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


"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,

Saturday, September 13, 2008


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
Each time, she battled pain while I experienced beauty
looking into the warmth of her eyes
rather than the heat of the sun.