Sunday, June 3, 2018

What I Would Tell My Younger Self...and Graduates Today


Graduation is an exciting time. All but a sliver of your life still awaits you.

I believe I met that thought with equal parts exhilaration and terror on my own graduation day.

And people are chock full of advice for graduates, advice that will largely fall on deaf ears, as maybe it should, because we all must forge our own paths and gain at least some of our wisdom through life experience.

When we’re graduating, we don’t yet know what we don’t know, and maybe that’s a blessing so we won’t get hung up on what’s feasible, or practical, or rational, even. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The commencement speech at Northwestern University in 1987, the year I graduated, was given by the former University Chaplain, James Avery, and while you would think that that is not as sexy as, say, a celebrity of any sort, Reverend Avery did not need any accompanying paparazzi to send a message that stayed with me every day of my life since.

It was simple. He said, “What you do from this day on, matters.”

That weighed heavily on my young psyche. It informed my life decisions. And it still does.

What I wish I could tell both my younger self as well as our current crop of graduates is not quite as succinct…

Learn to love yourself sooner, rather than later. Dare greatly. Now. And forever. Risk fearlessly. And if you can’t risk fearlessly, then risk fearfully, but take a risk. And when you’re betting, always bet on yourself.

If you are ever going to be “carefree,” now is the time. So explore the vast wonder of the world. And while you’re at it, explore the vast wonder of your own soul. Dare to know yourself at the depths of your being, and be vulnerable and brave enough to share who you are. That is and will always be your greatest gift and the way you connect with other souls along this journey called life.

Practice kindness, even when you’re in traffic. And laugh every day, as much as you can.

Be patient with both little children and the elderly. You were once the former, and if you’re lucky, you’ll live long enough to be the latter.

Be bold, particularly in your vision for your life. Think big and work toward it every day.

Celebrate every single thing there is to celebrate along the way. Milestones, big and small. Take the time. Rejoice. And don’t forget to celebrate others’ accomplishments, too.

Know that you are part of something bigger than yourself, and that this world is in need of exactly what you have to contribute.

Whatever paths you choose, and whichever roads you walk down, if you’re unhappy, change direction. You’re allowed to do that.

As hard as this is to believe, life goes by in the blink of an eye. So love with all your heart, be the kind of friend you’d like to have, make something or someone’s life better, because what you do from this day on, matters

Monday, May 28, 2018

...Seeing where "yes" takes me...


I am a walking contradiction. I take huge risks in some ways that many do not, but I am also prone to never want to venture outside my front door.

I went parasailing, but am afraid of the terrain in the woods. I can be exceedingly bold on paper, but a cocktail party full of strangers sends me into an anxiety attack.

I have been consistent, disciplined, and myopic in my goals, but when they’ve felt like they were approaching, some part of me put a stop to it, convincing myself that their lack of arrival had more to do with my destiny than my energy.

We are met at the level of our expectations, and my expectations have been less than optimal, when push came to shove, though my hopes and dreams have not.

Fortunately, I have insightful friends who are honest. And fortunately, I want a different outcome badly enough to take heed of that honesty.

We humans are invested in the status quo, the familiar, no matter how much we say we want something different.

To really want change is to embrace the unfamiliar, to lose sight of dry land, to leave what we’ve known behind, in favor of potential, possibility, and something greater that has not been modeled in our lives.

To be out of control is something we associate with being detrimental to our well-being, like being drunk or subservient. To give our control away is something we are warned against for our own safety and survival.

So how do we do it for our good? How do we allow good to come to us when it means we must let go and enjoy the ride? If we haven’t seen it, felt it, tasted it before, how do we know it’s safe to go there?

We don’t.

We have to trust.

Damn. That does not come easily, at least for me.

We have to decide that the torrent of good is one we want to succumb to. And the issue of trust isn’t that we fear the torrent of good, it’s that we don’t trust our own ability to know the difference between that torrent of good that we should succumb to and anything that is legitimately a threat. So it all feels like a threat.

The reality is there are only three things we have control over in this life – what we think, what we say, and what we do. That’s it. And that’s plenty. That moves mountains, in fact.

If we harnessed those three things to their maximum potential, the world would be and look a lot different. The trouble is we relinquish our power where we actually have it, and we don’t where we need to.

So having had this epiphany, with the help of my friend, Alisa, I should add, I’m left with the decision of whether or not I get onboard or hold my hand up and say “no” once again.

Since I already know that leads to nothing good, but it is familiar, I am opting for something new and different – I am willing to see where “yes” takes me. And because I am serious about this, you are all my witnesses.

When I feel that wave of good a-comin’, I am riding it. I am saying “yes, thank you very much,” and jumping in.

This time, I am seeing where “yes” takes me.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Mother's Day Blog


I’ll be honest with you - since my mother passed fifteen years ago, Mother’s Day has felt like a party everyone else has been invited to, while I sit home, counting the hours until it’s over.

I know, I know – it’s a Hallmark creation, no doubt encouraged by florists and candy manufacturers, or maybe the restaurant and perfume industries. But still, I would gladly exhaust all my funds frivolously, if I could but spend one more day, Mother’s or otherwise, with my mom.

I know I am far from alone in these feelings, so this blog is dedicated to those of us who find ourselves without moms here to shower with affection.

Fortunately for me, I have a Sunday morning gig at a spiritual center. So I will be celebrating that I get to do what I most love. And I know that my mother, were she still here, would no doubt be kvelling (Yiddish word, loosely translated as “beaming with pride.”)

The theme of the day is gratitude, and there is an endless list of stuff for which I’m grateful.

My mother was nothing if not straightforward.

One time, when called for jury duty, the defendant had twenty-six counts against him. When asked if she could be impartial, my mother answered, “With that many accusations, he has to be guilty of at least some of them.”

Then there was the time I was in college, when I was convinced I had been Chopin in a previous life, because I already knew his music and I’d never studied it before.

It turns out my mother played Chopin on the piano when I was in utero or a newborn, or both. (Imagine my disappointment that I wasn’t reincarnated.)

My mother was the one who stayed up until she heard me arrive safely home, the one who reveled in girl time shopping with me, the one with the inexplicable enjoyment of seemingly violent movies where the underdog eventually kicks ass and the good guy wins.

She was my partner in relishing figure skating and ballroom dancing, the one who cheered my victories in life and who dried my tears.

I know, from wherever she’s perched right now, my mother would want the day to be a joy-filled one and the memories to be sweet ones. And so that is what I will make it.

To all of you who might be feeling a little lost on this particular day, I hope you find a quiet moment, a happy memory, and do something kind and loving for yourself.

Happy Mother’s Day. And thanks for stopping by and spending a little time with me.  

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Kids are Alright


This has been an emotional day. For many of us. For most of us.

My heroes today are children, thrust into a spotlight they were never meant to occupy. Or maybe they were. I find it hard to reconcile the movement with the deaths that finally jarred it into existence.

For years, I wrote anti-gun pieces for HuffPost and in this blog, and anywhere anyone would listen, as shooting after shooting took place. Maybe it assuaged my feeling of helplessness. Or maybe it gave voice to a grieving parent. I don’t know, because those weren’t the people I heard from.

As anyone who has been vocal about gun legislation can tell you, there are threats, and whether or not those threats are viable is the question we get to live with as the cost of taking a stand.

It’s easier not to say anything. Not to be vocal. Not to write a letter or call a Congressman. It’s easier to be silent. But to be silent is to be complicit, and sooner or later we all must decide what it is we are willing to be complicit in, exactly.

I’ll be honest with you, the past year and five months, roughly, have exhausted the hell out of me. I’ve looked at the world and thought it was beyond redemption, beyond my ability to impact any healing of it, and not really a place I particularly wanted to be, anymore. The only problem is I’m here. And so are you. And so are all of us who are tired of fighting fights that seems futile.

Enter the children from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Leaders born of necessity. Courageous in ways they never should have had to be. And these kids are fearlessly showing an entire population that miserably failed them, how it’s done. How to behave like grownups in a world where the actual grownups act like petulant children. How to have a singular vision and purpose and relentlessly pursue it.

For the first time in a long time, I am looking at these grieving children and feeling a sense of hope and promise. And I cry because their loss has been our nation’s gain. And it’s not fair.

They should be contemplating prom dates and colleges, not how to get corrupt politicians to stop taking bribes from the NRA. But we didn’t get that done for them, so they will – with or without us.

As Emma Gonzalez stood silently in front of the massive crowd, for the time it took the gunman to ravage her school and take out her classmates, history was made. In the long uncomfortable silence. In the tears. In a sobering moment where a teenager had to remind us to do our freakin’ jobs as human beings.

I will always believe that the value of our lives is in how well we love. It is in how kind we can be to one another, how much compassion we have, how well we care for the least among us.

The children redeemed us today. And if we have any desire to love well, then we will return the favor.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

In Color - the anniversary edition


Something happens as we get older – we start to give serious thought to our legacy, to what we’ve done that could be enduring and of value beyond our time here.

I’ll admit, the older I get, the more frequently those ruminations consume me, but I do not think that it is altogether a bad thing. I think that it can sharply change and has sharply changed the quality of life lived now, here, in the present moment.

It is more than likely every artist’s dream to profoundly impact on a grand scale, and I would be lying if I told you I didn’t want that, too for my work. I would love to know that what I wrote and sang not only held meaning and gave enjoyment, but changed lives for the better somehow for more than a handful of people.

So because every moment is a blank page and a fresh start, I think today, on this second anniversary of the release of In Color, it would be a good time to not only reflect, but to set new intentions and make new declarations for the future of the CD.

Before I had any inkling of how the record was going to materialize, or who’d be playing and singing on it, or how it would look, I sat down and wrote my intentions for it. I may not have known the specifics, but I knew the spirit I wanted it to embody and I knew I wanted like-hearted people participating on it.

Now, this may sound a little (or a lot) woo-woo to you, but the freaky and amazing thing is those intentions all came to pass. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

So when I look back on it today, I am overwhelmed with gratitude both for those beautiful souls whose artistry is on the record, and for those whose support made it possible.

It is my intention that this record will continue to reach new listeners, that it will inspire and encourage, leave people feeling less alone, understood, and reconnected to themselves and their heart’s desire in some way.

I am open to exciting new and unexpected opportunities that allow that to happen.

If you’ve listened to it, I would love to know what song or songs resonated with you most and why. And if you would share it, by word of mouth, social media, or in any other way, I would be profoundly grateful.

Before I sign off, I would like to give a big shout out to all those whose incredible talents are captured in both small and big ways on this record – Tanya Leah, Anthony Barone, Fred Rowles, Mark Prentice, Matthew Bubel, Everett Bradley, Kenny Loggins, Brian Mann, Caitlin Evanson, Kris Wilkinson, Lorraine Ferro, BethAnne Clayton, Arnie Roman, Jeryl Brunner, Garry Novikoff, Sue Fabisch, Alisa Swerdlove, Marvin Levy, Brian Montgomery, Alan Silverman, Stan Tomczak, and Marina Drasnin.

Below are the places you can listen to and buy In Color.


Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing part of your day with me. Please tell your friends. And here's to a project born of love. 

xo

Ilene

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