Friday, March 29, 2013

Redemption and Resurrection

A lady recently asked me in passing if I was religious. And I knew exactly what she meant when she asked, so I answered, “No.” But to tell you the truth, it’s kind of been bugging me ever since.

What she meant was do I regularly go to services and partake in the rituals and traditions of the faith in which I was raised. She wanted to know if I was a “believer” in the way people use that word to align themselves with a particular sect or as “a person of faith.”

The truth is I am both a person of faith as well as a believer in God, neither of which has anything to do with religion. And my desire to sift through the real answer to the nice lady’s question is not so much a need to justify as it is a desire to give voice to those of us whose journey has brought us to this place and time, appreciating where we came from, respecting those still choosing to remain there, while acknowledging where we are now.

There is, at our core, the place where we know. We know what is true. We know what aligns with our very being, what our soul recognizes as being a reflection of our Creator, our Source, God. We know. We may try to suppress, pretend, deny, ignore, or change it, but at the core of our being, we know what we know.

We are ever-evolving expressions of divinity. And to that end, I believe that life is a journey of becoming more and more ourselves, of who we are uniquely created to be, every day until our last in this form.

My belief system (for the nice lady who asked about my religiosity) can best be summed up in one word: love.

Use it as a noun. Use it as a verb. Use it as a dangling something or other. Take it as a suggestion, a directive, a commandment, whatever. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires bringing the best of ourselves to the playing field of our lives. It is both simple and complex simultaneously. It demands forgiveness. It requires courage. It exists in truth. It is bigger than our pettiness, accepts us just as we are. It cannot be won or lost. It is the eternal “enough.”

This is what I both know and believe. And so how do we go from that to redemption and resurrection?

This is a holy week, both for Christians and Jews the world over.

Jews are celebrating Passover, retelling the story of going from slavery to redemption. But what does that mean and how does it apply today?

To avoid grappling with those questions is to make the retelling just a nice story of days gone by. Never mind that the literal definition of slavery exists today in every corner of the globe, including our own, largely in the form of human trafficking. So let’s not pretend that slavery is a thing of the distant past just because it doesn’t happen to appear like it did in the movie The Ten Commandments.

Slavery is not just about people as chattel, though. I once heard a TV preacher say, “That which we make a God other than God, we become a slave to.” And we do that all the time with our careers and with every type of technology.

Short of a tornado touching down on your rooftop, what do you really need to know from a 24 hour news channel at 3am? What job outside of doctor, paramedic, fire, or police really requires the immediacy of our attention? What TV show or Facebook post trumps an actual conversation? (I mean, of course, with the exception of those posts with babies or puppies, because who doesn’t love a baby or a puppy? Sociopaths, that’s who. And I say that with all the love in my heart for sociopaths.)

We’re looking for validation as our form of redemption, but it will never be found in getting enough votes to survive the week on American Idol. Our redemption will never come from the criticism we exact upon each other. It will only come from how willing we are to liberate each other from the bonds of judgment in favor of tolerance and acceptance.

Wow, all of a sudden I feel like I’m giving a speech in D.C. instead of brushing off matzoh crumbs in New York.

So on to Easter, that holiday which celebrates the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is no secret that I’m a big fan of Jesus, much as my Jewish family and friends are squirming right now, and making hissing sounds…or possibly waiting for that bolt of lightning to strike me dead. Hard to say which of these, really.

Jesus walked the earth as the embodiment of unconditional love. He was a Jew, yes, but he was an outcast among them, too. He knew his truth, he spoke his truth, and he lived his truth until the very end. He loved those who hated him, forgave those who betrayed him. What is there not to love about that?

That he was crucified and rose from the dead is more than just a telling of the story. The power and relevancy in that story for us today is what it symbolizes.

We crucify ourselves and each other in ways big and small every day. What is it we need to forgive ourselves for, and how would our lives be different if we did? What dreams do we need to resurrect? What parts of ourselves do we need to bring back from the dead? This is the season of rebirth. We must know that what is of real value is never lost, even to death. I think that is the point of the story.

So whatever your religion or your faith, I hope you celebrate it in the fullness of its beauty. I hope this season finds you surrounded by love, in the company of family and friends, and in gratitude for both that which you seek and that which you already know.

Thanks for stopping by. Peace and blessings to you always.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Words that Inspire

So here I sit, on my couch, after determining that the strange loud noise I just began hearing against the house is, in fact, hail. This would be after the snow I shoveled this morning…before the rain set in. Now, it’s hail. I do not know what chore hail will necessitate in the morning, but I’ve got my ice chopper and shovel at the ready. And I, being the eternal optimist, am thankful that we haven’t gotten to locusts, because that plague really freaks me out.

While sitting here in my catatonic post-shoveling state, I’ve been thinking about some quotes that inspire and/or amuse me. I decided to put some that I really love here in my blog. The order is completely random and the list is just a smattering of the pages and pages I’ve accumulated over the years. But maybe you’ll find some inspiration and enjoyment from them, too. So here goes…and thanks for stopping by.

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” – Dale Carnegie

“I learned that it is the weak who are cruel, and that gentleness is to be expected only from the strong.” – Leo Rosten

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” – William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way.” – Dr. Seuss

“No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” – Haile Selassie

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are we not to be?
You are a child of God
Your playing small does not serve the world

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that
other people won’t be insecure around you
We were born to make manifest the
Glory of God that is within us

It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
Give other people permission to do the same

And as we are liberated from our own fear
Our presence automatically liberates others.”

- Marianne Williamson (Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural Address)

“I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to anyone, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it; for I shall not pass this way again.” – Stephen Grellet

And from one of my all-time favorites, the wickedly funny Dorothy Parker:

“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

“Take me or leave me; or, as is the usual order of things, both.”

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's Around the Corner

When the New Year begins, we all wax poetic about our resolutions. We optimistically envision a new and improved version of ourselves, both physically and in every other which way. Usually, by week three, we’ve given up on most of our goals and made peace with our self-disgust. But not always. And not me. And not this year.

Early on, it was recommended that I pick three words that would keep me focused and motivated, a mantra, if you will. My three words are Trust. Ease. Unstoppable. And though I had no idea if this would work for me at the outset, those words have turned out to be perfect for me so far as this first quarter of 2013 draws to a close. Oh, not because I haven’t momentarily veered off-course, but because I’ve been able to gently steer myself back on-course by reminding myself that this is the way I’m choosing to live now and show up in the world.

So about the blog title, I think it's fair to say that no one knows for certain what's around the corner. But I will say this much: I have been working on a new book, a new singer/songwriter project, live gigs, and writing for a young artist that I'm incredibly excited about. So I'm off to a good start!

For those fans of this blog and my first book, In Search of George Stephanopoulos, my new book is not another memoir, but rather of the self-helpy nature with hopefully enough snark to keep everyone amused while I'm bandying about my pearls of wisdom acquired largely by having done the opposite of what would have best served me all along. Better late than never, that's what I always say.

Another really exciting thing is the worldwide debut of a new song of mine called "Glory Bound," that will be sung by the incomparable Corinna Sowers-Adler in her show By Request on April 7th in New York City. This song is very special to me because I wrote it a few days after the New Town school shooting and no one has heard it yet except for Corinna. To pitch a song without a demo is rare in the music business. So to do it and have someone love it enough to want to sing it alongside the work of Sondheim, Irving Berlin, and Kander & Ebb is kind of blowing my mind. I can't wait to hear her sing it live, so come on out and hear it with me!

As for the forthcoming singer/songwriter project, it is going to have an inspirational motif. And for those of you who have heard me gig for the last decade and asked where you could get the version with me singing these songs, it's a'comin' and God bless you for wanting 'em!!! Plus, there's gonna be some new stuff on there, too, which is really cool and exciting!

Some of you on Facebook and Twitter may already know about my upcoming New York City gig, but for those of you who don't, holy cow, this lineup is nothing short of a) miraculous, and b) phenomenal! On May 1st at 7pm, I will be at the new and improved swanky Stage 72 (formerly the Triad) on West 72nd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam. I will be joined by (and I am not just saying this because they are my friends) some of the best singer/songwriters on the planet. They are Tanya Leah, Lorraine Ferro, BethAnne Clayton and Garry Novikoff! To be joined by people whose work I love and whose friendship I cherish is going to be more fun than I can express in my little blog! So mark your calendars and reserve your tickets now! ( or call 1-800-838-3006)

For those of you Jersey folks, I will be playing at the MAC nominated Music at the Mansion concert series again on May 19th! This is at the Oakside Cultural Center in Bloomfield, New Jersey and it is such a special place. It is always such a treat to play there and to go listen to other artists there.

Lastly, I've been writing a ton o' country songs again both by myself and with the Emmy-winning Debi Cochran for an exciting new artist, so stay tuned for more word on the new music, where you can hear it, and where you can go see Kerina play live. Good things are coming!

Well, that's about all my news for now. Trust. Ease. Unstoppable. Yeah, I think I'm gonna stay with those. Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends. And be sure to come out to one of these shows and say hi!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

and then there was one

There’s a picture of my father and his brothers that I’ve always loved. I think it captured a moment, an attitude, a visible distinction between four very different personalities.

My father and his brothers grew up on the streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the Great Depression, when survival required at least the appearance of toughness. It was a different world then. More character, less bullshit.

This world my father grew up in with his brothers had clear distinctions between right and wrong, a code of conduct that was adhered to. And you knew who your friends were. But more to the point, family could be counted on no matter what the circumstances.

I was raised with these same values, unknowingly, perhaps until I was an adult trying to figure out how to navigate a world that no longer seemed to place importance on these things.

My father always seemed the odd man out to me among the four brothers. And I don’t think it would be a stretch to say he appeared that way to the rest of his family, either. He preferred books to the city street shenanigans and to talk his way out of a fight rather than throw punches. So how he survived his childhood in the city, I’ve often wondered…until I heard stories about his brothers, who were more than happy to mix it up if anyone laid a hand on my father. Particularly his kid brother, Bernie.

My Uncle Bernie was neither quiet, nor shy. He was loud and blustery, prideful and strong, both physically and mentally. He was both an athlete and an artist, and he was not one to slip silently in or out of a room. You knew he was there, but when he was there, it was a party.

When I started out performing, I remember being backstage and hearing him above the rest of the crowd in the audience. He was a cheering section that others were envious of, but it was genuine with him.

By trade, my Uncle Bernie was a graphic artist, and it always seemed a direct contradiction to me of his personality. I somehow could never equate his persona with his work. And I think it was one of the many complexities of the man, who outwardly appeared to be one way, but inwardly was more sensitive than his bluster would lead you to believe.

Among his eccentricities was his firm belief that his birthday always fell on Thanksgiving – even though Thanksgiving is a different date every year. So to this day, I really don’t know his actual birthday. And truth be told, I’m not sure he did, either.

In his later years, when I visited him in his home in Las Vegas, where he and my aunt retired, I got to hear stories one on one that I’d never heard growing up. And my brother has said much the same thing about his visits with him.

My father never talks much about his childhood, except to reminisce about the lost art of the egg cream. But I recently learned that my uncle credited my father with opening his eyes to a world beyond 14th Street, a world with museums and culture a world away from the one they knew growing up.

And for his part, my uncle tried to explain to me the art of the business deal, the pitfalls to avoid, the things to ask for. He may not have known the music business per se, but he knew and understood art and commerce, and I listened to him attentively, because there wasn’t a thing he told me that day on my visit in Vegas that didn’t turn out to be right.

I equated my uncle with the strength he exuded weight lifting, an activity he, oddly enough, didn’t take up until his later years. He won all kinds of senior Olympic competitions, and I wondered how it was that I inherited none of his athletic prowess, and yet, got his propensity for debilitating migraines. Luck of the draw, I suppose.

My Uncle Bernie passed away yesterday, leaving my father the only one of the four brothers remaining. I can’t imagine a world without my Uncle Bernie in it, frankly. It seems so much less vibrant and colorful, and so much sadder. I also can’t imagine what my father must be feeling, the sense of aloneness, despite the love he is surrounded by still.

I wish I could tell my cousins, Lisa and Laura that it will get easier, that the loss becomes less profound as time goes by. But it doesn’t. We just figure out a way to go on.

My uncle was adamant that he didn’t want a lot of mourning when he died, but rather a celebration, a party, a good time. That was his wish for those of us who loved him – to remember him with joy. And I’m a big believer in honoring the wishes of those we love.

So here’s to celebrating the man. I know wherever he resides now, there’s a party going on and he’s at the center of it. Rest in peace, Uncle Bernie.
The four brothers - Bernie, Davy, Jackie, & Marvin

Sunday, March 3, 2013

a surprise birthday blog for a friend

It’s Sunday, and you know what that means, boys and girls: Right, I should be preaching a sermon or going on a political rant about sequesters or guns or something. But no, I’m feeling like I want to do something different today. So since it’s my friend, Arnie’s birthday, what the hell, he gets a blog! (I know, Arnie, you can’t imagine a better gift.)

I’d like to start off by telling you that Arnie is a genius. Actually, now that I think about it, all my friends are geniuses, which, frankly, is getting to be a little annoying, but wait, this isn’t about me.

Anyway, I actually met Arnie on one of his first dates with my friend, Tanya, whom he subsequently had the good sense and fortune to marry. And while I have little recollection of our first introduction, years later, we would all wind up in Nashville, where we became close friends who spent a lot of time together.

But back to the genius thing for a minute. For those of you who don’t know him personally, Arnie Roman is a hit songwriter. I don’t mean the kind with just one or two hits, either. I mean, Google his discography and it will blow your mind as you hear yourself exclaiming aloud, “Oh my God, I love that song!” about song after song of his. (I actually did this after we became friends, because God forbid the man should hang a gold record on his wall to clue me in. I had no idea what he’d written.)

So the hits are great, as is the shared camaraderie of the roller coaster ride that is a professional songwriting career. But while songwriting may be about life, life is not, in fact, about songwriting. And so the years have seen us spend countless evenings discussing politics, life, death, spirituality, books, you name it. I don’t know that I can say that we’ve ever had a superficial conversation, not that I’d ever have use for one, anyway.

I could tell you that we’ve each lost parents, relocated a few times, shifted writing genres and focuses, and processed much of it together. I could tell you that no one tells an off color joke better than Arnie, or revels in it as much, and that I still laugh, anyway. I could tell you that he enjoys the occasional cigar, and our conversations are valuable enough to me to tolerate choking on that cigar smoke on those occasions. (Also, I think something about puffing on that cigar makes him more philosophical, but I could be wrong about that.)

It’s rare that a girlfriend marries a guy that you can be equal friends with, too, so I don’t take this friendship lightly, especially when the three of us are watching Rachel Maddow or Bill Maher together. (And can I just say that you haven’t lived until you’ve watched an episode of Rachel Maddow with Arnie. This is not a passive experience. There is mandatory animated participation involved.)

Of late, my friends and I have found ourselves back in New York once again, where Arnie is working on two shows he’s been writing. We’ve resumed our discussions and dinners, though our surroundings have changed quite a bit.

After the devastating flood in Nashville in 2010, I was the one helping my friends sift through the damaged belongings at their house. Ironically, that’s when I saw Arnie’s gold and platinum records for the first and last time.

During hurricane Sandy in New York only two years later, Arnie (and Tanya, of course) were the ones offering my father and me refuge while we were without heat, water, and power. Nothing bonds people like natural disasters, that’s for sure.

So as Arnie celebrates his birthday today, I wish him many, many more years of good health, the awareness of how much he is valued and appreciated, and generosity as great as he’s shown, both in heart and in home.

Thanks for stopping by. And Happy Birthday, Arnie!!!