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.