ANECDOTES & MEMORIES OF RENATE BOJIC

I’m writing up anecdotes about my father for his pending memorial service, and I looked at the ones I wrote for my mother. I realized that many of them were pretty darn funny. I think that sometimes I get a bit snarky about my mother in print but here are some warm and funny memories I have of her.

ANECDOTES & MEMORIES OF RENATE BOJIC (These were written to my sister so the “you” references are to her)

1. When we went to Europe and Aunt Maria had misread Mom’s “24” as “27” so we had no one to pick us up in Luxembourg and take us to Holland, so we had to take a train, and we had a layover of – I seem to remember 12 hours, but that seems like an exaggeration – in Belgium. Mom was so exhausted that she fell asleep with her head hanging to the side in the aisle, and the conductor walked into her and she woke up with a loud SNORT! And we all laughed.

2. Of course there’s the famous time you got her to drink dishwashing liquid at the health food store.

3. She had a deep and abiding love for sour cream and believed everything tasted better with sour cream on it. (I got that from her.) She used to make sour cream sandwiches on rye bread. I would take them to grade school but they didn’t always taste as good after being in a paper bag all morning.

4. Mayonnaise was also a passion and you couldn’t have too much. I remember her asking a waitress if the egg salad was good, and the waitress said, “Yes, it’s very good – a really nice balance, and not too much mayonnaise,” and Mom just looked at her in horror and said incredulously, “But I like mayonnaise!”

5. She was a fierce defender of us. If anyone was going to yell at us publicly, it would be HER! I remember when the priest at my first teaching job berated me in front of the school and I called her crying that I was so humiliated and embarrassed.  Later that day, she called me and told me, “You know what I did? I called Father Grohall.” I was horrified! But then she reassured me that she didn’t say she was my mother, she just identified herself as a mother whose daughter had told her that she was very upset about how he had treated the music teacher, and gave him a piece of her mind. The poor old coot was racking his brain trying to figure out just which student had a mother with a foreign accent, and kept asking her, “Are you Maria’s mother? Jenny’s?” and she told him, “I won’t tell you because I don’t want you to take it out on my daughter.” (Nasty old fart deserved it.)

6. She and Daddy came to visit me in Baltimore. It was the first time they’d met Bill and he helped carry their very heavy suitcase into my apartment. When we opened it, we discovered that Mom had filled it with frozen solid chicken breasts that she had bought on sale before she left so that I would have enough to eat. I took it completely for granted – Bill was shocked!

7. I remember her making strudel. From scratch. Stretching the dough over the table so that it was paper thin (no prepackaged phyllo dough!) and then sprinkling it with flour and butter and filling it with raisins and apples and whatever else went in.

8. I also loved her potato salad. Mom wasn’t the most creative cook, especially when it came to meat and veggies, but I remember she made great potato salad. And that strudel!

9. She loved The Dean Martin Show.

10. I still watch General Hospital and One Life to Live because I watched them with her – first, in the case of GH, when I’d come home from morning kindergarten and she’d be watching it while ironing. My job was to fold hankies and washcloths while she ironed. I would ask questions like, “Why is that lady having a baby when she’s not even married?” and she would tell me, “She was secretly married.” OLTL started a few years later and we started watching it together during my summer breaks.

11. She loved Bob Hope. We went to County Stadium once to see him. I remember it was raining and I don’t know if we actually saw him, but I know that we stayed and waited.

12. When Mr. Maeste’s son from his first marriage found him and came to the US to see him, it was a big deal – apparently Mr. Maeste had gotten one of the local news channels involved as a human interest story, and they came to the airport to cover the reunion. All Maeste’s friends were invited, and Mom bought a new outfit (including a HAT) because she would be on TV. Daddy refused to wear anything new and Mom was really upset about the shirt he chose to wear. Guess who got on TV? Daddy, strolling through the airport while the voiceover said, “And Vello and his friends continue to wait….” Mom was SO mad!

13. I was taking a music history exam at Alverno. My teacher was Louise Kenngott, the Journal’s then-music critic, and I found her both intimidating and someone I looked up to. All of sudden, during the exam, I hear a tap-tap-tap at the window and I see Mom. She’s got some knit hat pulled over her head somewhat askew and she is gesturing for me to come to the door. I was horrified. I looked back at my paper. Tap-tap-tap again, I look up, and she makes this funny grimace that says, “Oh, Christine, help me!” I look at Louise and she says, “Go ahead.” So I go to the door and out in the hall, and say, “What IS it? I’m taking an exam!” and she said, “I lost my keys in a pile of remnants at Minnesota Fabrics.” I turned over the keys and said, “Well, how did you get here?” and she told me she had hitched a ride with a trucker. I was so nonplussed that when I went back in, I forgot to finish the question I had been answering when she knocked at the window. I think I got everything else right, but that one I didn’t.

14. When you were a baby, you had a splinter or something, and I remember Mom getting out a magnifying glass to look at it, and you seeing her giant eyeball looking at you and screaming bloody murder. She felt so bad that she scared her baby!

15. She was a fan of WOKY radio when it was a top 40 station, and they had a prize with a “phrase that pays.” You had to send in a postcard with your name and phone # and they would pick #s at random, and if you answered the phone with “I listen to fun-lovin’ WOKY!” you won money. Well, they said, “We’re making a call right now!” and her phone rang, and she blurted out, “I listen to fun-lovin W-Oak!” and there was a pause and then the DJ said, “Close enough! You get the money!”

16. She would sing along to songs that were just inappropriate for her! I remember her singing the end of Harry Chapin’s Taxi: “Taking tips … and getting stoned!” Cracked me up every time. But she didn’t always get words right. She thought the words to “You’re so vain” were, “I had some dreams, they were cows in my coffee.” I said, “Mom, it’s CLOUDS,” and she said, “That’s stupid, how do you get clouds in your coffee?” (I guess cows = cream)

17. She would design her own tops. They were all based on a square – a square body, a square neckline – but she was so proud of them.

18. When she told jokes, she’d always explain them at the end. Bill called it the “Renate Bojic Post-Joke Explanation.” I don’t know if it was because she was afraid she wasn’t clear because English wasn’t her first language but she did it with EVERY joke. Until I was over 30, I never realized that the joke should end with 
“he got a little closer and saw her on the grave .” I always told the joke the same way, adding the line, “I am cooling the grave.” (I think I knew enough to leave out the NEXT explanation, “You see, she wanted to get married again, so she was trying to make the grave cooler faster!”)

When I write my anecdotes about my father,  I will post them here.

Supportive Families and Performance Anxiety

I have dealt with performance anxiety for most of my performing life. How can something that you love doing so much terrify you so much?

I think the more supportive your family and friends are in your formative years, the less terrifying performing is. However, that’s not always the case. I’ve had students with terrible anxiety who have wonderfully supportive parents. I’ve known people who have received no familial support throughout their lives who shine on stage and who create their own family unit from their theatrical peers.

I’ve mentioned Alfred Lubrano before, the author of Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams. For some people, the feeling of not fitting in impacts them both in the families they grew up in and the careers they choose to pursue. I think that is a major factor in my own performance anxiety issues. The feeling of being a fraud and that people will find out and kick me out of the lofty perch to which I’ve aspired – back to the old neighborhood where I was thought of as stuck-up.

My mother was not supportive. My father was, in his own way. He may have thought what I was doing was unrealistic, but he came to my performances – by himself. Mom came to the first Miss West Allis pageant I did, but it made her so nervous that she thought she was going to die of a heart attack. (She told my college advisor that she’d had to have a schnapps beforehand to calm her nerves, and Sister Ann asked me later, “Christine, does your mother have a drinking problem?” “No, Sister Ann, she has a drama problem.”) The next year I did the pageant, I begged her to come and she wouldn’t because she was afraid she’d die. (Hey, I was the one in the swimsuit!! ) Dad came. And I took 2nd runner-up that year. He also came to my first professional opera, Carmen (I was in the chorus – Florentine Opera, 1980!).

He came to many things until he had his stroke and could no longer drive. Once Mom was in the driver’s seat, literally, she was also… in the driver’s seat. If she didn’t want to go, she didn’t go. So he couldn’t go either. She was in control! (Any wonder why she got so mad when the doctor said she couldn’t drive any more? Or when she thought I’d sold her car while she was in the hospital? It was being repaired and detailed, but she was certain I’d sold it just to keep her from driving.)

Controlling mothers – there are pages and pages about them in textbooks and novels. Maybe if I’d gotten out from under her influence earlier, I could have had a better relationship with her later. It took me a long time to find my own voice in so many ways. It’s too bad she really didn’t want to hear it. I loved her very much and only wanted to please her. Once I decided I needed to please myself, she didn’t like it.

There are also pages and pages about performance anxiety. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting up and doing it until you stop falling down. I’m going to try to remain upright for as long as I can.

VIVA TO THE DIVAS… great show!

A quick follow-up to my earlier rant. The show was just great, and without the extra person, it turned out to be just the right length.  The people who performed were cooperative and poised and confident. One of the girls sang with a sprained ankle on crutches. Now that is professional … amazing that it was from a 7th grader. Someone else came even though her voice was not working this morning and she had to coax it out of her body. Why? Because she knows that there will be times in her professional career that she is engaged to sing and her voice might say, “Let’s stay in tonight. I don’t feel like it.” So she did steam, mucinex, and she sang the crap out of both her pieces.

Seriously… unless your throat is truly on fire and singing might cause further damage or you have digestive issue that might cause a mess (a different and much more unpleasant way of “singing the crap” out of your pieces), you sing when you are committed to sing. Earlier I had included “or you’ve injured a limb,” but then Grace showed up on crutches, so clearly, that’s not a factor.

Next recital – June 6, hopefully at the same place – theme and personnel TBD!

VIVA TO THE DIVAS! (Minus one)

This afternoon I am hosting a studio recital called “VIVA TO THE DIVAS!” featuring 14 13 of my students, Ryan Cappleman and myself. I was really excited about it and I still am, except my best performer just dropped out, two hours before her call.

If this happened in the “real world” (meaning theater, if you can call that a real world), a person would be fired. I organized my whole program around who had committed to perform this afternoon… some of the people are very young and/or less advanced than others, and I organized the program carefully to showcase everyone and not have anyone feel inadequate, while still making the program interesting and entertaining for the audience. Also, having the best people on the show inspires the young ones to take their performances to the next level.

I had just printed the programs an hour before the call. I put on this recital to allow people to present material that they have performed or will be performing in an audition or performance setting, whether that be WSMA, college, or as the lead in an upcoming musical.

I went by a verbal commitment – perhaps I should only count financial commitment (i.e., paying the recital fee) as valid. Going forward, if you don’t pay your recital fee by the Friday before the performance, you’re not on it. I committed to paying Ryan to play for 14 singers – he has practiced the music for 14 singers, and I’m still paying him what I committed to paying him. Even if it has to be out of my own pocket.

Sorry to cast a pall on the day – I will get over it because the remaining singers are committed and wonderful and the performance will be phenomenal!

Resolutions, Sacrifices and Benchmarks

I don’t know why we bother making new year’s resolutions when Lent is so close by. Unless it’s so we can use Lent as a benchmark to evaluate how we’re doing so far and what changes we can make to achieve the goals we set nearly two months before. That seems logical to me. Perhaps there should be benchmarks set throughout the year, roughly 40 days apart. Little mini-Lents.

I didn’t make any new resolutions on January 1. I had some vague ideas about being more productive, about trying new things (I started a bucket list! Does that mean I’m trendy or just getting old?), but I didn’t really resolve to do anything specifically.

So I decided, after wasting numerous hours on the computer playing Bejeweled and the trial version of its even more seductive cousin, Bejeweled Twist (which downloaded itself after an update of the original version – uh, thank you?), that it was time to make a specific resolution, even if it was for 40 days. I’m not going to play either of them at least till Easter, and on Easter, I will decide if I’d like to extend that resolution for another mini-Lenten period. Perhaps till Memorial Day!

It’s still on my computer but it’s not in my Start menu. I could access it, but it’s not right there. The first day was really hard – I realized how often I play it while waiting for a file to open, as a break while typing a lecture, when I can’t sleep at night and don’t want to involve myself in something that will keep me from going back to bed. I can rationalize that it’s a great way to fine-tune my eye-hand coordination, to think quickly, that it’s “only one more game,” but honestly, it’s a time suck. A bigger time suck than Facebook, than AIM, than the phone. And it’s keeping me from things I should be doing.

Like practicing. Or working out. Or writing my lecture. Or taking the puppies for a walk (well, the latter will happen more often when it gets warmer). But if I resolve to “practice more” or “work out more,” I’ll find a way around it.

I resolve to schedule things that I need to do for specific times. If I have “practice” on my calendar for a specific daily time, there’s a good chance I’ll do it. If I just think, “I should practice now,” the thought will be finished with, “Maybe later. After one more game.”

It would be even better if I scheduled “practice Moore songs” rather than a generic “practice.”

I’ll set a benchmark. On Easter Sunday, I will evaluate how not playing Bejeweled (or its mobile counterpart, “Jewels,” also on my Droid!) has caused me to be more productive. And how my scheduling is going.

And now my 3:45 student is here – so I resolve to teach!

Walking in the World

I haven’t written lately. I feel as though I have been doing so much, and at the same time, nothing at all. I’m organizing a studio recital for next week, and singing on an Irish-themed program for the MacDowell Club on March 14 (which I am also coordinating.

The latter is giving me tsuris. (I always wanted to be Jewish.) Not because I can’t do it but because I’m used to doing things on my own timetable – in other words, fabulously, but at the last minute. I’m also used to asking people to do things and having them say, “But of course!” I’m having the worst time finding participants from the club membership. I don’t know if it’s the Irish theme, or if it’s a bad time of year, or if it’s me, but the majority of the performers are guest artists because people are simply not returning my calls/emails. So I feel somewhat dejected and paranoid, which is absolutely ridiculous. It’s that voice with the Estonian accent that still lives on, even after its owner has left this earth, that says, “Maybe people don’t like you.”

Anyway, to get myself out of this rut, I am re-doing Walking in the World, which is Julia Cameron’s sequel to The Artist’s Way. I’ve done The Artist’s Way and felt that it helped me find a focus that I had misplaced when I moved back to Milwaukee. The added element to the sequel is the weekly walk. That I’m not getting done so much – it’s cold out! But this week my artist date was going to a vintage shop and picking up 3 scarves for $10 (still trying to find my “signature look” that someone on the Today Show said was necessary to “establish my brand;” it’s either scarves or jackets, can’t decide which). And I’m writing my morning pages and filling out the questions in the book (or in my journal).

So far the universe has revealed that I am a frustrated Francophile who wants to live in an apartment, dance, and paint. Okay, so I get back on the Rosetta Stone train and keep doing Zumba (not moving, though!). But painting? Since I can barely wield a paintbrush to cover a WALL, let alone a canvas, I decided this meant that I need to include a trip to an art gallery or to the MAM in one of my artist dates.

Lo and behold, the very day that these discoveries made themselves known, I received a postcard labeled MUSIC AND ART! Milwaukee Choral Artists is doing a CD release party at an art gallery on Brady Street on Friday, 2/26. I think this means I have to go. The universe told me so.

I was one of the original members of MCA – I left after two years because I didn’t feel comfortable singing second soprano in the 3 part music, but alto was often too low. I felt that I was not blending well and was not an asset to the group, and when I did try to blend to the conductor’s satisfaction, I felt vocally constipated. I realized that the things that made me the happiest about singing with the group were the times I sang big solos – the Vaughan Williams Magnificat, the Debussy La Damoiselle Elue, the Britten That Yonge Child – and that wasn’t what I was there for, really. So I left.

I stayed in Bel Canto Chorus for another year, simply because I didn’t feel as though I stuck out so much. And then I left that because my studio was taking off and I was just vocally wiped by the time I got to rehearsal (which again, made me not an asset to the group). I felt as though Sharon felt that I chose BCC over MCA and it really wasn’t that – I just didn’t feel I was giving MCA what they needed.

So I’ll go to the MCA party and hopefully mend some fences that I didn’t mean to break. And meanwhile, I’ll continue my navel-gazing and see what else I find out.