learning, music biz, self-acceptance, growing up, family

Human Doings

“So what have you done lately?” It used to really bug me when my dearly departed dad would ask this question; while I’d be eager to show him my newest song, I sincerely doubted his interest, as I rarely felt he actually liked any of my work.

And I felt challenged, as if what he was REALLY asking was, “what have you got to say for yourself? Give an accounting of what you’ve accomplished to justify your existence!” It almost felt like an attack, although I’m pretty sure that wasn’t his conscious intention.

‘Tis the season for Christmas letters, and as one might expect, we didn’t receive as many as we have in earlier years; 2020 was a year of delays, postponements and cancellations, so many of us didn’t have as much to report. (Maybe it’s enough that we survived!?)

Which reminds me of the first attempt we made in 1984, to include a Christmas letter in with the greeting cards we mailed to family and friends; we’d moved precipitously from Chicago to Los Angeles (on a wing & a prayer, AKA hope & credit cards!?), and had recently purchased our first computer. The word processing program had a

We didn’t have much actual NEWS to share, and were frankly floundering, trying to get our bearings in a new market. But after 6 months on the west coast, we still felt hopeful we could break into the Hollywood music biz, and we included all of the new people we’d met since our move on our mailing list, many of whom we hadn’t followed up on after our initial meetings. We hoped the holiday letter could be a way to reconnect and perhaps build relationships.

We got one response that took our breath away; an anonymous recipient of our holiday greetings had gone to the trouble to write a very snarky letter back, using the same format. Since we didn’t really know many of the folks we’d mailed to, we puzzled for weeks over who we had offended so grievously! And we haven’t written many Christmas letters since then!

Since the advent of social media, bragging rights aren’t limited to Christmas letters or websites, or even blogs. And I’ve posted on this subject before: https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2020/09/30/enough-to-be/ and https://marilyn801.wordpress.com/2019/11/14/getting-off-the-hamster-wheel/ So it’s pretty obvious that it’s something I’m still chewing on. But I’m pretty sure that eventually I’ll find my freedom – I can almost taste it!

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Home, self-acceptance

What’s For Dinner? Freezer Surprise!

I don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to New Year’s resolutions; sure, I’ve MADE ’em – but haven’t had much success at KEEPING ’em! But it occurred to me a few days ago that I could take a baby step in the right direction this last week of 2020 – by cleaning out the freezer of pre-cooked meals of indeterminate age and genus! A week of Freezer Surprise will create a Fresh Start in 2021 by LABELING these meals before committing them to their frosty depot! Alas, reluctant cook that I am, I don’t have the skills to identify mystery meats like the cashier at the studio commissary in BLAZING SADDLES (https://youtu.be/_AOeSrLCD-U); trying to guess whether a dish contains chili or beef stew or chicken divan or curry, without opening it up… well, it’s not my forté. But armed with a grease pencil (and my resolution for a new paradigm!), I may yet be able to predict what exactly we’re having for dinner before defrosting in the future. For the next week or so… well, it might be Tuna Surprise!?!

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growing up, self-acceptance

Enough To Be

Like many artists, I was raised to PRODUCE and to measure success by what I’d accomplished. And I keep coming to terms with how this paradigm has been changing for me as I get older and my interests and energies shift.

I’m not alone in struggling with the idea of dialing back my expectations during these pandemic times: https://brevity.wordpress.com/2020/09/29/pandemic-time-crip-time/?fbclid=IwAR3d-uVUTt2IBr4odvDPVUMsI3fLROV0IZd4Ka58Tn6CIjdFfyWh3NzvkHo Personally, I believe that during these overwhelming times, we are ALL exhausted and at least semi-disabled creatively by the emotional impact of current events.

It DOES take effort to adjust what we focus on, but the more time goes by, the more comfortable I am allowing my life to unfold without a “To-Do” or Bucket List.

My “birthday twin” James Taylor wrote this song a while ago, and I agree; while we’re here “on the edge of the unknown”, it IS “enough to be on your way”; https://youtu.be/PBwQidx2VfQ

It may sound a bit “woo-woo”, but I think there’s much to be said for “being here now” – and being aware that that’s what you’re doing/being.

“We are always more than what we produce.” ~ Adam Hubrig

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religion, music biz, self-acceptance, music, excellence

Silk & Scientology

I’d never played a gig like this before; my friend Mara Purl had invited me to join Teji Ito’s band to provide music for a fashion show. I was to add keyboards to the group which featured Mara on koto, Dan Erkkila on flutes, Genji Ito, Cherel Winett Ito and Guillermo on percussion and shakuhachi. Say WHA???

There was no sheet music; we were all just supposed to listen to each other and extemporize, adding whatever might fit with what everyone else was playing. I was sure the resulting cacophony would be terrible – but somehow it began to gel during the rehearsal (otherwise known as my audition!?) – and then… the gig!

The venue was an art gallery and the models were all dancers from the NYC Ballet. Their gorgeous silk attire was breathtakingly beautiful, and they seemed to float on air as they danced to our spontaneous music – it was a “happening” in the best sense of the word!

We played for about an hour and then it was over. Mara and I returned the Fender Rhodes I’d borrowed back to the friend who’d lent it to us, then brought her koto back to her Park Avenue apartment. As it was a lovely spring afternoon, I decided to walk home to my place in Chelsea.

As I passed a storefront on West 34th Street, an attractive young man popped out and invited me to “take a free personality test ”  I was so surprised and in such a good mood, I (uncharacteristically for me!) agreed.  It took a lot longer than I’d thought but I was sure that I was “ace-ing” it!  Turns out – like everyone else who gets suckered into taking this test – not-so-much! The results were graded and it turned out that I was an amazingly defective excuse for a human being – desperately in need of the help that only Scientology could afford me.

All I could do was laugh! I’d just come from the headiest musical experience I’d ever had to that point, making music with Teiji and his group just a couple hours earlier! I’d been paid handsomely and felt on top of the world! Buoyed by that experience, I continued home in the twilight, still high from the gig.  While I might have been susceptible on some other day when my self-esteem may have been shaky… “not today, L. Ron Hubbard! Not today!”

WhatIfNothingWrongWYou

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learning, self-acceptance

The Company We Keep

One of the benefits of having so much more “downtime” these past five months has been the opportunity to sift through old music cassettes; revisiting songs I haven’t heard or thought of for decades, and reassessing the qualities of the writing, production, performance, etc. It’s been amazing to realize how much my tastes have changed… and in some instances, how little, as I’m just as thrilled to revisit some music as I was when I first listened, so many years earlier!

Along with re-evaluating music, I’ve been gaining fresh perspective on the people in my life; it’s always been helpful to me to see friendships in terms of energy fields, and notice how I seem to come “alive” more while hanging out with this person as opposed to that person.

I’m fortunate to have had a number of *enchanted* friendships, where I was immediately overwhelmed when meeting the person for the first time; we got on like a house a-fire, and it felt like we’d known each other our whole lives, or that we were fated to be friends. When it happens, this initial enthusiasm is so heady and intoxicating, it’s hard to resist! And sometimes it continues for a long time; I’m blessed with friends I met in the early to mid-1970s who become dearer to me with every year!

But not always. Recently I’ve become estranged from a few friends-of-many-years when I’ve realized that, though we still shared a lot of the same enthusiasms in life, they were not behaving in a way that made me feel safe – and so I had to distance myself emotionally – and sometimes entirely – from them.

This always feels weird to me – I’m a pretty retentive personality and don’t like letting go – especially when there was something so GOOD about the relationship. But sometimes it’s essential, and the only way to survive psychically. Being in pandemic lockdown, I’m more aware than ever of the importance of choosing my companions carefully. I’ve made questionable decisions when I was younger and felt better able to fend off negativity than I do now. I also know I’m more sensitive to bad juju than I used to be.

Ultimately it seems to come down to staying conscious and being willing to face reality when it presents itself; being curious and brave enough to actually see and evaluate the evidence before us. My dad had a saying, “watch the feet” – because talk is cheap, and it’s easy to assume that others have your best interests at heart when perhaps that is not the case. Then what we need to do becomes crystal clear.

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learning, self-acceptance

The Guts to Tell My Story

The willingness to share our “mistakes” can be the liberation the whole world needs – I know I certainly need it!

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

debonisBy Karen DeBonis

I met my future freelance book editor in 2001 at a memoir-writing class. Robyn’s writing was beautiful, her smile magnetic, and I trusted her to hear my story. One of the biggest fears memoirists have is that readers will dislike or even hate us for our faulty decisions and bad behaviors. With Robyn, I felt safe.

After a few years of shared critique groups, lunches, and coffee, we lost touch. I stopped working on my memoir because it got too painful. In fact, I stopped writing completely. Then a medical leave from work in 2016 presented me the opportunity to pick up where I’d left off. I looked Robyn up and saw that she had earned an MFA, taught creative writing, and started an editorial business. We met at a coffee shop and I told her I needed an editor. A month or two later, I handed…

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance, growing up

That River In Egypt

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New Years tend to bring on reckoning and self-reflection, and I find myself face-to-face with realities, bitter and sweet; the loss of loved ones, and the memory of happy times with them… releasing habits that no longer serve – and pleasures that no longer please. And then there’s that weight I managed to lose… and all the extra pounds I have yet to shed!

One of the greatest hurdles I find in cleaning up my act is to remain conscious of how messed up it actually IS, present-tense. A load of laundry takes a matter of minutes to do and a messy room can frequently be made presentable in a few hours, but healing an unhealthy body may take months and even years – a long time to keep one’s eyes steadfastly on the prize!  This is especially true when a person has used food to ameliorate uncomfortable emotions for their entire life.  Add on the deluge of shaming / blaming, our culture’s harsh judgements and the stigma of living in a larger body, and it’s no wonder I’ve so often chosen to tune-out awareness of my size and not consistently taken the steps needed to change it for the better.

That said, I’m pretty sure that choosing to be as oblivious as possible to my weight has, in some ways, actually served me in my life.  It never occurred to me to identify as a “fat person”, even over decades while seeing shrinks, joining Overeaters Anonymous several times, trying every new diet, shopping at the fat ladies’ store, joining the gym, etc. Sure, I knew I was heavy, and carrying so much extra weight factored into some lost opportunities, but I also felt that it protected me from certain types of unwanted and dangerous attention, (think #me,too). Being fat in some ways made me feel safer.

Not that I wasn’t confronted by friends, family and strangers! I can’t forget the look of shock and undisguised horror on a teacher’s face when he saw how I’d bulked up over 25 years… or the surprise and disbelief of others when they realized that I’d somehow managed to be creative, productive AND happy, all while being (gasp!) fat!!  The assumption that we’re supposed to deny ourselves having an actual LIFE because we don’t fit the idea of what constitutes “normal”? – well, it never held water for me and in hindsight I’m glad I chose to not focus on this particular “elephant in the room” more than necessary.

Calling out other people for the shape and size of their bodies is rude and unhelpful, IMO.  Hating on ANYBODY is bad form.  Okay – I flinch when I hear a musician play or sing out-of-tune, and wrong lyrics / bad chord changes make me cringe. Likewise, I understand how many folks recoil when they see obese people. But the truth is, just about everyone is doing the best they can and it’s no one’s business to pass judgement on someone else’s journey. I believe we all get to where we’re going on our own time, and, as my grandfather used to say, “none of us are gettin’ out of this alive”.  So…

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music biz, self-acceptance

A Thousand Words

I’ve always loved photos, and I agree with the adage that “a picture’s worth a thousand words”. We didn’t take that many photos in my family of origin, (especially compared to the family I married into, who chronicled every birthday and holiday meal with multiple pix of everyone.) As a kid, I rarely got to snap the camera, since film cost money, as did developing and printing.

I’d eschewed graduation photos from both high school and college – I’m not sure why. I think I didn’t want to spend the money – or I just wanted my education to be OVER, so that I could get going on being an adult already!

As soon as I could, I bought a Polaroid Swinger “it’s more than a camera, it’s almost ALIVE!!”  and took some selfies-before-they-were-called-selfies… slightly out of focus. A few years later I bought a used 35mm for $10, with which a friend took my first headshot (see below). I think this photo reveals (in addition to a lot of skin!?) something I couldn’t even admit to myself, let alone the rest of the world, which is my profound ambivalence about being a performer and entertainer. (What kind of performer uses a headshot where she’s gazing away instead of engaging with the viewer? Perhaps someone who doesn’t trust the audience and doesn’t really want to be there?!)

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I always kinda liked this next photo, taken by a friend in 1978 – I think I have a “Candice Bergen smile” here:

Okay…. maybe not so much… let’s just say maybe I felt like Candice that day!!!?

A couple years later it occurred to me that I didn’t actually have anything approaching an actual portrait of myself, and seeing that I was in my late 20s, perhaps I should chronicle my youth while I still HAD some of it.

When I resumed playing piano-bar gigs in the 90s, I needed a new headshot – and this one, taken by Mary Clare in Chicago, I actually like!?

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So – there are nine thousand words (10, if you count Candice!?)  In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t remain as camera-shy as I felt in my teens – especially since all these wrinkles started showing up!

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music biz, self-acceptance, #jazzcongress, music

Getting Off The Hamster Wheel

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Like many of my fervent enthusiasms, it began innocently enough; a new collaborator suggested I record a jazz CD. Of course, this had occurred to me before and we even made a CD a decade prior – but after production and replication, we’d run out of money and had no budget for promotion, so the CD gathered dust in our closet.

But this time would be different! We’d hire press agents and radio promoters to spread the word and garner airplay! We’d book live performances at jazz clubs and visit radio stations around the country! This time we’d get noticed and on the charts and succeed! At least that was the plan. The reality was slightly different; finding a club willing to take a chance on booking an unknown artist was virtually impossible. Getting radio programmers – even the ones we knew personally!? – to spin a cut on their station even once was iffy! Add to the mix my own profound ambivalence about performing… well, it was a longer-than-long shot.

Even so, there were some victories; I was very proud of both of my jazz albums and after the 2004 release of Future Street and the 2006 release of Round Trip, I finally charted on JazzWeek and became friends with some jazz radio programmers. I got to visit friends and family across the country on my tours. And I introduced some original songs to other artists who wound up performing and recording them.

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Alas, it ultimately wasn’t as rewarding as I’d hoped, either financially or emotionally. First I began to turn down gigs that involved schlepping keyboards, PAs and other gear, and after a few more years I found myself dialing back my involvement in the jazz-o-sphere at large. While I’d enjoyed the annual IAJE conferences and JazzConnect/JazzCongress, it became apparent to me that, like Henry Gibson recited on Laugh-In, one was expected to “keep-a-goin’!” despite any setback or frustration – and I’d had some: Believe Them The First Time

Now, this doesn’t seem to stop my initial reaction when I notice that other jazzers are releasing new CDs or getting covers of their original songs; this type of news pops up on FaceBook, YouTube, and my email box all the time, and I find my Fear Of Missing Out kicking into overdrive! …until I remember how much work and financial outlay are involved in producing, promoting, performing, etc. to create even the smallest ripple of attention, let alone acclaim – and how fundamentally uninterested I am in those aspects. I continue to watch with appreciation and rejoice in the business and artistic triumphs of my colleagues, especially because I know what it takes to accomplish – but I honestly don’t miss running on the hamster wheel!

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ummm…. not-so-much, any more!

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growing up, self-acceptance

Hippie Dippy Days

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The moment I first heard Jimi Hendrix (who was a warm-up act for The Monkees at Forest Hills Stadium), I knew without a doubt that I was NOT “experienced” – that, at the ripe old age of 15, I had never been “experienced” – but what a concept!!  The teenyboppers and their parents who had gone to the concert to see their dreamboats Micky, Davy, Peter and Mike were aghast, but I was enchanted by both the amazing music AND the multi-colored feathered tie-dyed attire, not to mention the attitude… WOW!!  I ran right out and bought the album the next day!

And I tried. I really tried. “Hippie” was something I desperately wanted to be, but somehow it wasn’t the best fit for me. For one thing, I had curly hair that refused to hang loose and free like the other girls – especially on humid days. For another, I was always too tightly wound to “turn on, tune in & drop out”. Hippie-dom didn’t feel natural to me.

I saw that Janis Joplin had unruly hair and thought, “well, maybe…”  And I sure loved her album cover! Everything R. Crumb, for that matter.

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I tried pot – even though it was totally illegal. And I found that I hated how it made me feel; instead of relaxing, I’d hallucinate scary scenarios, with the Devil trying to take my soul, or to have me committed to a psych ward. There was a dealer on campus whose visage haunts me to this day: he was tall, slim, sexy and intense, with an orange-ochre cowboy hat that matched his full beard. I only saw him once but knew immediately and without a doubt that he was sent from Satan, and that if I engaged with him at all, I would be irrevocably doomed to a life of sin and depravity, instead of a life of music and love. (Hippies can have a dark side, after all!)

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Picture a hat this color… and a matching beard… 

Still, I embroidered colored thread on my jeans. I bought love beads and wore peasant blouses. I sported a badge I’d purchased in Greenwich Village that read, “Save Water – Shower With a Friend”.  I hitchhiked up and down the east coast, as well as back and forth to classes. It was nerve-wracking as all get-out.  I did the best I could, but unlike many of my peers, I was never cut out to be a hippie.

 

I had a flashback recently; I’d been having trouble with insomnia and had heard that CBD oil could help me get a better night’s sleep – or even just a decently restful nap. So I bought a roll-on bottle that smelled nice (it had lavender oil added!), but did nothing for me. So I got a bottle of edible hemp oil – with an equal lack of success. The odor was kinda nasty and elicited nerve-wracking anxiety attacks and visions of that drug dealer from so many decades ago. (Even tho I’ve since learned that CBD and hemp oil are the modern-day equivalents to snake oil, in that any effect they produce is the result of the placebo effect. Hmmm.)

I guess once a non-hippie, always a non-hippie.

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Picture me half-empty.

 

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