Friday, March 27, 2009

Looking From A Window Above

I have been looking out at the NYC skyline quite a bit lately. That's not a view you can get in Manhattan unless you are on a high floor - and my 6 story prewar walk-up building just doesn't provide that perspective.

I mentioned this to SK who informed me that I look out the window ALL the time, even in my apt where the view is just the street outside.

Apparently I like looking out windows. Regardless of the view.

I just wish I had a tail and whiskers to twitch. I'm sure that would enhance my enjoyment of it.

On Truth

The Blind Man and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant~(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation~Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side, ~ At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant ~ Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here?
So very round and smooth and sharp? ~ To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant ~ Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, ~ Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant ~ Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like ~ Is mighty plain," quoth her;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant ~ Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most; ~ Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant ~ Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail ~ That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant ~ Is very like a rope!

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion ~ Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right ~ And all were in the wrong!


I prefer to think that each was right. Most things you try to understand are far more complex than an elephant - like people, for example, and standing back to view at a distance doesn't help.

Depending on the time of day, the situation, or the observer, the truth of a thing changes. Or, more accurately, a different truth might be revealed. Especially when standing close enough to touch.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Got home last night drunk and cranky.

I slept for a couple hours and woke to Bach's Two Part Inventions speeding through my mind. In particular, one of Glenn Gould's recordings where he flew through them at such a pace that I was actually stressed out listening. I remember after listening to that particular rendition, I practiced them at that same breakneck tempo and when my piano teacher heard me, her comment to me was: "Why are you trying to get them over with so quickly? It won't make the lesson end any sooner."

But I digress.

When I woke up a few hours ago, I played them. Started nice and slow, then sped up, then sped up some more, then sped up a lot more.

I remember what made me cranky. But for the life of me, I can't figure out WHY it did so. When others are inexplicably cranky, I assume that there is another, perhaps completely unrelated, explanation for it. I could spend time trying to figure out that underlying reason for myself. Or I could just go back to playing Bach WAY too fast and lose myself in speed.

Monday, March 23, 2009

ISO Ilse Sass

January 2008, after catching the ending of Fame on television, I googled my voice teacher and found an obituary for her. Ilse Sass passed away on November 18th, 1992. She died at Roosevelt Hospital, after a long career of teaching at Julliard and Manhattan School of Music and the Henry Street Settlement. There was no mention of services or where they were held.

I recently spoke of her, and now feel compelled to try to track down some trace of her. I've called each of the places above looking for someone who might remember her... specifically, I'd like to find out where she is buried, because I'd like to go and pay my respects.

I've had no luck, but I'll keep trying.

She was survived only by her sister, Leine Seligmann. But given their ages when I knew them, it is likely they are both gone now. They had no children, apparently left no web trail (other than Ilse Sass showing up on random websites for the movie Fame, in which she played a small role), and I'm at a loss as to how to find her, or them.

But if they were buried rather than cremated, it was probably in NYC. I've even tried calling some funeral homes in NYC, but I've gotten nowhere.

I'm hoping that someone who knows something about Ilse Sass will stumble upon my blog and contact me.


In Third Person

BTW, had my nightmare again last night. The same one. And out of the pantheon of violent, gory dreams that my subconscious dishes out on a regular basis, it's the only one that truly seems like a nightmare. But happily, the frequency of this particular dream has slowed dramatically over the years.

I know what the impetus was. A play. It was an intellectually interesting enough exercise about love, desire, violence, loss, and, in a meta kind of way, about the creative (often tortured) act of writing. The focus on one theme in particular was designed to be deliberately uncomfortable and provocative. I understand all that. I told SK about it and she was surprised that I hadn't just walked out. I told her that I had wanted to leave. But as soon as I said the words, I realized they weren't true. I could have left, had I wanted to. And I would have left, had I wanted to. But this was "art" and was intended to provoke laughter, derision, titillation, sympathy, and discomfort. And that it succeeded in doing those things, was a good thing, from the perspective of all of those involved in putting it on stage.

And hell, putting certain things under the glare of stage lights, can give you back the power of choice - to turn away, to walk out, or to look directly at it. And regardless of what choice you make, it's YOURS to make.

But nonetheless, I expected the nightmare and am only surprised that it came a few days late.

Two interesting observations:

1. It faded immediately upon my waking.

2. It was blurry, and in third person. As if I were watching events unrelated to me unfold from behind a filmy curtain. Or as if someone had smeared vaseline on the camera lens.

Of course, when I told IC about my nightmare last night, her only comment was: "don't sociopaths think of themselves in third person?"

Thanks, IC.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Dialing, texting, emailing, blogging... there are many activities that can (but certainly not SHOULD) be paired with drinking.

But what about drinking and kissing?

In my now epic trashy novel (which I've been writing off and on for the last 7 years and which will NEVER see the light of day) I have documented dozens of Best First Kiss stories from anyone and everyone willing to share theirs. Not someone's FIRST kiss, but a BEST first kiss with a particular person. The stories range from comical to tragic, but there are two major thematic elements that emerge: alcohol and stairwells. Makes sense, yes? A lowering of inhibitions coupled with a sense of urgency to plant one on someone before he/she leaves.

SL in Beijing is very affectionate when she's had one or two or twelve too many. But on those occasions, she has her friends looking out for her, and while we don't necessarily prevent her from showering affection on the random guy sitting at the other end of the bar, we make sure that nothing TOO untoward happens. She just always looks so HAPPY when she hits that groove.

Of course, one doesn't always have the entourage along as a safety net. And often that pairing of drinking and kissing can be yucky, or just plain silly, or forgettable, or embarrassing, or worse.

And then sometimes, it can be lovely.
"With Bacchus and Venus we'll ever combine,
For drinking and kissing are pleasures divine."

-old English ballad

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Text Me

Spoke with the fabulous MM in Beijing earlier this morning over skype.

The situation is bleak in Beijing - expats are being called back to their home countries and Centro, my favorite bar there, has been booked almost daily with farewell parties.

Beijing has already changed, and possibly beyond my recognition.

It's already been three years since I was last there - I've been gone for almost longer than I lived there. And I miss it.

I was asked recently if I've ever missed someone so much that it hurt. I'm sure I have. I may choose not to remember it, or to rationalize the emotion as stemming from something else entirely, but I can't possibly be a stranger to that feeling. Can I?

However, it occurs to me that my most important "love affairs," have been with the cities I have called home.

NYC MM, once asked me if I miss talking to my ex-husband. Specifically, when going about my day and something funny or noteworthy happens, do I still reach for my phone to send him a text message? If I read something in the news that might interest him, is my first instinct still to forward it to him? If I see a funny sign on the street, do I take a picture of it and still think to forward it to him?

The answer is "no." MM asked me that question because she's a strong communicator that way - she's a big fan of the interesting or relevant or funny little tidbit quickly sent via text or email to entertain, to share, to show that she's thinking of you. In some ways, I am, too, but to be frank, the husband was not high on the list of people I would think to share such things with. (Which, no doubt, helps explain the "ex" part of the equation).

And the things that catch my eye are almost always about my physical surroundings - about the city I live in. And the appropriate audience for those little tidbits is... the city itself. Can you text a city?

"Love what you've done with this park."

"What happened to that whole building? WTF were you thinking?!?"

"Remember the last time I walked down this street? The sun angled in exactly the same way and all the feral cats who were sunning themselves on that low wall mewled at me in unison as I walked by..."

"I kissed a lovely boy while standing RIGHT HERE. What was his name again? Oh yes, that's right."

Wo xiang ni.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I went on a blind date when I first returned to NYC, set up by my cousin. The date lasted all of 45 minutes, which I felt to be the minimum amount of time I could spend without appearing rude. He was (and still is), my cousin's good friend, so my usual exit strategies weren't possible.

Within the first five minutes, even before I was halfway through my first drink, he asked: "Have you ever been in love?"

Oh please.

The question is perfectly appropriate after certain milestones have been reached - namely, physical nakedness and/or emotional intimacy. But NOT within five minutes of "Hello, my name is..."

SK and I were rehearsing last night, trying to figure out what to sing as an encore. We won't have time to practice our encore song with our pianist, so our options are limited to what could work a cappella, preferably in close harmony. And we rejected song after song. But of course, the more wine we drank, the more that certain bad ideas seemed like good ones to us.

And as we howled with laughter at our renditions of "More Than Words" and "Only You," I was thinking of a conversation she and I had about the songs we had chosen to sing for our first show.

Jazz standards, as with most songs of any genre, are about love.

But with the typical jazz standard, the topic of love isn't treated with irony or subversiveness. It's all about unadulterated love and longing:

"I get misty just holding your hand"
"You'll never know how slow the moments go 'til you are near"
"You make me smile with my heart"

SK and I exclaimed during an early rehearsal before that first show: "Who the fucks feels this way?!?"

Actually, it was more SK wondering that. I was too busy trying to learn the melodies and memorize the damn words to reflect on their meaning. And it wasn't just SK who understood the kinds of songs we were singing... FT, in a conversation prior to that first show, when I informed him that I was planning to break The Fast, had one thing to say to me: "As long as it's AFTER the show. You'll sing these songs better if you aren't getting any."

But I digress, in a way. There is such emphasis on love, on being in love, and on potentially being hurt and having your heart broken.

I have yet to hear a jazz standard about the thing that weighs most heavily on me: the guilt of hurting another.

I don't know why that's so hard to understand. It's the simplest thing in the world, from my perspective. I've been hurt, I've cried over break ups and rejection, but I also got over that pain in a blink of an eye. What took YEARS to get over, was guilt.

The question for me isn't: "have you ever been in love?" The answer might be yes, it might be no, that seems almost irrelevant to me.

Because the thing that most frightens me, is betraying the obligations that are incurred when you are loved.

Someone should write a song about THAT.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Is That What The Kids Are Calling It These Days?

me: "And then he pulled a marinating whole chicken out of the fridge."

SK: "Is that a euphemism for something?"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Just the other day, I was listening to Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 "New World"... it was in a context in which I didn't expect to hear it, and I didn't recognize it immediately. Embarrassingly, I incorrectly identified the opening chords as Barber's Adagio.

But with music school on the brain, this morning I checked out the performance schedule for the pre-college division of my former music school. And what did I discover? On March 7th, the Manhattan School of Music Symphony Orchestra performed that very same piece. This is the very same orchestra (albeit with a completely new set of student musicians) whose performance of this piece was my introduction to it.

I'm not sorry I missed it (well maybe just a little). Rather, I'm pleased that at about the same time that I was listening to it (give or take 12 hours), it was being performed and heard by many.

But it strengthens my resolve to trek to MSM one Saturday soon before the spring semester ends. I don't think any of my former teachers are still there, but as it says in my profile:

"I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods."

I may not have lived there, but I did grow up there.

Bach Break

Taking a break from Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu to spend a little time with Bach's Fantasia in C Minor.

I am endlessly in awe of Bach. How is it that even with such a comparatively easy piece, everything gets swept way, leaving behind only the music.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Death by Boot Butter

The life of a road warrior is surreal.

It becomes distressingly easy to forget what city you are in, and all hotel rooms look the same.

Certainly all hotel bars look the same.

And it's isolating. Even when I was married, the only person who ALWAYS knew where I was, was my assistant. And he or she would be the only person I would speak to for days at a time (not counting the people I was trying to con into buying whatever I happened to be selling).

But I was a road warrior back in the day when cell phones were the size of refrigerators and blackberries were just a fantasy.

It's still isolating now, but at least you have a steady stream of emails and texts (preferably from friends, not colleagues) to help you feel at least somewhat connected.

I used to talk to Gorgeous Hunk O' Man (JF) once a month or so. But now that he's taken a new position (a road warrior position), I'm hearing from him almost everyday. And I reply back, as instantly as I can. Entertainment is sorely needed, and he's a friend in great need of it. There's a reason most of the road warriors I know are raging alcoholics. JF is currently in Tulsa, considering ending it all. Not that I blame him. Tulsa? *shudder*

JF: I'm in Tulsa for three days and thinking of shooting myself repeatedly. I mean a) Oral Fucking Roberts University is here and b) there is something in my bathroom called BOOT BUTTER. Jesus God.

me: Boot Butter? Stick it in your bag RIGHT NOW. And don't shoot yourself, darling. Not in Tulsa. You should go gently into that good night while in a bathtub in Paris, an empty fifth of vodka rolling on the bathroom floor and a drugged out hooker on the bed. On second thought... I think that's been done. OK, will fly down to meet you and we can shoot each other.

JF: It's in my bag. Trust. And I'll give the front desk your name so they'll give you a room key. Every fag should go out with his hag.

me: I'm imagining the news coverage when they discover our bodies:
"Two unusually attractive people were found shot to death in a hotel room in downtown Tulsa. Initial findings suggest that they shot each other while fighting over a container of Boot Butter."

JF: I live for you, I really do.

And I have no idea why this has suddenly popped into my head: I REALLY need to visit my music school one Saturday. And soon. I'm feeling terribly nostalgic for the days before I realized that I could drink like a 250lb man, and when all that mattered was my love affair with a piano. Any piano. As long as it was in tune.

But first, I have to give JF some more attention. He's now wondering if he should rub boot butter onto his face and asking if it's possible that boot butter could become the new La Mer. And oh - he's planning our joint funeral. Mozart's Requiem Mass and something about hiring professional mourners to wail theatrically.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Fall of the Wall

"How do you keep the experience?"

- from Six Degrees of Separation

Louise Kittredge, played by Stockard Channing, asks this question near the end of the movie, as she recounts the story of the imposter, Paul, played by Will Smith, and how he affected their lives. How do you keep the experience without turning it into an anecdote, an amusing story to dine out on? Especially if that experience meant something and had impact.

That's something I've considered often. For something to be categorized as An Experience, there needs to be something affecting about it. Maybe even profound and/or passionate - regardless of whether the passion is positive or negative. Human nature is resilient. We get over things, whether sooner or later. Assuming a certain degree of emotional health, we move on. I've always considered that to be both a blessing and a tragedy. The blessing part is obvious. But even if it is negative passion - let's say, a broken heart - shouldn't that be REMEMBERED? If it meant that much once, shouldn't it be more than just a bloodless memory?

But the point of this post isn't to muse on how to keep An Experience, but rather, how to have them in the first place.

I wrote a few months ago that the walls I had put up several years back are still up. They are now thinner and more transparent, but still there - and in a way that goes far beyond sensible caution.

But in order to have "Experiences", the walls need to come down.

Anyone have a sledgehammer?

Friday, March 6, 2009


What happens when a "secret" is revealed?

I'm not the best communicator - I keep my secrets close. Actually, that's bullshit. I'm remarkably free WRITING them. It's SPEAKING them that gives me pause.

I've written before that perhaps I shouldn't be so guarded. I understand why I am, especially following the events of the last few years, but at some point, I should get over that.

In an old post, I wrote about finding a letter I had written when I was 16 years old, addressed to my "26 year old self." Inspired by that, in 2005, while sitting in a cafe in Beijing, I wrote another letter, this time addressed to my "45 year old self."

I won't go into the specifics, but I wrote that while I hoped I was "happy," what I hoped for more was that I could look back on the choices that I had made and judge them to be brave.

SK says I am too meta for my own good, and I know that I am most comfortable living in my head... so even as I wrote about bravery, I was conflicted. Sometimes bravery is just stupid. Sometimes cowardice is just smart.

But while it's easy to get lost in the mental masturbatory maze of trying to sort out the existential definitions of bravery and cowardice, that's not the paradigm that feels right to me.

In the middle of the night, as I continued working on Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu in C# Minor, I realized that my approach to this piece is actually the "right" paradigm for this current line of thinking.

Focusing on a single measure at a time is all well and good. (and in the case of this particular piece, necessary). It can be overwhelming to think of the piece as a whole at this stage (at least for me). But there's always the moment when all the individual measures have to be linked together as phrases, and those linked together as movements, and those linked together as the entire piece.

And approaching the piece as a whole can change the approach to a single measure. You realize that the dynamics or tempo need to be altered to suit what came before and will follow after. And sometimes an unexpected melody is revealed - the "secret" of the piece.

Now for the dash of reality and common sense: If I just spent time actually listening to a recording of the entire damn thing rather than just endlessly repeating a single measure at a time, that would be obvious from day 1. Not a secret at all.

So that's my ridiculously long winded way of saying... perhaps these "secrets" I hold so close, are not secrets at all. Instead, just a means of procrastination, of creating distance before I have to face the big picture. Is that bravery or cowardice? Stupidity or just practicality?

I'm not making sense to even myself anymore. So I think I'll just listen to my second crush, Vladimir Ashkenazy, play the damn thing. From beginning to end.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Sometimes things get too close.

I had a bad night tonight; which reminded me of a far worse night.

And I know guilt should be the last thing I feel. Funny, when rage is what you WISH for.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cougar Barbie

From MM...

I'm DYING. And wondering if I should be concerned that "cougar" has entered into our everyday conversation the way that it has...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Zen and Chopin

I have been laboring in a state of self-imposed isolation of late, emerging only rarely to remind myself that there is indeed an off-line world.

The only reason I haven't gone completely insane while locked up in my apartment is this:

Chopin's Fanstasie Impromptu in C# Minor

(Wait through the long pause at the beginning)

As always, my first reaction is sadness and frustration that a piece I used to KILL when I was a child is now completely beyond my skills. Because this is such a technically demanding piece, I can't just fake my way through the entire piece. I need to relearn it much the same way that I learned it in the first place: endlessly repeating single measures at a time until my fingers, hands, wrists and arms cooperate. (Thank goodness for my digital piano and earphones, or I'd have been kicked out of my apt a long time ago).

And it's precisely because the piece is so insanely difficult, that I am able to practice it at all. If it were any easier, I'd fake my way through it a few times until I deem it "good enough" (although, not "good" by any measure) and move on with my life.

But "good enough" is NOT enough for this piece. For a very simple reason: in order to play it AT ALL, you have to know it almost perfectly. This piece doesn't lend itself to being faked.

And so it's a single measure at a time. Thinking about playing the piece as a whole would leave me utterly discouraged at the impossibility of the feat. This is the only piece I've ever played that HURTS me to play. My wrists and forearms ache from it, and I am reminded of one performance long ago when I had played it with a bad cut on one fingertip - the scab opened and I bled freely on the keys. (Yes, I know, disgusting - but it was perhaps the only time my piano teacher was truly proud of me [albeit being a little grossed out at the same time]).

It makes me happy that I am still capable of this kind of focus. Or perhaps I should say that I am happy that I am again capable of this kind of focus. I'm not fantasizing about the goal of being able to play the whole piece. There's no big picture in mind. It's just me and a single measure, alone in that one moment.