Category Archives: Life

If it’s not about classical music, ballet or the violin, you’ll find it here.

To the heroes of the graduating class

If the strains of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” didn’t cause my throat to constrict during my son’s recent high school graduation ceremony, the sight of 180 teens marching in neat lines of two across, dignified in their black graduation robes and caps sure did.

As far as graduations went, it was your typical, garden-variety affair. Held outdoors on the football field, the beauty of the Santa Cruz Mountains flanking the campus, we listened to the usual opening address, followed by songs, speeches, recognition for award recipients. Hats off to the graduates who garnered awards. You surely deserved it and your efforts have been duly noted and fêted. Valedictorians, Salutatorians, Principal’s Award recipient, National Honor Society member, Top 10 Students. And so on.

That’s not the group, however, to whom I dedicate this blog.

I am a member of NAMI—the National Alliance on Mental Illness—and I participate in a local support group and its accompanying online discussion forum. Other members of this group are parents such as my husband and myself, who have needed support through our kids’ tricky adolescent years. The group, its supportive presence and collective wisdom, has been a life saver to me, a rope flung out in turbulent waters that just about pulled me under a few years ago. I’m unspeakably grateful for the group, its members and their own stories. Difficult situations abound. Life gets real here.

Prior to parenting, in my early thirties, I glibly thought all kids graduated from high school. Well, certainly kids of well-adjusted parents with college degrees and a stable, loving home environment. You do everything right, the kid will turn out right. Right?

I can hear some of you laughing out there. Silly, deluded Classical Girl. Life, as well, sort of chuckled at my naïve attitude and murmured, “Boy, do you have something to learn.” So Life went about teaching me. Illuminating me. The past eight years, if not the past eighteen years, have forever changed me. Humbled me. Opened my eyes to all the different, subtle ways, all of us—kids and parents alike—struggle. And when your kid is not neurotypical, or is struggling with a mental illness or behavioral differences, or something scary and undiagnosable, all the rules of parenting get thrown out the window anyway.

What seemed impossible to consider two and three years ago—my son pushing past his challenges to graduate from high school—took place this month. And, oh, the pride I felt, the relief, the thorny, crazy wisdom. The bittersweetness. Because not all my NAMI friends and fellow parents have been able to achieve this milestone. Good kids from good families sometimes have to drop out of high school. Debilitating anxiety. Physical illness. Mental illness. Scary, turbulent behavior that risks tearing the family apart. Eating disorders. Self-harm. Suicide ideations. Suicide attempts. The escalation of any of the above, mandating residential treatment. Attaining a high school diploma becomes secondary in importance, often shelved, temporarily out of their reach.

On graduation day, I watched closely as all my son’s classmates’ names were called out and they stepped up to receive their diplomas. Each and every one touched me. I understand now that every last one of those kids had a story. Every one of their parents had a reason to feel proud. We may never know the other guy’s story. If it involves something like anxiety or mental illness, quite possibly we won’t ever hear the story. There are no awards for having gotten out of bed every morning and gone to school, even though, for some teens, it was like scaling Mt. Everest daily. Some teens went through periods of wanting to kill themselves. Some tried.  Families tend not to share that. You just never know.

Those are my heroes. Those kids. The quiet-looking ones (or not) who didn’t garner awards and accolades (or maybe they did. Reminder to self: you just never, never know). They did this. They achieved this milestone.

Here’s to you, heroes of the graduating class of 2017, for all your efforts, the barriers you overcame, to arrive at this place. And to your parents. I raise my glass high to you all. And to my son, I am so very, very proud of you.

 

                      

PS: if you are a parent struggling with this kind of situation and don’t know where to turn, please, please reach out to me, via my “contact me” page, or get in touch with your local NAMI chapter. There IS help for you and your child. You are NOT alone. I promise.

It’s Acoustic Neuroma Awareness Week

Acoustic neuromas seem to want to feature into my extended family. If you’re one of my regular readers, you’ve likely heard the story of my sister and her acoustic neuroma, but a different sister found herself with an extra chapter to the story. Two years ago, she and her husband had an appointment with an ENT specialist following up on his own symptoms (headache, ringing in the ear). An MRI had been performed and the doctor now told the two of them, “What he has here is a rare condition, affecting 1 in 100,000, known as an acoustic neuroma. Now, what an acoustic neuroma is…”

“… is a slow-growing, benign tumor, located on the eighth cranial nerve,” my sister finished for him. “Yes,” she added, noting his surprise, “our family knows all about acoustic neuromas. My sister had one removed six years ago.”

So. You add two family members and my beloved character, Dena, from my novel Outside the Limelight to the equation, along with the fact that I’ve pledged to donate 10% of the proceeds for Outside the Limelight to the Acoustic Neuroma Association, and that’s why it seemed important to pause the button on musings about classical music and ballet to give the condition and the association a shout-out this week. Happy Acoustic Neuroma Awareness week to all of you!

What is an acoustic neuroma? Also known as a vestibular schwannoma, it’s a benign tumor that arises on the eighth cranial nerve leading from the brain stem to the inner ear. This nerve has two distinct parts, one part associated with transmitting sound and the other with sending balance information to the brain. The eighth cranial nerve and the facial (and/or seventh) cranial nerve lie adjacent to each other; they pass through a bony canal called the internal auditory canal. It is generally here that acoustic neuromas originate, from the sheath surrounding the eighth nerve. When they grow large, they press against the brain stem, which gets dangerous, as you might have guessed. Acoustic neuroma patients often deal with post-op issues that reflect the state of these compromised nerves: hearing can be compromised or destroyed on the tumor side. Patients can experience different levels of one-sided facial paralysis, as well, based on the condition of the facial nerve, and whether or not it has to be clipped during the extraction surgery.

I lived vicariously in the world of the acoustic neuroma patient for three years while writing and revising my novel, Outside the Limelight. I frequented the Acoustic Neuroma Association’s invaluable discussion board, which is an amazing place, a source of not just information but powerful stories of both struggle and success. Check it out HERE — you will learn so much and have the opportunity to hear the stories of real-life heroes and survivors.

To help celebrate Acoustic Neuroma Awareness Week and increase the opportunity for more people to learn about acoustic neuromas and how they impact a person’s life, Outside the Limelight will be free from Wed, May 10 through Friday, May 12 HERE. It’s Book 2 of a series, and, while easily read on its own, I’ve discounted Book 1 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles, Off Balance, to 99 cents for the month of May, if you’d prefer to start there.  You can find that book HERE.

Want to hear others’ stories about acoustic neuromas? HERE is a great blog from writer Lucie Smoker, an acoustic neuroma survivor. And actress and fashion designer Tara Subkoff tells her story for Harper’s Bazaar HERE.

Today, and all week long, I will lift my hat to all of you who’ve had to deal with this rare and challenging condition. You are warriors, survivors and heroes, each and every one of you.

 

Me and my sisters. Orange Classical Girl next to white-shirt, acoustic neuroma survivor, Maureen.

May 7-13, 2017 marks the fifth annual ANAwareness Week hosted by the Acoustic Neuroma Association®(ANA). ANA invites you to raise awareness of acoustic neuroma and the challenges facing acoustic neuroma patients, their family members and caregivers while recognizing their accomplishments. Visit www.ANAUSA.org and follow them on Facebook.

New to 2017: Classical Girl Giving

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“Help save the world” sounds like a rather ambitious 2017 New Year’s resolution, so I won’t call it that. But there is this new thing rising in me that I feel compelled to share.

It all started last spring. With my son turning seventeen, and a trio of Really Challenging Years behind us, something in me began to relax, or maybe wake up, to the fact that this world of ours comes with a host of Really Big Problems to try and help solve. Or maybe my daily mindfulness meditation practice starting yielding its own results. Point being: I heard the whisper of a call.

Now, I will argue that devoting oneself to passive tasks such as writing about the arts is not completely off the mark in the department of “helping to save the world” and/or make it a better place. If everyone spent their time immersed in work they found relevant, nourishing, challenging, important, I’m willing to bet we’d all live on a more peaceful planet.

That said. You tell people you served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, and it will produce a different reaction from when you tell them you’re a blogger who devotes big chunks of your day to waxing lyrically about the performing arts—preferably the fuddy-duddy classical stuff from the 19th and early 20th century.

Did I tell you I served two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa?

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But that was another life entirely. Decades ago. Writing novels and raising a family claimed that space in my heart, it would seem. Until one day last May, after a Diablo Ballet performance, when I was talking with the company’s artistic director, Lauren Jonas. Art has a way of clearing out my inner clutter to begin with, and it had been a delightful, artful program. Lauren was telling me about a new extension of their PEEK* outreach program. This endeavor, funded by a California Arts Council grant, brought Lauren and PEEK’s associate director, former company dancer Edward Stegge, into Juvenile Hall, where they presented movement classes to at-risk incarcerated 15-to-17 year-old girls as part of their in-house Court School Program.

Diablo Ballet had been one of only eight organizations receiving awards for this highly competitive and limited-funds program, called JUMP StArts*. Lauren told me she’d been thrilled. “When I co-founded Diablo Ballet, back in 1993,” she said, “something like this had always been a part of the plan, the dream.”

Lauren shared a few details about the program, that had begun in mid-July the previous year. Once inside the facility, she and Eddie were screened and fingerprinted, given a list of things they could and could not do. They’d been told what colors they should not wear, questions they could not ask. They had to be accompanied by guards and were warned that some of the girls might have difficulty expressing themselves, and/or might start fights.

And then the once-weekly program started. Not dance classes or lectures, so much as movement creation exercises, discussions that taught the teen girls about themselves, their bodies, the self-esteem within them Lauren believed could be coaxed out, and a healthier self-expression. After just one session, Lauren and Eddie knew they had found something extraordinary. Some weeks they brought a musician along for live music, like Bolivian guitarist Gabriel Navia, which the girls loved. Sometimes they brought other dancers, like company member Amanda Farris, whom the girls had seen on the cover of the Diablo Ballet magazine. Here she was now, beautiful, famous, and so warm, so accessible! Venezuelan company member Rosselyn Ramirez was another great hit with the dancers. During one movement exercise, she assured a particularly difficult girl that the way she was doing the movement was perfect. The girl clasped her hands together and turned to her neighbor. “Did you hear that?” she said in a hushed, awed voice. “She said I was perfect.” Which, when Lauren recounted this to me, made my throat squeeze up.

 

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(*PEEK = Performing Arts Education & Enrichment for Kids)
(*JUMP StArts = Juveniles Utilizing Massive Potential Starting with Arts)

The program ran from July to February. Lauren had already begun searching for additional grants in the hope of keeping the program annual (which they received – yay! – and this second year’s program continues through Feb/early March 2017). She and Eddy agreed that it had been one of the most rewarding experiences they’d ever had.

Her own quiet excitement, enthusiasm, deep commitment, was like a big gong within me. It was a real I want to join the Peace Corps moment, like I’d had at age twenty. It all came rushing back to me, the desire to be more, do more, to try and make a bigger difference in the world.

On my drive home from the performance, a reality check settled in. I’ve come to understand that I am not an extraverted do-er. I had a tough time in the Peace Corps, truth be told. My introverted side took over in a major way and, if I can be honest here, I didn’t do anything noble in the least. My greatest achievement was sticking out my two years and letting the host nationals observe on a daily basis that white, privileged Americans could be bumbling and stupid, make mistakes right and left, and not have any more answers than they did. Outside my teaching hours (English to high school students) I took comfort in writing, being alone. I spent hours journaling, reading, vicariously immersed in someone else’s misadventures, processing and chronicling my thoughts and feelings.

But there’s room in the world for both, right? The world needs the do-ers, the performing artists, activists, leaders and such. But it needs its observers, processors and scribes. Those who can help spread the word and offer support, financial or otherwise.

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Which is what brings me to my 2017 New Year’s resolution. I hereby announce the creation of Classical Girl Giving. I am still in the process of figuring out precisely what this entails, but my thought is to offer a modest quarterly donation to foundations to help support worthy ballet-based [or influenced] dance companies and projects. The inaugural recipient of the Classical Girl Giving project is, no surprise, Diablo Ballet, to help support their PEEK Extension program.

Beyond that? Yikes. I’m a little intimidated. Giving, as it turns out, is harder than just writing a check and handing it over. Where on earth do I start? Who’s behind the funding of grants that choreographers, artistic directors and arts administrators need in order to fund an outreach program? Which foundation deserves a shout-out over another? So much to learn. But Pema Chödrön, my favorite Buddhism/meditation/inspiration writer says it best: start where you are.

So. Here I am, bumbling and all, and let’s call this list a work in progress, shall we? What I’ve accrued here (with much help from choreographer/dancer/artistic director Robert Dekkers – thank you SO much!) are names of foundations that support dance companies and projects through grants. Some accept outside donations, others maybe not. Maybe I give straight to the dance company, maybe not. This list will likely change as I learn more; it might become multiple lists, one for readers who’d like to support the arts, one for dancers and choreographers looking for funding. Currently it favors California and the San Francisco Bay Area, but if you want to recommend a worthy foundation based elsewhere, please do. Are you a choreographer, artistic director, an arts nonprofit administrator who has a different foundation to suggest? I’d LOVE your help. You can either contact me privately or leave a message below in “comments.”

And without further ado, in alphabetical order…

10 great foundations that help champion and sustain dance and the arts

  1. California Arts Council (‘Artists in Schools’ Program and JUMP StArts Program)
  2. Dancers’ Group
  3. East Bay Fund for Artists
  4. The Fleishhacker Foundation
  5. The Rainin Foundation
  6. San Francisco Arts Commission
  7. San Francisco Foundation and Grants for the Arts
  8. The Schubert Foundation
  9. The Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation
  10. Zellerbach Family Foundation

The New Arrival

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OFF BALANCE is thrilled to announce the arrival of its sister novel in the Ballet Theatre Chronicles series. Welcome to the world, OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT!

So, the baby got a lovely write-up in Kirkus Reviews, which summarizes OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT as “a lovely and engaging tale of sibling rivalry in the high-stakes dance world.” And remember my recent post on “Ballet Terms Made Simple?” Happy to report that Kirkus liked it, saying, “the glossary of dance terms at the end of the book proves a marvelous resource for the uninitiated,” and announcing, “this is a novel both for ballet lovers and those new to the art.” Cool! You can read the whole review HERE. (Editor’s note on Nov 15: woo hoo, an award! See below for the press release!)

I’m thinking this calls for a glass bubbly tonight. Care to join me? Come join me, as well, on my virtual book tour this week, where I’ll be interviewed or reviewed by the following bloggers, courtesy of Sage’s Blog Tours.

October 30th Freda Hansburg ~ INTERVIEW
October 31st Eskiemama Reads ~ INTERVIEW
November 1st Jessica and Gracie’s Tree ~ REVIEW
November 4th Comfy Reading ~ REVIEW
November 5th Reecaspieces ~ REVIEW

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Visit Sage’s Blog Tours to enter a giveaway for a print copy of OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT, matching tote bag and $10 Amazon gift card HERE. Or cut to the chase and buy your own copy right now, HERE.

And by the way, Happy Halloween, San Francisco style! Below is a very cool photo, not retouched or photoshopped, which I saw in the San Francisco Chronicle a few years back, and now feels like the perfect time to use it. Spooky, elegant, and as I was in San Francisco last night, at the symphony (look for a blog on that later this week), it just felt right. The Civic Center was animated, beautifully lit, crowded, crazy, a little weird and unsettling — everything you could hope for in a pre-Halloween Saturday night in San Francisco. And if you’d like a soundtrack to your Halloween, remember to check out my Top 10 Halloween Classical Faves HERE.

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And that award I was talking about, from Kirkus Reviews?

Introducing OUTSIDE THE LIMELIGHT

Breaking news! Outside the Limelight has been named a Kirkus Indie Books of the Month Selection for January 2017!

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Classical Girl Press is proud to announce the release of Outside the Limelight, Book 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles! You can find it in print and electronic formats HERE or distributed  through Ingram Book Company and Bookshop Santa Cruz.

WHAT THE NOVEL’S ABOUT…

Rising ballet star Dena Lindgren’s dream career is knocked off its axis when a puzzling onstage fall results in a crushing diagnosis: an acoustic neuroma, a benign brain tumor. Looming surgery and its long recovery period prompt the company’s artistic director, Anders Gunst, to shift his attention to an overshadowed company dancer: Dena’s older sister, Rebecca, with whom Anders once shared a special relationship.

Under the heady glow of Anders’ attention, Rebecca thrives, even as her recuperating sister, hobbled and unnoticed, languishes on the sidelines of a world that demands beauty and perfection. Rebecca ultimately faces a painful choice: play by the artistic director’s rules and profit, or take shocking action to help her sister.

Exposing the glamorous onstage world of professional ballet, as well as its shadowed wings and dark underbelly, Outside the Limelight examines loyalty, beauty, artistic passion, and asks what might be worth losing in order to help the ones you love.

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING…

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“A lovely and engaging tale of sibling rivalry in the high-stakes dance world.”
— Kirkus Review (Starred review; read in its entirety HERE)

“Balanchine said dance is music made visible; Terez Mertes Rose’s Outside the Limelight is dance made readable. She reveals both the beauty of ballet and its pain in a compelling, deftly written novel that unfolds like a series of perfectly executed chaîné turns. Not to be missed!”
— Tasha Alexander, NYT bestselling author of A Terrible Beauty

Outside the Limelight sweeps us backstage, through the wings, past the dressing rooms, and into the lives of its dancers, where we see them up close, flawed and beautiful.”
— Adrienne Sharp, bestselling author of The True Memoirs of Little K and White Swan, Black Swan: Stories

“From the theater’s spotlights and shadows comes a nuanced drama of pain and beauty without one false note. I didn’t want it to end!”
— Kathryn Craft, award-winning author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy

Outside the Limelight pulls readers into the lives of two sisters, both professional ballerinas. Through their challenges, obstacles and triumphs we are reminded that life is a complicated yet wondrous journey, and that love–artistic, romantic and familial–is one of the strongest forces of all.”
— Zippora Karz, former soloist, New York City Ballet, author of The Sugarless Plum and Ballerina Dreams

“Readers will relish this fresh, enlightened insider’s look at two talented dancer sisters beset by professional rivalry & bound by love. This glowing novel is full of heart. Enchanting.”
–Sari Wilson, author of Girl Through Glass

“In Outside the Limelight, Terez Mertes Rose once again manages to perfectly capture the ethereal beauty of the ballet.  It’s a story as rich, heartbreaking and uplifting as any ballet masterwork, with characters who stay with you long after the final act.”
— Lauren E. Rico, author of Reverie and Rhapsody

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WHERE THE STORY CAME FROM…

A decade ago, in the spring of 2006, my sister was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma and two months later underwent a craniotomy and translab procedure to have it removed. I hadn’t started writing my Ballet Theatre Chronicles series yet, immersed as I was in a different, “sure thing” second novel. We were both to be disappointed by our respective end results. While the craniotomy and tumor removal was deemed a success, resulting facial paralysis on one side, brain fog, single-sided deafness and worsening tinnitus became my sister’s fate. My own “sure to be a winner” novel went over like a lead balloon with my agent. The silver lining: her belief in my writing and suggestion that I try my hand at something ballet-based, a subject I’d touched on in my first, unpublished novel. So as my sister struggled with the aftereffects of her acoustic neuroma, immersing herself in therapies and surgeries and strategies, I set to work on a new novel. But it would only be in February of 2011, after the first ballet novel didn’t sell, and my fourth novel didn’t sell, and my agent and I were once again musing about ballet in fiction for adults, its absence in the current marketplace, that I said to her, “what do you think about a ballet novel featuring two sisters, dancers in the same elite company, and one of them, the younger, more talented one, gets felled by an acoustic neuroma diagnosis and a host of post-op problems? Do you think something like that would interest readers?”

Black Swan had just come out. Something in the air seemed to be whispering ballet to the world at large. “I do,” she said without hesitation, and so Outside the Limelight was born.

At first things seemed great. The words flowed onto paper, and my sister’s warrior, can-do attitude toward her difficult recovery continued, through more surgeries, more therapies. But life can get the best of us and our best intentions. A month away from completion, my novel hit a snag. A competing ballet novel—about sisters, dancers in the same elite company, the younger, more talented one gets sidelined with injury (seriously, how was this possible for two books so similar to be produced in the same year after decades of nothing?)—came out, to strong acclaim. I was screwed. And so was my sister. Surgery after surgery had not eradicated her facial paralysis. Nor had her brain fog or tinnitus dissipated. Depression and anxiety swept over her like a tsunami, drowning her. My novel, hastily revised so it didn’t seem quite so copycat, stagnated in the hinterlands of the Big 5 Publishing world as my agent shopped it that fall and through the next twelve months. It was a year of staggering disappointment and discouragement, for both myself and my sister. And still life went on. Because it always does.

My sister couldn’t fight back, but I could. Time for Plan B. In May 2015, as an independent publisher (Classical Girl Press), I published my first ballet novel, Off Balance. A twelve-week revision of Book 2 turned into twelve months. As a result of everything, this 2016 revision is both the same story and a very different one. They say adversity reshapes you, and I concur. My own reshaping stuff aside, I watched my sister continue to struggle with her load. Nothing went away for her—not the brain fog, the shrill scream of permanent tinnitus, the facial paralysis, the resulting depression and anxiety. While I could do little to help my sister’s plight, I could pour my concern and love for her into my story. Powered by this, and a long year of backtracking, slowing down, rerouting and re-re-revising, the story has emerged all the stronger for it.

This is Outside the Limelight. This story is dedicated to my sister Maureen, with love, from all her sisters (below, L to R, clockwise: Orange Classical Girl, Annette, Kathleen, Laura, MarySue, with Maureen in the middle.) It’s a story dedicated to sisters everywhere. And to acoustic neuroma survivors. And to professional ballet dancer survivors. You are all warriors. Never forget it.

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PS: I want to publicly thank the Acoustic Neuroma Association and its wonderful discussion forum, a source of great comfort, peer information and support for my sister, and a community I quietly followed on the sidelines as I worked on my novel. Ten percent of the profits of Outside the Limelight will be donated to the Acoustic Neuroma Association. If you know of anyone who has suffered from an acoustic neuroma or just been diagnosed with one, direct them to the association and discussion forum HERE. And please allow me to gift them a copy of Outside the Limelight. It would be an honor, a privilege, and a chance to pay it forward. This goes for loved ones of an acoustic neuroma patient/survivor as well. Sometimes sitting on the sidelines, watching a loved one struggle, feels just as hard.

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