All Good Things

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive when bloggers of all stripes weigh in on the same topic. After a great run, the Blog Off as it exists now will end of this week. The topic is essentially wrapping things up and saying goodbye.
To see who else contributed to today’s topic, go here:

Yesterday we found out a dear old friend in Los Angeles had died the day before. We sure weren’t expecting that news. It was–it is–hard to take. After we got the call, there was nothing to do but make a few other calls. Then we sat and stared for awhile. And then we went about our business, slowly, strangely. My husband was glad he’d talked to her a few weeks before. I was glad I’d emailed and told her how thrilled I was that her book was being published–finally! During one of the lower points in the day my husband, who’d known her nearly thirty years, said: Isn’t it ridiculous that whatever made us, made us to be self-reflective beings with the desire to get close to people–and then those people can go at any moment, like an old timing belt? Isn’t it a sick joke?

Yes, I said. It sure is.


For whatever reason, we’re here for as long as we are; we don’t get to know when anyone’s timing belt will go, not even our own, and the thing that makes it tolerable is connecting with other people. Sometimes closely, sometimes not. Sometimes for a long time, sometimes briefly. But we connect.

Let’s Blog Off isn’t a decades-long friendship, and its demise is nothing like the death of a person. But it’s been fun, hasn’t it? And sometimes entertaining, and sometimes thought-provoking, and often moving. A kind of meeting house, an open mic, a place to gather with people you may not even know–yet you get to talk about real things.

Thank you, Paul and Gerard (and am I missing anyone?), for creating a platform for connection.


My Head Exploded. Literally!

It’s Let’s Blog Off Day, a bi-weekly event in which bloggers post essays on a predetermined topic. It’s possible that when I saw today’s topic, What’s your grammar pet peeve?, I rubbed my hands together, like Snidely over there. (There also may have been some gleeful cackling, but I admit to nothing.) Before I go on, a caveat: I can’t think of grammar aggravations without running smack into punctuation and usage. Love and marriage, soup and sandwich, blah, blah, blah, etc. Here we go:

1. Use of “literally” as an intensifier
Chances are my head did not literally explode. Perhaps I only felt as if it did when I heard someone say, “I literally ran out of cereal this morning.” I’ve no doubt that person did run out of cereal this morning, but “literally” implies a world in which one might only figuratively run out of cereal. Here’s another one: “I was literally crying.” As opposed to what? Some sort of virtual crying? Pretend crying while making air quotes? Either you were crying, or you weren’t. “I literally have to have that.” “It was literally huge.” “He literally looked terrible.” “Literally” has become the Monsanto of speech and must be stopped.

2. Comma before “however”
“We’re here to serve you, however there may be a long wait.”
I’ll take that with a side of semi-colon, please. (There is this exception to no-comma-before-however, however.)

3. Mistaking “regime” for “regimen”
If I were the head of a regime, I would put all citizens on a daily regimen of vocabulary study.

4. Of Abuse
Poor “of,” overused and abused, gets a special entry. Wantonly, callously inserted where it doesn’t belong, “of” pushes out “have” when all it wants to do is what it was meant to do. End “of” abuse!

A) “Not that big of a deal”
Inserting “of” where it doesn’t belong is that big a deal.

B) “I wish I would of” or “If I could of”
• Peeve the first: It’s would (or could or should) have, do you hear me? Would. Should. Could. HAVE. As in, “my head would have exploded.”
• Peeve the second: Not only is it not “would of” or “could of,” it’s not even “I wish I would have,” or “If I could have.” It’s “I wish I had,” or “If I had.” HAD! HAD!! I WISH I HAD!! IF I HAD!! HAAAAAD!!!!!

There. I feel a lot better now.

Full Disclosure Footnote
In preparing this post I learned that it is not exactly incorrect to use “myriad” as a noun. I don’t mind admitting I’m wrong about something, but this is a bitter pill, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never get used to accepting a myriad of myriads used as nouns.

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Annoying Footnote
And now I have to ask it, much as it pains me. Who’s worse: the person who talks sorta wrong, or the know-it-all? Hmmmm. . .

Random Webiness

No deep thoughts today. Just skipping and hopping around the web, picking daisies. Here are some that make me smile. I have no association with any of them; for all I know, each is a front for something dark and terrible, and here I am, an unwitting shill for darkness and terribleness. Or perhaps it’s as simple as this: these sites came my way, or I went theirs, and each gave me a different kind of smile.

You “know” what I’m talking about, “don’t” you?

New old-fashioned cartoons.

Trend whore.

Because I have long been moved by wabi-sabi, and because I can’t help but wonder how much tingo was involved in creating the interiors seen in Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table.

Love Letters To The Library

I’ve always called myself a library nerd. I was as excited as can be to get my library card at age five, a whole year earlier than normally allowed. I wanted it so badly that an exception was made for me;  all I had to do was show the librarian I could sign my own name, and I was in! A few years later, when I was old enough to hang out by myself, my dad would drop me off on Saturdays and I’d spend the whole afternoon wandering through words. Decades after that, when I was volunteering in a program that had me reading to a class of first graders, I arranged a field trip to the public library a few blocks away. I asked the kids if they knew who owned the library. Guesses included the librarian, the government, the school. No, I told them. YOU own the library. It belongs to you, and you, and you, and your teacher, and the librarians, and your families, and me. It belongs to all of us.

The public library is a thing of great beauty. It’s a place, it’s an idea, it’s a shining and enduring example of something right with the world, and I love it as much as I’ve ever loved any concept or thing. So you can imagine how this video hit me. 

Thank you to Back To the World for bringing it to my attention.

Oh, The Stories I Could Tell . . .

Every two weeks the blogosphere comes to life when bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic. The topic this time is “If you can’t afford the tip you can’t afford the meal.”

Here are two not-actual but representative-of-actual ads I’ve seen on Craigslist:

Seeking band to entertain at publishing industry event to benefit a worthy cause. We’re looking for a jazz quartet to play from 7 – 10 pm on Friday at a beautiful SoHo venue. No pay, but great exposure to publishing and fashion industry types.

Your music at our restaurant, Friday nights, 6 – 11 pm. If you’re a solid band with a good following, let’s talk. No $$, but a receptive place for your music; you can pass the hat, and get dinner for up to a trio. Potential for longterm gig.

Hmmm. Let me ask you something, industry event throwers: Is the catering being donated? How about the invitations? The flowers? The venue? All being donated for exposure and the chance to contribute to a worthy cause? Nobody’s getting paid a cent for any work they do to make this happen? If that’s the case, then, okay, you have the right to ask musicians to work for free, too.

Restaurant owner or manager: before I help you build up your business by bringing in my band and my following, please come to my home and cook dinner for my friends and me. I have a stove and electricity (you supply the ingredients). No $$, but a great opportunity to share your talents with an appreciative group of hungry musicians. If the food’s really good, we’ll ask you to come back and do it again.

It seems hard to put a price on something as emotional, as ephemeral as music. But there are hard costs, just as there are with any product. The CD your kid is downloading for free because he knows where to find it online (and, after all, how’s it going to hurt Amazon or iTunes or Gaga or Jay-Z if they don’t get his $10 or $15?), well, that CD may have cost thousands upon thousands of dollars to make, and those thousands may have come out of the artists’ pockets. Granted, my own musical subgenre doesn’t include Gagas and Jay-Zs and overnight YouTube sensations, and that’s a-ok with me. For many of us, pop stardom isn’t remotely the goal. Me, I just want to make music I like and can feel proud of, and to earn a reasonable return for doing so. I’d like my friend who recently didn’t get paid for a gig, and had to pay the band out of her own pocket, to find the check in today’s mail. I’d love to think I might break even on what it costs to make a CD (and I’m only talking hard costs–not time, training, skill, and so on), though I know that’s unlikely.

Now, look, nobody’s forcing me or my friends and colleagues to make the kind of music we make. You are who you are, after all, and I’m sure I wouldn’t get very far as a pop star if that was something I wanted (I’m way too old now, but even when I wasn’t, that wasn’t my thing). But many of the musicians I know are people with masters degrees (and student loans), children, health problems, rent, mortgages. You know the type I’m talking about: regular people. Some of them just happen to be regular people with decades of experience and with incalculable amounts of time and money invested in the development of their art and craft. They’re people who create possibly somewhat esoteric but also possibly meaningful music. And while their music may be appreciated for giving joy, provoking thought, soothing savage breasts, it’s rarely understood as something having monetary value. Music, after all, is free. It floats on the air, on waves. You can’t hold it in your hand, put it on the mantle, hang it on the wall.

Well, it’s easy to take some things for granted, isn’t it? We all do it. I do it. I’m tuned in (no pun intended) to where that for-granted-taking happens in music because that’s the world I inhabit. I thought it might be interesting for non-musicians to have a peek at some of the adventures in Musicland. But that’s all this is, a peek. Oh, the stories I could tell you! But I won’t, not now. I’ll leave you with this request: some time today, or in the next few days, please put on some music you really like. And listen. Really listen. Embrace the music, and let it embrace you back.

(Apologies to other participants. . . as usual, I entered the code to show the list of bloggers, but all that shows is the code. My blog apparently doesn’t want to cooperate.)

‘Tis the Season

Who’s the most difficult person to buy a gift for on your list? You know what I mean: the uncle who has more stuff than he needs or desires, the friend who likes to travel light, and neighbor whose is taste so specifically her own it’s almost impossible to choose something she’ll really like. The perfect gift for those people could be a donation made in their honor. A cause matched with the person’s interests takes things to the next level, but if even if you’re a lefty with a Tea Bagger cousin or a fur lover with a vegan best friend, there’s a cause out there that’ll leave you basking in the mutual glow of holiday generosity. Here are some of my own favorite organizations; in this era of tightened belts, remember that any amount will do. And even if you’re through with this year’s spending, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to learn more about these organizations.

BEADS For Education There are many ways to contribute to BEADS. You can shop for gifts made by members of women’s beading collectives; proceeds are used to fund the women’s groups and BEADS programs. Gifts start at $15 and most are no more than $30. If your budget is larger, you can sponsor a Kenyan girl’s education, which might be the most rewarding gift you can give yourself. You can also simply donate.

Airline Ambassadors Years ago, on a flight from JFK to SFO, I chatted with flight attendant Nancy Rivard, and she mentioned me a little non-profit she’d started. Since then, Airline Ambassadors has grown into an organization that does big things, like delivering humanitarian aid to children around the world, escorting children to hospitals, rebuilding or delivering supplies to areas hit by disaster or poverty. You can make a donation and even join a mission.

Polaris Project’s vision is simple: “a world without slavery.” It’s one of the largest organizations of its kind, with numerous programs for combatting human trafficking and modern day slavery.

Schoolbags For Kids So much beauty in a simple idea: you buy a very cool schoolbag for someone you know, and another schoolbag filled with supplies is donated to a child who needs one in India, Thailand, or Belize. (May I brag a little? One of the founders is a fan who has become a friend. Bravo, Kalon!)

Project VoteSmart is a completely non-partisan organization dedicated to the idea that a knowledgable citizenry is an empowered citizenry. With the click of some keys you can find out everything you need to know about candidates and elected officials: biographies, voting records, issue positions, public statements, campaign finances, and more. This is seriously valuable information; there’s no cost to use the site, so donations keep it going.

The Jazz Foundation Jazz musicians play well into old age. One of the things that’s always nagged at me is a concern for some of the elders who are still with us; after all, a lot of gigs pay no more than they did three or four or five decades ago (and I’m talking actual dollars, not inflation-adjusted ones). How are these folks in their seventies, eighties, nineties getting by? In many cases, not very well. This is where the Jazz foundations steps in, with programs to provide emergency housing and assistance, pro bono medical care for uninsured musicians, performance opportunities for elder masters, and more. Read about some of the people the JFA has helped.

Society of Singers Similarly, SOS provides support to singers in need. Programs include financial aid, case management and referrals, scholarships, and more.

Potters For Peace is a network of potters, educators, technicians, supporters, and volunteers that works with clay artisans on ceramic water purification projects. Want to see the beauty of a low tech miracle? Potters for Peace travels the world teaching potters (often rural women) how to make low-cost ceramic water filters that can bring clean, potable water to those who need it most.

When I heard about Planting Peace’s deworming project I was struck by several things: the widespread the problem of intestinal parasites is, the devastating effects, and the relatively simple and inexpensive solutions. A one dollar donation pays for deworming sixty seven children; when’s the last time you spent a dollar that made such a huge difference? Of course you can multiply that dollar by any amount and help even more people. And if you’ve got $20 a month to spend, you can sponsor an orphan’s housing, education, medical care, and more.

For the activist on your list, an Occupy Wall Street calendar, with profits donated to the movement. Swiss photographer Juan Carlos Hernandez came to New York to photograph jazz events, and ended up also spending a lot of time at Zuccotti Square. A track from my CD accompanies the promo video for the calendar, or go straight to the store and get a 50% discount with the code HOLIDAYSUPERSAVINGS34 if you buy before December 31.

Happy shopping, happy giving.