Monday, December 31, 2007

I have to admit, it's getting better, getting better all the time

It’s getting better all the time. Today I sent out emails to announce a gig. It was nice to worry about whether or not I’d get a good enough crowd….or a bass player…rather than worry about the whole dying thing. I’m playing at the Hillside Club in Berkeley on January 11th (8pm) in case you are local and reading this blog. It should be a very emotionally charged event.

I also added people to the DMC – a group that started up a couple of months ago of friends who agreed to drive me places, help with shopping etc. It’s aptly named Driving Miss Crazy. Most of you who read this blog are probably already members but if you want to help or just want updates, get in touch and I’ll put you in touch with the ringleaders. In that respect, I truly don’t know anyone as lucky as me.

In the meantime, still no authorization from Managed Hell for my drugs or to attend the ALS clinic and the pills are $1000 a month so clearly I need the managed care cocksuckers to pony up. Mike is on the case and I have every reason to believe he will unleash the hounds of hell upon them if it comes to that.

Vote for a candidate that believes in national health care.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


It’s been 5 days since I heard I have ALS and already there is a sense of “back to normal” or “new normal”. I woke up this morning and I wasn’t crying. I almost missed the grief – l guess that the vividness of those feelings is some consolation prize for being sick or something... I can’t explain it. Mac and I had some of the kids from school over last night and we laughed and played Pictionary and ate just like always. Shakespeare nailed it in so many ways, but one of them is how he included clowns and inane situations in his tragedies. He recognized that we couldn’t handle uninterrupted Hamlet or love sick pups like Romeo and Juliet so we have the gravedigger, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Lancelot, Gregory and Samson… the list goes on. We couldn’t take it otherwise. We need to return to “normal.” I know my “normals” are going to change over time – right now walking is somewhat normal but not forever. Right now I can (barely) operate the clasp of a necklace but one day Velcro clothes will have to be normal. I guess the grieving will be parceled out on an as-need basis –like James Taylor says in Never Die Young “….cut up our losses into doable doses. Ration our tears and sighs…..”

It’s really beautiful how resilient the human spirit is. Life just elbows its’ way in and shoves self-pity and grief to the side because life doesn’t want to fuck around.

One place I haven’t gone and honestly I’ve never personally heard a dying person go to is: “why me?” Really think about it. Why NOT me? Why anybody? Shit happens, it’s random and you deal with it. Period. I had a student who told me she was angry at god now which made me want to hug her but also made me feel the need to point out to her that god was far to busy helping the New England Patriots to a perfect season and she needed to cut him ( yes him – I’ll explain later) some slack. My poor devastated "baby's daddy" told me that he had prayed for the first time ever that my diagnosis would be good. “Yeah” I replied drolly, “that’s what tipped it.” We had a good laugh, but really what it comes down to is this: All our security, all our comfort, all our efforts to control our destiny -it is all a myth. Just ask the Ancient Greeks. We are walking a tightrope all of us and the only way to deal with that uncertainty is to embrace it, to seek balance, to love the all-powerful life force and to recognize that certainty ain’t so hot either.

Today a walk with Alison, hang time with wonderful Mac and some warm soup. Mac and I are working on an adaptation of Aristophanes play “Peace” (chosen by Mac). That boy is going to be just fine.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Mary Oliver says:

"when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?"

I always loved this poem because like all poems about death it's really about life. Maybe dying is a way of teaching us how to live, if we're lucky enough to die slowly to get the message in time. Maybe as I lose, piece by piece my ability to do the things I have taken for granted I'll see what a miracle it is to run, walk, hold and yes, to breathe.

She goes on to say:

"When it's over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world"

Yes, yes, yes Mary Oliver.

Funny how these themes have been so important to me for the last 2-3 years. I thought I was mourning the death of a long marriage and preparing myself for the birth of a new life but maybe I knew this day was coming and I wanted to be ready for it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Stages of Grief are All A-jumble

Day Two:

Isn’t denial the first stage of grief? I feel like I accepted the diagnosis
( Acceptance, Stage 5) a little too rashly. Maybe it’s a mistake. Oh, yeah – there’s the denial. I’m now self-diagnosing myself with Primary Lateral Sclerosis which looks a little better than ALS. I mean after all, I can’t even pronounce or spell the words for ALS and I should have a disease I can spell, right? I guess that’s denial too. Denial mixed with planning, desperate wishes to get some shit done like boogie board again before my left hand is totally useless. Like build a giant safety net for Maclen’s impending freefall. Like getting lots of music recorded and maybe one more video of Wedding Singer Blues. Like just one more fling with a cutie-pie. Isn’t that Bargaining ( Stage 3)? I’m very precocious. Already up to Stage 3. Trust me to over-achieve in the area of grief. Just a little bit of anger (Stage 2) at the doctor’s office and Healthnet for fucking up the referral. I yelled and said “fucking” before every word. Literally. The sneaky devil in the office got me though. She gave me her name and direct line and said “this is so hard for you, I can’t even imagine what you’re going through” and then I bawled like little baby to her, a complete stranger. Georgia, you are a precious diamond ring swallowed up and now lodged in the lump of shit that is the American Medical System. It’s hard to dig through that shit which is smelly, gooshy and smattered with corn but you’re worth it.

My dad left today. I wish I could make this better for him, I really do. Before he left, he told me of a dream he had. They were able to take the ALS out from me and put it into him. I know how he feels because I would happily shoulder all of my son’s grief if I could. That isn’t possible though (Acceptance, Stage 5) and I recognize that he has his own journey to travel in this life. I can help him with equipment but I don’t get to go with him. It’s like his first camping sleep away to Yosemite. I was so scared he’d freeze to death. Or the Jewish camp, which was apparently a re-enactment of the Exodus from Egypt - where he vomited for 3 days, free fell because of a faulty belay (sp?) and was denied bug spray because there was “too much to carry.” He got through that without me and probably endured it thinking “Well, at least I’ll have a story to tell.” He got that defense mechanism from his Mom. But I don’t want to tell my latest story. I’ll give up using my personal experience as stage fodder to see my son get to be my age (Bargaining again – Stage 3.)

Here’s the cool thing though: The world is filled with the most beautiful and amazing human beings. I feel such love and support – Sally Field has nothing on me. I am humbled and moved and grateful and proud of all the awesome people I know. You know who you are. Why isn’t gratitude one of the stages of grieving? Abundance? Lust for life? I could just eat the whole world up and everyone in it. So beautiful.

This excerpt from Naomi Shihab Nye:

….before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore….

the long goodbye

I’m looking out the window of my apartment onto the Berkeley Hills on what is a genuinely fabulous day. This view and the deck from which I enjoy it has given me nothing but pleasure since I moved into this apartment in what can truly be called the weirdest year of my life.

I will cut to the chase. I have been diagnosed with ALS ( Lou Gehrig’s Disease) – an incurable and fatal illness which will take me - maybe in a year, maybe in 10 years. Of course I hold out for what the Flight of the Conchords would call “ a hilarious misunderstanding” but I’m also not in denial.

I'm posting this because I want people to know so I don’t have that awkwardness around the question “ So what’s new with you?” when we bump into each other. I also want people to know that you don’t have to watch what you say around me. There are no verboten topics. If I don’t want to hear about your shamanic healer who uses ingestion of bark and owl urine to cure unthinkable illnesses, I’ll tell you flat out (but in a nice way). But please don’t feel like you need to watch your words. Being present is enough. In fact it’s more than enough. Please don’t be afraid to call or write but don’t be offended if I take a while to answer. I’m not being a Californian, I’m not dissing you, I’m just overwhelmed is what it probably means.

I also want people to know that the words in the Louis Armstrong song What a Wonderful World are actually incisive and NOT at all corny. Who knew? I heard a little baby singing in a stroller today and I looked up at the blue sky and the powder biscuit clouds and I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude. What an amazing fucking world this is!!!! How awesome it is that I have gotten to have the experiences I’ve had, loved the people I’ve loved and done it all with a fit and functioning (and dare I say hot?) body.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s bullshit that I have to go this way. I don’t like it one bit. But that’s the hand I’ve been dealt and all I can do is feverishly, fervently and with great intention live the rest of my life to the best of my ability. I will not become a tireless crusader for a cure for ALS, I will not fight until the bitter end or be anyone’s poster-middle-aged-woman – rather I will do what we were all meant to do – be with people I love doing things that make me happy, trying to make the world a little brighter when I can and giving myself a break when I can’t.

Remember the speech Lou Gherig gave when he called himself the “luckiest man alive?” I totally get it now.

I keep thinking of Mary Oliver’s line “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I plan to start with boogie boarding and go from there. I’ll update on this blog.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Birthday BLog

I spent part of my last birthday locked in the bathroom of my old house sobbing. The second part was spent in a cheerier manner, watching The Last King of Scotland with my lovely son Mac. I have always loved downer movies because they made me feel like my life wasn’t so bad and what was I complaining about. Kind of like when your parent hits you in the head to get your mind off of a stubbed toe. Oh, your parent’s didn’t do that? Hmmm. The parallel of watching this movie is interesting because I remember being obsessed with the Entebbe hostage situation and subsequent invasion when I was my son’s age. I thought there was nothing sexier on the planet than Israeli soldiers back then. He became somewhat fascinated with Idi Amin after the movie, but avoided the fatal crush on Israeli men for obvious reasons.

Why is there such a market for movies probing the darkest corners of our collective hearts? Why do we love to see others suffer? After all these years is it just as Aristotle said that drama should arouse pity and fear in its’ audience? What are we looking for and why can’t we find catharsis some other way? Mac told me of a funny Onion article in which a man shot James Gandolfini of Sopranos fame stating that “now that he’s dead, I finally have closure.”

This year there is no one to drive me to the bathroom in a fit of tears but this year my son and I will go to an equally miserable movie on my birthday – In the Country of Old Men. If bad times make us need difficult movies then by god, bring on your worst, Cohn Brothers, I could use the distraction.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Digestible Friends

I hosted a big party the other day. One of those things you do when face with a choice of wallowing or celebrating. It was a big celebration – 65 people crammed into my little apartment – people from all corners of my life and I needed to get a lot of food. There was fruit, cheese, sushi, dolmas, samosas, lots of dips and then the inevitable chips, beer and cookies. In international and overflowing feast.

So it occurred to me as I looked at the food and at the people all enjoying each other then back at the food that the people in our life nourish us or fill us up with empty carbohydrates just like our meals. I saw a lot of healthy nourishing friends there – some basic proteins, a lot of raw veggies and some succulent peaches. Not a Happy Meal in sight, though there were several bags of organic non-gmo corn chips, a steady diet of whom would not be particularly healthy.

My people diet has become so much healthier. The carrots and beets were always there but I neglected them for the seductive chocolate ice cream and fried chicken. I no longer eat that kind of food and I’m spending less of my energy on that kind of person, though some can’t be avoided.

It leads me to wonder what kind of nourishment I offer to my friends. I hope I give them energy to sustain them and something sweet and salty to keep them interested as well. I hope above all that I am a healthy alternative and don’t leave them with a vague sense of malaise such as I experience with some (though fewer and fewer) people.

Okay, enough of the too- cute food analogy. Suffice it to say, I’m growing up and the people around me reflect that. Lucky, lucky me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving is upon us. It’s not a holiday that matters much in Canada but here in the US I quite like it. For one thing it’s usually spent with the family of choice rather than the family of origin so the dysfunction, over-eating, drinking too much etc don’t factor in......for me that is. For another, if you bracket out historically what happens later to the Indians, then what you have left is…gratitude. A holiday about giving thanks. I have spent so much of my time lately thinking about what I’m grateful for. One of those things is a job with sick days. Another is health care. Most of the time I focus on how shitty our healthcare system is compared to the rest of the industrialized nations of the world and how evil the corporations who funnel millions into lobbying to keep this country in the dark about what is possible vis-à-vis health. I avoided the movie SICKO for the longest time because I knew it would make me apoplectic. It was a wonderful film though and I’m glad I got to see it. Right now though, SICKO not withstanding, I’m glad to be covered, pleased with the level of care I’m receiving and glad to be able to take the sick days.

It’s hard to balance that sense of gratitude – so essential to well-being – with that sense of righteous fury that makes people demand a better world for all of its’ citizens. Maybe we need to take shifts. Those who are robust and healthy take turns fighting “the man” and the rest of us focus on what we appreciate.

Here’s what I’m grateful for right now:
1) My son. I don’t even have words to communicate how much I treasure this young man, how much I admire him and love his company so I won’t try.
2) My girlfriends. These women drive me to appointments, do my grocery shopping and are just there for me. Everyone needs a group of women friends when they’re in a pinch.
3) Music - insert clique here.
4) Mary Zimmerman’s theater pieces
5) Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Flight of the Conchords
6) Poetry
7) Sunshine
8) Yoga - it has saved my life once already.
9) Optimism - my salvation.
10) My dad and my brother - I will be single forever unless I can meet a man as thoughtful as one of these guys.

There is so much more to be grateful for and it’s important to bracket out the bad stuff just like we have to bracket out the whole mess with the Indians tomorrow. Why? Because this is the only moment we are guaranteed. It can all be over in the blink of an eye and why are we here?

I am so in love with this life, the complications, the difficulties, the frustrations – the whole chaotic mess of it all. Why can’t we all wake up every morning, roll over and gaze at life like a new love we can’t believe is really lying next to us? Don’t you ever feel like that all of a sudden, when you’re walking down the street, a smug little grin breaking into a beaming smile as you are awash with a giddy almost guilty delight at just being alive? Thank you, thank you, thank you everyone and everything that makes this life so sweet that I want to hang on to it for dear ….well …… for dear life.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Robert Frost Wisdom

I’m back from dates in Seattle and Tacoma where I had the distinct pleasure of sharing the bill with Roy Zimmerman, Ann Randolph and Jay Leonhardt. These are three wonderful artists who write and perform their own material and offer a fresh look at life through their stories and songs. I’ve written a blog about these guys before so I won’t go into details – just read Dropping Keys if you haven’t already.

Whenever I go through a chunk of time when I’m performing a lot and not squeezing it in between teaching I am reminded of how happy it makes me to be on stage. I wrote all day, performed at night and occasionally went out afterwards for drinks with these fascinating individuals.

I love my students. God I love my students. Okay not ALL of my students but most. They make me laugh, they challenge me, they make me think of what I need to work on in my life. If I were to walk away completely from my job, I would really miss them.

I want to miss them. I want to spend my mornings writing, walking, stretching, and my evenings performing. Anyone else out there dealing with this? I know my ex is. He was telling me about a conversation with his Dad – a man I deeply love who is slowly slipping away due to Alzheimer’s AND Parkinson’s. A double-whammy. Anyhow, they were discussing dreams deferred. My ex’s Dad was a wonderful writer but he hid in the university and never fully threw himself into his writing. It’s only now, thanks to the diseases that he is candid enough to admit his deep regrets over this. They discussed the Robert Frost poem Two Tramps in Mud Time – in particular this stanza:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight
.Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

I guess that’s what I’m wanting – to unite my vocation and my avocation. I know most people would say I already do that – I teach eager young ( and not so young) people performance skills. Why is that not enough? And why do I get sick every time I get close to a career breakthrough that will allow me to perform and step back from teaching?
During the performances I mentioned earlier in this blog, Jay Leonhardt sang a song about Robert Frost. It’s a funny yet oddly moving song that addresses the plight of so many wonderful artists I know.

Robert Frost did write of settings beautiful and rustic
He wrote of rolling hills and green terrain
Poor me I must do my writing in the chaos of the city
Sometimes even on a subway train
How am I to ever learn about the woodlands
And the falling leaves of autumn and such things sublime
When I must spend all my life just truckin’ round this dirty city
Doing what I can to make a dime, dime dime

The song goes on to humorously ponder whether or not Frost had an attractive and rich lady sponsor who took care of all the day-to-day minutia so he could spend all his time being….well…Robert Frost. The song has a beautiful twist at the end:

Boy if I had Bobby’s life I could be a hero
Go out and find my fortune and my fame
The only trouble is I’ve heard from people who have found it
That everything in life stays just the same, same same

Jay is such an authentic human being that the last lines don’t surprise me at all. He’s a husband, a father and a superb musician but he hasn’t ( it would appear from my vantage point) sacrificed his family or sense of self for career. Also from my vantage point he is wildly successful but not, I guess, compared to Robert Frost.
The Greeks wrote these cautionary tales in which parents sacrifice children for career or love/lust. Medea kills her children to revenge herself after Jason jilts her and Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to insure good winds for his journey to war. Abraham is ready to kill Isaac for his religious beliefs (he was probably hearing voices and this was before anti-psychotic drugs) and we see countless stories of people divorcing over career disparities. How many times has A Star is Born been remade?

Is the desire to unite vocation and avocation nothing more than a deceptive temptation? Are we meant to have these polarities pulling at us – a sort of spiritual isometrics? What is my body telling me when I get sick after /during creative triumphs? I want to listen to the wisdom of my heart but my head is so loud and obnoxious it’s hard to hear anything else.

I’m reaching out into the blogisphere to ask the artists out there – how do you deal with the competing demands of doing the work you love and making a buck? What sustains you through the dark moments? What does your dream life look like? Are you living it?

To the potential patrons out there – if you adopt me I’ll create your money’s worth and then some!


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Do you believe in Karma?

Dear Anonymous,

In response to a heartfelt blog I wrote about a tough year (actually 3 tough years) you asked me if my conscience was clear and if I believe in karma. It’s a dicey question to answer since there are so many interpretations offered of the concept. A little like asking someone if they believe in a higher power.

If I were asked that question, for example, I would need someone to define their terms. I do not believe in an old man with a beard who punishes and judges and favors one ball team over another. While I respect those who do believe in that guy, he is troubling to me because he strips us of our power AND our responsibility while being less than forgiving of our very human-ness, insisting on exacting some kind of payment for our transgressions. This god leaves us little responsibility yet all the blame.

I do believe in a higher power, however. I think of it as a hovering question mark – a mysterious force that puts our tiny lives into perspective – players strutting and fretting our hour upon the stage, etc. – a power that occasionally inhabits Wayne Shorter, Dustin Hoffman – that used to flow through Michael Jordan. An awe-inspiring wonder we feel when looking at a mountain, listening to the ocean, nursing a baby. God is in all of this and more. The homeless man on the corner is god, Stephen Colbert( on his good nights) is god and yes, even you Anonymous – though I do worry that you might have a bit of that old testament vengeful god in you.

But I digress. In order to believe in Karma in the traditional sense I would need to believe in reincarnation and I’m still not sure I do. I have trouble with inherited Karma – even though I know that in a larger sense it exists in things like fetal alcohol syndrome. I wonder if I need to pay for the sins of my ancestors or my actions in another life. I’m not sure I like that notion enough to take that leap of faith. I’m assuming you were referring to a more immediate and surgically precise Karma, but again, you didn’t define your terms.

I do believe in a Karmic bank account from which we should not withdraw more than we have deposited. I do believe we can be the architects of our own downfall ( to paraphrase Trail of Tears) to some extent. I believe we should earnestly strive for right speech, right thinking and right intention and that we should forgive ourselves when we fall short of that goal. I think we can make ourselves and others close to us sad or sick if we are not conscious of the impact of our actions.

I think you were probably asking me a rhetorical question. Did you want to know if I had ever hurt anyone? Absolutely. Who hasn’t? Did I mean to? Almost always the answer is no. Does that matter to the person who was hurt? Probably not. However, I don’t think it follows that I should be “punished” with broken bones, ( still a bother) a broken heart (healing nicely) and persistent health issues and I want no part of a philosophy that would have it so….or a man who would wish it upon me – even just a little.

My understanding of Karma is that it is not fixed. We can learn from our mistakes and remedy our wrongs to alter our future destiny. I start by forgiving you, whoever you are, for your comment, which I’m sure you didn’t intend to be mean.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

I wish I had a River I could skate away on

I’m sitting here listening to Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter play “Both Sides Now” from “River – The Joni Letters”, Herbie’s newest effort. If you held a gun to my head ( and you’d have to ) and forced me to say who I thought the greatest musician alive was I would say “Herbie Hancock….now please put the gun down.” He dazzles and he breaks your heart; he’s as complex as they come, yet so accessible.

Right now Wayne and Herbie are capturing the poignancy of the lyrics of the song like lightning in a bottle. You don’t have to hold a gun to my head for me to say that Joni is the best lyricist of her time. Sorry everyone, it’s true. She bitch slaps Bob Dylan and tears Leonard Cohen a new one. There. I said it.

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

So there I am, driving down Route 24 and listening to the album on the Ipod and I hear the cover song “River”. Herbie and Wayne like an old couple on a dance floor putting all the youngsters to shame, anticipating each other’s every move, yet still offering each other the odd surprise. I laughed out loud and heard the words coming out of my mouth “I’m so fucking glad to be alive.” Then came the tears. I get the same way when I listen to the Ravel piece Herbie plays on “Gershwin’s World”.

Herbie casts each song so beautifully. Luciana Souza understands the restraint needed to sing Joni’s lyrics. A devastating understated melancholy accompany the words to Amelia.

I can’t say that all the singers bring out the combination of acerbic wit, heartbreaking vulnerability, artistic detachment, pain and reckless love that make up Joni’s tunes but I particularly love River and Amelia.

Joni – my Canadian homegirl - sings of a loneliness that is so familiar to me I feel like she’ s whispering in my ear. “People’s Parties”, “A Case of You” and the new “If I Had a Heart” and of course “Amelia” (mentioned above) bore straight into my heart. You know that feeling you get when you hear a singer or read a poet and think –“How does she know how I feel?”

Maybe I’ve never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitude
And looking down on everything
I crashed into his arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm

What a treat for me – my childhood hero’s work being played by a magician musician like Herbie.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

midlife crisis continues

It's a year of saying goodbyes. It's a year of moving past, moving on, moving away - of leaving. Leaving a life, a home, 2 dogs, a dream and a dream deferred. It's a year of falling, falling away, falling down, falling in love, falling tears, falling down again, falling through the rabbit hole, more tears falling. It's a year of losing. It's a year of breaking - breaking up, breaking bones, breaking trusts, breaking more bones and of course breaking hearts. It's a year with commas and question marks and no periods.

If we could know the path that was smoothest, the path with no exposed roots to trip over, no poison oak to surprise us, no diminishing trail dead-ending at an unremarkable marker - would we take it? Would we give up the heartache, the heart drain the heart burn, the burning heart for .......

I have always had heartburn. It's not a controlled burn my heart burn. I thought it was, but my pain was like an untended campfire or a carelessly doused cigarette. Now the heart burn is a forest fire, blazing, flames licking my throat and obscuring the path. I burn and burn out of control. The flames tickle my throat and I want to sing so loud. I want to sing how sad I am right now. I want to sing for you but you can't hear me.

The ball is up in the air.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Eat Pray Love

Today I finished Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read the book on the recommendation of a dear friend, Kathy. Actually, recommendation is not a strong enough term to describe what happened – she went out and bought me a copy of the book. I immediately started it and was in tears 35 pages in. It was on the strength of Kathy’s endorsement and my own emotional response that I kept reading despite the fact that women who have that Oprah devotee vibe about them ( the stewardess on the plane, a clerk in a grocery store and a certain Oprah-quoting woman who shall remain nameless were all reading the book at the same time I was) seem to respond strongly to this book. The snob in me runs screaming the other way at Oprah’s faux spirituality – fast food divinity served up in neat, tidy slogans – and makes me suspicious of anyone who fits into that niche.

Not so Elizabeth Gilbert. She is unabashedly raw, vulnerable, funny and incredibly moving as she bravely reveals her fears, faults, hopes and lofty aspirations ( like a desire to know god).

Now I have been less than a devoted yogi in the past months …and months, having injured myself twice and being that I’m going through a painful end to a long marriage, not unlike Gilbert herself. My spiritual path is deeply connected to my yoga practice and although I have tried to practice yoga in different ways besides asana, ultimately, the poses ground me and bring me back to a sacred place. When I am on the mat, I am reminded about what really matters and I can put things into a context that makes sense to me.

So here I am, reading this remarkable book, miles from home in Roberts Creek, British Columbia on a retreat to work with Japanese healer Minoru Sumimoto when I find this yoga teacher who specializes in therapeutic yoga. I took class with Marni ever day while I was in Roberts Creek, then went to the café and had a soy chai latte and wheat free, dairy free cupcake ( called a Ramone cake) and wrote in my journal until it was time to see Minoru. At night I read Eat, Pray, love and found my way back to yoga, back to my spiritual center, back to an almost giddy place of love and happiness.

I strongly suggest that anyone who reads this blog goes out and buys this book. It is a beautiful, wrenching, powerful story of one woman’s desire to reconcile all the disparate elements that made her “Liz” into a whole and content human being.

I finished the book – now dog-eared and underlined – with a renewed purpose. I have good work to do on my heart and soul every day. How will I ever be bored again?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

up the creek with water wings

So I was reading one of those personal interest stories on the Internet. A 5 year-old girl, named Hannah Klamecki and presumed drowned was found after two days. She and her grandfather had been swimming and were swept away by a current. The grandfather drowned and the little girl, who had water wings on, somehow made it to shore down river and pulled herself out of the water onto the shore. She found some raspberries to eat and was wandering around naked for two days, being scratched by poison ivy with her feet all cut up and imbedded with thorns. Imagine the joy of her family to discover she was alive. Imagine the tears and embraces that greeted her. Probably ice cream too.

Resilient girl. Was she already so in love with life that she marshaled up all her courage and common sense and kept pushing forward? Did she think about what she had already lost and what she could lose still or is that beyond a 5 year olds’ ability? It had to be so hard to keep going when she was so scared. And so very alone. What makes some people push on through the blisters and thorns while others sit on the rocky shoals and wait and some just let the current take them away?

There is a little girl or boy like one of those I mention inside of us all. Please let me be the one who is frightened but keeps moving forward, who sustains loss but finds raspberries and armed with only a pair of water wings and a lust for life, pushes tenaciously and ever forward and eventually finds peace and comfort on a loving shore.

Welcome home, Hannah.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Big Ups to Anna Swir

Dithyramb of a Happy Woman
BY Anna Swir

Song of excess,
strength, mighty tenderness, pliant ecstasy.
lovingly dancing.

I quiver as a body in rapture,
I quiver as a wing,
I am an explosion,
I overstep myself,
I am a fountain,
I have its resilience.
a thousand excesses,
song of gushing strength.

There are gifts in me,
Flowerings of abundance,
curls of light are sobbing,
a flame is foaming, its lofty ripeness
is ripening.
Oceans of glare,
rosy as the palate
of a big mouth in ecstasy.

I am astonished
up to my nostrils, I snort,
a snorting universe of astonishment
inundates me.
I am gulping excess,
I am choking with fullness.
I am impossible as reality.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

o brave new world

After 19 years in a coma, a Polish railworker Jan Grzebski awoke this week. I found this story amazing – second only to the Cleveland Cavs pulling off a victory against the Detroit Pistons led by a kid the age of my college students. While I marvel at the abilities of LeBron James, I’m more intrigued by Grzebski. What would it be like to be him? My son is amazed that I lived in a time before videos and cds and that I grew up with two tv channels which later expanded to – what? 12? I don’t really remember. Imagine the other way around. Grzebski fell into his coma before so many things were invented that have become household essentials, before so many landmark events occurred in the world, before so many words ( truthiness for example) had not yet been coined)

He was asleep when Poland was still under Communist rule. Lech Walesa would have already won the Nobel Peace Prize but not yet been elected. He would have been familiar with Glasnost and Perestroika and the Fall of the Berlin Wall but not of the fall of Gorbachev. He would not have known that the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel would become last president of the Czech Republic , or that Nelson Mandela would lead South Africa and he slept through the end of apartheid altogether. Interestingly enough he would have been award that The Police broke up and he woke up just in time for their ignominious ( or so I heard) reunion. Grzebski would have been aware of the burgeoning AIDs epidemic and maybe even the clinical trials of AZT but not of the HIV vaccine and all the other drug breakthroughs around the illness and who’s going to be the one to explain to him that we can find cures for diseases old and new and yet people in Africa still die of them by the millions? Who will explain to him that genocide is bad, but pharmaceutical genocide is okay if the companies satisfy their stockholders? Was he awake when corporations were granted personhood? I don’t remember that date.

Said Grzebski: “Now I see people on the streets with cell phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin." Indeed. He was asleep when we embraced IPOds cellphones and the internet – rendering them necessities so that 8 year olds don’t leave home without their cell in case Mom needs to text them about where to meet for carpool. Oh yeah and texting, googling, spamming, uploading, downloading are all part of the lexicon now (though in Polish they’re called texnitxh, spamzolisch, googlech etc) And we don’t have to run home for our favorite opiate tv show because we can TIVO it and watch it on our HDTV ( is that the same as a plasma tv – I don’t even know.)

More that anything he’s dealt with though – what must really blow his mind is that his four children have all married and produced 11 grandchildren during his years in hospital. Little wonder that he says “the world seems prettier now.”

What would it be like to enter this pretty new world, I wonder? It’s a story that holds such allure for us – Rip van Winkle redux. The world has gone on without us. It’s oddly comforting, I think. What could be so important – what missed train, what unfilled paperwork when your disappearance from the temporal world has so little effect on its progression/regression?

I feel like Jan Grzebski in one way. For longer than 19 years I have been out of the dating pool and am now just dipping a toe into the shallow end. That world has gone on without me and I don’t know the rules, the protocol, the extent of the real dangers, etc. But like Grzebski, I want to see the world as prettier, not scarier. I feel something like Miranda in the Tempest when she says “O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beautious mankind is! O brave new world: That has such people in't!"

I salute you Jan Grzebski and wish I could see the world the way you must see it right now – a series of marvels and miracles. There’ll be time for the stupid stuff once you acclimate.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sherry Reinhardt

I’m so unbelievably sad this morning. I visited the hospice site of Sherry Reinhardt after finding out last night she is dying. Sherry is an East Bay institution. She was the facilitator of countless mother’s groups. What’s a mothers group, you ask? That’s that I wondered when I first saw the ad. I had just moved to the Bay Area. We had a three -month old baby and I knew absolutely no one. I didn’t know how to drive so I would spend my days strolling up and down Solano missing NYC. I was adrift. Sherry’s ad read “Mother’s Support Group” and I needed support, alright. I showed up on the first day – the sun streamed in through the windows of the cheery den, which was festooned with group shots of babies sans vertebrae schlumping into each other on her white sofa with those blank baby looks. Sitting in a circle were women who I would come to count as some of my best friends in years to come. Women who would eventually see me through serious illness, imminent divorce and performing triumphs, who would love my son like family and accept us for who we are even though we are so very different from them in some ways. Women who practically raised me and who taught me how to be a woman. I didn’t see into the future that day but if I did, I would have seen several divorces, cancer, cancer scares, severely ill children, learning disabilities, menopause, depression, undiagnosed illness, grief, parents dying and shit loads of silly jokes and crème bruliere. But back then, they were just pleasant women with cute babies, talking about baby stuff and domestic engineering issues that sounded like Sanskrit to these urban ears.

I think it took awhile for me to grow on some of them. ( not you, Wendy – you always tolerated me, Berkeley girl that you are) I think I’m a good mom, but I have NEVER been a traditional mom as witnessed by the fact that from the time he was two my son refused to call me anything but Carla no matter what kind of strategies I called upon. In the middle of the night bad dream? “CARLA!” Hurts his knee and cries? “CARLA” You can’t imagine how low your status is when a two year old sighs and looks at you patronizingly and says “Yes, I know you’re my mommy, Carla.” I also thought that mother’s groups were a self-indulgent bourgeois luxury that most families would never have time for. Silly thing for me to think, really. I worked in NY briefly with Augusto Boal (Theater of the Oppressed) and he told us about working with Swedish postal workers who felt oppressed because of the number of pieces of mail they needed to sort per hour. A postcard from a beautiful place would come along and they couldn't even flip it to see where it was from. Boal had been a political prisoner in Brazil in the 70s and he thought “This is not oppression – where is the cop putting cigarettes out on their chest – that’s oppression” Until he realized that the “cop in the head” was just as powerful as the one hitting you on the head and that we all need compassion for the oppression we endure. Clearly this can be taken to an extreme. Like my friend Kathy said last night about something relatively trivial “you’re not giving birth in a tree in Africa” in reference to the floods. Perspective is good.

But back to why I had to grow on them…I don’t think all babies are cute and I am not particularly interested in them as a social class. I think babies I love are cute and babies that as my brother would put it are “objectively beautiful” are cute but not all babies. I tended to make inappropriate and sometimes offensive jokes about the babies – called one of them the Eddie Haskell of babies and made a joke that to this day I wish I could take back about Kaia the beautiful porcelain doll baby and her proclivity to throwing up. Her Mom quietly and with dignity put me in my place and I’ve respected her ever since as a powerful person who doesn’t take shit. As the kids grew older the domestic failure gap widened between me and the other moms– they cut grapes in half and put them in the freezer for the kids’ snacks, I picked up chicken Mc Nuggets. They organized color coordinated, perfectly appointed parties for one another, I hired a male stripper for one of the baby showers. I showed up at Halloween parties in costumes like a giant penis and worse…Tina Turner. What the hell was I thinking? I wanted to be “one of the gang” just as much as I did things to challenge my position in same. They grew to love me anyway and I’m eternally grateful to Sherry because she insisted on a level of acceptance, self-care, active listening etc, within the group, then she pushed us out of the nest to try to figure out our relationships on our own. Kind of like raising kids only with that stop time photography – which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately but that’s another blog…or not.

Thank you Sherry for your kindness and unforced compassion, for your safe haven and for your ability to see a need in the community and fill it so beautifully. You have done more on this earth than most people ever do. My heart ( and eyes) are full.

I close with a monologue from one of my many unfinished plays. It was inspired by my experiences with the Mom’s group and it has a character modeled after Sherry. I feel a renewed sense of purpose to get it out there and add to her already powerful legacy. The character below is loosely based on yours truly.


So I had this dream the other night. I’m at a party and there are these kids there – the oldest one’s around 10 or something and I can’t take my eyes off of them. They’re running around, playing some war game. Very intense. Boys against girls. You know how intense games can be at that age. There’s this one pretty dark haired girl and she looks like someone I could be best friends with. She’s making faces and arguing with the boys and running. Running so hard. And as I’m watching her, the other kids come into focus or something and they become more familiar to me –and this is when I realize– okay this isn’t a dream –it’s a premonition – cause the girl, my best friend - it’s Miriam. They’re all our kids. The lens widens and we’re having this big party because it’s the 10th anniversary of the group. And over in the corner – there’s all of you and … I think you’ve been working out. You look great. The husbands are there too and they look – okay. Some of them ….aren’t around anymore. Matt is. I’m still with him, I guess. Laugh if you want. So I’m watching this party and somehow I know - in the dream, I know, that we’ve been through some major shit together. Deaths. Divorces. Sick children. The group has already had its first hot flash. We’ve had miscarriages, abortions, affairs, depressions. We’ve vacationed together and had horrible fights about politics and said we’d never speak to each other again. We’ve fed each other 10,000 times, brought buckets of chicken soup to one another and we’ve cried and cried and cried. If you put all our tears together there would be enough to make our own salt lake. We can’t be separated any more than I could extract just my tears from that lake. So there we are and we’re all dancing together to Earth, Wind and Fire. And we’re laughing and drinking wine and just celebrating who we are and what we’ve come through and we’re glad for all of it. All of it. And I’m so filled with joy cause I know this sweet secret that the other me from 10 years ago doesn’t know: We show up. That’s all we need to do. We just show up. I’ll do that because I want to be your friend. I want to drink coffee with you and help you move and catch your kids smoking their first cigarettes. And I’ll tell you another secret. You don’t know it but you need me too. You can go on with the group without me if you want, but it won’t be the same. It won’t be this group. So have a cookie, think it over…… It was a really nice dream.

That’s all for now. Blessings to you Sherry.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

on wormholes and midlife crisis'

I wrote this last summer thinking I would publish it but never got around to it. Following a lively back and forth with a very interesting person on topics ranging from Einstein to Al Bundy, I decided I may as well post it here since I'll never get around to polishing it for submission anywhere.

This is a true story about one woman and her mid life crisis. It is not a dramedy, a tragedy or an ironic-sex-in-the-city-homage…..edy. This is pure science fiction, told with an objective and dispassionate eye worthy of Mr. Spock himself.

Around the time of my 39th birthday I was a teacher, wife and mother, vaguely dissatisfied with my life. One night, I came across a traversable wormhole. Although I didn’t see it at the time, I believe it opened up at 2 AM on an unseasonable warm night in November while I sat up waiting for a response from the doctor on call and trying deep breathing to still my heart which had started pounding out of my chest at a rate of 200 beats a minute.

A wormhole for those of you who are not physics fans, is a theoretical bridge between areas of space. Wormholes exist in solutions to Einstein’s equations and are thought to be extremely unstable. Most known solutions of general relativity, which allow for wormholes, require the existence of exotic matter, a theoretical substance which has negative energy density. But back to my beating heart.

It beat on through the night and continued without letting up until after the Dr. declined to return my call. From that day on, my life was never the same. I lost 30 pounds, was plagued with heart palpitations, double vision, joint pain, vertigo, skin rashes and my body declared an all out war on food. I took extended sick leave and stayed in bed – only occasionally journeying to the couch or bathroom – for a year and a half.

I can’t tell you the exact time I saw the wormhole opening, although I do remember having a phone conversation with a woman who told me “ you’ve been on the Hero’s journey, now it’s time for you to go on the Mystic’s Journey.” This was initially tough for me to swallow. I had always been what you might call “spiritually challenged.”

I think of developmental stages like wormholes. They are only open for a finite amount of time then they close forever. There is a time to introduce algebra, potty training (the wormhole for potty training might open again in your 80’s or 90’s – hence Depends) and yes, a time to reconsider your entire life, ie to fully embrace a midlife crisis. Let me tell you folks, when you can’t get out of bed and you shit your food out right after you eat it, it’s not hard to contemplate rethinking your life.

I started (and maybe will end) with yoga. My then husband would drive me to class where I would participate for part of the time and lay down and sleep for the rest. I read about someone who had cured chronic fatigue this way and I thought cool – yoga it is.

I started to practice yoga every day.

I fasted and introduced foods one at a time to figure out which ones would make me sick.

When my vision would allow me, I read every alternative health book I could get my hands on.

I meditated.

It became clear that my body had tricked me into looking inside so I could change my life. I came out on the other end an entirely different human being. Kinder to myself and to others, less likely to go for the joke at all costs, less interested in living my life for other people but more in love with humanity and more willing to marry myself to the whole human predicament. I am grateful every day for getting sick because truthfully, I’ve never been happier – still a mom, no longer a wife, still encouraging the dreams of my students but now putting mine first.

Here’s my conclusion: Midlife crisis’ are good. We are all afraid of the unknown, the wormholes, the dark tunnels with no end in site and nothing but a tiny flashlight to guide our way. We fill the void with things and distractions and never see our way clear to moving through them to see what’s on the other side of the unknown. I want to spend the next half of my life cultivating fearlessness, embracing the question mark, opening my heart, learning and loving ….and yes, I bought a sports car too. After all, when but during a midlife crisis can you do that?

I love this poem

To Have Without Holding
Marge Piercy

Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
with the doors banging on their hinges,
the cupboard unlocked, the wind
roaring and whimpering in the rooms
rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.

It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives.

It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch; to love and let
go again and again. It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

I can’t do it, you say it’s killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry,
you float and sail, a helium balloon
bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing
on the cold and hot winds of our breath,
as we make and unmake in passionate
diastole and systole the rhythm
of our unbound bonding, to have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

tiny tear

So I’m reprising my role as a wedding singer, this time at the wedding of a dear friend and fellow redhead, Gina Ottoboni Stahl. I’ll just be singing at the ceremony so no Celebration, thank god. Gina and I were driving back from a girl’s getaway in Calistoga and softly weeping as we listened to the tiny tear song that she and her sweet guy Don have chosen. I’m grateful that my heart has had a chance to split wide open so I CAN cry at tiny tear song – that was never my m.o. It’s a blessing to feel things as acutely as I have been of late, even if some of those feelings are pretty rough.

stuffed up

Procrastinating again….or am I? If you are home sick on your day off, what in fact is your obligation vis-à-vis productivity? Perhaps writing a blog is TOO productive! Ahhhh. I feel better. Thanks for listening.

I’ve been sitting around trying to write some sketches for my comedy duo with Gina Ottoboni-Stahl. She’s about to get married and I’m wondering if she’ll re-hyphenate to Gina Ottoboni-Stahl-Ricco. I think she needs to lose at least one name. I like Ottoboni-Ricco, Ottoboni-Stahl ( not taking on her beloved’s name and Gina Ricco-Stahl in that order. You may blog comment your thoughts and I’ll pass them on to her. She’s very thorough though, so the decision has probably already been made and the business cards ordered.

Several of my dearest friends are in the first blushes of true love right now. It’s kind of amazing since there was a time when I was the old married lady listening to the woes of my single friends and now the tables appear to have turned. My friend Ali wrote this poem about her new relationship and it occurred to me that once you’ve been single a long time, getting into a relationship has it’s own set of perils and pitfalls. When you’re young, you dive into a person without thought about how much cold or depth you’ll be confronting and sometimes you belly flop. When you’re older you KNOW FOR A FACT that you aren’t going to live happily ever after so you go in gently, tenderly – dipping your toe in the water then pulling it back out quickly. There’s a lot to recommend being alone so there’s a loss as well as a tremendous gain when you find that person.

I think if I keep typing then something good will start to spill out that I can use for a scene in a play, a sketch, a screenplay. You can stop reading if you want since this is apparently just a writing exercise I’m doing. I have all of these half written projects that I WILL complete by the end of the year, by god but it doesn’t seem like right now is when that is going to happen. I think if I keep writing eventually something will be good.

I’m working on this sketch in which Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and perhaps Richard Pryor are being held prisoner in the body of a middle-aged white woman but no one believes them. They can ask for help, do bits of their routine, but when people listen to them, all they see is red hair, freckles and no pigment.

I miss my friend Kim. She is a great person to bounce writing ideas off of, but she moved to Arizona, the beast. How could she do that to me? Thankfully my writing group will be reassembling in June and I’ll be reunited with some other truly great women who write.

I also want Gina and I to interview men in the audience to be prospective boyfriends but make it a really tough interview ( “What makes you feel you’re qualified to be my boyfriend?”)

If I can beat my cold, Gina and I will be heading off to Calistoga to write without distractions. I love what a bad influence she is on me. I’d go to a spartan cabin somewhere with no wireless connection and no TV and cook my can of beans over the hotplate. Gina made us mud bath and massage reservations. Mmmmmm mud bath.

Is this the most boring blog I’ve ever written?


Friday, March 30, 2007


I don’t write super personal-type blogs. For one thing, I have students who might chance upon something I’ve written and that could be awkward. Second of all it’s not very Canadian to tell the world your problems. You might think I’d have a “third of all” about my son reading my blog, but honestly, he couldn’t be less interested. Hey Maclen, guess what? You’re adopted. See? No response. Don’t believe me? Check the blog comments. There will be none from him, trust me. Besides, I don’t need a “third of all” since the second of all is so compelling.

And yet. And yet. Tonight I felt this urge to reach out across the cyber field with my flashlight, blinking a Morse code message to whoever happens to be cruising by. “Come play with me” I felt like typing. “My son is out with his Dad and I’m lonely and facing for the first time in over 20 years, the prospect being alone indefinitely. Which I guess means the first time ever since no one worries about that in their early 20s, do they?

How many songs have expressed those sentiments and did they ever allay the pain and loneliness of the song’s writer? I doubt it.

Tonight I danced all night, all by myself in my livingroom/bedroom/kitchen – candles and twinkle lights blazing, incense burning. I danced to Trilok Girtu, Aretha Franklin, Blackalicious, Dizzy Gillespie, Prince ( of course!) and many others. Tonight, I cried and listened to sad songs and I smiled loudly and listened to Dave Liebman improvising with a Big Band who did an inspired call and response to his zigzagging, keening lines. And yes, you can smile loudly. Tonight I prepared myself good food and luxuriated over a cup of tea.

Earlier in the day I took a yoga class with a teacher I love and then came back to the Carla Crash Pad and pasted beloved poems on pieces of foam core and cardstock and put them up on the walls of the little pad so I can always see them. Then I memorized one of them –my awesome brother Jason introduced me to this one by Hafiz:


Where does the real poetry
Come from?

In the amorous sighs
In this moist dark when making love
With form or

Where does poetry live?

In the eye that says, “ Wow Wee!”
In the overpoweringly felt splendor
Every sane mind knows
When it realizes - our life dance
Is only for a few magic

From the heart saying,

“I am so damn


So this is what a midlife crisis feels like, huh? It’s not so bad, really. I mean it has its perks.

I am going to be okay. I am going to be more than okay. I am great. By the way, all this is Canadian for unburdening my soul. Sohrry - that’s the best I can do.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

5 million ways to kill a CEO

I went to the Fillmore the other night to hear Lyrics Born and The Coup. Now this is not a concert I would have known about were it not for my son who has turned me on to a lot of hip hop that I otherwise would never have checked out. I was one of those old fogeys like: (cue old fogey voice) “back in my day the rap had substance. Now Public Enemy – there was some good rap.” I had kind of given up on rap until Mac introduced me to people like Blackalicious, Paul Barman and the above mentioned artists.

So first, The Coup: Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress, backed up by a funky band and a singer named Silky ( I think) who sounded an awful lot like early Tina Turner ( who I love). Boots is a suave and debonair front man with a laid back style and sprite-like dance moves that belie the intensity of his lyrical rage. ( Raps include: 5 million ways to kill a CEO) Boots is comical in some of his songs and powerfully persuasive in others. Here are a few lines from one incendiary rap:

We are born from the mildew, the rust, the heathenous lust
The dreams in the dust, the evidence flushed
The grieving is just, they're thieving from us…

We like free speech but we love free cable
We're taught from the cradle the Bill Gates fable
Which leads to high speeds in Buick LeSables
We have no excuses just great alibis
And poker faces you can't analyze

Such a wonderful answer to people who think rap has no substance. My only criticism of the evening was that Boots’ mic was not as hot in the mix as Lyrics Born’s mic. As a result it was hard to hear him and the only songs I could fully appreciate were the ones I had familiarized myself with thanks to my rapper of a fourteen year old ( I know, I know, I’m too gorgeous to have a fourteen year old son. It’s a blessing and a curse to be this cute, smart and funny:=)

Lyrics Born is just plain fun. He’s an outstanding rapper with a technical facility that boggles the mind. As an acting teacher getting students to do tongue twisters like “ a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee pot” I was in awe of his verbal agility. I also love the showmanship and the delight they all displayed in being on stage. Lyrics Born had a bass player who while he did not have the technical facility of many of the bass players I’ve played with ( some of whom are friends on this site) was perhaps the best showman I’ve ever seen. He was a delight to watch from his antics to the persona he crafted. I’d go watch him alone.

It irks me, yes it does, that the record companies have sold us this notion of what hip hop is. They’ve allowed the lowest common denominator to ascend to great heights, further impoverishing our culture and giving the average person a very skewered idea of what rap is. How many great jazz, pop, funk, rap, etc artists are out there doing there thing in smaller venues while people with a fraction of their talent are struggling along.

It’s bullshit.

The only thing to be done is boycott the major record labels, buy from independent sources ( or download as the case may be) support independent clubs (sadly, the Fillmore now belongs to Clear Channel) and read books from independent bookstores. Go to little theaters and take a sledge hammer to your tv.

I know you’re all tuning me out now….those of you reading this….if anyone reads anymore…..hello? Anyone out there?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I like this poem

I like this poem by Octavio Paz.

No More Clichés

Beautiful face
That like a daisy opens its petals to the sun
So do you
Open your face to me as I turn the page.

Enchanting smile
Any man would be under your spell,
Oh, beauty of a magazine.

How many poems have been written to you?
How many Dantes have written to you, Beatrice?
To your obsessive illusion
To your manufactured fantasy.

But today I won't make one more Cliché
And write this poem to you.
No, no more clichés.

This poem is dedicated to those women
Whose beauty is in their charm,
In their intelligence,
In their character,
Not on their fabricated looks.

This poem is to you women,
That like a Schehrezade wake up
Everyday with a new story to tell,
A story that sings for change
That hopes for battles:
Battles for the love of the united flesh
Battles for passions aroused by a new day
Battles for the neglected rights
Or just battles to survive one more night.

Yes, to you women in a world of pain
To you, bright star in this ever-spending universe
To you, fighter of a thousand-and-one fights
To you, friend of my heart.

From now on, my head won't look down to a magazine
Rather, it will contemplate the night
And its bright stars,
And so, no more clichés.

~ Octavio Paz ~

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dropping keys

So when I’m not performing, I ruin people’s lives for money. That’s right. I stand in front of a room of 30 or so earnest adults and encourage them to do what they love to do. I’ll stop at nothing. I’ll pull out the Hafiz poems, get them to lift their arms triumphantly when they make a mistake while the rest of the class cheers them and assign homework making them do something they’ve never done before. I try to make them see the world the way an artist does. What kind of person does that to other people?

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a protest song or a self-congratulatory art-vs – entertainment treatise. I love art AND entertainment and depending on the city I’m in, I’m accused of being one or the other. I like lots of “mainstream” music and theater, and almost exclusively I gravitate towards mainstream dance and art to the point of embarrassing some friends. Not dogs playing poker stuff but close.

But I admire all artists. I admire the ones who have figured out a way to earn a living even if it isn’t their favorite music/art/film etc and I admire those who cheerfully toil away in undeserved obscurity. No matter which way you do it, you are guaranteed more you’re your daily dosage of disappointment and heartache. There’s a Quixotic quality to the whole endeavor which reminds me of a little squeaky voiced boy in full headgear making the long, long walk across the dance floor to ask the Senior with an “ie” at the end of her name to dance when he knows damn well she’ll turn him down. A tragic and farcical nobility.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people who make stuff up for a living….good stuff.

My agent just did a showcase with some of her clients in New York City- including me. The agent, in question, Jeannine Frank, is this dynamo who apparently doesn’t need but a few hours sleep and the occasional sandwich and of course Peets Coffee. I’m in awe of her energy. She also has great taste in artists and great courage with respect to whom she chooses to book. Put it this way, I know I’m not making her rich. The show Jeannine put together was the Ring Cycle of Funny. It was like eating a whole pie by yourself. It was almost too much of a good thing and as with eating an entire pie, I experienced a little pain at the end of it all because well - many of you have not heard of any of my agent’s artists and yet they were better than anything I’ve seen this year. Period. Wait a minute – it’s only January. I meant this past year. 2006. Except I’ve seen some of them and they are just as good as themselves. There. Now that that’s cleared up - back to the show.

There was photo-humorist Flash Rosenberg who can make the periodic table entertaining, and the brilliant Jay Leonhart singing witty urbane songs about being a bass player on the road and accompanying himself so completely I never once thought “when’s the chord player coming in?” I love Ann Randolph whose rubbery face attracted the attention of Mel Brooks, ( a man who knows funny), but not (yet) the nation and a host of other supreme talents that you should have heard of but haven’t. Plus they were all nice and genuine human beings.

Then there was the work of the singing superheroes Roy Zimmerman and The Prince Myshkins (that’s two separate groups, by the way – Roy is not a front man for a group inspired by Dostoevsky).

Roy is a modern day Tom Lehrer who serves up a meticulously sliced Bush Administration to us on a polished platter. He’s deft and witty and insightful and underneath the humor is the outrage that only a person with a great big heart can feel. Like all my favorite satirists, he is deeply in touch with his and our humanity. When he sings songs like “Abstain with me Baby” he gets under the skin of a horny teenaged boy in a way that is both painful and uproariously funny and “America” and “My TV” bring tears to my eyes because this is a man who loves his country unlike the dumb fucks he pillories.

I’m hard pressed to try to define The Prince Myshkins without slipping into cute similes. They have all kinds of press quotes, which would make one think “Well, I don’t know what the hell that means but I’ll bite. Let’s check ‘em out.”

I tried to explain a couple of their songs (which haven’t yet been recorded – how ‘bout that guys?) to people I know and I got blank stares, but when I played them “The List” a cheerful ditty about censorship and the nascent neo-McCarthy movement, they got it and when I asked my friend in Staten Island if I could borrow her nail clippers she launched into their wonderful song of the same name.

I think the best I can come up with to describe this and others of their songs is: If Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht were born in the Midwest just after Watergate ,,,and if Brecht had occasionally lightened up and smoked a bowl…and if Weill played the accordion……never mind. I can’t do it. I can’t sell you on any of Jeannine Frank’s artists. All I can tell you is how I feel when I see all of them perform.

I feel like I’m supposed to be on this planet. That life is worth living and more than that – it’s a noble endeavor. I feel like laughter and music can change the world and that it’s okay to tell people to do what they love to do and quote Hafiz poems and rejoice in their own mistakes. I feel honored to share the stage with them.

And by the way – that Hafiz poem I quote? It goes like this:

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the

If I got you at all curious, here are some websites to check out :

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