Tuesday, December 31, 2013

the last blog of 2013

It was inevitable – the year drawing to a close, that is. And amid the tallying of gains and losses, victories and defeats, it is also incumbent upon us to think about the year ahead – what we want most for ourselves and for those we hold dear.

So I’m making my prayer for the New Year known here…

May 2014 be a year of good health and vitality, rejuvenation and exhilaration.
May it be a year of unprecedented peace and prosperity.
May I be the embodiment of goodness I want to see in the world.
May I practice mindful living, compassion, and leadership in both those things.
May 2014 bring glorious and unexpected surprises that exceed my greatest imaginings.
May I love passionately, give with abandon, and receive with humility.
May I be wiser, kinder, and smarter than ever before.
May my work not only prosper me, but be of service to the world.
May I never forget to say thank you at the start and end of each day.
And may these things be true not only for me, but for everyone.

Thank you so much for stopping by. Happy New Year!

Peace & blessings for the coming year.

With love and gratitude,


Sunday, December 29, 2013

who are you saying goodbye to...

As each year winds down, we are inundated on TV and at the newsstand with lists of everything from most shocking events of the past year to who got married, divorced, had children, and of course, who died.

Most of this stuff really doesn’t impact us in any sort of personal way, and I find it fascinating that we pay such close attention to it. But I suppose it is a barometer by which we measure how quickly our own lives are going, and it takes attention away from what is real about that.

As I thought about writing today’s blog, I contemplated mentioning the usual celebrity and political passings, which were notable, but instead I started listing the people I actually knew who died, people who, in one way or another, impacted my life and career, most knowingly, but a couple maybe not as much so.

You probably won’t know any of these people, though there are two who were in the entertainment industry whom you might. I offer this mention of each of them, not to be macabre, but rather as a toast, if you will, to lives to be celebrated and presences that are missed…

Billy Geller – a brilliantly talented and funny high school friend, taken way too soon. This tribute is one of the most viewed blog entries I’ve had in the five years I’ve been doing this. The First One to Go

Bernie Levy – the last of my remaining uncles, and beloved for making every get together a true party. Here is the tribute blog for a man whose presence was larger than life. And then there was one...

Gary David Goldberg – if you were ever a fan of the TV shows Family Ties, Spin City, or Brooklyn Bridge, then you are familiar with the work of Gary David Goldberg. But for me, even as much as his TV shows entertained me, it was his memoir, Sit Ubu Sit, which had the biggest impact on my life.

It is, to this day, my favorite book – not because of its profound literary nature, but because it was so unabashedly Gary David Goldberg. We teach people nothing if not by example, and after reading Sit Ubu Sit, I was able to complete my own memoir, In Search of George Stephanopoulos. When my book was finally published, I contacted Mr. Goldberg and thanked him. He responded immediately and I sent him a copy of my book.

Sid Bernstein – will perhaps always be most well known for bringing the Beatles to this country. For me, however, I will always think of the soft-spoken Sid as a champion of the artist, particularly this one. Here’s my Huffington Post piece on him. Sid Bernstein Remembered

Herbert Chatzky – if you’re a musician, chances are you’ve had many teachers in your lifetime, but there are always a couple who stand out. In the vast pantheon of teachers I took piano lessons from over the years, Herb Chatzky holds a fond place in my heart. Not because of some specific technique he taught me, or insight into the great classical masters whose work I studied under his tutelage, but mostly because he thought I could play the piano and imparted as much to me. He had a “sky’s the limit” approach to teaching. Get into one of the best schools in the country as a pianist? Sure! Be a concert pianist? Why not!!! While that was not the path I chose to stay with ultimately, I did get my degree in classical piano performance from Northwestern University, and I know that his “of course, you can!” mentality had something to do with that.

Ruth Rowles – was not someone I knew all that well. I met her maybe a handful of times. She was the wife of one of my collaborators, a man named Fred Rowles, with whom I’ve written a grand total of two songs. One of those songs, “No End to Love,” has had kind of an interesting ride. It’s been on hold for the likes of everyone from Faith Hill to Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. It’s been cut on a bunch of independent artists’ projects, but I myself have never recorded it. Until now. It will be on my forthcoming CD and I know that Fred and “Ruthie,” as he always called her, were ecstatic about that. And while I wish she had lived to hear the completed project, I know she will, nonetheless, from wherever she is.

Joe Bell – was one of my favorite writers. Period. Married to my cousin Sherry, and stepdad to my cousin Erik, Joe was a quiet force to be reckoned with when it came to the power of his pen. In his later years, he had a regular column in the Daily Pilot. Here is a link to what my cousin Erik had to say about Joe, followed by an excerpt from one of Joe’s columns. Erik's tribute to Joe

EXCERPT FROM "Wanted: Heroes for Today's Children" by Joseph N. Bell, published in the Daily Pilot on December 21, 1990:

I didn't know Milli Vanilli from the Righteous Brothers, so I don't know why I consumed all the stories about the scam these two men ran on a lot of doting fans and the pop music industry. But I did--rather, I guess, for the same reasons I look at freeway accidents or cop stops. Curiosity.

The same curiosity led me to interrogate the young persons I drive to, and from, school occasionally about Milli Vanilli--and the later peccadilloes of the New Kids on the Block. I don't get the driving duty very often--only when my wife is unable to fulfill her car-pooling job. The kids talk among themselves on these rides, steadfastly ignoring me. Sometimes they talk about music--or sing it.

If I try to interject conversation, I'm usually regarded with a kind of startled surprise that I'm sharing the car with them. And the surprise turns quickly to resignation if I tell them--as I usually do--that I used to walk to school, frequently in deep snow, a greater distance than they are driven. And that riding the school bus is a form of character building from which they all might profit.

They sigh and wait until I'm done, apparently accepting this as an occasional price for being driven to school. Sometimes they ask if someone else is going to pick them up. Then they go back to their own talk--or significant silence--ignoring me again.

For these reasons, my driving companions were tough to interrogate about Milli Vanilli. It took me a while to get their attention and persuade them I wanted to talk about a topic that might be of at least marginal interest to them. These were all seventh-graders--two boys and a girl. Admittedly a small sample, but I can project as well as the next pollster.

First of all, they dismissed the New Kids on the Block out of hand. "Nobody," my stepson told me, "listens to them except kids in New York and Texas." This seemed a curious juxtaposition, and when I asked him where he had acquired this insight, he was vague about the source but certain of its validity. And the other two supported him absolutely, dripping contempt for the New Kids.

The contempt, however, didn't grow out of recent allegations that the New Kids plagiarize music, have management ties with the Mafia or punch out people on airplanes. My interviewees had no interest in these extracurricular activities. They just don't like the New Kids' music and assured me, without reservation, that no one else in their school did either.

Milli Vanilli, however, was another matter. All admitted to listening to their music, and my girl subject, name of Katie, likes it a lot. So, I asked them, did they feel angry, outraged, betrayed when they found out that Milli Vanilli was a fraud, taking credit for the skills of two anonymous singers?

None of these reactions applied. Katie called what Milli Vanilli did "stupid." My stepson, Erik, said it was "wrong" but he felt neither betrayed nor angry. Katie doesn't listen to Milli Vanilli recordings any more but said she would listen to the people who actually did the singing if they were to record. The joint reaction could best be described as a shrug. They were a very long way from the paper boy with the hole in his stocking and the tearful face who said, "Say it ain't so, Joe," to Shoeless Joe Jackson after baseball's Black Sox scandal. A very long way.

Luke said the Milli Vanilli scam didn't make him mad because "I could do the same thing they did. I can't sing either." Would he? "No." Why not? "Because I'd have to give my Grammy back."

Barbara Scheinbach – is kind of an odd choice for my list. She was a lovely old lady who lived a few blocks away and volunteered, along with my father, to do taxes for people through the AARP. She frequented our local diner and was always upbeat, with both a smile and a slight twinkle in her eyes. She was one of those people you always felt good being around. So her passing saddened me.

Oddly enough, Barbara made my list because of a story her daughter told about her at her funeral. I could not understand why her children were not wearing black to the funeral. But when her daughter got up to speak, she told a story of her mother coming to visit her for a month. Barbara, it seemed, summoned her daughter to their respective closets and said, “Look at your closet and look at mine.” Her daughter had no idea what exactly she was supposed to be looking for – tidiness? Organization? What? But then Barbara pointed out to her that her closet was filled with only black and white clothes, while Barbara’s closet contained every bright color of the rainbow. And she made her daughter promise that when she died, she would not wear the usual black color of mourning, but rather something bright and cheery.

I’ll be honest with you – I went home after that funeral and thought a lot about that – the metaphor this presented about how I wanted to live my life. And I knew that, though my own wardrobe is primarily black, I wanted to live my life in color. So I’m letting the cat out of the bag here and letting you know that “In Color” is not only a new song on my project, but it is the title as well.

So as we usher in the New Year, it is my hope that we honor the memories of those who graced our lives and left, by remembering to embody that which we most loved about them.

Peace and blessings to you all as we count down to 2014…

Friday, December 27, 2013

as 2013 winds down...

It feels appropriate that, as the year winds down and we prepare for another one to start, that we take stock, assess, and reflect about the year gone by.

It’s tempting to lean solidly one way or the other – either positively or negatively, but I think, looking back, that this year has been one where even loss and sadness were tempered by beauty and appreciation for moments shared and life lessons learned.

When 2013 began, my friend Garry called me and asked if I wanted to be his “action partner.” I said yes, without thinking, and then immediately had second thoughts. I had done enough of these self-helpy-work-shoppy kinds of things to know that there would be goals involved and the expectation of accountability. And I had lofty goals, my friends, with absolutely no way, given my immediate set of circumstances, of accomplishing them.

I wanted to record a new CD of my songs and write a book. In a year. Just to give you an idea, my first book took ten years. And it isn’t even that long. But it was my first, so if you take away all the time I spent torturing myself with self doubt, then it took me…crap, it still took a long time.

And the CD – where exactly would the money come from to do it? And was there a reason compelling enough to actually make it? And how and with whom would I record it?

So we got together, Garry and me, at a diner - with legal pads and lists of short, medium, and long range goals. All my goals seemed overwhelming and not remotely doable to me.

But if our lives are comprised of the decisions we make, then the decision I made was to write down and say out loud what I wanted to have happen. And then take action every day in some way toward that end result.

One could argue that this is not rocket science. However, until you’ve written a song, you don’t know that it is equal parts work and pixie dust. By the way, I just googled “pixie dust,” and I’m not referring to the street drug here…unless you want to write “MacArthur Park.” Then have at it with that. But I’m referring to the glittery, magical Disney-esque substance.

Anyway, this year has been an amazing journey in getting out of my own way, in learning to trust spirit, intuition, that inner sense of knowing – whatever you want to call it – and follow it. It’s been a year of examining old habits and making new choices. And oddly enough, when you make a different choice, you get a different result. I know, not rocket science, either. But hey, some people get there faster than others.

So instead of the usual melancholy that overtakes me heading into a New Year, I am giddy with excitement, because I am in the midst of recording my album – the one I couldn’t see a way to make happen when I sat down with the legal pads at the diner with Garry almost a year ago.

And a good chunk of my book is written, enough, in fact, for me to know that it, too, will see completion in the coming year.

So as I think about what might go on my list for 2014, I am taking a moment to be present in pure gratitude – for every single person who has shared my journey this past year, for the gifts of love and friendship and family, for staying open to possibilities unimagined, and of course…for pixie dust.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends and keeping checking in as I blog down to the New Year!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

the spirit of the season

It’s the holiday season. There are presents to be purchased, parties to attend, food to be prepared, cards to be sent. It’s no wonder that, amid the relentless songs about jingle bells, reindeer, and chestnuts, there is an undercurrent of stress.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I have the fondest of appreciation for all things Christmas, however, this year, it seems like I know an awful lot of people who are hurting, either from losses of loved ones or complete upheaval in their lives. So maybe I’m extra sensitive these days, but it got me thinking about the point of it all.

I love the pretty lights, the singing, the festive atmosphere, the red and green motif, all of it. But at the end of the day, it seems to me that this was supposed to be about the birth of Jesus.

For me personally, I like the image of reverence for a baby – that clean slate of perfection we are all born with, that potential we all come into the world with, to do and be and accomplish anything. I believe each of us was sent to save the world. Radical thinking, I know, but that is what I know in my heart to be true. And yes, it is far easier to place responsibility for the world’s messes in hands outside of our own, but then, why would we have been put here, if not to make things better? Call me crazy, but I don’t think watching football on our flat screens from the couch is what the creator of the universe had in mind for our maximum potential. (I could be wrong about that. Maybe He’s a sports fan.)

So this year, aside from my commitment to take in my favorite sappy Christmas movies and listen to every holiday CD I own, (I’m up to the letter “G” in my listening, for anyone who’s curious), I am also taking the time to reach out to people…and I urge you to do the same.

Maybe pick one person you’ve been out of touch with and call them to catch up. Maybe it’s a moment spent in prayer for someone who’s ill. Maybe instead of spending money you don’t have, write people a letter and tell them how much they mean to you and how they enrich your life. I did this a few years back, and it was not only a gift to the people who received it, but it was a gift to me to really spend time in gratitude for each person in my life.

We get so caught up in the “busy,” that we forget to look people in the eye and tell them we love them. Or to truly listen and understand with a loving heart. We harbor resentments and gloss over feelings, because they make us uncomfortable. And then, when it’s too late, we lament about what we wished we’d had the chance to say. So let’s not do that this year. Let’s, instead, take this opportunity to appreciate the moment and the people we are surrounded by, because there is no guarantee that a year from now the same people will be here.

So here’s to kindness for its own sake, peace in our hearts so that there can be peace in the world, and love expressed boldly, in the true spirit of the season. 

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, December 9, 2013

what to buy the people on your Christmas list...

I like to be helpful. And I know that Christmas is coming, and you’re wondering what gifts to buy your loved ones. I also know that you love to support writers and artists, because, let’s face it, that’s the kind of people my beloved blog readers are. You have a keen appreciation for the years of work, the heart, and soul, and love that we creative types pour into everything we do.

So in the spirit of giving, of supporting independent musicians and writers (or small business owners, as politicians like to call us), of thoughtful gifts that people will treasure for a lifetime, might I suggest a few of my favorite things for your holiday purchases? (Rhetorical. I’m gonna suggest.)

If you want to play something that will put a smile on your face and delight you while at the same time being achingly beautiful, then get the CD Somewhere Beautiful. It is absolutely happy-making music. And who couldn't use that?! It will warm your heart, especially when you read the genesis of the project. Here is the link to purchase and read the incredibly moving story behind its creation by Tanya Leah. Somewhere Beautiful CD

Do you love New York, L.A., celebrities, pop culture, or all of the above? Oh, and do you like finding the hidden gems of locations that only people in the know are aware of? Then you totally want to buy the books My City, My Los Angeles and My City, My New York for the people on your gift list. Written by the incomparable Jeryl Brunner, these books even give the natives of these cities insights into places heretofore unknown. Here is the link to purchase: Books by Jeryl Brunner

This next CD sort of defies description for me, really. The night I met Garry Novikoff, he was playing a song he was working on, called “A Normal Life.” It was a tour de force. He was a tour de force. So when it became the title song for his album, I couldn’t wait to hear more of what he wrote. It was hysterically funny. It was tragically sad. It was the human experience portrayed in a way that only Garry can. So take a listen, and click on “buy.” A Normal Life CD

Do you love sass? Do you love bluesy country music? Do you love gorgeous harmonies sung by great singers? Have I got a group for you! They are called Queen of Hearts and are comprised of BethAnne Clayton, Helen Lewis Moore, Ellen Britton and April Amick Caughman. Here is the link to their website, where you can order their CD's. But if you ever get the chance, boys and girls, you must see and hear them live! They are not only spectacular sounding, but they make banter an art form. Seriously. And I love that. Queen of Hearts

I would be remiss in peddling everyone else’s wares and not my own, so if you need an entertaining romp through, well, a chunk of my life, (and really, who doesn’t?), then might I suggest my memoir, In Search of George Stephanopoulos – a True Story of Life, Love, and the Pursuit of a Short Greek Guy! It makes a lovely gift for that special someone. Plus, it’s funny. Here’s the link: In Search of George Stephanopoulos

So now that I've just solved all your holiday shopping conundrums, what will you do with all your free time? I, for one, think you should bake me some cookies. 

But all kidding aside, it would be great if everyone supported local artists, crafts people, and businesses. We really do pour our hearts, souls, and love into what we do. So thank you for stopping by and reading this...and for appreciating us.

Peace and Blessing to you!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

what to be thankful for...

At any given moment, there’s a lot to be thankful for, even during times when that seems questionable. This year has flown by in the blink of an eye, and amid the chaos of the holiday season, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy and not really take the time to soak in the gratitude of the moment. So I’m pausing slightly ahead of time to think about what I’m thankful for right now as we approach this holiday of Thanksgiving.  And here’s a little list I came up with on the spur of the moment…

I’m thankful for a day set aside to live purposefully in gratitude…
I’m thankful for the good health of family and friends…
I’m thankful for the abundance of love in my life…
I’m thankful for endless possibilities and new opportunities…
I’m thankful for all the times I’ve found legal street parking in New York City (did I mention this list was random?)…
I’m thankful for old friends I’ve reconnected with and new friendships that have blossomed…
I’m thankful for the ways, both knowingly and unknowingly, that I’ve been a blessing to anyone…
I’m thankful for music and people who have inspired me…
I’m thankful for the gifts I’ve been entrusted with…
I’m thankful for migraine medicine that works (I feel like this one should have a bunch of asterisks next to it to emphasize its importance)…
I’m thankful for moments of peace in my heart and the relentless belief that good things are coming…
I’m thankful for every sappy holiday song and movie that I fully intend to revel in this year…
I’m thankful for a season when people are tempted to be nicer to one another...
I’m thankful for hugs, because did I mention I’m a hugger?...
I’m thankful for football and all televised sporting events in general…
I’m thankful for all the people who just laughed out loud at my previous statement, because it means a) you really know me and b) you understand that sometimes, I just have to amuse myself when I’m writing these things…
I’m thankful for everyone who’s ever read any of my blogs, my HuffPo pieces, and my book, or listened to any of my songs…
I’m thankful (beyond words, really) for everyone who is making the Gratitude Project a reality…
I’m thankful for a loving, supportive, and abundant universe…
I’m thankful for all the yesterdays I was granted, the gift of today, and the promise of tomorrow…

I wish you all safe travels, love and laughter, peace and blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2013

what you can do for your country...

I wasn’t yet born when President Kennedy was assassinated. It was two years shy of my entering the world. (You’re all doing the math right now on my age, aren’t you?!) And yet, the images of his life and death are so indelibly etched in my psyche, as are many of his words and ideals, that you’d think I had a front row seat.

My earliest recollections of current events were of man walking on the moon, the war in Vietnam, and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. I don’t remember a period in my life without the awareness that our time here is fleeting. (This could explain why I had no interest in playing with Barbie dolls, but I digress.)

From early on, the lesson I got from those images was that those of us who believe we could and should end poverty, racism, and war, frequently meet with untimely deaths. And yet, the bigger lesson I took away was that we must stand up for those beliefs, anyway. And so the die was cast. (And believe me, when I write anti-gun pieces for The Huffington Post and am contacted by the weapon-wielders, I question how much of a big mouth I want to have about this stuff. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, Texas.) I think we would be better served being armed with a good education and tolerance rather than firearms. So I can’t let it go. Nor can I let it go about our need for single-payer universal healthcare, fixing our failing public school system, ending war for private profit, and actually having liberty, justice, and equality for all.

I was looking up JFK quotes to prepare for writing this blog (I know, you are astounded that I care enough about you to do research) and there were so many I wanted to point to, jump up and down, and say, “Yeah, what he said!” that I just had to stop. But I did pick out two I thought were uncannily relevant today.

Here’s one of them to consider at this particular juncture in our nation’s history: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

And here’s another one to think about: “We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world or to make it the last.”

So on this day, when we’re reflecting on an image of innocence lost, I think JFK’s words are more poignant than ever. “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”

So what idea of America do we want? And what are we willing to do to see it to fruition? What matters enough to us that it would call us to action? What is our bottom line? Is apathy really how we want to be defined when history looks back at this moment?

If you know me for five minutes, you know that I think love is the only sustainable, sane, and viable alternative to what we’ve got going on in the world. It is neither the easy answer nor the quick fix. It demands much in the way of forgiveness, and little in the way of ego. It will outlast both our mortal bodies and our petty minds. Every religion of the world calls us to embody it. Our hearts compel us to act from it. And if I had to pick a legacy, whether as a nation or as a human being, I’d go with love.

I know the days of the open motorcade are gone. That bright, smiling visual of trust and accessibility only live in our collective memories now. Fifty years later, we are familiar with armored cars, with black tinted, bulletproof windows. We know the darkness we are capable of.

But that “idea” President Kennedy spoke about, the one that lives on, lives on in us. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for and it’s high time we showed up.

And because that is the perfect segue, I am going to talk about one congressional candidate - Marianne Williamson. If you want to know why I am so passionate about both politics as well as her candidacy, this quote should give you an idea: "Politics shouldn't be the least heart-filled thing we do; it should be the most heart-filled thing we do. It should be a collective expression of our most enlightened selves."

If you are as blown away by that statement as I am, and as excited at the prospect of having her voice represent us all in Congress, please support her campaign!  Marianne's campaign site

As this day of remembering draws to a close, I thank you all for stopping by and reading this. And I wish you peace and blessings. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

an idealist without illusions revisited

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and because I've noticed this blog I wrote in September of 2011 getting quite a few hits recently, I am re-posting it today in both President Kennedy's honor and his memory...

Caroline Kennedy has allowed the release of hours of interviews done with her mother four months after the assassination of her father, the President, John F. Kennedy. And for those of us who are old enough to know what the reference to Camelot even is, it is a gift both bitter and sweet to hear the wispy voice of the late Jacqueline Kennedy once again.

So much has been tainted in the years since, stemming from our need to know everything, including all the dirty little secrets once kept hidden from the public's common knowledge. But the most important things I took away from these interviews weren't my shock and awe at Jacqueline's views on women and their place in society, though that did make me gasp out loud, but rather the President's thoughts on both how he saw himself and how he operated in the landscape of the politics of his time.

When Jackie told him she despised a particular political figure, he told her she mustn't think that way, because then she would eventually act that way. He viewed politics much like a chess game, and even though I'm partial to poker references myself, the point was that disdain is always your "tell." And you can't afford to have a tell like that in politics. Oh Barack, dear chap, are you listening? Please stop letting 'em know what you're thinking. We can all see it on your face. And for goodness sake, twist an arm or two, why don't you! We won't mind, I promise. As a matter of fact, we don't even need to know.

But here's the thing that struck me the most and made me stop dead in my tracks while listening to Jackie's voice. When asked how he thought of himself, JFK's answer was as "an idealist without illusions." And that, my friends, is what we need today. That is the perfect combination we've been looking for - the one with the beautiful, inspiring rhetoric coupled with the brute force masked behind a winning smile needed to actually accomplish the content of the pretty words.

The times we live in are devoid of civility. And though one might argue that that is the price you pay for honesty, I don't see politicians being any more truthful, and now they're just mean on top of being liars, so what was the sacrifice of courtesy for in the end, anyway?

Today I've been thinking about what it means to be "an idealist without illusions," and I've decided that should be everyone's goal, but it is now definitely mine. I've decided that whether it's the 1960's or 2011, it would behoove us to dream big and aspire to greatness, while doing the very real and unglamorous work it takes to live minus the illusion that your dreams will fall from the sky onto your life. In this day where we want success without dues paying, it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work, while still daring to dream. Had President Kennedy not aspired to passing a healthcare bill (which he failed at, by the way), President Obama would not have been able to sign one.

So while I get wistful looking at pictures of the handsome young president and his lovely wife, I know that their lives were far from perfect, but that didn't stop them from trying. There is no air-brushing of real life. We come here flawed, and frail, and hopelessly longing for that which we likely will never attain. And still it is within our ability to be "idealists without illusions."

So here's to the memory of those who came before us and strove on our behalf, and to those who strive now, idealists without illusions, who work each and every day so that we might once again know Camelot.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Monday, November 4, 2013

...you know you're old when...

Bill Clinton called me last night. Okay, so it was one of those automated political calls, urging me to vote for our local Democratic candidate, but still, I’m going with Bill Clinton called me last night.

He was sure to remind me that we were neighbors, live in the same county. Personally, I think the neighborly thing to do would be for him to bake me a pie, but okay, I’ll go with the phone call because he’s kind of a busy guy.

Ah, Bill – my president. I remember when he took office. It seems like lifetimes ago and worlds away. We weren’t at war, I slept nights, and there was this word they used called “surplus” that has vanished altogether from our lexicon in the past thirteen years. We had a middle class…and dreams. Ah yes, I remember dreams.

So that got me thinking – and hear me out on this – I’m getting old. And sure, this could be evidenced by my Amazon wish list including things like “The Essential James Taylor” and Eva Cassidy’s “Songbird,” instead of One Direction and Katy Perry, but I also had this little incident at the Apple store this weekend.

I brought in my iPod Nano to be fixed. I made an appointment to bring it to what is rather optimistically called “The Genius Bar” at the Apple store. The Genius Bar, which contains neither geniuses nor libations, so talk amongst yourselves about that one, was manned by what could best be described as a bunch of pimply-faced teenagers. And I mean no disrespect to the dermatologically challenged when I say that. That is just what they looked like to me.

I couldn’t remember what year I got the nano. To me, it’s still kind of a new-fangled gizmo. (And my use of both “new-fangled” and “gizmo” should tell you something right there.) No worries. The kid geniuses could look it up. 2006. Okay, not so bad, I’m thinking to myself. Seven years old.

So kid genius #1 informs me that the only thing he could do is basically uninstall and reinstall the updated software for it, effectively wiping out everything that’s on there. I pretend to a) understand him, and b) hope he actually knows how to do what he’s just, a little too tentatively, explained to me.

He plugs my trusty iPod into his Mac computer. I’m wondering just how old he actually is. He looks confused. Something’s not working right. He asks genius #2 standing next to him for help. Genius #2 can’t help him, so he tries genius #3. All geniuses are marveling at my iPod Nano. One of them says, “I’ve never seen one of these before.” I start doing the math. If this genius is really a teenager, then he would have been in elementary school when I got my iPod Nano. Talk about a real buzz-kill.

Finally, my very own genius realizes that the current software is incompatible with the old iPod. Why? Because Apple would like me to buy a new iPod. Seriously???!!!

He offers to set me up with my very own sales associate to look at the new iPods. I want to point out that my Sony Walkman cassette player from the 80’s still works just fine, but I know that reference would be the equivalent of caveman etchings to him. So I go off with the sales associate before leaving the Apple store with nothing but the iPod Nano with which I came.

I text a friend, who finds my whole experience funny. (And don’t I get youthful points for texting?)

“How does it feel to be over 40?” he teases, not knowing exactly how old I am. I contemplate telling him I wouldn’t know, but that cracks even me up.

I start thinking about the geniuses again. I’ve had headaches that lasted longer than some of them have been alive.

I get a little melancholy about how I miss the warmth of analog, the crackle of the 33, the days before autotune, when singers had to be able to actually sing, by golly. And I thank God that Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion didn’t have to twerk.

I wonder how we miraculously reached adulthood riding our bikes without helmets and knee pads. And how our precious little psyches survived everyone not getting a trophy but the one who legitimately earned it. And by the way, when the hell did men start waxing off all their chest hair? Call me crazy, I don’t find it sexy.

Then Bill Clinton called. (I know, questionable segue after the chest hair comment, but what the hell.) I reveled for a second in the familiarity of his voice, of the time his presidency represented to me, before 9/11, when we lived in blissful ignorance, oblivious to any potential peril lurking, believing in the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

I realize that Bill Clinton took office twenty-one years ago, and because Election Day is tomorrow, I’m, perhaps, a bit more reflective than usual. I am, at heart, a dreamer. And so I still believe that our best days are ahead of us, that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and that love is indeed the only sane, rational, and sustainable choice there is.

Thanks for stopping by. And old or young, please tell your friends.

how to save a life

I don’t think it is an uncommon occurrence to wonder how we can be of service in our lives. In fact, I think most of us have an inner longing to do something that matters. And I think most of us do impactful things that we take for granted or are unaware of every day. And I’m not referring to those of you who may be first responders and are of the inclination to run toward peril instead of away from it.

As for me, I always figured my contribution would reside somewhere in the meaning of a song, the written word, or some random piece of advice that turned out to be useful to somebody. I’m not the type to leap at the chance to head toward fire or blood or raging waters. Nope, I assumed my heroism was to be more esoteric in nature. But on this one particular occasion, I would be, oh, wrong about that.

My father, who just turned 85, has lunch most days with several of his cronies at our local diner. It’s a small place, comprised mostly of colorful regulars. His best buddy, whom I’ll call Vinny, is a retired plumber with a perpetual twinkle in his eyes, a fondness of strawberry ice cream, and a propensity for impromptu singing. (The last of which was very funny, by the way, when I had a Disney hit on the radio that Vinny would walk around singing regularly. I’m sure Walt would be thrilled to know that his demographic extended from tweens to the elderly.)

On this particular day, I happened to be at the diner with my father and Vinny didn’t show up for lunch. He hadn’t told anyone that he had a doctor’s appointment (the usual reason for unexplained absences with the geriatric crowd). These absences happen on occasion. Sometimes it’s because of an unexpected visit from a relative, or some bit of business at the bank, or waiting for a repairman to come and fix something. So we tried calling Vinny’s house. No answer. His cell phone. No answer.

Now might be a good time to mention my proclivity for preparedness. I would like to tell you that it was because I was a girl scout…which I was. (I know, you’re imagining me in my little green uniform now.) But the truth is, in the past, I’ve been known to possess a phenomenal ability to conjure worst case scenarios. Now, the truth is I’ve gotten infinitely better about this and I don’t spend my energy focusing on stuff I don’t want to happen anymore. But one of the byproducts of both my past worrying and my present state of calm is a state of readiness for, at minimum, the things I can foresee a potential need for. So when Vinny’s daughter was visiting him on one occasion, we exchanged phone numbers.

I had a very urgent gut feeling that something was wrong and we needed to go to Vinny’s house and see if he was okay. If his car wasn’t there, then he was off somewhere and all was probably fine.

When we got there, Vinny’s car was parked in his driveway. I ran up to the side door of his house where he usually enters and exits. I began pounding on the door. No answer. The lights were on. I tried to look through the window and the blinds on the door, squinting to see what I could see. On the kitchen table I saw a bowl of cornflakes and a full glass of orange juice, his breakfast meal – untouched. Shit. It was after 2 p.m. That meant Vinny was somewhere on the floor of that house since early morning.

I didn’t see him on the kitchen floor, so I began walking around the house, banging on windows and doors, yelling his name, “Vinny, Vinny, can you hear me? It’s Ilene.” Nothing.

I called his daughter. (See – that’s why I took her number.) I didn’t want to freak her out, but I told her we needed to call 911 and asked her if there was a key hidden anywhere outside or with a neighbor. No spare key and everything was locked up tight as a drum. So she called 911 and told them if they needed to, to break down a door or window.

Seriously, an ambulance didn’t show up for at least 20 minutes, by which time, after pounding on every door and window of the house, the garage door mysteriously opened.

There was Vinny, lying flat on his back, half on the garage floor, half in his basement. He’d had no heat in the house, so he went downstairs to see if he could fix it himself, where he promptly fell over boxes on the floor. In order to get the garage door opened, he had to drag himself across the floor, where he, while laying flat on his back, grabbed a broom handle, which he used to reach the garage door button. I kid you not.

The paramedics arrived first in the ambulance. Then a lone policeman. And finally, the firemen. While they were assessing Vinny’s condition, and fighting his protestations about going to the hospital, they realized they had to carry him up the stairs to get him out of the house. Why? Because there was about an inch of space between the garage wall and the covered, candy apple red 1973 Cadillac that Vinny has stored in his garage to leave to his grandson on the occasion of his death. (You can’t make up stuff like this.) So no way to get Vinny out of the house but to carry him back up the flight of stairs and out the side door, where he could longingly eye his bowl of uneaten cornflakes in passing.

But before that could happen, while logistics were being figured out, I, being unfortunately savvy to the necessities of the unanticipated hospital visits with the elderly, knew we needed to find and take two things – Vinny’s wallet with ID and insurance info and his battery of medications, which is crucial so they don’t accidentally and unintentionally kill you at the hospital. (See how my uncanny preparedness comes in handy?)

But just as Officer Frank and I were about to head up the stairs, Vinny remembered to tell us this key tidbit of information – because he had no heat and wanted to warm the house, he had turned on his gas stove burners full force…before he went downstairs and fell…at least six hours prior. So when Officer Frank and I reached the top of the stairs, all we smelled was gas. I let him do the honors of turning the stove off and we opened the doors. I always wondered how people’s homes could explode. Now I know.

Vinny was lucky that he just dislocated a hip. Didn’t break anything and didn’t hit his head in the fall. He is rehabilitating now near his daughter’s home.

But the reality is, even if the fall didn’t kill him, his house would have exploded eventually had the gas continued. I can’t stop thinking about the myriad ways this could have and would have ended in disaster. It is profoundly humbling. We never know when we’ll be called upon, but when we say we want to do something that matters and be of service, we don’t always get to choose what that looks like. I’m a songwriter, for God’s sake! But that day, I got to save a life.

So my advice is, first, to always listen to that gnawing feeling inside, that gut sense of knowing. Second, do not ever, ever, ever turn the gas stove on to heat the house. Wrap blankets around you or go somewhere else warm, but don’t be stupid. Third, always leave a key with a neighbor or friend nearby in case of emergency. Fourth, carry a list of all medications you take and dosages in your wallet just in case. Fifth, never shrink from a chance to be of service just because it doesn’t show up in the way you expect or see yourself.

And lastly, give a damn, because we are all each other has.

Peace and Blessings to you. Have a wonderful day, and thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Taking the Time to Cherish the Moment

We always hear about “living in the moment,” because that’s all there is. But seldom do we make a practice of it. Today, because it is my father’s 85th birthday, I’ve made no other plans than to celebrate in whatever way he chooses and to stay fully present and grateful for this cherished time we get to spend together.

My father, Marvin, was born in 1928. It was a different era and a different world, to be sure. He grew up during the depression, which meant that my brother Steven and I were raised not only with the tales of how little they had growing up, but we were taught never to waste anything from food to opportunity, and with a code of behavior that said you stick by and stick up for your family and friends, and above all, that your word is your bond. (Yeah, it’s no wonder I can’t quite figure out how to traverse today’s landscape that is largely devoid of these attributes.)

My father came from an era where men served in the military, so he was in the army during the Korean War. If you know my dad at all, you know that he is the furthest thing from a fighter, so looking at old army pictures of him seems completely contradictory to the man I know. But serve, he did, as did his brothers.

My father is the one on the far right.

At a servicemen’s canteen one night, he met my mother, and that, as they say, was that. They were married for nearly fifty years when she passed away a decade ago.

My father is the only one remaining of his family, outliving his three brothers, the last of whom died this past year. I know it weighs heavily on him in ways I can’t begin to fathom seeing everyone he loved go first. So today, I’m determined to linger longer in conversation, to appreciate the little details that make up our lives, because I know they will change and vanish altogether over time. Today I am not looking at the clock, not thinking about work that needs to be done, or anything other than this moment, with the man whose hazel eyes I inherited. Today I am celebrating the gift that his life is to me, both as my father and as a gentle presence on this planet. And whatever it is that will bring him joy, is what we’ll do. (I imagine this will be hanging with his diner cronies and possibly seeing a movie, but I’ll get back to you on that.)

Before I close out, and because I don’t believe in coincidences, this is also someone else’s birthday who is dear to me – my cousin, Matthew. (He’s always gonna be Mattie to me, though. Sorry, Mattie.) It’s the 23rd and it’s his 23rd birthday. I’m sure that means something in numerology, but unfortunately, I know nothing about numerology. So Mattie, you’re on your own as far as the meaning goes.

Like my father, Matthew is one of those beautiful spirits on the planet to whom a mean thought would just not occur. (I love it that I’m related to two people like that, because, frankly, it gives me hope for the future of humanity. But I digress.)

Some of my favorite times ever were when Matt stayed with me and recorded some of my songs in Nashville. I had Christmas lights draped all over my apartment – hideously, because growing up with a menorah, how would I know how to properly hang Christmas lights? Be that as it may, there was late night Frosted Flakes snacking, the glow of the lights, and a heck of a lot of laughter that went on between the music making. And I hold those times as some of the most cherished memories in my life. So Mattie, even as your life is unfolding magnificently in front of you, I hope to God you never forget to appreciate the little moments that make for the best lasting memories.

Me and Matt Angel in Laguna Beach

To the two birthday boys, I wish you a day filled with more love and joy than you can imagine, and for you both to know how truly appreciated you are.

To those of you kind enough to stop by, thank you. And please tell your friends. Peace and blessings to you – Ilene.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

a blog for my new Twitter followers!

I’ve been making a concerted effort lately on the social media front, which has been paying off by the 350 new Twitter followers I’ve gotten over the past two weeks.

Of course, that got me thinking about what I’d want these new followers to know about me, should they visit, say, this blog, for instance…which according to my statcounter widget thingy, they’ve been visiting. So this one’s for you, new Twitter followers…

Who the heck is Ilene Angel, really???

Life has a funny way, if we’re open to it, of taking us on some unexpected adventures. And those are the best kind, really, which is how I ended up here…with you…at this blog.

If you were to ask me what I do, without a second thought, my knee jerk response would be to tell you I’m a songwriter. Family legend has it that I sang before I spoke, and I know for certain that I read music before words, which had to appear a little freakish, frankly, for a four-and-a half-year-old at the piano.

But music and me arrived here as a package deal, and no matter how many other forms of writing my life has taken on, I never stray too far or for too long from it. But I’ll get back to music in a minute.

I never entertained the possibility of doing other forms of writing until, after a series of bad blind dates, I got to thinking that I had more in common with the then, very single George Stephanopoulos, than I did with the guys I was being fixed up with. So I decided to try a little experiment. I decided to put the six degrees of Kevin Bacon game to the test…but for George Stephanopoulos.

It was absurd. Outlandish. Preposterous. Well, funny thing about putting stuff “out there.” The universe responds in kind. So all of a sudden scenarios appeared in which the very real chance of meeting George Stephanopoulos existed. I use the word “chance” because what ensued was a series of unlikely events in which I almost, but then didn’t meet George Stephanopoulos.

It was hilarious. Fast forward to all of a sudden, I’m writing a book about it. (Here’s the link to it: In Search of George Stephanopoulos

If you thought I had no idea how to meet George Stephanopoulos, you should see how much less I knew about how to write a book and get it published. During this time that I was trying to get a book deal, an editor friend of mine told me I needed to start a blog to gain a following. I laughed. What exactly was a blog? And what would I be writing about?

As I began this blog in 2009, though I didn’t know what it was, what it would become, what it would lead to, or what I would write about, I had an unbelievably strong gut feeling that I was supposed to do this and it was going to take me somewhere extraordinary.

Well, being very green to the blogging world when I started, I thought I had to blog every day. Every day. I spent hours and hours, day after day. And though I don’t remember what I wrote about on a daily basis, I was honing a writing voice in a format that suited me perfectly. And because it was my own, I could say whatever I wanted – politically, pop culturally, spiritually, you name it.

Politics was an ongoing blog theme for me. And I could be a liberal as I wanted, which, it turns out, by most accounts, was pretty damn liberal. Well, soon, people were telling me that I needed to write for The Huffington Post. I laughed it off. But they were serious. So I told one of my cherished readers that if they could make that happen for me, I was game. They did.

So suddenly, I was writing about politics in The Huffington Post .(Here’s a link to my archived pieces: Huffington Post - Ilene AngelIn my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be doing that. But that, too, it turns out, suited me perfectly. Funny thing about that was I couldn’t write about politics, knowing I had a viable voice, without trying to do something to affect real change.

I started out the normal way most people do – letters to Congressmen and Senators, a phone call here and there. But then it became rallies, speaking at events about social justice, meeting with state legislators. Oh yeah, and there was that time with a handful of people, a bullhorn, and a news crew across the street from Congressman Jim Cooper’s office. Some votes for the Affordable Care Act did not come easily, by golly.

As time went on, my Huffington writing veered towards music and popular culture, with spirituality making its way into the political pieces in the hopes of dialing down the nasty and dialing up the common ground.

My blog, too, would undergo some changes, as my life did. 

After finally having some long-awaited musical success with a #1 Disney song called “I Don’t Think About It,” recorded by Hannah Montana’s Emily Osment, (Watch video here: I Don't Think About It), I decided to self publish my book so I could move on. If I didn’t, George Stephanopoulos would be approaching his silver wedding anniversary by the time that sucker got published. 

…which brings me to today and what I’m currently doing.

In the provocatively titled one-day seminar I took on “how to get your book published,” the lecturer told us that if we wrote one book, we would write more than one book. I thought she was nuts. Another book? No way. Nope. Not me. Uh uh. No, sirree. No ma’am. Nuh-uh.

So my next book should be out in a few months. It’s of the self-help variety, because I think if you’re going to keep trying new things, you should pick the ones you’re least qualified for, just to keep it interesting. So I will be your cruise director as we navigate the murky waters of stress relief. That’s all I can tell you for now. You’ll have to keep visiting as we get closer to release time. (I’m trying out this whole idea of the “teaser” here. How am I doing?)

As for the music, I am recording my own songs for a CD (or record, or album, or digital download - what the heck are we calling it now???) called The Gratitude Project – a collection of songs about second chances, dreaming big, and remembering to be grateful for all, and not just some of the journey.

You can still find me blogging both here and at HuffPo.

Lastly, whether you’re new to this blog or a faithful devotee, thanks for stopping by. I truly appreciate it. Now that you know who I am, I hope you’ll visit again. And please tell your friends. Peace and blessings to you.