Tuesday, December 25, 2007
But it isn't a stretch to say that Oscar Peterson is why I'm a jazz musician.
I'd been studying Jazz for a number (three, perhaps?) of years before actually being graced by Oscar's music, but what I was playing was more of copy-cat music; I could mimic just about anything my teacher showed me, but not much more. And he didn't have me listen to anything. That changed as soon as I found a new teacher at the end of the first half of 8th grade.
"So. What do you listen to?" my new teacher asked on my first lesson. "Well, uh..." "Okay. Go get some Oscar Peterson. Get Night Train. I mean, any Oscar will do, but get it."
I got the CD and put it in my Panasonic Shockwave -- the yellow one with the 10-second anti-skip that I got as a Bar-Mitzvah present -- and didn't take it out except to change the batteries every 10 hours. I listened to that album non-stop when my mother and I visited her parents in Florida that February. The plane there, the plane back, and every free minute in between. At the peek of my listening, I could sing every note Oscar played on that album -- including alternate takes and rehearsal takes included on that printing.
I never learned to play like Oscar, but I've always been jealous, of course. I even joke that "I grew up listening to a lot of Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, and Oscar Peterson" to which the response "I can hear the Getz and the Monk, but ya really goofed on the Oscar!" is common.
That's right in some ways, but others, not as much. I'd like to think that while my technical abilities on the piano will never be what Oscar's were, I picked up the Oscar Peterson message -- that is to say that I make every note count and try to convey something.
I also picked up on some pretty obscure things that other people may not notice that came from Oscar, even though in my mind, they did. As a composer, I'm always told never to put a second (major or minor) below the melody, yet I do it often, anyway. I love the sound. It took until recently for me to realize that I stole that from Oscar's playing. (He talks about that specifically in his broadcast on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz on NPR.)
I also took a lot of him as a side-man. Oscar, while known as one of the best pianists ever as a front man, is also the best side-man in history, in my opinion. Listen to his albums with Ella and Louis, or the entire Jazz at the Philharmonic series -- or accompanying any bass solo behind Ray Brown in any classic trio recording -- his comping is absolute perfection and beauty. While my voicings aren't there with his, I'd like to think that the moral of Oscar is still alive and kicking in my playing.
Beyond these influences to my music itself, I cannot forget the fact that I wrote one of my college essays about my first experience listening to "Night Train." Oscar got me into college. (Two of 'em, actually, if you consider that I needed to get into the jazz school and liberal arts school separately, and thus submitted the essay twice.)
So for the next few days, I'm going to listen pretty much non-stop to some of my favorite Oscar cuts. "Hymn to Freedom," "Place St. Henri," "L'Impossible," among the many favorites that make up the proverbial on-hold music of my brain.
Perhaps in a few days, I'll write a musical tribute to Oscar. Perhaps I'll learn to play one of my favorites verbatim. Or perhaps I'll just let my tribute lie with Oscar's spirit living within me, even if his notes never will.
Oscar Peterson died in his home in Toronto on Sunday from Kidney failure. He was 82.
Monday, December 24, 2007
So the last few weeks, I have not been in the happiest of places. It's a tough time of year for me: there are a lot of birthdays of people whom I no longer speak to (by no choice of my own), I tire easily of Christmas music, I have the stresses of finals, my friends who usually keep me sane have finals and therefore cannot keep me sane, this is generally a lonely time of year for the bitterly single...and the Jewish...the list goes on.
But the weird thing, I'm happy to be feeling this unhappiness.
No, I'm not a masochist and I'm only a fraction of the self-hating Jew I claim to be, and while my roommate may call me a grinch, I'm not really one. I mean, I love how the streets look with trees lit (but not all the trees; I like the contrast of lit and unlit. I think if every tree in New York were lit, it wouldn't be as special), and I love the smell of the street-side tree sellers. I, like most people, generally hate to be unhappy.
So why am I here, on this blog, to my handful of regular readers and the scores of stumble-upon-ers, that I am happy to be unhappy? Because I've felt worse.
Exactly one year ago, I was unhappy to such an extent that I had no emotions. I couldn't get out of bed in the morning. I barely ate. I avoided people. I was short tempered with friends and family. (And I was in a place that it only got worse until late May!) I was so unhappy, that I didn't feel anything.
It's true that the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference. And the opposite of happy isn't sad or unhappy, but also indifference. And I was totally indifferent to the world -- and to myself. I cognitively wanted to get out of the funk I was in, but emotionally, I just didn't care what my state was.
So now, when I'm unhappy, I'm ecstatic to be able to be unhappy. Even when a little blue, I jump out of bed in the morning with a vigor to attack the day ahead of me. I may not want to go to class, but I think that's just me being your normal slightly-burnt-out 4th-year college student. I may want to stay under my blanket with my teddy bear when it's cold and rainy -- or snowy, or icy, or wintery-mix-y -- but that's just me being human. I may want to stay blue a little longer and watch a movie that will make me cry a little...but that's me just being...um...me. (It takes someone truly comfortable with his masculinity to admit to curling up with his teddy bear and crying. And to wear pink. But I don't have the complexion to wear pink, I'm told, so I'll stick with the former.)
Bottom line: I may not enjoy being unhappy because, well, it isn't being happy, but I enjoy the fact that I can be unhappy, so by extension, I enjoy being unhappy.
I'm the only person you'll ever see smiling and singing gleefully while being completely unhappy, and it isn't a cover-up.
But then again, I've never been normal.
Monday, December 17, 2007
So my response is quite simple:
Nothing in it surprised me. Baseball, while it is the closest thing to religion I have at times, is still merely entertainment. I don't look up to any of these players as American Heroes. I love baseball, but its individuals are all but irrelevant to me.
This is a great opportunity for baseball players -- those mentioned in it -- to distinguish themselves, though. I get a lot of flack for this, but I have a lot of respect of Andy Pettitte. He came out after the report and said, 'yeah; I took HGH...I made a mistake, I'm sorry.' People who deny it when there's a lot of evidence, I have no respect for. Especially those who say "I didn't do it, and I don't think it's a problem..."
Will I still watch baseball? Yeah! Will I still root for the Red Sox? Of course! Will I worship those players who were not named? Nope! They still make ungodly amounts of money to play a game. I'm jealous of them and hope to one day be as lucky to be paid to do what I would do for free. But for now, I'm just going to digest baseball the same way I did before: as entertainment and a medium through which life can be communicated.
But that's a story for another post.
Friday, December 14, 2007
I've spoken before about my love of baseball, so I will be responding to this report in depth at a later time.
For now, I'm just going to say that the parts of the report I've read thus far (already nearly 100 pages) are fascinating and I cannot put it down. (Proverbially, since I only have it in digital format.)
My love of baseball remains unfeigned, but again, there will be more comments later this week. So be ready, blogoverse.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
I people watch because I am a storytellers. I find those I see, pick one out, and make up his story. It is irrelevant how true my made up story is, and it usually bares no resemblance to the subject's actual life story. In fact, the falsified is usually more exciting than the genuine.
So when I see someone that catches my eye, I fill in his story. I see someone dressed nicely in a late-night subway filled with people in jeans, I make up her story. I see a man looking solemnly at a letter, I make up what the letter says. I see a woman on the verge of tears, I empathize with her pain through making up the story of where her pain comes from. I see someone with crutches, a cane, a cast, or any other such injury-revealing accessories, and I make up the story of how it happened -- of course starting with what his particular ailment is.
Today was one of the last examples that threw me off.
I saw a man in the train with a cane and two boots as if he had torn ligaments in his ankle or a stress fracture or a broken toe.
While making up his story -- how it happened, where he was coming from, where he was going with his wife, why she was obviously the care-taker and knew not where they were and he had to give instruction -- I started surveying his belongings and his being to see what clues I could fill in to complete the picture I had of him.
My picture was shattered when I realized he had no toes on his right foot.
I don't know why this bothered me so much and put me aback; most things I see, I just manage to avoid and move on and keep writing the narrative I had already started. Yet this, I couldn't stop looking down at his foot. I had to keep telling myself "don't stare...don't stare...don't stare..." and yet I kept on gazing.
For the first time in my life, I could not think about narrative. I was stuck on the object and not the person.
I didn't think about how much I'd miss my toes, or how much I need to find my toenail clipper, or even how hard it must be to find a pair of shoes that fits right, I just kept gazing at his foot, trying to hide the fact that I was mesmerized and disgusted all at the same time.
I have phantom pains for this man's toes. And no story to go along with it.
Monday, December 10, 2007
I must say; I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas in New York last year. It consisted of what it always does for Jews: Chinese food and a movie. (Of course, I was on duty as an RA and couldn't leave my dorm, so it was a movie on TV...and like six DVDs with a friend of mine...mostly chick flicks, and I blame her for that.)
I did a seven mile walk on Christmas morning, and it was unlike any other New York walk I've ever had.
But this nostalgia or love of the holiday season is not the point of my post. The point is that it IS Christmas in New York City already, and it has been since THE FIRST WEEK OF NOVEMBER!
I can't escape it. Everywhere I go -- and everywhere I've been since November 1 -- is a reminder of Christmas.
Now I don't mind Christmas music -- especially the songs written by Jews (which are, in my opinion, the best Christmas songs there is) -- but it does get tiresome. In fact, my walk home from the subway doesn't even escape it as the scaffolding at the construction site outside the stairs to the subway has speakers blaring out carol after carol.
I'd just like to be inundated with music I don't like that I don't find myself singing along to. These carols are addictive, and I don't like them. And just because I sing along, doesn't mean I want to hear them again.
They just frustrate me.
And I'm sorry that this post isn't better thought-out, but my brain -- still on strike...or consumed with finals...or singing "jingle bell rock" so loudly that I cannot concentrate.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Yeah -- not that I know from experience...
*I had an eerie subway ride home from school today. Totally silent. Rush hour, uptown 4-train from Union Square. It was not as packed as usual (because there was one immediately in front or us), but still, even in trains with seats still available they are never this quiet, There wasn't a single person whose iPod was loud enough to hear it outside of his own ears, and the only conversation in the entire car was in sign-language and only lasted for 7 seconds or so.
*The rumors are true: I own my first (and second) pair of jeans in over 10 years. And in the 3 days of owning jeans, I've worn them twice. (Today because it was laundry day.)
*Related story: Sitting in school today and someone said hi to me and had to double-take. "You look different. Wearing contacts?" "Nope; I had laser eye surgery in March." "Haircut?" "Not since I last saw you." "Shave differently?" "Who knows; I have a new facial hair choice ever two weeks." "Then what is it?" "I'm wearing jeans for the first time in 10 years?" "Hmm...that's it?" "Yeah - that's the only different thing about me." "Wow. That really IS it! Well, welcome to the world of jeans." "Thanks; it'll take some getting used to."
*I had a coupon for a free small order of fries at Burger King today. Bad fries, but fun experience. Well-dressed 40-something black man behind me (and next to me after I ordered) in line. He just started telling random stories. Here's one. (Remember, his words, not mine.)
"I love the English language. You can really make anything. Like last week, I was in a diner and a woman came in. This is a true story, by the way. 'I'll have a small Greek.' And the guy at the counter turned around and said, 'Dmitri, you're wanted.' And a small Greek, a midget -- all dressed up in uniform -- came out to the front. I love this language. She just wanted a salad and they gave her a small Greek man!"
I asked how much the woman was charged for the small man, but he had no answer and instead started talking about this guy he knows who raised chickens in the basement of a store on 3rd Ave and that he should have raised pitbulls, because that's where the money is. Then the cashier chimed in, saying that she raises pitbulls and they get $350 for a female and $200 for a male puppy.
*This post has been brought to you by procrastination: Now with MSG.
*I'm wearing khakis and a gray fleece tomorrow, if only so I can feel like me again. And now, back to work.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
-Total words: 13,343
-Average words per post: Just shy of 445
-Shortest post: 70 words
-Longest Post: 971 Words
-Posts with more than 500 words: 8
-Posts with fewer than 300 words: 3
-Post with the oldest material: From the summer of 2002
-Favorite post: The Bar Scene
-Post that I like a lot partially because it makes me cry a little: Her Birthday
-Best old memory: Rooftop Picnic
-Best new memory: Close your eyes for 30 seconds
-Most likely to hear me actually start spewing with no end in sight when we're actually in the same room together: "Are you, by any chance, Jewish?"
-Post that most exemplifies how strange I tend to be: Tie: Baby, It's Cold Outside; Eating Habits
-References to WGA strike: 4
-Links to Tom, who was trying to beat NaBloPoMo with 60 posts in the month of November: 2 (Hmm...I thought it was more...)
-Number of email subscribers who canceled their email subscription in the month of November: 1
-Number of new subscribers: Um...0
-Number of times I asked someone what to write about: Countless
-Number of times I listened: one-half (Ilana said I should write about her. I didn't write about her, but I addressed her at the end.)
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned; I'm not done writing...but probably taking a few days off.
Friday, November 30, 2007
So before I go any further, I'm going to answer how I eat a Reese's. You know that little part of chocolate that is the ridge above the cup? The ruffled area? I eat that first, so I get just chocolate. And then I take one bite, making a sickle-type shape, then eat just the middle part leaving a sliver where it's only chocolate and finish off with that.
(Now well the slogan directly after "how do you eat a Reese's" said "there's no wrong way to eat a Reese's," I've seen people look at me as if this is, in fact, the wrong way to eat a Reese's.)
But there are other foods for which I'm not normal. (Please feel free to comment with your particular eating habits.)
Corn on the Cob:
My entire family eats it differently. I, certainly, have the most unique way. A rundown:
-Some cut the corn off the cob and eat it with a fork.
-Some do a ring on the left-most end and continue with rings right next to the preceding ring until the end.
-Some do what I call 'the type-writer' where they eat left to right and then start a new row directly under.
-Some do a zig-zag where they do left to right and then a row right to left directly under that row.
-I make a ring in the middle, then a ring to the right, then a ring to the left, then a ring to the right, then a ring to the left...there's something about keeping the cob symmetrical that appeases my sense, I guess.
Jell-o Pudding, the swirl kind:
I eat the top chocolate layer off, carefully scraping down so that I end nearly exactly where the vanilla (the middle) layer starts. I then mix the vanilla and the remaining chocolate layer to make a brown half-chocolate/half-vanilla flavor and eat that.
I don't split them in half. I don't dunk them in milk. I just freeze them and eat them. Nothing special.
Other odd habits:
-Milano Cookies: I smooth the corners so the cookie's edges are flush and the top and bottom are identical. I then eat off one cookie, leaving the filling (either the mint and dark chocolate or the milk chocolate, depending on the flavor I get, those being my two favorite) and the other end of the cookie. I then try my hardest to eat off the other cookie leaving only the center. This tends to make a mess, with all the crumbs and whatnot, but it's yummy!
-Kit Kat Bars: I do a similar thing in that I eat off the chocolate first and then eat the wafer insides, sometimes taking off each wafer layer and the, for lack of better words, chocolate glue that holds them together.
So what do we learn from this?
Three things. One: I like to deconstruct my food into each individual element. Two: I like symmetry. Three: I'm strange.
But I guess we knew number three already.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
And yes, I am the protagonist.
We join our hero in his never-ending quest to find world peace.
"World Peace!" He screams. "Does anyone have any spare world peace?"
Having found none, he decided to settle for a Hebrew National from the Pakistani vendor in Madison Square Park.
That's some yummy World Peace!
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I'm running out of material.
I don't know what to say.
I can only be self-depreciative so much.
What next? Me saying something good about myself? Without qualifying it with my fears or the fact that while I'm good at some things, I'm horrible at others?
I have no funny stories to tell, and I guess in the 27 posts thus far, I've said more than enough negative about myself, so here's the goal for the final two posts after this one: No negative things to say about myself.
Will I succeed? Depends on if this entry qualifies with the first 27 or the last 2. If I count it with the first 27, then I'd say that I'm going to fail at this. If I count it with the last two, rather than predicting my own demise, I'd, well...I'd probably just leave the question unanswered and let time determine the future.
That's hard for me, honestly. And to prove this point, I present an anecdote.
My second lesson with Bill Kirchner, a fantastic man with whom I've grown very close and would like to think that he's at least taken me in in ways he hasn't with most other students.
I was working on an arrangement of "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" for four horns and rhythm section. I had no ideas, really, beyond anything that I thought to be mundane. So Bill told me all of the great things that are available that are seldom used. We spent nearly 50 minutes of hour lesson (that ran close to 1h15m) listening to recordings and me taking notes.
Finally, Bill looks and says, "Let's see what you've got." So I showed him the first 16 measures of this arrangement. He turned on his keyboard and struck perhaps 6 notes just to get the sounds in his ear of certain chords I had written.
"You have all of what we talked about right here in the first eight measures! What's wrong with you?!"
And Bill, in the sharp, dry way that only he can deliver a line like this, without missing a beat said, "I'll forgive the redundancy."
Incidentally, the arrangement I had written there came out in performance in December as, well, less than stellar. So I re-wrote it completely and it was re-recorded (for the first time...there was technical difficulties the first time, which is why there was the second reading session) in June and it sounded fantastic. Of the original arrangement, I kept 8 measures, and not the ones Bill commented on.
And with that story, I take this pledge right here, to you, the blogstablishment and the blogizens of the blogosphere -- that I, Alexander S. Yellen, the first, will not be my usual self-hating self...
When writing in my blog...
For two days...
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
This break was more morbid than most (read: any previous) with the most discussion of mortality with illness in the family and death out of it. It was the most stressful with the most work to do yet and the least actually accomplished. It was, of course, the most enjoyable in other ways with our hero's nieces both at an age old enough to walk and talk and intelligently interact -- the elder of the two in complete conversation (and ability to take herself to the bathroom...) to the point of actually being really fun people.
It could be the return to the city or it could be the escape from family, but he gains a noticeable bounce in his step every time he returns. Sure the four flights up are deadly after a week without them and his stamina is shot, and sure he doesn't want to have to go to class or deal with rush-hour commutes (or non-rush hour commutes, for that matter), but it's still nice to be back. So he won't be able to talk on the phone while climbing the stairs for another few days, but that's a small price to pay for a rejuvenation and that extra bounce. (Oh, how he worries about a longer break in January.)
The bottom line: as nice as it is to get away, it's made even nicer when it means coming back.
And thus concludes my third-person self-reference.
Monday, November 26, 2007
I spent my first three years in university housing -- which, in a non-campus urban school means that I was within walking distance.
This year, I live 30 minutes door-to-door from class. And I must say: I love it.
It's the perfect wind-down time (except when the train is so packed that I cannot breath...) to separate the 'work' from the 'play'. (Or the work from the homework with a nice buffer to let my mind clear.) It's an enjoyable subway ride, too, with a nice walk on both ends which is quite enjoyable when the wind isn't too bad.
Sometimes -- rarely -- I read on the train. And thus, a story of a commute from a month ago...
I was going home from school and got onto the local train at Union Square in order to have a place to sit. I sat, opened my bag, and pulled out my book of short stories.
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt. A book whose stories I have loved, especially on the train since I can just read one in the time I'm actually on the train in my commute. This book is not an effeminate book, but the cover, well, it is. It's a baby-blue with a picture of a pair of female legs coming down from off the page in a skirt that is the orange color of fire.
But why should I care? It's only a book and I'm not going to talk to these people around me, so what's the big deal?
That is, of course, until the doors opened at 23rd street and a beautiful girl walked on -- about my age -- and sat directly across from me.
I looked up, saw her, and before she could look at me, I put away my book in order to pull out another book of short writings, this time short non-fiction essays. Twentysomething essays by Twentysomething writers. This cover is red with only the title on it.
I truthfully didn't do much reading during this subway ride as I kept glancing up in hopes that this girl's eyes would meet mine and maybe she'd start a conversation. (Of course, from my previous post about the bar scene, we know that I would never start this conversation.)
She got off the train at Hunter College and I breathed a small sigh of relief, put my book away, and replaced the original book in my hands to finish the story I had started to read earlier.
So this poses an interesting question: What will you do to appear a certain way to a complete stranger, even one whom you will likely never interact with? Evidently, I'll pretend to read a book with a more gender neutral cover...
I knew I was right all those years just to avoid reading all together!
Sunday, November 25, 2007
But regardless of what I end up doing, I've always wanted an office, or at least a space to call my own with a desk and a view.
It doesn't need to be a view of much -- just a window to the outside world. (Even an air-shaft will do. Just something that doesn't confine me to a cubicle.)
I dream of waking up and grabbing my briefcase and going to my work spot. I put down my briefcase and pull out a laptop and put it on the far corner of my desk, turn it on, but don't even look at it. Email program open, sure, but nothing else -- just there so if the outside world wants me, it can find me. My desk has no phone, just a pencil, an eraser, and 3 different color pens. (Maybe 4: Blue, Green, Red, and maybe Black..but probably not.)
In this ideal world, this is a job as a composer and the blank slate in front of me is a large sheet of score-paper awaiting my musical doodles and character-filled handwriting. On one of the walls of my office would be a book shelf filled with all my favorite books: Music dictionaries, orchestration books, film-scoring guides, and perhaps some of my favorite miniature scores. Of course I'd even have some of my 'academic' books there like some of my favorite books on media theory and social theory, including multiple books on baseball.
In another dream, there is no score paper, but the same books are there. Regardless of what I do, those things will always be a part of me and I'll always want some of those books around just to remind myself of who I am. But in other dreams, the slate in front of me is a pile of books awaiting my highlights and a clipboard eager for my notes. Whether I'm teaching this material, writing about this material, or studying this material in order to create the most perfect radio segment you've ever heard is irrelevant.
And in other dreams still, this office is a classroom with 20 (or more) small desks in it and I have the big desk off to the side. I still set things up the same way with the laptop and the work space and the pens and the books, but now my canvas isn't even in front of me on my desk, it's in front of my desk itself in the form of school children, waiting for me to poison their brains with knowledge. (And yes, poison is the deliberate word here with the pretense that not all poison is bad, but it's all mind altering.)
But regardless of what the specifics of the dream are, I have a desk and a space to call my own and a view of the world around me. Maybe it's because I've always equated a desk with importance, or maybe it's because a desk is a symbol of the thirst for enlightenment in a chose field, which I hope to never quench.
Whatever the reason may be, my future is unclear -- and always has been -- except for the desk.
(And the colored pens.)
Saturday, November 24, 2007
This post isn't about that. This post is the fact that we are now (almost) all trying to figure out how to date again.
So I've been looking back and remembering some of the best dates I've ever had.
Of course there's dinner and a movie, and there's always the awkward first date that may be some variation thereof. (My favorite personally was IMAX-3D, an unintentional tour of Boston, a subway ride, and dinner.)
My favorite dates, I cannot even remember the beginnings of, but I remember the endings. We had multiple dates that, regardless of where the night began, they ended walking through the back-streets and parks in Brookline near Coolidge Corner. (I remember only one date whose area was that particular area, but it was a favorite of hers to walk there. I liked it, too, if only because I liked to share her likes.
Most of the time, we ended up in these parks at night in months that it got cold after dark, but there was one time we made one of these a Sunday date.
We went into Coolidge Corner to go to a crafts show that one of her friend's was participating in. We stayed for a bit, I made nice, impressed her friend (read: got approved!), and then we escaped to the falafel place. We got our falafel (or whatever it is I got; I don't think I ever got falafel from there because I didn't like it all that much) and walked to find a place to sit and eat.
We walked for five or ten minutes, passed multiple occupied benches, and then she said, "Let's go to your car."
Now I was kind of unsure and not really in the mood to eat in my car, but when a pretty girl grabs me by the hand and tells me to go somewhere, I'm not one to pass up that opportunity. So I said, 'ok...' in a less than confident tone. (This is, after all, the girl with ideas crazier than mine and the sense of direction of a blind man reading a map.)
I gotta say, though, she was right. We got to my car -- a 1996 Volvo station wagon -- and she handed me her bag and said, 'hold this.' She stepped on the rear bumper and jumped up and sat on the roof.
I handed her the bags, got a bottle of water out of my car, handed that to her, and climbed up and sat next to her.
It's a good thing we were both light people, weighing in somewhere between 120 and 130 each (She, perhaps 10 pounds lighter than I.) as I don't know what a car roof can really take, but we, fortunately, were far from the limit. We got looks from passers-by, and she fearlessly defused the situation by saying, 'Don't worry; it's our car.' I don't think this is why people were confused, but it was enough for them to turn and walk the other way without a second look.
Probably the best picnic I've ever had, and without a question the most fun I've ever had on the roof of my car.
Almost makes me wish I had a car in New York City...
Friday, November 23, 2007
(Did I mention how impressed I am that nobody's unsubscribed yet?)
Having written 50 blog posts in 5 months, I took on a task asking me to write 30 in only 30 days. What the hell was I thinking? Why did I think I could do this? Did I really think I could say something worth while in all 30 of these? (Quick answer: No.) And yet, I've been relatively successful at not being mundane or cliche and, well, I've just been honest, really.
I see the finish line in sight and I wonder how I'll blog after it's over. Daily certainly won't happen. Will I go back to twice a week? Or just when I have something to say, I'll say it? Does it matter?
This has been a good writing exercise, if nothing else. At times, it's even been a good procrastination tool. But while I'm at home, I'm not productive with just about anything, this blog included.
So here's looking ahead to tomorrow, a day when I see old friends and hope they say something quotable to get me going on the next post.
For all my readers' sake, I wish me luck.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Thanksgiving in my house (as with any meal) is always an adventure. There are the two kids under 3, the grandparents who just sit in a corner, the rest of us -- of whom I'm really the most sane -- and always some sort of guests.
The conversation is very quick paced and usually not for the faint of heart. Trying to keep up with us is like trying to stop a train...literally...standing in the tracks...with only the gear of a baseball catcher to protect you. It's a near impossible task. (I say near-impossible because the train can be stopped...if it's made of cardboard and 3 feet big.)
People tend to enjoy it at times because my brother and I are like a comedy team. He has humor in the traditional stand-up sense going for him and I have quick wit with which to respond to his humor. This turns into a snowball effect of humorous comments that usually lead my mother to burst out laughing and proclaim, "You guys are nuts!"
Or course, it's not all fun and games. We do, after all, live in a mobius strip of conversation. Inevitably, we always have the talk about tryptophan. The meal is done and we sit, tired, and someone always says, "Wow I'm tired." "Yeah -- there's something in the turkey." "It's the tryptophan. Does it every time."
We always end up discussing the Jello molds our perennial guest used to bring that, well, nobody ever ate. "Gee, Len; I sure wish we had one of your famous Jello molds right now..."
And, in classic Yellen tradition, there's always a fight of some sorts.
I hope our fight this year got out of the way when my father argued about money with me and I could pull out documents that backed up my side of the story, but that wasn't with the whole family, pitting brother against brother against sister against sister against mother against father...but I'm hopeful!
Fight aside, and predictability aside, I'm looking forward to waking up to the smell of turkey in the oven.
With this being Thanksgiving and all, I guess I can say what I'm thankful for -- even though we aren't a TV family and have never, y'know, gone around the table and said it. (Does anyone NOT on 1980s family sit-coms actually do that?)
Today, I'm thankful that I'm not a vegetarian and that my mother is a good cook.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
This place does that to me.
I got home and did what I always do, for better or worse: I ate, I sat at the piano for 15 minutes, set up my computer, wrote a couple emails, watched some TV, and settled into my room and went right for my letters drawer.
I immediately found why I fell in love with Alyssa and why I was falling in love with Sky (I think this may break a rule of mine -- to use names of romantic interests in my blog...oopsies!) and it prompted me to write about it.
I wrote a fantastic piece of prose (well, fantastic to write, who knows if it's fantastic to read...) with anecdotes and analysis of why I fell for these girls -- having to do with the attraction I have towards those who can empathize with the feeling of creation and drive (me as a composer and both of them as writers) and my desire to hold on to childhood and anecdotes of how both of them did.
I don't feel comfortable posting these anecdotes without permission from both of them -- or at the very least Alyssa -- and I do not feel comfortable asking permission from either of them since they both have made it quite clear that they'd rather not admit that I exist.
So because of this, you're forced to read about a post rather than the post itself. And for this, I apologize.
It's just that the first few hours at home is always a shock to my psyche and a push back into a time and place I still kind of wish I were in.
I'm sure when I wake up in the morning I'll be back to (relative) normal. And then you'll read about it when you wake up on Thursday.
Oh how I don't enjoy coming home...
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
When I lived at home, I hated being there. I wanted out. Whatever it would take. Having a girlfriend the last three years of high school -- even with it long-distance for the last year (save vacations) -- was part of the only thing that got me through it. Not for the reasons of having a girlfriend, but always having a place to escape...which I did often.
When I came to New York at the start of college, I hated home even more. I finally felt what being on my own (for more than a week) felt like, and I liked it. My mother, who couldn't control me from 20 feet away tried to do it from 200 miles away, and I liked the fact that I could just "go into an elevator" and the cell phone conversation would cut out. (Side-note: Caller ID is the greatest thing ever invented.) Going home was a horrible balancing act and struggle of power -- probably mostly unilaterally. But I hated it.
Now, I'm okay with going home. I even enjoy it now and then. I like seeing my nieces and spending time with my family (in moderation) and I like being able to go to sleep in a place where I control the heat and there are no sirens outside.
Of course, with home comes memories. And there are quite a few painful ones at that. But the truth is, there are memories everywhere. I've been in New York long enough to have painful memories here, and I have to walk by them on a near-daily basis. So I'm kind of over those memories in a lot of ways. (That is not to say that they don't hurt anymore, but I can deal with them better than I ever have been able to.)
So tomorrow, I leave behind New York and everything that comes with it and take 5 whole days away (and an extra night). And I'm kind of looking forward to it.
I just wish it weren't for so long...
Monday, November 19, 2007
A lot of people get happy around their birthday. Some people use it as a time to reflect on the year past -- or the year future -- and tend to get depressed if they're, say, over 30 and have done nothing with their lives.
Me? I tend to get a little down, but not for the reason those in mid-life (or sooner) crises encounter. I get a touch sad precisely because I don't care about it much.
To me, my birthday is just another day that ends in 'y'.
I always feel bad when people tell me I should celebrate my birthday as a special day, but I don't particularly like to make plans. And I don't care about gifts, so then what makes it different?
I mean, if someone were to call me and say, "A bunch of us are getting together at (insert place) at (insert time) and it's for your birthday," I'm sure I'd show up. I might even stay for more than a couple hours. But beyond a free car wash, I've never really cared much for my birthday.
I mean, I use it as an excuse to by myself a movie or two and a CD or two, but who doesn't...
So yeah -- my birthday gets me down because I feel like I should care more...or that someone else should care to the point to force me to care. But this year, it's going to be a good year. Why? Because I'm going to sit down in my warm apartment with my lovable roommate and, well, do nothing.
Because isn't the most important part of a birthday just taking some time out to acknowledge the people you love and the places you love and, well, embrace them? Perhaps with some food I like, too. (Read: brownies or chocolate cake...)
Sunday, November 18, 2007
I can write what I know. When I do write fiction, it's always as a facet of me. It's always me in the story doing the taking, or walking along a highway in khakis, or flubbing a moment with a beautiful girl.
I cannot do it easily, though, because it's hard for me to take myself to another world. I can immerse myself in something -- like a smell or a sound or a piece of music -- but to actually go to a totally new world?
I'm jealous of those who can, but worried by/for those who do so to the extent that they forget to live in reality. Maybe that's my problem: I'm too deeply rooted in reality to write fiction often. (Or maybe that's my problem, period! I have issues letting go of, well, the tangible world...and I don't mean tangible in the sense of physical tangibility, but in mental tangibility in that it's real.)
As much as I try to hold on to childhood, I think that's one part of it that died beyond resuscitation. I am no good at make-believe anymore. I once was, however. My childhood best friend, Adam Palmer, and I would constantly pretend to be in other worlds and the whatnot, but now, I even have trouble holding a wiffle ball bat in my hand and pretending I'm about to win the World Series.
To paraphrase Freud: Sometimes a wiffle ball bat is just a wiffle ball bat.
And that's sad.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
-IM speak: I hate being referred to as 'u'. If you care enough about me to talk to me, am I NOT WORTH the TWO extra keystrokes that will take up a mere fraction of a second? (Note: I will make an exception for this rule for one person and one person alone. If you ask me if it's you, I'll tell you. But otherwise, assume that I want the other two keystrokes.)
-Less vs. Fewer: This is a strange one, really. A lot of people don't know the difference and when to use what. Less refers to quantity whereas fewer is a number. (I have written 12 fewer blog posts than Tom thus far this month, but I have less time to write than he does since I have homework and he does not.) If you're ever confused, pull out The Elements of Style and check with Strunk and White. More so than this error is the repetition of this error. It's easy to learn, so why I had to correct my ex-girlfriend on a thrice-weekly basis is beyond me.
-Objective vs. Subjective pronouns: I've gotten better about not correcting people when they speak incorrectly, but I have to bite my tongue REALLY HARD when "My mom took Jimmy and I to lunch" comes out of someone's mouth.
-When people use big words to sound smart and don't know the right way to pronounce them, and to make things worse, other people who know the word only from reading it continue to disseminate the improper pronunciation. (Of course, I admit that when this happens, I usually keep my mouth shut because I'm usually the only one sure of the pronunciation but everyone else has said the wrong one, so I keep my mouth shut for fear that I am, in fact, the one in the wrong and go home and check answers.com which has someone reading the word (for free, whereas dictionary.com that is a paid service). (Note to nobody, since I didn't say anything, I was right about the pronunciation of hegemony and hegemonic in class the other day when everyone else said it wrong and I kept my mouth shut...))
-When toilet paper is on the wrong way. (The flap should be in the front, people!)
-When someone prefaces what they're going to say by identifying themselves. "As a suburban Jew," "As a black woman," "As someone from 2007 looking back at Alexis de Tocquville's work"...we know who you are already, especially if you're identifying yourself as something we so clearly see, like giving yourself a period in which you live, a race, a gender, or a location.
-The phrase 'vis a vis'. Don't know why. Just never liked it.
-The fact that my best friend is going to read this and say, "You're ridiculous. Get over it."
So, Ilana, I may be ridiculous, but I most certainly will NOT get over it. I'll just learn to bite my tongue fewer times. (And no, I don't mean less!)
Friday, November 16, 2007
A few I chose:
November 20, the day I'm going home for Thanksgiving
November 22, Thanksgiving
November 19, my birthday
And today: November 16.
It's my first girlfriend's birthday.
Unless the gods do something cruel to me (which has happened before), this will be the first year since our 15th birthdays (our birthdays are 3 days apart, as you can see from the above reference to my own) without acknowledgment of it.
We met each other weeks before our 16th. We were together for 17 and 18. She sent me a card for 19 that led to us being together again. She sent an email on 20. Last year, for 21, I sent her a facsimile of the New York Times front page from the day she was born as a birthday card. And also, the cruelty of the gods, to which I alluded, happened.
I was walking to the subway after having lunch with a friend actually around the corner from where I now live. I was walking north on 2nd ave and then turned west and, boom, right as I turned the corner, there she was. I immediately hung up the phone with my brother.
I don't think the gods will mess with me today -- or Monday -- but stranger things have happened.
On the one hand, I'm saddened by this. It's like the true end point to something that was so fantastic and then so, well, not. And then it just became nothing. She had an interview in New York, I called her to say that I hoped it went well, she emailed back saying thanks and it was nice to see me, and that was it. No fight. No goodbye. Just a dissipation. That was 3 Aprils ago already. Feels like shorter in a lot of ways.
So with that, this is the probable last time I reference her birthday in my life. I'm sure I'll think about it 366 days from now (It's leap year in '08, right?), but I won't speak about it or write about it because it's not worth speaking or writing about.
It's a bittersweet ending, I'm sure.
And yet, she probably has none of those feelings on her end and she doesn't even think of me. And I will do my best to not think about her, at least until the inevitability of opening the New York Times and seeing her wedding announcement, or running into her (since we do live in the same zip code)...I just hope that isn't tomorrow.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
In September of 2001, a fellow camper Nat Duncan passed away after a battle with a brain tumor. I've written about Nat twice before. (Here in the early stages of my blog to explain me and where I come from, and here when I ran the annual archery tournament in his memory.)
The summer of 2002, I was still a camper. For the first tournament, we dedicated a park in Nat's memory and we all wrote something and compiled a scrap book and gave it to Nat's parents. My page was a letter on one side and on the bag was Nat's score card from our riflery program that I and a few other had found.
This is the scrapbook page that then-16-year-old Alexander wrote. Please be kind; I have not read this since then and not edited it at all for this public posting.
Words can only go so far. Language is limited, and I have no idea what to say. I guess I'll start by typing what I'm thinking.
Nat had an effect on so many people.
The obvious is all of those who met him last year. Needless to say, many people that had previously not spoken to Nat started to speak to him. To most of those people, Nat had never really been a person before. And even then, he was more a lesson and an inspiration than a 'regular' person. (What regular actually is, though...) Nat made an impression on all of those people with a memory that will last a lifetime.
Then there are those who knewNat before last year only. Last year, working at Ocean Edge, a coworker ex-camper friend came up to me and asked "is that kid with the annoying British accent still at camp?" I remember him saying it with a smile and laughing, undoubtedly thinking about some time Nat did something so outrageous that you had to laugh. I know personally there were many times just within the 3 years previous to last when publicly I was fed up with Nat's actions, but when I rode home on my bike or on the bus, I just laughed. (Who can forget all of JC1 year, Nat at BBs and Archery saying something about chocolate in Klingon.)
And then there are those who knew Nat as two different people. Pre-cancer Nat and Post-cancer (or rather during-cancer) Nat. Nat was always a little bit more immature than everyone else in the age group. He was, after all, the youngest. When in a group, he was sometimes a little hard to deal with. But that made it so much nicer when he was calm and when it was one-on-one. I distinctly remember some time JC1 year walking up from Archery with him while he was talking about his bow and his archery obsession. Frankly, it kind of scared me...I though, "This kid LOVES his firearms!" But it also intriguied me and I also thought, "This kid isn't so bad to talk to."
Although he was a little more immature earlier, by JC1 year, he did catch up to everyone else. He was not as far behind. At that point I stopped hoping that Archery would be closed by the time they called his name. I actually started to NOT be scared of him holding a bow...or at least I was a lot less scared.
JC2 year, though, Nat was more mature than anyone in the unit. Every person did learn from him. Some people learned to not be as mean to people. To me, it just reassured something I'd echoed to my fellow JCs before I even knew about Nat's cancer: Cherish every relationship; you can learn more from the negative ones than the positive ones.
I'd like to think that my relationship with Nat was mostly positive, but I know there were times that it was not. And that's okay. I know that from the day Nat came to camp to the day he left, we didn't mind being in the same room, and I know that at times I even enjoyed it.
Even now, Nat makes me smile. and that says more than any words can say.
I have no words, just strings of memories that together make a smile.
(signed and dated)
I remember being scared about giving that to his parents because it felt more honest than I thought most people would be. I assumed people would write about how much they loved Nat, and I didn't write about that. Hell, until his last summer, I didn't love Nat! I love the spirit of Nat and the memories of Nat, and that tournament is among the highlights of my summer (especially since I won this year...), but Nat himself...still unsure. I ran the letter by one of the directors and she OK'd it. I wonder what she thought, though, being 25 years my senior, reading these thoughts of a 16-year-old trying to deal with death.
I was precocious, of course, but dealing with premature death at such a young age (his death, my age) will force instant growing up.
Nat's death, I dealt with properly. I've hashed out all my issues that I had with his life after his death. It took me a while, but I did it. Michael's death, I still am not sure I've completely worked through, but revisiting Nat's death seems like a good start.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
But I like that. I related to Kermit. Kermit is the glue that holds the schmorgasboard that is The Muppets together. In spite of his blatant leadership, he is always the underdog in a lot of ways. His job is impossible: to actually get a show together successfully (The Muppet Show), to get a musical made up of Birds and Bears and Ducks and Chickens and Things on Broadway (The Muppets Take Manhattan), or to escape from the evil larger-than-life corporation of a Frogs Legs restaurant (The Muppet Movie), and yet he always does it...with help from his friends, of course.
Kermit is also an undeniable hopeless romantic. Just listen to the lyrics to "Rainbow Connection."
I can't talk about Kermit as well as those who knew him best, the Muppet performers. So...
“Kermit is the eye in the middle of the hurricane. And, you know, he’s always in control. Sometimes just barely, but he’s always in control. And the interesting thing about it, of course, is that he created the hurricane.” -Jerry Juhl
“Kermit’s function on the show is very much like my own in that he’s trying to hold together this group of crazies. And that’s not unlike what I do.” -Jim Henson
Not to mention the Muppet Sense of humor is mine exactly. Kind of lame, sometimes too literal, sometimes trying too hard, and living and dying by the fact that things are funny in threes.
And to end this entry, I am going to end with a line that just passed as I watch "The Muppet Movie" in the background.
Kermit and Fozzie are driving west and Big Bird is waking down the road. They pull over and ask if Big Bird wants a lift. "No thanks. I'm going to New York to try to break into Public Television!"
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Most notably, I try to do it on summer days when there's a 95% chance of rain in the forecast and a thick gray cloud-cover overhead.
On these days, I wear my sunglasses atop my hat, always prepared to pull them down when the sun comes out. Most of the other camp counselors leave their sunglasses in their cars on these days, but I -- I don't. I keeping telling myself that I, single-handedly, can have enough positive energy to break through the clouds. And when one other counselor joins me in my quest to keep away the rain, no amount of meteorological science or super-natural being can rain on us -- both literally and figuratively.
You'd be surprised how many times my reverse-Murphy's Law (prepare for sunshine and sunshine will happen) actually works.
This summer, there was one such mother who kept asking me for favors -- most I could promise, like getting her daughter into sailing for an activity or making sure she gets on the bus to go home with her best friend -- and some I could not and promised anyway. This was the Friday morning, "Alexander; can you keep the rain away today?" request. I told her I'd make a call.
One of my compatriots looked at me, stunned. "Who are you going to call?" I snapped back quickly, "I'm Jewish; I know people."
I put my sunglasses on, despite the lack of necessity for them, and an hour later -- poof, sunshine.
Okay -- it may not have gotten sunny, I do not remember, but I DO know with 100% sure-ness that it did NOT rain that day.
More stunning to me is when my emotions tend to dictate (or predict, more accurately) the poor weather. (Which is, ironically, pouring!) (I'll pause while you collectively groan at the bad pun.)
Today was one of those days.
I enjoyed my day, for the most part. And the weather was beautiful, for the most part. And then, as my day wound down and I was venting on the phone to my brother about how some people (both specifically and generally speaking) just annoy me and had been for the preceding two hours.
Within minutes of this conversation, the heavens opened and it poured down on me.
I can't help but think that had I kept my mouth shut for another 5 minutes, I would have made it home from the subway dry. That my negative energy was the straw that broke Mother Nature's back.
Okay -- I know that scientifically speaking, this post has no factual merits aside from total coincidental occurrences of me wearing sunglasses and then sun coming out or me getting frustrated with people and it raining, but isn't it neat to think that maybe my sunglasses do call the sun out to play?
Or maybe I just do know who to call when I need a weather-related favor...but I'm not telling.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Okay -- political correctness killed that sentence.
What I wanted to say was: Some men are just good at picking up women at bars.I was then going to change it to: 'Some people...picking up women...' thinking that there are some women who are great at picking up women. But then I remembered that some men pick up other men, and hell, occasionally women pick up men at the bars!
But what I'm getting at here is that I am not one of these people, in any category. (I, personally, would like to pick up a woman, but I guess I'd be flattered if a man tried to pick me up...)
I've watched people (okay, specific person) talk to women in bars and I'm in awe. He does it with such ease and success. (Of course, I've heard this particular person referred to as 'Too smooth; you aren't supposed to realize how smooth a guy is until the next morning', but still...he actually talks to perfect strangers in bars!)
I'm to the point of total -- what's the opposite of smooth? Oh yeah -- awkwardness, that even my fantasies involve failure.
(Imagine: Me, sitting at a bar, scotch in hand, beautiful woman next to me.
"Excuse me," I'd say to her.
She'd look up, our eyes would meet, and she's say, "yes?"
Anxiously awaiting my next words, she would look even deeper into my eyes.
"Can you pass me that napkin?"
(Can you imagine how much better that scene would be if the WGA weren't on strike? I mean, my blog is not a union operation, but evidently my creativity has decided to strike in solidarity.)
Maybe I'm no good at the bar scene because unlike, well, everyone else on the bar scene, I don't get drunk. Maybe things that would usually be dumb are actually clever with enough alcohol. But I wouldn't know.
For now, I just get amusement out of watching the inebriated try and pick each other up...
And also try to play darts.
Nothing funnier than a drunk man with a pointy projectile!
(Or at least nothing until the WGA strike is over and I can come up with some new material.)
Sunday, November 11, 2007
These kids are unanimously (and undeniably) miserable, and they are in a pain and amidst a burden that they consider to be among the worst in their lives, and they have no problem vocalizing it. And I'm not going to say I'm jealous of their innocence and the fact that it gets worse and I wish that were my worst, because that is not what I'm jealous of.
I'm jealous of the fact that they can (and do) vocalize their true emotions. And they don't just do it with pain -- they do it with happiness through skipping and singing and clapping. But once a certain age comes, that becomes unacceptable -- both the expression of happiness and the other extremes are no longer within the expected norm of public behavior.
I, and I assume all those reading this, live in a world where there are accepted levels of what emotion looks like to the outside world. It isn't acceptable to scream in pain or joy on the streets of the city. It is just pathetic to cry in public. And kick about wanting to go home or wanting a red lollipop instead of the green one? You better have some kind of mental health professional looking into your case on a twice-daily basis.
But sometimes I just WANT the red one and cannot explain it and cannot hold it in! I will pout, I will get noticeably irritable, and it will bring the rest of my day down.
Maybe there's something to be said for what the 4 year old can do in public as he can move on. His pain can be distracted from and the rest of his day made better either with remedies -- that is to say daddy went into Commerce Bank and got him a red lollipop -- or distractions -- that is to say mommy went into the gym and got him a balloon. And it isn't just that his pain is distracted, it's actually gone!
Sometimes it feels good just to scream and kick and cry, but I guess, being, well, over 7 years old, I can't do it anymore. And I want to! I REALLY WANT TO! WHY CAN'T I JUST KICK AND SCREAM AND YELL AND CRY FOR NO REASON OTHER THAN THE FACT THAT I WANT TO!!!
Yeah -- that wasn't nearly as satisfying as the real thing is, or at least as my memory of it is, but I guess it's a start.
And after all that, I really want a lollipop -- but not the green one, the red one. But not that red one, the other one. And if you don't get it for me, I may just have to cry.
And then I'll be okay.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
A sixth floor jazz club overlooking a foggy New York City skyline, Kenny Barron, a rich chocolate cake, and a glass of merlot.
It's nights like this that make me remember why I do music and why, even if music doesn't turn out to be my life's work, I'll always have the passion for it. My ears gravitate towards it and my heart swims in it.
And then, just when things couldn't get any better, I close my eyes for 30 seconds.
I'm no longer in a jazz club, and I'm no longer in a place that -- if turned from color to black and white -- is what I imagine Woody Allen's version of Manhattan (the island, not the movie) to be like. I'm now experiencing a true out-of-body experience.
Ambiance and setting no longer matter, but music and energy do. The intangible energy of the room -- of the patrons, the staff, and the physical space -- overcome my body. The music engulfs me and surround me, like an overwhelming current and undertow. Only this one requires no lifeguard, but rather is welcome. I wish I could drown like this more often.
If I could fall asleep sitting up on a bar-chair, or wouldn't feel guilty for paying $35 in food and cover charge and missing it, I would let myself drift into another world completely and complete the moment by dreaming of being in the exact spot I am.
I open my eyes and get back to reality -- or this alternate reality I create for myself every time I experience the life I wish I could have, well, for life.
With my eyes open, I can single out the instruments -- the flugel, the piano, the bass, the drums, the tenor -- and even pull out specific pitches here and there. I check my pitches against the sax keys or bass positions I can see from the back of the room and let the rest fall into place.
I wish I could afford to live like this every night.
And I hope that one day there's some aspiring musician -- or better yet, fully established musician -- in the back of the club listening to my music with his eyes closed, drowning in the energy and pure emotion that only this can bring.
But if not, I guess I'll be happy to experience it once in a while for myself.
Friday, November 9, 2007
I admit I look at postsecrets hoping to recognize handwriting saying "I still love you" or "I'm only with him because he reminds me of you."
I admit that I dial in phone numbers and never press send -- thankfully -- yet play the conversations out in my head.
I admit that I'll sometimes walk out of my way -- both geographically and chronologically -- hoping that the fates allow me to run into certain people. (Ironically, the one time the fates did put me in the place I masochistically want to be in was a time I didn't want to be in it and had no clue that where I was would be that place.)
But I don't think this is a bad thing, per se. Sometimes, I'll go so far as to convince myself that it's good for me!
Because every time I hear those 10 songs on that CD, I cry a little less and their meaning dies a little. Every time I look at old pictures, they are merely images of a past I sometimes wish did not exist and other times embrace for what it was and nothing more. Every time I read old emails -- well, some of them still hurt, but most of them become only words on a page when I, a musician, live in an aural world and aural society and the written word can only capture a fraction of what the human voice can.
So yeah -- I have my nights when this emotional masochism gets the better of me, but overall, I'd like to hope that it makes it easier to move on. I look at these things less and less, and hope for anonymous postcards diminishes, and the fact that the females who were so near to my heart were both writers and would be bothered by the fact that this sentence is the antithesis of parallelism doesn't bother me at all. (Of course, my own Strunk and White trained mind is bothered by it, but not enough to go back and change it.)
I've done stupid things in the past: I've pressed 'send' before, both telephonically and email-ically speaking. I've gone so far as to buy stamps and hand-write my own emotional suicide note, proverbially speaking. But not for quite some time.
And even though I should probably just stop being such an emotional masochist, I have to say, I'm proud of me.
I could do a hell of a lot worse.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
I've been asked this question more times than I care to recall, and always by the same people in slight variations of the same context. And it always bothers me.
The first time was my sophomore year of college. I was running out of my dorm in order to go back home to The Bay State in order to celebrate my grandfather's 85th birthday. It was Simchat Torah, I believe, and it was a group of Chabad associated students wanting to stop me so I could put on tefilin and fulfill that mitzvah for the day.
But not realizing that these people don't stop talking and have no regard for human decency outside of their own being, I didn't ignore them or walk away, I gave them the best response I could ever think of.
I took off my glasses, turned to give them a profile view, and said:
"With a nose like this, could I be anything but?!"
They laughed and started to wrap me in tefilin, as I was objecting that I was already running 15 minutes late for my train back to Boston and my family would kill me had I missed it. Did they care? No. Because to them, this mitzvah was more important than, well, me.
And I know that sounds self-centered, but trust me, it's not. And if you hang around for the rest of this entry, I'll show how my 'me' attitude is less selfish than their 'mitzvah' attitude.
Now for reasons I care not to get into, I've never been a big Chabad fan, and this lack of respect for me and my schedule -- and by extension my family -- was just the latest and most personal thing to add to my list.
(By the way, my train was 45 minutes late, so I didn't miss the train...but had the train been running on time, I would have been 5 minutes late between the 10 minutes Chabad took up of my time and the 5 minutes the cops in Union Square doing random bag checks took up...that's right, the NYPD wasted less of my time than Chabad. Thus, quantitative evidence that bureaucracy is less of a waste than religion...but I digress.)
I have since been asked this question many times -- always by Chabad, and always in the situation of being asked to do a mitzvah. Whether it be put on tefilin or light shabbat candles or sit in the sukkah, it has never been just to say "Way to be Jewish, man!" "Keep on keepin' on!" or "Here's a scholarship opportunity for fellow members of the tribe!" (I would also accept: "You're a good looking guy who obviously has his life together and I think you should meet my beautiful, sweet, smart, and wealthy sister!") Every time, I have come up with some excuse to keep on with my daily life without a constant reminder of my religious upbringing -- or more accurately, their perception of my religious upbringing.
Fast-forward to today.
The 'Mitzvah Mobile', a large black van with men in black hats dawning payis (and one man smelling of cheep liquor), pulled up to a parking spot on the east side of Sixth Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets -- a block I had to walk 6 times today.
On the sixth time walking by, one of the men yelled out, "Are you, by any chance, Jewish?" I didn't have time or desire to deal with these people. I was already running later than I wanted to for a meeting (which I, admittedly, forgot was canceled so I wasn't actually late...) on the 5th floor of one school building.
I admit, I feel bad that I totally ignored him. I pretend as I do when I have headphones in that I couldn't hear him only to realize when I got inside that I did not, in fact, have headphones in. He even made sarcastic comments to me, obviously upset by my rudeness. But I was more bothered by his implication that it was implied that I would stop my day just to talk to him more than I was bothered by coming off as a jerk.
(Again, I apologize for coming off as selfish. And perhaps I am, but...sit tight...my rant is just beginning.) (As a thousand mice click elsewhere...) (Who are we kidding; I only have 6 readers...)
So as I turned right onto 13th Street, starting to feel a little bad for being a jerk, a woman with a 2-baby wide carriage stopped at the apartment building on the corner. She looked around and tried to back her way into a door that just would not open without assistance. I, obviously, opened the door and helped her in.
At this point I realized that had I stopped and gone into the shady van with the drunk man, not only do I not know what would have happened, I would have missed this opportunity to really do a mitzvah! I mean, what is really the bigger mitzvah? To pray in a van on 6th Avenue, or to actually help a...gasp...actual living, breathing, human?
I don't think anyone would argue that it's more important to be a good person than to be a good Jew, so why do these people insist on making me be a good Jew and keeping me from being a good person? Yeah, this is a coincidence and I'm not going to say that fasting on Yom Kippur is dumb because I should be in a restaurant performing Heimlich on a choking victim, but my point remains that sometimes, there are more important things to me than religion -- and by extension, the Mitzvah Van.
Okay -- rant over.
(As 6 mice click 'unsubscribe')
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
I love being able to have a hankering for a sandwich and a disdain towards doing dishes at 1 in the morning and be able to be accommodated. And I love that, in spite of the fact that I have not cooked an omelette that looks as good as it tastes in, oh, six years, I can go out and get while taking a break from homework. And I can get it with potatoes and toast, for barely over 5 bucks. (Less in my old neighborhood, and slightly more here...but the portion here is bigger and the potatoes are vastly superior...)
And as much as New York City is a 24-hour world, it isn't 24-hours for, well, normal people. I've rarely had a post-midnight meal (on a weekday) without some kind of unusual experience or encounter.
A few weeks ago, I went in to my local 24-hour dinner to get some breakfast, and there were two policemen. There was a woman eating with her boyfriend right across the isle from the cashier. The police were waiting to pay as the woman lectured one of the men about his eating habits.
"Y'know," she said, "you should take care of yourself better. Have a turkey burger and a sweet potato instead of the hamburger and fries. Your body will thank you."
The office wanted very little to do with this woman. His partner was laughing the hole time, more as the officer's reactions than the woman herself, and the employees and i were sitting back, watching, bemused, as well.
After a long lecture, the officer reacted quickly and matter-of-factly. "Do you think that the turkey burger and the sweet potato will really offset the fact that I smoke 2 packs a day?"
From behind, I just yelled, "Go for the fries!!!" The woman and the officer ignored me. His partner laughed and gave me a look like a parent-figure both amused by the comment and upset that I opened my mouth. I took my change and left -- quickly -- though I wanted to see what happened next.
In the sit-com in my brain, they had a karate duel to the death. (Okay -- turns out the writers of my fantasies are on strike, too...) But I'm sure it was something much less interesting. Perhaps payment and a wish of "have a nice night, ma'am." But that's just not funny.
Which leads me to my point:
It's 1:30 am...I'm going to post this and go get breakfast!
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
And read that sentence as 'I' and not 'you', per se, because I cannot say what you, in fact, notice.
Much like driving around in my own car, wearing earbuds creates a faux bubble, a personal world inside the greater world. (Side-note: I highly recommend this episode of This American Life, related to this topic.) Yet as soon as I take out my earbuds, i don't just hear new things, I see them.
I was on the subway yesterday just dancing along to my music. The 'ding' came on telling me the transit employee was going to make an announcement aside from the usual automated announcements, so I pulled out my earbuds. I couldn't hear the announcement, but I kept my earbuds dangling over my collar and just looked around. I noticed a woman, crying, on the other side of the uptown 5 train.
We were at a stand-still in between stations, so I know that she had been on the train for a few minutes, but I had not seen this woman before removing myself from my personal bubble. I surveyed the gazes of those surrounding me, and I'm convinced that I'm the only one who saw this woman's tears.
The funny thing; this is the third person I've seen crying on the subway this week.
There's nothing sadder than an individual with the inability to hold back his or her tears while in public. There's nothing you can say to a person to not creep them out, and there's nothing you can do to not merit a restraining order.
And from personal experience, I can say there's nothing harder than being alone surrounded by thousand. I have struggled to hold back my own tears, before. That's why I wore sunglasses in the rain.
Monday, November 5, 2007
It's starting to get cold -- and stay cold for more than 3 days at a time. Winter is coming, the days are getting shorter...this whole turning the clocks back thing means it's darker earlier...and I, for one, couldn't be happier.
Maybe it's that I grew up in New England with a winter that is slightly harsher than that of New York City, so it doesn't bother me. But I don't think that's it.
I think I love winter for the same reason I love summer days with unbearable humidity; masculinity.
Let's face it; I'm not the most manly of men. But even I have a male ego that needs to be played to. It doesn't happen in the form of fitness. (Hell, I've seen middle-aged women with more physical power than I on a daily basis when I go to the gym.) It doesn't happen in my ability to get women. (I don't think I've been on a second date since February of 2002.) It doesn't happen in my financial independence. (I mean, c'mon, I'm a musician...and a student.)
So it comes in my ability to withstand temperatures of all extremes.
When summer comes and everyone is dragging, I get my extra burst of energy and leave everyone in the dust. When winter comes and everyone hates it, I bundle up -- in the same 6-year-old thin fleece jacket I wear anywhere from 0 to 60 (Fahrenheit) -- and a hat and gloves, and I just go.
It's like I have the streets of New York to myself. All the sane people stay in, and then there's me.
I've said before that I know I'm not 'a beautiful person' because the beautiful people come out when the weather gets nice and I am out all the time. But hey -- I'm manly!
(Or at the very least, stupid...which, according to my mother and multiple ex-girlfriends, is synonymous!)
Sunday, November 4, 2007
My family -- and many of my friends -- think dining alone is awkward. I, however, love it.
Aside from my three-step new-restaurant process, in which dining alone is step 2, I go to dine alone because there's no better place to people-watch than a restaurant.
(And since I know you're curious, the process: Step 1: takeout, because when you go to a restaurant, the ambiance has a tendency to cover mediocre food, or take away from great food, and takeout you can judge the food on its own merits; Step 2: dine alone, to watch the way the wait staff interacts with patrons, interacts with the space, interacts with superiors, as well as add the ambiance to the food; Step 3: Bring a date! (Or family, friends, etc.) With all three steps passed, I'll recommend that restaurant to people.)
Sure you can people watch at a table for two, but it's suspicious to just sit silently at a table to take in surroundings, whereas it's much easier to peer over or look through a book or newspaper, or better yet, a glass of water.
Perhaps this is a touch voyeuristic, but this is my vocational training into sociology and the human condition. I've learned to spot dates, job interviews, breakups, underaged-drinking, and just about any other restaurant situation you can think of just from my experience as a meta-situational people-watcher (ie, table for one) or a participating people-watcher (ie, part of the restaurant staff).
Sure it's more fun to people-watch with a budy, but restaurants aren't the best place for that. The best place for that is hotel lobbies!
But I still have 26 more days in this month, so that's a topic for another post.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Unfortunately, my sense of smell is strong enough that I can remember things (read: smell things) from great distances.
Today, I was in the computer lab for an hour or so just killing time between scheduled events, when someone walked by me. She was wearing my first girlfriend's perfume. I am not good at describing smells, but I can usually identify them -- through other smells, no less. (Y'see, to me, smell is a three-dimensional thing. In fact, I've been told, 'if my dog could talk, I bet he'd talk about smells like you do' before.) But this smell was the unmistakable scent of a perfume from The Body Shop, which I grew to love.
I never told my then-girlfriend, but I wasn't the biggest fan of this perfume at first. But after the first few times she wore it around me, it grew on me to the point that it was the unmistakable smell of being in love.
All it took today was a girl walking by me -- fast enough that she was out of the room or sitting down before I could see her -- and then later on the air circulating the room for me to be thrown back to 2005 when I last saw her (and smelled her) when she told me that she was happy to be able to wear it again; that she'd stopped wearing that perfume after we broke up and she was glad we were together again so she could use it up -- and maybe buy more.
I wonder if she still has any and if her now-finance has ever smelled it on her. Or if it has the same memories for her as it does me. Or if she's been able to reassign its meaning from one connected to me to one connected with infatuation.
I wonder if she threw it out or gave it to her little sister.
And most of all, I wonder if I'll ever be able to smell it and not be thrown back to the period of time I was with her from 2002 to 2005. Or better yet, just forget what it smells like.
But there's yet to be a TV commercial to teach me how to forget; only how to make someone remember me: Fresh Sport scent deodorant!
Friday, November 2, 2007
But more impressive than that: those few times you leave the immediate vicinity of home, you can still buy everything without leaving your seat.
I've seen everything sold on subways, it seems. Great live entertainment, batteries, bootleg DVDs (has anyone ever bought these? how are they? Should I consider getting one?), chap stick, and my personal favorite, deodorant.
Yes, blog-readers, deodorant. Right Guard. In 4 flavors. Sold by a homeless man who was a touch stanky and in need of a stick of his own wares.
Would you get your teeth cleaned by a man missing five of his? Or eat the food cooked by a man with no sense of taste or smell? Or to a lesser-extent, mixed drinks from a Mormon? (I would consider getting my hair cut by a bald man, but only because I think eyes are more important to hair care than hair itself.)
So why buy deodorant from a smelly man?
Oh yeah -- it's only a buck.
I'll take 3!
Thursday, November 1, 2007
So this year, I didn't dress up...and that's a lateral move from the 3 previous years.
Last year: I was an RA in a dorm for college freshman. So the 'trick or treat' part of their night ended with a trick for them, and a treat for me: paperwork. My costume? I made a price-tag (I believe $11.95 +tax) and put it on my shoulder to be a slightly used life-sized RA action figure.
Two years ago: I took my Superman shirt and put it under a button-down shirt that was half open. (Clark Kent, for those of you trying to picture it.) It worked well, too, because at that point, it was pre-laser eye surgery, so I even had glasses...
Okay, so it was a horrible costume. The funny thing: I was in New York, my brother in Boston, and we opted to wear the same costume. Only he had no glasses. As bad as that was, still better than...
Three years ago: My first year in New York. I was invited to a party I didn't really want to be at but thought it would be nice to pretend to be social. The host told me I didn't have to dress up...so I didn't. Someone I didn't know came up to me, upset that I was among the handful of people not in costume and he asked me what I was supposed to be. I looked, and deadpan said to him: "I'm really a woman." He had no idea how to respond, especially since he was already half-intoxicated.
So there you have it -- one more year down, one more costume not worn. And tomorrow, discounted candy!
Oh wait -- that's Valentine's day.
This holiday sucks...
On another note: I'm participating in NaBloPoMo. That's not a dirty word, unless you subscribe to my blog, because it means I'm going to (try to) post every day in November. I will owe a drink to all who subscribe by email if I succeed. Wish me luck!
Saturday, October 27, 2007
But I'm going to be short and sweet. In other words: I'm going to let someone else do the talking for me. But this pretty much sums it up.
"What baseball means to me...A sense of continuity...A cavalcade of characters...Enough anecdotes to fill a hundred rain delays...Debates that always rage, and are almost never settled...Familiar surroundings, always holding the possibility of something you'd never expect..."
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I know I was supposed to think about what I want to say in my music and why I compose now, but to arrive at this, I think I need to work through a few questions.
First, is of course, what composition is to me, and why I compose. Partially because of Duke Ellington's “Prelude to a Kiss.” I was given the recording off of “Indigos” by my high school piano teacher, and the combination of Duke's writing and Johnny Hodges' playing, it made me speechless. I said right then that I wanted to do that.
I guess what I want to do with it starts simply with that I am a hopeless romantic, and to me, composing is just like falling in love. Sometimes it feels good at first but then it loses all meaning as time goes on. But sometimes, it feels good and then it grows truer and truer with every passing moment. And when trying too hard to re-create the latter, the former is inevitable.
I feel like I've only ever written three songs that feel true after they've been written. All ballads, by no coincidence. (Partially because I'm drawn to ballads as a pianist because of my lack of chops and the 1925 upright piano I learned to play on whose hammers were so warn that its tone was made for ballads, and partially because I feel emotion runs through me and through ballads easier...) The first was a piece I wrote in high school called “Away,” that the melody and chord changes still hold that emotion to me whereas a lot of the rest of it doesn't, because it was used as an audition piece and therefore I worked it until it was dead. I'd love to go back and re-work it now, and still intend to. And the latest was “Broken Love Song” last May, which was an undeniable result of the time at which it was written and the horrible depression I was battling through and the breakup that happened to spiral me downward into my worst. (I was already battling depression and the breakup made things worse when it looked like they were finally getting better. The breakup did not cause the depression.)
Perhaps not so ironically, “Broken Love Song” was the first step to getting out of the depression. Part of what was depressing me was the fact that my music felt forced and lacked that emotion that I so deeply craved, and was reminded of every time the gods decided to cruelly play that Duke recording when my computer or MP3 player was on random – which seemed to happen more often than mathematically possible in a digital library of over a month of music. “Broken Love Song,” when I wrote it, I actually was quite unsure of it. When I was singing the melody still two days later, I knew I had something I'd be happy enough with for class.
The day of the reading was probably one of my darkest as far as the depression goes, having nothing to do with the reading itself. At that point, the only thing keeping me going was a blog I kept – and continue to – that at the time was a mix between a cry for help, amusing anecdotes, and an up-and-down journey of self-exploration. (I deliberately do not say 'self-realization', because that's a long process that I'm still exploring, if not entirely obvious by this piece of writing.) The reading was the first step to help, and it's the small things. I'm going to quote my blog from the next day:
I'm looking for the right words of wisdom that I've gotten in order to end this entry, but there are no words. Just looks. The look Bill Kirchner gave me Tuesday night after a new piece of my was read by a big band. He knew I wasn't sure about it, and he just looked at me, smiled, nodded, and said, "Ya did fine."
So that, more or less, gets me to the present day. And I'm scared to try to answer the question of what it is I want to say with my music now, my artistic statement, if you will. I'm scared that exploring this question, I will only be able to answer that I'm saying in my music that I'm depressed and need help. Right now, the only thing my music is saying is that I'm young, have a decent technical knowledge, and have a hell of a lot of growing up to do, both musically and otherwise. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm still an immature kid in a lot of ways. I'm just under a month shy of my 22nd birthday, and I've never been accused of being my age. On the one hand, I look at myself as someone unbelievably mature for my age who has done a lot of things in his life and has some great stories, especially for a 22 year old. And on the other, I'm immature and hide it.
I guess the fact that I have so much trouble answering this question adds to my fears that I am a fraud. I mean, it used to be so easy for me to just sit down and write. Some of the things that were easy for me once are still easy for me: I can still play by ear with little problem. I still memorize by sound – only better than ever because my ears are better – but that's because my brain will only internalize by aural abilities. I can take a lead sheet and arrange it for 3 horns or 4 horns easier than ever.
But I don't. Maybe for the same reason that it's hard for me to write as easily as I once did, before I called myself a 'composer'. (I wouldn't call myself a 'musician' or a 'composer' until I had outside validation of acceptance to music school. Before that, I was an 'aspiring musician' or someone who did music heavily in life and that's where my passion was, but I didn't throw the terms around lightly. Comparably, I write, and I write better than many 'writers' I know, but the fact that I have no outside validation – and don't look for it – with writing, I will never call myself a 'writer'.) Maybe it's harder for me to compose now because I have too much knowledge and I have higher standards. Or maybe it's simply that I'm not at a piano every day anymore – both because I do not have a piano in my residence, and for the physical issues of my shoulder injury that a piano does truly hurt if I play too much. (Which creates some issues in some classes when I cannot physically get the work done. To pass out of piano lessons, I had to do an extra semester and make a deal that I would be passed more on effort than on results.)
So this all somehow brings me back to what it is I'm saying, or want to say, with my music now.
I guess, more than anything, I want to say that I'm not a fraud. But beyond that, I want to paint portraits and evoke emotion. I don't want to paint portraits in the film score sense – although that would be nice for financial reasons – but I want to paint emotional portraits. I want to be able to capture something true.
I wish I could be less vague, especially because I bet I cannot find a composer alive (or dead) who would ever say he didn't want to capture truth. So perhaps I should figure out what my 'now truth' is.
So I want to capture something that is both hopefully for the future and nostalgic for the past, and yes, unhappy in the present. In a way, I think doing this is what makes something timeless: something that speaks to both the past and the future and it's only real relationship to the present is that it exists now.
But my problem with this is simple: I don't like the thought that I am stuck within the constraints of ballads and songs with a minor feel – even if not in a minor key. So beyond that timelessness of an unhappiness that, in my mind, isn't really unhappy but better described as 'romantic', I also want to capture a timelessness of childhood and innocence. (Best example I can think of off the top of my head is Marian McPartland playing “Moon River” on her Piano Jazz program when Henry Mancini was on. It has longing in it, nostalgia in it, and even an up-tempo and playful/childish section in it. That one rendition basically sums up what I want my music to say.
I've got a long way to go, though, and I know it. And the work to get there excites me and scares me like nothing else. I'm excited by it, but scared because I just don't know where to begin. My natural abilities have only carried me so far, and they're running out and I cannot keep playing to them before I fall into the “all his music sounds the same” place. I like having a distinct voice, but I don't want it to be a monotone voice.
And that's probably enough self-exploration for now. I'm sure there'll be more, much sooner than I have