Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"So now what?"

As the year draws to a close, and, well, some other things happen that have happened on December 31, 2008, I think back to some of the words in my life that pain me the most: "So now what?"

It's not important the negative meaning they have and the memories from May of 2004 that they bring with them, what's important is what I've done with them since.

I've taken it from: Well, now that it's over, what...; and I guess that's it; to: I've done all of this, so what's the next step? How can I better things?

And that's how I'm going to look at 2009. (As much as I hate to be reflexive on new years and birthdays, I guess it happens to all of us...)

I look at 2008: I conquered depression, I had the best academic semester of my life, I had my last -- and most successful -- year of camp, I started a podcast, I became an integral part of a 3-man production team in a long-term radio documentary project, I got them to hire me as a temp to PAY me for that work, I embedded myself in an office at school and got over $1,000 for the work I did with them that I would have done (and will continue to do) for free, I started a podcast, and so much more.

So now what? How can I make sure I only build on that?

I guess we'll soon find out! It all starts...


now

Year in Review -- in pictures!

Courtney did this last week and I absolutely loved it, so I'm stealing it!

January


















February















March



















April














May


















June















July















August















September















October















November



















December



Promotions!

I got promoted on my last day of work before the holiday break.

Sure it wasn't much -- from intern to, well, temp -- but it's something. (And from $8.50-$10 a DAY to $10/hour...that's a pretty good percentage!)

More than anything, it's nice to be appreciated. The promotion was followed by a toast with bubbley (clear, diet soda that was actually quite good!) and then lunch on the radio station at a Vietnamese restaurant. (Quite yummy, I must say!)

I guess this is the first step to getting real employment after graduation -- a paid job that I pay taxes on.

I guess this is what they call: moving up in the world...

Watching the Snow Fall

I went to bad last night (ok...3 in the morning...) knowing that I would wake up to a snow storm. (Ain't weather forecasts fun?)

I was disappointed when I woke up to no snow. (I woke up at 8; too early for the snow.)

But then when I went back to sleep and woke up again at 10:15, the snow was coming down in full-force with hefty winds behind it. I realized that I could watch this snow for hours on end.

Back in my days when I wrote all the time -- before I spent my creative energies on musical composition -- I would sit up at night and watch the snow fall in the aura of each streetlight and house lamp. No light, total blackness, but in the light, a sphere of white forms outlining the reach of each light, dancing in and out of visibility.

Yes each snowflake is different, but truth is, when they're put together, there are really only 3 or 4 different kinds of snow storms.

The first real snow of this season, though, was a fun one.

I was at work at WNYC. Very large flakes. Pringle-sized isn't a stretch. I came inside from buying my lunch and said to the associate producer I work with, "Noel; look at how huge those flakes are!"

So he, Courtney (a producer for Radio Rookies), and I stood at the window and watched. It was as if we'd never seen snow, yet we are from Colorado, Minnesota, and Massachusetts respectively. We clearly know from our share of snow.

I guess it wasn't the snow that caught us but rather the nostalgia that comes with snow for us. I'm sure we all had our own memories of snowball fights and snow forts and snow men and catching snowflakes on our tongues -- a pastime I tried on my walk home from work that night, not remembering how truly hard it is.

Or maybe it's just because it was beautiful...

Holiday Season

This year, the holiday season came way too early. I do not want to hear Christmas music on November 1. I do not want to walk through Little Italy and be wished a Merry Christmas in lights above the street (in Italian, no less) on October 29. I do not want to see Santa in the TimeWarner center on October 20.

I'm not a curmudgeon, though; I promise. On December 1, I like it all.

The music is contagious -- for better or worse -- and there is nothing more amazing than the smell of trees being sold on the corner. (Okay -- maybe one thing: the look of the street-corner tree-stores after a light snow.)

But the best thing about the holiday season is that no matter when it starts, it always has a set end-date: January 2.

And we all know that the best thing about a tunnel -- even a cheer-filled and song-infested one -- is the light at the other end.

Welcome back, normal life. I missed you. (Though I will miss that tree smell...)

Visiting Camp

In my week on the Cape, I went into camp. I walked around and saw the new pool and new archery range. On the one hand, the range is too close to society and will no longer be a recluse for my successor and their staff and kids. On the other, I'm incredibly jealous that whoever comes after me will get to shape this range in his (or her) image and set things up in a way that will leave a physical mark on the camp in ways that I never had the opportunity.

In the hour-and-a-half (ish) that I was there, I must have been offered a job 10 times. And with every offer, it got harder to say that I can't. (Partially because I am scared of "real life" employment and the prospect of real-life UNemployment, and partially because I miss it terribly and cannot imagine what it will be like without having camp in my life.)

Yes, home is where the teddy bear is, but home is also where you're name is written 10 times in various color markers and bright orange spray-paint in an archery shed.

I can't wait to go home for another visit...

Winter Sky

I just spent a week in relative seclusion on Cape Cod. I've spoken before about how much I love that place, even specifically getting into the sky before. But there is something about the Cape Cod night sky in the dead of winter that is even more amazing.

The wind howls -- even more than in the warmer months -- and yet the air has a calmness to it. Everything is peaceful and the feeling of being both part of something greater, integrated in to the world around you and being the ruler of the domain around you is unparalleled when more people are around.

I had hoped for snow that didn't come until I left, yet it's probably better that way; I have no shovel there to dig my car out in the event of snow. But wind, a large Christmas tree, and incredibly stars were more than enough.

Goals

I'm scrambling...to get to 100 posts on the year. (This post brings me to 93.)

That was a goal I set out for myself in June. If you count my Blog by SMS posts, I'm there already. But I'm only going to count that if I can't make it there today. (I may backdate if I finish by 3 am on the 1st...don't tell.)

But since that doesn't count as a legit post to me, I'm now going to talk about goals and resolutions.

I made a resolution a few years ago never to make New Years Resolutions again. It's the only one I've ever kept -- and even exceeded my own expectations on.

Tom tried to get me to make one last night to perform this year more in public. A nice goal that I can get behind, but I will not resolve to it for a new years resolution.

I was speaking about resolutions last night with Elisa last night, and she mentioned a resolution to be happy. To me, that's not a New Years Resolution, it's a daily resolution. I wake up every morning and tell myself that I'm going to do my best to be as happy as I can be. It's a lofty goal sometimes. And it's work sometimes.

It would be easy to give up on it and stay in bed on days when it is real work, but where's the fun in that?!

So yeah -- no resolutions for me, at least not of the 12-month variety. I'll stick with taking it one day at a time.

(And one blog post at a time! 7 more!)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gargling Geshwin

This is probably the great thing I've ever seen...

it's from the Star Wars episode of the Muppet Show. (Season 4, Episode 17)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Winter on Cape Cod Bay

I'm going up to Cape Cod for Christmas -- since, hey, Jews can get Chinese food and watch a movie anywhere, right? But I'm looking forward to it.

I've been on the cape in the winter only a few times, but one of them was during a blizzard, and I hope that happens this year. Why? well, let me paint you a picture...

Low tied on Cape Cod Bay, the water is nowhere to be found for 2 miles except for small streams here and there between the sand bars. When it snows, everything that is sand is pure white, everything that is water is pure black. So under moonlight, the snow glows in a way that almost requires sunglasses with these streams of complete nothingness running between them with the undertones of waves in the distance echoing from miles off splashing against rocks -- small bay waves, a small hush of ebb and flow, not ocean waves of crash and boom.

Just thinking about it makes me smile...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Recipe for Success

I'm editing poems for poetry class and someone int he class wrote one "how to make friends." I got excited that I was going to read a recipe. (He didn't write a recipe.) But it caused me to write this:

--

A Recipe for Success

One-half cup of softened butter
Two squares of baking chocolate
One cup of sugar
Eggs, Flour, Salt, baking powder
Vanilla,
Mild contempt and impatience
Drive, determination,
One-half cup of miniature chocolate chips
in a 9-by-9 square pan.

Don't over bake.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Blog by SMS

So after my philosophical discussion by text message, I decided it would be fun to blog by SMS, as well.

So I am.

Blog by SMS

http://ayellensms.blogspot.com

For when I feel the urge to post some kind of short thought.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: CAKE!!!

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was a caramel cake. So Jen and I (mostly her) decided to make a night of it. An afternoon of baking and a night with friends to eat it. Sounds great, don't it?

Like last time, we're going to do a tandem blog with Jennifer in italics. I'll start, but I'm going to start by telling to story of cake in animated .gif rather than words. I'll add some words later and let Jen take it from there...

I may have had a lot of fun with this image documentation from ingredients to cake.



--


My favorite part was the Macgyver action I had to do in our baking. First thing's first: Jen's mixer didn't so much work when we plugged it in, so it took a lot of arm strength and about 4 or 5 different mixing tools, from forks to spoons to hand-beaters to silicone spatulas...but that was just the start of it. Having nothing to strain the browned butter (Jen's colander had very large wholes), I took a piece of foil and put it in and poked it. It worked surprisingly well! Also with the butter: I didn't want to wait for it to cool, so I made a cold-water bath in order to cool it quickly so we could get to the cake.

There were a few other moments like that, but those are the two that stick out.

Anyway, Jen, take it away! (again, Jen is italic, I am normal.)

I was very worried about making this cake and recipe work. I thought we might screw up the caramel sauce-- don't ask me how, but if there's anyone who can screw up a concoction of sugar and water, it'd be me. I always get apprehensive when in the kitchen. Printed, the recipe was six pages!

I had confidence that we could do it, I just didn't have confidence that I could do it without burning myself. I ducked down below the stove when I poured in the water to avoid burning.

For prep for this month's challenge, I knew we'd need round cake pans, a thermometer, and a sifter. Bought the first two, didn't have time to grab the sifter. Thanks to Rhea and her sifter, our team of two turned into a trio. Also thinking ahead, because this cake was unlike our last challenge (crackers), it seemed like a prime opportunity to throw a social night. And thus, "Cake and Cocktails" was born. While buying more sugar, I also bought $50 of mixers from Pathmark-- cranberry juice, grenadine, seltzer, tonic water, etc.

You know what happened when we were actually baking. Had to go get more confectioner's sugar, the hand mixer broke... I think that was the only real surprise. Mixing entirely by hand is a pain! (And how is it that my mom's hand mixer still works after twenty years and mine breaks after one or two?)


Because she probably didn't buy her's for $5...and pain? I was VERY sore the next day! I did the bulk of the mixing, though Jen certainly took over when I got fatigued...and then I went back to doing it once rested...and so on and so forth.

It's interesting that for a "Cake and Cocktails" night, most people went for the cake and asked for milk. (I think it's safe to say we had a success on our hands.) Heck, instead of sitting in the living room, we moved chairs into the kitchen to sit closer to the cake. I still have caramel sauce in my fridge, and leftover heavy cream. Last weekend, I used both to make a rather incredible ice cream sundae. Still wondering what else I can do with all the caramel. It's kind of a smoky wonderful flavor compared to the jarred caramel you find in stores.

There's always more ice cream!

If we have the time, I'd like to go back and make the caramel candies. (And also figure out how to make caramel decorations for the cake-- our experiments w/ the sauce were more of a mess than anything else. The cake looked decent, but it could have looked amazing if only the caramel would hold shape!)

And there you have it!

Until next month!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Flashbacks

I'm home for a few days for Thanksgiving. It's less painful than usual, yet there have still beem a few awkward moments.

Some, shall we say, flashbacks. Nothing more than a moment or two, but flashbacks to Thanksgivings past and trips home of yesteryear.

Some good moments, some bad. All just flashes.

These moments make me realize that, while I'm more comfortable coming back here than ever before, it is also less home than ever. Perhaps that's why I'm more comfortable here -- I've managed to make it into a place I just go and not a home I should feel emotional connection to.

I mean, I, of course, feel emotional connection. This is my past. This is my childhood. And more importantly, this is the now of a majority of my family. I've gotten over hating here for me and replaced it with liking here for them.

I'm still not ready to even consider living here again, so I'm going to update my resume and start sending it out, but that's neither here nor there.

And I guess, in a weird way, so am I.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mirrored Existence

I was in the Union Square subway station today and someone was walking around with a mirror.

I was fascinated by this. I mean, when we think of mirrors, it's in our bedrooms, our bathrooms -- perhaps even the all-glass office building we walk by to get to work -- but not in a subway station.

I couldn't stop following this person around. I wanted to see what everyone else sees of me when I'm out in public. I wanted to have an out-of-body public-place experience.

But most of all, I wanted to see if anyone else noticed. I wondered if I was the only person who saw this place-based anachronism (is there a word for that?) -- as an opportunity, as I did, or even merely noticed it.

It almost makes me want to get a mirror and just stand on a street corner and see what happens.

Maybe when it gets warmer...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brown Shoes

My "About Me" section is quite simple: I'm a pair of brown shoes stuck in a world of tuxedos.

I stole this from a Johnny Carson clip of George Gobel, a not-exactly funny comedian. He, of course, was making a joke, but I took it for myself in a serious way.

I love the image of me as a pair of brown shoes looking for my non-black-tie event.

At the worst of times, this is the story of me not fitting in wherever I go. At the best of times, it's me being myself wherever I go. They are two sides of the same coin, but a very different feeling.

The first is isolated and lonely: We call that Tuesday Night (when I can stay up a little later than the rest of the week and have time to reflect, which is always scary...). It's the feeling I have had in the social past of my camp days: too young to hang with the older crowd, too old-acting to hang with the younger crowd. It's the feeling I've had in certain employment situations when I'm not quite staff and not quite student, so I fall in between. It's the feeling I get at parties where I don't know anybody or at restaurants when I'm the only singe one -- and sometimes it's the feeling I get walking through the park with the gittery inability to keep one song playing on my MP3 player for more than 18 seconds.


The second is that liberating time when I feel free and liberated from the world around me. It's those moments when I pull out my earbuds and dance to the music in my head, twirling in the rain. It's the times when I sit in a park or a coffee shop or a book store with my pad of paper, pen, and words flow from my brain to my pad so quickly I don't know if my brain or my hand is doing the thinking. It's those moments when I'm in front of a band, conducting my music, controlling the fate of the instantaneous creation that comes with live performance. It's the feeling of versatility -- brown shoes can be casual or dressy, depending on what they're going with -- while those around me are stuck in one setting -- a tuxedo never sends a mixed signal and cannot be shifted from venue to venue with the mere change shirt.

Good with the bad, I'll take my chances in life as a pair of brown shoes.

Especially the ones that are slightly warn, snug, and nearly as comfortable as bare feet.

And now, the clip of the Carson show, which may completely ruin everything I've stated above...but then again, the metaphor of a pair of brown shoes is, in fact, a pair of brown shoes: good for many meanings and contexts.

Here's the comedic one:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Keyboards

It seems I'm happiest when I'm sitting at a near 90-degree angle with my fingers sitting on keys. That is to say: typing (writing this, poetry (for which I have a newly rediscovered love/hate relationship with thanks to my poetry class), short stories, emails to friends, cover letters, resumes, scripts for radio segments...) and playing piano.

The funny thing is my fingers work in completely different ways in those two settings.

I type 100 words a minute, (90 on a day when I'm a little slow or my left hand is faster than my right, which happens once a week or so, and closer to 110 on a good day...and, incidentally, later at night. like right now, I'm typing closer to a 105-WPM pace. It could also be this new keyboard which sits very comfortably, though I would prefer a chair about 2 inches higher) which is faster than most everyone I know and has gained me the title of "Captain Transcription" at work for my ability to transcribe interviews at a pace of 2.5-3x real-time, which may not sound fast, but actually is.

Playing piano, I can play lines at around 100-120 BPM which is, well, slow by comparison to those around me. I have no chops. This confused my boss at work when I told him this. ("I can only imagine how you play piano with the speed of those fingers!" "Y'know Monk?" "Yeah..." "Imagine that, but more inside, more clusters, fewer lines, more silence, and slower whole-tone scales.")

Of course, you could argue that I get about the same keystrokes per minute with the two since I'm rarely hitting more than one key at a time at the computer (only exception to the one-at-a-time is the shift key) and am rarely hitting fewer than 3 notes at a time (and I've certainly done 10 or more...) on the piano.

And yet, I feel both incredibly self-confident and terribly inadequate at both. (I'm the rare over-confident, dare I say cocky, completely self-conscious self-hating artist. I'm simultaneously a gift to the world and a black hole sucking up the energy of those around me making all space around me devoid of value. Yeah; it doesn't make much sense to me, either.)

I'm like the shy stripper who says 'look at me' and 'look away' at the same time...

And I really need to work on my metaphors. (For those of you who are about to say 'but you used 'like', it's a simile!' similes are a kind of metaphor...)

I think where I meant to go with this is that I like to create. And as much as I like creating for those around me to enjoy, I enjoy creation for the sake of creation itself and for the journey I go on. The collection of journal entries and short stories that I have never shared with anyone is vast -- and at times, depressing -- but they weren't made for sharing, they were made for transforming.

And the improvisation sessions I've had at a piano when nobody else is home number in the weeks, not days or hours, and I always feel incredible after it's over and wish I could reproduce it when people are around -- or even when I have a tape-recorder on.

Yet if art were created only so it could be reproduced identically, then oral culture would not exist. Story-telling, fables, history, jazz, folk music, folk tales, and religion, would merely be figments of our imagination and memories of a distant past.

I guess with that in mind is how entries like this happen -- entires whose start and finish is connected through a thin thread that barely holds together, yet because it happened in real-time, one right after the other, it stays -- no editing, like the spoken word. Once it's out there, you can't go back and retrace your steps and make a new transition and a line of thought that makes sense.

Instead, you're stuck with this.

Circular art with the intent to transform -- yet it's left me right back where I started.

I guess I better quit while I'm only slightly behind...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Final Semester

Next semester is my final semester. So why, on November 1, am I writing about it when it is November 1 -- seven weeks to go in THIS semester?

I register on Monday. That, of course, means that I've had a mock-up of the schedule I'll likely have since Tuesday.

It's kind of scary and weird. Next semester, I'm going to have at most two classes on campus, with a very real possibility of none. Quite simply: That whole "it's a full-time job to find a full-time job" crap? I, unfortunately, have the time to make that my full-time job.

I'm scared of unemployment. I'm scared of debt. But more than anything, I'm scared that I'll have to leave New York City before I'm ready.

I know it's a city not for everyone, but all I need is a weekend away to fall in love with it again.

(Now why can't I find a women I feel like that about?)

So yeah -- that's it for now.

Later in the week, I'll share some of my adventures from collecting materials for my podcast.

Monday, October 27, 2008

How to compose

I've been neglectful of ye olde blog because I've been so enthralled in ye olde podcast. It's been an amazing experience and it just keeps getting better and better.

I hope this trend continues...

But I wanted to take a break from my audio work to pass along this piece of advice I was given.

I mentioned my composer's block -- as well as lack of desire to compose because of frustration with the medium for which my composition is going, but that's a story for another time -- to David Sherr and he had a simple piece of advice.

--

Take a piece of score paper and put a note on it and then think about another note that might sound good after it or above it or below it or even before it. Then think about another piece (by someone else) that has those same two notes, or similar ones and write something the same or something different. Don't be afraid to erase. Keep putting notes down until you start to see an idea. It may work.

--

Simplified, I read this as: Just sit down and do it and accept the fact that it might not work.

And now, we get back to things I've been told by Bill Kirchner, Kirk Nurock,, Sy Johnson, and David Zoffer alike -- among others: Don't be so afraid of failing. Everybody writes bad music; the key is making sure that bad music isn't the ONLY thing you write.

And now -- off to bed so I can wake up and write bad radio and bad music and bad essays and bad stories and bad blog entires so that I can make it to the good ones faster.

Wish me luck!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tell Me Your Story

I just had a fascinating afternoon. No two ways to describe it.

I sat in Union Square Park from 11a to 2p with my recording equipment and a sign that said "Tell me your story." (A picture of the sign to come when I get home tonight, but I wanted to write about it while I had some free time.)

A lot of people came up to me and asked me what I was doing, or took my picture (if you stumbled upon this blog because you saw me in Union Square, say 'hi!' If you took a picture of me, send me a quick note; I'd love to see it.)

I got into Union Square around 10:55 am, upset at the fact that I forgot about the Farmers' Market and the fact that it took up most of the park. But that's okay; I adjusted and went to the picnic tables in the North West corner of the park, a set of tables at which I've eaten many-a-meal.

I set up my equipment and my sign and waited.

First let me tell you the point of this project:
It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, now. It's a stolen idea from Tony Kahn and WGBH morning stories. (Available here, scroll down to "you don't look Jewish" and play it.) I decided now was my chance, as I have a midterm projected called "Signs of our Times" and I decided that this was my chance to show that oral history still exists and that storytellers are not just confined to Children's Hour at the local library.

So yeah -- I waited.

I didn't have to wait long, as within 5 minutes, two men came up to me. One of them spoke quickly. He just wanted to get his plight off his chest of his girlfriend who used him. She was with him for 3 months, but only while her old boyfriend was in jail, it turns out...

It was short, but I was off to a good start. The mere fact that someone came up to me made me feel better about the project.

By noon, I'd had six people tell me their stories, and then one more came before 12:15.

From then until 2, I spoke with another 4 or 5 people, but only one on tape. A lot of people came up to me interested in what I was doing and telling me they thought it was fascinating, though they would not divulge their stories to me.

I don't blame them. It was a little strange to me asking for these people to do something I, myself, would likely not have done. But either way, it was a fascinating experiment and experience.

I will likely do this again Friday, and perhaps again over the weekend once or next week. This is something I could see myself gathering material for long after the project is completed and turned in.

And no, the themes were not confined to romance. In fact, there were nearly no common threads at all. There were two stories about traveling -- but very different. (One about explosive...well...stomach issues, and one about being chased by Egyptian children.) There were stories of strange things, stories of learning to read, and one woman who spoke about faith so beautifully, that I, once again, became jealous of those with it.

Perhaps my favorite story was the woman who came up with her dog and said, 'My dog has a story.' I was unsure what to do, so I said, 'I'd love to hear it!' The woman told the story of adopting her dog and finding out her breed.

I have not yet listened to the audio, I just hope the Park noise wasn't too much to overcome...

Snapshots of New York City

For my poetry class, I spent the last couple weeks working on a few very short "snapshots" of New York.

Most of these are actually based in things I've written about on this blog. I think I have more of these in me, too, but this is it for now. (Perhaps I'll annotate them later in the week if anyone wants links to the long stories that go with the short vignettes.)

--

World Peace! Can you spare some world peace?
Silence
He settles for a Hebrew National from the Pakistani vendor.

--

Waltzing with a silent partner
forcing my umbrella from my grip
to its final resting place on the curb

--

The happiest man on earth
the homeless man on 12th street
dancing, singing, and begging.
No money, no worries, no problems
just beer.

--

A sixth floor jazz club:
New York Skyline,
Kenny Barron,
Chocolate Cake,
Merlot.

--

Are you, by any chance, Jewish?
I hate the Mitzvah Mobile.
I've given up religion; let me go to class.

--

I eat dinner alone as she walks in
with him.
She could do better.
She chews with her mouth open.
He could do better.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Philosophy by SMS

I engaged in a philosophical discussion today that can only be described as "Philosophy by text: bettering your mind 160 characters at a time."

It started when someone in my class said something that sparked a beautifully poetic thought in my head. He brought in a piece of music he wrote (while collaborating with a poet). The teacher asked if his collaborator wrote the words, and he said, "no, he didn't write them; he just chose them from an essay..." I didn't hear the rest of the sentence or who wrote the essay or, well, any discussion of the piece of music before it happened. Instead, I pulled out my phone, and the following interaction happened throughout the course of the day between me and perhaps the only person I know who would engage in such conversation with me, by any medium.

--

Thought of the moment: you never write words, you merely select them.

--

hmm, but the selection of them creates meaning.

--

Undoubtedly. Much like we do not create new colors, but our choice of what to paint with speaks volumes.

--

yes. what about music then?

--

Stravinsky invented the last remaining harmonies. So yes, it is still true. All notes and chords exist, it's their placement we decide.

--

George Segal -- a sculptor -- said it took him years to realize it is man who makes art, not gods or demi-gods

--

Man turns the everyday (made by gods) into art.

--

oooh, watch out Segal

---end SMS conversation---

NB: I'm not sure about the Stravinsky statement, but I stand by that all notes and harmonies already exist, it is their placement. In fact, a rant about this is probably short-coming, explaining how I ended up writing music how I do and what shifted me about 3 years ago...

Anyway -- I just wanted to share.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Forced Reflection

Wednesday sundown to Thursday sundown was Yom Kippur, which means only one thing: Fasting. Okay -- it means two things: Fasting and long religious services.

Yom Kippur is the only holiday for which I truly feel anything spiritual -- and it has nothing to do with the themes of the day of repentance and forgiveness and the whole 'sealed in the book of life' whatnot. In fact, my feelings come nothing from religion. (For my mother, the end of Yom Kippur is the only service the entire year she feels anything for. I did not ask her reasoning, but we discussed why she no longer feels for the beginning -- which is, incidentally, the same reason for which I DO feel for the beginning...but that's for a post later in the week when I am still thinking about it and itching to write...you've been warned.)

What Yom Kippur does for me it does because it forces me to reflect. I mean, what else is there to do? I'm standing for what feels like 75% of the time, in a room that's always too warm, wearing four layers, usually (undershirt, collared shirt, blazer, talis), with prayers that are either chanted by the clergymen or prayers that are chanted as a congregation which I do not actually believe in and therefore drift in and out of actual participation. For one day in the year, it is merely me and my thoughts...scary.

When battling depression, nothing scared me more than my own thoughts. (I've gotten over that fear, fortunately, but it still turns out that I'm better off when I'm not thinking too much.)

When standing among the congregation, being read to about my fate and faith -- neither of which I'm sure of -- my mind wanders to dreams I've had -- past and present. I think of relationships -- romantic and otherwise -- past and present; of the friends I no longer see and the ones I hope to spend more time with. I think of the music chanted around me -- a sensibility and sound that has undoubtedly shaped the music I make. I think of the music I have made, sometimes finding myself humming a piece of my own whose emotional context is too powerful to speak of and hopefully comes through in its execution.

But most of all, I think of my problems.

It's a day about the sins of the year past, and while some find it important to apologize to those around them and all of those whom they've wronged, I find myself having issue most of all apologizing to myself. My self-deprecation and lack of self esteem has forced me into being the stereotypical self-hating Jew, the struggling musician whose art is never good enough for himself -- let alone the world around him, the bitterly single curmudgeon with no confidence to pursue the girl of his dreams and the standards too high let himself wake up from his dream-world to find the perfect girl inside reality, the man who feels guilt every time he pulls out his credit card to treat himself to a nice meal, new clothing, or even entertainment -- the only known medicine to an ailing soul.

I owe myself an apology (or therapy), and I'm too stereotypical of the stubborn man to break down and give it, even though I know I'd accept the apology willingly.

The physical effects of Yom Kippur -- this damn hunger headache -- will undoubtedly be gone by the time I wake up in the morning (hell, it's subsided to a bearable point already), but the mental ones may take a few days.

And to think: this is the one holiday I actually care about...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Shostakovich and Crickets

Sometimes life throws little moments of perfection in with the hectic-ness of day-to-day living.

For me, it’s sitting in my kitchen, listening to the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, contemplating the meaning of religion and my own spirituality during the holiest days of the year while allowing the soft sound of crickets from outside seep in to my consciousness between fortes.

(Third time's a charm, right?!)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Photography

"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." -Walker Evans

I was introduced to the work of Walker Evans through the book he did with James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Agee, the journalist, Evans, the photographer. It is a long book -- the story of three tenant farmer families with fantastically lyrical writing and raw photographs.

Yes the photographs take up likely 20 or 25 pages to the text's 250 (numbers estimated; the book is in New York while I am not right now...), but they are clearly evens. Evans himself said so:

"The photographs are not illustrative. They, and the text, are coequal, mutually independent, and fully collaborative. By their fewness, and by the importance of the reader’s eye, this will be misunderstood by most of that minority which does not wholly ignore it. In the interests, however, of the history and future of photography, that risk seems irrelevant, and this flat statement necessary."

Of course he is right, but not just in this work, but all work.

The cliche is that a picture is worth a thousand words. I don't buy it -- though I do think things only become cliches because of their inherent truth. But these pictures are worth so much more than words which, in effect, is wordless: emotion.

Photographs complete the eavesdropping picture, filling in the details. Eye contact is the fasted way to raw emotion, and photography is the only way to capture eye contact free from the deterioration of time.

As I work at The JazzLoft Project, which includes the tapes and photographs of Eugene Smith, a photographer who always had a reel-to-reel going and film in his camera, the power of photography shows itself even more to me.

I wish I had the camera for it. I wish I had the eye for it. For now, I'm better than most in my family, but worse than all who call themselves photographers -- and many who don't. But I guess I'll just appreciate the art that others do, and more importantly, not hesitate to stare every now and then.

After all, it's the only way to learn something.

Walker Evans, Hale County, Alabama, 1936. From Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Available here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sept. Daring Bakers: Lavash Crackers & Toppings

So Jennifer and I decided to join Daring Bakers. Basically, every month, i get an email with a recipe and we do our best to make it and not poison ourselves. This month was Lavash Crackers and toppings. The topping we went for was the included recipe of a peach salsa.

But now, to the documentation of our first adventure. Jen's comments are regular, mine are italic.

--

So our adventure started with Jen meeting me at work and us going into Whole Foods in Union Square. We picked up our ingredients and were on our way. The highlight of our ingredient shopping was the chili peppers for the salsa: A small red chili pepper and an even smaller pepper that looked like a miniature bell pepper. They were unlabeled and we were unsure of what we were getting into. The cashier looked and said, "What are these?" Jen and I had no idea, so we were charged for a red pepper and a yellow pepper -- 25-cents total, since they are sold by weight -- on the logic that, "Hey; it's a pepper and it's red. We'll call that a red pepper!" I have since found out what the yellow one was, but forgot it. Either way, I know to never use it again.

First, as I put on a DVD of "Family Guy," Jennifer put all the dry ingredients together. Once they were all in a bowl, it was time to make it into a ball by adding water. A side-note out about dry ingredients: the recipe called for instant yeast. I am still unsure what kind of yeast we picked up, but it turns out we should have done our research. What we should have done was add water to our yeast first and measure more of it, otherwise, well, the dough wouldn't rise...but that comes later.



Once we had our ball of ingredients, it was time to knead! Who knew, but kneading gets tiring. We had to knead it for about 15 minutes.



Once our dough was ready -- which Jen tested so wonderfully (no picture available), it was time to let it rise. Jen got impatient and kept checking on it. But it still didn't so much rise because of, well, our yeast problems. Who knew?!



In the meantime, Jen and I started cutting up what was needed for the peach salsa, including half an onion, peaches, half a honeydew, and those peppers I mentioned above. They didn't look too bad, but when I accidentally touched my eye and had to go flush it, I knew we were in trouble. (And then the accidental lip touching, which BURNED!) Here is our salsa, un-mixed and without the lime-juice mixture that went in with it. It's very pretty looking, I must say!



Then the actual cracker-making:
We rolled out the dough to a paper-thin France-shaped object. I got a little Swedish Chef moment that had to be documented, though our dough was not alive and rising in front of our eyes...quite the opposite.





We decided to then separate France into three sections -- poppy, sesame, and cinnamon-sugar. You can tell the ones Jen cut from the ones I cut. I decided I wanted uniformity regardless of the shape of the dough and went with squares all across. Jennifer went with some triangle-type thing. While her triangles may look better in pictures, my squares were much better in person...trust me.



It's probably a good thing our dough didn't rise as much as it was supposed to because as is, we filled an entire cookie sheet and I didn't want to wait another 20-30 minutes of baking time for a second batch.

The following pictures are of the final product, Jennifer trying 'em out, and the salsa -- which neither one of us liked. The crackers, however, were more like pita chips and were fantastic!





So, Jennifer, anything to add?


Stunningly, they sorta turned out, even after the yeast mishap. (If there was a way I could make a pun off of yeast infection, I would. But I cannot think of a stellar one right now, so you're off the hook.) I think my favorite of our three flavors is the cinnamon-sugar. The other two weren't bad, but had too much salt. Plus I just really like cinnamon sugar.

I agree. Having nothing to do with the salt. I had no problem with the salt, as I like salt. I just LOVE cinnamon sugar. And not to mention that the squares kicked the behinds of the triangles...

How fun would it be to make our own cinnamon swirl bread from scratch? Without a bread machine! Yes!

Great...just what I knead...um...need...sorry -- the pun had to be made.

It's interesting that making crackers or bread, or other baked goods from scratch, has become a daring challenge. It makes me realize how utterly dependent we've become on boxed goods, grocery stores, and the packaged food industry.

and how utterly out of shape my arms are, in spite of the gym!

That salsa was perhaps some of the worst tasting stuff ever. It's still in my fridge. If I had some Corona, it might taste better. I wouldn't bet money on it though.

Jen was more adventurous than I. I smelled it and realized I wasn't going to like it one bit. That was good enough for me! I didn't need to taste it to know that I was better off not tasting it.

Lessons learned:
- Everything looks better with a flash. Need a better camera next time.
- Close the cabinets before taking pictures.
- Read up on yeast BEFORE cooking with it. We were very very lucky this time. If it were bread, we would have been up a creek.
- Try not too cook w/ chili peppers before a road trip that necessitates contact lenses.
- Try not too cook w/ chili peppers in general.
- Don't use a pepper that you have no idea what it is!
- Buy more mixing bowls?
- Did we mention not to touch your eye -- or lips or mouth -- when using chili peppers? Or at the very least, wear cooking gloves when handling them.

Can't wait until next month!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Morning Commute

Today at 8:20, I looked around and admired the beauty and poetry in the morning commute in the rain.

I know it was windy and disgusting, but I found simple pleasures in the colors of umbrellas bouncing up and down, or the dance that everyone was forced to do when the wind cradled the umbrellas, fabricating a forced waltz between man and his invisible partner.

I watched as with every block closer to the station, the masses gathered. I thought to myself, "These huddled masses that New York took in, they were not huddled until rush hour."

I even let my umbrella down to enjoy the splash of water on my face.

Then my commute took an hour instead of a half-hour, and at 9:20, the poetry was gone and I was late.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Letter to Kirk Nurock

I'm not sure etiquette of posting emails to a blog, but this is an email I just wrote to Kirk Nurock, a teacher -- and in recent years, mentor -- reflecting on the past.

Basically, Kirk was the first real composition teacher I had at school -- or really ever, as my high school teacher was not composition focused, though we did that for the last year of my lessons with him. Basically, the composition program has disbanded and I will likely be the last composer to graduate. The one composition class remaining has shifted to be about final product and not about process -- which was always what separated the composers from those who composed. (It, of course, has nothing to do with final product, as half of these guys write music that I like exponentially better than my own, but process is where the difference lies.)

Kirk was also one of the people who was there for me at the tail-end of my depression, when the art that came with depression had faded and I was worried that depression made my art better. Kirk -- a survivor -- of depression, addiction, and others -- reassured me that raw emotion is where art comes from, and that happy is an emotion, just as raw as sad.

I think the affection I have for this man is evident and the letter self-explanatory, so here it is, slightly edited:

--

Hi Kirk --

So, as the school is down to its last remaining composers, Composers' Forum is, well, lacking something, say...composerly teaching.

Long story short, the class is making me long for the good ol' days with you at the helm, where compliments were hard-earned and well-deserved, and criticisms were constructive and well-received. In fact, nothing felt better than a Kirk Nurock compliment (compared to nothing emptier than a compliment now).

Basically, this is my long-winded way of saying that I've been thinking a lot about my 4 years' (and 3 weeks) experience in this place, and I realized that the best thing to ever happen to me was having you as my first Comp Forum teacher. You made me work for everything, change my
ethic, change my technique, and never let me get away with one solid week of work when it was 3 weeks since material had been shared. You prepared me well, and I wanted to say thank you.

That, and you gave me the words that keep me going whenever I hate everything I write. I came in with 6 measures of music and I said, "I've worked for 6 hours on this, and all I have to show for it is six measures I like." You looked and said, "In the entire decade of the
'70s, I have 2-and-a-half minutes of music I like. You're ahead of me." (I remember it with you addressing me as "kid" in there somewhere, but I know that's not you and it's just me turning the conversation into a black-and-white scene in a Woody Allen movie with Gershwin playing in
the background -- be it the New York Philharmonic doing "Rhapsody in Blue" or Oscar Peterson doing "It Ain't Necessarily So", the black-and-white and Gershwin is a constant...)

So this quick note turned long, but after 4 years, I'd think you'd expect that from me. :)

Hope all's well,
ay

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mentors

I'm very lucky. I've had people in my life to give me good advice and take me under their wing. I just finished emailing one of them, and re-read old email from another.

They've been school teachers, private lesson teachers, bosses, elder co-workers, and in one case, a security guard.

At this moment, I don't have anything else to say. I just want everyone to think about who they've had and thank them.

Which reminds me -- I have 5 or 6 emails to send...all to say thanks.

Rain in Manhattan

I love being outside in the rain.

Well, specific types of rain.

It has to be heavy enough to get my hair legitimately wet, light enough to not soak through my top layer -- though getting my top layer wet to the point that I cannot put it on again after taking it off is fantastic -- and, most importantly, no thunder. (I've already discussed my fear of thunder and lightning, however rational or irrational it may be...)

Rain like this makes me feel truly alive. And I hate using an umbrella. (In fact, I think the only real reason people use umbrellas on Manhattan is to combat the umbrellas of everyone else. Umbrellas are not designed for dense population, as the metal points are RIGHT AT EYE LEVEL! Ouch! Fortunately, I'm short enough and quick enough to sneak under others' umbrellas easily, or just walk 2 steps in the street and avoid it all completely.)

I just love getting wet. It makes me feel like part of nature. It refreshes me. And I get some kind of strange joy watching people struggle with umbrellas only to have no struggles myself -- since I have no umbrella.

I love wearing my sunglasses in the rain -- either on top of my head where I get to take them down and wipe them off when I get inside -- or over my eyes -- where I pretend that they are the windshield between the elements and the climate-controlled inside of my being.

When I'm at the beach, I like watching the patterns that the raindrops make -- darkening the sand drop-by-drop until the mosaic turns into a fully covered canvas. When I wear my sunglasses, it's the same kind of effect happening right in front of me -- but I get to clean the glasses and start from the beginning as often as I choose.

But the best part about being out in the rain?

The shower and hot chocolate that wait for me back home.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Runner's High

I am not a runner and I never will be.

In fact, I've only really been running for about 3 weeks, and I wouldn't even call it running. All but once, this "running" of which I write has been on a treadmill in an air conditioned gym with a fan blowing in my face, a bottle of water at my side, and the combined physical distraction of a panoramic view of the East River and a television set. (The other time was the just-shy-of 1.6 mile jog around the reservoir in Central Park for which I was grossly under prepared -- including no water and no ankle brace...though yes knee brace.)

I'm not even going to say I like running, because I don't.

But I finally understand it.

My joint ailments aside, I feel great after I run. Not right after I run, but a lot after. Once I realize that my heart rate is better than it's been, it makes it worth it. When I realize that the 20 minutes I start my workout with no longer feels like a chore and that I could easily make it 25 or even 30 minutes -- or at the very least, raise the rigor -- I feel fantastic mentally about my physical state.

And it makes me sweat. And while I am not one to care to exude masculinity, there is something very satisfyingly masculine about doing 220-pound leg presses and sweating enough that wiping down the machine actually does something.

I still hate to run, and I will probably only run in the park again from thugs or ex-girlfriends, but I appreciate it.

Kind of like Opera...

But that's for another blog post.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Good Deed

Perhaps it's the fact that I am having some spiritual crises right now and constantly question my religious beliefs, but I must say that I've always thought it's more important to be a good person than a good Jew.

So today I was going for a bite between classes. I went to Wendy's because...well...I don't need to justify myself to you people.

There was a homeless man holding the door open as I walked in. Usually these guys ask for change on the way out, and I typically give them change. In my mind, they earned it by holding the door for me. (This is how I justify it rather than just giving change to those guys just sitting on the street.)

This man, as I walked in, said, "Would you get me a hamburger?" I'm sure he said it to everyone who went in, but I stopped in my tracks and said, "You got it!"

Eight-nine cents (plus tax) later, I was leaving and he was eating a hamburger. He was delighted and grateful. He said, "God bless you." The thing that surprised me about this is the fact that I got great pleasure out of his well-wish of the religious sense.

I can't explain it. Perhaps it's the same joy I get out of a "Merry Christmas." It has nothing to do with the religion, it's just the fact that someone else notices me to wish me well, which is something that happens so rarely in New York City.

Or maybe it's because I think the blessings will matter if I'm wrong, God does exist, and Hell does exist...

I guess it's nice to be covered -- in Karma and blessings. Eighty-nine cents (plus tax) is a small price to pay for that.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Primary season...again

There's a Primary on Tuesday. Who knew?!

I certainly didn't...until I got a postcard from someone to tell me she's been endorsed by the New York Times, League of Women Democrats, and Amphibious Democrats of America, among other organizations. (Okay...so that last one's made up...) This postcard was, of course, to tell me to vote for her.

I now have a civic and ethical dilemma: Do I vote on Tuesday? I know nothing of those voting -- or for what offices. I didn't even know my district until I looked it up merely hours ago. The candidate list the city government puts out is 74 pages long and I don't feel like scanning for those I am eligible to vote for. I could pull random levers...I could write in my brother for everything (except for the office I'm most qualified for)...I could take my mother's approach and vote for all the Jews on the ballot.

So I'm not sure what to do -- or what I will do -- but I have nothing better to do Tuesday, so I think I will vote.

Alexander Yellen for City Comptroller! And City Counsel! And local selectman! And school board!

But not Civil Court. I'm voting for Nancy Bannon. The Times endorsed her! (Or so my mail told me...)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

September 3 Free-Write

So I'm in a poetry class. I've never taken a poetry class. Hell, I've never even been in a legit writing class. (I was in a class called "developing ideas for film" which was kind of a writing class, but it was more a film studies class...and my writing requirement was waived...still unsure how I talked my way into that one.)

So we had a free-write, as we will every week -- or so we're told. The instructor turned on music -- a track from the Miles Davis and Gil Evans album "Sketches of Spain." One of my favorites. I know almost every note of the whole album -- left to right, top-down. It was surprisingly easy to tune out the music and write with it on, and surprisingly difficult to write once he silenced it. I couldn't even finish my thought once the music was gone.

Anyway -- here's the poem that ended up coming out of me. Even though we were told later not to use the words 'life', 'love', 'soul', or 'death' in any poem, I can't figure out how -- or if -- to edit it out here.

This is the first poem I've written in a long time. Be kind, I guess...

(I also think I'm probably going to post select poems here when they're written, or if I need help from you, my readers...all nine of you.)


(note, I had some funky spacing to the poem, but blogger doesn't so much like it...oh well...)
--
I lay here -
an afternoon quickly turning to evening.
The sun sets slowly behind the boats on the bay.
The colors
purple orange red yellow
reflect off the sand
brown green, silver.
It's hard not to look up at the sun,
but it hurts.
Turns out the sun burns.

Sunglasses take away the sting,
but they take away the beauty.
Is this what sages mean when they say:
from pain comes beauty, and with beauty, pain?

It's like memories of first love:
the memories, beautiful
the act of remembering, pain.

I took her (and every girl since) to
this exact spot at
this exact time to experience
this exact feeling
ish
Each time, she battled pain while I experienced beauty
looking into the warmth of her eyes
rather than the heat of the sun.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Eavesdropped wisdom

It seems that some of the smartest things I ever hear are from homeless and/or crazy people. (see here, for example...)

This week was no exception.

I was in the Barns and Noble on 86th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue, just walking around the part of the store with art books, foreign language instruction, and music books. I glanced down one isle to see a man gesturing and speaking aloud.

He was clearly having a conversation -- leaving room for the answer, making gestures and whatnot, all while flipping through a book. I wasn't sure if he was rehearsing a play, having a conversation via bluetooth headset, or if he was, well, nuts.

Turns out the latter was the truth. (Nobody reads a dictionary page-by-page for that long...I should have known from that alone!)

I decided I had to hear what he was saying, so I went and looked at French-English dictionaries...for much longer than any human ever needs to.

I wasn't disappointed. The two things he said that I wrote down were:
"Life without love, what kind of life is that? ... You could give me a million dollars, but what's that without love?"

He then went off about happiness and faith. I took a small break listening to answer a question in a side-conversation about the store's hours as well as something else in the neighborhood.

I continued to listen.

"Thank god for god. I know that even if I don't believe in him, he could (as he gestured to his sides and front), you could, or even she could. And if that keeps just one person happy, that's good enough for me. Thank GOD for god."

Perhaps the thing most fitting about these tidbits is how I documented them.

I had been looking in the store for gifts and had a memo opened on my blackberry entitled "Gifts". The Gifts memo now contains 2 book titles (and their authors), and these two quotations.

Fitting...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Where everybody knows your name

I've always wanted to be a regular. I've always wanted to walk in and have everyone know my name and -- in the event of a restaurant -- know my order.

I've had 4 "regular"-type experiences in my life. The first was when I was a lifeguard at a resort one summer of high school. I frequented the restaurant in the resort when I had meal breaks. Since my schedule was regular, as was the hostess's, she knew me and my order...and my employee discount. That barely counts because, in my mind, we were co-workers.

The second was a small hole-in-the-wall cafe I walked by to get to class freshman year. Three days a week, I got myself a Snapple. With little exception, I paid in exact change. He knew mine name and I knew his, and one day when I only had a $20-bill, he looked at me and said, "I can't change this this early in the day. Pay me tomorrow."

The year I was an RA, I was at the local market every night at 1 in the morning to get a plain bagel, toasted with butter. (And, usually, a can of coke for my then girlfriend...)

This summer I had a "regular" experience, but not food-service. It was my bank. There's something to be said for small-town banking, when the only ATMs are drive-through and they know exactly what time everyone comes in every Friday to deposit their paychecks.

But tonight, I watched the experience I've always wanted.

I was at a diner for dinner and I was the only person in the entire restaurant whose name was unknown. The old woman to my left and the slightly less old man to my right knew each other, knew the bus-boy, knew the hostess to the point that she came and said goodbye to them as she left for the shift-change, knew the booth across the aisle and participated in their conversations...

You get my point.

It was a strange experience. I felt out of place in a dinner I've eaten at a dozen times.

I want that one day.

But for now, I guess I'll just stick with being a regular in my own kitchen. I could do worse.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Omit Needless Words"

There are a couple books that are sacred to me. One might call them my bibles. Neither of them is the bible.

The first is Henry Mancini's arranging and orchestration book. The second is Strunk and Whites The Elements of Style, about which I'm going to write tonight.

This was required reading in my 11th Grade AP Journalism class. Well, four of the five chapters were. This book helped shape me as a writer. Much like the real bible, I do not follow every rule in it -- such as "avoid passive voice" (Okay, it's actually "Use the active voice", but I like the passive-esque of the way I put it.) and "omit needless words" -- and also like the bible, I go back and re-read it on what feels like an annual basis.

I'm amazed, more than anything, at how dead-on my underlining skills were. I picked the right passages to pay attention to -- and also (again like some religious folks with the bible) -- have have managed to take certain sections to mean what I want them to mean and have made the most out of them, selfishly and self-satisfactorily.

Rule 12: Choose a suitable design and hold to it. I underlined: "Writing, to be effective, must follow closely the thoughts of the writer... In some cases, the best design is no design..."

Rule 14: Use the Active Voice In the entire 2 page thing, I underlined what I thought was the most important thing: "brevity is a by-product of vigor." Or likely in this case, skimming...

Rule 17: Omit needless words "Vigorous writing is concise" and that not every sentence must be short, but that "every word must tell [something that other words do not]." My corollary to this is Brevity is a gift; I traded mine in for a new discman.

Of course, back to using this book for my needs...

Rule 18: Avoid a succession of loose sentence or as I chose to underline, "A writer may err by making sentences too compact..."

The most valuable section, to me, at least, is the final chapter of the book, "An Approach to Style."

Such great tidbits justify my own writing as part of my voice -- which I'm told can be heard in my writing, and vice versa -- starting with "[style] is a expression of self..." Or better yet, write in a way that comes naturally. (Say, my stream-of-conscious style that I have somehow made work academically, too.)

In the rule Be Clear, they say "When you say something, make sure you have said it." Sounds obvious. And yet, how many things do I read (or write, unintentionally) that don't follow this?

The one thing in the entire book I have highlighted -- whereas everything else is bracketed or underlined in blue pen -- is "If you are deeply troubled and are composing a letter appealing for mercy or for love, you had best not attempt to organize your emotions..."

That's right, my bible tells me that emotions are messy.

Does yours?

Oh, how I love "religion."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Encounter

I wrote this story as a therapeutic tool in May. I ran into her this past week but it was nothing like this story. In fact, no words were exchanged at all. Just eye contact...

But here is the fictionalized account from May. Be kind.

--

I was looking down, slowly deciding whether to set my life's soundtrack to Oscar Peterson or Henry Mancini. Mancini spoke to the mood I was in – nostalgic, secluded, and wanting to take in the beautiful scenery of the city only in slow motion. Oscar spoke to the mood I wanted to be in – that of a black-and-white movie in which the protagonist has the confidence to conquer the fast-paced city around him.

Either choice left me in my own bubble not conscious of the faces around me and only their existence.

She must have seen me coming. She was stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, standing still, waiting for me to literally bump into her on 37th street – an area that not near school, home, or work for either one of us.

“Hi.” Not my most eloquent of openings, but I was impressed that I could even open my mouth to say anything.

“You look good.” This was a small victory for me. I had joined a gym not more than a year ago and I secretly hoped to run into her so she could realize just by looking how great my life was, that I had a healthy glow, and that I was happy without her.

“Thanks. I've been taking care of myself.” I couldn't bring myself to say how good she looked. She did look good, but if I had said it aloud, it would have been an admission of defeat that she has been doing well without me.

We were high school sweethearts. I fell in love with her the day I met her, and while it took me a year and a half to let the words roll off my tongue to tell her, we both knew it within minutes. We had both been section editors of the newspaper, yet we never actually spoke since my section was already turned in before her's was even started. We were named co-managing editors, and in our first meeting together, the connection was tangible to everyone in the room. She pretended to care about a state law relevant to an article she was writing only to hear me talk. She asked me to email her the law just to have an excuse to get my email address and start a conversation.

I made excuses, too. The first time I spoke to her on the phone was while baking a cake for my mother's birthday. I needed a frosting recipe and figured maybe she'd have one. We spoke for two hours, and the cake never got frosted – but I didn't care; I just wanted to talk to her and needed the right opening.

For the following two years, we were inseparable. When she left for college, thousands of miles away, we were hopeless romantics, planning our lives to become what bad chick-flicks are made of. The distance proved too much and, after a year, we broke up. We were together for over three years and in love for even longer.

We had been apart for as long as we had been together, and it still was unreal to me that she was now engaged. “Congratulations. When's the wedding?”

“We're not sure, yet. His mother always wanted a winter wedding. You know I never cared, and my mother transferred all her dreams to my sister years ago.” I, of course, knew this from the days when we stopped taking it one day at a time and started realizing what we had.

I made note of the ring. I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was. The woman living on the Upper East Side – on the rich side of 3rd Avenue – seemed to have kept the ideals of the girl she had been, looking forward to inheriting her mother's fake diamonds and wearing them proudly as a symbol of her modesty.

“Well, if you need a band...”

She cut me off, thinking I was going to offer my own service. “I don't know if that would be a good idea.”

“No – that would be too awkward. But here's my card; I just started managing a couple of bands and I could get you a good rate.”

She thanked me, but I could tell it was empty. I couldn't help but think she was going to throw the business card away as soon as my back was turned, throwing me out of her life yet again. I wondered if she would tell him she saw me.

“Well, I should be...”

I cut her off. “I tried to call you when I found out, but I couldn't bring myself to press send.”

“It's okay; I don't have that phone number anymore. But I'm glad you didn't email me. You really should just st...”

“I miss you.”

Silence.

“I still think about you.”

“I know. I miss you, too, but I don't think about it anymore. I can't. But I really need to go. And you need to stop thinking.”

“Just tell me you're in love with him and I'll stop. Tell me you love him for everything he is and not for everything I'm not. Tell me you're truly happy and don't ever wonder what could be – not even what could have been but what could actually be now that we're in the same place again – and I'll leave. I'll just get out of your life forever. I'll never run into you again.”

Maybe she couldn't answer those questions because she wasn't sure of the answers. Maybe she was as shocked as I was that those words came out of my mouth. Maybe she didn't because she knew it was an empty promise, and that living only 3 streets apart – no matter how many avenues away – and going to school with only 5th Avenue between us made never running into her a promise I had no authority to make. Maybe she still believed we'd fall in love again if given the chance and that she would just never give us the chance.

I didn't hug her and hold her close as I'd always imagined I would; she didn't give me the chance. She just smiled as she turned and walked away, whispering only, “goodbye.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

10 PM nature sounds

Nature sounds different here versus Cape Cod. No crickets. No gusts of wind against the leaves that make me say, "is it raining?" No more june bugs against my window screen. (No more window screen, for that matter.)

But there is something oddly comforting about Manhattan "nature" sounds.

There's something that makes me smile about the groups of children playing in the street (the one with no cars allowed...) and laughing at 10 at night -- a sound that will likely stop when school starts. There's something oddly comforting about sirens going by as I eat dinner. The routine of the bus beeps as it is kneeled for the elderly that calms my nerves. And the hum of the air conditioners is the perfect white-noise backdrop to an 11 PM walk.

(Did I mention that I love being able to walk at 11 PM, not be alone, and not need a flashlight?)

Sure it's a different kind of nature, but it's beautiful to me all the same.

Just for reference, my night route. It's a very safe route for after dark (by 24-hour stores and door-man buildings galore). It's less than half a block under 2 miles...so I call it two miles, because it's over 2 miles after my 5th floor walkup and walk-down...)

Welcoming the newbies

The new New School class has now shown up, and for the 5th time, I was there for it. One as a newbie myself, one as an Orientation Leader, one as an RA, and now two as staff.

This is probably the hardest I've worked in all of them, and the most fun, too.

But every year, I've watched the parents and their children. There are the kinds of parents who -- even when you ask a question and make eye contact with the student -- answer the question, the kinds of parents who push their kid forward to talk, and the kinds of parents who run away -- or are pushed away, but either way, make themselves scarce.

There were those students whose parents would not leave them until after check-in was done, even if they did not speak, and there were those parents who left when told there was a separate parent check-in, prompting sighs of relief from their offspring.

That was me. With my parents around, I did not (and still barely do) talk. I shift into the mode of dependence -- not because I am dependent, but because it's easier than saying "get off my back." And when they're gone, I'm fine. I mean, I approached complete strangers this summer to talk about baseball. I can handle myself, obviously.

So what kind of parent is not always an indication of the student...

Though as one of the camp board-of-directors members said to me, "Meet the parents and it explains the child."

So true...

Good thing my parents aren't too nuts!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back home

I came back to New York City yesterday.

I missed it.

I was greeted (after a call of my own saying 'I'm Back!') with a voicemail saying "Welcome Home", but hesitant, perhaps wondering if it is presumptuous to call New York City my home.

It is.

While I have adopted the motto the "Home is where the Teddy Bear is...", and the teddy bear tends to travel with me, home is here for right now, even if my teddy bear isn't.

After 3 month, I didn't miss a beat. I was still the first off the curb. I still managed to talk my way into the school building without my ID. I still had to clean the bathroom the second I walked in. It was exactly as it had been before.

It's good to be back.

It's good to be home.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

That's all she wrote

It's been 5 days. I have had so much to say about my last day of camp, herein: 'retirement', that I have had nothing concrete to say.

Overall, I'm both sad and relieved. I'm sad because it's hard to say goodbye to a 17 year career. I'm relieved because I said it was going to be my best summer, and it took until the last camper left for me to be 100% sure that it was and that I ended in the exact way I wanted to.

Even though I have 17 years of memories, that last day is still one of what will stick out in my mind.

After the 7:30am work detail and campers finally arrived, I started the day the same way I started the other 34 -- energetic and excited to see campers. (Okay -- 33 of the 34...Monday of week 4 was the only day I had to fake it -- but I did it well...) I dreaded the color wars, honestly, though. I have not been an active participant in 6 years. When I was a JC4, I helped the then head of riflery put away the archery stuff (the archery head had been fired mid-season and the new folks had not been there for some reason...), and then my first 4 years as a counselor, I was the photographer. (Except the year I wasn't there for RA training...) This year I was scheduled to be the photographer again until the head of what would be the purple team came down with a condition that made her a tap on the head away from a detached retina and thus, blindness. So she took over as me and I as her.

It was actually pretty awesome. I don't know if I could have done it the past few years, too, but this year was fun as an isolated incident.

I took back my photographer role after lunch in time for the parade we do.

The final ceremony is where the real emotion hit. The director started by having me hold the flag while another counselor sang the national anthem in recognition of my 17-years-of service. He announced my retirement for me. (At which point, I couldn't help but make Brett Favre jokes saying that if I decided to come back, they'd have to trade me to the camp down the street for conditional draft picks.)

When it was all over and I was hugging my JCs -- whom I've watched grow up -- about 10 parents camp up to me separately and said, "Good luck. Thank you. Our kids adore you." It felt great. I wished I'd heard these things the past few years, but this was amazing and made everything worth it -- as if it hadn't already been.

I'd never cried at the end of summer until this year. When everyone was finally gone, I stood there and let myself go for about 2 minutes -- never taking off my sunglasses so not to show it. And then it was time to get back to work finishing up putting the place to bed.

I ended the way I started -- all business, and having fun doing it.

I'll miss it. But it's nice to be on my way to growing up for real.

Friday, August 8, 2008

And then there were five

One period of the penultimate Friday in and one of my Junior Counselors looks at me and says, "You have just over five-and-a-half days. What can possibly be going through your mind right now?"

I looked at him and said, "It doesn't matter. I'm here for the kids. I have to make it the best five-and-a-half days of their lives and whatever I'm dealing with has to wait and frankly doesn't even matter."

The weird thing is that I hadn't thought about it one bit all day -- save the passing comment of "Six more!" to one of the directors at the start of the day -- but as I walked away from the archery range, I slowed my pace and actually had to hold back some tears.

Truth is, I'm sad. It's hard not to be. I knew I would be, but I was never entirely sure how I would react.

My entry from earlier this week prompted a few comments to me privately including that camp is not merely a hat I wear, but it is part of me. It is not a place I go or a thing I do, it is me. And this comment is dead on.

So I'm not moving on from a phase of my life or something I've done -- a lot, but I'm moving on from me.

If everything I've done in life is a chapter in the book of me, camp is part of the glue that holds the binding together and the cover on. This is not a chapter I'm closing, for it will always be with me. I'm just sad that the glue is starting to set.

But I only have two days to think about it, because come Monday, it's back to giving these kids the best 5 days of their lives. One of these kids next week will look back at it in 8, 10, 12, 15 years and mark it as when they decided that camp would become part of them, and the best way for me to make that happen is just to do what I do and be the best counselor I can be.

And I will be.

I always am.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Changing Hats

At camp, when the registrar leaves, I wear his hat -- literally and figuratively.

(His actual hat is pictured here:)


I get made fun of for wearing his hat, but it serves a simple purpose that has nothing to do with power or envy or the simple desire to emulate him -- it has to do with the fact that when people see me in that hat, they know -- without asking or thinking -- that he isn't here and all inquiries should go to me.

So yeah -- I wear a lot of hats at camp.

(Incidentally, when asked why I replace him, I always answer: "They needed another short Jew with clipboards." Truth is, I've just done it before and I'm good at it and it's easier to replace me elsewhere than train someone new for this...same reason they didn't make me a unit head and kept me as the archery head...but that's another story.)

At the beginning of the year, Otis, the director, gave us his speech about us being a team. He is a huge Patriots fan and equated himself to Bill Belichick, the head coach and perhaps the greatest modern mind in football. He said some people are defensive folk, some offensive folk, and together, we compliment one another and make the perfect team. That nobody should be what they aren't, and that's what makes us great.

I immediately looked at my friend and said, "I think I'm Troy Brown." Troy Brown, for those non-football fans, was with the Patriots for 15 years. He has been a receiver, a defender, a punt-return and kick-return man, and been the designated man to sit out to allow others to play. Essentially, he's done it all, never once complaining. (He was even once put down in the depth chart as the emergency quarterback.)

Fridays are the hardest day to change roles -- not because I have problems with it, but because everyone's role because more difficult -- and in the case of the registrars, it becomes the most stressful job at camp. Any lost camper at the end of the day is the fault and responsibility of the registrar. And with the hecticness that is Friday, there is infinite opportunity to lose someone. (In my 6 years of being his backup, I have not lost anyone...though last year we had to have a camp director drive a kid home because I sent the buses home -- with direction from a higher-up -- before he got on the bus.)

But I love it. I like feeling valuable. And while my regular job is valued and I am quite good at it, there's something about changing it up and being able to move one -- or more -- step(s) in a different direction in order to make sure the camp as a whole runs without fault.

The strange thing -- while I've done three or four jobs this week alone -- is that I realized this week that they all pale in comparison to my most important job at camp: friend.

As much as I love being professional support to a staff of 70, willing to take over whenever anything needs to be done, I love even more being able to be emotional support to a group of one -- a sole soul (sorry, I had to) who needs someone to talk to or someone to hug.

And with all the jobs I do at camp and all the things I can put on a resume, that -- the one that won't get me in the door to interview for a future job, the one that doesn't add a bonus to my paycheck (even though the others don't, either...), the one that doesn't come with limelight of the whole staff and parents and campers seeing -- that is the one I'm most proud of.

It's the one I'll miss the most when I'm gone.

And it doesn't even come with a straw hat.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

16 years and 5 weeks later...

There are two weeks left in my 17-year career at Cape Cod Sea Camps. I started in 1992 as a 6-year-old camper who couldn't tie his own shoes, and here I am now a 22-year-old who's done just about everything.

I've taught swimming
I've run an archery program
I've filled in for the director in charge of programming
I've filled in for the registrar
I've driven a van when the bus was too full
I've been the assistant head of the 11-year olds
I've run the 11-year-olds for days at a time
I've been just about everyone's assistant
And I've done really random little tasks that I can't even think of.

And now, I'm ready to leave.

I have 11 days left -- including tomorrow. And it's been a fantastic run.

No sadness, just excitement for the future.

I'll miss the routine. I'll miss the place. I'll really miss the people. But I have no regrets, and I don't regret it if this does turn out to be my last year. And I won't regret it if I end up unemployed and back at camp.

But I think I'm ready to grow up.

It's about time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

July 26, Chatham

Streakers at the Cape Cod Baseball League? Busch League.
Cleat Chasers winking at a pitcher as he throws in the 'pen? Busch League.
7 run bottom of the 8th to steal away the game from the over-powering Western division? Pretty cool.

In case you couldn't tell, this was the all-star game. I went as a fan rather than a student. I just wanted to see good baseball.

Of course, with over 8,000 fans in a small park, it really took until the 2nd inning until I could find a place to stand by the home bullpen.

Here was my view from my first resting point:



I stood exactly mid-way between the warming pitcher and catcher, and lemme say, a 93-MPH fastball whizzes by your ears. Between the sound of the ball and the sound of the ball against the mitt, it was difficult to concentrate on the game. There wasn't much to see, though. A solo HR made it 1-0, and otherwise, not much offense from my innings at that vantage point.

The most fun thing at that area was watching the two late teen cleat-chasers, as they're called: young females after athletes. One of them -- the one that I must admit I thought was cuter left with a wink. I'm pretty sure it was directed at the warming pitcher, but I can pretend it was me. I mean, I was on the phone on a psuedo-business call talking all about music, the music industry, and sounding all cool and professional. ::rolls eyes and nods::

After a few innings, kids started running up to my area to get autographs -- not mine, of course. I took this opportunity to walk around, get a few different vantage points, and get a burger.

Ultimately, I ended up sitting on the back row of the bleachers on the first-base side. I could get this seat because the game had become one-sided. After trading solo home-runs, the west -- with help from some shaky east defense -- opened up a 5-run lead.

The view from my new seat:



When I sat down, the game was one-sided:



Somehow, the east put together a rally, which climaxed with 3 streakers (not pictured) interrupting the game. The very next pitch, a 2-run home run tied it. (With two outs, no less!):



At this point, I leaned over to the person next to me and said: "This certainly doesn't feel like a tie game." Well, it wasn't for long. Merely 2 batters later.

And that's how it ended.

A fun game to watch. I've never had to park so far away...

The final scoreboard:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

7th Annual Nat Duncan Memorial Archery Tournament

I spoke of this tournament last year. This past Thursday was this year's. It's the tournament in memory of a camper who died September 16, 2001 after a battle with a brain tumor.

This year was the 7th one, and looking back, I realize that I've run -- or helped run -- every one of them. After winning last year, my JCs all said to me, "We'll get you next year!" And I responded by telling them, "No you won't; I retire." I kept my word and shot only 6 arrows the entire tournament, and that was a photo-op.

My day Thursday started with me knowing it was gonna be a great tournament. The head of the 11-year-olds was out, so I had to be her in the morning. The registrar was out in the afternoon, so I had to be him and make sure that the busses left on time with everyone on them at the end of the day. The weather was threatening and I had to keep constant watch on rain, wind, and potential thunder. And I was wearing an ankle brace that -- combined with my shoe -- was starting to cut off circulation to my toes. It was the kind of day I live for.

The tournament was successful and emotional, as it always is. But the emotions have changed. As I was giving the results I looked out and gave a short speech after the camp director and Nat's mother spoke briefly.

I said that I had memories of the first tournament and how it was a celebration of Nat that year, and here, 6 years later, there were only a handful of us who knew Nat, but the tournament embodied what Nat has become: camp as a place of togetherness and fun. It is an event that brings together the entire JC program -- archery folk and non-archery folk alike -- in a day that is just about being with one-another and learning from each other -- which is exactly what Nat's summer at camp was.

Next year, though I will likely not be back at camp again, I plan on taking my vacation around the tournament and continuing to participate.

And who knows; maybe I'll take home a second championship.