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Oct 12 2009

Friday, December 30th, 2005

Friday, December 30th, 2005

Strength & Metamorphosis

It’s funny how when you least expect it, life throws you a curve— a curve that pulls out a strength you never knew you had, a strength that changes you forever.

“Ow! That hurt like hell!” Man, one minute you’re nonchalantly ice-skating around in circles, just mindin’ your own business, then BAM: you open your eyes with a big ol’ lump on your head and a headache of all headaches. It was one of those “hit your head, out for a sec, think you’re okay, but you’re really not” kind of accidents.

I came to New York City as an artist from Washington, D.C. in 2004, wondering if I’d be working primarily in the stunt or the music industry. Up until my move, I’d been a performer: working as a singer, dancer, and actress in musicals, TV, and film, as a voice-over artist, as well as a stunt person for film and TV. The latter, along with voice-over work, had been my bread and butter for the past three to four years. In addition to all of this, during the last few years prior to my move to New York, I’d also begun writing music, beginning with two musicals and quickly moving to stand-alone songs. Although I felt after all my adventures within the entertainment industry, I’d found—or rather, gone back to—my calling as a singer/songwriter, I knew that the stunt business paid. It was unionized and not only paid well for each job, but also provided me with continuous residuals for airings on television, cable, and DVD. When I arrived in New York City, I figured I’d accept work as it came. As life would have it, stunts came my way and the music took a back seat.

Life was moving forward in my new city. I was getting work, I had an apartment (which is no small feat in The Big Apple), and was beginning to make friends in this fast paced city. Then I had that stupid accident: And no matter how I tried to ignore it, the accident laid me up for quite a while. Caught in a relatively helpless state of pain, I was subjected to a barrage of tests, injections, and drug experiments, all in the hopes that the intense pain would eventually end.

I found the accident physically tough, but nothing compared to the emotional pain I felt being alone with the recovery process in a brand new city like New York. I’d come from a family of supreme denial and complete absence from as far back as I could remember when it came to my well-being in times of pain or crisis. Other things my family was good at: emotionally being there— not so much. This fact made me both extremely independent and resourceful from a very early age. I’m sure they were doing the best they knew how at the time, and I firmly believe that people can and do change, but it didn’t make the experience any easier. Even with those highly honed coping skills, this was a test I felt completely unprepared for.

Since I wasn’t able to work, I found it lonely and tough to keep my head above water both financially and emotionally. Now, without a career, I tried to rekindle my self-worth. I found myself getting lost in my music, delving deeper and deeper into my creativity every day, writing more and more. At times I would venture out to try and play open mics at local bars and clubs. I often left, though, before I even went onstage because, like clockwork, after an hour or so, the pain would return. But I kept focusing on my music.

Luckily, after almost a year of what seemed like a slew of inept doctors poking and prodding me with no positive results, I was drawn to someone I now believe to be a healer, Alex. She and I became fast friends. Remarkably, Alex had started out as a professional guitar player, worked at numerous record labels in Nashville and New York City, and was now a practitioner of Feldenkrais, a specified branch within physical therapy focusing on retraining the body, in midtown Manhattan. Her story is also one of perseverance, much like many of her clients. Having battled rheumatoid all her life, she found Feldenkrais to be the only thing that allowed her to function pain-free. I believe now that’s what makes her such a master of healing, because she’s been there herself. Those who are in the healing arts and have actually, personally “been there” in one way or another have a special power, a gift that allows them to reach deep inside another and actually repair damage that even the most complex and advanced medical techniques could not even begin to touch. To that I can attest.

Alex is a tiny woman, with a unique combination of nurturing and feistiness in her spirit. She has shiny, bright white hair, cut to her shoulders, while her wrinkle-free face is practically flawless, giving her an elusive ageless look and energy. She’s almost elf-like with twinkly blue eyes. You’d think her former career might have been that of a nymph-like dancer rather than a concert guitarist, the way she darts about the physical therapy office, rarely staying in one place for more than a second when she’s not working on a patient.

One day, while in physical therapy, I remember mentioning to her that, since my first day in New York, I’d been curious about performing in the New York City subways, but had always been too scared to do so. I’d always been curious, even before the accident, but I was now taking the thought seriously. I was now entertaining the thought of singing in the subways to actually bring in some cash. “Yeah, but still, I’m really scared,” I’d repeat to Alex over and over while lying on the Feldenkrais table. “You should do it. What do you have to lose?” she assured me. I assumed her encouragement stemmed from her own inner strength and experience.

For almost three weeks, I’d ask myself the question, then Alex, and myself again: “Should I go? Should I do this?” Each time, I’d hem and haw and Alex would answer with conviction, “You should do it, Heidi. What do you have to lose?” For those three weeks I thought about what might be a logical answer to her question— what do I have to lose? I thought about this so I’d have a reason, a valid excuse not to go, since I was really timid at the concept of singing in the trains. And having put this quandary out to Alex and the universe, that dark and dirty place that felt so awfully intimidating and frightening, somehow still pulled at me.

At every session, I’d lie there thinking to myself about logical answers that could keep me from having to try this seemingly bizarre concept that somehow kept on tugging at me. It seemed so very foreign to everything I’d experienced and was trained to do up to this point and yet, despite what seemed to be the obvious oxymoron, I couldn’t seem to come up with any reason not to go. I finally mumbled to Alex during a session, “Probably nothing. I probably have nothing to lose by, you know, at least trying. At least trying it once.” And, who knows, maybe there’s actually something there for me. Something I don’t know about yet, I thought to myself, working hard at keeping the positive in the forefront. The truth is, I knew that by the end of those three weeks my entire savings would be gone and I was going to be trapped in a financial corner. New York City isn’t a place where one can even remotely survive without money. In that respect, trying out the “subway busker” thing (an artist who entertains people for money, usually by singing or dancing) grew more appealing every passing day.

I’d thought of multiple more run-of-the-mill type options for income, but I’m an artist: that’s where my heart was, what I’d been trained in, and what I do. I was still in too much pain to sit for hours in audition lines for musicals and operas. I could still only be up and out for about one to five hours at a stretch before I’d have to go home. I didn’t have the income to promote myself in the voice-over industry, which can cost thousands to get restarted in. So music, on my own, seemed to be my most ready and flexible option.

The accident drove home in a way I hadn’t really wanted to digest, the reality of how solo I was now in this huge bustling city. I don’t think anyone wants to digest that kind of stuff, but it forced me to “deal,” whether I liked it or not. In that context, Alex’s encouraging words and nudging to sing the trains meant more to me than she will probably ever know. She was truly the only one who knew what I was contemplating. She was the only one who I felt accountable to. So I latched onto her support and encouragement, finally allowing it to carry me underground. Once I decided that I was going underground, I knew I’d have to plan. I’d have to pick the right day to enter, the one day I felt strong enough both physically and emotionally to venture into the subways and take whatever they dealt.