The Ah Ha Moment

Every now and then I’ll have a big ah ha moment…you know the kind of eureka rush when you see some lie blown out of the water by a Truth.  Call it a light bulb click or revelation but its visceral and you’re sure it has changed your life. In my case I usually can’t remember what the heck it was the next day.  I choose to believe that’s because its been absorbed it into my psyche but that may well be delusional. Whatever the case, I had one of those today but this one, maybe this one…I’ll remember.

I had a beautiful, talented, fiercely loving Mother.  She was also on occasion domineering and to a large degree, controlling. She was born in an era not given to supporting gifted women of ambition and so in her own loving way she projected her thwarted ambition onto her daughters.  Driven by this devoted love she tended to micro manage our choices, thoughts and drives.  In so doing I realized today…today!….that that need to control usurped to some degree a conversation I should’ve been having with my self from an early age of how to regulate, check in with, even know a deeper self.  It also interrupted a conversation Mom probably could have benefited from with herself.

I remember two moments when I was about five that I had with what I’ll describe as my core being. One was in prayer.  It was private, nothing more than a sure feeling that an essence of self was in direct communication with a beneficent and divine power. It was a simple moment that felt good. 

The other, soon after, was an intention that erupted from within and illuminated my five year old horizon. When I declared this newly revealed intention to Mom that I wanted “to be a ballerina” she said “No you don’t.”  “I don’t? How could I not know myself?”, I wondered. Her statement was so sure I can to this day feel the shock of hearing those words. It felt like an unmooring.  Some part of an authentic trajectory shifted that day to align instead with Mom’s. I’ve had millions of moments and eruptions since then but a healthy percentage of them have been more in discourse with Mom’s voice than with my truest inner own.

Surely we all leave untapped experiences and selves on the road as we move forward in our lives be it by choice, circumstance, loss or ignorance.  Part of the human condition.  Fair to say that if I had really wanted to become a ballerina I’d have found a way.  Also, Mom likely spared me years of disappointment as my head and rib cage are too big for a decent silhouette and my turn out is downright lousy.  What lessons though and/or open doors go undiscovered by not taking a path we think we’re meant for?  What repercussions occur when we are parented from the outside in rather than from the inside out?  What part of self remains unarticulated and silent when drowned out by even extremely well intended outside voices? What star dust goes unmanifested? In living even a portion of someone else’s, do we miss our own destiny? Can a surgical separation of false from the authentic voice be performed in the operating theatre of hindsight?

Mom had a gorgeous life.  In fact two nights before she died, Dad and I were sitting on her bed, all of us crying until Mom said, “I’ve had the best of everything and I know I have.” What a statement! That is not the sentiment of a soul who has left a lot of living on the table.  Still I mourn the talents she did not have a chance to express.  That goes for the macrocosm as well. 

It’s a new era for parenting today. A brilliant Rabbi I know teaches a course called “How to Parent the Soul of a Child”.  I cannot imagine such a line of thinking to have been popular during my early years.  People were too busy just trying to rebuild shattered lives and communities in a post WWII world.   In the free world though it is an active pursuit on today’s frontier and I suppose it’s never ever too late to parent the soul of the inner child.

Hey, Ballerina(s)! I’m coming for you!

New Year’s Day, 2020

I pray. I meditate. Not that I do either well mind you but both are a part of the rhythms of my life. I’ve seen prayer work, really work. One miracle I feel I was privileged to witness was when my friend’s young son was suddenly stricken with spinal meningitis. The prognosis was permanent brain damage, deafness and most likely death within 24 hours. In the terrifying swirl of the emergency a nurse on the case grabbed my quaking girlfriend and said if she was the praying kind to send word out to all she knew to drop to their knees. We did. Within 24 hours her child was not dead, nor deaf, nor as it turned out damaged in any way. Today he is a thriving and brilliant adult.  His grandmother said that during the course of her fervent prayer she had seen the face of Jesus hovering over her grandbaby in the ICU. Those are the facts. Call it what you will.

One time in prayer, deeply I suppose, I had what must’ve been an out of body moment as suddenly I was aware that I was hovering somewhere near the ceiling looking back down at my body. That was fun.

I like to ask people how they pray? My favorite reply came from a Texas matron, a practicing Christian. In her rich drawl, she said, “Oh that’s easy honey. I get on my knees, look up and holler, ‘Do something!’ ”  

I asked a Chinese painter friend the same question and with unabashed glee he answered, “Oh Lindy! All you have to do is cast your boomerang into the infinite paradise inside you. It always returns with some heavenly inspiration from the Universe. Whoopie! Ole!” (For those of you reading this who knew him, you will recognize the very brilliantly gifted Gerard D’A Henderson.)

I pray for my friends and family. I’m grateful that some of them pray for me. My hobbled together belief system leads me to feel that knowing even for a moment that a person is precious, has a shimmering soul, that they are connected to the Universe, to the great Unknown has a beneficent effect.

As my Mother drew her last breath I felt a moment of euphoria unlike any I’ve ever experienced.  I was aware of grinning ear to ear, of saying “WOW” out loud three times and of seeing a beautiful yellow, white and amber plume exit her third eye. I understood this to be her essence departing. No one else present in that sacred, intimate circle of love saw it so I cannot say I saw it with my eyes. I’d read about the term “spiritual senses” and eventually came to understand that that must be what allowed me to have had that experience. On one level it was death but what I witnessed more profoundly in that moment was a transition and it changed my sense of spirituality, forever.  Thanks Mom.

This morning, January 1, 2020 I woke up under the stars at about 5am. The canopy was on glorious display this moonless morning. No wind, no birds, just still splendor. It was easy to pray.  In meditation I have that sense of dropping down into the sacred within.  Somehow though, in my feeble Christian practice, the search for the divine presence has usually involved a yearning upwards, a reach outwards. This morning when I said “Our Father who art in heaven” I did not feel the concept of heaven as being up or out there somewhere but rather inside, in that place usually sought in my meditations. Continuing the Lord’s Prayer in that framing brought new resonance. 

The sun is up now, this New Year’s Day is bright and blue. I’m lucky enough to be looking out over the Pacific Ocean through a lacing of palm trees. Birdies are in symphony and a distant cock continues to crow us all awake. 

I feel fortunate to be living in a time when the wisdom of so many is available to fuel an ongoing exploration of the arena of prayer and meditative journeys.  To list the prophets, Christian Science, scientists, Deepak Chopra, Joseph Campbell, Pima Chodrin, Dalai Lama, gurus ad infinitum, George Mumford, Rumi and the remarkable Rabbi Mordecai Finley is but to barely scratch the surface. 

My prayer to the best of my ability today is for all of us to know as deep a sense of peace as possible and for that to translate into actions both small and large. It’s for the protection of our beautiful planet and all the wonders she holds.  It’s for active compassion as we begin together our new roaring 20’s. Happy New Year. Here we go!

Winter Solstice

Several snowy winters ago my parents, my young son and I drove up to the mountains to ski for a few days just before Christmas. It was a merry time filled with days on the slopes and fireside chats after dinner over hot chocolate.  It was pretty much the picture postcard it sounds like. Nearing Christmas, on the Winter Solstice, we ended the holiday a few hours earlier than planned on account of a storm that was about to blow in. The car was packed, blue skies above, all was well as we set off.  We took the scenic back roads, one of my most favorite drives in the world, one that includes two majestic mountain passes and high altitude plains that have never looked the same twice. Most times I stop enroute in the village of Florissant to visit my pal Celinda, a Native America medicine woman. She lives in the middle of a beautiful, forest encircled meadow in a large pink Victorian home that boasts one of Kit Carson’s tiny winter log cabins out back. I called ahead asking if we could stop in for a quick visit and with her usual generosity, Celinda gave the go ahead, instructing us to “Just come on in” when we arrived. What she didn’t mention is that there would be ceremony going on in her home that night for the Winter Solstice. 

As we barreled along singing carols through the mountain passes down to Florissant, we noticed a few puffy clouds starting to form, then a flurry. Radio weather reports grew alarming and we agreed we’d make only the briefest of stops in order to make the final thirty minutes home in safety. We arrived and walked on in as we’d been instructed to do only to see a sea of shoes at her entry and a large circle of people seated on her living room floor.  Uh oh. Ceremony and once in the room there was no way out. We took our shoes off and joined the circle.

Songs ensued, chants and prayers. My parents well into their 80’s had always had a keen appreciation for the new, so they went easily with the flow. My eight year old, flexible by nature, was used by then to new settings even if he did turn lime green after a puff on the pipe that was being passed around the circle.  As the wind began to howl outside, we were guided into a period of meditative silence after which each participant shared what they’d seen in their meditation.  This was quite intimidating as speakers before us had had glorious visions. One had even seen a white bull.  All I had done was entertain flights of fancy about a disastrous drive home in the now nearly cacophonous blizzard. Mom spoke. Aided perhaps by the few shots of whiskey she’d been enjoying in the back seat on the drive thus far she waxed poetical about her time in Cuba during the 50’s. How this tied into the Winter Solstice Ceremony remains a mystery.  Dad was next. Being the oldest member in the circle everyone looked to him with great reverence. He did not disappoint. He said he had thought of his Mother in the silence and how grateful he remained for her loving nature.  This met with a round of approving “Ho’s”, a sign of respect and acknowledgment.  Lucius too did well speaking of how much he enjoyed the beauty of winter mountains. I muttered something hastily thinking surely now we could make an exit.

Nope. It was time to eat and we had to stay. Everyone, except us had brought a delicious dish to share.  Jolly conversation ensued as each guest filled their plates high, the vittles a promise of bounty in the heart of darkness. Strategizing on how we could eat and run we soon learned we could not have a bite until the ancestors had been fed. What this meant exactly became clear when Dad was told that as he was the eldest, he would have the honor of performing this ceremony. This entailed his bundling up, being escorted by a member of the tribe out into the cold with a specially prepared plate and depositing the food at the base of an ancient tree.  As the door opened and a whoosh of snow blew in I wondered if we’d ever see my ever willing Dad again.  We stood in silence as the ritual outdoors was performed. I was not prepared exactly for the image of the abominable snowman that came back through the door for it was complete with a montage of windblown food now securely plastered to Dad’s snow encrusted face and chest. Apparently the ancestors would have to go hungry that Solstice.  

We gulped our food, hugs all around and bolted to our car. Quick scrape and off we set.  It took longer than usual but we did make it home safely, blizzard not withstanding.

I’m the eldest now and the mantle of my elders rests on my shoulders…some days more easily than others. I hear my parent’s merry voices when I drive those passes no matter what the season and on winter solstice nights I find a tree under which to place something from my bounty in the heart of darkness.

Christmas Oranges

A favorite seasonal tradition has been to sit at my kitchen table and decorate fresh oranges with whole cloves in patterned designs. The haphazard clove zig zags would fail the Martha Stewart standard by a long shot but the time spent with this Christmas handcraft has afforded soulful, oft times revealing hours of conversations with friends and family who have joined in the ritual. Somehow that relaxed and meditative setting has allowed for an opening into deeper reflections that have usually ended up being framed within the spirit of gratitude for things past, for the strength even difficult events had built. Perhaps the sweet scent of orange and clove can be blamed for that.

One of my favorite such gatherings took place repeatedly over several years, when my son was growing up. Our neighbor’s son would come over with his nanny, Rosa, to play most evenings.  Thus it was that Rosa, my helper Faviola and I would sit and work on our oranges as the little ones ran around the living room. If memory serves, the first year we did this the boys were four and in a cave man tribal phase in which they found it necessary to strip down to their skivvies and growl from behind the sofas at each other before they gave chase. Their activities morphed eventually through the years into simple tag and talking about the beauty, Murphy next door on whom they both had crushes. Their tribal exercises apparently had worked because neither perceived any potential complication at all in being smitten with the same girl. I digress.

One year I remember Rosa spoke in cathartic detail of an abusive marriage from which she had eventually escaped. She had had to overcome huge financial challenges whilst raising her family and had done so through grit, resilience and love.  As we pierced our oranges I was struck by the dignity and elegance of this wonderful woman. To my mind the dross and chaff of her spirit had been replaced with gold and wheat.

Faviola’s story was quite different. She had hailed from Honduras. Her father had been assassinated and a few years after that she and her seven siblings had been separated and sent to live with an array of relatives when their Mother had died of cancer. She spoke of how it felt to be orphaned at eight. How the playfulness of her then self had balanced her sorrow. How it was not until she was twenty that she really mourned. It was then that she longed for a Mother’s unconditional love and support whilst she embarked on a brand new life, living as a citizen in the US.

Another time a friend spoke gingerly of having been abused as a child.  As if transfixed by a campfire, she never took her gaze off the oranges as she spoke. Out poured her tragic memories but by tale’s end she had made it patently obvious that she was not victim of circumstance but rather victor. 

Oranges and cloves. Who knew so simple an act could unearth so much? Looking back, even the little boys running around seemed part of a DNA hard wired ritual what with women folk tending to hand crafts and men folk, tiny though they were, gearing up for some distant battle. I hold these and many other holiday talks dear to my heart. They’re threads of lives woven, now inextricably, into my own and I’m the richer for it. Oranges and cloves. Give it a try.

In Search of Gloves

Heads up. This will make me sound like an old fogey.

With the season’s chill on its way in, I was on a mission last week to get a new pair of leather gloves.  I’d decided to stray from my usual black and go for something hip, something wild. Teal! Purple! I had in my mind’s eye exactly where I would go…one of the last remaining flagship stores in the city, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the long case in the glove department that I knew would house a plethora of tempting choices.  I also had in my mind’s eye the stately woman behind said counter who would undoubtedly ask, “May I help you Madame?”  I would follow my shopping spree by dropping into St. Pat’s next door for a contemplative several minutes as if in compensation to my indulgence.  Happy with anticipation I walked through Central Park replete with autumn colors, to my destination.

Leaving the throng of 5th Avenue, pushing the heavy, ornate metal framed entry doors, I thought of Mom. Going to Saks had been something we’d done together on special occasions throughout my childhood.  I could almost feel my little girl hand in hers as I entered it’s hallowed halls.  Oh how she would have loved this outing and oh boy did she ever have a nose for bargains. Miss you Mom.

I walked past the perfumes and purses to where I knew the gloves would be but did not find them. I asked a staff member to direct me and she casually tossed a nod over to the far corner.  This did not bode well.  There, practically squeezed out by wildly patterned hosiery, was a tiny table on which sat four short stacks of leather gloves. Brown, gray, black and neon red.  On a nearby table was a healthy display of fingerless, Fagin knit gloves covered in cheap glitter.  I stood sort of Rip Van Winkle like in this ruin of a department. Gloveless, I went into St. Pat’s for solace.  Calmed and exiting I remembered that Nordstom’s had just opened a new store only a few blocks away. I could go there! With a renewed spring in my step, off I went.  Approaching the store you could see bright lights framing its entry as if something to aim for at the end of a tunnel.  I entered. “Hey! How ya doing?” shouted a bouncy someone. “Cute coat!” hollered an overly friendly ‘nother.  It was the only way their voices could be heard over the DJ’s music. Make that live DJ and next to his elaborate set up was a Chippendale’s worthy bartender offering drinks as he danced with enthusiastic innuendo, to the thumping beat.  When a third person shouted, “Whatcha lookin for?”, I realized these heretofore friendly fellow customers were in fact the staff.  So much for “May I help you, Madame?”  When I mimed gloves, she replied with a boisterous “Cool!” and pointed further down the aisle.  There I found a pile of ill organized gloves, few of them leather, most of them Lord help me, gortex.  I could feel a mild sense of panic start to take over in this perfect storm of cacophonous music, frantic customers in desperate need of a purchase fix and salespersons’ force fed glee. I’d been sucked through some wormhole into a virtual world of Selfie-ism that had exploded into 3D reality.  Calling on memories of exiting crowded disco floors in the 70’s, I did an about face and headed for the door. Once again gloveless, I escaped the clutches of immediate gratification and mad hatter cheer to what by comparison, was the bucolic calm of Broadway at rush hour. 

I get, really get for the first time the total appeal of buying on Amazon, which I am resigned to do.  I’ll get my gloves in due time and I’m sure I’ll enjoy them.  I feel, however, for the shoppers who will never have the memory of privilege that I hold of hearing your own thoughts in a beautiful department store with an elegant woman who asks “May I help you, Madame?”

Hong Kong

I turned on the news this morning to a live report from a breathless and clearly brave journalist in the maelstrom of a violent pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong. Donning tear gas masks, she and her crew stayed the course to bring us the latest as Molotov cocktails landed within stone’s throw and students armed with umbrellas yelled back at fully armed riot police.  The reporter who against all odds continued to speak in whole sentences as she and her crew bolted for safety, said that over the past six months of almost daily protests the students largely remained hopeful that the US government would speak out in favor of their cries for democracy.  

I’ve not been to Hong Kong in years but as these dramatic and heartbreaking images unfolded on the television, memories of the colonial Hong Kong I knew throughout my childhood flooded my mind’s eye. Christmas days often found my family and me swimming in Repulse Bay.  On these holidays after dim sum breakfasts, we’d take in the sea air as we rode the Star Ferry across the harbor, enjoy Peking Duck lunches afloat a friend’s fanciful junk, lounge over scented teas at the elegant Peninsula Hotel and because comfortable, western style shoes were not available in the city in which we lived, we’d get fitted for new tailor made shoes at Lee Kee Boot.  Oh how the name “Lee Kee Boot” would make Dad laugh.  There was a heady ambrosia of the best of British and Chinese culture melding in Hong Kong’s architecture, fashion, porcelains and cuisine. There was of course the sharp contrast of privilege versus extreme poverty. Everywhere but everywhere there was a sense of the thriving industriousness of her people. Hong Kong existed as a kind of miracle in the shadow of the horrors of China’s Cultural Revolution in full swing…but it existed and its blended distillation of East meets West sophistication was intoxicating. 

During the early 80’s, Dad helmed the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. During his tenure, my parent’s residence was just off Old Peak Road. It’s breathtaking view, particularly at night, of the harbor looked like a jewelry strewn table top. At that time Hong Kong was among other things, the gateway for American businessmen with an eye on the frontier of communist China with whom we were hurtling toward normalized relations.  It was a heady time.  On one visit to my folks during their Hong Kong assignment, I went into China on a back market visa.  Dangerous, stupid but fun and perhaps the topic of a blog to come. 

I do not mean to ignore wrongs under a colonial system long gone but Hong Kong then, in many ways, represented the best of what is possible in diplomacy, democracy, compromise, mutual respect. To see it on the news in it’s current state brought tears to my eyes.  

The young people who have taken to the streets in support of democracy, need to be supported by any of us who believe in human rights, in freedom, in an open rule based economy.  The students holding China accountable to its agreement of “one nation, two systems”, deserve better than silence from America’s leadership. What does it say about us when we abandon fundamental values in favor of seeking new tariff deals? Can leaders of the free world who do not lend their voices in concern and solidarity claim to be champions of democracy. Can they in fact claim to be leaders? If we cross the Rubicon to the means justifying the ends, isn’t it just a matter of time until our already battered raft of core values sinks…in this case into the storied Hong Kong Harbor?

Door or Eyelash?

Groupon is a beautiful thing I discovered again about a month ago when I found two items there at rock bottom prices I could not do without: Eyelash extensions and a series of 20 gyrotonics classes.  Sporting my pretty new glue on lashes I pranced along to my first gyro class.  My teacher was an adorable bright, young spark. She even commented on how nice my lashes looked.  We started right on time and she guided my classmates and me through our movements with clear instruction and beautiful demonstrations.  She had a terrific eye for proper alignment, a crucial component in gyro and offered helpful corrections, always with kind encouragement and a ready smile. I liked her and as a woman many years her senior I felt that Mommy urge kick in to want to help her pursue her dreams if ever I could. I was raised by non-church going parents and a Buddhist nanny but I’m pretty sure the above means I’m Jewish or must’ve been in a past life. I’ve been the beneficiary of guidance from elders and as they take their leave for higher plateaus I feel the life mantle fall increasingly on my shoulders to help nudge young careers forward if and when I can. Anyway…..during the course of the class I learned that my teacher was a dancer and planned soon to head to LA to check out the scene there.

Click! I knew just the right person to introduce her to: Val, a legendary dancer pal in LA whose career track over the last few years has transitioned into being a very significant choreographer, actress and master class dance teacher.  Val herself had danced for many of the most notorious choreographers of her day and now she in turn was actively involved in passing along her download to the next and next generations of up and coming dancers.

At the end of class I asked my young teacher if I might introduce her to my LA dancer pal? She accepted and we exchanged emails.  By the end of the next day a round of messages had been sent and I was thrilled to know that these two lovelies would be meeting up over the coming days.  Very smugly I felt I’d done a mitzvah. “I’d opened a door”, I thought in obnoxious self congratulations and imagined the downbeat to a grand mentorship that surely lay ahead.

Two weeks later my teacher returned from LA bronzed and sporting, I noticed, a snappy set of glue on lashes.  Excited to learn what had transpired I asked how their meeting had gone? My expectations of hearing about a bold new path having opened in her life were dashed when she reported that she had not had the time to meet with Val. Further she gleefully told me she had managed to find a great place to get eyelash extensions.  Really? Found time to get eyelashes glued on and failed to meet with glorious Val who would have changed her life? If my young teacher could have but touched the knob on this ready door a world of shortcuts, wisdom, experience, introductions had awaited her on the other side. Mighty me sat in judgement throughout my next hour in gyro class.   On my walk home afterwards other voices entered the fray of my disappointment. How many thresholds had I failed to cross, how many ready doors had I ignored? How many hours wasted “getting lashes” or the equivalent of, had I wasted when I had been her age? For that matter, now? How many hours have I wasted over even the last month on Facebook, or mindlessly watching the news rather than reading or meditating or working out?  How many doors have I opened that would have been better if they had remained closed?

Immediate overwhelm and I return to stewing in disappointment over my beautiful young teacher’s failure to meet Val.

Eventually I have to make my peace knowing she will find her own good way in her own good time.  I struggle to get ego back in its cage and commit to the best of my ability to watch for open doors I should walk through and thresholds I should not cross.  Is it, however, time to book an appointment for another set of lashes?

Je M’Excuse

I do concerts here and there on the road. Safe to say that some gigs go better than others.  I’m fortunate to have a particularly talented Music Director who usually travels with me but being in high demand as he is, on more than one occasion I’ve had to sub out his position.  A while back I was heading to Paris for a concert and was in just such a predicament, however the club there assured me they had a top drawer, jazz pianist who’d be happy to fill in. “Silly me. It’s Paris! Of course they have a fabulous jazz pianist!” Problem solved…or so I thought.

Unmitigated musical disaster is not too grand a phrase to describe what unfolded. I arrived at the club late afternoon at the appointed hour for our run through excited for our opening night.  There he was… Mario, the pianist. First, there was the look. His neon nylon suit was totally overshadowed by his enormous bouffe of hair that stood on end well past understandable boundaries of gravity…and then there was the large circa 1970’s plaid bow tie.  His smile was infectious though and after a few pleasantries we got to work. My first real clue that things might not go as well as hoped for was when he pulled out a single sheet of music instead of the music charts that had been sent over months before. Each song sent ran anywhere from six to fifteen pages filled with carefully arranged notes specifically crafted by my Music Director for the given tune.  Mario dug into the ivories and after a few measures it was patently obvious that his preferred style was oom pah pah, which is about as far from anything that qualifies as jazz you can get.  When I asked him why he was not playing off my charts he explained that mine were too complicated.  Evidently unaware of my mounting state of shock, he cheerfully continued with gusto, which was augmented by his terminal case of white boy rhythm. We were now only four hours before our first show. I excused myself for a moment and bolted to the manager to inform him of our looming disaster pleading please could he find a proper pianist?  Failing to make any headway I returned to Mario and the clock kept ticking.  We made what little progress we could and then ladies and gentlemen, it was show time. 

I longed for a life handbook.  What, I wondered, was the best thing to do? Girding myself with the Berlin lyric, I decided that we had to go on with the show.  We repaired to the dressing rooms.  I have no memory of applying my make up. I think this is what happens in moments of impending doom. Memory evaporates. The audience arrived, places were called, Mario and I took the stage.  We began.  He launched into the first number. I tried to find my note, really tried and could not.  I do remember thinking “Just sing and keep singing no matter what.” I jumped in and held to the melody like a sailor clinging to a shipwreck in a stormy sea.  Mario seemed to have some awareness that things were not going quite as well as they ought but this did nothing to help our predicament. More than once he turned the pages with such enthusiasm so as to skip to a much later part of the song. Trying, I’m sure, to be helpful, he would then sing the part of the song he was playing which had nothing to do with where I was in the tune. At the end of our second number I did what any seasoned professional would do (not), hailed the waiter from the stage and ordered a drink. 

The audience graduated through a few stages fairly rapidly. First I suppose they had been in a kind of happy expectation…they had after all bought tickets.  Next was confusion, quickly followed by uproarious laughter.  Humiliating, but at least they were in on the joke of us unintentionally being somewhere between a Monty Python and a Carol Burnett sketch.  I remember saying out loud at some point, after what I believe was his attempt at a solo, ”Throw me a note. Any note!” More than once I stopped mid song and asked him as diplomatically as I possibly could, to take a rest and continued on acapella. After an interminable hour plus, the show was over.  I thanked Mario for his work. He had tried awfully hard and there was no sense in being angry with him.  I retired to my hotel and spent a sleepless night wondering how on earth we could save ourselves the following performance.

By morning I had hatched a plan. I had recorded these tunes, and thought, if the audience could hear the music, even off my computer, in the manner it was meant to be played, I could sing along with myself sort of karaoke style and Mario could bang away doing his level best to keep up with the recording as a kind of guide track.  I strolled the stunning streets of Paris the next morning, which greatly abated the fret over the certain musical guillotine that awaited that evening. Once at the concert venue the manager introduced me to Jean Pierre who he explained was a very fine percussionist. Things were looking up. There was a large percussion solo in the finale and I almost started salivating thinking that if Mario and I could just make it to that point, we could perhaps redeem the evening with a fine percussion solo. Jean Pierre and I talked through the hastily printed off percussion lead sheet. I heard the manager in passing say something along the lines of no pay but free drinks for him and his guest.  We were good to go. Why I trusted this manager to provide a second musician is beyond me. That there were no percussion instruments was of minor consideration.  Necessity being the mother of invention, I grabbed two of large kitchen bowls, a vase, a decorative antler along with a couple of spoons and arranged them atop the piano next to my computer.  The doors opened, our audience took their seats, places were called and we began.

Mario’s survival instinct kicked in and if possible he was playing even more loudly than the night before.  I remedied this by leaning the microphone on its stand into the computer in an effort to amplify the recorded sound, leaving me sans mic. Nevermind. I karaok’ed along to the audience’s raucus laughter. I held onto the grand finale as if it were light at the end of a particularly dark tunnel. At last and with short-lived relief, I introduced Jean Pierre who had been seated at the back of the house. To my horror I saw him rise and stagger one painful, weaving lurch forward at a time. He had clearly taken free drinks as an invitation to imbibe.  Jean Pierre miraculously arrived at his home-made percussion set, picked up a spoon and with a great thwack to the antler, gave us the down beat.  Oh, for a hole in the ground, but finding none, I could only hold onto my self imposed dictum and continue singing no matter what.  I don’t recall who got to the end of the song first, Mario or myself. Whoever it was, Jean Pierre now having worked himself into a lather of rhythm, continued.  I lunged for his shoulders to let him know above the fray that “The song is OVER!” In so doing however I tripped on the leaning microphone, which then crashed to the floor. I was lucky not to impale my front pearly whites on the piano.

Fast as possible I bid my adieus and jettisoned myself from the venue back out into the magic of Paris whose grand jazz tradition I was mortified to have offended.  I did discover I think that the Parisians, to their great credit, have a ready sense of humor.  I’m not sure a performance the likes of what Mario, Jean Pierre and I had inflicted would have been accepted in like manner in say, New York.  Looking back now, we all survived, no one died but I do ardently hope at some point to be able to redeem the experience.  Je m’excuse belle Paris.

The Artists: A Triptych, Part III

“You’ve got to meet the Landrums” my friend commanded one day at work. Apparently I had no choice in the matter so off we went to the Landrum dance class the following day. At 18, I had spent my share of hours at the ballet barre but coming out of my first class with Jacqui and Bill, I felt my body had been redesigned and that more doors, possibilities and energy patterns had been opened in my hour and a half with them than in all my previous classes put together.  They were what they taught…focused, insanely beautiful and hugely gifted.  Time in their classes led to working together when producers on a project I was doing were smart enough to hire them as choreographers. In the fullness of time our weave continued and led to one of my very most formative and enduring friendships.  Chosen family. Over the years I witnessed them apply their creative forces to their every life transition and challenge to beautiful effect. They always, but always moved forward no matter how high the hurdle. The ferocity with which they lived their good lives even as young talents, became a beacon for many.  When I wondered what the ideal marriage might look like all I had to do was witness theirs.  Their intertwined vibrancy was and remains the object of envy for all.  When my life would grind to a halt I only had to conjure a fraction of their gusto to get things moving again.  When at a life intersection I could always ask myself, “What would Bill or Jacqui do?” and get my answer.  When nervous about going into an audition I would channel Jacqui’s fearlessness and go for broke.  When I embarked into the world of cabaret singing I enlisted their coaching help. The list goes on. 

Tragically it has been a decade now since Jacqui died.   If the weight of words could fall into a black hole through the screen…the words in the last sentence did so.  

Having suffered so indescribable a loss, how, we all worried and wondered, would Bill ever find his way?  Well, he did ofcourse find his way forward with one breath at a time, with Herculean strength, with deliberate choices. Doing so I have to think has been the greatest test of and conjuring up of his own creative powers. Forward Bill moved not only to exist, but to create a new and energized life of different and equal depth.  

The dancer in him works every day in his studio…exploring and challenging himself to make new discoveries always with integrity of both mind and body.  The intellect in him took on learning a new foreign language and how to play the guitar. The perennial student in him took on learning about organic gardening. The philanthropist in him promptly set up a program for the elementary school in his village that graduated into a community operated farmers market, also a recycling effort run by the students. He carries no baggage, holds no grudges, nor does he pass judgement.  He keeps who he wants in his life and moves on from others without resentment when needed. If a moment comes that seems hard he’ll give himself the directive to “Change the energy” or “Change the character.” Challenges can be crippling but in the Landrum’s case and now in Bill’s alone, the creative principle no matter the G-force is the rocket he pilots. 

A multitude of students came through Bill and Jacqui’s classes. Many, who went on to great successes, attribute their rise to lessons learned in the Landrum studio. When any one of us in his circle point this out, it always comes as a surprise to him that he has had choreographic influence on life journeys. He never set out to be a mentor but the unique path they blazed and now he blazes, is its own map to true north on how to negotiate life’s rapids, how to overcome and how to build an astonishingly beautiful, meaningful life. For all these reasons and more my cherished, remarkable friend Bill is also my mentor. My friend was right. I did have to meet the Landrums.

The Artists: A Triptych, Part II

The Dancer

If you lived in New York in the 70’s as I did, you too would have frequently seen posters of an Adonis floating mid air, advertising the legendary Joffrey Ballet Company. If you were lucky you would have seen that dancer perform live. I was lucky. He had trained as a teen under Martha Graham. All the great choreographers of the day put their work on him…Agnes de Mille, Twyla Tharp, Jerome Robbins, Robert Joffrey, to mention but a few.  In the fulness of time, he transitioned out of dance to focus on his life long second love, costumes and was sought after to design whole ballets for many world class companies. He also designed Tina Turner’s performance wardrobe.  Are you breathless? I am and was recently on a daily basis when I stayed with him in London. Every morning over coffee and still in pajamas we would curl up on his beautiful mauve cushioned sofas for another installment of, I’ll call them “life talks”.  Like a child at story time I’d soak in another tale of his having been in the rehearsal studio with Robbins or Gwen Verdon, for instance. Mid story, ever the dancer, his twinkling eyes would light up as he would illustrate the moment with a tendue, a port de bras, a whip turn. He also kindly brought out photo albums that documented his process in creating costumes.  First came the montage pages…a line of poetry, a sketch, a postcard, etc. Turning the leaf, the album went on to reveal his detailed sketches with accompanying fabric swatches. Last were photographs of the dancers in his final masterpieces. I was gob smacked. These morning sessions would end only because he had a rehearsal to get to for his upcoming cabaret performance.  The halls of his home are filled with portraits, paintings of life moments I only later realized were his own. Who needed to go to the British Museum?  Not I.  It was clear that each level of artistry had informed the next. His eye for line moved easily into silhouette on a costume, his breath control as a dancer had become the foundation of his singing, his visceral knowledge of dance had expanded into the swish of Tina Turner’s dress, making visible the aura of her fiery spirit.  For all the monsters in our midst there are also these rare wonders of nature who fulfill their destiny as creatives, as continual fountains of the beauty that is possible from within the human spirit.  Lucky me to have experienced this just when its needed most.