Monday, December 31, 2012

All the best books of 2012

I love top ten lists. I especially love them about movies and books. It doesn't really matter to me whether I agree with the person who is choosing; what I like is that someone took the time to assess their year, with their particular lens, and puts their opinion out there for the rest of us. My friend Rupert would always have talk about our top ten significant moments of the year at his and Scott's beautiful New Year's day gathering.  Not necessarily the best,—but the most significant. Now that I live far from him, and rarely get to celebrate New Years together, I still make my list.

Here you go, more or less chronologically (but not necessarily in order of importance.)

January. My friend Howard died after a very fast, very aggressive illness. He actually died on my birthday, which of course was just coincidence, but gives me one more way to stay connected to him. I miss him daily. He was one of the warmest, smartest men I've ever known, and he was a huge model for me, because he changed careers more than once, and figured out how to integrate his many skills and varied pasts into his new pursuits.

February. I started performing again. Not a lot yet, but very comfortably. I stopped when I came to NYC, and focused more on writing, and less on performing. Now it's time to step out front again (and keep writing.) The first thing I did this year was a Busby Berkeley-style dance number choreographed by Ariel Speedwagon. I went on to sing a few times, sometimes solo and sometimes in a group, most significantly, here. (That link will only be live til mid January.)

August. Some very skilled surgeons but a valve from a very generous cow into Josh's heart, and it works.

September. I spent a week writing a screenplay I've been thinking about for years. I didn't finish it yet because then I had to go back to work, but it was a great start. 

Also September. My friend Lori died. She was the best friend of one of my closest friends, and the mother of one of my favorite people on the planet. She had an incredible capacity to love, and she was also a brilliant writer and activist.

October. I moved to a huge apartment and actually like coming home for the first time since moving to NYC. I waited 14 months for it -- from August 2011 to October 2012 (is that 14?) and it is still not actually done (the landlords are here most every Tuesday-Saturday working on it) but it's big and light and in a wonderful neighborhood near good friends.

Also October. Hurricane Sandy. 

November. Obama got reelected. I was very scared that maybe he wouldn't. I was pretty disappointed in much of what he did over his first 4 years, but I also respect much about him and with all my soul wanted him to win against Romney, and not just as a less of 2 evils—but because I think he's humane, brilliant, and reachable.

Out of chronological order, but taking place from January to December: I met and/or got closer to a slew of wonderful artists: Yehuda, David, Rachel, Shane, Anthony, Lily, Liz, Jawole, Maria, Paul, Susan, Alicia, Morgan, another Alicia. If I left you off, you too.

And that leaves one slot open -- either for things you think might have been significant in my life (because I don't always have the best memory) or for something that still might happen in the last 24 hours of 2012. I'm open to your suggestions! Maybe it's actually (I am suddenly inspired by Taylor Mac's recent FB update about his top ten artistic delights of the year)

Also all through the year, from January to December: Taylor Mac's workshops of what is going to become a 24-hour concert of the history of popular music in America. They are brilliant, entertaining, and fascinating. He does a gorgeous job of integrating historical context into a cabaret show of songs that one might (often) not expect to hear in a cool kids' club. I suggested one to him (I told him the Jews need a decade) and he did a brilliant job of 1900's tenement songs, at the JCC. Also, I've had a wonderful time as an audience member at every single one of these shows—have made new friends, because he is actually succeeding in building community through his performance.

So yes. there's ten. But I'm still open to suggestions. I probably won't bump anything off the list I already have, but I'll add it on.

But I digress. (But I don't.)  I love top ten lists. Especially about books and movies. And so for my selfish pursuit of joy, I read the NPR list of best books of 2012, and the NYTimes list, and the Salon list. I looked for some less mainstream lists as well, but didn't come up with much to recommend to you. Anyhow, I looked at all these lists, and I made some choices, and I downloaded a bunch of e-books to read on the subway on my long commutes. 2 hours a day—that's some serious reading! Starting with NW, The Yellow Birds, Far from the Tree, The Marseille Caper, and The Round House. See you with my nose in a book, and hopefully you'll have a nose in yours.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Hobbit

Yawn. Except that I saw it with Taylor, and when ridiculous things happened, we got to clutch each other and giggle. Which was actually pretty joyful. Also, the scene between Bilbo and Golem was really quite excellent drama.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Songs of our Randy Fathers

I consider myself a good Googler, but it took me a minute to find the melody to the song I posted yesterday.

But find it I did, and I've been playing it since then—first on the piano, and then on the ukelele. Looks like I think I might be homing in on a concept for the Jewkelele orchestra, or at least the first recording, with apologies to Andy Statman and David Grisman: Songs of our Randy Fathers.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Her name was Lil and she was a beauty

It was my father's yortzayt, so I made sure to take out the baritone ukelele and play a few songs that he used to love to play, and when I was looking through one of his old books, a paper fell out. My father had notoriously bad handwriting; he had a tremor, and it showed on the page. After years of practice, I could make out almost all the words, and what I couldn't, I found the old fashioned way: Google, which turned up several more elaborate versions of the song. Here's Walter's version:

Her name was Lil and she was a beauty
She lived in a house of ill reputy
The men would come from far to see
Lillian in her deshabillé.

She was comely; she was fair
She had lovely yeller hair
But she drank too much of the damn rum
And she smoked hashish and opium

Lillian called the house physician
To report on her condition
He said dear Lil I'm sorry to say
You have pernicious anemia

Day by day as Lil grew thinner
Because of the lack of protein in her
She grew deep hollows in her chest
And she had to go round completely dressed

As you know Lil's clientele
Rested mainly on her belly
Lillian left her house of men
When she had to conceal her abdomen

As she lay there in her deshabillé
She felt the hand of the lord upon her
She said, "Dear Lord, my soul repents
but it's still gonna cost you 25 cents."

Now I just need to find a melody, and learn it on the uke.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pitch Perfect

It usually takes 4 hours to drive from New Hampshire to Brooklyn, but it took 8, because somewhere in Connecticut it started to snow, and then rain, and then sleet, and then freeze rain, and then snow some more. By the time we hit the state of NY (but not yet the city) my body was entrenched in what I can only call a physical boredom. I wanted to get up and move SO BAD. I wanted to go for a run, a walk, a ski, a sled, it didn't matter what, I didn't want to be sitting in the car any longer. Also, I had to pee and we had passed all the easy exits and road side rests. And also, it was still gonna be another 2 hours before I was home. OK, jump over those two hours. Really, you don't want to hear me complain. Home safe, salt washed off car, dinner on the table, phone call that one of my dearest friend's momma's had just passed, calls to other friends about that, and then finally realizing I hadn't taken any me time yet, and so flipping through the TV movie channels, I found the aca-romp Pitch Perfect, which had been on my list since it came out. I could have lived without the stress barfing, but it was otherwise a decent comedy with some decent acapella numbers, a few good actors, and a few good laughs. And I wasn't sitting in the car. (Which seems to be my new definition of joy.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I slept in

I woke up in Brunswick Maine on Christmas morning. I woke up very very early—like 4AM early, and I lay awake for a long time—til about 5:30 I think, negotiating with myself. Don't think about work. (I thought about work.) Don't think about that stressful thing. (I thought about that stressful thing.) Just relax, and you will go back to sleep. (I thought about that stressful thing at work.) Eventually I allowed myself to think about something quite private and quite hopeful and quite .... yes, private. But it was first thing in the morning, and it was all for me (so much for me that I am not going to tell you what it is) and it eventually allowed me to go back to sleep, and I slept until 9:15AM, which is just incredibly unusual and luxurious for me. It goes against my nature to think about sleeping as something selfish and joyful (more like necessary but elusive) but when I woke up after 9, and felt the surge of joy go through my rested self, I just smiled.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

World's End

After I visited Anna—one of my parents' oldest friends who was an incredibly positive force in my growing-up life—and before I drove many hours to Maine, I know I wanted to take a walk somewhere beautiful, since I was on the South Shore, near where my mom grew up, so I looked on the interwebs to see if there was a good place not too far out of the way (I was in Hingham) and I found lots of reviews for World's End, also in Hingham.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A rose in the winter/Adrienne Cooper

This is the weirdest f-ing blog, and I question its entire concept. Because I end up doing these incredible, full, rich, important things that I never write about because they don't meet the spec of being just for me. Usually I just post my little selfish thing and sit awkwardly with the incongruity. This time it's just too much. I was part of a giant memorial concert in memory of Adrienne Cooper. I spent all day Friday at the rehearsal and all day Saturday at the tech, rehearsal, and performance. I stage managed it  and I sang in the choral finale numbers. I loved being a part of this insanely talented and dedicated and familial group of people who came together because of Adrienne, and didn't want the days to go by without at least marking the importance of it. And also, maybe I need to do this more often, because it is odd and misleading to have a day like that and then to write that I knew I was going to be inside all day long and deep into the night, and so I made sure to get out in the morning for a walk, for some time just for me. I was bundled up in my down coat and I brought my tea with me in a thermos, and I walked around the neighborhood instead of in the park because sometimes I like to just look at all the pretty houses, in the different seasons. Everything's wintery now—dried out and brown, like a winter somewhere coldish that doesn't get snow, which is what we seem to be now, or at least just so far this year. And just then, some tiny little snow flurries started to swirl. They didn't amount to anything, but there they were, and they brought a smile to my face. And just then, as I walked up Argyle Road, this moment of lingering summer:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

My President

I took time in the morning to look at all these photos of President Obama.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My hula hoop

I hula hoop most every day. I don't really think about it -- it's just there, and when I feel like I want to move around a little, or when I need to loosen up my back, I just grab it and start to swirl. It might be a stretch to say that hula hooping brings me actual JOY but I certainly enjoy it. And after a very long work day, in which I finally left the office at 8PM and then stopped off at a meeting/party in Dumbo and then didn't get home til 11PM ... a long day in which I hadn't done anything just for me yet ... I mindlessly started to hula hoop, and then noticed that I don't hoop for anyone else—just for me. Which makes me realize that I need to do this more often.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ain't She Sweet?

Ever since I went to Yuri's party where we recorded a live Christmas album, where I played his guitar after not having played for quite a long time, I have had a hankering to get out my own instruments. Now that I'm unpacked from storage all I needed was a night home alone, and that night finally came. I first went to the coop and bought ingredients for Abigail's birthday cake, and I got that baking in the oven, making the house smell great. Then I hauled out my ukelele, and tuned it up. (Way up. I had it tuned down a third for some reason.) And I started to play.

I decided to start with the first song I remember ever playing: Ain't She Sweet. (If you just followed that link, I also thoroughly enjoyed listening to their version!) You see, the ukelele was my first instrument. I started playing when I was about four. My dad had a big one, and I had a little one, and we played all his favorite songs on it. My dad was born in 1918, so all his favorite songs were from the 20s and 30s.

Anyhow, I LOVE playing the ukelele, and I spent tons of time playing it when I was a kid, and I rarely play anymore, and so I decided to give it a go.  Jackpot! Total joy jackpot! Home alone, cake baking, re-learning how to play an Fm7 chord, and having a time of it.

Which is all part of a trend I've been noticing in myself lately, which is that 10 years after coming to NYC, I'm starting to perform again. I performed a ton before getting to NYC, but a whole range of factors contributed to my taking more back-stage roles. And so now I'm ready to step out front again, a uke in my hand and a song in my .... (what? mouth? lungs? heart? How does this metaphor end?)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Les Mis

Really quick post. I did it all for me. I am really glad I did it. I backed out of a long-standing commitment to do it (which is part of why I know it was truly all for me, but which is complicated because I also love and feel committed to the people I backed out on.) I went to see Les Misérables in an industry screening. Did it bring me joy? Maybe not the film itself, but the gift of going did (thank you Gia!) and also I just love movie musicals, and I also love being culturally literate. I thought the lead actors and the child actors were fantastic. It makes me want to read the book, so I can see how Hugo wrote about faith and ethics and redemption and the French Revolution. Maybe the music wasn't really so memorable, with the exception of the incredibly memorable song. And maybe the action was just a little tiny bit rushed. But also, it was epic. And also I FINALLY watched the movie that my growing-up best friend's mom watched a million times, and I always heard in the background but never sat down to watch. And I love industry screeners. And I dreamed the world was song. And the song was exciting!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies

I went downstairs at the JCC to get a key copied, and I decided to check in on the theater to make sure it was all set up for the French Academie of Ballet's Nutcracker rental, but I sort of forgot that I hadn't gotten to work til noon (because I was there all weekend) and that it was already mid afternoon, and so was pleasantly surprised to find that the Nutcracker was already in dress rehearsal, and so I slipped in and watched for a while.You know the music. Hum along...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Homeland, hot mulled cider, an eggplant chair, and a Brave Combo dance party

I worked all weekend, but I got home in time for Homeland. Before I left the office, I had called Josh and asked him if he'd make some hot mulled cider. Seemed just about right for a chilly, rainy night, and in fact, when I walked into the house it smelled fantastic. There was still 1/2 to go before Homeland though, and I was feeling antsy so I looked over my CD collection for something I hadn't heard for a while that would be good to dance to, and I came up with Brave Combo. I popped that into the CD player and danced around til Carrie and Saul and Brody got their shit together, and then poured the hot cider, and settled into my favorite old chair that my parents gave me 30 years ago when I moved out of the house, that I've been shlepping around with me for years and that had gotten incredibly grungy (it was off-white) and which I recently had reupholstered in a rich purple/eggplant fabric. I could have probably made this whole entry just about how much I like the color of the chair, but ... but ... but ... you know what? Screw Homeland.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Christmas Bird Count

I finally did the Christmas bird count! I've been meaning to do it for years. True, I always imagined I would do the count somewhere in New England, over the course of many hours, and that the count we did would actually contribute to the annual census (more on all of this in a moment) but I did go out and do it. 

Now that I live in Flatbush/Ditmas Park I subscribe to RSS feed of the Ditmas Park Blog, and one day last week I saw that the annual winter bird census was taking place this weekend. I marked it in my calendar and invited friends, who all declined, but I kept the time sacred. 

The day was gorgeous -- high 40s, clear sky, gentle sun. I walked over to the Audubon Center in Prospect Park, where we were to start. I have gone on one of the regular bird walks over there before, which I found to be quaint, pleasant, and a little alarming. Quaint because the person who led the trip didn't have capacity to understand that someone showing up for the first time wouldn't necessarily be a neophyte. Pleasant because it IS completely pleasant to walk around and look at birds, even if you are in a park where your binocs catch as many pieces of garbage on the ground as birds. And alarming because during part of that walk we went to a feeder. A feeder in the park on a bird watch. I don't think they could have given me more fodder for my deep-held belief that Prospect Park isn't actually nature; it's more like a very small nature preserve. 

Still, I have always wanted to do the Christmas bird count, and I had to work both Saturday and Sunday this weekend, and so I wasn't going to be going out anywhere more beautiful to do it, so I walked over to the Audubon Center. Only to find out that all we were doing was to go on the exact same walk I went on that other time—the same route, some of the same people (I liked that part), the same bird feeder. And not only that, but that our count would likely not count. We were assigned to a very specific part of the park, but someone else was assigned to the whole park. (What?) And so unless we found a bird or a group of birds that nobody else found, it would be assumed that the birds we would see would have already been counted by some other group. So basically I was going on the same bird walk I'd been on before. 

Not that there's anything wrong with going on the same bird walk I went on before. One of the lovely things about bird watching is revisiting the same animal, or revisiting the same place in a different time of year and seeing who is there now. It's lovely to develop a deep sense of place. The problem is, I don't fundamentally respect the place. Not with a bird feeder in the middle of it. Now I'm all for backyard bird feeders. But this isn't a backyard.  It's a park.  Or, I'm all for a bird feeder in the middle of a park, but not to take an Audubon nature walk past it as the centerpiece of the walk. (Someone more knowledgable about urban parks, Audubon, and/or birding please enlighten me if there's something I'm missing here.) 

Nonetheless, I still enjoyed being outside, slowing down, communing with some of my old favorite birds (I adore the tufted titmouse) and meeting a new one (the pine siskin—I recognized it as a finch, but I had never separated it out from other finches before.) I endured repeated comments by the woman who assumed I knew nothing about birds or birding, because she had never seen me at her backyard Park bird feeder before. "This is a great walk for a beginning birder. I started here." "Did you see the finchy? See the little finchy?" "Do you know how to tell the difference between a male and a female cardinal?" It took a lot of patience and humility, actually, to respond appropriate to her. I didn't feel like I needed to tell her I'd been watching birds my whole life, but I also didn't want her to keep annoying me. I finally just found ways to place myself where she wasn't—and to bird and let bird. 

As we went along, people dropped off, and what started out as a group of 30 or so whittled down by the end to a group of 6. We walked along an area where I remembered spotting a golden crowned kinglet on my first of these walks. (The group leader told me it was the first of the season.) Right around the same spot, I spotted something in the reeds. A very small dark bird that I couldn't identify. When the rest of the group came to where I was, I described it, and the leader suggested it might be a winter wren. We never saw it again, and in fact one of the characteristics of the wren is that it doesn't stay in one place for long. So maybe it was, and maybe it wasn't. But once again, after feeling weird about the non-nature aspect of a nature walk in the park, and after wandering off by myself to a place that felt more lovely, I spotted something, and sat with it, and slowly let the rest of the world fade away, and became more present in time and space. 

Here's a list of the birds we counted. I didn't get all the numbers—just the species. 
Cardinals - male and female
Yellow bellied sapsucker - male
White breasted nuthatch - male
Red tail hawks 
Ruddy ducks
Mourning doves
White throat finches
House finches (my mom taught me to ID the male because it looks like it's been dipped in raspberry juice)
A raccoon way up high in a tree, sleeping over the crook of 2 branches
Downy woodpecker - female
Tufted titmice
Pine siskins
Blue jays
Red breasted nuthatch - male (one of only two in the park right now) 
Song sparrows
House sparrows
And maybe, but not officially, a winter wren.      

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Beauty in the face of violence

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not doing something new every day this year, and I am not doing things that will make for entertaining blog posts for people to read, but that I am just doing things for ME that hopefully bring me joy. And so that means sometimes it will be the same old thing that brought be joy yesterday. And the day before. And the day before. If I'm lucky!

And of course, I don't want to spend an entire day in pursuit of something just for myself; that would be out of balance. But the more I think about it, I do hope to spend more of my time—whether seeking it or happening upon it—in joy.

And sometimes I have to remind myself that even in the face of tragedy, heartbreak, and violence (the school shooting in Newtown, CT) that it is still OK to seek time for myself, and to seek beauty. In fact, it might be even more important. Because we need to take care of ourselves and each other. And we need to see the beauty in the world. We need that to be good people, and to continue to create art, and to be forces of change for good in the world.

And yet it is difficult to write about the thing I did today, knowing that while I was doing that, people were in the deepest anguish a person can experience. And so I am going to just use an image, and hope that this image will hold out some beauty to people, and that the beauty will inspire us to take a moment to breathe, to give thanks for our lives, and to care for each other and our world.