Saturday, August 31, 2013

special blog mention

I’ve mentioned a lot of people in this blog over the years – some of them in passing, some who were the focal point of a particular story, sometimes to honor the memory of those who passed on. There’s been talk of celebrities, assorted public figures, and politicians. But this blog is a special one, daring to name names and point fingers – at those who have championed a dream of mine in such a way that they are making its reality possible.

I have previously talked about the struggles and growth that crowd funding provided me. But now I get to celebrate those who volunteered to take this journey with me, cheer me on, and invest in the merits of The Gratitude Project.

When I looked at the list of who, solely based on the designated perk level, garnered the special mention, I was utterly delighted, but not entirely surprised.

They say “you gotta have friends,” and mine have completely overwhelmed me with their love and support.

When I was in high school, I sang in an All-City Chorus gathered from all the high schools in my town. It was there I was paired with another singer to do a duet from Showboat. His name is Anthony Barone. I don’t think we could have conceived of then, in our wildest imaginations, that our singing would turn into a friendship that would see us through countless miles and adventures, and years, and shows, miscellaneous jobs, shared Christmases, family dinners, birthdays, the loss of parents, you name it – we’ve gone through it together. I even got ordained to officiate at his wedding…which brings me to Renato Rufino.

It is not often that you share the same depth of friendship with the spouse of a friend as you do with your original friend, but then again, most people are not Renato. Sure, we’ve been known to share a love of perusing touristy knickknacks that defies most people’s logic as well as stamina, but this alone does not a friendship make. And sure, he can cook better than five TV chefs combined, but that’s nothing compared to knowing that you can count on someone when you really need them.

So yes, it’s my pleasure to publicly thank Anthony and Renato for, among many, many things, supporting this project and me. (I’d also like to thank them for helping dig and push the car out of the snow that time in the city when dad was in the hospital. There was no acknowledgement box to check for that one, but it really does deserve a mention.)

There are moments indelibly etched in our memories, and such was the first time I met Alisa Swerdlove. We lived in dorm rooms across from each other my freshman year at Northwestern, and we would later become roommates and lifelong friends. Alisa has the dubious distinction of knowing way too much about me and using that to tease me mercilessly in the hopes that I will take myself less seriously. (You’d think she’d learn after 30 years that this hasn’t worked, but you gotta love her for trying.) Plus, she’s tasked with the almost daily chore of talking me down from the ledge. So when there’s a completed CD at the end of this project, you can all send her a lovely bouquet of flowers.

And just to prove that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in the kind and generous department, I get to thank Carole Swerdlove, Alisa’s mom, also a big supporter of mine. The multitude of roles Carole has played in my life spans a wide spectrum. I’ve been the recipient of sound dating advice, a lovely bejeweled sweater and cardigan set, a hilarious clarifying definition of the difference between “funny” and “humorous,” and a career pep talk not that long ago that went something like this – “Ilene, you’re not chopped liver, you know.” Needless to say, my affection for Carole Swerdlove is immense, and I’m glad I get to say so here.

Some people come into our lives without much fanfare. They are friendships cultivated over time, deepening with age and life paths, until it is hard to remember before they existed. Such is the case with my friendship with Tanya Leah and Arnie Roman.

And before I go any further, it was when I was having a hard day, that my friend Tanya uttered the most pivotal sentiment to this project. It went something like this: “Do you really want to be on your deathbed saying, ‘I should’ve made that fucking album?’” And so here we are, boys and girls, because the answer to that was, um, no.

I could extol, both individually and combined, the geniuses that are Tanya and Arnie, but aside from their ridiculous multitude of talents, both musical and otherwise, who they are to me is by far the greater gift – the refuge with heat and water during hurricane Sandy, the company keepers and bringers of dinner and a movie after surgery, fellow travelers who just can’t let that damn dream go while there’s still an ounce of life left in us, the people with whom there is never a superficial conversation, and yet, who share my delight at humor that involves saying the most absurd thing with a straight face. You will undoubtedly be hearing about them more as the project progresses and I post updates.

And now we move into the territory of family, starting with my beloved father, Marvin, the mild mannered accountant by trade, who tries to convince me almost daily that my songwriting skills somehow emanated from him. Shhh, I don’t want to burst his bubble, but I think I hear my mother cackling from the great beyond.

Having the support of my father for this project is not something I look at as an entitlement, but rather as a privilege and an honor not to be taken lightly. He has gotten a ringside seat these past few years to just what it is I do, and I think that, more than anything, has made him a champion of this cause. And for that I am profoundly grateful.

And then there was a band of Angels – literally – Don and Joanne Angel, Dan and Cindy Angel, and Jill and Michelle Angel, whose support truly overwhelms me and leaves me speechless…which, as you can tell from this blog, I seldom am.

There’s a saying that we choose our friends, not our relatives. But if I did have a choice, I’d pick this particular bunch of California Angels 250 times over. So if I haven’t said it enough, I treasure the joy-filled and far-too-infrequent time together, the conversations, the laughs, the shared sense of excitement about all of our new projects, the ways in which you’ve already been instrumental in my past successes and have stepped up to see that this, too, will thrive. There aren’t words or hugs huge enough.

It is not a far leap to imagine that family and friends will support a project like The Gratitude Project, but strangers? Complete strangers donating beyond generously? Well, that just takes a certain kind of soul.

Enter Doug and Lynne Morgan, people whom I’ve never met, don’t know, who don’t know me, don’t even know my music, by the way, but who nonetheless said yes in a huge way to The Gratitude Project.

Two members of the California Highway Patrol, Doug and Lynne have singlehandedly become the embodiment of faith realized for me. It is one thing to want to believe that this is a loving universe, that forces are conspiring for our good, that our noblest efforts will be supported if we but put ourselves out there, but it is quite another thing to see all that evidenced.

So Doug and Lynne, I hope I get to meet you one day soon and thank you in person, but for now, please know that the levels on which you’ve contributed go way beyond the monetary and are all very much appreciated.

Lastly, I want to thank my anonymous donors. Yes, there are one or more people who donated a nice chunk of change and didn’t want to be known or acknowledged for it. And to you I say, “Thank you…for making me eight kinds of crazy with that.” Really, no name? Why? What would be the harm in my knowing, I ask you. So I decided to give my anonymous donors my own pet name, which is…nope. Not gonna tell you. Two can dance this dance. But rest assured, it makes me smile and giggle ever so slightly.

No, really lastly, to all of you who donated any amount whatsoever to The Gratitude Project, thank you. And thanks for stopping by today. Please tell your friends.


  1. Dearest Ilene, thank you for the wonderful mention in your blog. You are truly a special person, and if you were not so afraid of our dog, you could come and live with us and be my second daughter. Love, Carole

  2. Wonderful blog Ilene. It's an honor and a privilege to be a part of your life! For those who haven't donated and are interested, it's not too late to birth something beautiful into the world, USAProjects will still take donations for The Gratitude Project until September 22nd.