Thursday, January 20, 2011


When I was in my 20s, I attended a dance performance at The Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio with Twyla Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov. I didn't have a lot of cash to burn back then, but I’d long been a fan of Tharp, and it goes without saying the ease with which I parted with my hard-earned pay for relative proximity to Baryshnikov.

I vaguely remember a pas de deux and a Baryshnikov solo, but what really stuck with me to this day was a performance by Tharp to the tune “Java Jive,” I think by the Ink Spots.You know the one, "I love coffee, I love tea...da duh da duh da duh da duh ...and it loves me..."

She conveyed a mood of longing in her movements, and the piece resonated with me, but I wasn't sure why. I read in the program she created the work as a tribute to her lost love of coffee, which she’d recently given up upon the recommendation of her doctor.

At the time I was struck that she loved coffee so much she created a work to mourn her loss.

I understand it better, now, some 20 years later.

Having for years been a fan of the French Press (or for my British friends, the cafetiera), I thought I was doing just fine. My husband was of a different mind it turns out, and gifted me at Christmas this year with a very fancy Swiss machine, which at the press of the button whips up the perfect cuppa.

You just touch a button. It grinds the beans, heats the water, and ... you receive a dose of hot, frothy goodness — one cup at a time.

You know that commercial when the wife says, she just needs a barista? I have one; automated style.

Now this may not be as novel for many, or most. For me, it’s a thrill. So much so, my index finger keeps hitting the button; repeatedly throughout the day. I thought the novelty would wear off, and I'd return to my regular consumption habits but, alas, it seems to have become a nasty Pavlovian predicament; pushing that button more than I should.

Now I can’t sleep through the night. I wake up wondering, “Why me?! What did I do to deserve this sheet-tossing madness?”

Then I remember — that last cup of coffee. It was nearly 5pm. That’s never good.

Will I be able to control my finger enough to only press that shiny silver button twice a day?

It remains to be seen. I may just be doing my own dance of withdrawal soon.

Meanwhile, the nice machine says, "Ready," in bright red letters...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Climb every mountain. Play every piece.

At my kids’ piano recital recently, the instructor, who is Russian and was once a concert pianist, concluded the concert by playing an amazing Mozart sonata. I can’t remember which one, and I don’t always understand the classification letters alongside. But it was a brilliant piece, played exquisitely, all the same. If it didn’t inspire the children directly, it definitely resonated with the adults in the crowd who patiently sat through 300 songs played before her by the shorter masters.

The kids' instructor approaches their lessons much the way you might envision a Russian concert pianist might: with serious attention to detail and structure; and posture. She was less than thrilled by the habits the kids had (or more likely hadn’t) developed in the last year from their previous instructor.

The recital piece inspired my husband so much, he downloaded a bunch of piano sonatas on ITunes and lately, he listens to them at night just before sleep.

I borrowed his tunes the other day when I went running with the dog. Usually I can take or leave music in my ears when I run; it distracts me from the sound of the birds (and the car or possibly bicyclist about to hit me), but on this day it definitely put a pep in my step and made the weather seem less shitty.

Listening to the sonatas got me thinking of my own short-lived piano pursuits. I determined (probably after that nice run while still high on endorphins) to pick up where I left off, and once again delve into the classical realm.

My German teacher from 30 years ago resembled the kids' now; trained classically and equally bent on proper applications and practicing. She always fascinated me, because in the 80s she cycled all the way down High Street in Columbus from Clintonville to Worthington twice a week to teach. I found her exotic and a little scary.

Sometimes my lessons were in her studio in back of her house; filled with music and her really really long snow skis. She didn’t hash her words. Maybe because English was her second language. She always made clear her intent, in short concise bursts. Just like the kids’ Russian teacher does now, "fingers like a kit-tee cat not like beag-a booll!" My teacher also thought American’s were puss skiers on stubs. I remember that, too.

I’m not sure when my piano playing became stifled, but I do have vivid recollection of my mom selling the piano when I stopped practicing. Unlike the “tiger mother,” Amy Chua’s Chinese hand's on approach to get her daughters to practice and to succeed, my mother’s was more of the hands off, “either play or the piano goes,” variety.

The piano went.

For whatever reason that life’s moment laid a heavy hand on my constitution. So much so, practically since introductions, I always spoke to my husband about "replacing" my long gone instrument with at least a baby grand by the time I was 40. I never paid much creedance to success, measured in houses and belongings, but I was determined about the piano.

Being sometimes saintly, my husband did get me a piano on my 40th; an electric one, which is more compatible with our mobile existence. It’s the one we now all practice on (almost) daily.

I play. And I enjoy it. But I make most my choices by following the path of least resistance. I usually gauge my selections on my ability to at least be able to sight read/play a piece through without too much effort upon first sight. And, in short measure, for it’s length.

Most classical pieces are at least six pages long.

I don’t have that kind of attention span.

And classical pieces are scary.

I don’t know why I think they’re scary.

Probably because they are six or more pages long.

I think maybe I need to draw strength from the likes of the tiger mother and our Russian and German influences for their steadfast adherence to form and function, in order to succeed.

We have a new motto in our home, which is really not new, but new to us and really, we think, gets to the point quite nicely when our kids show resistance to practicing.

“Practicing is better than sucking!” We borrowed that one from Justin Halpern’s dad.

In short — there is no one way to skin a cat.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Zoe auditioned for ANNIE last night.

She’s sure she got the part. I mean the role. For her there’s only one — Annie. Zoe's my daughter. I marvel at that kid’s confidence. It borders on grandiose. Not that that’s a bad thing. I admire her ability to shed unwelcomed criticism or (in her mind) unfair admonishments from the likes of me and continue down the path she’s chosen, regardless of the possible pitfalls.

I mean, it’s tough sometimes to be her parent, but I admire her all the same. I believe someday, Zoe will utilize her strength to do good in the world.

Through experiencing daily Zoe’s innate sense of self, I’m beginning to understand how someone could venture into the public arena and remain in tact. Your “self” has to be big and burly; made of tough stuff, which is hard to reach or effect, negatively.

Not that I’m wishing that upon any of my children. I’m an exceptionally private person. Writing is my way of reaching out.

I’m the type of person who has always wondered if the Amish folks have something on the rest of us. I don’t like my picture taken, because I think maybe I’m revealing too much or even losing part of my soul. That’s how I feel at parties and large public functions where you must interface with countless strangers.

I’m not sure why I’m so self-protective, but by now I recognize my limitations. I don’t like to show my vulnerabilities. I’m glad not everyone is like me. That would be a lonely world.

Making connections and interfacing with strangers is what serving in the public is all about, isn’t it?

To be on stage, no matter what the arena — artistic, political, social — one must make themselves accessible from time to time, even vulnerable. I think most people on the public platform must crave the human connection fortified from simply being out there.

When you’re in the public eye, you’re also in public, which we’ve all been reminded these last days in a devastating way how dangerous that can sometimes be for ourselves and others who surround us.

I fear the acts of a few, or even one, will form a perspective among us, which will permeate and result in an attempt to shield those few brave people in the world who are willing to put themselves out there to forge a connection between the rest of us.

We would all lose what we as a people crave the most —individuals with the integrity and bravery who inspire us. Look at how we react to President Obama when he walks into a room and speaks.

But if my own daughter is any indication, there are people who won’t be thrown off their path.

They will continue to reach out and effect the world on a personal level. And we will continue to be inspired to agree or disagree; also publicly.

And thank God for that.

Monday, January 3, 2011


“Happy New Year,” he said as he kissed me. “We have a lot to look forward to this year.”

I nodded and smiled. I hoped the look in my eye didn’t give away the misgivings I entertained alongside my optimism.

I wonder if my husband is, after more than 20 years, used to my silent responses and able to read my face. I find I do that often. My thoughts get log-jammed coming down the pike, and I can’t get around the traffic enough to speak. There’s too much to say. So I offer up nods with what I fathom to be communicative facial expressions.

Worried my face didn't say enough in support, I offered, "We do have a lot to look forward to,” and smiled again in reinforcement.

My thoughts weren’t totally in alignment with my spoken word. A completely straightforward response may have sounded more like this, “We do have a lot to do this year.”

If I'm not careful I will look past the entire year and all it entails, until this time next year, when I’m in a more comfortable position, and I can look back on the year and reflect.

Sometimes I’m better at reflection than I am with anticipation.

So I exercise my resolve and the ability to keep it simple, and to take one step at a time.