Uphill, both ways

I’ve been out of the office for the last two weeks, trying desperately to regrow two braincells to rub together and make some kind of intellectual spark. (Spoiler: wasn’t successful in growing much aside from hair and girth, but frankly any type of growth is welcome at this point.)

Yesterday, I parked the car at the base of the ‘mountain’ (don’t come for me, oh you who ski out west! I know any ‘mountain’ in the eastern US doesn’t reeeeally count) at the local ski resort, tightened the laces on my shoes, and searched the map for the easiest path to the top. The goal: up and back, without injuring myself/having to call my husband or a neighbor for a rescue.

It was a beautiful morning, with blue skies and high, fluffy clouds. And, a few minutes into the walk, I realized that I had, in fact, hiked this trail before! I remembered the angle of incline (and tbh cursed a little bit when the steepness actually materialized) and roughly where I’d end up at the top of the mountain. 

As I walked up, and then down (which unsurprisingly was way easier but not without challenges!), I thought “holy crap – this hike is a freakin metaphor for the last two summers!”

Hear me out. (And arts administrator friends, weigh in as to whether this resonates with your experience.)

I knew the path. Knew how to get to the end result, how to get up the steep parts of the climb and roughly how long they’d last. I knew it was a hike of 45-75 minutes, not an all-day affair. 

But in the years since I last hiked this path? The terrain had changed. There were new offshoots, and I wasn’t sure where they’d go. There had been clearcuts and regrowth. And it was largely unrecognizable.

And the path itself required my full attention. This wasn’t a well-maintained gravel path -the better term I’ll borrow from my husband’s mountain-biking lingo – it was a rock garden. Tactical, changeable, and totally maneuverable if I was focused…but also 100% able to twist an ankle or knee past usability. 

One of the easier sections.

But I made it to the top! Enjoyed the view for a bit, and then headed back down…which should’ve been a piece of cake…but.

the rocks are treacherous in a different way on descent:

oh hey hamstrings…how you doin?

was struggling enough with the grade on the way up to completely miss all the black bear scat on the trail… yikes!

it was a lovely view, when I wasn't looking at my feet...
it was a lovely view, when I wasn’t looking at my feet…

The way down should’ve been a piece of cake, but required just as much attention, focus and thoughtfulness as the ascent.

Last summer we were making things up as we went along. We had a strong desire to make good on our mission, to support and cultivate artists during the crisis of 2020, and we did.

This summer was supposed to be easier: shows! Rehearsal periods! Live audiences! We know how to do that – we’ve done it before! The path was familiar and, honestly, welcome. But the loose rocks on that path were the necessary focus on public health. The steep grade – and my own difficulty navigating it – due to being out of shape and out of practice with dealing with the demands of producing, let alone in a pandemic. 

(And you’ll forgive me if I draw similarities between the unseen and potentially dangerous nature of both a mama black bear and an invisible deadly virus.)

Don’t get me wrong: it was nothing less than a privilege to be able to make opera for two summers during a pandemic! The support we had – from the Foundation, the Opera team, as well as the Production, Development and Marketing teams – bore the weight of the most thoughtful, considered gift. I’ve struggled to find words to encapsulate the last two summers, but this experience connected several threads for me. If any of this resonates with you, I’d be glad to hear about your experiences in the comments.

(And if you’re willing to share your story of transformation over the pandemic, you can email me at indirectroutes@gmail.com for information about my interview project.)

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