Betsy Robinson, author of funny literary stories about flawed people, is a perpetual seeker of truth.

From books to music to theater and fine art, from online TV to DVDs, this blog takes a look at current culture through a spiritual perspective — with a touch of humor.

Materials under the "review" tag are a mix of free review copies (books, DVDs, etc.) in exchange for a review, to library copies, to materials and tickets I've paid for.

A Really Bad Hair Day (Feb. 13 blog)

The Art of Collapsing (Feb. 6 blog)

Life is only temporary says Evan Handler (Jan. 28 blog)

The New World of Finance (Jan. 28 blog)

All about growing up in a cult (April 16 blog)

Fierce Giving (Jan. 8 blog)











(Copyright © 2008-2014 Betsy Robinson. All rights reserved)

Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Best Funny Books about Difficult Women

November 17, 2015

Tags: fun, review

After publishing The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg, a funny novel about a 4'11", 237 pound woman with a habit of lying, burgling, and incinerating houses--a woman desperate to be seen and accepted for her talent and inner beauty--I became a little desperate to read funny novels about other difficult women. There are not a lot of them. But here's what I found. (more…)

Apostroph'itis: An Editor's Primal Scream

October 23, 2015

Tags: fun

Click to see large.













Original Voice: Jeffrey Euginedes, Amanda Filipacchi, Bradley Somer

June 27, 2015

Tags: fun, review


About a year ago I attended a Jeffrey Euginedes lecture on the subject of writer's voice (Columbia University School of the Arts, Heyman Center for the Humanities Creative Writing Lecture series). If you have about an hour, by all means listen; it's rich. [He stops reading and turns loose, funny, and charming during the Q&A which starts around 40:00. (My questions are at 52:58—about the nature of the personal "starter yeast" that brought him to commit years of life to researching Middlesex. His wonderful answers involve Latin class, Ovid's Metamorphosis, whether men or women enjoy sex more, and having a hopeless existence.)]{POSTSCRIPT: THIS VIDEO HAS BEEN PRIVATIZED. I'M SO SORRY. BELIEVE ME, IT IS WONDERFUL}

I start reading a lot of books and nothing makes me abandon them faster than a generic voice; to my eyes and inner ear, it's like fingers with no fingerprints. Not only is something off, but there is no feeling of surprise for me when I hit that kind of writing; no pulse. And the majority of books fall into this category. Why? Probably for the same reason so few of us generally and regularly express who we really are from our deepest essence. Which makes me all the more grateful when I land on a writer with a voice like no other—as unique as their fingerprints, so resonant with pulse that the words vibrate off the page and throughout my physical/spiritual system. I recently discovered two such writers: Amanda Filipacchi and Bradley Somer. Here are my reviews of their magnificent new novels: (more…)

Taking Dead Mom to BookExpo America

June 17, 2015

Tags: fun, review

It all started at BookExpo America (BEA) 2013, arguably the largest book publishing convention in the U.S., so it seemed fitting that I asked my mother, Edna Robinson, whose debut novel, The Trouble with the Truth, found a copacetic agent there, to accompany me to BEA 2015. The fact that she has been dead since 1990 is inconsequential.

“Mom,” I said, “things have changed since 1958 when you wrote your coming-of-age book about a lost but funny girl named Lucresse in the 1930s, (called by Booklist, ‘a gem of a book’) [No, of course I didn’t really say all this, but I’m trying to make this conversation both comprehensible and appealing!] You thought getting a word processor in 1989, a year before you skedaddled, was wild. Just wait till you see what’s going on now!”

Edna Robinson: “I can hardly contain myself. Are you really going to wear those shoes?”

Read the whole article at FiftyIsTheNewFifty.com

My Dogged Life

May 17, 2015

Tags: compassionate wisdom, healing, fun

For a nine-pound Maltese, Rosie had a big life. For her first two years, it was her job to keep my sick mother company and refuse to be paper trained.

"You have to say 'No!' like a bark," I’d tell my mother. "Use a deep, sharp voice."

"No!" barked my mother, but still Rosie urinated on the carpet.

She learned to sit for a treat and to run under the bed on command whenever the visiting nurses came. "Heel" and "stay" where not really relevant.

"She's not happy," my mother would say when she phoned. "Can you bring Daisy over to play?"

Rosie lived for our visits, and she and Daisy would play for ten hours straight, and, although she adored my mother, Rosie would beg to go with us when Daisy and I left.

When my mother died, it was Rosie’s job to take care of me. "I can't," I'd moan at the whole mess of life and death, and, cuddled in my lap, Rosie would lick away my tears.
(more…)

The Truth about The Trouble with the Truth

April 16, 2015

Tags: compassionate wisdom, healing, fun

It was February 2013. I’d been freelance book editing since losing my magazine job—on a day christened “Bloody Wednesday” in New York publishing—just before Christmas in 2008. Freelancing is a feast-or-famine deal, and I’d had close to a month of famine when a little voice in my head whispered, “It’s time. Pull Mom’s manuscript out of the closet.”

In 1957, when I was six, my mother, Edna Robinson, had written a short story called “The Trouble with the Truth.” After it was published in the 1959 edition of the New World Writing book series, selected as one of the “most exciting and original” stories of its time by editors who had previously introduced the work of Samuel Beckett and Jack Kerouac, Edna’s intensity became impenetrable. I remember watching her burrowed in her study typing. Why was she so mad, I wondered.

She wasn’t mad. As a writer, I now understand the intensity. She was working her story into a novel of the same title. And when that novel was optioned by Harper & Row—and then dropped simply because it was about a single father with two peculiar children in the 1920s and ’30s, and To Kill a Mockingbird had occupied that territory, I believe something in my mother died. (more…)

Me and My Electra Complex

January 23, 2015

Tags: compassionate wisdom, healing, fun

Mom & me at my 30th birthday party
“I’m sorry, but I don’t feel strongly enough about your mother’s book to do a blurb for it,” writes my author friend.

You’d think I’d feel disappointed. I’d given my friend two new books: a copy of my just-released novel (The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg) at my book launch party and an advance reading copy of my mother, Edna Robinson’s, novel (The Trouble with the Truth), written in 1957, edited and doctored by me in 2013, and due out in February 2015 as the debut novel from Infinite Words, a new imprint of Simon & Schuster founded by best-selling author/publisher Zane! My mother is dead and I own the rights to her novel, so it’s my book. I’d suggested that my author friend might actually prefer my mother’s book to Zelda McFigg because the writing style is more similar to hers, but I was wrong; she raved about Zelda McFigg and offered an unsolicited blurb, but she turned down The Trouble with the Truth.

My first uncensored reaction to this rejection: I win! My friend likes my book better than Mom’s. Yippee! (more…)

Monk with a Camera: The Life and Journey of Nicholas Vreeland

November 21, 2014

Tags: review, healing, compassionate wisdom, fun

I am sitting in the Good Stuff Diner on West 14th Street across from Nicky Vreeland, a maroon-robed Buddhist monk with deep smile lines. A gifted photographer with an exquisite W Magazine-sponsored exhibit at ABC Carpet & Home to benefit the Tibet Center, Vreeland has mentioned that he finds harmony in his pictures. “Did that train you for life as a monk?” I ask.

“I think that recognizing that [finding harmony is] what I’m doing is something that has happened recently,” he says thoughtfully. “I used to feel that there was some essential quality that I was searching for in composing my photographs, and I’ve come to realize that it’s not a question of there being something there that I have to find. It’s a question of a relationship between the subject, the object, the elements within the frame of the subject, and that I, as the photographer, in my placement and my feeling about the situation, am an integral part of the creation of this harmonious whole. Where you place that lens—the height, the angle, the settings—is an integral part of what you capture. Where I place myself determines my shot. All of these things change everything!” (more…)

Creativity and Depression: Signe Baumane’s Balancing Act

November 14, 2014

Tags: review, healing, compassionate wisdom, fun

I interviewed the magnificent artist/animator Signe Baumane for RewireMe.com. Here’s the beginning of the article:

Is it possible to have a tolerable relationship with chronic depression? How does a Latvian artist and animator, working in New York with no funding, realize a unique, noncommercial stop-motion, hand-drawn “funny movie about madness and depression” (in both English and Latvian) and have that movie receive enough worldwide enthusiasm to end up as Latvia’s entry in the best foreign-language category for the Oscars? And how does this artist/animator, who was once diagnosed with schizophrenia—modified to bipolar disorder after her parents paid Latvian psychiatrists a bribe—function and create at such a high level without medication? (more…)

Piece of My Heart: The Epidemic Craving to Be Known

August 17, 2014

Tags: review, healing, compassionate wisdom, fun

“My children will know me through my music.” These are the dying words scribbled on a piece of paper by one of the most successful, yet unknown, songwriters of our time, Bert Berns, in the wonderful new musical Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story. Over the course of seven years in the 1960s, Berns wrote fifty-one songs, including “Twist and Shout,” “I Want Candy,” “Hang on Sloopy,” and the title song, “Piece of My Heart.” But when he died at age thirty-eight, he died with a craving—to be known, not only by his children but by the public.

According to the play, he never achieved his deserved notoriety because a wronged partner somehow managed to blackball him. But through Piece of My Heart, Berns's children, Brett and Cassandra Berns, producers of this rousing, beautifully performed production, are rectifying that error in rock 'n' roll history. In fact, both offspring have dedicated their lives to this cause. From Brett's Playbill bio:
Brett has devoted himself to championing his late father. In tandem with his sister Cassandra [performer, songwriter, and music executive], he has led efforts to document his father's canon and remarkable life story. Through these revelations, he has succeeded in establishing the enormity of his dad's legacy. Brett is also producing and directing a documentary film about Bert Berns.
(more…)

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

July 21, 2014

Tags: review, healing, compassionate wisdom, fun

Lucky Us is the story of a patchworked family: two sisters (by different mothers), their “blithe, inscrutable, crooked father,” and their various acquaintances who become new patchworked families — all manipulating and scheming their way through the 1940s US of A.

This is voluptuous American writing. Like the family, the story is patchworked — the pieces, not necessarily linear, but when put together, they tell a more perfect story than tales that are forced into a tight chronological narrative. Events are revealed through a simultaneous tide-in and undertow-out flow of action and letters from the future; the writing voice changes from third person to various different first persons and yet it is never confusing. Why? Because Amy Bloom writes at the pleasure of a muse that is uniquely her own — a truly authentic and organic voice and structure. Bloom’s voice and structure are so naturally honest that they seem easy. But I’ve read writers who I’ve suspected have tried to copy her, and, in their copycat hands, you realize this level of honesty is anything but easy. Amy Bloom copies no one. She writes at the pleasure of her Original Voice. And so few writers find, let alone express themselves in or from their original voices that it seems rare. Maybe that’s just the way it is. An Original Voice is treasure. This book is treasure. (more…)

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street . . . Rocks!

July 16, 2014

Tags: review, healing, compassionate wisdom, fun

This book is magnificent. Susan Jane Gilman is a master story weaver with perfect pitch—for dialogue, narrative, curlicued paradoxical human responses, and everything that contributes to a literary symphony.

The time structure of this book is inspired—weaving from both the past, forward and the future, back to finally sync up in a central present.

The story of the evolution of Russian Jewish immigrant child Malka Treynovsky into a Jewish Italian American Marie Antoinette/Leona Helmsley/Martha Stewart/Joan Rivers ice cream diva named Lillian Dunkle is both an only-in-the-USA story and a transcendently human tour-de-force of hurt, humiliation, (more…)

I Nominate July for a Sucky Parents Day

July 15, 2014

Tags: fun

Create your own AnimationMay has Mother’s Day. June has Father’s. But when do we celebrate Sucky Parents? Certainly they exist so they deserve a month too. How about July?

No matter how crummy or contentious or annoying parents are, most people will still wish them a happy Mother’s or Father’s Day, and many of these children feel dishonest. And the ones who don’t want to lie keep quiet. After all, it is our overwhelming cultural belief that it is normal and healthy to make a family or long for one, and if you don’t, at least join a corporation or street gang. And since our parents did that, we should either lie or keep silent about their suckiness.

Since I have never fallen into the idealizing or family-making/longing or silent categories, I protest. And this year, after reading the four hundredth Facebook post lauding a great or badly missed dead parent on the appropriate national holiday, I had an epiphany: For a more authentic expression of our entire culture, we need a Sucky Parents Day—a day for all the people with abysmal mothers and/or fathers to say “Thank you, Pop. Thanks, Ma. Even though you clearly had no business or talent for raising kids, I’m grateful that you had me because otherwise I wouldn’t be here, which let me tell you, has not been easy, since I grew up feral due to a parenting style referred to as ‘natural growth’ by Malcolm Gladwell in his ground-breaking book about why, despite my near-genius IQ, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing most of the time.” And If you are a Sucky Parent, you will now have an appropriate holiday to tell your kids how sorry you are that you didn’t know what you were doing, and it’s a crying shame you were drunk so much of the time, but hey, what do they want, you had Sucky Parents too. (I use initial S P caps to subliminally convey the importance of this unserved population.) (more…)

Fight Club for Girls

November 15, 2013

Tags: fun, Unemployment

Inspired by the rash of high-profile, high-earning new women fighters (Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In; political dynamo Reshma Saujani, NY public advocate candidate and author of Women Who Don’t Wait in Line; and ubiquitous naked singer Miley Cyrus who says, “Every time I do anything, I wanna remember: This is what separates me from everybody else. I have this freedom to do whatever I want”), an intrepid underground traveler sent this report to me, in the interest of disseminating her message of young female power:




So I was riding on the train, and suddenly I had a thought: Gee, wouldn’t this ride be a whole lot more entertaining if I got up off my duff and rode between the cars? Even though I can’t afford the new iPhone, I could take a selfie movie with my little Nikon. All I had to do was lean in and over while holding the camera between my knees. I could do something creative and different like rub up against the door in a really sexy way and then post it on YouTube. Then Queen Latifah or J-Lo or maybe Hillary would call and then I could give up this job search—which, let me tell you, has gotten pretty boring since being laid off four years ago. (more…)

If a Heart Breaks and Almost Nobody Hears It . . .

June 9, 2013

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, review

If a musician composes music that he never sells, because he prefers “not to sell his baskets,” but instead he becomes an insurance salesman, resulting in nobody in his lifetime ever hearing his brilliance, can he still feel fulfilled and successful?

If actors perform a brilliant play about the essence of life, if they give their all, if the production is incontestably a work of great art, but only ten people come to see it, is it still worth doing?

If lungs breathe, if bodies throb, if a heart breaks, and there are only ten witnesses, does it even matter?

These are some of the questions playing ping pong in my cranium this morning after yesterday’s remarkable experience watching playwright Jessica Dickey’s remarkable 75-minute masterpiece Charles Ives Take Me Home. Oh, how I want to insert a comma after Ives, but I’ll respect her work. How could I not? This tour de force about a father and daughter, about music and basketball, about life and death and everything in between demands respect. (more…)

Quiet, Cain, Cohen—a Restorative Niche—Hallelujah!

December 23, 2012

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, review

I just know there are connections here. If I write about this week’s activity—or Quiet—perhaps they’ll come.

You see, I can’t stop being quiet. Maybe it’s the fact that I am contemplating Susan Cain’s magnificent exploration of my private experience in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. After a thorough analysis of the introvert’s talents and essential nature, which includes the ability to act like an extrovert sometimes, she explains the necessity for “restorative niches” following events of vibrant social behavior. I think I’m in such a niche now. Usually I consider my niches of doing nothing while lying on the couch in complete silence a private matter. But Cain says it’s not only normal, it’s healthy! It’s a physiological need of people who happen to process stimulation via big-time amygdala (brain) activity, which apparently is different from the way extroverts process the same stimulation. So don’t call me! I’m in a restorative niche. In fact I might stay in this niche indefinitely because I’ve been talking so extrovertly about Quiet. (more…)

I Wish You Merry Moments

December 23, 2012

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing

I wish you:

A Merry Xmas,
Good tidings and cheering,
But in end-year time of
Assessment and clearing—

In case you are one
Stuck on goals and achievement,
I wish you no fretting,
No tallies, but easement—

Of accomplishment worries,
Or legacy concerns.
I wish you this moment,
Where only life burns,

I wish you this moment,
To let go your grip,
And to feel the joy of
Of our shared time blip.

MERRY MOMENTS!

This morning, boomercafe.com published an excerpt on the subject of worrying about legacy from my book, Conversations with Mom: An Aging Baby Boomer, in Need of an Elder, Writes to her Dead Mother. It’s what I still need to learn, and I share it with you, in case you too worry about achieving and accomplishment. Enjoy the excerpt

The Fog of the Phone War

August 6, 2012

Tags: fun, review, Cost Cutting

Lowest jerry-rigged phone/Internet/TV bundle ever:

Basic get-a-clear-picture TV..............................................$35.55/mo.

MagicJack DSL-line unlimited calling to
anywhere in the USA @ $20.00/yr....................................$ 1.66/mo.

Prepaid cell phone for emergencies @ $10/yr...................... $ .83/mo.

Basic Budget (for incoming calls only)
phone + Internet.............................................................$58.54/mo.

Total..............................................................................$96.58/mo.


* * *

“All associates are currently helping other customers. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order it was received.”

Tick-tock, tick-tock, lost count of minutes waited.

“Hello, thank you for using Verizon. How can I help you?”

“Hi, I can hardly hear you. Could you possibly talk into your microphone?”

“Hello, thank you for using Verizon. How can I help you?” (more…)

In Defense of No More Marriage

May 16, 2012

Tags: fun, Unemployment

"I've just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," said President Barack Obama in an interview.

Well, that does it. He has finally gone over the line, which forces me, an ordinary person, to finally inject some sanity into this ridiculous discussion. Look in the mirror, people. Do you see a couple? No, you see a person. A single person, defined by the Free Dictionary as a living human. Not two. You see one living body of one human—unless of course you happen to have a conjoined twin, in which case I sincerely apologize for my generalization, and I assure you I did not mean to imply any diminishment of your rights as two humans, but really I doubt that is relevant, because, if you are conjoined, you are most likely siblings and therefore not liable to marry each other, and therefore excluded—no offense intended—from the topic at hand. But I’m getting off the point. (more…)

What Inspires Writers?

May 1, 2012

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, Unemployment

Listen to the radio interview mentioned in this article at Cecilia Skidmore’s Open Mind.
Some writers grapple with being blocked; they spend hours paralyzed, gnashing their teeth, and downing large quantities of coffee, hoping to catalyze words with caffeine. Other writers can’t focus, can’t find the topic that maintains their interest, and they do everything possible to procrastinate putting fingers to keyboard. I don’t have either of those problems. I’ve made my living as a writer and editor for more than a decade. I love to write! And although I have periods of paralysis, I prefer to call them “pauses.” I trust that something is germinating and I believe it is my job to wait for it. My problem is much more pragmatic: selling my writing. Selling often involves talking, and talking about my work scares the bejesus out of me. (more…)

Why I Prefer an $8 Paperback to a First Edition of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

April 8, 2012

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, review

After watching the wonderful PBS American Masters documentary Harper Lee: Hey Boo, I pulled down my old copy of To Kill a Mockingbird with the intention of rereading it. I believed I’d read it in high school. I knew the story, and I thought the book had just faded from memory.

Perhaps I was certain I’d read it because it’s been sitting on my shelf for so many decades since I rescued it from my mother’s damp garage. She’d loved it and had written her name and declaration of possession in careful script on the front endpaper. Wondering what the value of such a book might be, I searched the Internet and was floored to see less battered versions of my “true first edition” selling for anywhere from twelve to twenty-five thousand dollars. Torn between my desire to read and preserve, I decided to buy the cheapest paperback I could find. And as I sank into it and under Ms. Lee’s spell, I instantly realized I was reading this book for the first time and had created a memory of reading it due to the book’s physical presence on my shelf as well as its place in our collective consciousness. (more…)

Animal Teachings Treasure

February 24, 2012

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, review

Animal Teachings: Enhancing Our Lives Through the Wisdom of Animals by Dawn Brunke with illustrations by the amazing Ola Liola is one of the most versatile works of art I’ve ever laid my hands on, paged through, or smelled. Does that sound odd? If so, I’m glad. It emphasizes why this elegant 160-page paperback needs to exist as just that—a real book, not a digital something.

In marketing circles, it’s common knowledge that the most important thing about any book is its reader benefits. The benefits of Animal Teachings scream.

First and foremost it is a work of art—a reminder of what is possible when a writer, an artist, a designer, and a publisher decide it is important to do the very finest work they are capable of. (more…)

Beyond the Leaving … and What I Learned from Gil Hedley

December 26, 2011

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, review

hard cover & paperback
1. Did you know that your heart has arms and legs? It does. The heart that we see in medical shows when a surgeon is saving somebody’s life is only part of the organ. The entire heart has long tendrils like tree branches that go down each arm and each leg. Imagine how amazing it would be if you could walk down the street looking at everybody through special X-ray–vision glasses that singled out the heart!

2. Super models are freaks of nature because, according to poet/anatomist/teacher/author/ethicist/renaissance man Gil Hedley, “our bodies are not symmetrical. Not even close.” They’re full of surprises and anomalies—like the most perfectly formed little ovary that looked like a miniature brain … in an 83-year-old woman who had donated her body so that people like us could learn something and maybe wake up a little.

3. It’s a well-known fact that New York pigeons smoke—you see them poking around sidewalks filled with butts, so who else could have dropped them? And lest you judge them harshly for stinking up the environment, just take another look—really look: See that pigeon taking off for the sky, tail feathers down, beak up, effortlessly defying our human body limitations and looking like a grey angel. I know this to be true because Gil Hedley showed slides of pigeons, both pre-smoking and frozen in flight, in his recent New York City intensive (which seemed to be over in about five minutes—blink, it’s eight hours later—really) at the Cantor Film Center, where about 120 of us packed into a tiny theater and were riveted, laughing, and grateful for what was really an indescribable experience of learning who we are through a mosaic of lecture, stories, slides, little movies, art, poetry, and Gil, Gil, Gil—who, in the course of a day, managed to gently and reverentially shatter all inhibitions, shame, judgments, and biases we humans walked in with. (more…)

Job ad I feel as if I keep reading: “Opportunity of a Lifetime!”

December 13, 2011

Tags: Unemployment, fun

Do not answer unless you read entire posting in its entirety!

Are you a strong, driven Type A personality who can do whatever it takes to get the job done?

Are you a marketing genius who is equally left- and right-brained with a Ph.D. or master’s in business, economics, or ceramic chemistry?

Can you multi-task while working on multiple social networking platforms, with singular focus to do whatever it takes, sorting thru the cyber noise, honing in on new trends soon to impact society?

(more…)

Dark Energy, a Holographic Reality: a Case for Meditation

November 5, 2011

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, review

In a fascinating new PBS series called The Fabric of the Cosmos, renowned physicist and author Brian Greene says we've all been deceived. "Our perceptions of time and space have led us astray. Much of what we thought we knew about our universe—that the past has already happened and the future is yet to be, that space is just an empty void, that our universe is the only universe that exists—just might be wrong."

According to the latest science, up 70 percent of the cosmos is made of "dark energy." We know what dark energy does—it drives the expansion of the universe—but that's about it. (I have some thoughts about that in the little video on the right.)

But, for me, there was an even more compelling piece of new information—revealed like a live nude in the middle of a room full of clothed people: the nature of black holes of dark energy has led scientists to propose that "like the hologram on your credit card, space may just be a projection of a deeper two-dimensional reality taking place on a distant surface that surrounds us." (more…)

Learning to be a good Intervieweeeeeee!

November 3, 2011

Tags: Unemployment, compassionate wisdom, fun



For more information, go to Conversations with Mom.











Aging, Sustainability & Selling Books

August 8, 2011

Tags: Unemployment, compassionate wisdom, fun, healing

I’ve been criticized for being too far afield in this blog. Writing about the conglomeration of things I love leads to a kind of eclecticism that does not sell books. And since I am a writer, and since I want to sell books, I should get my act together!

I’m also an editor, and I recently worked on a book about sustainability that seems to have awakened some latent Republican DNA running through my veins, because all of a sudden I long to be a small-business-person-cowgirl type who makes a living by her own rules … selling books!

But back to my over-broad eclecticism. (I hope this is not too eclectic for you.) This concern started when I read publishing consultant Alan Rinzler's very fine blog on The New Author Platform.

To sell books, Alan says, you need "personality, authenticity, expertise, and subtlety." In other words you have to be who you are on your blog (but entertaining, even if the real you is slightly dull), you have to know what you're talking about, and you should never ever ask people to buy your books. You just charm them so much with your non-dull authentic personality and expertise that they can't wait to click that PayPal button. Alan also suggests you comment a lot on other people's blogs, so I commented on his: (more…)

COMING INTO FORM by Gil Hedley: A Gem of a Book

June 2, 2011

Tags: compassionate wisdom, healing, review, fun

I first encountered Gil Hedley many years ago in what felt to me at the time like a murky soup of people. When he spoke, the murk gave way to clarity and the sun seemed to shine, even though we were indoors with no windows.

Gil Hedley is a poet anatomist. He teaches all kinds of people about the body through his Integral Anatomy human dissection workshops, his DVDs, and now through his gorgeous new book of free verse, Coming Into Form. From the cover art (“Self-Knitter,” sculpted by Lauren Rose Buchness) of a little person knitting her own skin, to the words that feel sometimes like Rumi–2011 and sometimes like ocean waves and sometimes like nothing you have ever heard quite this way before, the book is a gem.

This is the kind of book you never shelve because you want to have constant access. No matter what kind of mood you’re in, there is something in it that can catalyze growth, nudging you to inhabit your own form just a little more, just a little more joyfully. (more…)

Is Lady Gaga My Grandmother?

May 27, 2011

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing

I’m not really savvy about pop stars, but when Lady Gaga appeared on 60 Minutes recently, I noticed. I noticed not only because she uses my grandmother’s name, Gaga (christened when my older sister couldn’t pronounce “grandma”), but I swear they look alike. I’m not crazy, take a look.

(more…)

The Black Stallion: Walter Farley's Steady Gaze and Calm Hands

April 1, 2011

Tags: review, fun, compassionate wisdom

In 1940, an editor told Walter Farley, “Don’t figure on making any money writing children’s books.” Farley disagreed. He wrote The Black Stallion, the first book in his seminal series, when he was in high school, and he published it in 1941 when he was just twenty-six. His subsequent twenty-one Black Stallion and Island Stallion books not only supported him and his family, but they became a family business that is now run by his sons.

I just re-read The Black Stallion because I just joined a Goodreads.com book club where we are reading favorite childhood books. As an adult, as an editor and a writer, I can see that there are a zillion logic holes in the story; the writing is simplistic and there are lots of little word fixes I'd suggest; but the book made my old adult heart thump and race just has hard as when I was eight. I felt, heard, saw, and smelled the Black, and that, in my opinion, is a feat of writing magic. (more…)

Second Act for Ukrainian Virgin by Galyna Kolotnytska

March 1, 2011

Tags: fun, Unemployment

Gadhafi's Nurse Says She's Going Home


I am worried about my future. Is common saying that no publicity is bad, and, yes, is flattering to be called voluptuous by Wiccan peoples, but tell me please where is employment for forty-seven-year-old zaftig nurse with specialty in calming excitable Middle-Eastern dictator with lovely dimples but unpredictable taste for exotic Jello-eating virgins, camels, and polka dance?

With job market what is, I am no fool. Even nursing degree from Kiev hospital is no guarantee, and I watch Academy Awards and understand draw of younger demographic of which I am no longer.

"I give you excellent recommendation," Colonel tell me. "Just have them call," he say as he take me to airport disguised as Morgan Freeman playing chauffeur to me as Western journalist named Miss Daisy. (more…)

Blood from a Stone or You Can Never Leave Home Again

January 22, 2011

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, review

I think I was inadvertently and divinely prepped before seeing the Off-Broadway play Blood from a Stone by Tommy Nohilly last night. For the last few weeks I’ve been editing some stunning books about life and death, anger and forgiveness, and compassion. I’ve also been speeding down a runway to a “big” birthday—eliciting my keen awareness of how fleeting our time is and how I don’t want to squander it feeling lousy. And I’ve been inexplicably waking at 3 a.m., getting up, and spontaneously meditating. I recommend all of these preparations before seeing Blood from a Stone. Or none.

Blood from a Stone is an admittedly autobiographical play about what must be one of the world’s most dysfunctional families. Travis (Ethan Hawke) comes home to Connecticut—a state name that literally chokes him when he demonstrates articulating it. He’s on his way to, once again, throw his life off a cliff and start all over again, and he’s dropping by to see his family, get some money, get some pills. His mother (Ann Dowd) rages at his father (Gordon Clapp). His father rages at his sons (Hawke and Thomas Guiry) and anybody who’s not white and the world. And the house rages at the whole family—pouring water on them through the kitchen ceiling, electrocuting them through the broken thermostat, and haranguing them through intrusive telephone ringing. The family attacks the house. The house attacks the family. The family attacks each other. And everybody wants to destroy the whole thing and start all over again. (more…)

Please Banish Beyoncé from the Bra Dept.

September 18, 2010

Tags: fun

I dislike buying bras so I do it only when I must — about once a decade I buy a bunch and wear them until they stretch out. Well, bra day is here, and I decide to go to J.C. Penney because I hope it will be cheaper than where I usually go and it's en route from where I'm working.

Apparently there have been major changes in the world of brassieres in the last decade. First of all, they come with boobs. Really! When I finally find my way to the underground lingerie department, what I see is aisle after aisle of hanging boobs. A decade ago, these were called "padded bras," but apparently women now prefer lingerie that requires no actual flesh to maintain its form. (more…)

The Holy Woman

July 12, 2010

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, review

I’ve just finished reading The Holy Woman, the self-published third book of Susan Trott’s formerly commercially published “The Holy Man” trilogy. Like the first two books (The Holy Man and The Holy Man’s Journey), The Holy Woman is deceptively simple and charming. But what a complex story about our human drive to “get,” to achieve status or stuff, to win.

The book starts after the death of “the Holy Man,” a guy named Joe who everybody visited because they believed he was holy. Just before dying in a faraway country, Joe anointed Anna as his successor, but when she returns home, not everybody — including Anna — is so sure. After all, she is quite judgmental about Joe’s teacher, Chen, who runs a spiritual resort called Universe-city where he promises people immortality and seems to worship stuff.

Bad guy, right? … Not so fast. (more…)

Meryl Streep, Toilet Paper, and the Merits of Pretending

May 23, 2010

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, review, Cost Cutting

Yesterday I bought 24 rolls of Marcal Small Steps® totally recycled toilet paper because it was on sale for $4.99 plus tax at Staples.com — with free shipping if you got it sent to a store where you’d pick it up.

I don’t know where I’m going to store 24 rolls of toilet paper, but Marcal is hard to find, I’ve been buying it since before recycling was popular, and I’m loyal to the brand. Plus which, it’s a whole lot better than the more popular recycled brands.

It really bugs me that Marcal had to change its name to Small Steps® and redesign its packaging and probably fire all its marketing people and hire new ones to try to compete with the eco-newcomers. It really bugs me that Small Steps® still isn’t carried in organic markets. It is unbelievably annoying that you can do something for 60 years and, when what you’re doing finally becomes popular, you’re still unpopular.

Which brings me to Meryl Streep. (more…)

Don't Close the New York Public Library!

May 11, 2010

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, Unemployment, Cost Cutting

For a person who’s not really into acquiring things, I’m amazed at how much stuff I have: a whole wall of books, three file cabinets of manuscripts, and then there’s the music — the tapes and CDs, not to mention my collection of 33 1/3 records that take up two feet of floor in my bedroom and simply cannot be discarded.

I plan to weed. In my bedroom closet there’s a trunk full of I-don’t-know-what — oh no, it’s photo albums and decades of personal journals that I’ll never read or look at, but I cannot throw away.

One nice thing about being unemployed is that I no longer buy anything to add to the clutter. I mean that. Aside from food and rent and essential services, I don’t spend money. And I don’t feel the least deprived. Why? (more…)

Artists Who Express Who They…and We…Really Are

April 16, 2010

Tags: fun, compassionate wisdom, healing, review

It seems ridiculous that somebody would go to the trouble of creating art and then create work that is designed to please or be current or imitate somebody else who’s popular, but it happens all the time. That’s why gallery hopping with my artist friend, Ardith, is like finding treasure at the end of the rainbow.

We begin at the end of Manhattan’s West Side — 547 West 27th Street, a pretty rough part of Chelsea that is in the process of gentrification. As usual, the art community is already there amidst the blasting, construction, and street mess. But up one flight in the Ceres Gallery, a cooperative supported by and supporting female artists, there is a whole other world. We’ve come after seeing this fractured face in a story about sculptor Cynthia Eardley (Art Knowledge).

I don’t speak “artspeak” (you can click on the links for that), so suffice it to say, I take one look at Eardley’s fractured but exquisitely beautiful sculptures and I feel something deep — what, I suspect a whole lot of people are feeling these days — broken, but hanging together as best we can.

I suspect everybody feels some aspect of what Eardley communicates in her hand-modeled, resin-cast portraits. She tenderly displays everything we try so hard to hide — with clothes, manners, and civilized behavior. But the word “suspect” is a lie; I “know.” I know we all feel these things because I have spent so much time in so many places where large groups of ordinary people come to find out who they really are. And, in my experience, when people tell the truth, it turns out we are all equally fractured. (more…)

Melodie Somers: 30 Years Later

April 11, 2010

Tags: fun

What a marvelous invention Facebook is. It finds people you always kind of liked but never got to know 30 years ago when you were both hanging out in an Off-Broadway theater. It tells you that, with a click, you can invite them to be your friend, giving you a second chance. And 30 years later, now that you’re both grown-ups and maybe smart enough, you can say, “Hey, I think you’re swell, I’m sorry I didn’t get to know you better a lifetime ago, how about lunch?”

Such was the case with Melodie Somers, an actress I knew in a former life, now a psychoanalytically trained relationship coach and half of the singing duo Somers & Steel. We “friended” Friday, and yesterday met at Niko’s Mediterranean Grill & Bistro on the Upper Westside, up the block from her office. Over soup and Greek something or other, we didn’t so much reminisce as we got to know each other. Thirty years ago, I was scared of everybody, but Melodie was an open, loving, fun spirit who invited me to write for a comedy show she was directing. Why I didn’t dive into a friendship is beyond me. (more…)

My Mother’s Prayer Plant

March 31, 2010

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing

Last Friday was the twentieth anniversary of my mother’s death. That means this prayer plant is twenty plus however-long-it-lived-with-my-mother years old. Not bad.

Until twenty years ago, my only plants were a stringy philodendron who had survived my tendency to forget to water, and many little jade plants rooted from the broken stems of a big one that an apartment sitter claimed “just fell apart one day.”

I had always wanted to have plants like my mother did, but so many had died on my watch that I never considered myself a green-thumb. In 1990, when my mother died, tending her plants became my mission. To my relief, all but one thrived. The one was this prayer plant, the coffee table centerpiece, who seemed determined to expire. I talked to it, coaxed and caressed it, pled with it to live, but one by one, the leaves turned from green to sickly yellow to brown, and by the time of my mother’s memorial party in her living room, it was a mournful sight among the perky violets and vases of cut flowers. (more…)

Sunday Afternoon Down Time

March 21, 2010

Tags: fun, compassionate wisdom, healing

Do you ever feel as if your body can’t move, but your blood is coursing double-time? Perhaps you experience this lying on your couch on a beautiful Sunday afternoon: you’re inert, but inside, liquid stuff whooshes or slides or drips through your organs, moving around in your gut.

Does this sound insane to you? If so, never mind. I’ll talk about my computer problems instead. (more…)

The Power of Stones & Anomalous Bosom Behavior . . . Courtesy of Kay Wild Atelier

February 24, 2010

Tags: healing, fun, compassionate wisdom

I spent the weekend eating great food, laughing, talking, and sitting in front of a crackling fire with my friends Peter and Kay Wild in their rustic home in Newtown, Connecticut. And it wasn’t until I got home that I realized I might have been briefly insane.

Despite the fact that, a long time ago, I spent a year publicly naked — in front of a roomful of artists and people pretending to be artists at the Art Students League; despite doing a brief topless scene in a movie — because it was a good movie with people I trusted; despite the fact that I’m really not a prude, I am deeply modest in my everyday life. I do not own one low-cut piece of clothing; I prefer long dresses and loose-fitting jeans; and since I’m not fond of men who talk to women’s chests, I do nothing to encourage that focus. So my sudden impulse to throw back my head, stick out my bosom, and insist on displaying my décolletage for a photograph was aberrant behavior. Was I insane … or the opposite? (more…)

Chants of a Lifetime by Krishna Das

February 1, 2010

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, review

I first heard Krishna Das, a kirtan (yoga chanting) leader, in early 2001 when he sang in a scene in the documentary Ram Dass: Fierce Grace. I reacted viscerally to the sound of his voice. I simply had to find out who this guy was and hear his sound again, so I bought his CD Live on Earth. Even though I’d experienced sudden heart-openings (aka meltdowns), I felt like a maniac listening to this music. Every time I started to chant, I’d erupt in spasmodic sobs. After a couple of weeks of this, I emailed the guy, and was thrilled when he wrote back: he was going to be singing at a downtown yoga studio and I should feel free to come. I have been hooked ever since. So when I heard he had a book coming out this month, I got a copy.

The worst thing about Chants of a Lifetime is that you can only read it for the first time once. (more…)

Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions: Connecting with the Spiritual Awareness of All Life

January 22, 2010

Tags: fun, compassionate wisdom, healing, review

I’ve got a cold. The world’s worst cold, to be precise. I’m hacking, spitting, and I feel as if I’m ten feet under water. What better time to read a book about consciousness? My brain is already exploding. My thoughts and ideas bore me to tears, so dropping them and saying to myself, “What if this is true?” has been a relief.

The book I’ve been reading requires nothing less. Shapeshifting with Our Animal Companions by Dawn Baumann Brunke (Bear & Co., 2008) is categorized as New Age/Nature because it is about people’s spirits, animals’ spirits, plants’ spirits, and all spirits sharing information and, ultimately, being one consciousness. But the categories of New Age and Nature are limiting in a way that is false — the same way our notion of separate consciousnesses for dogs and trees and rocks and people is false, according to author Brunke. (more…)

The Courage to Linger: A Single Man (movie) and Eric Bibb: Booker’s Guitar (CD)

January 6, 2010

Tags: fun, compassionate wisdom, review

The other night on PBS News Hour, computer scientist and author of You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier, bemoaned the fact that the Internet has birthed cyberfill (read as “landfill in cyberspace”). “Consumer identity got the best of people,” he explained. “And everybody just wants things for free. And that’s created this strange kind of cheapness to everything, where everything becomes throwaway.”

Recently I’ve imbibed (and that is the right verb) two works of art that are so full, so deep, so imbued with human spirit, so un-cheap that I believe they will linger inside me forever. They are extremely different — a movie and a CD — but they share the same courage. Nowadays it takes courage not to toss off throwaway or sensational material, but instead to quietly linger. When you linger over a face or a story or a tune, you expose it, and for it to stand up under such scrutiny, it must have soul.

There is not one throwaway second in A Single Man, the debut film of director Tom Ford, a fashion designer who had to finance his vision himself. Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, the movie is the opposite of throwaway fluff, and actor Colon Firth, the main subject of the camera’s lingering lens, deserves every second of scrutiny.

A Single Man is the story of George Falconer (Firth) a gay English professor who, in 1962, leads “an invisible” life. Unrecognized by even the family of his partner of 16 years, he is briefly notified of the man’s death and then told that “only family” will be attending the funeral. It is this excruciating, largely wordless scene which demonstrates tour-de-force lingering — and it brings me to tears just to think about it.

Nothing in A Single Man is forced. Not the action, the characters’ choices, the emotions. Ford has directed to the metronome of his own lingering heart: the color, the camera angles, the music — oh my God, the music! (by Abel Korzeniowski) — feel like a heartbeat, and feeling our common heartbeat, how can we not love everyone?


Acoustic guitar player and singer Eric Bibb is another artist who is not afraid to take his time. After “meeting” and playing Delta blues legend Booker White’s steel-bodied guitar, he was inspired to write a song that became an entire album, Booker’s Guitar (TEL-31756-02, releases January 26).

Imagine taking a slow stroll, or rocking on a porch swing, or sitting at the feet of your elders listening to stories. That is Booker’s Guitar. In an easy, gritty, timeless voice, 58-year-old Bibb tells stories that linger and hypnotize in such a way that you find yourself spontaneously rocking, feeling instead of thinking, just taking it in.

This whole album makes you breathe, smile, and rock — whether it’s the song “With My Maker I Am One,” with its assertion that “I am the doctor … the junkie … the champion,” or “Flood Water” about a flood in 1927 that sounds eerily like the Katrina debacle, or “Rocking Chair” that beckons someone to “set down” and “just rock,” or “Turning Pages” where Bibb declares that reading books (a shamelessly time-consuming activity) is the foundation for everything he knows.

Thank you, Tom Ford and Christopher Isherwood, Eric Bibb and Booker White! Perhaps there is still hope that the lingerers of the world will survive — even in this digital age — perpetuating the wisdom of those who have gone before them.












Contemplating a New Year ... Dreaming the Future

December 28, 2009

Tags: compassionate wisdom, healing, fun

This week I’ve been watching a lot of old movies on my very new, very high-tech computer. I suspect I’m seeing more pristine images with more clarity than directors Preston Sturges or William Wyler ever imagined possible. I’m admiring and enjoying the movies, despite periodically cringing at the racist images and appalling stereotypes and even animal abuse (lovely Audrey Hepburn terrorizing a poor cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). After all, such things were believed to be acceptable in the twentieth century.

Since a new decade is around the corner, it seems fitting to contemplate that which is considered acceptable today that may someday cause us to cringe or laugh in horror. What common practices will seem primitive? What will cause future generations to shake their heads in shame? Although I am not a professional psychic or a historian or particularly smart, I do live in the age when every thought can be publically published, ergo, here are mine (feel free to contribute your own in “comments”): (more…)

“The Really Terrible Cook + Occasional Fashion & Beauty Tips"

December 7, 2009

Tags: fun, Unemployment

I believe I have finally found my next career. It happened in an epiphanous Facebook post when I realized my true calling. Following are installments of my new Online show, “The Really Terrible Cook + Occasional Fashion & Beauty Tips.” My expert credentials: None whatsoever.

Enjoy, and you’re welcome.


A Unique and Speedy Dinner:
Although I am not a cook, I’ve become giddily experimental since cooking a vegan Thanksgiving dinner for my friends Nurse Mia and Dr. Robert (a die-hard carnivore, who liked it). And my middle name is Julia, which, I believe, qualifies me to put stuff in a pan: vegetable stock, scallions, onions, kale, mushrooms, eggs, salt, pepper, wheat flour, black currents. Stir till it’s not so watery or your arm gets tired. A very tasty and unique experimental dinner from Ms. B. Julia. You're welcome. (more…)

Thanksgiving

November 24, 2009

Tags: Unemployment, fun, healing, compassionate wisdom

Last week when I sent out a humongous email blast, I thought I was just trying to drum up some freelance editing work. I thought I was being professional. I thought the effort would most likely be ignored but was worth doing anyhow. Boy, was I wrong.

One of my favorite things is learning how wrong I am. When that happens, my heart expands. I may get some work from the email effort, but the more important thing I got was a tidal wave of support, validation, and, yes, I’ll use the “L” word — Love. (more…)

Finding a Gift for a Goddess

November 3, 2009

Tags: fun, compassionate wisdom

In my experience, places where people come together to work on their issues — spiritual communities; self-actualization, therapy, and intentional change groups; small gatherings devoted to identifying and resolving personal gunk — become, by necessity, very gunky oceans of gunk. And when you become friends with a fellow gunk-swimmer in an ocean of gunk, it’s real and deep in a unique and wonderful way.

Over a decade ago, I met Trish Corbett in such an ocean of gunk, and she is a true beauty. So when she turned seventy a few weeks ago, it felt important to find a birthday gift that celebrated both her beauty and her years of fearless gunk-swimming. (more…)

Godly Wonder

October 30, 2009

Tags: compassionate wisdom, healing, fun



I’m high! I’m drunk with beauty! I’m over the moon!

This morning I took a three-hour walk in the park. It is the Friday before the New York City Marathon, and people are everywhere, speaking every language on the planet, excited to be in one another’s company. (more…)

The Moth Radio Hour

September 19, 2009

Tags: compassionate wisdom, healing, fun, review


Since I finished writing a new novel, I’ve been down. It’s the contraction that inevitably follows the expansion of creative emission, I tell myself. Or maybe it’s the fact that my agent says that nobody’s buying fiction, no matter how good or well-written or funny it is. Or maybe it’s the purple vertical pinstripe that appeared this morning on my computer monitor, that I’m told is the beginning of a pinstripe cancer that will render my screen unreadable. Whatever it is, I am down and depressed and feel like wallowing. “Why?” I rail at the universe, sounding like a middle-aged Nancy Kerrigan. And that’s when the Moth Radio Hour comes on. (more…)

A New Way to Discuss Health-Care Reform

August 27, 2009

Tags: compassionate wisdom, healing, fun

“Body movements affect emotional processes. For example, adopting the facial expressions of specific emotions (even via unobtrusive manipulations) affects emotional judgments and memories,” says a study in the August 25th volume of Psychological Science. So here is me, writing this blog:
(picture of a funny looking smiling girl, which keeps disappearing)

The study goes on to say that lying down makes you react less angrily (more…)

Itty Bitty Matters

August 18, 2009

Tags: compassionate wisdom, healing, Cost Cutting, fun


There are three pertinent pieces of background to this story:
(1) I am allergic to tomato plants;

(2) It takes approximately 500 years for a plastic bag to decompose in a landfill;

(3) Anything that demonstrates a determination to stay alive is an object of my admiration.
(more…)

Inspiration Stew: The Recipe

July 7, 2009

Tags: compassionate wisdom, healing, Unemployment, fun

There is a new trend in business. It’s a sometimes-desperate scramble to pinpoint the latest trends in order to be on the forefront, the cutting edge, the winning team … in order to make lots and lots of money. But there may be a problem with this. There may be a problem because what appears to be one of the newest and most widespread trends (harnessed with awe-inspiring efficiency by the Obama campaign) is for individuals and small groups of passionate people to do good deeds with no concern for financial returns.

“We set up tables with cookies and candy in the park and give out Smile cards,” explained Shephali Patel, a 30-year-old volunteer with the Smile Card project. She is one of 20,000 volunteers who have been playing a form of global altruistic tag: You do a selfless “Radical Act of Kindness,” then leave a card encouraging the recipient to do something nice for someone else and pass the card along.

And this was just one of the examples of easy-to-do selfless service actions discussed at last night’s second meeting of an organization called Stay Inspired (see March 30th blog) held at Gallery 138 in New York City, where about 40 people gathered to eat good food and share ideas about how to remain inspired during hard times. (more…)

Why I Sleep with Toys

July 2, 2009

Tags: Unemployment, fun

A provocative title, huh? I’m trying to get attention. Did I succeed? Are you still reading? (more…)

A Sublime Evening in Central Park

June 24, 2009

Tags: fun, compassionate wisdom, review

“Hallelujah!” shouted a man after the first movement of J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, played with simultaneous passion and heartbreaking sweetness by Lara St. John.

Hundreds of us felt the same as we listened, spellbound, to the first of this season’s free concerts at the Naumburg Bandshell, arguably the heart center of New York City’s Central Park. As dusk gave way to night, the violins soared and so did two ducks, taking in the concert from their bird’s eye view. The audience swayed, breathing in Linden tree perfume as sweet as 104 years of truly free music — the gift of a haberdasher turned banker named Elkan Naumburg who began financing the concerts in 1905, and, in 1923, created the present-day bandshell with its perfect, unamplified acoustics.

I arrived at the bandshell with my little dog, Maya, at about 7:20. The concert began at 7:30. There was no admission charge, no line to pass through. There was nobody who said, “You can’t bring a dog to this concert.” The bandshell is a place where all beings are free to assemble. I took a chair. Maya took another. People smiled at us. There were free programs and even free CDs for children at intermission. The musicians, too, were free. They played with relaxed arms, standing and swaying like one body in the cool breeze. Maya laid her head on the leg of the man beside her, and without looking at her, he submitted to her love.

As night fell, flutist Andrea Griminelli explained to the audience that Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor was very long, so it might be best if we held our applause until the last movement … and then he demonstrated our cue.

The final piece was sublime — The Knights orchestra along with virtuoso siblings Lara and Scott St. John playing Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins, Strings and Continuo in D Minor — closing the first evening of the oldest continuous free outdoor concert series in the United States.

And to think that all this might have been destroyed. The story of the bandshell’s survival is the story of a seven-year David and Goliath battle. In 1993, Christopher London, the great-grandson of Elkan Naumburg, took on the Central Park Conservancy and the New York City Parks Department, foiling their attempts to demolish the bandshell. The agencies’ reasons for the destruction were many and ran from the bizarre (unamplified music was outmoded) to the more bizarre (an antipathy to freedom of assembly; no good could come from just anybody — even homeless people — sitting down to enjoy music).

Last night, hundreds of us not only sat down, but we did so amiably with only the trees and the cityscape against the moonlit heavens as housing. And after the concert, hundreds of us rose en masse, still savoring the music, and strolled home peacefully. This is freedom. Now why is that so scary?

The next concerts will take place Tuesdays, July 7, 21, and August 4. For more information, go to NaumburgConcerts.org. (more…)

Thoughts on Tomatoes, Lousy Posture, and the Alexander Technique

June 18, 2009

Tags: compassionate wisdom, healing, Unemployment, fun, review

It’s another soggy day in New York City, so it seems appropriate to talk about my posture. I have lousy posture. I slump with my chin out and up like a turtle and, since I’m very flexible, I have a tendency to sit with pretzel legs. I also have a big, ugly lump on the back of my neck which has alternately been explained as a sign that my spiritual center is connected or that I have an energy block. I believe it’s due to my lousy posture.

Because it is raining today and I’m having such a difficult time remembering to sit upright, it seems appropriate to also complain about my allergies. I recently discovered that I am allergic to my tomato plants. Not the tomatoes, but the Deadly Nightshade leaves that smell so good but make my eyelids swell like over-sized shrimp. My tomato plants live on my neighbor, Nurse Mia’s, terrace because my building superintendent kicked them off our roof. Nurse Mia is the one who diagnosed my tomato plant allergy, so the last time I pruned, I suited up with swimming goggles, a surgical mask, and latex gloves. (more…)

Rants & Raves: Staples, Oxford, Garnier Nutritioniste, Obama

June 4, 2009

Tags: Unemployment, fun, healing, Cost Cutting, review

I’m living on unemployment at the moment, so I’m consuming a lot less than I used to. And that means I think a whole lot about what I’m choosing to consume. Below, for my own gratitude and ventilation, are some Rants & Raves. Feel free to add your own in comments:

RAVE: Staples Stores
I got a whole ream of recycled paper today, free with the coupon I received for recyling ink cartridges. I was worried I’d only be able to buy more ink, but no — you can do the right thing and actually get something you need with the recycle benefit.
Not only that, I thought Staples only recycled ink cartridges and batteries. Did you know they also take electronics? I’ve got a busted computer adapter and cable that Hewlett-Packard was going to charge to me return for recycle. I can just drop it off at Staples. Not only that, but the Staples employees look you in the eye when they talk to you and treat you like a human being. (more…)

Class Notes We Would Like to See

May 28, 2009

Tags: Unemployment, fun, healing

From the bowels of this recession, I read my most recent college alumni news, and I found myself wondering if I was the only one with a less than stellar career. Were all of these perpetually successful alumni telling the whole truth?

So here, from the Spring 2009 Alumni News of the imaginary prestigious Almost Ivy League University, is some imagined truth-telling. (Humor is healing. Feel free to add your own notices in the comments section.)

Beatrice Ellenville (’06), who graduated cum laude after plagiarizing her thesis, was laid off from her job at AIG just before the bailout. She will never publish a book, star on Broadway, or climb Mount Everest — per her yearbook “future goals.” She is a sorry excuse for a human being with no prospects whatsoever.

Joanna Praddle (’86), who had an early success with her first novel and then refused to share contacts with her struggling classmates, has never amounted to anything. She survived three abusive marriages to the same man and she is currently working as a night staff cleaning woman in the law offices of her ex-brother-in-law.

After a successful and lucrative career as president of the N.O. Scruples PR Firm, known for catapulting adulterers and embezzlers into movie superstardom, Norman Owen Scruples (’73) has retired to become a full-time grandfather and alcoholic. Friends and well-wishers can contact him at the renowned Smith & Welly’s Saloon where he is passed out on the floor.

Lowell Renard (’68), known for his prowess on the Almost Ivy League Olympic Lacrosse Team as well as his seduction of most of the Almost Ivy League co-eds and every woman he ever did business with, which led to his 25-year run as the face of the International Subprime Mortgage Insurance Agency, LLP, despite never coming in to the office, has gotten fat and bald.

American Idol and Our Shame of Being Human

May 24, 2009

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, review

I didn’t watch American Idol this season, so I didn’t understand my friend’s feelings when she first emailed and then phoned about her despair that a young singer named Adam Lambert hadn’t won the competition. She described the moment when the public declared another singer (Kris Allen) the winner as “being hit by a wrecking ball.” She understood neither her despair nor her compulsion to listen to an online recording of Lambert singing “Come to Me, Bend to Me” from Brigadoon (Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe).

My friend is a mature woman — a sixty-year-old psychologist, to be precise. She is not a person who normally cares about pop singing competitions or even watches them. But something had compelled her to turn on American Idol, and when she heard the voice of Adam Lambert, she was transformed. (more…)

The Unbearable Sweetness of Being Human

May 14, 2009

Tags: Unemployment, fun, healing, compassionate wisdom, review

I’ve been kind of blue this week. Actually, that’s inaccurate. I’ve been red — beet red with eyelids that look like obese shellfish — but blue is more descriptive of my mood. A red mood sounds angry. I haven’t felt angry. I just enjoy vision. Apparently swelling up like a prizefighter after a really bad night plus a nasty rash is my new reaction to tree pollen. Although I could barely open my eyes, I decided it was a good time for reading, and my friend Liz from the greenhouse had recommended Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. (more…)

Where on Earth Is Humanity Going?

May 5, 2009

Tags: Unemployment, fun, review

I’ve been thinking a lot about who we are as a species this week. Endless days of rain and unemployment have that effect on me. The last time it rained this way, I went to the American Museum of Natural History where I stared for a long time at this lovely 3.6 million-year old Tanzanian couple out for a stroll and frozen in time in the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. At the end of the exhibit, there’s a plaque on the wall that says:
ARE HUMANS STILL EVOLVING?
In this era of global travel and interconnected societies, we no longer have small, isolated populations evolving in different directions, as was the case earlier in human evolution, helping to drive the emergence of new species. The human genome continues to change in minor ways, but under present conditions a new human species more than likely will not emerge. (more…)

Tulips and a Request for a Slight Alteration

April 15, 2009

Tags: Unemployment, fun, healing

“Here’s the thing,” I seem to be saying. “I really like flowers, but my eyes no longer open enough to fully enjoy their colorful fluorescence because of my gravity-challenged brows. And I think, doctor, I sincerely believe that I should be given an eye job for medicinal purposes — fully paid for by insurance, of course. Don’t you agree? (more…)

The Yoga of Beautiful Jewelry

March 25, 2009

Tags: fun, compassionate wisdom

The first thing I notice about the woman crossing the hill to me in Central Park is color. Sizzling grey-blue jacket, violet scarf, purple something else topped by a mane of chestnut hair shining golden in the sunlight, penetrating green eyes flecked with something that stops you dead and demands attention. Her colors are so radiant that it isn’t until we are face to face that I realize I know her.

Mikelle Terson was my aerobics teacher about 20 years ago. I remember the colors even then: after an hour of sweating, she led a cool-down visualization of kaleidoscopic golden light, wafts of green, and cool blue pools of peace. (more…)

The Holy Quiet of Edgar Sawtelle

March 15, 2009

Tags: healing, fun, review

After 38 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list and much discussion at Oprah’s Book Club, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle hardly needs more talk. So the end. No more words. No more discussion about this remarkable epic.

However, there’s something else. Something even more remarkable to discuss. It has to do with how many people are choosing to read this 562-page novel. In this day of multi-tasking, twittering, and twaddling, millions of people are setting aside days on end to disappear into the holy quiet birthed by this story. (more…)

Tierney Sutton’s DESIRE

March 2, 2009

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, review

Teachers of self-actualization often use an exercise where you stare into another person’s eyes for a long time. If you’re not used to it, your eyeballs can go spastic. If you’re practiced at the exercise, all kinds of things can happen: Sometimes the person in front of you morphs. Their face literally changes so that it becomes like watching a special effects movie.

Listening to jazz singer Tierney Sutton’s new CD, Desire, is something like this. (more…)

Leonard Cohen: The Secret to Life's Great Questions

February 26, 2009

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun

Leonard Cohen has always known the answer to life's great questions, and now he shares it: eight syllables. Listen to his concert at NPR. It just went up on the site today. Wear earphones. Lie down on something soft. Close your eyes. Listen hard. Listen soft. Feel the unspeakable! Laugh. Cry. Everything’s there. I promise.











Why I Didn’t Write the Great American Novel Last Week

February 2, 2009

Tags: Unemployment, Cost Cutting, fun

I would have. Really. I have a great idea and I even started on it about a month ago after I got canned from my job. (Please don’t tell the Unemployment Office, because they might dock me for self-employment.) I wrote a few pages on the computer, but then the sound of the fan — that relentless mechanical shriek — made me stop. Then I wrote some pages longhand, but I ended up with so many cross-outs and arrows that I couldn’t read it.

Then there was the man in my bathroom. Just try doing your morning ablutions with a tile guy three inches away renovating the apartment on the other side of your wall. Bathroom rituals and writing go hand in hand, so no way could I write the great American novel last week. (more…)

Evan Handler: It's Only Temporary

January 28, 2009

Tags: compassionate wisdom, fun, healing, review

As managing editor for a national magazine (a job that was downsized away just in time for Christmas), I looked at a lot of books for possible excerpting. Not long ago I received one that claimed that the nature of the Spirit is not fearful, confused, resentful, weak, or overwhelmed, but instead it is powerful, vital, fearless, content, and compassionate. That sounds awfully nice, but I found myself wondering how the author knew this. He started out by saying that, per Genesis, we are created in the image of God. Well, my image and the images of everyone I have ever met (including a whole slew of spiritual teachers) include fear, confusion, anger, etc. So why aren’t those qualities as much a part of our essential nature as all the blissful stuff?

I prefer a notion of spirit with a small “s.” This spirit lives inside all of us, and it is beautifully described in a book called It’s Only Temporary (Riverhead, 2008) by actor/author Evan Handler. A chapter titled “I Don’t Know” states our plight so nakedly:
“I am fascinated by our conundrum as humans living on planet Earth,” writes Handler. “I’ve said to friends, probably more times than they’ve wanted to hear, ‘We live in outer space. Do you know that? Can you believe it? We live in outer space.’ It’s a crucial thing to remind myself, because it justifies and enhances my choice to remain committed to philosophical non-commitment. We do not know where we live. We have no idea of our own address. . . . we have no idea what substance contains us, where it came from or where it’s headed, if it has a purpose or what it might be, how it started, or how long it will last.” (more…)

Why Michelle Obama Would Like My Ladybug Boots

January 22, 2009

Tags: fun

Michelle Obama would like my ladybug boots because their pop-up insect eyes make everybody smile and they were not very expensive, which is probably why they split this morning, rendering them dead.



So this is not only a fashion blog on fun rubber boots, but it is a eulogy for the same.

I loved my ladybug boots. I bought them to cover a story in Vermont during peak mud season. When my contact there warned me to bring mud boots, I rushed to my local Tiptop store looking for the cheapest ones they had. When I spied these, I smiled.

“Do you have those in adult sizes?” I asked the shoe guy.

“Those are adult sizes!” he told me, annoyed.

“Ah,” I answered, surveying the other pair in green frog. “Have you been selling a lot of these?”

The Tiptop man shrugged. He was clearly in a very bad mood, so I helped myself, paid for my boots, and left. (more…)

Psychic Messages?

January 16, 2009

Tags: fun

Sometimes the messages I receive are really straightforward — like my dog vaulting out of bed at 4 a.m. this morning and demanding we go for an emergency poop.

Sometimes they’re questionable — in the form of sudden information that fills my cranium about something I have no way of knowing.

Sometimes they’re nothing spooky at all. Really just the product of observation — like the character Patrick Jane explains in the TV series, The Mentalist. I love that show. In this New Age carnival we’re in, it seems like everybody wants to declare their extra-sensory perceptions, and most of the time I think there’s nothing psychic about knowing stuff. It’s just a matter of watching and listening. (more…)

How to Get Fat and Sound Evolved Even if You’re Not

January 13, 2009

Tags: fun, healing, review


Knock, knock.

Who's there?

It's the self-proclaimed "head honcho" of a company called KnockKnock.biz that has created, among other things, "The Self-Hurt Series" of books (How to Traumatize Your Children, How to Get Fat, How to Have an Ill-Behaved Dog, etc.), The Savvy Convert's Guide to Choosing a Religion ("Get the Best Faith for Your Buck! 99 Religions to Choose From!"), and a self-diagnosis guide for hypochondriacs titled The Complete Manual of Things That Might Kill You. In the tradition of all great tricksters and contrarians, Jen Bilik has approached self-help and spiritual seeking by turning everything on its head — creating a body of work that is not only laugh-out-loud hilarious, but so thoroughly and seriously researched that if you simply do its opposite, you may end up healthy, happy, and very well-informed.

"I am a pricker of sacred cows," says Bilik, who actually loves self-help books and is committed to a path of self-awareness. "But so much in this arena is so earnest! And there's a lot of Kool-Aid drinking going on. I believe that the dark side of self-help is that it makes us feel like we're supposed to be perfect: If we read this book and we're told how not to obsess, how to love ourselves and our bodies, if we're told those things and they don't result in lasting change, we feel guilty. I feel like it's the corollary to women's beauty magazines which set a standard that none of us can attain. The self-help standard is perfect balance and happiness."

Along with a team of researchers and editors, Bilik decided to deal with the inevitability of mistakes by instructing us how to consciously make them: "If you want a child who can't do anything for him or herself and will have to depend on you into his or her fifties, how do you get there? We'll tell you!" she says with a grin.

Who buys this stuff?

Says Bilik, "I believe it's the same people who buy self-help books. People who are tired of feeling like they have to be perfect. People who have senses of humor about their core endeavors. It's also an acceptance of the truth." She reaches for a box. "My therapist loves these," she says, handing it to me: Therapy Flashcards: 60 cards for maximum psychobabble that promise to make you "sound evolved even if you're not."













magicJack and Happy-Go-Lucky

January 4, 2009

Tags: Cost Cutting, fun, review

“Do you have some kind of really cheap service where I can pay for incoming calls only?” I queried the friendly Verizon customer service woman after holding for a quarter of an hour. She seemed perplexed and said there was no such option, and had I not found my exorbitantly expensive unlimited plan, plus 3-way calling, unuseful? (All right, she didn’t phrase it exactly that way.)

Because I felt as if she was really interested, I explained that I’d been downsized out of a job being the hub of a virtual office, and I no longer required such services, plus which, I’d now purchased a magicJack at my local Radio Shack. (more…)

Selected Works

novel
Big Moose Prize-winning novel
a funny, sometimes sad, story of negotiating life without a clue

Coming soon — a funny book for foodies who are committed to self-change through self-awareness
an epistolary memoir ... sort of
A funny and moving little book for anyone who's had a mother or struggled with being human.
anthology of stories and plays
includes Darleen Dances and stories below

play
1-act play

short story
the problem with worrying about the future

true story
Why I don't believe in death.

Editing Services

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