learning

Raisins D’Etre

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I think of myself as a songwriter but there are some ideas that don’t readily lend themselves to being SUNG – hence this blog, which includes non-rhyming prose and images. It’s public (instead of being a diary) because I’ve noticed I tend to bring my “A Game” when I’m creating something for public consumption as opposed to just goofing around to amuse myself. I’ve been writing about the mishaps and missteps I’ve taken in my life – I think that FAILURE is part of the human condition – something universal we all have in common.

I would love for my blog to connect with other people who may feel befuddled by life in our modern times; who struggle against societal stupidity, perfectionism, relationships, incorrect spelling and poor grammar. I hope to focus more on the humor and release the anxieties by revealing more of who we all are.

My tagline: “the thrill of defeat, the agony of triumph” – because life doesn’t always happen the way you want, and even when it does, it might not turn out to be what you expected!

Dream Reader? This one’s for you:

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“What???  Only 10 points???”

 

 

 

 

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Career Advice 101

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Since I grew up craving to hear stories about how other musicians had succeeded in “the biz”, I always assumed that younger musicians and students might someday take an interest in my career trajectory. Alas, I haven’t had many opportunities to share my experience with very many over the years and as time passes and technology changes everything, my music biz life seems to be less and less relevant to anyone. Which is a shame, since it still fascinates me!  🙂

That said, my adventures were what they were, and I think I’ve learned a few things that aren’t totally outdated and actually apply to “the real world” as well as the music biz.

  • Having the desire and skills are necessary, but developing relationships with other people is absolutely essential. Nothing else will take its place. It really is “who you know” and who knows you and what you can do.
  • It helps to be a member of the clan – whether that’s ethnic, gender, age, education, sexual orientation, religion or whatever else sets you apart from the crowd.   Be aware of where you’re already included and exploit the hell out of it!

Believe me – Scientologists look out for other Scientologists and Berklee alumni look out for fellow Berklee alumni. “Birds of a feather” hire one another.

  • The music biz, like life, is not a meritocracy. (just look who’s occupying the White House these days!) Don’t waste time and energy bemoaning the unfairness of stupid music being championed as “great” – even those stars whose careers have withstood the test of time have to keep paying their publicists to stay in the public eye.
  • Once you’ve identified a gig/persona/objective you really want, stop asking for validation from your friends, family and mentors and just do it!

Upon graduation, I wanted to become a female Aaron Copland. When I recognized that I was more interested in songwriting, I did everything I could to write pop songs. A couple years later I was introduced to the jingle business and began pursuing that. Over time I began to build a sample reel, and when I was offered a full-time gig arranging music for advertising in Chicago, I didn’t consult with my teacher Hale Smith on the decision, as I thought he would probably not approve. By that time I was hell-bent on jingles and did not want any dissenting opinions on my next move!

  • You can only be who you are. It doesn’t pay to try to be anyone else. Your essential nature is what it is, and while you can strive to become “more outgoing”, for example, or “to have a tougher hide”, you’ll always be fighting your innate nature, and that’s exhausting in the long haul.
  • Listen to the “experts” but ultimately follow your own self-knowledge about your identity. Other people can point out your strengths and encourage you to consider new ideas but no one knows better than you do who you really are.

In the 70s I forced myself to make cold calls to get performing gigs, and I did manage to connect with a few booking agents, but they had their own agendas and were constantly trying to fit me into their idea of who I should be and what I should be doing – i.e. the booker who mistook my being heavy as an opportunity to get me to be a piano-playing Totie Fields– as if 25 extra pounds magically made me a comedian and not a musician!  She told me repeatedly how she could have booked me a lot more gigs if only I was funny, but at 22 years old, I took myself MUCH too seriously to fit into that mold – even if making people laugh is ultimately more rewarding than singing and playing the piano!

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FUNNY Totie Fields

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SERIOUS Marilyn Harris

 

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growing up, learning

Blue+White Haze

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The invite had said “Freshman Orientation & Mixer” for the Saturday evening before classes started, so that’s what I’d expected; a convocation that would explain the rules and regs of life at the Hartford branch of UConn, to be followed by a dance to meet with other new college students.

I’d sewn most of my back-to-school wardrobe, and chosen my favorite never-before-worn dress for my intro to college life. In hindsight, bearing in mind that this was September 1968, and the dress in question was probably more appropriate attire for THAT GIRL heading to a secretarial job interview than a college student, maybe not the best choice – but I’d put so much thought and care (and money!) into it…

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Bright red wool, with shiny black buttons, black specialty-silk thread triple top stitching around the scoop neckline and a black belt at the empire waist – much better suited to a young career woman than a 16-year-old coed… but I thought I was stylin’!!!

What I soon found out at the “mixer” part of the evening was that this dress painted a bulls-eye on my back, making me a target to be singled out and terrorized by mean-spirited sophomores who couldn’t wait to “pay forward” the hazing that they had suffered the year before! After being marched across campus in the dark, we freshmen were herded into a room and pelted with raw eggs and verbal abuse, with no escape. One particularly nasty Husky girl emptied an aerosol can of whipped cream into my décolletage and shoved multiple young men at me, commanding them to “lick it up!”

I had never felt so humiliated in my life. After the sophomores got bored with bullying us, we were “allowed” to go to the dance, but all I wanted was to go home. I couldn’t believe what I’d experienced, and that this activity was sanctioned by the University. I was ready to quit college then and there, but since I wouldn’t get my high school diploma for another 10 months, I knew I couldn’t.

I never wore that dress again.

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learning, politics

How Could It Be A Blessing?

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Oil On Water – Anamaria Campbell

I’m wracking my brain trying to figure out how Election 2016 could be a blessing – because to me it appears disastrous not only for our country but all of humanity. And yet the laws of spiritual reality insist that it MUST “work together for good” somehow.

What has been brutally uncovered in this political campaign? For starters, the confusion, ignorance, pain and fear of millions of my fellow Americans. Maybe it’s a blessing their distress has been brought to light so graphically. Maybe it’s better that we actually KNOW how many racist, misogynistic, homophobic and ignorant sentiments infect the hearts of so many of our citizens. Maybe this becoming known and felt is the only way we can become educated and compassionate enough to change?

Maybe it’s a blessing for the media to confront the way they misused their power; perhaps the news outlets will realize the folly of hyping the “drama” of this election for advertising revenue at the expense of actually reporting the NEWS truthfully and even-handedly?

It could be a blessing if enough citizens reawaken to the preciousness of our democracy – the value of the vote, so that the 46% of eligible voters who were “no-shows” this time around actually take the time and make the effort to educate themselves on the candidates and issues and weigh in next time!?

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Oil Upon Troubled Waters – Aurelius Cat

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growing up, learning, music biz

Believe Them The First Time

I can forgive myself for wanting people to be better than they are – to make good on their promises, show up on time and behave honestly – despite many experiences to the contrary. I’ve certainly let myself down, so why shouldn’t other people? But there have been a few instances that stand out.

I’ve learned major lessons from each CD we’ve released; the first one (in 1993) taught me that expenses will run over – there will be tracks that need to be “fixed” and some that will need major reworking, so count on needing more time and money than you’d originally planned. The second one (in 2004) taught me that radio promotion is not enough – you’ll need publicity to make any kind of a splash, no matter how awesome you know your recording to be. The third CD (in 2006) taught me “Caveat Emptor” – in bold relief. And that Maya Angelou was a very wise woman.

We’d been shopping for a publicist for a while, asking our jazz friends about their experiences. No one we knew would recommend anyone (which may tell you something about the nature of the publicity industry!?)  So when a collaborator began to sing the praises of one couple he was working with to promote his jazz career, we were excited to meet them!

When she said, “I don’t know what we can do for you”, that should have been the first clue to heed, since:Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.58.50 AMBut we were impressed with their big fancy house in a fashionable part of town and their list of successful clients in all media and we were tired and time was growing short for our release date and we desperately wanted to work with someone (anyone???) who was connected in the biz, to get the word out about the new CD!!  And yet:Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.58.50 AM

And then there were their adorable dogs, and the photos on the walls of their past triumphs and we could see how wonderful it was going to be when they promoted our wonderful CD and got us reviews in all the trades and even a mention in People magazine andwe joined those triumphant success stories on the wall, and… and… and…
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Even though she had told us that she didn’t know what she could do for us (and she was right – she did not know and wound up doing virtually nothing!!), she was more than happy to take our sizable check. And great was our ultimate disappointment.

If only we’d believed her the first time.

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learning, self-acceptance

Worth Defending

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The oncologist had given my father a 3-4 month prognosis, and even without treatment, he lasted for almost 10. Mark and I had just bought our first house in L.A. and he was commuting to Chicago, spending half the time away from home, working feverishly and the other half recovering from travel and having overextended himself.  I called my dad every other day and traveled to NYC to see him and be with family whenever I could but basically had to stay home with our 4 dogs most of the time.

My 3 sisters and mother all lived in or near Manhattan and they met for weekly powwows to discuss my father’s condition, their emotional fallout and to comfort one another. After 6 months of this, in spite of visits, letters and phone calls, I began to feel a bit left out and in need of support for myself, so I began weekly therapy sessions at a hospice group in Pasadena. While I didn’t feel exactly excluded from my family, I did feel alone, especially as my dad lingered on well past his projected expiration date and my sisters and mom became more exhausted by the stresses of caring for him and their own emotions. 2,500 miles away, what could I do? Not much as it turned out. We were all doing the best we could but it was increasingly difficult. At a certain point my therapist suggested I take self-defense classes, to literally protect the boundaries I needed to feel safe.

At first I signed up for a Learning Annex class: Self-Defense for Women. There were 30 of us in the first class, and we got to punch and kick bags and it was even kinda fun! By the 3rd class, though, more than half the students had dropped out, and it was increasingly clear that I was not going to get the empowerment I had come for – not from this instructor! Fortunately a friend shared her experiences with Model Mugging.

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I had to do some research to find them, but it was well worth the effort. In one weekend of intensive instruction, I learned several basic strategies for self-defense, and, most importantly, the attitude that I was worth defending! (as we all are!!)  Knowing that I literally “had it in me” to fight back against physical attack empowered me to defend myself from psychic and emotional attacks; to actually experience how it felt in my body to connect blows, to yell, “NO!” and protect myself. All of the Model Mugging students got what we’d come for – the will to survive and the confidence that we could and would fight back against an aggressor.  It may get a bit complicated when that aggressor is your own flesh and blood, but I think it’s even more essential to maintain boundaries with our loved ones under stressful circumstances – just because you love them and they’re in pain doesn’t give them the right to abuse you!

The final exam at the Learning Annex happened a week after my Model Mugging training, and of the 8 remaining students, I was the only one who was able to successfully escape from the instructor. Even though I was the most out-of-shape, unathletic and oldest student, I was the only one who breathed deeply and verbalized “NO!” as I was striking back, and the only one who actually hurt the instructor enough to make him stop coming after me! (and was he surprised!!?!)

I’ve been very fortunate to have lived in relatively safe neighborhoods most of my life – the only actual physical attack I’ve had to fend off was an unleashed Doberman who wanted a bite of my knee while I was out jogging – and super-loud “NO!” was enough to stop him long enough for me to escape unscathed.

Women are taught to be submissive in our culture – to avoid defending ourselves, which leads to many of us feeling disempowered on more than just the physical front.  I needed reminding on a visceral level that I was worth saving – and to learn that I could muster the power to defend myself.

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growing up, learning

My Best Blogpost EVER!!!

 

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How did we get to this point, where everything is absolutes and superlatives? “The Best Trumpeter/Guacamole/Fill-In-The-Blank”??  “The Worst Comedian/TV Show/Things-In-The-World“??  Hype has gotten way out of hand, and while I’d like to blame certain über-judgemental politicians, I know that this trend to compare, pick apart and find fault with everyone else predates “The Donald”.  (Like for 50 years now!!)

Admittedly, it’s human nature to notice differences in quality, but was it always so vicious? We grew up with Montgomery Ward’s and  Sear’s Good – Better – Best!  – and I kinda miss it, that tolerance for “pretty good” – you sorta knew where you stood and what to expect when UPS dropped off the package. When did it become okay to trash everyone else’s efforts in order to establish one’s own superiority? How can Kobe Bryant be “arguably the best player of his generation” while Michael Jordan is “the greatest basketball player of all time” ?  Couldn’t we just enjoy watching magnificent athletes make amazing shots without the constant chatter of pundits announcing THIS one is so much better than THAT one?

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It took me many years and a lot of soul-searching to feel alright about being a black-thumbed gardener, a lousy bowler, a mediocre pool player and a less-than-stellar cook – to get to the point where I could perform those functions and actually enjoy doing so. (Why? Maybe because my parents didn’t believe in the “learning curve” – at least not so I could tell; we were taught that you either “got it!” and were brilliant right out of the box, or you should hang it up, like the old one-liner: “if at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you!”)

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Or maybe because the deck’s been stacked – the media has decided to turn us against ourselves and one another because there’s profit to be made. Never mind how unhappy it makes most of us; it’s in somebody’s intere$t to turn everything from singing and dancing to driving a big rig thru the snowy tundra to getting married to surviving on a desert island into a competition. They’re using manufactured dissatisfaction to get us to buy whatever it is they’re selling but don’t have enough confidence to offer it without the hoopla of hyperbole.

Which means, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not worth buying.

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No, thanks! Not for me!

 

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learning

Blogwatch 2/19/16

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Since the desert only looks like this at certain times of the day, sometimes I spend time reading other people’s blogs!

a few online posts that interested me this week:

Because of Toni Morrison, I will never be a writer – too late!  You’re already a writer!  🙂

Guess I’m right (write?) and it’s a good idea to turn on the Idea Lamp: Why Rituals Make You Productive, Creative

A couple decades ago Mark and I signed up for the Flash Forward Institute, a month-long industry networking program that promised a year’s worth of career progress within 30 days time – and while it was not quite as miraculous as advertised, it DID make a difference, along the lines of what’s suggested HERE and HERE

I remember being fairly young (early teens) when I first experienced that “mental math” of figuring out whether my life was in danger merely for being born female. That was 50+ years ago and I honestly thought we as a society would have gotten past this sexism nonsense by now. This piece in Medium perfectly captures why my terror persists – To Men I Love, About Men Who Scare Me

and this post really hit a nerve with “finger-sized bruises” under long sleeves — that was the first clue I had 45+ years ago that the boyfriend I’d thought was okay was actually an abusing sociopath who stalks me to this day. The Story I’d Hope For You

 

 

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learning

The Idea Lamp is lit

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Bubble lights for bubbling-up ideas!

The Muse needs to be cultivated and cherished. Creative urges can’t be taken for granted without repercussions and the chance that we’ll forget our original ideas/ideals. I think it’s important we feed our souls with stuff we find personally enlightening – we ignore our creative impulses at our own peril.

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Himalayan lamp adds salty energy

A few years ago I purchased a Himalayan salt lamp, plugged it in at a corner of my office and then never turned it on.

Recently I relocated it to the top of my desk and every time I turn it on, it’s like smiling at myself — a tip of the hat to whatever creative ideas may be percolating — an acknowledgement that I DO actually believe in myself and may even have something to say.

Apparently I’m not alone: http://goingreno.com/2016/01/08/diy-travel-candle/

IMO, whatever symbol or talisman fires our imagination, we’re wise to turn it on – because you never know where you’ll find your next bright idea!

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learning

Be It Ever So Humble

I’d grown up as a “renter”, so it felt natural to move around Manhattan in the 1970s, back when it was actually  possible to move from apartment to apartment pretty much on a whim.  And I found something to love about each place I lived;  the coziness of my first basement studio apartment at 7th Ave. and 21st Street…

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the convenience of living in midtown, behind the Stage Deli…

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that summer on West 81st Street, sharing an apartment with my older sister, next to a gospel church (Sundays were boisterous!!)…

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then back to midtown at the Whitby on West 45th Street…

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and my “deluxe apartment in the sky” (26th floor!) on the Gold Coast in Chicago.

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Apartment living continued after we got married and Mark showed me how to turn our midtown flat into a HOME, customizing the space to our needs; something we did at every location we moved to thereafter. There was the Mar Vista apartment, where the banjo player from Shakey’s Pizza practiced every day the exact same songs with the exact same mistakes… the lovely Kings Road apartment, where carpenter ants perfumed the air and sometimes put on an interior aerial act… the luxurious Walton Place apartment in Chicago (with the wife-beating police captain living across the hall! – see  House of Hate! )…. and the apartment on Division St. we viewed and rented on a Sunday morning, which turned out to be the only time of the week when it was peaceful…

a 100-year old two-flat across from Wrightwood Park, which had Pepto-Bismol pink walls and ceiling when we moved in…

We scraped wallpaper, put in new phone and electric lines, painted, carpeted, installed insulation, theatrical curtains, kitchen cabinets and new light fixtures – we even put in a door to close off the den at one apartment!

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– a whole lot of stuff you’re not supposed to do unless you actually  own the place! We made it ours for as long as we lived there, and left every place in better shape than when we’d moved in.

But the biggest thrill was finding and moving to our own house in Van Nuys. Ever the renter, my dad disparaged it sight unseen as “a tract home” – (which I suppose it was, since it was built on a tract!?) – but it had been designed and built in the 50s by a film studio architect and had some unique features.

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It might not have looked like much from the street, but inside it was great! The ¾” solid mahogany paneling made the acoustics in the living room perfect for recording.

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We each had our own office…

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no office is complete without a schnauzer secretary!

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LOOKIT that tiny antique Macintosh SE on the desk!

and turned the dining room into the control room for our studio.

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Of course, we had to paint over the “baby’s room” theme and polka dot filigree in the offices – and that “ducks around the ceiling” motif in the dining room/studio had to go!

When you’re used to apartment living, the sheer amount of space in a house can be impressive; there was room to store everything – and a place to hang everything! – including the “Rose and Valerie Stained Glass Art Gallery” in the entry way.

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In the back yard was a Japanese garden, complete with a bridge over the koi pond, a gazebo and a pool house to hold anything that wouldn’t fit in the plentiful closets in the house.

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There was even a basketball hoop for impromptu pickup games with our more athletic schnauzers!

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The first couple years we had the “mortgage from hell” with a 2% interest hike every 6 months, so we did all the yard work ourselves to economize. Once we refi-ed, we could afford Julio, who came with his crew every week and turned our ⅓ acre into a lovely private park!

The rose garden bloomed!

The glads were glad!

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The apricots ripened!

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The ficus grew TALL!

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And the orange tree in the front yard produced the sweetest fruit!

In October 1995 I wrote 2 new Christmas songs and we began holding annual holiday song parties, inviting our friends to sing and play their latest creations! It was terrific fun to see so much talent right in our livingroom!

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the amazingly talented Randy Crenshaw!

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PepperJay.com & cowriter Leslie Brenner

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So many guests came one year that Justin Wilde (AKA Mr. Christmas) sat on the floor! – See christmassongs.com

Between solo performances, everyone sang from the caroling books we’d assembled. BTW, Here are demo videos to my 2 original songs…

We had many adventures and recorded lots of great music in the 10½ years we lived there. We also changed and improved a lot of stuff, upgrading the electrical panel, phone lines, HVAC, appliances, flooring, water filtration, plumbing pipes and fixtures – as well as cosmetic items like paint and track lighting.  The kitchen got a complete makeover, including a new wall as well as cabinet resurfacing…

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as did both bathrooms. As much as we’d loved it initially, after we’d invested so much time, energy and money, we adored our Van Nuys home!

Alas, it is no more. As it turned out, none of our rehabbing mattered to the people who bought it; they demolished the entire house, only retaining what was legally necessary to build on the property. Once again the 3 most important factors in real estate came into play:

  1. Location!
  2. Location!
  3. Location!

 

 

 

 

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