Sunday, February 7, 2021

My Annual Super Bowl Blog!!


It’s time for my annual Super Bowl blog, the day when I traditionally run through the roster of football players’ names I actually know, which used to be limited to those contestants on Dancing with the Stars, a miscellaneous Manning brother, the guy who crosses himself, and Joe Namath. 

 

Unfortunately, I stopped watching Dancing with the Stars when they started dancing around barefoot. WTF with that?! It’s not ballroom. Put on a sparkly dress, a spray tan, some heels, and tango, dammit. 

 

Anyway, all that to say, I don’t know too many football players these days. Oooh, wait - Tom Brady. But I think he’s a Trump supporter, so clearly traumatic brain injury has already set in. Bless his heart.

 

As if the pandemic wasn’t enough to make it clear that the world is irreparably different, there will be poetry at the opening of the Super Bowl. 

 

Poetry. At. The. Super. Bowl. 

 

Complex rhyme schemes spoken live in front of a bunch of millionaire-oversized men, paid to jump on each other. Did I mention the traumatic brain injury thing? 

 

You can bet I’ll be tuning in for Amanda Gorman’s riveting words, and I really appreciate the heads up about it being at the beginning, so I don’t have to, you know, watch the game. Me, I actually AM a poetry lover. 

 

And if someone would be kind enough to let me know when it ends, so I can tune in for The Equalizer with Queen Latifah, that would be awesome. 

 

Before we go any further, let’s talk about snacks. Just because I don’t like football doesn’t mean I can’t get onboard with snacks. Chips, wings, and Lipitor for everyone, that’s what I say. 

 

I was supposed to be doing a virtual chili cook-off on zoom today, but I’ve had a migraine for close to a week, so I decided my time would be better spent on the couch here with you…and binge-watching the last few episodes of Schitt’s Creek. 

 

Oh, don’t get me started on how much I love Schitt’s Creek. I’ve been sipping the seasons like a fine wine, savoring each delicious moment with the Roses. I do not want it to end. But alas, I know it will…tonight…while everyone else is watching the Super Bowl. 

 

Now is the time I would normally impress you with my knowledge of the competing teams, but frankly, who cares.?!! I got no skin in the game. And seriously, you should be impressed with my usage of that phrase right there. I believe I bandied it about correctly in this instance. 

 

Well, it’s time for me to go do physical therapy with my father. If you really want to see something impressive, it’s not a touchdown by professional athletes. It’s watching a 92 year-old man summon the strength he really doesn’t have, so he can stay mobile and living at home. 

 

I hope that whatever your Super Bowl plans are, you stay safe and well and have a good time. 

 

Go Titans!! …or whoever’s playing.

 

 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

...a New Year's blog...


Everyone I know is in a hurry to bid farewell to 2020, to toss it, shelve it, burn it, curse it. But me, I believe that lessons ignored are lessons repeated, so I am trying to frame the year within the context of what I’ve learned, or gained (besides weight), and who I’ve become as a result.

 

I honestly thought, when this worldwide time-out began, that it would be a global time of reflection and introspection. I thought we would pause just long enough to figure out that how we were operating was neither meaningful nor sustainable. I believed the isolation would be brief and impactful, and that the world would come out the other side better for it. 

 

I grossly underestimated the desire to cling to the old, to have things as they were, to resist necessary change, to distract with anything and everything to avoid my own discontent. And the world, it turns out, was a pretty accurate reflection of me.

 

There’s no building a house on a crumbling foundation, and as the year closes out, the way I see it is that 2020 was a giant wrecking ball sent to demolish life as we knew it. And while the impact jarred us, and left us reeling in its after effects, focusing on the loss, what it affords us now is the singular opportunity to build a new life and world structure on a more solid and intentional foundation. 

 

The losses are unfair, but their randomness forces us to be present to life’s fragility and impermanence. The isolation is excruciating, but will you ever again take any get together, big or small, for granted? The loss of complete industries is unfathomable, but will you ever dismiss anything from a haircut to seeing a live performance as mundane or forgettable? I won’t.

 

Of all the things I am most grateful for about 2020, it is the deepening of relationships. I have never treated them frivolously to begin with, but now? Now I cherish every moment. I have no superficial conversations, whether you are new to my life or have been here forever. I say the words “I love you” more frequently and with the knowledge that our next interaction isn’t guaranteed. 

 

I’ve lost a lot of friends and relatives in 2020. And the enormity of these losses has made me more compassionate – towards myself and towards everyone else. We are all lost, grieving and hurting in different ways, so let’s be gentle with each other, since we don’t know where the wounds are on the other. 

 

I have witnessed the immense divide in humanity, between our darkness and our light. The hate has left me gasping and speechless. But so has the love. 

 

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I want to take with me and what I want to leave behind. 

 

Can I be happy without making definitive plans? 2020 has made a mockery of my plans.

 

Of what can I be certain when life looks like I can be certain of nothing? 

 

What do I need versus what do I want? 

 

What will endure of me, even when I physically don’t endure anymore? 

 

 

And the one that has been taking up a lot of real estate in my mind lately…

 

Who am I if I can no longer be who I was? 

 

There is a chance to make a fresh start, to lay a solid foundation, built on the stuff 2020 has forced us to learn. The unpleasant awfulness, yet intrinsic beauty of our own mortality. The preciousness of a moment. The eternal nature of love. 

 

There is little beyond our basic necessities that matter. 

 

Every encounter and interaction with each other is a holy one, sacred in its delicacy, and anointed in its uniqueness. 

 

This world will not continue to exist when one life is valued more than another, when entire races, genders, orientations, religions are discounted, dismissed, oppressed, or discriminated against. It may have been that way for a long, long time, but it will remain that way no longer. 

 

The ugliness that has come to the surface and been exposed in the light of day has done so to be seen and healed once and for all. Hate is born of fear, and it is fear that is the opposite of love. Fear that there isn’t enough. Fear that what is different from me is threatening to me. Fear that we, at our core, are not enough. Isn’t it time we lay that shit down for good? It’s exhausting. 

 

So what I hope is that 2021 is the year we look at ourselves, at our lives, and at this world and decide to build a foundation with materials of abiding value. I hope that we stand in the rubble of our yesterdays and let them go. I hope we forgive ourselves for the wasted time and blatant disregard of our better angels. And I hope we take seriously the job of planting seeds, whether they be for food to nourish, ideas that will grow us, or relationships we cherish. 

 

I hope that we will see that, for all its uncertainty, for all its ups and downs, for all its triumphs and tragedies, ecstasy and devastation, life is, in fact, good. 

 

I wish you a 2021 where each day is better than the one before, where you know you are loved and that your presence here matters greatly. I wish you happy surprises, good trouble, and adventures that thrill. 

 

Most of all, I hope the day comes that I can see you again, in person, and can hug you. Be forewarned. I will hug you. 

 

Until then…Happy 2021.


 

Ilene

Thursday, November 26, 2020

A 2020 Thanksgiving Blog



Every year, I traditionally do a Thanksgiving blog, randomly listing things I’m thankful for. 

 

If ever there was a year I felt I needed to do that, it’s this one. It’s been eons since I’ve blogged, and even longer since I’ve felt free to speak my mind and heart. 

 

I always thought that aging brings with it the gift of not giving a damn what others think, but it turns out that our individual and collective rage carry with it the side effect of prolonged hesitation to enter into confrontation. And the past four years have been nothing if not confrontational. 

 

Plus, there have been others, like John Pavlovitz and Richard Marx, that have eloquently and colorfully stepped up and summed up my thoughts and feelings well, so I took a breather, albeit a very long one. 

 

I’m back now and ready to rumble, I mean write. I’d like to share with you the best piece of writing advice I have ever gotten, courtesy of my cousin Erik’s Sunday Writing Sprints – “write the thing you’re afraid to write.” Doesn’t that just freak you out and liberate you all at the same time?!! (And if you’d like to join in the Sunday or Wednesday writing fun, here’s the link: https://www.erikpatterson.org/sundaysprints ) 

 

So that being said, I am entering back into writing with the idea that it’s time to say any and all things I’ve been hesitant to for a while. 

 

Today, that involves the random and not-so-random things I’m thankful for…

 

I am thankful for my life and good health.

I am thankful that my father is still with me after the medical roller coaster of the last five months. 

I am thankful for my family and close friends, spread out though we may be. 

I am thankful for an older gentleman, who should have been able to retire and hang with his family, but instead knew his country needed him right now and so he chose to serve. It was a selfless act at a horrible moment, and I am immensely thankful that he did it. And while I’m on the subject, I love that his candidacy and win is the example of the underdog succeeding, the long shot coming in, and the people rallying to save our fragile democracy. 

I am thankful for my friends, Beth and Brian, who left their ailing physical bodies, but remain with me spiritually, energetically, and in my heart, always. 

I am thankful for apple pie. The kind with the crumbles on top. Not a la mode, but straight up, because I’m a purist. 

I am thankful for the gift of reflection during this pandemic, of contemplating what is and isn’t important, of recalibrating, reconsidering, learning to adapt, pivot, change.

I’m thankful for the gift of knowing the brevity and uncertainty of life. It has made me say “I love you” more often and to more people. 

I’m grateful for new and deeper friendships forged during this new existence, and for the lengthy and reliable ones. 

I’m grateful for who I am becoming, maybe unwillingly some of the time, but becoming nonetheless. Our character is forged by the challenges we face, never by what’s easy. An awful, but necessary realization.

I’m thankful for my tribe. You know who you are and you never disappoint. 

I’m thankful for my niece, whom I adore, and who teaches me things constantly.

I’m thankful for my hair colorist. Ssshhh, don’t judge my unwavering need to be blond and feel younger than my gray will allow.

I’m thankful for watermelon. Seriously, God did really well with that one. 

I’m thankful for music and art in all its forms. And I am immensely thankful that I get to spend my life creating it and sharing it. 

I’m thankful for beautiful sunsets, puppies and babies that make me go “Awwww.”

I’m thankful for having survived this year, when so many haven’t.

I’m thankful for hope in the face of despair, for joy as a conscious decision, for basic human decency, for compassion even for those who exhibit none toward me. 

I am thankful for self-awareness, even when it’s hard. 

I’m thankful for beauty, however it shows up.

I’m thankful for you who are reading this and for this day of Thanksgiving.

 

May your day be one of immense gratitude, too.

Peace and blessings to you all. And please tell your friends, because the blog is back!!!!

 

Xoxoxo,

Ilene

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Redemption and Resurrection during a Pandemic

Every year, around this time, I write a blog about redemption and resurrection.

This year, it seems particularly appropriate to ponder such things, because, in the midst of a pandemic, what better time could there be to contemplate the bigger questions of life, death, purpose, intention, and yes, redemption and resurrection?

Mostly, I hear talk of how everyone wants this to be over and to go back to “normal life.” But me, I think that’s like dating the same kind of guy over and over, because you haven’t learned your lesson the first twenty times.

I don’t want to go back to things as they were before this. I don’t want to treat time so cavalierly that I forget tomorrow isn’t promised. I don’t want to put off the people I want to get to know, or see, or say “I love you” to. I don’t want to forget that nothing matters and everything does. I don’t want to forget that life is fleeting, and beautiful, and excruciatingly fragile.

I want to cherish the moments I get to hug someone, as if they are the last I will ever have. And I don’t want to take for granted that worlds change in the blink of an eye.

For all the things I did mindlessly before, like grocery shopping, I want to keep the gratitude I now feel for every single person responsible for every bite I take in as nourishment, and for the mail that gets delivered, and the garbage that gets picked up.

I want to look at my life through the lens of the gift this virus has to offer. That’s right, you heard me. I prefer always to ask, “What is the gift in this?” Because that is how I find it.

Part of what I contemplate is this fourteen day window we seem to be perpetually living in - the purgatory of waiting to see whether or not we develop symptoms, or the fourteen day roller coaster that those with the virus seem to be on, not knowing if they will be spared or taken.

If I were to look fourteen days down the road and know I’d be gone, what would I be doing with this moment? What would I want to say? What would that bucket list look like?

Our lives are our legacy. Our stories should be told before they’re forgotten. We have this golden opportunity for redemption now. For amends. For gratitude. For love. For moments of laughter. And to grieve.

Yes, I want to take this time to grieve and process the loss of time wasted and a way of life that’s over, because, maybe one day we will be able to congregate together again, but we will never be able to do so in the blissful ignorance we embodied before this pandemic.

Now we know. And we can’t pretend that we don’t.

I am learning so many things now – that showing up doesn’t mean showing up perfectly. It just means showing up. I am learning that the best I can do is enough. It just is, and so am I, and so are you – enough.  

I know that my best intentions will sometimes fall short, and I will still be enough.

I’m learning that my need to have things look a certain way has crumbled beneath the weight of what the world needs of me at this moment.

As for resurrection, each one of us gets to decide the parts of our previous selves worth resurrecting and the parts that are best left behind.

I believe this is a holy opportunity to surrender the superficial, to celebrate what we once dismissed as mundane, to redeem that which is worth redemption within us, and to resurrect the promise of a world where love is demonstrated in our every utterance and action.

May whatever you celebrate and whatever you believe bring you peace and make the world better.

Blessings to you all,

Ilene

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

"I'm on my way" - remembering BethAnne Clayton


I know there will come a time when I will stop counting the days and weeks, and I will become accustomed to thinking of Beth as a memory, and not as someone I can call or see or text. But I am not there yet. Today is four weeks.

Right now, I’m making my way through each day, trying to navigate this new normal. I find myself wanting to stay closer to her other friends, maybe because we all share a similar pain, or maybe because of the piece of Beth each of us carries with us. Maybe it’s just that I’m trying to make whole the hole her absence left. Whatever the reason, I find comfort in these new frequent interactions.

I know if I were the one who crossed over, I would want people to remember me with the times that made them laugh and the way they were changed by our lives intersecting.

So maybe that’s the tribute I can pay my friend, BethAnne, because there were no shortage of laughs and there are ways that both her life and death changed me forever.

...Beth and I moved to Nashville the same week in June of 1996. She moved from New Jersey, and I, from New York. We were introduced by our mutual friend, Robin, and we became immediate friends.

On one of our first excursions together to the mall, she dared me to talk to a salesperson in full southern drawl. Me, I enjoy the occasional dare, so I wasted no time giving it a shot. My new friend, BethAnne, stood a few feet away, laughing her head off.

Later that same day, we went out to eat at a loud, noisy chain restaurant, where I was ordering chicken. The waitress asked me, “Gree-yalled?” I said, “What?” She repeated, “Gree-yalled?” And I repeated, “What?” By the third time, Beth had had enough, and she yelled, “Grilled! She’s asking if you want it grilled!”

Nashville was where we bonded. We played writers’ nights together, wrote together, shopped, and shared holidays.

She was the voice on more of my demos than I can count, as well as background vocals on my two solo records.

We did crazy things, like swap keyboards on an off-ramp of the New Jersey Turnpike. Don’t ask me why. I’m sure there was a perfectly logical reason at the time.

Our lives eventually took each of us back to our respective home states, where we lived 65 miles apart - not exactly near, anymore, but not impossibly far, either.

Of all the things I loved about Beth, I most cherish the kind of friend she was.

She was the one you could call at 3 a.m., if you were stranded on the side of the road, or in any situation, really, who, before you could finish a sentence starting with, “Could you…” already had one foot out the door, saying, “I’m on my way.”

One time, when my father was in the hospital in Manhattan a couple of years ago, he was in surgery and I was in the waiting area. “Are you alone there?” Beth texted me. When I said, “Yes,” her next text was, “I’m on my way.”

She had just finished chemo and it was the first time I’d seen her without a wig, with her hair starting to grow back. She stayed with me the rest of the day, and visited with my father when he awoke. My father adored her.

Beth and I were born three months apart, and we shared the same early pop culture tastes that formed the backdrop of the musicians we later became. Whether it was Carole King, or James Taylor, or Barry Manilow, or Donny Osmond, we spoke the same language and had the same frame of reference.

Speaking of speaking the same language - a word about food. We could be in the middle of any kind of session, writing, recording, you name it, and even if we were eating at that very moment, there was always discussion about what we were doing for the next meal.

“It’s all about the food,” Bethie would say, with me nodding in fervent agreement.

When she thought someone was conceited, she’d say, “He thinks who he is,” and truth be told, I love that expression, grammar notwithstanding.

If there was a special occasion, Beth would write a parody for it. For my 50th, it was a take on “Come on, Eileen,” complete with the accompanying framed lyric for me to take home.

For her 50th, we went to see Beautiful - the Carole King Musical.

By the time we each turned 51, Beth had been diagnosed, and that unspoken ticking clock that marks our length of days was looming larger.

For my birthday, she made me a meatloaf and took me to see Donny & Marie in Atlantic City.

Now ordinarily, a meatloaf might not warrant a mention, but if you’d ever tasted BethAnne’s meatloaf, believe me, you’d mention it, too. Best damn thing I ever had.

In Atlantic City, we took pictures with the cardboard Donny & Marie cutouts near the theater entrance, because why else are they there?

Beth and I had so much fun that for her Birthday, we went to see them do their Christmas show.

By then I had heard the tale of how she went with her sisters to see the Osmonds in concert when she was young. And while her sisters had no issue with rushing the stage and interacting with Donny, Beth was too shy and stayed behind. I could hear the lingering regret in her voice. That’s when I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if she could meet Donny now? How hard could it be?

I’ll tell you how hard it could be - hard. I couldn’t find a manager, agent, publicist, or anyone. I reached out to the venue itself. Nothing.

So we went to the concert and had a great time, but I was privately disappointed that I couldn’t pull this off. I had to let it go.

If there’s one thing I learned in the years leading up to Beth’s death, it’s that life has no shortage of moments to enjoy and that our capacity to look for them and savor them grows when we know how precious they really are.

That’s how I wound up on the phone with Beth one night, watching Hoarders together. She couldn’t believe I’d never seen it and so she had to experience it with me. I could not contain my level of grossed-out-ness as I exclaimed, “Eeewww” repeatedly throughout. I will say that it made me feel decidedly better about the condition and amount of belongings in my house, but mostly I will always remember laughing with Beth that night and how she HAD TO have me watch it with her.

One day a couple of months ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who asked how Beth was doing. I told her Beth was near the end. She asked if I was ever able to reach Donny Osmond. “No,” I answered. Every so often I would search for a name, but to no avail.

“Let me see what I can do,” my friend said. In no time, she had found his publicist, who, it turns out, she knew many years ago.

Within 48 hours, Donny had not only called Beth, but he had also listened to one of her songs and heaped lavish praise on both her voice and the song. He said everything you would hope someone would say. He was heartfelt and authentic and kind. And though I’m sure most celebrities never contemplate being called upon to serve people in this way, I am witness to the blessing it is when they do and I will forever love Donny Osmond for doing it.

Beth passed on January 14th, 2020. The only consolation I have about that is that her immense suffering is over.

The greatest gift she left the world is undoubtedly her son, Paulie, who kept her here and going for far longer than the medicine and surgeries ever did.

Each of us grieves in our own way, I suppose, and in our own time.

Today is the first day I’ve written anything in a long while. Writing is the way I process life. This I know about myself. It’s also the way I process death.

It’s been four weeks today. One day, I’ll stop counting.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

...sweet remembering


Usually, the prospect of a new year has me brimming with anticipation. I’ve got goals, if not resolutions, things I want to accomplish, and this whole counting down thing is like revving the engine before the big race begins.

This year feels nothing like that. And sure, it could be because I’ve had food poisoning or a stomach flu or some such thing for the past few days, but I think it’s really about the place I find myself now.

I’ve got less invested in a set of specific goals than I do in the goal of simply being happy. I am more interested in the depth of my relationships with people than I am most other things.

It’s not that I don’t want to lose 30 pounds and purchase a new car. I do. But I know that the value of those things depreciates, but the value of true happiness and human connection only appreciates.

So for me, I intend for 2020 to be the year I release old limiting beliefs and all attachment to how things should look or play out.

I intend for 2020 to be the year I trust that the Universe has a way better and more fun way for stuff to manifest than I do, so why not let it have its way and enjoy the ride.

I intend to savor the moments, the love, the connections that make life sweet and memories indelible.

I intend to up my game – as an artist, writer, and human.

I intend to read more, move more, and struggle less.

I intend to live in gratitude for every day and every breath.

So as we enter this New Year, thank you for being here and spending some of your own precious time with me. It is appreciated more than you know.

I wish for you a year of fantastic health, passion, and purpose.

Peace and blessings,

Ilene

P.S. Here’s a song to toast in the New Year…. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

...what kind of memory we'll be...a Thanksgiving Blog


When I write songs, I frequently foreshadow things to come. Lyrics have not just become more potent over time, but it’s as if I write things I somehow know I’m going to need to hear later on. This phenomenon still surprises me, even though it’s been going on for eons now.

A few years ago, when I was writing songs for my upcoming record, I went to see Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, which was in previews at the time. By intermission, I looked at my friend, Anthony and said, “There hasn’t been a good song about friendship in a really long time. We should write one.” So Anthony and I started to write a song with my friend, Tanya, who was producing the album.

I thought I knew a lot about friendship with each of them and their spouses. Heck, my friendship with each pre-dated their spouses. I thought I understood, not just the good times, the dinners, the laughter, the happier moments, but the loss of parents, the items salvaged in the aftermath of floods, the holidays shared, the highs and lows of careers and personal choices. I thought I understood the depth of what friendship could be, at its best.

I really had no clue. The lyrics to “Friends Like Me and You” were a nice sentiment when we wrote them, until they became the truth, word for word.

Five weeks ago, I felt myself losing not only blood, but the battle for consciousness, too. It happened quickly. It was unexpected, and as with things that catch us off-guard, I didn’t realize the extent of the situation I was in, until it was critical.

There’s a lot I do not remember now or just plain wasn’t conscious for, but I do remember hearing, whether psychically or physically, Tanya’s husband, Arnie shouting, “Call 9-1-1!”

I did.

Anthony and Renato got to my house before the ambulance did.

Renato stayed with my 91 year old father, while Anthony rode with me in the ambulance. It was a bumpy ride I never imagined myself taking.

When we got to the emergency room, Tanya was there. I do not want to know how she got there in that short time. I’m sure there were guardian angels involved and a lack of proper law enforcement on the highways.

Tanya and Anthony stayed with me all day and into the night, through emergency surgery and blood transfusions. They updated my father, reached out to my brother in California and my closest circle of friends, whose prayers and help were both necessary and appreciated.

My friends did everything I needed, from laundry and meals in the days to come, to rides, groceries, doctor visits, keeping company, handholding, you name it.

Suddenly I understood the lyrics to my own song, “…when the chill took hold and my strength was gone, you carried me till I could carry on, cause that’s what true friends do, friends like me and you.”

All of us will become memories to others in days ahead. I look at my friends and they are forever etched in my memory as the people who showed up, whose compassion and love outweighed convenience and whatever else they could have been doing at the moment I needed them most.

My health is improving every day, and my gratitude has never been greater.

Traditionally, I write a Thanksgiving blog and end it with a laundry list, in no particular order, of whatever pops into my mind that I’m grateful for at the moment. So here are just some of the things that come to mind this Thanksgiving…

I am grateful for…

Life. Being right here, right now.

Hugs.

My family.

Dreams that have come true, and those that haven’t.

Musical theater, cause I believe life is best lived with outbursts of song and dance.

Nourishment for my body, mind, and soul.

Natural beauty, like sunsets, and autumn foliage in New England, and mountains no human could have conjured, let alone carved.

Books.

Puppies and babies.

Jokes that make me laugh till my sides hurt.

Unexpected opportunities.

Three-part harmony.

Clean drinking water.

Time spent with people I love.

Football. Okay, that one was just to see if you were still paying attention. I am not the slightest bit grateful for football.

Kindness, compassion, and mercy.

Gut instincts, flashes of inspiration, and knowing when to listen to both.

Friends like me and you, both the song and the actual friends…


Whatever you are doing this Thanksgiving, I hope you find yourself being a beautiful memory for those around you.

Thank you for stopping by and for sharing a few minutes of your life with me.

Peace and riches blessings to you,

Ilene

#friends, #friendslikemeandyou, #songwriters, #singersongwriters, #kennyloggins, #duet