Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shaker Heights

Hello, my old friend the solitary walk. What a pleasure it is to see you again. Even on a day spent with funeral directors, medical examiners, and life cycle officiants. (Actually, these people were kind, thoughtful, and efficient. The rabbi was particularly wonderful. Also, Niel's entire family is incredibly kind and close, so it's easy to be here supporting them.) But still, it wasn't much a day of joy and renewal. I was very happy to be there, to be present, to listen carefully to what I thought people were saying they wanted and needed, to speak up when it made sense, and to let my own feelings about Niel wash over me from time to time. And eventually I needed some renewal, and I found it the most faithful way I know: my own two feet fell in love with the ground. (to paraphrase a wonderful song by Veda Hille.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No joy today

Yeah, not so much joy or joy seeking. Maybe it's just when I need to try the hardest or look the closest, but yeah, not so much. Hold each other dear. Do the things you love. And all those cliches that are actually right.

Josh's younger brother Niel died unexpectedly Tuesday morning, January 29. We're in Cleveland, where he lived for many years.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Brooklyn

If you get a chance, go see My Brooklyn. It's playing this week at reRun Theater in Dumbo, as part of Adam Schartoff's wonderful screening series, FILMWAX, whose website is still on 2012, but who you should follow anyhow. My Brooklyn is about gentrification of the downtown Brooklyn Fulton and Albee Mall areas. The corporate takeovers might be a better way to put it. If I had a lot more time, I would write more about it, but it follows the displacement of many shop owners and shoppers, the organizing by FUREE to stop it, and a breakdown of public and private interests, as well as the racial and economic injustice that drove it all. Plus, you get to have the distinct and awkward experience of watching it in a lovely theater/gastropub in a gentrified neighborhood. And you get to support all sorts of good people while you're at it.

But what I will write about, just briefly because there's a lot going on over here this morning, is how great it feels sometimes to sit in a small movie theater that someone has lovingly put together with car seats and beer, and watch films programmed by a truly community-minded film lover. My first found community was in an environment like this, when I found and then was lucky enough to work at Railroad Square Cinema, an independent cinema in Waterville, Maine, and my life would not be nearly as rich if not for spaces like this and the people who create them.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Best Laid Schemes

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

I had a plan. And it didn't happen. I was looking forward to it for weeks. And it didn't happen. At first I got sad and resentful. Because I had actually built a whole day around it -- even asking Josh to leave the apartment so I could have a lot of privacy. (Which he did.) I waited 1/2 hour to see if it was going to happen, and when I realized it wasn't, I got busy doing something else productive. Not joyful so much, but planning some future joy. What was it? My first ever tarot reading, that I bought myself for my birthday.

What did I find instead? Well, I spent some time trying not to be angry. And then I spent some time trying not to be disappointed. Then I realized those weren't very good uses of my time. Because of the way the day was scheduled (the time had been best for her but not the best for me) I had missed my chance to go to the gym or the movies. I trolled the internet a little bit and found that this kid is pretty delightful. A little frightening—not sure how much of this is coming from him or an adult who scripted it, but .... do I really care? Because I took the bait and got off my ass (actually, I sat down on my ass) and did something I've been meaning to do for a long time. I got back to a writing project I've left dormant for months, and I really enjoyed it. I also found myself helped along by this New Yorker article I read last week about Structure. (I also thoroughly enjoyed reading that article.) BTW, I don't structure any of these short blog posts, except by instinct. I just churn them out. But I think there's something to be said for instinct as well as structure, and both muscles need to be kept in shape. The end.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Miriam was the first person to take me to Souen, for Jappa Soup. I return from time to time, surprisingly not as often as I should, given how much I like it. After a movie at the Quad (Flight, starring a puffy Denzel Washington) I convinced my three companions to go. One had been before and remembered it as that place where they served twigs in water. One had never been. One had been several times and liked it.  Once I heard about the fear of twig water, I decided not to push for Souen, but to be happy with any number of other options. But as it turned out, all were open, and we went in, three pairs of glasses steaming up at once. It's macrobiotic and delicious. I had a plate of garlic greens with broiled salmon atop, and 2 hours in a steamy warm room to talk with good friends. (Plus, I liked the movie more than the others. Well, not more than Josh. He liked it too.)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Bergdorf-Goodman Museum of Wearable Art

It's breathtaking. It's free. It's open to the public. The hours are great. The collection is vast and changes frequently. The art is for sale but quite expensive. I strongly recommend this museum!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Searching for Sugarman

To be honest, it wasn't much of a joy-seeking day. Came home to do prep for a capsule endoscopy, but someone pulled the emergency brake on a train ahead of us at Union Square. (That makes it sound frivolous. It might well have been completely justified. I don't see any news about it today.) So someone pulled the emergency brake, and we sat on the tracks for about 30 minutes before finally pulling into 42nd street station and getting out to find other trains. It was a 2 hour commute home. I started my prep an hour later than I thought I would and (skip this part if you don't want to know personal things about me) I did it exactly as they told me to, but it didn't work, other to make me nauseous, give me a headache, and a terrible taste in my mouth. And to eventually go to bed, worried. If that's what's called working.

At some point along the way, before going to bed, I realized I hadn't done anything remotely pleasurable during the day, so I clicked on the TV station that tends to have good movies, and found Searching for Sugarman. Damn, Rodriguez is a talented man, and his daughters incredibly well-spoken. Damn, those Swedish filmmakers had a lot of money to shoot that film beautifully. I am only an hour in, so I don't know how it ends, but that's what I have to say for now.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How to Survive a Plague

Did it bring me joy, this movie? It brought me tears. It brought me fury. It brought me pride. It brought me unfathomable appreciation. It brought be back to a time when my friends were very, very, very sick, and some died, and then some, miraculously it seemed, were alive enough and well enough for combination therapy, and whew. Big breath.

So yes, actually, it brought me joy. I sat in that film thinking about the men (in my case, it's all men) who survived the plague, and how dear dear dear they are to me, and how important they are to the world, and how incredibly grateful I am for their very lives.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New Blue Shoes

My running shoes still looked good, but I could feel in my knees how pounded down they had become after running on them for a year and a half, including triathlon training. I kept meaning to get out and buy a new pair, but I kept not finding the time. Then a friend dropped a jar of split pea soup onto them and they got a little soupy and also glassy. I took it maybe a sign.

I took the whole day off after working a long Monday. A good long Monday. A successful long Monday. But still, a very long yesterday. I didn't actually use my day off very well. I started some taxes. I tried to do something creative but wasn't very creative. I tried to do something fun but wasn't very fun. I tried to think about people I know who don't go to work in the daytimes, but I couldn't think of anyone. I started a couple household fix-it tasks but I didn't have what I needed. Eventually I decided to put my coat and boots on and brave the cold weather. I knew I had errands; I just wasn't sure what they were. But I knew that I just needed to get out and get productive and maybe the day would turn around. It mostly did. I got some running shoes, and for once they are a beautiful gray and blue instead of the uber feminine pink and orange crap that they usually market to women with my average shoe size. (With apologies to femmes who like those colors and don't actually feel like it's crap. What I really mean is that there should be options. I didn't really mean to call it crap.)

Anyhow, then I had new blue shoes and a few hours before I had to be back home for my Mussar group, and so I went to the gym and I went for a run. And after I ran, I stretched for a long time. Longer than I usually do when I run at work. But probably not as long as I actually should. But pretty long. And I did my favorite restorative yoga pose: Legs Up the Wall. (It's supposed to be good for reversing the lymphatic system and that is supposed to be good for you. I just like how it feels.) And even though I didn't have a creative productive day, I did appreciate going to my old gym that I miss now that I am so often uptown.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

President Obama's Inauguration

I came home after an incredibly successful MLK show at Symphony Space, which for the second year in a row (I have only produced this event twice) the director of the JCC told me that "this was the best year we've ever had." So I came home after a successful 11-hour work day, and decided to watch some of the inauguration of Barack H. Obama.

Josh had recorded it for me, and I love that he recorded it on MSNBC, so when I turned on the TV, I heard Rachel Maddow's voice, bringing me through the events of the day. I watched as Sasha and Malia entered the inaugural stage, and Michelle, and Biden, and others. I heard James Taylor sing, and Myrlie Evers' invocation, and Richard Blanco's inaugural poem. And I watched Biden and Obama be sworn in for another term, each stumbling a little bit, which felt sweet and human. And I thought about how great it was that we were not swearing in Mitt Romney. And I watched til I felt sleepy, and then I went to sleep happy that Obama is still our President. I leave you with his words: 

Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:
Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution.  We affirm the promise of our democracy.  We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.  What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.  For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.  The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.  They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
For more than two hundred years, we have.
Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free.  We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.
Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.
Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.  Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.
But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.  For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.  No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.  Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.
This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.  A decade of war is now ending.  An economic recovery has begun.  America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands:  youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.   My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.
For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.  We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.  We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.  We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.
We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time.  We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher.  But while the means will change, our purpose endures:  a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American.  That is what this moment requires.  That is what will give real meaning to our creed.
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.  We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.  But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.  For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.  We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.  We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us.  They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.  The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.  We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise.  That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.  Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage.  Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty.  The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm.  But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.
We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.  We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.  America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.  We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.  And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes:  tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.  Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.  Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.  Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.  Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.
That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American.  Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness.  Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.
For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction – and we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service.  But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream.  My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride.
They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.
You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.
Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright.  With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.
Thank you, God Bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A birthday puzzle

Hmmmm. I just wrote an entire post and then lost it. And now I have to get into the shower and get to work, so this is going to be shorter and less thoughtful than the original version. Sorry! I got another delightful birthday present! This one from Rupert, who made me a jigsaw puzzle from a photo composite he made from a bunch of photos he had already, or snatched from Facebook (sneaky sneaky.) What a complete delight to literally put together the faces of the pieces I love. Piece. Piece. There's my mom! Piece. Piece. Piece. I saved the best for last, as you'll see.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Golden Fest

I didn't take any photos that show the hugeness or the dancingness of Golden Fest, but if you click the link, you'll see great photos. (Keep clicking, they just keep getting better.) And then when you're looking at the photos, you can picture me dancing and dancing and dancing. Also sometimes sitting and listening, as I did when I took this video of the Yale Slavic Chorus.

(I had to break this one song into two videos to transfer it. Sorry about that.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Simple Walk

One of the great pleasures of working from home on Fridays is that when 4 PM rolls around, and the work day ends (we end early on Fridays for shabes unless we are working on shabes...) I can put on my coat and go out for a walk while it's still light out. So simple. So much better than the alternative—a long subway ride, arriving home after dark.

So I went out and walked around the neighborhood for about an hour.  Nothing special, except that it still wasn't dark when I got home at 5. The days are getting longer. The light is returning. Ahhhhh.

Friday, January 18, 2013

My own personalized Google map

I'm not actually going to show it to you, because it's MY OWN and PERSONALIZED. But for my birthday, Logan made me a map called "Ode to I-84", full of all sort of stuff to do in Connecticut, which I drive through fairly often, rarely actually stopping.  Last year she told me about The Place, where I had one of the best lobsters I've ever had, grilled to perfection on their outdoor fire pit, where they do all their cooking. (The Place is on the map. There I told you what's on it. Also Bloodroot made it on.)

So far my map has lots of places to eat on it, but she says she's going to add other stuff as time goes by. The map has cute icons and her own commentary on the places she chose, which I didn't even know you could do on a Google map.

Such joy, just looking at it, but also thinking about the joy to come actually using it. Connecticut road trip!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. It is a truth less universally acknowledged, that a woman in possession of a name taken directly from an iconic work of literature, and furthermore, in possession of a sister with a name taken from that same iconic work of literature, must be in want of every adaptation of that piece of literature—the more cute and needle-felted the better.

I got home from a very long day at work, feeling somewhat dejected and beaten down and also just too tired to really know what to do with myself except shuffle from kitchen to living room, complaining (which Josh found delightful, I assure you.) It was a while before I had enough gumption to open the mail. But oh, what I found there! Jensi, who I have known since the late 80s, sent me the latest (and in my opinion most brilliant) adaptation of P&P I have ever seen. I don't want to spoil anything for you, but it's a board book for young children, all the illustrations are needle-felted, and the story is told in a dozen words.

Emboldened by opening that mail, I opened another piece of mail, and inside was a handmade book/blessing from my friend Amy, who I have known since the early 90s. A beautiful, thoughtful poem upon my turning 50.

And you know what? I didn't feel quite so crabby, and I took my tiny books to bed, and read them and re-read them until I fell asleep.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I like to kick! And stretch! And kick!

Karen sent this video to me on my birthday, and what's funniest about it to me is that I DO like to kick. And stretch. And kick.

In fact, I've started doing a daily routine since I turned fifty—50 push-ups, 50 sit-ups, and 50 jumping jacks. I am thinking of it as a long-term insurance policy; when I turn 51 I add one to the rep, and another each year. I figure, if I can do my age in push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks when I'm 85, I'll be in great shape.

For now, I'm mildly sore, butalso mildly delighted.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cutting corners (of Central Park)

We've moved into that part of January I knew was coming. The part where I work late and long for the whole month up til I don't anymore (after January 21, when I produce a big wonderful MLK show at Symphony Space.)

I took a whole weekend out of the crunch, and as you know, went walking in nature, and saw a play on Broadway (Golden Boy) and had a birthday party and generally indulged in beautiful personal time.

And then I went back to work and didn't even get up from my desk to eat lunch. (I did eat lunch. I just ate it at my desk while working.  I will try to do better tomorrow.) But you know what I did do? On my way to work, I got off the subway early, and took 25 minutes to walk through Central Park. That's probably 12 minutes longer than if I had taken the subway the whole way, but 25 minutes outside in the park. A pretty good trade-up. And that little bit of ... well, it wasn't quiet, but maybe there was a quality of the air that was different than walking on the avenues? ... that little bit carried me through the day.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Some days are all good

So much to write, so little time. I am off to work, with just the tiniest mention of a most wonderful day. A walk with Abigail and Josh. Some time to myself to write a song I'm working on. A beautiful party for off performance and lobster. Jodie Foster's epic cryptic speech, including the proclamation, I'm fifty! I'm fifty!" (and also I'm queer and also maybe I am not going to act or direct anymore?)

Anyhow, a lovely turning day, turning to the next 1/2 century.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Birthday weekend, Shelter Island, Day 2

So quiet! So peaceful! So beautiful! So many ecosystems within one preserve.

Mashomack Preserve, on Shelter Island, NY.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Birthday weekend, Shelter Island, Day 1

I'm turning 50 on Sunday. I decided I want to start this year, my second half-century, by doing a bunch of things I like to do. You know, to set an intention for the rest of my life. I like to walk in pretty places and look at birds. I like to eat fish. I like to be by the water. I like to play music. I like to see theater. I like fires in fireplaces (and am writing this in front of one, having already gone for a walk near the water and eaten fish.) Other things I like to do but don't have plans for this weekend: snorkel in warm water looking at pretty fish and corals, dance, watch movies, read great novels.

When I look at this list (and of course there are other things I like to do) but when I look at this list, I see a lot of things have to do with physical activity outdoors in beautiful places and reading or watching great fiction.  And of course I don't live somewhere with great natural outdoor beauty, but I do live somewhere with great access to movies. And you know what? I rarely go.  So here I am saying that I need to either start taking full advantage of the things I love most about NYC, or I'm need to really truly go elsewhere.

But meantime, here I am: elsewhere.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Arrested Development

Somehow (I think we can all figure out how) I always thought that Arrested Development was an African American variety show, a la The Carol Burnett Show, only spawning the careers of very famous and funny black people, like somehow I thought it was old enough to spawn the careers of Will Smith, which would have made it a cross between Carol Burnett, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the band Arrested Development.

I found out recently that I was wrong. And after a fun train ride home from The Yellow Ticket last night with Michael and Sarah, they urged me to watch it—all of it—before new episodes air this Spring.

So I got into bed and watched the pilot. I don't think there was one black person in it. But it was funny. And who knew it launched the career of that hilarious European American actor, Michael Cera????

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The best of Kickstarter

I was really quite moved by many of these projects. What a creative species we are. I wonder what my first Kickstarter project will be.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dance and the Art of Wealth Creation

I spent most of the day in bed,  shvitzing and working. I got up in time to take a shower and go to work from 5-10PM. Although it would have been physically better for me to stay in bed, it was intellectually magnificent for me to be at work. It was a lecture/discussion with my current artists in residence -- Jawole Zollar (Urban Bush Women) and Liz Lerman, along with Shanna Ratner, a brilliant woman who is working on wealth creation in poor rural communities. And .... how to make all this relevant to a big dance and community project that Jawole and Liz are working on.

Jawole and Liz are looking at wealth and poverty in the US and how they become embodied. Literally -- how they affect our bodies. Shanna's project has delineated seven types of capital.


And a system of wealth creation that relies on developing all seven of these simultaneously without sacrificing any one, because that would be exploitation, and true wealth is not actually generated when there is exploitation.

The conversation that ensued was fascinating—especially when we started to talk about how do artists create capital. I wish I could write about this forever, but I have to get going to see them again this morning.

If gratitude brings joy, and if we want to find joy by following a gratitude practice, then I would say that my joy seeking yesterday comes from the gratitude I feel towards these women for sharing this conversation, and for being so good at embodying their intellectual pursuits.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I finally discovered Brené Brown (gratitude)

I'm a little more than a quarter of the way through this year of discovering joy, and I am incredibly grateful that I stumbled onto all the pieces that led me to try this.

Since I am not often writing real blog posts the way I did in my Never Done year—which was to write thoughtful little essays every day, connecting my Never Done activity to the mide (middah) I was working on that week, and connecting the whole thing to my mussar learning—but instead mostly reporting on the things I do daily that are solely for me, and in the pursuit of joy, I feel that every now and then I should write a post that reminds and contextualizes and probes and explains and explores.

To remind us all: I spent the day of yom kippur reading a self help book in which I realized that I am pretty lousy at setting bottom lines and that I'd better start learning how to do that. Without them, I walk around feel vaguely or acutely victimized by people who trample over them, even if I haven't set them or can't even identify them. And also, maybe connected and maybe not connected to this, I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time doing things for other people, getting my self-worth and satisfaction from doing things for other people, and rarely taking time to do things solely for myself. I don't want to become a person who doesn't value and do things for other people; I just don't want it to be my main source of self-worth and satisfaction, and I want it to be in balance.

So I started this practice: to do something every day that's just for myself, that will bring me joy. I started right out with beautiful walks and singing along to Bruce Springsteen, and re-reading old favorite books, and sticking my hands in the dirt of my garden. And I quickly realized a few things.

1) I can't just make myself feel joy. I can do things I enjoy, and I can find them enjoyable, but that's not actually the same as feeling joy.

2) The process of seeking joy is valuable even if the thing I chose to do that I thought would bring me joy actually turned out to be a dud. Like, going to the movies and seeing something dull, slow, poorly written, or bad for some other reason. I can still sit there thinking about how much I love going to movies. Somewhere along this first quarter I wrote that seeking appears to actually be the goal, and not achieving. Because seeking means trying and trying and testing and trying and putting myself back out there for myself, without worrying too much about if I am too ___________ (jaded, faded, busy, guarded, angry, scared) to actually feel the joy I am seeking.

3) I noticed pretty quickly that gratitude has something to do with it. So I spent a couple weeks in an active gratitude practice on my daily walk to the subway. I just sort of free-associated slash jazz riffed on things that popped up from my visual field or my mental field. "I'm thankful that my legs work so well. I'm thankful for clean water to drink. I'm thankful for my friends. I'm thankful that smart doctors know how to put a cow valve into someone's heart and make it work. I'm grateful that even though I live in the city, I get to walk past these trees on the way to work ..." What I was figuring out was that if I could pay acute attention to things I feel grateful for, then joy would be lurking somewhere around that corner.

After I moved, I didn't have a 20 minute walk to the subway anymore, but I've continued my gratitude monologue at other times of the day. (Starting with this: I am so grateful to live in this apartment. Every single day I am grateful to live here, with its windows and its two bathrooms and its space and my friends nearby.) I'd be lying if I told you I'm suddenly a ball or joyful energy, but I can tell you that I'm more content more of the time. And although I miss feeling the strong washes of joy I felt when I was younger, I am starting to wonder if contentment is actually true joy. (Strong contender of something I might believe.)

Another thing I might believe is that when I felt joy more easily,  it alternated with feelings of despair and terrible loneliness and other very difficult emotions. I've worked pretty hard to work through the roots of those other feelings, with all sorts of healthy modalities: therapy, yoga, meditation, exercise, journaling, theater, etc. I've also done my share of numbing out from a very early age: food, repetitive listening to Godspell, exercise, drugs, dangerous solo travel, intense physical work, intense political activism, etc.

But the thing is, I've long been aware that you can't numb out loneliness and leave the exhilaration at leaning into the wind at Point Reyes untouched. So for many years now I've not had caffeine (except oh my god, I love tea so much, so then sometimes I do have some, because it is actually quite joyful to drink tea.) And I have not done scary dangerous things. And I mostly don't drink. (Haven't had more than one drink in more than 30 years. I mean, I have had more than one drink in 30 years. But when I drink, which has been something like once every week to once every 6 months, I don't have more than one.) I haven't taken a recreational drug in probably 30 years. Food is tougher -- my tendencies are toward undereating and overeating, and all I can say is that for the most part, this has been in quite healthy balance for 15-20 years, but it's the toughest one for me to keep steady.  You know -- the thing about food is you can't go cold turkey, like you can with hashish or Godspell.

So this is all the stuff I've been thinking about and learning about and synthesizing from my first quarter year of my selfish joy-seeking practice.

And then I came home sick from work, and I was listening to the radio, and heard a woman talking about all of this. I mean, TALKING ABOUT ALL OF THIS. I didn't know who she was for most of the time she was talking, so I wrote down little clues, to help me go find her in case they forgot to tell us her name at the end of the segment.  Here's what I wrote down: "vulnerability/rest/creativity. Terrifying to feel joy." I mean, who is this woman? And of course they did not forget to introduce her, and her name is Brené Brown, and she's super well-known and popular from her incredibly smart and successful books and TED talks and other public appearances. I mean, super well-known like I should have already heard of her. And in fact, once I started watching her TED talks online, I got this little inkling that maybe someone in my mussar group had sent this around already, when we were working together on vulnerability, so I searched my emails, and I found that yes, everyone in my group had watched it except me. Because I had been too busy with some very important thing or other back in March. But you know what I thought? And do you know what I did not think? I did not think, "I can't believe I missed out on 10 months of knowing who Brené Brown is! I can't believe I thought I was to busy to learn what is probably one of the most valuable lessons of my life!" Instead I thought, "Isn't it interesting how I found her work when I was ready to?"

Anyhow, I was home sick, so I had plenty of time to sit around and watch things on the internet, so I watched a couple of of Brené's talks and had a meta-experience of taking time for myself, seeking joy, while watching videos of someone talking about seeking joy. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Roasted barley flour

It turns out to be incredibly peaceful to stand at the stove and roast barley flour in a hot hot hot pan. And while I wasn't roasting it just for me me me, but for the other seven members of soup swap, it turned out to be a lovely, calm activity. And since this week's mide (middah) is, in fact, Calmness, it was a joy to discover calmness in an unlikely, but then in retrospect likely, place.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Contenders

We have fancy DirectTV, which I mostly hate, but I discovered that they're playing lots of current Oscar-nominated films, and so I watched Joseph Gordan Levitt and Bruce Willis in Looper. Potential spoiler alert, ok? OK? Did you hear me? Spoiler alert?

One of the things I liked about this film is that it is set in the future, but to them it's the present and they think a lot about their future, because in their present time travel hasn't been invented but in the future it has been, and people from the future come and affect people in the present.

Another thing I like, potentially more, (SPOILER ALERT) is that it's a film that recognizes that cycles of violence must be broken, and does something about it.

But maybe the thing I like best is that this is the time of year that I try to see as many Oscar-nominated and Independent Spirit Award-nominated films as possible, and here, so far, is my list:

silver lining playbook
beasts of the southern wild
perks of being a wallflower
moonrise kingdom
cloud atlas
hope springs
les mis
pitch perfect
this is 40
the hobbit
take this waltz
late quartet
the sessions

And here are the ones I have yet to see, and with the exception of django unchained, I hope to see most of them, even the ones I don't really want to see, like the best exotic marigold hotel. And I'm hoping that my friends in film unions will invite me over to watch screeners! (hint)

the master
zero dark thirty
life of pi
django unchained
the impossible
anna karenina
promised land
the best exotic marigold hotel
hyde park on hudson
rust and bone
the deep blue sea
the guilt trip
killing them softly
the paperboy
on the road
seven psychopaths
dark knight rises

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Swings and pidgeons and pidgeons and swings. Oh yeah, and threads

I made it to the Ann Hamilton exhibit before it closed! After work Friday, I made it over to the East side for about an hour.

And ......

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Art of Hearing Loss

I finally saw Tribes. A play about a man who grew up deaf in a hearing family. But not just any hearing family. An enmeshed family of opinionated artists who never really slowed down enough to notice that just because he (the deaf son) adapted to living with them, doesn't mean that they've adapted to live with him.

He grew up reading lips, and never learning sign. He meets a young woman who great up hearing in a family with deaf parents, and she has known sign her whole life. She inherited a genetic hearing loss, and is rapidly losing her hearing.  It's a play about belonging, identity, language, community, limitations, and just a tad (a lot) of defensiveness, all around.

It's a stunning play and a fantastic production.  And it brought up a lot of feelings for me. I was born with a genetic hearing loss. If you know me, you either know that or you don't, because I hear a lot, and I read lips. But I miss a lot too.  Some of my friends are more bold about pointing that out, and others are more baffled. If you want my attention and you're trying to get it from behind me (this happens at my office a lot) you might wonder why I don't turn around when you call my name. If you hear my phone ring but I don't move, you might wonder why I'm ignoring it. If I look at you with a bit of a blank look (that David is good at catching) you might think I'm a little thick, or that you just said something banal, but it's more likely that I am in the process of guessing what rhymes with the words I thought I heard. And if you see that I am just really freaking frustrated, you might think I have a short fuse, just imagine what it is like to tell people again and again that they need to speak louder, sometimes within the span of 5 minutes, sometimes even 1 minute, and for them to not shift their voice modulation one bit. Yep, I have a short fuse.

(Wasn't this supposed to be a post about joy? I did find joy -- in the incredible artistry of the play and entire production. I truly did. And also in the serendipity of what I realized while in the play.)

As it turned out, without even thinking about it, I bought tickets to this play the day before my annual hearing test and meeting with the ear doctor, which I'll be going to today.  I have a genetic hearing loss called Waardenburg Syndrome, which includes my silver streak and premature gray hair on its genetic chain. (When I was diagnosed, my doctor reassured me that I didn't have the cognitive problems that can go along with it.) Anyhow, I think it was a great move to see the play before the doctor's visit, because the play called attention to how being deaf (or going deaf) is not actually very quiet. It's actually quite loud. This made my hyper aware of the constant tones and swishy sounds inside my head (which I think I am better off NOT thinking about too much.) But I am going today to a new doctor—one who comes highly recommended—and I am grateful for the heightened awareness as I head in to talk with him.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Last Waltz

While the movie itself was dark and moody and veering on depressed, the experience of waking up early but rested, and nestling in bed and watching a Sarah Polley film, and STILL making it to work by 9 AM, was truly wonderful.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Let the good times roll

I started one of those jars that people were posting on Facebook. A big empty jar, to fill throughout the year with little pieces of paper on which I've written good things that happened. And then when I get into one of my pathetic funks and think that good things never happen, I can look in the jar for a reality check. (I hope it's the reality check I'm counting on....)

The first note I put in it was that I had spent several hours all by myself in a room that is going to be my office/creative room, sitting on the floor, going through old papers and letters and poems I'd saved and notebooks I'd written in and clips of art I thought were lovely. I was looking for one specific paper (that I never found) and I encountered so much more. I don't have a lot of acquired stuff—I have a fairly sparse aesthetic—but I do have these things, these mementos, these tangibles from my life that I don't have a great memory for, these flirtations, these heartbreaks, these trips to the hospital with my parents, these notes from 5-year-olds who are now 16, this collection of trading cards (First Ladies of the United States, Beat Characters, Great Rabbies, Les As du Musette, and my favorite deck, painted years ago by my friend Cyndi: Ordinary People.

So yes, I started one of those jars.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Bergdorf Goodman windows

Last day of the year and I finally made it to see this year's Busby Berkeley-inspired windows! I missed seeing it together with Ariel and Karen, both of whom I had plans to see them with, but I was very very happy to go. Damn, they're beautiful. And also, damn, did he made great movies!