learning

Avoiding Disconnect

CantEatThisHomework

As essential as technology has become for communication, certain sloppy habits have crept in and hinder our efforts to connect with one another. I wouldn’t have foreseen how disruptive bad grammar and poor spelling would be, but now even AP and other news sources appear to have fired their editors, leaving the reading public to figure out what’s meant in any given item that gets published, online OR in print.

One of the few exceptions is The New Yorker – for which I remain grateful. Far too many other publications don’t make a consistent effort to use language clearly – perhaps thinking that they’re being “hip”?  Please, no!  The older I get, the less I can handle bumps-in-the-road, literally AND figuratively!  It can be difficult enough already to understand and empathize with one another these days; let’s not obfuscate our message intentionally!

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Susan Sontag weighs in on the truth of “the devil’s in the details”:

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politics

Vacationing In SorkinWorld

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I didn’t watch Sports Night when it first ran on ABC from 1998-2000 – having never been a fan of sports, I figured it just wasn’t for me. But I’d enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s writing in A Few Good Men and The American President, and then experienced the buffering relief that The West Wing brought to the Dubya Years; watching smart people doing admirable things for the best reasons was a balm for my soul. So eventually I got around to appreciating Sports Night, to the extent that we purchased the DVD set, to be able to revisit the characters again whenever we wanted.

And lately, we have wanted… in a big way.  The nonstop insanity of current events has made it imperative to once again spend time with the fast-talking smartypants-es at CSC, reveling in their rapid-fire banter, good humor and mutual admiration. I can overlook Sorkin’s inability to create multi-dimensional female characters who, though bright and beautiful, can never manage to handle their love lives with any degree of aplomb. And I don’t have any trouble with his personal drug struggles, as I’ve been battling a few addictive tendencies of my own this lifetime. The show reminds me of happier times when I, too, was employed in an office filled with creative types who were passionate about their work; when choices were at least sometimes made on the basis of meritocracy, and not totally on nepotism, greed and self-interest.

I know we can’t turn back time, but I like that I can at least visit, 22-minutes at a pop.

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learning, music biz

Show Biz is a Team Sport

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 5.38.28 PMI’ve known so many gifted people – musicians, singers, writers, painters, actors  – whose talents I’ve seen only marginally rewarded, or hardly recognized at all. The unfairness of this vexes me and I’ve sought to explain it to myself somehow. Some people shy away from the spotlight, and that’s okay; most of my own career has been “behind the scenes” as a support person. But we need more art and creative insight for life to make sense, and talent needs to be championed and cultivated for how it enriches and gives meaning to our lives.Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 5.37.38 PMI’ve noticed among those of my friends who enjoy enduring career success that somewhere along the way, they’ve been blessed by a support team; whether early on, in the form of a nuclear family that made sacrifices, or professionals in the field who were hired and/or inspired to train and encourage the protegé. The “self-made” man or woman is pretty much a Hollywood conceit; in real life, artists need as much or more coaching as athletes.

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With my first CD of original songs, I ran out of money and tried in vain to do all the promotion and marketing by myself…. but that’s not the truth, either – because without the invaluable talents and ceaseless help of my partner Mark Wolfram, I doubt I’d have ever finished that or any other release! A few years later when I got a chance to work with Windham Hill Records, I got a taste of how the music biz “machine” functioned to package, present and market music – and it was impressive! From the publicist to the video lighting guy to the makeup artist, they all had the concept down cold, and to a relative outsider like me, it was slick and overwhelmingly professional!  I kinda felt like  Queen For A Day.  (See my similar deer-in-the-headlights look HERE as well? When you’re used to taking your own bath, it’s startling to suddenly be waited on hand-&-foot!)

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Art directors, engineers, producers and stylists put these things together, and the smart artist accepts their help with gratitude. THIS trio is obviously confident enough to appreciate what each other brings to the party, as well as all the behind-the-scenes people responsible for showing them all off to best effect:

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Bing, Sinatra & Dean – Together Wherever We Go

(It’s no wonder agents, managers, publicists and producers are frequently the first people to be thanked when a celebrity wins an award!)  No matter how “rugged self-starting individualist” an artist may appear to be, designing, manufacturing and wearing ALL the hats of Performer-Creator-Manager-Stylist-BookingAgent-etc.-etc.-etc. is exhausting…  we’ve each only got one head and there IS such a thing as too much millinery!

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As usual, Sondheim got it right:  “someone is on your side….No One Is Alone”

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growing up, Home, politics, self-acceptance

Why Can’t a Moose be President?

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I became aware of the “double standard” pretty early, but I was stunned when my dad explained dating once I hit puberty; he told me that many men see women as “pieces of meat”, as that had been his experience growing up and especially while serving in the US Marine Corps during WWII. In my early teens, I had a great deal of resistance to this idea; having read a lot of magazines, my head had been filled with romantic notions, aided and abetted by pop songs of the 50s and 60s. Even back then, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” sounded pretty innocent and non-threatening.

It often takes me a while to process difficult emotions, and this past year has been especially challenging in that regard. Like every woman I know, I’ve been sexually harassed, and although such abusive treatment has diminished in my advancing years, it’s still a fact of life which grieves me deeply, as I’d hoped we would have made more progress as a society in regards to treating ALL people equally and equitably. Alas, that has not been the case – a fact that has been rubbed in our collective faces, especially since Election 2016 when DT became PussyGrabber in Chief.

I almost wish I could just point the finger at “toxic masculinity” and leave it at that, but I think that having the inequities of our society in such bold relief, in regards to race as well as gender, has encouraged intolerance and contempt for one another. It’s no surprise to me that more people are coming forward these days with their stories of being molested – there have always been “dirty old men”, but as I feared, these men have become emboldened by the so-called leadership of our country. It’s now officially Open Season  on the female gender. What else can we do besides #metoo ?

I’ve recently taken comfort in revisiting YouTube videos featuring kinder, gentler men from my youth, the cadence of their voices and the kindness in their demeanor – men like Art Linkletter, (whose warmth and humor reminds me of my uncle Larry), Mr. Rogers, who liked you “just the way you are”, and my favorite, Captain Kangaroo  The Captain sang, told sweet stories, dealt with challenging cohorts like Dancing Bear and Bunny Rabbit – he even did his own housekeeping! And he featured the absolute BEST political candidate: Mr. Moose – whose campaign promise, “if you elect me, every American will have antlers! (or uncles!?) … and all of our friends will be bunny rabbits!”

Sounds a lot better to me than promoting pussy-grabbing.

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growing up, self-acceptance

Rewriting History

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“…contrary to what you may have heard or learned, the past is not done and it is not over, it’s still in process, which is another way of saying that when it’s critiqued, analyzed, it yields new information about itself. The past is already changing as it is being reexamined, as it is being listened to for deeper resonances. Actually it can be more liberating than any imagined future if you are willing to identify its evasions, its distortions, its lies, and are willing to unleash its secrets. “

Toni Morrison at Wellesley 2004

My mother spent a lot of time during the last years of her life sifting thru memories, looking for insight and clues to the meaning of events that had affected her; trying to understand, to make sense of it all.  I find myself doing the same thing these days – and am comforted by Toni Morrison’s commencement speech to Wellesley College 2004, where she rails against “adults being exoticized into eternal juvenilia” and “cultural vapidity” that appears to only have become more rampant in the past 13 years.  

I confess that in the past I’ve been quite critical of people who rewrite history; I’ve judged them as being guilty of denial, of being delusional, of sugarcoating reality. I used to wonder about this aspect of Christian Science when I was an active student – sure, it was helpful to reframe troubling scenarios in a more spiritual context, but wasn’t that cheating somehow?

I believed “what’s done is done” and there was no way to fix the mistakes I’d made in the past. But upon further reflection, I’m coming to see the wisdom of reframing what happened and the choices I’ve made. For one thing, it helps me to (re)view the past with compassion and kindness, towards myself and everyone else.  I now don’t think it’s too Pollyanna-ish to look for the benefits of any given scenario, and many things that happen can hold just such hidden blessings, if we’re patient and motivated to identify them.

Nobody has the exact memory that you have. What is now known is not all of what you are capable of knowing. You are your own stories and therefore free…

Toni Morrison @ Wellesley 2004

One of my biggest regrets was my relationship with an early boyfriend who turned out to be emotionally damaged and eventually became mentally ill. I met him when I was 17 and didn’t recognize the warning signs that anything was “off” about him. But over the few months we were seeing one another, I became alarmed at his fits of rage that erupted at random times for unknown reasons. The night he grabbed my arm violently leaving a nasty bruise, I knew that I had to break up with him. Initially he seemed to take it well, but then he began stalking me at school and broke into my home when my roommate and I were away. He’d become downright creepy, seemingly overnight. It wasn’t safe to love him any more.

The stalking continued without direct confrontation for 2½ years – I’d catch sight of his red scarf across the street or feel eyes on me when I was working in a practice room, but we never interacted. Then after I graduated, he disappeared, only to resurface a few years later by showing up unexpectedly and uninvited at my apartment door. The building doorman had to threaten to call the cops to get him to leave, and entreaties from both of my parents and their lawyers for him to stop stalking me were unsuccessful. I felt sufficiently scared at that point to take legal action to get him to leave me alone, which he managed to do for another few years.

But then he began writing letters. In spite of being reminded that 10 years had elapsed since the relationship had ended and being informed that I was now a married woman, he continued to send letters demanding me to return to him. Year after year after year, no matter where we moved, the letters would follow us. We contacted the Postal Inspectors and after they investigated and interviewed him, their legal advisors told us that he was disturbed and receiving psychiatric help, that he was harmless and should “get a pass”, to just discard the letters, since there was nothing they could do to get him to stop writing and sending them. So for many years, that’s what we did.

Over time the letters became more and more offensive, as he scribbled his rage and hateful comments on the exterior of the envelopes, making the most outrageous claims, (his version of rewriting history) and blaming me for everything bad that had ever happened to him. I began to think of the letters as “Hate Mail from Hartford” and saw myself as a victim as their delivery continued unabated. Some days I could handle it, but other times I felt overwhelmed and oppressed.

The toll this took was rather like Chinese water torture; while the mental dread was much worse than the actual pain inflicted, it also didn’t help that the authorities were dismissive of my complaints. After all, I was “only” receiving non-stop written verbal abuse from an obviously delusional man – how bad could it be, really? Compared to former boyfriends who went after their exes with guns and online revenge porn, nasty letters are pretty small potatoes.

Still, I wondered what the hell I had ever done to deserve this ceaseless abuse; as I recalled, I had treated him sweetly during the time we were dating. And I wasn’t cruel or insulting when I ended it; I had never made any promises of exclusivity or for a future together, and it just didn’t make sense to me that he was so fixated on a brief casual relationship that had ended so long ago.

I tried to rise above it; to take the higher view, to forgive him and see him bathed in white light. Since I feared him and resented his pervasive presence in my life, I couldn’t bring myself to actually love him, but I prayed for his healing. For decades I had shredded his letters or tossed them into the trash. On the advice of a shaman, I’d even tried burning them at the mailbox, so as not to allow their negative energy into the house.  I marked them “Return To Sender” and “Refused” and sent them back, reasoning that this was his bad juju and I didn’t have to accept it – and then he stopped putting his return address on the envelopes, so I couldn’t even do that. I felt more and more trapped.

One day on the way from the mailbox to the trashcan I noticed he had progressed to making death threats, which alarmed me enough to recontact the police and the Postal Inspectors. But follow-up with them yielded disappointing results; restraining orders would prove ineffective and the USPS didn’t want to get any more involved with him.  Turns out there had been many complaints about him from many quarters, as he was still writing to psychiatrists, nurses and caregivers who had retired and even died. He’d been cagey in his assaults-by-mail to everyone who had ever tried to help him over the past 47 years and avoided breaking the law, at least to the extent that the district attorney didn’t consider it to be worth prosecuting him. He was intractable and adamantine in his conviction that he’d been “done wrong” by anyone he’d ever met (especially me!) and we were all apparently going to hear about it forever.

To have an apparently unsolvable problem like this is something I’d never wish on anyone.  But in the course of all this drama, recently a couple of things fell into place for me:

I made the decision to see his letters impersonally – as “junk mail” instead of “Hate Mail from Hartford”. No one rails at receiving junk mail, after all – it’s just a fact of life, like robocalls, spam in your email inbox and commercials on TV. You just toss it in the recycling pile (after blacking out any identifying information), just like you push the mute button when that annoying ad comes on for the umpteenth time in the middle of your favorite show. It’s nothing personal. No drama. That helped some.

And then I came across the following:

I have breathed my way through so many people I felt wronged by; through so many situations I couldn’t change. Sometimes while doing this I have breathed in acceptance and breathed out love. Sometimes I’ve breathed in gratitude and breathed out forgiveness. Sometimes I haven’t been able to muster anything beyond the breath itself, my mind forced bland with nothing but the desire to be free of sorrow and rage.”

– Cheryl Strayed in her book Tiny Beautiful Things

Reading this passage the other day is what finally unfroze my heart re. this guy who’s been stalking me all these years. I realized that because of his abuse, I’d been partially adopting his version of the story on some level, instead of fully embracing what I knew from my own experience to be true. I understand that it’s not safe to be in touch with him now, I have no interest in his circumstances and it’s not my job to fix him. But I did love him back in 1970, the best I knew how, until it became unsafe to do so. I don’t need to deny that I loved him then to feel safe now.

“Although you will never fully know or successfully manipulate the characters who surface or disrupt your plot, you can respect the ones who do by paying them close attention and doing them justice. The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone.”

Toni Morrison at Wellesley 2004

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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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