Wednesday, February 27, 2013

a life philosophy

Kids have an amazing way of operating in the world. They laugh when they’re happy, cry when they’re sad, and they never hang on to one particular emotion past the point where it immediately serves its purpose. I’ll be honest – I kind of envy that. When the scraped knee stops hurting, they skip off merrily as if nothing terrible happened, harboring no lingering resentment toward the pavement with which they just collided. They begin anew each moment.

My six year old niece, Samantha, wakes up happy and generally goes to bed the same way. She is certain that she is loved, confident in who she is, secure enough to boldly assert her desires, comfortable enough to laugh uproariously and wail pretty much at the same decibel level. I want her to stay that way forever. I think it’s healthier than most of us turn out in the end.

Recently, I had the chance to spend the day with her, just the two of us. She made sure I got to meet all her dolls and stuffed animals by name, made sure I took full stock of her archery skills that were fashioned after the red-headed character in Brave, and we watched one of our favorite movies together – Singin’ in the Rain, dancing and singing every musical number right along with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor. (The child could care less about Justin Bieber, but has memorized quite the repertoire of songs written well before even I was born.)

After exhausting all the possibilities of culinary delicacies in her play kitchen, we headed out for “an adventure.” I never thought of roaming around the neighborhood as “an adventure,” but it is easy to see how, through a child’s eyes, it can be. I introduced her to the perfumed smell of a lilac tree. She, in turn, introduced me to a better life philosophy.

She rode her little toy like it was going to take flight – hands up in the air, hair blowing in the wind, giddy with the excitement of the ride, squealing with delight at the sheer exhilaration of her freedom.

Aunt Ilene, on the other hand, trotted right behind her, poised and ready to grab her if she veered too far off course and headed for danger.

This got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be nice to live like Samantha rode, trusting implicitly that someone or something loving would catch me if I veered too far off course? What would it feel like to take my hands off the wheel and enjoy the ride unaccompanied by any thoughts of fear or any desire to steer? What would it feel like to be completely untethered?

I took my trusty iPhone out and snapped away, trying to capture my niece’s unbridled joy. I reveled in it, so much so, that I was determined to get me some. So instead of asking the universe for my usual laundry list of desires, I’ve been flirting with it instead lately, coyly saying, “Surprise me, universe. I’m ready for the magic.”

So here’s wishing us all a joy-filled adventure of a life, hands in the air, squealing with delight. Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The First One to Go

Loss is an inevitable part of life. We experience all kinds of it throughout the course of our time here. But at some point, we cross an invisible threshold where instead of grandparents, parents, and assorted people of older generations than our own passing, we begin experiencing the loss of our peers. And that is profound. It is profound as a vehicle for recognizing not only our own mortality, but in assessing the contributions others have made to our miles traveled and roads taken.

I have often wondered who would be first to depart from the people I grew up with, who it was that would mark the moment when childhood memories would become tinged with grief instead of pristine in their innocence. I never thought it would be Billy.

The last time I saw Billy (Bill, as an adult) was high school graduation, 1983. We were not only in classes together but plays, both dramas and musicals. And for people who do shows together, there forms a bond, like comrades in trench warfare, I suppose, that lasts forever no matter where life takes us.

I wish I could say that Billy’s and mine was a friendship that exceeded our youth, that we got together periodically and stayed in touch, as close friends do over the years. But that was not the case. We parted ways, going to separate colleges and I left New York altogether, gladly leaving behind my high school days, which, outside of my participation in shows and concerts, I held no fondness in recalling. Gradually, the faces and names of my past have dimmed to the point where I honestly do not remember a whole lot of them, but that never applied to Billy, who has remained clear as a bell in my mind and one of my better memories.

Through the power of Facebook, Billy and I reconnected in recent years, and though there is much about being on Facebook that drives me up a wall, I count this reconnection as a blessing I could not have known the full measure of until now.

I don’t think it was a surprise to him that I stayed in music, nor was it a surprise to me that he became a graphic designer. He was always doing that, even in high school. That he was a devoted husband and father also did not come as a shock to me, though the graying hair in recent photographs did. So to see the man he became was a pleasure, but not a surprise.

What was a surprise to me was Billy’s brilliant sense of humor. His FB posts, be they poetry, observations, or other random musings, made me laugh out loud, and I never neglected to tell him so or that he should seriously consider comedy writing, because he had a natural gift for it.

I found a kindred spirit in political passion and world outlook, and that tickled my liberal, idealistic heart to no end. The more I got to know Billy now, strange a place as the internet is to do that, the more I genuinely liked and admired Billy.

So to find out Sunday morning that this man so full of life and humor and love for his wife, Sheri, and son, Max was hit by a car and gone to us forever still seems unfathomable to me. Try as I might, I cannot wrap my head around this life so senselessly cut short. And I know there are no words of condolence I can offer that can possibly touch the pain his family is feeling or the loss they must endure. I can only hope that time tempers their grief and leaves them with the enduring legacy of the joyous soul he was.

I’m sure if I scoured old boxes long enough, I would find pictures of Billy and me in No, No, Nanette along with a thirty year old cassette tape capturing the performance. But for now, what I’ve retrieved is our high school yearbook, a snapshot of a place and time in our lives long gone.

Billy wrote me a long parting message in our yearbook, complete with his trademark drawings. “…we quiet, reserved people are the most emotional…” he said in my yearbook. He was right about that.

And so it is tearfully that I wish my childhood friend Godspeed. Rest in peace, Billy Geller. You are deeply missed.

    This is how I will always remember Billy.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My Post Blizzard Parable

New Yorkers often get a bad rap for our in-your-face attitudes and salty vocabularies. And while I admit that I can curse like a truck driver (no disrespect intended to truck drivers), I think we are largely misunderstood. I think we don’t mince words and so honesty is misinterpreted as abrasiveness, because we don’t waste time with pleasantries. We cut to the chase, get to the point. We come with a built in sense of urgency. And for everything but say, our blood pressure, that might not be such a bad thing, at least it wasn't today.

So here I sit, in massive amounts of back pain from my post blizzard 2013 snow shoveling, mulling over what I learned. Here's what happened.

Thanks to some gusting winds, the driveway was covered with more than a foot of snow. And before you ask me why I did not get someone else to shovel, let me just say that the kid who used to do it for us – turns out joined the army. And as for these mysterious children looking to earn a few extra bucks, roaming the neighborhood with shovels at the ready…they do not exist, at least not where I live. So that left me…and my shovel.

I’ll be honest with you, when I opened the garage door and saw the snow piled flush against it, I could not fathom how I was going to physically be able to complete this task. But I started, and little by little, I made my way down the driveway, stopping to regroup every so often. Everyone was outside trying to dig themselves out. Then I heard sirens, saw a fire truck and ambulance. They stopped up the block. Not a good sign, I thought. I kept shoveling. When the young man who lived next door was done with his driveway, he said he’d come back and help me, but he needed to rest first. I wanted to cry (in a good way). I assured him that no matter how long he rested, I would still be out there shoveling when he returned.

I kept going. The plough came through and dumped the snow on our side of the street. Great. Then my neighbor came back out, as promised, and started shoveling from the street up, while I kept going from the top down. Then a lady from across the street came with a snow blower that was three times the size of her. I think her husband must’ve used it, but he was at work, and she saw me and knew that I would be crippled later on, so she was going to try and operate this monstrosity, only did I mention it was three times the size of her?

Well, then another neighbor from a few doors down, whom I don’t know at all, sees this and decides to come to her/my rescue. He’s a big burly guy and he stands there playing with all the levers for a while, before taking the blower and making his first trip up the unshoveled part of the driveway. Only it wasn’t shooting the snow far enough away, so the snow started blowing back onto my driveway where I had already shoveled. Crap. They were trying to help. What could I say?

Well, he’s a guy, and there’s no way he’s gonna not get this done successfully in front of two women. So he finally figures out how to operate the thing properly and starts up and down the driveway a couple more times. Then he decides to show the lady how to operate it, and she takes a stab at going up my driveway. By this time there are two more neighbors congregating at the foot of my driveway and chatting, watching the spectacle that is this snow blower in operation. They finish and then move on to another person’s house a few doors down. My next door neighbor helps me round out the corners so we can get cars out, and I am off to do the stairs and path to the front door.

So what did I learn from this day of fun in the snow? Well, I got to thinking that this was a great example of how the universe works. You start out not knowing how you’re gonna do something. In fact, it may seem impossible. But you start, anyway, not knowing when or how or by what means you will successfully accomplish your desired task. And while you’re putting everything you’ve got into it, you are met unexpectedly with the necessary people (and/or machinery) to help you reach your goal.

You have to be willing to allow for the unexpected. But the act of faith is in taking the initial action yourself, with no knowledge of how or guarantee of success. Can you put every ounce of your energy in the direction of your heart’s desire and live in the not knowing? Because, as I learned today, if we do, then we are met by a very willing, loving and supportive universe that will match our intentions and create ways where there had previously been none to get us where we want to go.

So God bless my neighbors…and the makers of Advil for helping me out today. Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends. And now, can someone help me up?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What Stirs the Soul

If I’m to believe my Huffington Post Facebook widget little counter thingy (yeah, that’s how descriptive I can be about technology), I have just gotten the most “likes” on anything I’ve ever written for HuffPo in the past four years! There’s a parade being planned for me somewhere right now, I just know it.

It was for a CD review (, which was followed, in 2nd place on the little counter thingy, by the piece I wrote about gun control legislation right after the Connecticut school shooting ( ). And there you have it – my life in a nutshell. A dichotomy between music and politics, and I’d be hard pressed to tell you which one wins, because in my odd perception of things, at their best, both can make the world a better place and my desire runs deep for doing that in any way possible.

Someone recently pointed out to me that I didn’t have any “normal” friends. And though I’m sure my friends are all thrilled to hear that, what she meant was that all of them have careers and not jobs. I had never really thought about it before. My friends are in every area of the arts as well as actual artists (like with paintings in galleries), or they’re doctors, lawyers, college professors, and journalists. All of these are professions dreamed of, worked towards, strived for, and ultimately about making a difference. And I suppose, because I am, undoubtedly, as “normal” as my friends, I can’t imagine life being about anything other than what stirs the soul and ignites passion. I mean, why bother otherwise?

I have a friend who had a job for 28 years that she just left to go to culinary school to become a vegan chef because that’s what she always wanted to do. (She swears the food’s delicious and I’ll love it. If she can accomplish me going vegan, she can have a third career as a miracle-worker, which frankly, I wouldn’t put past her.)

I think it would be a completely different world (in a good way) if people would stop and consider what stirs their soul, or at the very least, what matters most to them. I think we’re a society of largely (and large) unhappy people because we stifle that voice inside us that knows exactly what lights our fire, or trips our trigger, or any other cool metaphor you can think of. I think we know. In fact, I know that we know. But to look at that would require making that shift of taking actions that align with what we know in our hearts. And for most of us, that’s a scary proposition. Most people are not like my friend who left the only job she knew in her adult life to live her passion. Most people never go there.

So here’s what I’m proposing for anyone who wants to take me up on it – baby steps. Figure out what you’re passionate about, and do one thing in that direction that you’ve always wanted to do. (I’ve got a friend who’s taking Ukulele lessons…and she’s not a musician.) Do something that gives you a sense of joy and purpose, even if it’s once a week for an hour. Joy is insidious and will seep into other areas of life.

And sure, I’m freely bandying about advice here, but time is short and the world is in need of every last gift we have to contribute. Why not do that and be happy in the process? I love a good win/win!

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

My Super Bowl Blog

I know, I know, it’s Super Bowl Sunday, and I should probably be doing something traditional like wearing an oversized jersey of one of the teams (which I don’t own), or buying potato chips and beer (which I’m allergic to – the beer, that is).

So what better way to mark this time honored tradition of men jumping on each other in the name of sport than to talk about my tempestuous relationship with the game of football and really, all team sports in general.

I’ll admit that most of my enjoyment of team sporting events is derived from watching other people’s excitement about it. Observing grown men and women yelling and screaming and carrying on about the fumble or the touchdown or whatever it is just fascinates me to no end. (Me, I do the same thing when watching political debates, which I think makes my case for politics being sport, but I digress.)

So my cousin Jill came along, a lifelong avid football fan and former pro athlete, and bless her heart, she tried to explain to me not only the basic premise of the game, but its finer points of strategy and skill and team interdependency, blah, blah, blah. I made the snacks. Actually, if memory serves me correctly, it might have even been during one of these football games with her that I discovered my weird beer allergy.

Anyway, I tried to get into the whole football thing. Tried to understand it, appreciate it, even, but no luck. I just don’t care. I feel no kinship whatsoever to bulked up men who are clearly willing to inflict permanent brain injury on themselves and each other. Tough way to earn a living, when I think about it…which I can still do, because unlike the aforementioned football players, I have managed to avoid blunt force trauma to the head.

During half-time, Jill introduced me to the actual football itself – how to properly hold it, throw it, and how to catch it. We’d go outside and toss it around. I even enjoyed it. Of course, no one was trying to intercept, so my only challenge was resisting my urge to dodge the flying object hurling towards me instead of catching it. Still seems counterintuitive to me.

One day it occurred to me that the only names of football players I know are Joe Namath, the Manning brothers, and anyone who’s ever appeared on Dancing with the Stars. Add to that stellar lineup the guy who prays, the guy who took pictures of himself, and the one who was the subject of the movie The Blind Side and you’ve got the sum total of my football player knowledge. (And thanks to Google, that’s Tim Tebow, Brett Favre, and Michael Oher.)

So I took my mad football playing skills out for a spin one day at a family reunion in the D.C. area. Fortunately for me, most of my family shows as much athletic prowess as I do, so when I caught a pass, it looked like I was a football playing goddess.

Unfortunately, during the next go around on the field, my brother nearly took off my pinky, putting a swift end to my illustrious but brief football playing career. I even had to ice my hand. Doesn’t that prove you’re a real athlete when you have to ice something afterwards? (Don’t burst my bubble. This is the story I’m going with.)

So I’m back to being a spectator again, and when I say “spectator,” I mean I watch the Super Bowl. And when I say, “I watch the Super Bowl,” I mean I flip back and forth between that and the Puppy Bowl on the Animal Planet channel, because who doesn’t love puppies?! No one, that’s who.

So I’ll be (sort of) watching the big game, agreeing enthusiastically with whatever anyone says about any of it, because, truth be told, I still don’t really get it. And I’ll be thankful when it’s over and I don’t have to be inundated with anymore ads for Doritos and Coke, both of which contain (and this is pure conjecture on my part) not one morsel of any ingredient resembling or emanating from actual food.

Best of luck to the 49’ers and the Ravens. (Come on, you’ve got to at least be a little impressed that I know who’s playing.)

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.