politics, self-acceptance

Redbook Magazine 3/2016

I had occasion to page through last month’s Redbook while waiting for my car to get an oil change, and was struck by the messages that pervaded not only the advertising but also the editorial copy. Here’s what I saw:

“You’re OLD!” (or you at least LOOK old!  So FIX it, already!)

“You’re FAT!” (or at least heavier than you should be. Shape up, fer cryin’ out loud!)

“You’re just not attractive enough! You need THESE clothes, THIS haircut, THAT makeup!”

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No matter HOW drab and ordinary! ‘Cause what YOU’RE wearing just ain’t cuttin’ it!

“You will most likely DIE from cancer!”

“Now, Julianne Hough – SHE has a life worth living! Be like her!”

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You, too, can be KICKY! Go ahead! Be KICKY!!

“You’re too stupid to manage your money!”

“You complain too much! Knock it OFF, already!”

“Your house looks drab and dated! You need to redecorate!” (something more kicky!)

“Never mind how expensive it is, or whether you can actually AFFORD to go – your whole family NEEDS to visit DisneyWorld! NOW!!”

“You should cook complicated dishes and eat indulgently, meanwhile miraculously maintaing a slender figure, because otherwise? You’re a LOSER!”

I felt the entire issue had been written by Donald Trump.

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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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learning, self-acceptance

GroupOn, GroupOff

It’s been well established that I LOVE a bargain, so naturally my curiosity is piqued by GroupOn and Living Social offers, which allow people to treat themselves in a fashion they can’t normally afford. Over the years I’ve tried a 2-hr. pool/billiards+drink deal (FUN!), a whole body seaweed wrap (MESSY!), acupuncture, facials, massages, new-to-me restaurants, carpet cleaning services, haircuts, hypnosis, dental cleanings, and I’ve purchased a battery-run skin brush, some Bed-Of-Nails acupressure pillows, gifts for loved ones… you get the picture. A few didn’t work out at all: Biosphere II, a shish-kabob restaurant (I hadn’t bothered to check the Yelp reviews) and the Tequila Factory – WAY the heck out of town on the Native American reservation inside the smoky casino – and unexpectedly closed when we finally got there!

The worst was the Air Duct cleaning offer, where 2 young guys showed up; one who began tramping around the house looking at the ceiling (casing the house??) while the other had me pinned in the kitchen with a bait-&-switch, since he had no intention of providing the service I’d paid for. I felt vulnerable with the dogs penned up across the house in my office and Mark away on business, and truly breathed a sigh of relief when the duo finally departed.  (I was able to get a refund from Living Social but the experience was a bit harrowing.)

One day I decided to treat myself, so I bought a $35 Groupon offer for an ionic foot bath

 

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with reflexology treatment and heaven knows what else. I’d been curious about this procedure since Mark has had such good results with using Kinoki pads every night and Ionic foot baths are supposed to be like Kinoki pads on steroids.

Dee was 10 minutes late for our appointment but then she gave me a complete tour of the facilities. I began to feel a bit hinky about things when she proudly showed off ALL of the “toys” she has for various treatments – from the Chi Machine
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to the SoQi bed
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to the DermaKinetics machine

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to the infra-red sauna…

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gizmo after gizmo, room after room for all the various treatment modalities she espouses. Dee personally provides facials, massages, BioTouch, EFT, ear coning, anti-aging LED light therapy, dermal rolling, aromatherapy, microdermabrasion, micro planing, galvanic current, wraps, peels; you-name-it, she does it!  (Made me think of the old saying, let’s just throw enough $%&T at the wall and maybe something will stick?)

She sat me in an electric massage chair (you know, where bars and rollers in the back move up and down and around), placed an infrared belt on my stomach, gave me a cup of alkalinized water and put my feet in the tub of warm water.  She told me NOT to wiggle my toes so that she could diagnose my ailments from the murky water when we were done. Then she proceeded to educate me about weight loss and why diets don’t work (hint: it’s because you don’t DETOX at the same time, so the toxins have nowhere to go, so you regain the lost weight to contain the toxins, so that your body will stay in “balance.” And all this time I thought it was due to going back to your previous way of eating that had got you fat in the first place?) After 45 minutes or so, the water looked like a very ugly, scummy pond, with slime floating on the top. Dee observed that the GREEN scum indicated that my liver was detoxing and the PURPLE scum had come from my pancreas and the BROWN from my gallbladder.  (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my gallbladder had been removed 15 years before.)

After cleaning the scum off, my feet got to soak in some nice clean water, got rubbed for 5 minutes each with her specially homemade scrub, and then dried and powdered with her special magic powder.  All this while she explained how I’d need at least 10 sessions more of this treatment, (5 weeks at 2x/week), to see any real change. She also talked about the wonders of ISAGENIX, which I recalled is a MLM (multi-level marketing) diet-shake company.   Hmmmm….

When I got home, I flashed back to an experience I’d had 21 years ago, right after Mark and I moved back to L.A.  We’d met a composer and his wife, who had been inordinately friendly to me – as in, she was my NEW BEST FRIEND!!!  I found out why after meeting with her for what was supposed to be a coffee date but which turned out to be a MLM telephone company meeting 30 miles away with a whole slew of her fellow salespeople.  When I told her that I’d switch to her phone company but had no intention of imposing on my friends and family to get them to do likewise… pffft!  That was the end of our budding friendship!

Dee gave me the exact same vibe.

So – anybody want to hazard a guess on whether I’ll ever return for my much needed, very-expensive detoxing ala dear Dee?

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

The Bumpy Road to New York

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I left the house while it was still dark, telling my half-asleep mother that I was headed “to the library” when she asked where I was going.  After hoofing it 2 miles to the Hartford train station, I bought a ticket and just… went! At 14, I was too afraid to explore much of anywhere once I got to Grand Central Station, but I DID make it across 42nd Street it to the Library, so I hadn’t been exactly lying.

Train to NYC! New York, New Haven & Hartford

I think my folks understood – they’d always had a yen for New York – the theaters, the museums, the glamour – New York had it all!  There honestly wasn’t any other place to be as far as they were concerned – witness that they both retired to Manhattan in their 50s and breathed their lasts there 20+/- years later.

So as soon as I’d graduated, that’s where I needed to go. I didn’t have a job lined up or money in the bank, so I temped for Kelly Girl that summer and saved my sheckels while calling and sending out resumes and cover letters to every company listed under “Music” in the NY Yellow Pages. At the end of the summer, finally a job offer appeared: librarian at E.B. Marks Music on West 50th Street, a company that published some of my teacher Hale Smith’s compositions. I’m pretty sure he put in a good word for me and I was SO grateful to finally have a MUSIC JOB in NEW YORK!

I got the idea of living in an office from my dad, who had camped out in a friend’s NY office while trying to break in to TV sketch writing a decade earlier. I think he may have lasted 10 days before he threw in the towel and returned to Hartford; he said he’d gotten lonely and missed us too much, but I always suspected that when the Big Apple didn’t greet him with open arms, he became discouraged and felt too old to be couch surfing and taking Marine baths in the sink instead of showering at home.

Dad had always advocated living within walking distance of one’s employment, so when I was offered the job in August of 1972, I figured that the small 2-room office on the 11th floor of the Ed Sullivan Building on 53rd and Broadway would be perfect! It was only $110/month, in a 24-hour building, so I could come and go whenever I wanted. The ladies’ room was across the hall, so I planned to join the YWCA 3 blocks south on 8th Ave and get in a daily swim (so virtuous!) before showering and strolling over to my job, thereby expediting both exercise AND personal hygiene!

And so the family helped move me and my earthly possessions (2 suitcases of clothes and a trunk full of music scores, LPs and stereo equipment) into my new office-home. Some voiced concern over the fact there was no kitchen, bath or furniture, but I had a hotpot, I’d packed a pillow and envisioned no problem sleeping on the carpeted floor, so… no worries!

The first few days were pretty uneventful. So what if the doorman looked at me a little strangely as I exited the building just as everyone else was entering each morning?!  It was Autumn In New York!! I was a bit lonely, I didn’t have a phone and since my salary was only $100/week ($77.50 after taxes!), entertainment and dining options were extremely limited. But I had my hotpot and my stereo and the commute to work was sure easy!

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My good friends Peter and Cathy were getting married on Labor Day, so I dressed and got ready to take the train up to Stratford that morning, only to find that I’d been LOCKED IN! I hadn’t anticipated that this being a national holiday, my 24-hour building was closed and I could not get out!  I panicked until I managed to locate a janitor to unlock the door and fortunately, he was there when I returned late that night. But I began to feel a little less confident in my choice of housing.

After a few days, the daily swims became less frequent – not just because I wasn’t that interested in swimming, but… I began to feel a bit too vulnerable stripping down every day in front of strange women, some of whom seemed a bit overly interested in my body!? –  wouldn’t a Marine bath do for today? (and tomorrow, maybe?  and even the next day?)  So much for my athletic exploits at the Y!

Every day the walls of my office-home moved in a little closer; each weeknight the cleaning lady would unlock and open my office door, waking me in the wee hours to empty the trash — it always surprised us both. And the sideward glances from the doorman were getting more pronounced every morning.

After subsisting on instant cocoa, fruit and sandwiches for a week, I knew I needed to find a real apartment with a real bed, a real bathroom and a real kitchen with a refrigerator and stove – even if that meant dealing with roommates and having to take the subway. I asked around at work and was told about some affordable places in the East Village which turned out to be so rugged on the outside, I never rang the doorbell to even see the inside!  Then I applied to a real estate company that didn’t have any places I could afford but who wound up wanting to sublet my office in the Ed Sullivan Building.

So after 2 weeks of office-living, I moved for a week to a cheap hotel on West 112th Street where I had my first encounter with cockroaches. Then, knowing of my plight, Hale Smith’s wonderful wife Juanita put me in touch with a woman she worked with at the U.N. who needed a roommate for her Riverside Drive apartment at 125th Street. While  I could no longer walk to work, it was SO nice to have an actual BED to sleep in, not just a pillow on the floor!

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Riverside Drive at 125th Street – thank you, Juanita!!  🙂

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Starting Over

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The past week I’ve been working on some lyrics for a dear friend who wants to perform an Ivan Lins song but doesn’t like the English “translation” provided by the Bergmans.  It’s been a wonderful project for me, since I’m stretching and working muscles I haven’t worked seriously for almost 4 years – finding JUST the right words to convey the mixed emotions of beginning anew without resorting to clichéd old images. It’s a challenge and extremely gratifying to find the most elegant turn of phrase that also fits well with the music.

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Reworking material has never been my strong suit; I watched my dad endlessly reworking his plays and was made to read this version and then that version – as if my opinion actually mattered. I don’t have a lot of patience with the process of rewrites, even if I can perceive the improvements. (It is a bit more gratifying when you’re in the driver’s seat and making those changes on your own work, however!)

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Rewriting your own life is another matter. I came across this blog post today:

Learning From Failure In the Classroom

and was struck with the author’s willingness to really look at what wasn’t working and how he might remedy that.

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Being open to revision is a skill set I’m still working on, and it takes a great deal of patience and humility to fully grok where I’m falling down on the job and take steps to amend my path. It’s worth it, though. The best stories are those of eventual triumph over unimaginable odds:

My Big Fat Finished Marathon

to which I can only say, “Yeah!!!”  🙂

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learning, music biz, self-acceptance

Gaslit* at the Gaslight

*gaslit = freaked outscaredunnerved into questioning ones own sanity (Oxford).

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While I was hardly “born in a trunk”, both of my parents were theater-folk; they’d met doing shows at Syracuse University and continued to perform in plays and revues throughout my childhood. My sisters and I would “run lines” for them when they prepared for a performance, type copies of my dad’s plays for 10¢/page (pre-Xerox!) and be an enthusiastic audience while they rehearsed and performed at tiny theaters around CT.  My father had a number of his one-act plays published and even had an off-Broadway show produced in NYC in 1965. The Fourth Pig

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My first (unpaid) theater gig was playing for an awards ceremony for the Mark Twain Masquers in Hartford when I was 15, and I later earned a few shekels accompanying dance classes while at UConn. I always liked actors personally but grew impatient with the number of rehearsals they wanted to do. (we jazz musicians like to “wing it” more than some other performers!)  When I participated in the terrific ASCAP, BMI and ASK workshops, I also discovered I wasn’t too thrilled with the degree of compromise required with working in the musical theater – the endless rewrites for non-musical reasons, for example. While it can be exciting to collaborate with other talented people, the old adage of “too many cooks” DOES come into play at a certain point – usually, for me, earlier than anyone else. (Which is ironic, since I truly love musicals – I’m just not crazy about the process of creating them, I guess!?)

So I’ve resisted involvement in many theatrical endeavors, despite my high regard for most thespians. In 2008, however, I agreed to sub for the pianist at a musical melodrama theater – an extremely underpaid gig that extended almost 2 years before I had enough financial wherewithal to walk away… umm, make that RUN away! For years afterwards I told myself that it was the unreasonable demands of the music director, some of the actors and staff that had made me so miserable during that period, when every single day for 7 days a week I would dread the one or two performances I’d have to play each Sunday. It was only after I’d subbed at another musical melodrama theater that I realized that, crabby and unappreciative as the cast might have been, they hadn’t been the problem – for me, it was the job itself! Juggling last-minute changes while responding to what’s happening on the stage and always being “on!” is nerve-rattling and I just don’t have the constitution to sustain that for 2+ hours. When it comes together, you might feel like Superman…

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but when something goes wrong (as it frequently can!), there’s hell to pay, whether it’s actually your fault or not!

Technological advances and shrunken production budgets have had a dreadful impact on the current state of musical theater; to be filed under “Spinning Straw Into Gold”,

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the last gig I was hired to play seemed easy enough when I checked out the songs via YouTube videos; the score was non-challengingly melodious and traditionally orchestrated, like musicals in the 1940s-60s. When I got to the first rehearsal, it was revealed that ALL of that orchestral music, (save a solo cello, solo flute and the music director’s piano) would be MY responsibility, courtesy of a jury-rigged computer-keyboard setup with multiple pedals, sampled sounds and sheet music indicating multiple instrument changes within 2 bars – an impossible scenario for low-tech me.  I knew that there was no way I’d ever be able to perform, let alone master this part, no matter how much I practiced, so I bowed out that afternoon. I later learned that playing this particular show had reduced more than one highly skilled professional pianist to tears.

My cap is off to theater musicians – especially music directors – who are able to run the show AND make superb music doing so. They create unique magic for an audience, and they are more-often-than-not ill-compensated for their alchemy.

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…… after all, fingers take a beating, doing this sort of thing!!

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self-acceptance

I Want To Be Wanted

This record came out when I was eight years old and I immediately took it as my personal theme song. Everything about it was appealing, from the 12/8 swingy groove to the overly sweet strings and background singers to that little catch in Brenda’s voice. But the most important part to me was the lyrics.

This heartfelt plea hit me especially hard because when my mom had explained “the facts of life” to us a couple years before, she’d made a point of letting us know that we’d been “mistakes”. So more than anything, I wanted to have been wanted. Even though that was an impossibility – hadn’t my parents told me that? They HADN’T wanted me, and yet, here I was! What a conundrum for an 8-year-old. (Not much I could DO about it!?)  If I could say just one thing to all the parents out there, it would be to tell them to be as KIND as possible to their kids, and to never, ever, under any circumstances, tell them that they were “mistakes”.

Many years later, in my late 30s, I attended a 12-step weekend retreat in Chicago. We did a lot of activities; writing, drawing and interacting one-on-one with other participants and in small groups. The final exercise involved sitting in a circle, with one individual going around the outside of the circle, whispering the words that person had always wanted to hear while growing up, but never had heard – or hadn’t heard ENOUGH. When my turn came, I flashed on Brenda Lee and whispered in each ear, “you’re NOT a mistake! I’m SO glad you were born!”

More than half of the people began to cry at these words.

We need to know we matter – that we’re where we should be – that we’re actually wanted.

So to you (and myself!) I say: You’re NOT a mistake! You’re here on purpose – your birth was intended, your being is intentional and you’re a blessing to me and everyone on earth. You’re precious and wanted and I’m SO glad you were born and I get to share this time with you!

Yes, you!

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