Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Pessimist Club

A school colleague and I started a club in which we shared unbelievable little transgressions against common sense and simple decency. We called it “The Pessimist Club” and your position on the Board of Directors was directly related to the items brought in. Even though we both retired from school last June, the Club lives on and believe me, with today’s news, is thriving. 

For example, while she was parked on a street in San Francisco, the city painted the curb red in her spot and gave her a ticket. Bam! New President of the Pessimist Club! My item wasn’t quite at that level, a story from a lawyer friend who needed important documents sent from Europe for a case. He finally got them and the court he sent them to rejected them because the paper size was different. So they had to be re-sent by mail from Europe and his secretary cut them down to 8/12 by 11 with scissors. But apparently not to their satisfaction.They were rejected again because some were 1/16th of an inch off. Definitely a Vice-President item— or at least Recording Secretary.


But the most recent one from the TV News qualifies for the top ten of all time (sadly, I believe we never did record the items from over the years. That would have been a great book, a la Darwin Awards). The new Georgia law making it a misdemeanor to give food and drink to people standing on line to vote could be the winner. You can imagine the person in prison: 


“What are you in for?”


“ Murder. How about you?”


“ I slipped a donut to a guy waiting to vote.”


I imagine Brian Kemp goes to church, but he must have been sleeping when the Minister read the Bible passage from Matthew 25: 25-30, where Jesus praises his disciples and says: 


“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”


(Brian, in case you're wondering, Jesus is suggesting those are good things to do.)

Jesus continues: 


“I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”


Judas: “So you were an illegal immigrant? We shouldn’t have invited you in, we should have turned you in!”


Peter: “We never should have helped you when you were sick because you clearly had a pre-existing condition and were mooching off the government Obama-care.”


Paul: “What were you in prison for anyway?”


Jesus: “Slipping a donut to some guy waiting ten hours in line to vote.”

Keep 'em comin', Governor Kemp! But I hear that there are long lines in Hell and that what you do here is done back to you there. I'd bring some snacks if I were you. 


Saturday, April 10, 2021

How to Ruin a Walk

Time for another confession. I, of the Mary Oliver “Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it” club, don’t always practice what I preach. Since discovering Audible, I often take my daily 5-mile walk with my phone in my front pocket with an engaging story playing. One could think of it as a healthier way to read/ listen, getting the exercise people reserve for treadmills, but out in the open air passing Spring flowers. Or one could claim it as a distraction, the ear/eye/ attention engaged in a story that brings me into another time, place and reality and blinds me to the stories happening right here, right now, around me. The fact that I sometimes walk without it helps balance things out, but you know how these things go, that addictive quality of being entertained, always more effortless than entertaining oneself. In short, I’m a modern person, a product of my time.

But today I made the mistake of beginning the book Mediocre by Ijeoma Uluo. I’ve been feeling lately that I’m so tired of reading about the next white guy refusing to honor his office or trying to sidestep his sex scandal or sully the screen with his triple-chin and ugly words. Sometimes I think in astonishment, “How do these people get elected to the highest offices in the land?” But of course, I already know how and the opening to the book affirmed my sense that none of it is an inexplicable accident, but the logical outcome of centuries of misguided thinking about what it means to be a functional human being, someone worthy of a human birth and justified in using precious resources. It’s crystal clear that centuries of “God is on my side and I don’t even have to do anything to earn it!” produces people with small hearts, narrow intellects, dead-weight bodies who use their power to hurt those with larger hearts, expansive intellects and elegant bodies—especially if their skin is darker and their gender is not-male. Then they proceed to fool the powerless white men into thinking they’re in the club simply because they’ve been told those “others” are below them and even though their piece of the pie is not on the shelf of any store within ten thousand miles of these poor folks’ reach, they’re still tricked into thinking it’s waiting for them. And if they can’t reach it, it's definitely because one of those “others” stole it. 

Sigh. It’s maddening to see the same old story at work doing its maddeningly effective work of duping the whites, hurting the blacks, protecting unearned privilege and making sure the women stay in the kitchen while the good ole boys smoke their cigars. It was bad enough to be reminded of this while walking through a beautiful park on a sunny day passing women and men of all colors so happily roller skating or playing volleyball or picnicking. But then it got worse.

Because the first chapter, starting with her close-to-home family member overflowing with Fox News brainwash, went back to the days of Buffalo Bill and the determined and successful calculated and government-approved-and-sponsored campaign to exterminate the Native people’s food (60 million bison dwindling to 300 in a shooting rampage by the ancestors of Don Jr.) and the ongoing genocide of the people themselves. Some revealing facts about Teddy Roosevelt (put up there on Mt. Rushmore with three others of the “good ones” who didn’t turn out to be quite as good as we thought), who we praise for the National Parks without considering where that land came from and how he got (stole) it. And then it got worse with the story of the Bundy’s in Utah and their so predictable light sentences for crimes that would have been a mass slaughter if black folks or Native Americans had done it. And the jury is still out—literally—on the consequences for the Capitol insurrectionists and Derek Chauvin and Matt Gaetz. Sigh.

These were not good people to share my walk with. These are not good people to share the planet with! Of course, I need to keep learning yet more gory details (and I believe I know much more than the average historically-challenged American citizen), but I don’t need to take them with me on a walk. I’ll save them for some dismal rainy day and then wash myself clean with a couple of hours of listening to Billie Holiday or John Coltrane. But you, you should absolutely read this book making clear how “mediocre” became the standard of “good enough of white male America,” made so clear by every member of Trump’s in-and-out cabinet and the continued presence of Republican sleazeballs in the halls of Congress. Not only does this accepted and glorified mediocrity block the path to social justice, but it brings the national psyche to its knees. Such a contrast to the extraordinary achievements of the jazz musicians I’m talking about in my Jazz History class. Like make an effort, people! Just the fact that they feel excused from the simplest charge of trying to be at least a half-inch better than they were ten years ago is the ultimate sign of how devastating white privilege is. 

Okay, I’m rambling. Tomorrow, I’m walking without my phone. Promise!

Friday, April 9, 2021

Erotic Education

My blog numbers have been down, so I thought that this title would attract attention. Ha ha! But those who expect something pornographic will be disappointed and stop reading the moment they see this quote from Michael Meade: 

Eros is the secret glue that holds everything together, the spirit that must be present at the beginning of any new project, creative effort or relationship. Eros appears as the part of us that desires to connect, that longs to create and pay homage to whomever and whatever can be truly meaningful to us. Eros appears as the natural flow of longing and love within us that is also the evidence of the divine source of life trying to enter the world again through us.

The original meaning of erotic is of course, connected with Eros but now is often paired with pornography, a word that has Greek roots in “porno,” related to prostitution and “graphy,” writing about it. Sex in prostitution is a business proposition, a longing of the sexual organs for each other independent of the people connected to them. Erotic is sexual love, combining our innate physical desire with our heart’s desire for love. 

And the root of that sexual drive, “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” (Dylan Thomas), is life itself wanted to propagate itself, is the sacred urge for the continuity of life, is Spring’s wild celebration of renewal, re-birth, new life. Eros is not confined to the sexual organs, but is “the natural flow of longing and love within us.” It manifests in human gatherings as healthy flirtations, a Spring-like lightness and joy, a wink of the eye, a playful bantering, a mutual attraction to the creative act that connects people unabashedly.

But people being people, such healthy, natural instincts sometimes step over lines, especially when people are disconnected with the larger dimensions of Eros and fall into the sleazy realm of power misused (Matt Gaetz, for example). And that’s when the lawyers step in. 

The moment a lawyer steps into the room, the whole natural and healthy playful dynamic of Eros runs and hides in the corner, knowing that the most innocent exchange could be interpreted by law instead of seen through the mythological eye of Eros. 

And the irony is that the absence of Eros leaves a hollow in the human psyche, drives things underground that will then re-appear in a misshapen form. An atmosphere minus Eros is stilted, stiff, mistrustful, fearful, a mere shell of a body without all the animated energy flowing freely. 

Eros is present in the best moments of life, the best exchanges between people, the best gatherings where it feels like Spring is in the air. And so yes, erotic education in the old sense. Eros is in the busy, buzzing classroom, has a seat in the Spring concert, even can peek out between the agenda items of the staff meeting. Its presence is as palpable as the wisteria blossoming in the back yard, bringing scent, color, beauty and Spring’s renewed promise, its absence as bleak as a session in the Senate. 

Will the lawyers someday charge the tulips with excessive flirtation? Sue the salvia for the injury the bee sustained entering the blossom? Scold the cherry blossoms for violating the dress code? Heaven forbid. Let us renew with the Spring with old Eros by our side.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Sing Along With Mitch

One of my more fun and revealing lessons I teach involves singing the African-American clapping play Head and Shoulder as a prime example of offbeat, syncopation and swing rhythm in the black musical culture that led to jazz. I often think that the best way to teach what is is to demonstrate what happens when it is not, the way to show what’s right is to do it wrong. (The latter a good summary of the lives we lead!). And so after playing the original game, we go through it again, first with the claps on the beat instead of off, then without syncopation, then without swing and finally without all three. (I’ve done this with black musicians and it is so hard for them to do! And when they do, it’s accompanied by painful groans of protest!) After doing it without rhythmic qualities, we then switch to the original version and the contrast is felt in every inch of the body, that sense of just being released from some prison and flying free. It’s really impressive. 

So yesterday, in talking with a friend and colleague Susan Kennedy, I mentioned the Sing Along With Mitch TV show from my childhood and wondered what it would be like to see it now. It aired from 1961-1964 and consisted of a series of songs conducted by Mitch with men singing behind him, the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen and the invitation for the families sitting at home to sing along. Susan sent me a Youtube clip * and lo and behold, there was the perfect example of what it’s like when white folks approach black music with all their assumptions intact. At once hilarious and terribly depressing. 

The opening song was an old ragtime tune I sing with my kids, Five Foot Two.Written in 1925 by Tin Pan Alley composer Ray Henderson (who also wrote Bye Bye Blackbird, Button Up Your Overcoat, The Best Things In Life Are Free and other great songs I’ve done with my kids), the A section follows the chord changes of the popular song and dance The Charleston and the bridge is the same chord progression as I Got Rhythm, written years before Gershwin’s classic. Though Henderson was a white songwriter, the tune is clearly in the jazz tradition with its offbeat ragtime feel, strong syncopation and uplifting swing. 

But in the Mitch Miller show, there are some 25 men singing this song exactly the wrong way. Except for the end of each line, all syncopation is gone, the rhythm is stiff and their bodies are stiff, straight and wholly unexpressive, arms at their side the whole time until the grand finale when they raise them. Then there’s Mitch up front, conducting in the weirdest two-beat gestures I’ve ever seen in a conductor. It is really hilarious. And depressing. 

There’s some primitive commercials in the clip about Libby’s canned and frozen foods. 

“You get the oomph! of two extra oranges in every can of Libby’s orange juice!”

“Sloppy Joe’s are neat, barbecue sauce and meat, Libby’s makes you swing, Sloppy Joes the thing!” (This sung as a rock ‘n’ roll song.)

There’s also a short ad for the new movie Mary Poppins. And then back to Mitch.

“You know, the minstrel show has a longer run of popularity than any form of entertainment in the history of this country, longer then the movies, radio or even vaudeville…So join us while we shine up a few spangles, shake some memories out of some old tambourines and offer a minstrel show with some star material of our own.”

And off they go, with banjos, hats, tambourines and sorry choreography singing: 

“Are you from Dixie, I said from Dixie, where the fields of cotton beckon to me.

I’m glad to see ya, tell me, ‘How be ya?’ and the friends I’m longing to see

If you’re from Alabama, Tennessee or Caroline, any place below the Mason-Dixon line

Are you from Dixie, hooray for Dixie, ‘cause I’m from Dixie too!”

The only saving grace? They’re not in blackface. But still, in 1961, while the Freedom Riders were being attacked by the KKK with police support and one of their buses was bombed, Mitch was glorifying the “good ole South” on a national TV show. This is the same Mitch Miller who played alongside Charlie Parker in this Charlie Parker with Strings  album. 

Ah, America. Maybe we’ll finally learn the lesson of how to make our culture swing, how to feel genuine freedom in every part of the national body, how to finally get it right after so many years of getting it wrong. One can only hope. 

* Here's the clip to watch for yourself:

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Confident Humility, Humble Confidence

I had the good fortune to once again have the great jazz drummer Herlin Riley as a teacher on Zoom, this time with my school’s 8thgrade. After giving us some drum exercises using butter knives, an innovative technique his grandfather used with him, he walked us through the history of the drum set and then took questions from the kids. One of them was something like: “What do you need to be a great musician?” And instead of the expected answer about practice or talent, he said something like this:

“Two things. Confidence and humility. You need the confidence to step up to your promise, answer the call of your talent, put yourself out in front of people never quite knowing what will happen because jazz is the music of the moment, not something you just practice, perfect and show off. Yes, you must practice and prepare, but on the bandstand, you bring your whole self to the music with confidence that you’ll know that to play when the moment arrives, that you’ll listen and respond to the other musicians and let the music take you where it wants to go. That’s a little scary—especially in front of an audience⁄- but that’s where the magic lies. And you need an unwavering confidence that yes, you can do it. And then you need the humility to understand how little you know and how much more work you can—and should—do and how much more there is yet to learn.  

But you have to be careful. The wrong kind of confidence is arrogance, is the ego wanting applause and attention. And the wrong kind of humility is just low self-esteem. So I guess you can say you need a confident humility and a humble confidence.

Bam!!! How many times have people read my confidence in giving workshops or speaking about something I’ve spent countless hours reading about, writing about, thinking about, as some macho male overconfidence. And yes, occasionally they may have been right, but often not, just threatened by their own unwillingness to own their own promise.

And how many times have folks praised someone wanting to deflect attention from themselves as a genuine humility when it fact it is their refusal to step up, a false kind of “I’m not worthy” that makes others feel comfortable because they doubt their own worth. 

It’s a thorny, twisted road walking the true path through the two (apparent) extremes. Good luck on your travels! 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Unconditional Love

The going wisdom in my childhood was that the mother’s love was unconditional— “I will love you forever no matter what”—and the father’s love conditional—“I will love you if you meet my expectations.” With the addendum, “And I probably won’t tell you.”

That’s a lot of pressure on the mother! And a loss for the father. But both were true for me. My father did eke out a few words of affection, but almost always in a convoluted way, something like, “You’re no good, you never were any good and you’ll never be any good” with a smile and an affectionate pat on the head. 

But my mother and I had an understanding and it continued up unto her dying day. Which was today, April 6th, seven years ago. Later this month, I’ll write her a card for her 100thbirthday, but today, I want to thank her yet again for this quality of love that I believe I needed (don’t we all?) and gave me a sustenance that is indelibly part of my feeling that I belong on this earth, part of some deep confidence (often tested) that I am worthy of love and can accomplish what I set out to do. Where is the end of gratitude for those gifts? No arms can stretch that far.

My mother was bi-polar and even in her young days, it was often difficult to follow her train of thought. If you dug deeper into comments she made, you sometimes could find that tracks that train was riding on and it did make some kind of sense. But it was an effort. In her last years (she died at 93), that quality combined with dementia made for some interesting monologues. I remember one day sitting out in the garden of the Jewish Home, looking at the statue of a mother and her boy, she starting talking and I had the good sense to grab my pen and notebook and scribed her stream-of-consciousness comments. Amongst them these: 

• How can you tell what a little boy can do? And you did it!


• You did all that hard work and you’re a good person! And you always find me when you want to. Amazing!


• Wait. Just wait and see. People will find out what you’re capable of.


• I love it. I love everything about you. Everything.


Mom, wherever you may be, I hope you feel my own undying love for you and endless gratitude for everything you gifted me. See you on your birthday. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

First Day of School

Even though I lived for summer as a kid and was less than enthusiastic about school, I still felt that tingling excitement of the first day of school. The trip to Natelson brothers to get some new clothes, to the 5 &10 store to get my school supplies—new pencils, a ruler, perhaps a notebook or two. And sometimes even a new lunchbox. (If you’re born after 1980, you may have to look some of this up. Today’s child is shopping on Amazon, updating their i-Pad, getting a new backpack capable of holding some 40 pounds of stuff and looking into sushi takeaway places). That was the getting-ready ritual.

Then the day itself, when you re-united with classmates you hadn’t cared to look up over the summer, note who had grown, note who you still preferred to avoid and who seemed a little more interesting. There was the excitement of standing in a new line outside, physical proof that you were evolving and heading toward the top of the pack and new place in the pecking order. And then the anticipation of the new teacher, who you had heard was “nice” or “really strict” or both at the same time. And truth be told, after the initial euphoria of the aimless summer days began to wear off by September, some part of you was ready for a little structure, a larger social group, a sense of new possibility that was much more of a genuine New Year than January 1st

And so yesterday, my granddaughter Zadie went shopping the other day for her new clothes, arranged everything neatly to be put into her backpack and uncharacteristically announced after dinner, “I think I’ll go to bed early tonight to be ready for tomorrow.” I’m feeling her expectant eagerness and am so excited and happy for her, vicariously re-living the memory of all my first days of school as a kid. With one big difference:

TODAY IS APRIL 5TH!!!!!Like Christmas in July, there is something so wrong about that! And think about it. She’ll be at school a mere two months and then it’s “Yee=haw! Summer vacation?” Just one of the many weird manifestations of the pandemic. But still, she was so fed up as I believe all kids and teachers were, with seven months of Zoom and is so happy! Even though it will only be for two hours a day. 

Of course, one of the perks of Zoom was that she could visit us and still “be” at school. Now we’ll have to attend strictly to her calendar and wild horses could not drag her away from live school, no matter what enticing event was going on here in San Francisco. And it also allowed for me to be the music teacher for her class, once a week for the whole seven months. I think I’ll get to continue until June in some capacity or another, but when things go back to normal, that won’t be part of it. 

So “Happy First Day of School!” to my granddaughter and children in all places where school is finally opening again. Stay safe, enjoy each other, be kinder than usual and see if you remember how to talk to and play with live human beings!

P.S. And don't forget to pack your mask in your backpack!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Death and Resurrection

The Buddha sat in deep meditation under the Bo Tree for 49 days. Then one morning as the sun rose, he awakened to his true nature, flooded with an inner light, an enlightenment, the death of a small self and the birth of the deep self wholly connected to the entire universe. 

St. George is killed by the sword dancers in the Winter solstice ritual mummer’s play and brought back to life by the Fool. And so the light will return.

Trees shed leaves, soil turns hard in the winter’s cold and then the blossoms appear, as they have here in San Francisco—tulips, daffodils, wildflowers, cherry/ plum/ apple/ almond tree blossoms. 

Whether in the cornerstone story of Buddhism, a folk tale and ritual theater or the natural cycle of winter and spring, death and resurrection is the fundamental truth of this life on earth. It proceeds in all sorts of cycles, as small as the constantly re-occurring death of each exhale, renewed life of each inhale, a bit larger in the daily sleep of death’s second self and awakening each morning, larger yet as we witness the death of our innocent childhood and birth of our teenage sexuality, the death of our professional life and the birth of our retired one and if we’re lucky enough to pay attention and disciplined enough to do the work, the death of our small ego-bound self and the birth of our large self intimately tied to the Soul of the World. In all its many manifestations, it is the central story.

And so the Christ story of death and resurrection, the annual Easter pageant weirdly—and yet understandably— tied to eggs and rabbits, is just one of the many. We’re conditioned to take it literally, to believe or suffer the consequences of disbelief, to insist that it happened and use it as proof that our guy was the one true one and all the other infidels be damned. But why not lean toward the metaphor and consider that the real invitation is to be present at our own death and resurrection, our disentanglement with the politics of Caesar and our revelation of the God nature we all equally share. The renewal of that commitment is a good Easter vow—after the egg hunt with the kiddies, of course. 

As for me, I believe I’ll celebrate my listening to Tony Bennet sing and Bill Evans accompany on piano the Michel Legrand’s song You Must Believe in Spring, that modern-day hymn to the reliability of Spring’s rebirth. And you can too.

When lonely feelings chill the meadows of your mind
Just think if winter comes, can spring be far behind?
Beneath the deepest snows the secret of a rose,
Is merely that it knows, you must believe in spring.

Just as a tree is sure its leaves will reappear
It knows its emptiness is just a time of year.
The frozen mountains dreams of April's melting streams,
How crystal clear it seems, you must believe in spring.

You must believe in love and trust it's on its way,
Just as a sleeping rose awaits the kiss of May.
So in a world of snow of things that come and go,
Where what you think you know, you can't be certain of.
You must believe in spring and love.

You must believe in love and trust it's on its way,
Just as a sleeping rose awaits the kiss of May.
So in a world of snow, of things that come and go.
Where what you think you know you can't be certain of,

You must believe in spring and love. 

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Pleasure of Restraint

Which of these describes you?

1. Life is short. Eat dessert first.

2. Eat all your vegetables. Then dessert.

3. Sugar is bad for you and calories are fattening. Skip dessert.

Some years back, I lost some ten to fifteen pounds of the five I always thought I should and I have to admit that it felt good to tuck in my shirt in public. I felt physically lighter and mentally prideful that I had accomplished a goal. I had passed “The Marshmallow Test” and in fact, got extra credit because I chose one apple over the two promised marshmallows.

But as you can guess, the numbers on the scales fluctuated up and down in the years that followed. I was happy to see that for a long period in the pandemic, they leveled off at an acceptable place. Until recently. 

Someone once said that there is a Puritan hat hanging on a hook in the hall of every American household and it’s not one I welcome. John Calvin is the last person I’d want to invite to a party and besides the witch-burning thing (and also deeply connected with it), that self-loathing and hatred for the sensual—and sexual— pleasures of the body is something that I believe does damage to the soul. After all, “soul” is connected to soil, the body of this earth and its watery fluids and the mutual disdain for the rolling hills and dark caves of both the natural world and the female body, the flow of rivers and the flow of menstrual blood, reveals a deeply anti-natural and anti-feminine streak in the Puritan mentality that has wreaked havoc on Nature and women alike. And likewise drove underground the natural healthy sexual longings of men so that they explode out into weird distorted forms—witness the recent Matt Gaetz story. 

So if I have a craving for an ice cream or a chocolate bar, part of me gleefully follows it with an “in your face, Puritans!!” attitude. You will NOT deny me this exquisite sensual pleasure! But if I follow number 1 above and habitually treat myself, I may be punishing the Puritan in my hallway while at the same time feeding the rising numbers on the bathroom scale. On the other hand, if I skip to number 3 and forego such pleasures in the name of delayed gratification and the small satisfaction of tucking in my shirt, I capitulate to the mentality of life as spinach, something good for you in some abstract way, but not so good for the tongue and taste and the happiness of enjoying life’s bounties. What to do?

Years back when I reached the body state I had hoped for, I invented the “Doug diet.” It mostly consisted of eating less (one portion instead of two), oatmeal for breakfast and periods of no-sugar or again, much less. I didn’t want it to feel like sensual deprivation, didn’t want meals to feel like a battleground, didn’t want anything to do with Puritan denial. 

But the real secret was keeping my connection to pleasure, but changing what it meant. I discovered that just as there is pleasure in fulfillment, so is there a kind of pleasure in measured restraint. It could feel as good to say “no” as “yes.” It also meant finding the pleasure in a carrot as much as a cookie, a plain apple as much as apple pie, a cold glass of water as a carbonated fruit drink. It meant turning down the volume on the sensual song play and enjoying the nuances of simple pleasures over the bright lights of the sugar rush. The hope is to put away the Puritan hat in the closet without taking out the Roman bacchanal toga.

So I’m on Day 2 of my renewed commitment to philosophies 2 and 3 above, as the occasion calls for it. After writing all this, I need a snack. Carrots, anyone? 

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Marshmallow Test

I’m sure you’ve hear of the famous Marshmallow Test. Kids are seated at a table with marshmallows on a plate. They can eat one marshmallow immediately or wait fifteen minutes, in which case they get two. Go!!

The scientists then tracked these kids’ development later in life and came to the conclusion that those who delayed gratification were more successful. Like all such pseudo-scientific tests, there are so many questionable variables. What exactly does it mean to be successful? Did they begin with a cross-section of kids from different classes and ethnicities? What happened to the kids who said, “A marshmallow is a fake food shot through with sugar and artificial ingredients. Can I have an apple?”

Nevertheless, the punch line (probably pre-determined) is clear: delayed gratification is a good skill-set. It requires patience, restraint, faith that the future reward will indeed come and be worth the wait. I’d say any musician who commits to practicing instead of playing outside with the other kids (or any athlete/ dancer in training) is a model of such discipline and yes, they are different human beings from those who go from sensation to sensation, gratifying (or seeking to gratify) each and every immediate desire. It is a mark of maturity that one can look ahead and see that such restraint is necessary and will reap a worthy future result. 

Apparently, a vast number of Americans are immature and firmly in the one-marshmallow camp. Like the hockey team that recently opened their seats to full capacity and the hoards of Spring-breakers who invaded Florida. Yes, it’s one year since the pandemic began and aren’t we all anxious to watch grown men whack a little puck and each other with sticks, to get to dance on top of cars half-naked and fully-drunk and have sex with random strangers? We want our fun and we want it now!!!

But hey, folks, we are doing well with the numbers getting vaccinated and slowly approaching the herd immunity that will change everything. Can’t you hold on just a little bit longer? Because if the numbers start rising again— and whether you believe in science or not, science believes in science and it is clear they will— we’ll have to shelter for much longer. Just leave the damn marshmallow alone and yes, you can have two drunk sex partners after screaming to “Kill ‘em!” at the hockey game! It’s not like I’m asking you to eat a damn apple!

Ain’t it great to be an American? 

Thursday, April 1, 2021


And so in a vote of confidence in the continuity and seasonality of the world, the calendar turned again and it’s April. The tulips are in full bloom, the cherry trees at their peak and yesterday, I wore shorts in 80 degree weather with no wind. My cold virus left my body—good riddance!— and the simple fact of not being overcome by sniffles and sneezes is enough to make me want to run out and dance with the flowers. 

April is the month my Mom was born and the month she died, seven years ago now. It was the birthday month of a dear friend Esta who left us too early fourteen years ago now. She was a gardener, my Mom was not, but it’s a good time to remember to enjoy the bounties of Spring erupting on their behalf, be their eyes and ears and nose and try to attend to the myriad gifts of being alive, with their invisible blessing. 

April  has been the time of year when the workshops wind down, the Spring Concert preparation ramps up and one can start to feel summer’s invitation around the corner. Now those habitual seasonal cycles I lived for almost half a century have changed, though I do feel the decline in my Zoom workshop calendar. I take out the new calendar page and fill some 12 out of the 30 squares with something scheduled—the resurgence of my granddaughter’s 3rdgrade music class, the neighborhood sing, the Men’s group, a mythology class, the resumption of my Jazz History Class: Part IV and an interview alongside my sister for the film project about my work. Enough to give some shape to the month, some structure to my days, something to prepare for and look forward to. It’s enough. 

My phone dings and there is today’s Mary Oliver poem, a ritual an old friend established as she decided to read one of Ms. Oliver’s poems each day and then had the idea of sharing it with me. Many I already know, but it’s a lovely daily surprise as to which one it will be today and how it will remind me to love the world as much as she did. Today’s poem begins:

“Softest of mornings, hello,

And what will you do today, I wonder, 

to my heart? ……

Stay tuned until tomorrow and I’ll let you know.