“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
This Zora Neale Hurston quote has always stuck with me. Sometimes, we aren’t sure if we are in a year of questions or a year of answers. Sometimes, it’s a mixed year. And sometimes, it’s unambiguous. 2017 and 2018 were two of those unambiguous years.
I enjoy running, but I know if I’m in a year that asks questions if I am running a lot. And in 2017, I went running…a lot. I went running in the vineyards near our apartment in Stuttgart. I ran along the Lake of Constance during the Bregenz Festival. I was so addicted that I even hit the treadmill during a four-day stint in Florida (I hate treadmills—for me, part of my love of running comes from being outdoors—but Florida is just too damn humid). I ran in the heat, and I ran in freezing weather and rain. I needed to run.
What were the questions, you may wonder? I was happy with my artistic and work life, I was happy with my personal life…but something was missing. My questions were something like: where do I go from here? Take on more work and projects at a higher level? Add in more travel and engagements? Find an agent, or teach more, or give the opera world a shot?
It didn’t occur to me that the answer might have nothing to do with career ambition (yes, I am a workaholic!).
Then came Christmas 2017, the flu, and the beginning of 2018: a year of answers. Felix and I were down for about four weeks, starting on Christmas Eve—every time we thought we were on the mend, the flu resurrected itself in a fever, sore throat, respiratory infection, complete exhaustion, or—in my case—an awful ear infection. (This also meant: no running. And canceling a concert with a world premiere—my first cancellation ever.)
And something more. During the flu, I was nauseated by the strangest things—like salad or dry pasta—and decided to take a pregnancy test on my way to the doctor to get antibiotics for my ear infection. Yep, we were pregnant—very welcome news, and something we were hoping for, but also (I think many women will agree with this) somewhat terrifying because of that journey into the unknown…physically, professionally, and personally.
And this also reinforced: no running (at least, my doctor recommended that, and I was so nauseated during the first trimester that I fell out of the habit.)
But, although I stopped running in 2018, I kept on going, full force, career wise. I traveled to Spain twice to perform, spent a month in Belgium working with a theater company, gave solo concerts in Salzburg and Saarbrücken, tried to perform in the U.K. but ended up in airport detention (and then deported) due to a visa misunderstanding, sang in the Hamburg International Music Festival, put together a huge project in Stuttgart celebrating the poet Guillaume Apollinaire—and rarely saw my husband, not to mention my own bed. So, somehow the “running” continued, although I was definitely slowing down with each passing, heavier month—I didn’t know how to let go of my questions and open my eyes to the answers.
This past summer, life answered me definitively. It was insanely hot, and there was no respite. We were more evenly dividing our belongings between our apartment in Stuttgart and our place in the south Black Forest (closer to Felix’s work in Switzerland). There was a lot of work to do at home with moving and baby prep. And did I mention that I was huge? Slow down, life said—your family needs your attention, you are heavy and tired, and you are important, too. Not just your career and ambitions.
Since August, and Max’s entrance into our lives, I’ve been recalibrating. Hormones during the pregnancy threw me a curveball (can I get an Amen, moms out there?), and I didn’t have an easy birth (nor postpartum period). Then, in early October, I had to endure surgery on my ear as well (that ear infection from January aggravated ear problems that I’ve struggled with since childhood, and I had to wait until after Max’s birth to have a tympanoplasty). There has been a lot of recovery, a lot of time at home (for me, at least!), and a lot of family.
I don’t want to say that having a baby was my “answer”; that would be much too simple. I’m coming to realize that 2018’s answer was more like this: you’re doing fine with your career, but what you are missing isn’t related to singing or music or your artistic life. You are missing someone whom you haven’t even met yet, and you are missing your family. Take a breather (yes, even a forced one!) and be there with and for your family—and for yourself. The payoff will be great with time, and your career will survive it. (On that same note, I have had performances and professional engagements since Max’s birth—and life does go on!)
So that was my year in 2018. Dear friends and colleagues: how was your year? Was it a year of questions, or answers? What do you think 2019 will ask of you?