And this moment is my path

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Good Art is Moving

ArtPrize 2014 has not officially begun and already there are protests about some installations. Silohuettes of armed gunpersons are atop the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA). Some are calling them "snipers." They look the same to me as the Secret Service Officers who patrolled our few tall buildings when then Senator Obama campaigned here...or when back in the 1980s while I was living in Macon, GA, officers held guns atop buildings when Ronald Reagan spoke. In both cases, I was very aware of them and respected their authority.

I did not know that they were Secret Service agents. They did not show ID. I just assumed and believed the media.

But this post is not about the media, nor the Secret Service. It's about the purpose of art.

The purpose of art is to make us uncomfortable. To re-think, reconsider, or feel differently.

Art provokes.

Art is music, literature, visual media, experiential, staged and spontaneous.

Art happens to me when:

  • I was 16 and heard the cadenza in the first movement of the Prokofiev 2nd Piano Concerto and worried that the pianist might die from passion and effort (he didn't).
  • I hear an overture of a Broadway musical performed exquisitely and think of the passion of the composer, because becoming a composer of musical theatre is nearly suicidal, at least in terms of making a living.
  • I hear Kurt Elling sing the words of Michigan poet, Theodore Roethke.
  • I see a person help another person, especially if that offering of hand is spontaneous.
  • My heart opens to love of a friend.
  • My heart breaks...because of loss or sudden, unexpected change.
  • I walk through the forest and see how many shades of green there are in nature.
  • I have a rough paddle down a seemingly calm river and friends and strangers offer advice and helping hands. And an elderly gentleman picks me up while hitchhiking back to my truck.
  • I arrange things nicely in our pop-up camper.
  • When I watch the news and see stories of how humanity is sacrificed for power.
  • I become so angry with the world that I weep.
  • I regain my faith in the present.
I hope that as a community, we can reconsider art. That it's powerful and can make us grow through being startled, uncomfortable, tearful, joyful, and gleeful.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A poem for Michael

Long Point's apparitional
this warm spring morning,
the strand a blur of sandy light,

and the square white
of the lighthouse-separated from us
by the bay's ultramarine

as if it were nowhere
we could ever go-gleams
like a tower's ghost, hazing

into the rinsed blue of March,
our last outpost in the huge
indetermination of sea.

It seems cheerful enough,
in the strengthening sunlight,
fixed point accompanying our walk

along the shore. Sometimes I think
it's the where-we-will be,
only not yet, like some visible outcropping

of the afterlife. In the dark
its deeper invitations emerge:
green witness at night's end,

flickering margin of horizon,
marker of safety and limit.
but limitless, the way it calls us,

and where it seems to want us
to come, And so I invite it
into the poem, to speak,

and the lighthouse says:
Here is the world you asked for,
gorgeous and opportune,

here is nine o'clock, harbor-wide,
and a glinting code: promise and warning.
The morning's the size of heaven.

What will you do with it? 
Mark Doty 

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Uplifting Presence of Pain

"Some feelings hold important messages, and we need to respond and address the conditions from which they arise. Equally often, feeling states are simply present, the atmosphere in which we live. Even when they are strong, we don't need to suppress them, nor grasp and identify with them. Through all these permutations, we don't have to worry: no emotion is final."

Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teaching of Buddhist Psychology. 

When I was learning to play the piano (and I still am), my two most important teachers each taught me the same thing, although they referenced and described it differently.

Louise Barfield, my muse and most wonderful friend and teacher of my youth always taught us to lean into the keys. "No skimming! No matter the tempo, you must play to the bottom of each key. That was the path to having a rich, textured tone. 

Lawrence Campbell, my stern, witty college music professor preached the message of proprioception. This neurological approach takes the stance that one learns from being in deep contact with where the body is at each moment. That noticing where the pressure is, where the fingers are, where the rhythm of the arms' movement...where the breathing occurs...all lead to a more present and centered performance. 

Both of these very important lessons guide me today. Not just as I learn a Rachmaninoff prelude, but also as I experience growth. always uncomfortable. There are moments of joy, peak moments when a scene or vignette from life is completed...a pausable moment to experience an accomplishment. But, by in large, growth is uncomfortable; growth happens on hills.

But being fully present for growth brings joy and aura to one's life. "Ah, here I am in the middle of this expansion...this building of emotional muscle...this breathtaking change of plans in my, at this moment I get to see how well I can go with change...with growth."

When dealing with injury and recovery, this ability to "not skim,' to "play to the bottom of the key," to "be in deep contact with the body" is most important. Noticing where one's breath is, where one feels the stretch and tension of challenging mending bones and healing muscles to have confidence in their miraculousness...there is growth. Or as Norm Fisher might refer to as the "embryo of compassion."

When one is offered up the experience to heal, rejuvenation is the unexpected and often uninvited gift. "Ah, here you chance to come back stronger, different, with more adaptability."

Heal deeply. Own the pain, the process, the moment-by-moment opportunities to learn to move differently, perhaps more slowly one day and then a little faster the next.

Stay in contact with the pain. Make it your partner; your teacher.

Through pain, by breathing, and with patience, one renews.

And each moment is one of rebirth.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Ten Things About Me

It's my birthday, so I'm indulging a little bit with this post about me. From the silly to the candid, here are 10 things about me that you might ( or might not) know.

1. I was adopted at birth. It was not really through an agency, but more through word of mouth among my mother, a doctor, and a woman who had conceived me. It was made legal after the fact. I have immense respect for my biological mother and no desire to find her or my alleged 5 siblings. But, of course, I'm curious about all of them.

2. Early in life I was very ill, mostly due to very severe allergies and asthma. I stopped breathing twice and had to be revived. Because of my allergies, I had a very private and subdued childhood (think, Boy in the Plastic Bubble). During that time I read every book I could find and taught myself to read music and play the piano.

3. From the time I was four, I have been described as "aloof." I don't perceive myself as aloof (which infers being unfriendly), but I am very shy and socially insecure.

4. Throughout my life, all of my best friends have been just slightly older than me. Only in midlife did I begin to have close relationships with people my age or younger.

5. Because I wasn't socialized with other children (see #2), I have great difficulty relating to any child who is younger than 15. When, on the rare occasion that a child takes a liking to me, I am incredibly awkward.

6. I have loved learning, teaching, and all things educational since I was very young. I ALWAYS stayed after class...from at least 4th grade talk to anyone. Custodians, bus drivers, playground supervisors, teachers....anyone who was around...I never wanted to leave any school setting.

7. My first job was at a community college. I was a rehearsal pianist for L'il Abner at John A. Logan College in 1979, and later for Man of La Mancha. I still have the most fond memories of that period of my life and am grateful for being in touch with those lovely friends who shared that time with me.

8. Despite loving learning and education, I was a clumsy college student. The experience of stumbling, getting up, stumbling bigger, getting up, and stumbling again...created the foundation for my adult life which is committed to optimism, resiliency, and hope.

9. I have deep friendships. I take each relationship very seriously. I was once taught that a true hug is one that is close enough and lasts long enough that each person becomes one for just a moment due to allowing two heart beats  to establish one rhythm. I believe and practice that. If you and I are friends, we hug with great comfort.

10. I love aging. I love my partner, my pets (those here and those who have transcended), my work, and my friends. When I entered my later 40s I began to realize the beauty of nature and the poignancy of urban life; I love that complex blend. My days are now touched by sunrises, trails, time at the YMCA with amazing friends; late afternoons at St. George's Hall; time at Founders Brewing Company; making meals at my home for John while the dogs vie for lap time and perhaps a nibble of potato; camping and biking trips with  great friends like Bryan and Jeff that are made possible by the generosity of Dave and Ed. Actually, I'm just happy that my life is filled with so many lessons and gifts.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Two Soups for You!

My good friend, Margaret introduced me to this soup. Beach Bar Tomato Soup is attributed to the Beach Bar located in Clark Lake MI. The recipe is not difficult to find online. Mine is slightly different from others. The soup is amazingly simple (which is always a sign of a great soup recipe).

Ingredients for 8-10 servings:
2 26 oz. cans condensed tomato soup
1 8 oz. package cream cheese (I substitute American neufchatel)
1 26.46 oz (750 grams) Dei Fratelli Truly Rustic Cut Tomatoes, with juice
About 3/4-1 quart half and half
1-4 clove(s) of garlic
1/2 stick of sweet, unsalted butter, sliced into pats
Shredded mozzarella cheese

  1. In a medium-sized crock pot, rub the garlic glove all around the bottom and sides. Use as much or a little garlic as you choose.
  2.  Pour in the cans of soup.
  3. Add the package of cream cheese or American neufchatel
  4. Add the rustic cut tomatoes with their juice
  5. Add the half and half
  6. Add the butter pats
Using an immersion blender, blend all the ingredients.
Cook on high for 4 hours, allowing the crock pot to switch to warm.

Ladle into soup bowls that you've warmed
Top with shredded mozzarella and a few croutons

When John and I first moved to Detroit, he was fortunate enough to have a secretary, Fran. Fran was a wonderful Polish woman who lived with her family in Hamtramck, a lovely Polish city near Detroit. Fran used to make us all sorts of great and authentic Polish dishes. Fast forward to 2011 when Jeff and I began to frequent the Westsider Cafe, a delicious Polish diner owned by a woman named Fran! A different Fran, but nonetheless, a superb cook.

This recipe belongs to neither Fran, but is inspired by both their versions of what is now my favorite soup. There are many very good recipes for this soup, so feel free to do a little research and create your own favorite version!

Ingredients for 10 servings:
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, diced
6 cups vegetable broth
4 large cold-packed dill pickles in sea salt, shredded (if possible, use a Cuisinart, cause pickles are hard as heck to shred by hand [at least for me!])
3/4 cup pickle juice saved from the pickle jar
5 small, unpeeled, thinly sliced russet potatoes ( I prefer the potatoes julienned, but it's really up to you--just as long as the pieces are uniform in size)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp soft, sweet, unsalted butter
2 tbsp diced, fresh dill
cayenne pepper to taste (1-2 tsps.)
juice from one small to medium-sized lemon

  1. In a large Dutch oven, saute shallot in olive oil until just translucent, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add grated pickles and potatoes and let them combine, for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add stock and pickle juice. 
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot and continue simmering until the potatoes are soft, about 12-15 minutes.
  5. Combine milk and flour, mixing thoroughly so as to get rid of any lumps.
  6. Add milk and flour mixture to the broth with a slow, but steady stir. 
  7. Add the butter and heavy cream.
  8. Add the cayenne pepper to taste.
  9. Bring just to a boil and remove from the heat.
Ladle into warmed bowls and top with fresh dill, a dollop of sour cream, and a grind of black pepper.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ten Things I Think About: Depression

A walk on the West Bay, Traverse City, Michigan.

1. Depression almost always goes away. It arrives uninvited and will overstay its visit, but in time it will make its way out the door.

2. Depression can always come back. It is a chronic condition. Once you've been diagnosed with depression, it is likely to come and go throughout your lifespan.

3. It is beneficial to make friends with your depression. It's going to be there, so get to know what in your life triggers it; know its early symptoms and get ready for its bothersome visit.

4. Avoid doing anything that feeds it. Alcohol, giving in to staying in bed or on the couch, obsessing, isolating...all of these behaviors make depression stronger and weaken your spirit.

5. Get up and get out! Get out of bed, get off the couch,  get out of the recliner and take a walk; go for a run--do anything, but do something.

6. Talk, write, draw, paint--do something creative. Clean a closet, wash your car...start a project. Depression hates activity.

7. Do healthy things that activate endorphins. A good cardio workout changes your brain chemistry...spin class, a good run, even something that makes you sustain some good heavy breathing for at least 15 minutes.

8. Give your depression a name. Remind yourself that it's a condition, an unwelcome visitor. Don't become at one with your depression. That can easily turn into self-blame, which feeds depression. Depression is not something that you choose, nor something that you deserve. It's just a big bothersome fly that landed on you. It will go away. Talk to it.

9. Talk about it. Don't isolate and get seduced into being ashamed about it.  Nearly 1 in 10 people in the United States experience depression each year.

10. See a therapist, a rabbi, priest, or a good supportive friend. Set up a regular time to check in with someone--at least once--but preferably two or three times per week. Depression hates it when you talk about it.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Michigan Campfire Mac & Cheese

 A shot taken from the western most lookout point behind our campsite.

I love macaroni and cheese and have several very good, but very complicated recipes for it. During a recent camping trip, I decided to make it as simple and interesting as possible. Here's what I did.

Basic ingredients for 4 servings (this was enough for two guys):

Two cups dried pasta
Four cups of mixed shredded cheese (I like to use two 2-cups bags--one Italian blend and one cheddar)
1/4 stick of butter (I like Land O Lakes with olive oil and sea salt)
Enough spreadable butter for four slices of bread
Whole milk (about 1/4-1/2 cup)
Rye bread (I like Jewish deli rye)
A perfectly ripe tomato that is cored and thinly sliced
Pam cooking spray

The key to great campfire cooking is having easy access to all your cooking needs. For this recipe you need a hot wood fire that has left you with some hot glowing embers. You then need your kitchen set up:

  1. A sturdy table with a table top two-burner stove and a griddle
  2. A pot (with a lid) for boiling the pasta
  3. A Dutch oven big enough to hold the mac and cheese and that you can put into hot embers (I used a Le Creuset from home, which took a lot of clean up and was not appreciated by my non-camping think through your choice carefully!)
  4. A small prep area, big enough to place a Dutch oven and all your food ingredients side by side
  5. A butter knife, a Teflon spatula, a large wooden or plastic spoon or spatula for mixing the mac and cheese
  6. A small cutting board
  7. A clean up basin large enough to hold the water from the pasta pot

First, I want no leftovers when I'm camping. The goals is to bring only food that will be eaten and bring back only jarred or packaged staples (like olives, cherries, salt & pepper, etc). So, pack as much dried pasta (I used penne) as you need servings. For two of us, I took four servings or about 2 cups.

Using the two-burner stove, boil the pasta according to package directions. Typically, you need about 9 minutes of solid boiling time for basic pasta. Add salt to the water, but not oil (that is a myth--you want the water to be in contact with the pasta--so skip the oil or butter in water).

While the pasta is boiling, prep the cheese mixture.

But first, prep the Dutch oven (there are a lot of variations on this, but in general it needs to be dry, the interior rubbed with vegetable oil and then sprayed with Pam).

In the prepped Dutch oven, mix the shredded cheeses, add salt and pepper to taste (I advise heavy pepper with light salt, since the cheese will add plenty of punch), a generous dash of nutmeg, and about 1/4 cup of milk. Remember, you can add a little more, so don't make it too soupy from the beginning. Mix all that together evenly.

Check your embers and make a level spot in the fire to set the Dutch oven.

On a hot griddle, place four slices of buttered-on-both-sides Jewish rye bread. You are making croutons, by first making toast. Toast each slice on both sides, using the Teflon spatula to flip. Once the toast is ready, use the cutting board to cube the stacked slices.

Drain the pasta, but hold back some of the starchy water.

Add the cooked pasta to the cheese mixture, stirring to combine evenly.

Check for texture...add a little more milk or some of the hot starchy pasta water depending on what you like. There is no right or wrong way...just make it look like you think it should!

Top the mac and cheese with the rye croutons and then the sliced tomatoes. I add a little salt and pepper on top.

Place the lid on the Dutch oven and set the whole thing on the coals.

Let it bake (this is a great time to make a Manhattan and sip and your camping partner/sous chef have earned it!).

The mac and cheese will bake nicely in about 10-15 minutes, depending on how hot your embers are.

Dish it up and enjoy!