Thursday, January 17, 2013

Chew My Own Teeth. Crippled too high for crutches

As one of the student's put it, this trip so far has been a bunch of once-in-a-lifetime experiences all packed into a few weeks. It's been nothing short of amazing and exhausting. Busy mornings and busy evenings with short breaks into between, I need more time to sit and organize my thoughts. This post is to recount something that happened days ago now that I have the free day to do it.

First of all, I want to say to all the opera folks on our tour and the browser our blog, I acknowledge that the operatic style takes a lot of skill and that the performers in this opera showed a tremendous amount of talent and hard work. I know what they do is very difficult and I don't mean to offend any readers.

Der Rosenkavalier.
I heard it was going to be long, so I wasn't surprised that it lasted 4.5 hours. Yes, that was a long time to be sitting but I was not prepared for how it made me feel.
The first 10 minutes was fascinating. A beautiful set, a great orchestra. I have never been a huge fan of opera and I was never sure why. I dismissed it as just lack of exposure. Sometimes you just have to give some genres a try and they grow on you, such has been the case for nearly every other genre I've listened to. I take pride in the fact that I really do like all types of music. People ask me what I listen to, I say with confidence "everything." ....Until now. This concert left me 100% certain about one thing: I. CANT. STAND. OPERA.

30 minutes into the opera I started feeling an indescribable aggravation. Something was wrong with my head. This was not a head ache. it was irritation of the mental variety. At the first intermission, Mary and Karla asked me how I was liking it so far and I'm bad at lying. I told them honestly that I was not enjoying myself in the slightest and that my head hurt. They offered me Ibuprofen and I declined. No pain killer could help what was wrong.
Every moment after the first 30 minutes I had this overwhelming sensation to get up and leave. It almost felt as thought my brain was having a fight or flight response and it was telling me it needed a break.
It was then that I realized I was having a sensory overloaded. After the opera when I explained how I was feeling to people they giggled like I was being metaphoric. I couldn't find more serious words. Everyone has those things that set us off. Everyone has a sound they just can't stand. The female operatic voice is my "nails on a chalkboard." It's blood-curdling. It makes me want to chew my own teeth. The second I hear opera I want it to stop. It took every fiber of my frontal lobe to keep me from shouting, "STOP MAKING THAT NOISE!"
To be quite honest I don't know when or why the operatic style was developed and who thought it was a good idea to teach it. I cannot fathom why someone heard an opera singer and thought "that's beautiful." I apologize to my opera friends and fans, but that sound is far from beautiful to me. Vibrato so wide you could throw a cat through it, pitches so indistinguishable, dizzying melodic phrasing, abrasive timbre, text to boot. No thank you.
It's too much.
I didn't even consider until later that it might be the synesthesia that caused the over-stimulation. Listening to this opera, the orchestra, reading text, watching the characters, trying to decipher the language, follow the story - my brain was a seizing kaleidoscope on a roller coaster. Nothing was discernible. My brain was in agony trying to process so many sensations all at once.
Throughout my life I've often felt there was something wrong with me for being so "weird." Today, I had never felt more autistic. I have read about the result of over-stimulation in children with autism. They may lash out when their brain can't handle everything going on. I also witnessed a student with autism get overloaded in a music classroom once... and I was ready to have an outburst myself in the middle of the opera house.


It's been very interesting... all the languages.
Thought people say America is a melting pot of culture, I must say I have never experienced language barriers quite like this. To my left I hear people speaking Japanese, the occasional Americans. To my right is German and people who know Czech. We are sharing the hostel with a large group of students from France. We and those students share the lounge and we have no idea what each other is saying. I had dinner tonight at a pizza place with a German-only menu and a non-English speaking worker. We survived. I have been to plenty places already where I've come in contact with someone who does not understand me. At the other building of the hostel, I asked a man about the wifi. Stunned, he looked at me with familiar doe eyes, the same way I look at people who start speaking fast German rendering me speechless. I laughed and struggled to find my survival phrases - the same phrases I know so well when I'm the only person I'm using them on.
But I just realized that this my first time in a situation like this. I have never had so many languages around me of this proximity. And this could be normal for people of this country. It is definitely not like this in America. I could not get this experience sitting at home. I thought of my brother and how crazy he is about languages. I wish he was here.

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