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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

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

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!” Read More 

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Creativity and Depression: Signe Baumane’s Balancing Act

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? Read More 

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Healing by Beating People Up

I was holed up in my living room watching whatever came on the TV when I saw the man in the space suit attack a woman half his size. She slaughtered him…and a neutron bomb exploded in my brooding, overactive brain.

My conscious reason for wanting to take the self-defense course I’d seen on TV was to exorcise anger. I was angry at everything, and angry at myself for being so angry. Maybe being in a place where it was not only appropriate but essential to express this rage—to make the sounds I was so afraid of making—would finally exorcise the demon inside me. Little did I know what lay ahead. Read More 

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Piece of My Heart: The Epidemic Craving to Be Known

“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.

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Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

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. Read More 

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

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,  Read More 

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I Nominate July for a Sucky Parents Day

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.) Read More 
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A Safe Place: Does It Exist?

Recently a friend posted a Facebook link to an article about the dangers of meditation. In response, I commented that the problem is not with meditation; it's with doing deep meditation and other practices with a lousy teacher or no teacher. I wrote an article a number of years ago that addresses the issue of whether there is such a thing as a safe place in the world of self-help/spiritual workshops ... or for that matter, anywhere. I hope it helps: This Is a Safe Place

 






 

 

 



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My Year of Being Naked

I turned 63 this year. How can this be? In my mind, I’m perpetually 30. When I was 30, my innocent look and ageless skin meant I’d still get carded. I was living like a free spirit—taking weird jobs…standing buck naked in the middle of a room full of clothed people. Really.

My joke to myself was that every morning I got up, had breakfast, then got undressed to go to work. I was a young actor and, burned out from a part-time job that had turned into a mountain of hours with humongous responsibility, I decided I wanted to do as little work as possible in my next job. Although I was deeply modest—I didn’t even walk around naked in my apartment—modeling for the Art Students League fit my job specs.

As an actor, I was used to taking risks. Yes, I had stage fright, but I also had a secret “screw-it” switch in my brain.” I’d flip that screw-it switch as I stepped on stage in a play and spoke my first lines, or when I walked into an audition filled with frowning, scary people, or in “trust exercises” when I fell backward from the top of bleachers into the arms of my theater student classmates. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I’d ask myself. Die? Okay, screw it and plunge! It was exhilarating—like a near-death experience but without the risk.

[See the rest at: Rewireme.com]

 






 

 

 




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Ordinary Guru Program Chat

Rosie, the subject of the essay we discussed.

The other day, I had the pleasure of being invited to talk about my writing on a site called The Ordinary Guru Project. The topic was “awareness of awareness.” Or maybe it was "awareness of AWARENESS" ... or the opposite.

My personal feeling about AWARENESS is that it probably directs things a whole lot better than my puny little thinking mind—a part of me that does best when it's aware of its puniness and defers to greater wisdom rather than the notion that my puny chaotic thoughts create reality and control who and what comes into my life (aka other people, who are also thinking) and everything that happens to me. I think that's a little like believing the sun and the whole universe revolve around the earth. When awareness is directed by AWARENESS, I think the thoughts and actions make one a better batter and catcher. In other words, a whole lot of stuff is flying around all the time and some of it could pass by you if you didn't notice it and either reach out and grab it or decide to let it pass; some of it rolls into your lap; some trips you up or makes a bull's eye to your heart, and if you're a well-practiced AWARENESS-directed catcher and batter, you're really good at catching the good stuff or smacking something and running home, or making an out, or ... I really am not a baseball person, so let's drop this. Here’s the chat:


WROAR on BlogTalkRadio

 






 

 

 




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Wizard of the Desert: Milton H. Erickson, M.D.—What a Guy!

How do you get the most out of being severely color blind, tone deaf, dyslexic, paralyzed, in chronic excruciating pain from polio, and periodically near-death? If you are Milton H. Erickson, M.D. (1901–1980), founder of modern hypnotherapy and healer to people the medical profession has given up on, you develop your powers of observation. You become “the Mozart of Communication.” You reframe your and other’s so-called problems and disabilities into gifts and then milk them for all their worth—a practice known in psycho-lingo as "utilization"—in order to change and enjoy your brief time on this planet.

In the new documentary Wizard of the Desert, Austrian director (and grandson of Viktor Frankl) Alexander Vesely weaves remembrances from Erickson's legion of admirers—students, colleagues, family, and even patients—together with footage of Erickson teaching. Vesely also gives voice to some critics, which effectively humanizes Erickson and foils our wish to idealize him out of the possibility of being a real role model for change that we, too, might experience. Read More 

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From the Child of a Parent Who Chose Death



Dear Dad,

I’m about to turn 63 this week, 13 years older than you when decided to end it all by blowing your brains out. It was 1968 when you made this choice, and the world is very different now. Now alcohol and drug rehab programs are rampant; people talk about “dysfunctional families”—for which there was no word, let alone help, when I was growing up; there are “family services” and “support groups” and it’s understood that bad things happen to good people.

I understand that you were in so much pain that you felt that you couldn’t stand another minute of it. I understand that the pain and depression or desperation or whatever was driving you nuts overwhelmed you. I understand that you were probably diagnosably mentally ill as well as addicted to drugs and alcohol, although you never sought such a diagnosis or any kind of help. I understand that mental illness is an illness and your brain was not working right. Read More 

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The Myth of the Happy American Family--What's Normal in the USA?

my family

I used to get really depressed around the holidays. My family is dead or estranged, and as the cultural scream that “family is everything” reaches its annual deafening pitch, I have often found myself feeling defective. I spent years in therapy trying to evaporate that self-image, and I have made enormous progress. So now, at the age of 62, I can honestly say I have what I’ve always wanted—a mostly peaceful contemplative life as a single woman. But still, around the holidays, that gets challenged by media and social media's lauding of the idealized family. So I wondered, what is true statistically? Do most Americans have great families where they love and support each other? Is “happy” the American family norm and am I some kind of an outlier? Read More 

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Voices of Elders

“We dance round in a ring and suppose / But the Secret sits in the middle and knows,” wrote Robert Frost in his poem “The Secret Sits.”

“Let me tell that one again,” spoke actor Gordon Clapp in his mesmerizing performance of A. M. Dolan’s play Robert Frost: This Verse Business, and he told it again. I’m glad, because I needed an instant replay to really hear it. And I needed to see Gordon as Frost a second time; I’d seen the play once before as a workshop. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing and hearing it several more times, because like a great teacher or a great story or a great voice, the “stuff” of this play and performance is simply too rich to absorb in one sitting.

Two years ago I wrote my little book Conversations with Mom: An Aging Baby Boomer, in Need of an Elder, Writes to Her Dead Mother. When you’re young, you imagine that when you get older—or old—you will no longer need elders, mentors, and teachers. Our culture tells you that old people are supposed to be those characters and, as such, nurture the young’uns. Unfortunately, this is not my experience; in my experience, as youthful hubris diminishes, you need elders more than ever. And even though I wrote my little book and gave myself an imagined elder, I still need wise, old rascally men and patient, compassionate, funny women to nurture me as I sometimes float like a lost blob through this thing called life. Read More 

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Fight Club for Girls

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.  Read More 
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