politics, religion

I Am Spartacus! (I hope!?)

screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-3-03-22-am

When I saw the news item about the next administration establishing a Muslim registry, I was aghast and thought, “well then, we ALL must register as Muslims! They can’t eliminate ALL of us!” And I would so like to think I’ll have the courage to do just that, should this registry of Muslims in the USA actually come to pass (tho I keep hoping that the Electoral College will do the right thing and elect the person who actually won the popular vote in last week’s election!)

screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-3-26-35-amI remember marching against the Vietnam war in November 1969 – standing with so many other people for hours, freezing my toes in stylish but totally inappropriate moccasins. I was ready, willing and able to hitchhike from Storrs, CT to Washington, D.C. because it was a stupid war that had already claimed the lives of my fellow students, with no end in sight – and it was the right thing to do. I took all kinds of chances those days – I was young and felt invincible!

My 17-year-old self would have had no problem signing up for this commitment to register as a Muslim, in protest. I was raised as an atheist (who got to enjoy all the “candy and dress-up holidays” like Halloween and Easter, as well as the “gift and feast holidays” like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s), became intrigued by Christian Science and joined the Mother Church, and then got baptized as a Lutheran… at this point, I’m pretty much convinced nobody really cares what I believe or who/what I worship! (and since this is America, what business is it of theirs, anyway?)

screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-3-10-31-am

I tell myself I should just sign up and be counted as someone who won’t allow this Muslim registry thing to happen without a fight. But then I think back on the most recent election cycle; how divisive and ugly it got and continues to be – how I didn’t see a single bumper sticker for either party on any vehicles, and only a few lawn signs anywhere – how even now, 10 days later, no one seems to want to reveal their own political leanings until they know how the other person voted.

So even though I live in a very safe, quiet neighborhood, I feel more vulnerable now than I felt living by myself in NYC in the 70s, walking home in the dark from a gig, getting ogled and catcalled by strangers, slapping away creepy hands on the subway. I feel targeted, even though I’m gray-haired and overweight, that I could be pussy-grabbed or worse by some newly emboldened jerk. I’m concerned that hateful acts may happen to me and my loved ones should no one else stand up and cry out, “I’m Spartacus!

But I’m even more afraid to live in fear, in a country dominated by racism, sexism and xenophobia. Guess it’s time to take a refresher course at Model Mugging!

Standard
growing up, Home

Touchstone: Sculpture

One of my dad’s favorite sayings was “watch the feet”, because, after all, talk is cheap, whereas my mother’s favorite piece of advice was “keep marching!” Mom was more proactive than Dad, especially when faced with adversity. He’d sit back, observe and eventually come to some conclusion he could live with, whereas she’d jump in and try to fix things with her bare hands, whether it was changing her own flat tires or replacing burnt-out bulbs in the exterior light fixtures atop her multi-story apartment house (she was acrophobic).

TheSculpture

As soon as she saw it, my mother HAD to have this sculpture. She’d spied it in a furniture store on the Berlin Turnpike and put it on lay-away, driving however-many miles round trip from Hartford. She got paid every two weeks and allocated $1.50 every paycheck for this piece – I know because I made the trip to the furniture store with her more than once.

There was an undulating white fake fur lounge for sale there, too – but the lounge was “dream-stuff” – something to be desired but never actually purchased, since it cost 10 times what the sculpture cost, and wasn’t what she really wanted.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 6.12.09 PM

I think the sculpture only cost $20, but back in the late 1960s, that was a lot of money to my mother – hence the lay-away. I figure it took almost 6 months for her to get it. She never claimed to be a patient person, but this was special.

At the time, I didn’t understand the appeal of this piece; an old lady walking with a small boy, against a strong wind. It sure spoke to my mother, though – and she wasn’t one for tchochkes or keepsakes. She’d periodically purge her home of anything deemed unnecessary or frivolous. This sculpture was a rare exception. She told me she liked the set of the old woman’s jaw, the carefree gait of the little boy, the disparity in their ages, the intensity of the wind they’re up against.

A decade later, it burned up – along with a coffee table, a sofa she’d reupholstered (in white fake fur!) and the chair the sculpture’s occupying in this photo. The fire blackened the walls of her apartment and the smoke smell didn’t fade for many months afterward. Since I’m pretty sure the sculpture is one-of-a-kind, I’m glad I took this photo before the fire happened.

“Keep marching!”

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 6.18.08 PM

 

 

Standard
growing up, Home

Stand Facing the Stove

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 2.29.48 PM

The original edition of The Joy of Cooking apparently began with this instruction, the self-evidencial nature of which encapsulates for me the profound ambivalence I’ve always felt about spending time in the kitchen. While I have a great appreciation for well-prepared food, I also, like my mother, eschew most domestic duties.

She managed to put food on the table on a regular basis, but it didn’t come without a price; not just her iffiness about parenting in general, but a real ennui in regards to cooking. When she’d over-broil the 3 half-chickens for dinner, she’d laugh that “instead of Shake’n’Bake, we’re having Turn’n’Burn!” Unfortunately I adopted her habit of abandoning the kitchen in the middle of meal preparation and have scorched many a pot and burned many a pan of vegetables.

One evening when we were young girls my mother showed my older sister and me how to wash dishes after dinner. We did a pretty good job scraping, soaking, rinsing and drying, and then putting the dishes away, so I recall being surprised when our mother told us to do it again the next evening. “But we learned that already, yesterday!” Seeing the little smirk on my mother’s face, I was a bit horrified at the idea that I might be expected to do this every night for the rest of my life.

“Woman’s work is never done.” I think that was the hopelessness that pervaded my mom’s take on all housework – and one of the reasons she divorced my dad. She told me more than once that the moment she recognized that she was “done” with being married, she was on her hands and knees scrubbing the downstairs half-bathroom floor, realizing that, even though all of her daughters had weekly chores, nearly all of the daily domestic duties fell to her.

I recently purchased a new 6″ chef knife, to go along with my other knives – and I remembered that my mother never had ANY knives that look like these. And she never got the ratty old knife she DID have sharpened. She resisted housework tooth-&-nail, and could never bring herself to make it any easier – as if purchasing the right tools might be a show of weakening in her resolve to hate “woman’s work”.

I love my knives. They’re a gift I’ve given to myself. I’d have them even if I wasn’t married.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 2.48.34 PM

 

Standard
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…
Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 10.58.50 AM

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.

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-7-10-04-pm

Standard
music biz

Old Dog, New Tricks

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 2.51.28 AM

Out of nowhere right before New Year’s, I was invited to play with the Tucson Symphony for a couple of Byron Stripling concerts.  He’s a very talented trumpeter who also sings and was doing a Louis Armstrong/New Orleans type of thing with the TSO in conjunction with the Tucson Jazz Festival. I was a bit hesitant because I’d never played with an orchestra, had no idea who had recommended me for the gig and I thought it might be too much work for not enough money (a trend these days!?) But then I thought, “heck, this is Tucson. How many other piano players could do it better than I could, if I put my mind to it?” and I couldn’t think of too many, so I said yes.

I picked up the music at the orchestra office and felt a bit daunted – LOTS of notes! – I’d have to actually read, and not just chord symbols! LOTS of complicated rhythmic figures and changing tempos and time signatures, due to the medley-nature of the charts. LOTS of empty bars of rests to count! (Being a pianist who usually plays club dates and private parties, I haven’t had to count bars of rests very much in my professional life – I usually just play wall-to-wall! I’m here to tell you, it’s mighty nerve-wracking to count measures of rest if you’re not used to it.)

I researched as much as I could online on Mr. Stripling – looking for YouTube videos so I could hear his patter, how some of the pieces should sound, his bio, etc. And I practiced a couple hours every day for 2 weeks with a metronome!!  Sometimes right before bed, but always at least once through the show, because some of the tunes were burners, and I was afraid I’d mess up if I didn’t have them under my fingers – (these days I don’t usually play anything that fast!!)

I felt pretty well prepared by the time of the rehearsal. That night’s concert went well, and the following day’s matinee went well, too. A couple weeks later the paycheck came in the mail. I feel pretty good that I took on something that was a bit out of my comfort zone, devoted the necessary time to learning it, and then performed pretty well! I even found out who had referred me for the gig – a percussionist I’d hired for a church gig many years ago!? (you never know, do you!?)

Guess you can teach an old dog new tricks, if you’re patient and keep calm, eh?  🙂

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 3.18.35 AM

Standard
learning, self-acceptance

Worth Defending

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 12.51.06 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 12.52.15 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 12.48.07 AM

Standard
Home

Buying The Shoes

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 9.07.30 AM

“Happy Talk, keep talkin’ Happy Talk!  If you don’t have a dream…”

At 25, Bill was still living at home. This might not be a big deal nowadays, but back in the mid-1970s, it meant something for a young man who’d finished his schooling; he was “an artist”, a musician, a dreamer without enough money to afford his own place. (He sure liked the looks of mine – in fact, I wondered sometimes whether he liked my apartment more than he liked me!)

While I was brought up to respect, nay, revere  the arts, the importance of being financially responsible and paying one’s own way as an adult was also drilled into me from a young age. So I raised more than an eyebrow when Bill came over one day with a motorcycle helmet he’d just purchased for $80.00.  “Isn’t it GREAT??” No motorcycle, mind you – but he’s got a helmet!!!

Meanwhile I’m thinking about who’s buying the groceries (me), who’s worried about having enough money for the rent (also me), and whose quarters will be fueling the washing machine in the basement (mine). I let Bill move into my apartment when I had a 6-week gig at a gay bar in San Juan PR, but I made him move right back out when he told me his next gig was 2 months away and he didn’t have any money coming in until then.

Forty years later I checked him out on FaceBook and while he hasn’t yet been invited to play with his beloved Berliner Philharmoniker, he DOES apparently ride a BMW motorcycle.

Guess you’ve gotta buy the shoes, after all.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 9.05.21 AM

Standard