music biz

Croon-ah In Altoona

 

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It was supposed to be a 2-week engagement playing and singing piano-bar at the big downtown hotel in Altoona. I’d signed a contract stipulating I was to be paid $250/week + room w/breakfast and dinner. I boarded the Greyhound at Port Authority at the ungodly hour of 6:30 AM in order to arrive before my 6PM start, noshing on liverwurst sandwiches as the bus stopped at seemingly EVERY little town in Pennsylvania.

Things were not auspicious when I arrived; my room was NOT ready, so I had to wait in the lobby for 45 minutes until it had been cleaned. Then I found that the air-conditioning in the room didn’t work – something you’d rather not have to face after spending ten and half hot hours riding on the bus, desperately needing to freshen-up before the gig! After I hunted down the manager, he told me the AC would be fixed by the time I turned in, but by then there wasn’t time to get dinner before the downbeat. Oh, well!

The boisterous crowd was celebrating some bigwig’s retirement and mostly ignored me, even when I asked for requests.  I kept getting the stink-eye from the manager, who became more and more inebriated as the evening wore on. He began making snarky comments while blowing smoke in my face during my first set and continued to verbally harass me nonstop during my breaks. This gig was not looking good for an entire fortnight’s duration!

Now, I was raised to be a person of my word, my rent was due soon and I couldn’t afford to bail on this gig, but I knew this abuse would continue for the entire 2 weeks if I didn’t find Plan B.  So, after the 3rd set I made “an executive decision” and called my friend Jamie (collect!), to see if he’d loan me the $500 I’d expected to earn, and was incredibly relieved when he said, “Sure! Don’t put up with that! Come on back home to New York right now!”  At the end of the night, I took the $32 in tips I’d earned, packed up my suitcase and walked over to the Amtrak station for the 1:30 AM train bound for Penn Station. 6 hours later I was back in Manhattan, safe and sound.

There’s an old joke my dad used to enjoy telling with the punchline, “what? and give up show biz?”  The agent who had set up this engagement seemed totally unsurprised when I called later that morning to tell her what had happened, and I suspect I was not the first nor the last singer-pianist to have taken a powder on fame-&-fortune in Altoona!

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

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 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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growing up, learning, music biz, self-acceptance

That River In Egypt

acceptingReality

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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Home, politics

My Undumpy White House

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As accustomed to the frequent barrage of BS from the current administration as I’m becoming, I confess to being more than a little taken aback by #45’s critique on Tuesday of his current digs; “That White House is a real dump.” Over the past 196 days, #45 has said and done some doozies, but something about dissing The White House itself, a spectacular home which is paid for by our taxes, just boggles my mind. I picture him leaving his dirty socks all over the West Wing, littering the White House with greasy fast food wrapping, the way he’s been littering our country with trashy hate-filled speech and Twitter tweets.

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The comment kept coming to mind the past couple days, until it occurred to me to consider my own concept of “home”. And I realized with a start that MY home is my body – where I live, the physical manifestation of my being – and that in the past I have been treating MY White House as “a real dump” – every time I don’t take care of it. Every time I overindulge in food or decide to stay up too late or make myself jittery with too much coffee. Every time I blow off exercise and fritter away hours window-shoppping and doing stupid puzzles online. I’m offended at #45’s lack of respect for his home because I’ve been disrespecting my own home.

I’m actually grateful for the wake-up call. I can only hope that #45 will tune in and hear himself as clearly as I am hearing him now. Because where we live is NOT a dump, unless we make it so. You don’t have to be a billionaire to figure that one out!

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learning

The Idea Lamp is lit

bubbleLites

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.

saltlamp

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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self-acceptance

Fixing A Hole Where The Rain Gets In

schnauzShrinkOne of my college professors once told me that he didn’t believe in psychotherapy – that all we needed was a few really good friends with whom to discuss our problems. Well, I have some wonderful friends (including him!), but I’ve found great benefit from consulting with various professional practitioners over the years.

Marvin Beck was my friend Elise’s husband and only charged $25, so I went to see him several times in the mid-70s. I was struggling with being overweight; trying without success to motivate myself to exercise and diet “one last time.” After all, hadn’t I dropped 25 pounds in 1973 by fasting for 2 weeks? Hadn’t I gotten rid of 30 pounds on Weight Watchers over 4 months? Why couldn’t I just get myself back on track? WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?

I told him about a denim jumpsuit I wanted, but I wore size 18 and this outfit only went up to size 13. Every day I’d gaze longingly thru the store window, practically salivating for it, and then chastise myself horribly for being too fat and not having the pluck to whip myself into shape so that I could buy and wear it. Then I’d devour a couple packages of snack cakes from the bodega. Marvin pulled a Dr. Phil on me, asking “so how’s that working for you?” It didn’t solve my weight problem but it DID make me stop and think about it a little differently – how beating myself up wasn’t the best motivation for change.  We never got around to talking about my parents, my love life, or other big issues – but I still feel I got my money’s worth and more from talking with Marvin.

A few years later I began seeing a Christian Science practitioner; Mrs. Alton, a very sweet woman who gently encouraged me to be kinder to myself. I frequently suffered from horrible, debilitating headaches and in addition to her prayerful support, she advised me to soak in a warm tub and have a slice of toast. In other words, “be NICE to yourself! Treat yourself with kindness!” Being reminded that you’re a spiritual being is ALWAYS good medicine.

After a few cross-country moves (known in 12-step circles as “the geographical cure”), I found myself grappling with career and financial challenges and looked into more traditional help. I consulted with the pastor at the church we were attending, but he seemed more concerned about our diminished contribution to the collection plate than addressing my depression. The first place I went for actual therapy was more of a crisis management program and over before it began, so in conjunction with attending OA meetings, I began a longterm relationship with Charlene, an overeating specialist at Lutheran Social Services.  I remember waiting downstairs in the reception area before meeting her the first time and starting to cry, thinking, “well, you’ve done it THIS time, kiddo! This is an actual CLINIC where they do actual THERAPY so there really has to be something WRONG with you to wind up HERE!”

Sessions began well and I felt I was making some progress with my emotions, if not exactly getting a handle on my overeating. I attended at least 2 OA meetings/week, checked in with my sponsor daily, and began sifting through and processing family issues, both my own and some troublesome feelings I had about my in-laws. It was rough sledding at certain points because my father-in-law had died suddenly and sometimes it felt like all hell was breaking loose in the family. I told Charlene about an instance a few years previous where I’d been given a baby nephew to hold while the in-laws were admiring the view from the 22nd floor roof of our then-apartment house and how I’d stood frozen, as close to the middle of the roof as possible, as I’d had the terrifying thought, “what would happen if I threw the baby over the edge and he went SPLAT?” I trusted Charlene with this, and other shameful secrets every week I went to see her.

After 6 months, I was encouraged to add weekly group therapy, led by Charlene and one of her colleagues – and my faith in her began to unravel. The two therapists started to conspire to “stir things up”, pitting group members against one another, seemingly only for the therapists’ own amusement. When I questioned this privately to Charlene, I was subsequently shut down and shamed in front of the entire group. At our next private session, Charlene told me about a dream she had had about me, where I was a hermaphrodite (!?) – and then confessed that she was waiting to see ME go SPLAT! – and all my buzzers and bells went off. I called a therapist friend and asked, “is this Kosher?” – to which he replied, “no, that’s a pretty unorthodox treatment model – she should be talking about her dreams with her own therapist, not with you!”   He never said, “get the hell outta there!” but I began to think that maybe it was time to leave therapy with Charlene.

The next week on my way to our session, I twisted my ankle, falling painfully to the street, unable to walk, and I immediately called her to cancel the appointment, (for which I would still be billed, of course.) The week after THAT, Charlene stood me up for our session, leaving me waiting in the reception area with no apology.  I could clearly see how I was being abused and terminated treatment at our next (and final!) session.

Several years later when my father was dying of cancer, I again sought professional help and found it working with 2 different therapists who weren’t toxic, like Charlene had eventually become for me. One of them encouraged me to take self-defense classes to build up emotional strength and stamina while dealing with the emotional overwhelm, and when the first thing I tried (an 8-week women’s self-defense class at the Learning Annex) wasn’t delivering what I needed, I signed up for Model Mugging http://modelmugging.org/self-defense-articles/confluence/ – which in one intense weekend gave me exactly what I needed. At the final Learning Annex class, I was the only student who was able to defend myself from the instructor successfully!

I’ve tried various religions, spiritual practices, OA, AlAnon and other 12-step groups, in addition to NLP and other therapeutic modalities over the years and found something of value in each of them. Therapy might not be for everyone – (although doesn’t Woody Allen credit his long and productive career to decades of analysis?)  The best take-away for me has been the advice recommended by Marvin and Mrs. Alton: be kind to yourself and treat yourself like someone you actually LIKE!

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