followed your later books, largely because most of them were co-authored by your cat, and I am allergic to books which feature animals as either authors or protagonists (or both). So whenever I saw “Murder, She Meowed” or “Claws and Effect” at the library I did nothing except wish you and Sneaky Pie well and move on.

All that changed the other day. I went to the library to pick up R. Crumb’s bizarre rendition of Genesis, which I had put on hold, and happened to see one of your books: The Hounds and the Fury. A quick glance told me it was a murder mystery involving foxhounds and foxhunting, which is exactly the sort of book I always think I’ll like, so I got it.


Ms. Brown, as someone who has written (according to Wikipedia), some 38 full-length novels, I would have assumed that you had mastered that whole “show, don’t tell thing”. I seem to have been wrong. Not only does this book begin with a detailed description of each character – and why are there so many of them, anyway? – including the foxhounds, the horses, and a variety of wildlife – but peppered through the book are explainy explainy boring statements like this:

Freddie wanted to be like Sister, but she was too concerned with her effect on others. Beautiful as she was, this made her vulnerable. She needed praise to feel feminine, to feel good. Sister woke up in he morning feeling good.

How ’bout something like this instead?

Freddie turned to Jason. “Oh Doctor,” she said, “tell me more about your work.”

Jason smiled down at Freddie, making her heart race with anticipation. Funny, she didn’t even like him much, but his smile made her feel warm. “Well, Freddie, how much do you know about medicine?”

“Oh, not much,” said Freddie, a smile blazing across her perfect face. “I mean, my father was a doctor – but I never took much interest.” Freddie kept her eyes locked on the doctor’s, and her two years of pre-med to herself.

I wrote that last bit, by the way. Yes, it’s horribly cliched and stupid, but at least it gets across the idea that “Freddie is insecure and gets male attention by belittling herself” without a boring descriptive paragraph.

Even when you do actually show a character doing something, you immediately follow up by telling us what that shows about the character. Like this:

“Are you alright?”
“Fine. Tired. […] Sam was in the hospital.” He held back he small detail that Sam had been shot. He was tired and didn’t feel like indulging in speculation with people who weren’t close.

Yes, thank you for pointing out the Gray didn’t tell Iffy that Sam was in the hospital. I would never, ever have noticed that in a million years if you hadn’t pointed it out. No, actually I would have, and I would have thought “Huh, that’s odd. Maybe Gray doesn’t trust Iffy. Maybe he suspects Iffy. Hmm…” and it may have added a modicum of interest to the plot.

There are a lot of other unlikeable things about this book – the constant defense of riches and privilege, the ham-handed and unrealistic race relations, the way you keep sticking references to saints’ days in the middle of things, the fact that you not only anthropomorphized all the animals but made them capable of conversing with each other. (OK, if they could talk, I can see how foxes and dogs would communicate, being closely related species, but why the fuck would an owl be able to talk to a horse? They’re wildly different animals with very different lifeways – horses are domesticated pack mammals, and owls are pair-bonding predatory birds – not to mention cognitive abilities. Both horses and owls are pretty dumb, true, but dumb in different ways: prey dumb and predator dumb, bird dumb and mammal dumb, big dumb and small dumb.)

Also the gender essentialism is pretty disturbing, considering your involvement in the feminist movement. I’m talking about statements like this:

“Once a man takes a position publicly, he rarely backs down or seeks a comprimise. It’s a particular failing of the gender…with great effort, especially from friends, most women can be brought around to seek a comprimise.”

Or like this:

Sybil appreciated Shaker’s thoughtfulness. Her marriage, a disaster, had left her a single mother. She liked her sons to be around real men, and Shaker was about as real as it got.

Never mind that feminists have been trying since the seventies to deconstruct the stifling confines of gender roles, to free us all from the idea that there are sets of behaviours and actions that you must adopt if you want to be a “real man” or a “real woman”. You want your gameskeeper character to be a Real Man, so you make Pathetic Single Mom use him to heteronormatize her sons.

(To be clear, if these two characters – Sister and Sybil, respectively – had said/thought these things as a demonstration of their subtle sexism and hidebound gender essentialism, that would have been fine. If a non-feminist writer had written that, it would have merited an eye-roll or two. But coming from the mouths/brains of the two most sympathetic/lionized characters in a book by an ostensibly feminist writer it makes me think, “What the fuck?”)

Speaking of characters, why, again, are there so many of them? By page 200 I was still flipping back to the list at the beginning to check who Betty was again, and what her relationship to Crawford was. And you do realize that the three private school girls could have been rolled into one? That what they’re there for – to show that Sister is a hip old lady who loves young people – could have been distilled down to a couple of sentences in the middle of the hunt.

But I digress. I read all sorts of awful books, and I could have forgiven all this – it still might have been an enjoyalble read – if it hadn’t been for the egregious Mary Sue that you put at the centre of your book.

I’m sure you intended Sister (Jane Arnold) to be an earthy, fierce, inspiring older woman, full of life and vigour and still sexy in her seventies. You certainly make a point of telling us how fantastic she is on every other page. Sister is perfect. Sister can do no wrong. Sister has a primeval instinct for horses and hounds. She knows everything and can both turn a young man’s head AND beat him up.

Unfortunately, as you have written her, Sister is unbelievable and annoying. I’d like to see her actually interacting with someone without them flattering her. I’d like to see her make a mistake or have a weakness or do something to hurt someone. Because then she’d seem like a human being instead of a slightly older and heterosexual embodiment of Rita Mae Brown’s superego.

I have two possible theories for how this horrible excuse for a book came to be:

1)You have complete and utter contempt for your audience. I’m guessing your publisher’s demographic research has revealed your audience to be privileged but unintelligent women aged 50-75, so you tailored your book perfectly to them, being careful to explain everything clearly so they wouldn’t miss out.
2)You have lost your touch and now write self-absorbed bilge.

I lean towards 2) but the facts could support either case. By the way, the denouement comes totally out of nowhere and there really are NO clues (other than Iffy’s hair not falling out) pointing to who the murderer ends up being. Lazy plotting.

On the plus side, you do say lots of nice things about hounds, which I appreciated, being the owner of two Beagle/Bassets. If my dog Madeline could read I’m sure she would have enjoyed it.

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After another unsuccessful audition yesterday, I spent all of today doing nothing. Nooooooothing. Nothing.

Literally, this is what I did today.
9 – Got up, made coffee and muffins. Moped.
11 – Recorded and edited my podcast.
12 – Grocery shopping. Grocery store resembles a zoo. Why, if I don’t have a traditional day job, do I always end up in the grocery store on weekends? Little old lady tries to get ahead of me in line. I defeat her the Canadian way: by pointedly ignoring her and standing very very close to the cart ahead of me.
1 – Had lunch. Moped.
1:30 – 3 – Read old comment threads on blogs I like.
3 – 5 – Attempted to install Unetbootin on my eee so I could create a bootable usb drive on it.
5 – Fed dogs.
5 – 6 – Gave up on eee, attempted to make bootable usb on the Mac again.
6 – Gave up. Tried to boot eee again and realized I’d messed up something vital once more and it’s having seizures.
6 -7 – Moped.
7 – 8 – Bath. Moped while in the bath.
8 – Restored eee to factory settings. Started blogging….

And here we are. I was going to say that for having done nothing all day I certainly don’t feel very relaxed, but looking back on it I actually did a bunch of frustrating stuff. True, I didn’t accomplish anything, other than buying potatoes and dried beans, but I was certainly doing stuff for at least 25% of the day.

I feel vaguely out of sorts, a bit stuffy, a bit achy in the shoulders, a bit dissatisfied with my lot in life. Is this what it’s like to have a real job where you do pointless and frustrating things on a computer all day while wishing for things that are just out of reach?

If it is, I certainly understand why people get depression and headaches and lower back pain. The symptoms of life my ass. Maybe we should call them “the symptoms of a wasted life”. Seems more accurate.

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Finally I met a wordcount goal.  I did it by writing all afternoon, but I did it!  

*If you don’t want to read about vampires who play the piano, I suggest you stop reading here*

Whatever I was expecting from the journey to wherever the hell we were going, it was not a pleasant drive through the city to an obscure but very nice neighbourhood.  We parked on one of those streets backing onto a ravine and walked up to a beautiful old Victorian house.  


“Justin, you have your phone, right?” I whispered to him.

“Yes,” he whispered back.

“Keep your hand on it, OK?”


“So, what is this place?” I said aloud.  He looked at me.

“You’ll see,” he said.

The house was dark red brick with a broad and metal-studded castle-like door.  There was even a turret.  It looked like the set of a silent vampire movie.  The only things missing were the dark, brooding clouds in the sky and the mob of angry villagers.

He let us in.  “Wait here,” he said, and disappeared.  We were left in a dim hallway with flock wallpaper and ticking grandfather clocks.

“Do you think this is his house?” Justin said in a penetrating whisper.

“Shut up,” I hissed at him.

“It’s definitely from the past,” he whispered.

He reappeared at the top of the winding staircase.  “It’s OK,” he said nervously.  “You can come up.”

Justin and I looked at each other, shrugged, and walked up the heavy wooden stairs.  All I could think was, “I am too stupid to live.”  Here we were, probably about to be murdered by psychotic piano genius and I was just walking stupidly forward because I couldn’t help but be curious.

“Come in here,” he said, and we did.

We were in the turret now, and another staircase took us up to a small, circular room, pleasantly lit by the spring sunshine and decorated in a fussily Victorian manner.  Seriously, floral-print wingback chairs and elaborate pink lampshades.

We stood around for a moment, a feeling of anticlimax washing over the room.  Justin was the first to speak.

“Wow, what a…uh…great house,” he said, an artificial lightness in his voice.  “Have you lived here long?”

“I don’t live here,” he said sadly.  

There was another silence.

“So,” I said.  “What are we doing here?”




“For what?”

“For her.”

Her.  His girlfriend?  His mother?  His keeper?  Akasha, Queen of the Damned?


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