Friday, February 26, 2010

The "IT" factor, part two

I've had an interesting couple of days since my last blog post, and this subject elicited such intriguing comments that I thought a follow up post was appropriate.

I woke up very early two mornings ago because my body still wants to be on Europe time, and in an effort to feel productive, I composed a blog post about all the weird circumstances that cause success in this business. The funny thing was, I wasn't really writing the post about my own career per se, since I was in a fine mood about the way things are going for me. But I had been having all these conversations with frustrated colleagues in the few days before I wrote it, and I had been thinking about all the factors that go into creating a successful singer. I was busy feeling just fine about myself, and having fun writing pithy jokes (well, at least I thought they were pithy) about becoming a Buddhist and marrying a movie star, all while still curled up under my duvet cover.

Then, later that same day, I found out a piece of information that made me feel like someone had punched me in the heart with an ice pick. It was a career thing, and I didn't know the whole story, but the information I did have led me to jump to some conclusions that made me really, really depressed. I spent all day in a kind of haze, trying to sift through my own emotions and make sense of them. I re-read my own blog entry, reminding myself that so many of the decisions people in power make have little to do with talent and everything to do with other factors, and that this new information didn't have to change how I felt about myself as an artist. By the end of the day, I had come to terms with the new information, accepted it, and even managed to have a few really interesting and affecting conversations with friends on the subject of being an artist and believing in yourself. I felt like even though the information was difficult and upsetting, it had made me grow a little in my perception of myself.

Then, at the end of the day, I found out that the piece of information I had received had only been part of the story, and when I learned the whole story, the information changed completely, and had nothing whatsoever to do with me. In other words, I had spent all day doubting myself for absolutely no reason. Typical dramatic over-reaction on my part.

In the meantime, my blog post was generating a firestorm (okay, maybe that word is an exaggeration of what my blog was generating, but it sounds newsy, so let me have it) of some really interesting comments from several people about the subject of career success. People from all different facets of the business were weighing in on the tangled and sticky business of career politics, and I found the comments to be extremely fascinating and thought provoking.

Then, I had a great conversation with someone in the business that I really trust, and was given some excellent advice: CALM DOWN. I was reminded of the fact that there is a part of this career that is really like a JOB, and that JOB is controlling our emotions in a way that allows us to continue to do the part we love - the arsty creative part. The job part - the part that's akin to slogging to a fluorescently lit cubicle every day in the snow - is the part where we put ourselves out there as artists, make ourselves vulnerable, get shot down, or squashed, or criticized, and yet we keep going. The "job" we have every day as artists is to continue to believe we have something to say even when it seems like nobody wants to hear it. The daily "work" of an artist is to stay calm in the face of both failure and success, and it really is something that requires an effort every single day. Whether it's keeping yourself from getting overly excited about a fabulous review, or preventing yourself from throwing your computer across the room when a google search reveals that somebody else got a job you really wanted, we all just have to CALM DOWN. And when we find that calm, we can do the single most important thing; make it through another day and start the whole process over again.

I would love to try to find an inspirational video on youtube with which to end this post of a kitten licking a mouse baby or something, but I have some pressing business to attend to. I haven't done my laundry since I've been back from Europe, and it's snowing out, so I can guarantee you that all the washing machines will be unavailable. So I've got to go practice my new CALM DOWN mantra in my building's laundry room. Wish me luck.


Katypracht said...

You're wonderful, lady; great two-part blog post. I was just thinking of complaining to my husband about the fact that he's not "Brad Pitt famous" enough for my career, but I'll slow my roll and calm down instead. :)

Happy laundering!

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, it's me again. I do hope I didn't in any way upset you with my reflections yesterday. I am truly sorry if I did, even unintentionally. I wasn't actually making any assumptions about you and your career, it's just that after reading your "IT" factor post, and knowing some of the unfortunate stories of late which surely fall under that theme, I just felt compelled to share my thoughts. I agree with whomever advised you to remain calm, to the greatest degree possible, given that you are pursuing what probably often feels like a roller coaster profession. I also encourage you to trust your own gut instincts, always, even if you take time to make decisions about career approaches and the like - and even if your instincts make you feel uneasy sometimes. Also, I will say to you and all young singers: no, you are not imagining it - this field can be very unfair sometimes. And, yes, there are some real jerks calling the shots, all over the world. But there are also incredible people, wonderful mentors with ties to the old traditions, people with genuinely good ears (rare) and sound judgement. Keep an eye out for them, you'll know them when you meet them :-). Your appreciation for people like Ms. Pendatchanska shows that you understand what's most important. There are so many singers just like her, especially those itinerant gypsies who spend much of their lives in the European system, whether Europeans themselves or Americans. It's quite a community, really, and you are so good to describe it for those who have yet to experience it. (If one bases oneself in Europe, even primarily in one house as many do, it can be one of the most stable paths in opera. Not saying you'll do that, just that it's one of those options I was talking about. Bear in mind that some agencies emphasize guesting over festing because of potential financial incentives for them.) Anyway, best of luck to you, again - you have a lovely talent and a great head on your shoulders, which is more than half the battle! I look forward to hearing/seeing you perform someday.

C'est Moi said...

I can't promise you a cat licking a mouse, but there is a really great video about resilience on one of my favorite blogs:

Check it out.

sestissimo said...

Don't worry Anonymous - your comments didn't upset me at all, and my parents especially appreciated you suggesting I turn my blog into a book, as they have been telling me that for awhile now! Although I must admit that my friends and I are very curious about your mysterious anonymous identity and which side of the business your knowledge comes from.

I'm happy that people are even reading my ramblings, let alone taking the time to comment, so please feel free to continue to share your thoughts.

Opera Cake said...

Sorry to butt in but I think that story about the "IT" factor applies to almost every profession.

A couple of months ago we discovered an amazing cook working in a small shabby restaurant close to where I work. No way he could be less good than his famous colleagues working in the fancy Michelin* restaurants and who make 100 times more money than he does.

Whenever a subjective factor in assessing the quality of someone's work enters the game, there is always that blurred unfair territory where it's impossible to tell who's really better than who... and still some will eventually become "famous", while the others remain anonymous forever. Nobody said life was very fair.

A bright side of it is that very rare are those who made it to the top without actually being very good in what they do. So, keep working/improving and go after your dream. It may happen tomorrow ;)


Anonymous said...

Hi Jennifer, I really don't plan to lurk here regularly, just to say that my perspective comes from the inside, from a principal artist's point of view (one at the top level), if that helps. Also, I guess what I was trying to say is that those singers who we are told are "stars" nowadays and have the "IT" factor are of course extremely talented and charismatic - but they also have the support and backing of the biggest powers in the field. This becomes a true advantage, and sometimes disproportionately so, because when someone is "chosen" in this business, much financial investment comes into play, essentially - even if the artist can't ultimately back up the hype that has been foisted on the public. (Or to be kinder about it, the artist can't develop quickly enough into the singer the business wants them to be.) The part that bothers me is that this sometimes means that other artists can be neglected, even unintentionally. It's not necessarily a nefarious conspiracy, it's just inevitable. It is what it is, and I don't mean to insinuate anything about those who do have the "IT" factor, I just wanted to point out that they have an incredible amount of help once they are put forward, and I think younger singers should know that. Opera is a business, when it comes down to it, and the art form has sometimes paid a price for that in this era, unfortunately. Again - not to depress or discourage you. You are doing great!

Nicole Cabell said...

Jenny! You're just wonderful (and a damn good cook, too :). I read these posts and, even though I tend to avoid being online too much, want to give you a big thumbs up on this. I love your writing style, and what you say is so relevant and meaningful. I think you hit the nail on the head about just going with the flow. There never comes a time when the business does not have a painful side, whether you're dying to make it, or dying to stay at the top. Living in the moment IS fact, I think it's the only way to live life.
I like your post about "blogging", too. While you have a beautiful blog, it's hit or miss. Nice to know there are good ones, but as an artist, I'd probably not look myself up too much! There are writers like you with knowledge out there, but there is also quite the opposite. If someone says something nice about you, someone inevitably will send you the link. Otherwise don't bother! Every Tom, Dick and Harry has an opinion :)
But great job. You're both funny and articulate. What a joy-yours is a blog I will actually read :)
lots of love!