Archive for the ‘The Moments’ Category

Raised on Musicals

October 1, 2011

It’s happening again. I can feel myself being pulled back in.

My Mom and I sat in the highest balcony at Gammage Auditorium last night and mouthed every word of West Side Story. We were offended when the producers of the show’s revival added a scene that wasn’t in the original. We didn’t like when they switched the order of the songs. But we still cried when Maria sang her final farewell to Tony, kneeling beside his dead body on the dark streets of New York — ahem, I mean, on the stage in Tempe.

Oh no. It’s all downhill from here.

I just spent the last hour watching every scene that’s posted on YouTube from the original 1961 movie of West Side Story. (“A Boy Like That” is my favorite, thanks to the fiery Rita Moreno). And, on the drive home from the theater last night, I played selections from Wicked on my iPod because it’s the only musical soundtrack I have on there. Lucky for anyone sitting in a car next to me at any red light on the way, I drove with the top down on my convertible and could be heard clearly, belting out every note.

The Cult of the Musical has a strong pull on a generation of women like me (and our mothers). It’s an obsession that usually rests nascent in the back of our minds as we go about our everyday lives as seemingly normal people — until we hear a Sondheim melody or see a Fosse dance move. Then, the obsession is triggered and it could be weeks before we are back to normal.

It’s not our fault. We were raised on musicals.

In fact, most of my childhood memories are mixed up with musicals: My sister fast-forwarding through the slow songs in My Fair Lady every time we watched it. Both of us refusing to view the second tape of Camelot because everything gets sad after the end of the first one. My mother making us sing the “Sisters” song from White Christmas every year. Me, spending hours playing with sponge-rollers, trying to figure out how to make my hair exactly replicate Shirley Temple’s.

Like great literature might do for some other (smarter) children, my concept of historical places and events was almost entirely framed by these films. Ask 7-year-old me what slavery was, and I would tell you about “Old Man River”  and the Show Boat on the Mississippi. What’s an arranged marriage? When Tevye tried to make Tzeitel marry the butcher in Fiddler on the Roofbut she had the courage to defy him. What were they fighting about in World War II? I wasn’t quite sure, but I knew it kept Liesl and Rolf from falling in love even after they kissed in The Sound of Music.

Courage, tradition, love — especially love.

Even now, the biggest mysteries — the ones I still am grasping to understand — just make more sense in a musical. And, for my generation of women, in between Feminism and Whatever’s Coming Next, that kind of high drama hits a nerve. There’s a longing for something more — something grander — within us. And musicals give it life.

Thanks to my childhood of musicals, I have always known exactly what love would look like one day. Thanks to the world I actually live in, I have been consistently disappointed. Shocking, I know. Instead of ballads and dancing and long, flowing dresses, we get hook-ups and Match.com and text-messaging.

I’m not blaming musicals for giving me unreasonable expectations about love. I’m blaming myself for not living up to my grand musical ideals.

When Tony sings an entire song just about Maria’s name — repeating it over and over again at different pitches and volumes, just to hear it sung — it’s hyperbole, sure. But it also touches on something true. And, when he hit that last, quiet, high note of the song on the stage in Tempe last night, it gave me chills. And maybe even a bit of hope.

This Christmas, I will be a bridesmaid for the fourth time. My best friend will steel her nerves and walk down a long aisle looking like royalty to commit her life to the man she loves. For the fourth time, I will stand in awe watching her, wondering how she could be so brave, so beautiful, so sure.

But, like millions of women before her, she will do it without a moment’s hesitation. Like millions of weddings before, the music will swell, the steps will be traced, the words will be recited — and I will cry just like I did last night watching that musical.

Courage, tradition and love — especially love. Only, this time, it will be in real life, not just the movies.

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Lost in Paris

June 11, 2011

As we landed in Paris, my head was between my knees, a travel pillow pulled tightly over my ears. I was motion sick.

After one glorious week in Rome amid the talking, smoking, singing and smiling Italians, I was back in Paris. Paris. Paris.

I spent five months in Paris as an undergraduate, living at the Cite Universitaire in the 14th Arrondissement, attempting to learn to speak – and be – French, only to discover that both tasks were largely out of my reach.

Now, I’ve returned. Not really by choice, but by chance. I’m spending these three weeks in Europe as a teaching assistant for a small, lively group of journalism students from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Rome, Paris and London. We’re spending one week in each place, learning about European media and seeing the sights.

On our flight from Rome to Paris, I listened as the woman behind me jabbered away in rapid French with my head between my knees. I cringed when I heard the flight attendant announce our arrival at Charles de Gaul.

Merci de voyager avec AirFrance.

Merde.

I stared at the floor between my feet. If I hadn’t realized it before, I did now: I seriously resent Paris.

Paris, to me, is that girl. You know the one I’m talking about. That impossibly beautiful girl who has long, luscious hair, great style, a family with money and the most strikingly beautiful eyes you have ever seen. She is also probably smart and she is definitely popular. You’ve hated her from the moment you met her – whether it was in elementary school or grad school.

She is perfect and no one should be allowed to be perfect and, so, you hate her.

The only problem is, you can’t. Because, most annoyingly of all, she is also incredibly sweet. She is kind, caring and unassuming. In short, she is unbelievably deserving of all of the wonderful things she has in her life.

Paris is that girl.

Paris is perfect. The City of Lights, full of women who eat bread and don’t get fat, straight men with great hair who wear scarves and children who should be in Ralph Lauren ads.

Last night I saw an old French friend who lived in the U.S. for six weeks with my family eight years ago and still speaks English more correctly than I do. He is incredibly kind, smart and successful. He has gotten better looking with every year he ages. Of course he has: He’s French.

Au revoir, merci! The flight attendant chirps at me as I walk off the plane. I’m still nauseated from the flight, my hair is piled on top of my head and my makeup is running down my face.

Merci I say back. I look at her and immediately feel fat.

As an American in Paris, I was hopeless – except I looked like I was merely helpless. I could dress like the Parisians, walk like the Parisians, I could even talk something like the Parisians – but I could never do any of it perfectly. And I don’t particularly like doing things that I can’t do perfectly.

I would walk briskly through the metro tunnels, order espresso and drink only red wine, but I could never shake the feeling that I was 5 years old in my mother’s high heels. I felt like a fraud in my scarves and knee-high boots. I had lost myself in Paris.

That night, after I’d recovered from the flight, I left our hotel at midnight and started walking. I couldn’t remember how to navigate the city at all, so I started walking in the only direction I recognized, toward the Seine.

I wanted to get lost. I had managed to lose myself in this city for five months in the past. Why not let it take me again?

I was already feeling frustrated and every beautiful couple I saw on the sidewalk made me more so – every gorgeous windowsill and every perfectly organized park.  It has been three years since I lost myself in Paris and I was still angry about it. Even now, Paris still made me feel like a fraud.

I walked and walked that night – until I lost myself in Paris again.

I got lost in the lights, the curving streets, in the bend of the river, the sidewalk cafes and the fluttering lilts of the language floating in the air around me. I got lost in the memories that arose as I skipped across streets and turned corners. I couldn’t escape that unmistakably French feeling of déjà vu.

I’d laughed at that café, drank too much wine at that bar and ran for the last train at that metro stop before. I’d been young and stupid in this city before and, yes, I’d tried to be something that I wasn’t in this city before.

Walking in the city that night, I think I figured out the problem with Paris and me: I will never be Parisian. I like open spaces and big skies. I like to drive. I like the sunshine, girly country music, my VW convertible and hiking with my dog.

Paris forced me to finally accept something I spent all of middle school, most of high school and at least some of college trying to fight: myself.

I walked along the Seine and down Rue de la Huchette and down Boulevard Saint-Michel and past the Pantheon and down Rue Clovis to Rue Monge. I had lost myself in Paris again.

Then, I turned a corner and, to my surprise, saw our hotel. Finally, I had found my way back.

Post-Grad: Part 2

May 22, 2011

Well, it’s official. I’m a graduate. Again.

Last week, I stood on stage at Gammage Auditorium as Associate Dean Marianne Barrett placed a graduate hood over my head. I walked across the stage in ludicrously high heels and shook the hand of Dean Chris Callahan and then made my way to my mother, Associate Dean Kristin Gilger, who handed me a diploma — and a very big hug.

After two long years of writing, shooting, laughing, crying, running in heels and sometimes falling on my face, I now have a master’s degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

My post-grad life is about to restart. And so is my post-grad blog.

I will wake up tomorrow morning, drink a large cup of coffee and then pack up my life in Phoenix. I’ve been grinding my teeth a lot lately. I think it has something to do with this impending reality — not the coffee, leaving Phoenix. See, there is nothing I want to do less.

Last month, I found myself sitting in a tiny room inside a shop in Sedona with my two best friends and a woman named Ashiko. She had a vague Eastern European accent, round glasses and three decks of Tarot cards. Now, as a Catholic, I don’t believe in this kind of thing — fortune telling or auras or palm readings. But, as a Catholic, I was also raised with an innate respect for — and fear of — anything that hints of the supernatural and superstitious. So, as I should have expected I would, I believed every word Ashiko said.

She read me like the open book I am, and we spent the majority of our time talking about my career. Where will I go when I graduate, she wanted to know. I did too. So, I pulled a card for each place I might end up — New York, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans. They were all promising, she said. There were cards with words like “Power” and “Prosperity” on them. Nothing ominous at all.

Then, I asked Ashiko if I could pull one more. “What if I stay in Phoenix?” I asked, and flipped over a card.

There was a picture of a Gollum-like character on it gripping onto the bars he was trapped behind. “Clinging to the past,” the card said.

Out loud, I laughed at the cryptic message on the card. In my head, I was shouting at Ashiko and all of her supposed wisdom about my life. My life. What did she know, anyway?

I left the shop secretly devastated by that card — not because the card would somehow force me to leave Phoenix, this city that I love with its mountains, heat, space and my friends and family within its boundaries. I was devastated by that card because I knew what it said was true.

Tomorrow, I will wake up, drink a large cup of coffee and then pack up my life in Phoenix. I’ll spend the summer in Europe and New York City. I’ll become a Carnegie fellow at ABC News under Brian Ross’s investigative unit. I’ll apply for jobs all over the country — the world, really. I’ll convince myself I’m ready for another adventure and I might actually be ready for one by the time I start it.

But, all the time, wherever I end up in the coming months and years, I’ll know that I was devastated when I saw that card.

After a lifetime of moving from place to place, the last occupied always became my new answer to the question, “Where are you from?” In Oregon, I was from Louisiana; in Phoenix, from Oregon; in New York, from Phoenix; in Paris, from New York. Then, I moved home. Now, I will always be from Phoenix.

I was devastated when I saw that card because I knew what it said was true.

That’s how fortune telling works, after all.

One Week in Mexico

March 24, 2010

There comes a day in every journalism student’s life when they get in over their heads.

Mine came last week.

As part of my graduate program, I’ve spent the last four months working on one, huge story about women on the border. I’ve studied the issues, talked to every lawyer, advocate, professor, official and agent involved in the issue. I’ve read every report and article about it. I even analyzed a database of coroner’s reports. But it wasn’t until I met one woman — a girl, really — on the border last week that I really got it. It was the day I realized I was in over my head.

But there also comes a day in the course of every story when you realize that you’ve nailed it. For me, it came at the same moment when I realized I was in over my head. There’s this kind of sniff-it-out, animalistic sense that they try to cultivate in you as part of your j-school education. It goes something like this: You’re sitting in a shelter in Nogales talking to someone and they say something off-the-cuff about their sister and an alarm goes off in your head — “that’s a story!”

Problem is, it’s usually something rather morbid — exposing hypocrisy or uncovering an injustice or the dirty underbelly of…well, anything. Maybe this is why the general public respects journalists about as much as car salesmen or lawyers. Maybe it’s also why we have the amazing opportunity to make a difference.

When you sniff it out for the first time, it’s something like biting into a plum that looks ripe but is still sour. It’s hard to swallow, until you remember that there’s a big picture — until you remember that people need to hear this story. It will make a difference.

This is the difference between journalists and everyone else.

I majored in Visual Arts at Fordham. I spent two years in a dark room learning about photographic composition and form. My professor was a successful photographer in the New York art gallery world.He told us once that on 9-11, he walked outside of his apartment but couldn’t bring himself to shoot that day. He just had to take it in, he said, without his camera.

When I told this to my mother, a lifelong journalist, she was incredulous. “How could you not shoot on 9-11?” she asked. At the time, I agreed with my professor.

Last week, though, when a volunteer was stitching up that girl’s hand where she cut it from falling in the desert, I took the shot.