Sunday, December 12, 2010

Even Christmas trees are trendy

It's been a few years since I went hunting for a live Christmas tree. My sweetheart has an enormous, very nice fake tree that he'd used for years and it's offered itself each year for the past five. But last year, when it shed more needles than a real tree would, its time was declared over.

This year we are getting a live tree.

"It's got to be Scotch Pine," I was informed.

"That's okay - I agree."

But I told him there would be a hitch - Scotch Pines are out of fashion. Everyone wants Douglas or Frasier firs. We might find some old fashioned Balsams. But I suspected there would be no Scotch Pines. He scoffed.

He's not scoffing now. We stopped at any number of places, small tree farms hidden miles into territory we'd never explored and big box home stores and things in between - no Scotch Pines.

"They don't hold their needles," we were told. "Last time we stocked 'em, some people tried to bring 'em back. So we decided not to sell them anymore."

That's quite a mental image - a family ripping the decorations off their tree, tying it to the roof of the car and carrying it back to the seller, demanding a refund as the poor tree's needles dropped.

My dad had visions of being a Christmas tree farmer. When I was about ten we planted three hundred Scotch pine seedlings in the back field at the rural property we had in Central NY. Years later, my then-husband and I went back with our baby boy (now 23) and cut down one of the massive trees they'd become - we took the top home and it was a wonderful Christmas tree. It seemed right that one of those trees became a Christmas tree - and the rest became an incredible pine forest full of unruly, unshaped and gorgeous tall trees.

I like the idea of a live tree this year, but have no place to plant it that seems to work.

I'd decorate the cedar tree outside my window. The cedar's a lovely thing. I'd fall off the roof.

My heart goes out to the Charlie Brown trees - the lonely little trees that don't get chosen by anyone else. I suspect that if we can't find a Scotch Pine, that will be what we choose.

But isn't it strange that things simply disappear as tastes change? No more Scotch Pines - and no one said a word. They just stopped being sold.

What else has simply faded away?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

So What Scares You?

First, credit where credit is due. Illustration from The Arabian Nights by Boris Zvorykin.

Now - quick - don't think about it. Just say it. What's the answer to that question? What scares you?

Okay, you've scratched the surface. Spiders? Dark closets? Zombies? Failure?

Ah - failure. You're heading for the motherlode.

Here's what I think: fear is what holds us back from just about everything. Fear, which serves a useful purpose as it makes us think long and hard before risky behavior, can also stop us dead in our tracks. And I believe our real, root fear is always a lot deeper than we think.

Trace whatever you're afraid of and it is probably about survival. At least I've found that to be true for me.

So we play it safe, tread the clearly marked paths to make sure we survive.

But I think it's those overgrown sideroads where there's real living to be done. It won't always be happy/carefree/joyous - but it will sometimes. And I think it is always interesting.

I like interesting. If you subscribe to the common belief, we've only got one life. And don't forget the 11th commandment: Thou shalt not bore God. I think it's equally bad to bore yourself.

If I were that princess, I think I'd hop on that dragon's back and see what happens.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Does it have to be this complicated?

DISCLAIMER: This is a rant brought on by my extensive exposure to technology this weekend. There's no Buddhist calm here whatsoever.

I am on the verge of Luddism. I am sick of technology, sick of convenience, sick of things that make my life "easier". They deliver - but at a price.

1. Let us begin with the cell phone. It's a terrific thing - particularly if you're lost in a scary place or your pre-teen daughter wants to roam the mall with her buddies without you. That, for me, is where it ends.
It has become an appendage, it makes us accessible no matter where we are - and people expect us to answer, damn it.
It's transformed many jobs into 24/7 nightmares because we're always hooked in, always accessible. Time off has become something that means "I'm not at my desk, but you can reach me."
Kids now text rather than talk. They prefer it. Explain to me what the world will become now. Tell me how it's a good thing.

2. Television. It's held sway over us for two generations, maybe three now? It's slowly dying thanks to the computer (that's next) but it's still screaming at us. It began with variety shows, comedy, song and silly sit coms, many of which were live. It is now bloated with not only canned, mindless games shows and sit coms with laugh tracks that make my ears bleed, but reality shows that make me want to find a mountaintop cave where I can move in and pull a stone across the entrance. It is content made to fill the space between the ads.
And the ads! They're loud, they're long and they sell to a society that I cannot believe is really ours, though it must be. I was sick yesterday and sat on the couch for several hours flipping through Saturday morning television. That used to belong to the kids when I was young. Yesterday I found two cartoons - the rest were either selling something or trying to make me enough of a voyeur to sit still until the next ad: perky people encouraged me to exercise with them, perky people tried to sell me hair product, a girdle for my entire body, serious actors tried to solve a bloody crime, naked people speaking Spanish were arguing in bed - when I flipped back there was a woman in a sexy waitress costume and a strange midget man dressed in a clown suit. There were Christians pitching Christ, business experts pitching investment, political experts pitching policy. Then there were the ads: drugs to improve my sex life, drugs to make me lose weight, drugs to handle the diabetes caused by eating too much, fast food at a bargain price, drugs for the cardiac disease caused by fast stomach, already iffy, heaved.

3. Computers. They've revolutionized our world. We can see all over the world, learn anything we want, even share what we know. We can email anyone who has an email address. We have Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs (like this one), MySpace and I don't know what else...there are a gazillion ways to communicate our no doubt very important and serious thoughts (like these) to the world. We LOVE to communicate. Particularly if the only feedback is "like" or a short comment. We can find people, stalk people, block people - and never leave our chairs. We're switching books to computers, music to computers, our entertainment to computers. We now are supposed to exercise with computers - hey, video games are good for you - the whole family can watch a screen and exercise together!

Automated Teller Machines (did you remember that's what ATM stands for?) replace dealing with people, problem solving, getting necessary things done within business hours. 24/7 banking. 24/7 gasoline. 24/7 customer service. 24/7 restaurant food. The world is so freaking convenient that no one ever has any time off.

It is ten of nine on a Sunday morning. I am taking time off. I am turning off my computer and going for a walk. It is cold. It is sunny. Wherever you are, you should try it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Gratitude Day

Thanksgiving has become as twisted as Christmas, thanks to so much baggage that comes along with it.
What do I mean? Think about it. Christmas has been buried under the shopping frenzy and marketing so dear to our capitalist hearts. In fact, the union where I work actually negotiated away a holiday to get Black Friday off so they could shop with the other bargain hunters. But they work Christmas Eve. Huh.
Then there's Thanksgiving. It's supposed to memorialize gratitude and cooperation, but too often it's about families medicating themselves by their favorite method to get through a day with folks that drive them nuts. It's an obligation.
The Native American aspect to this? Forget it.
And how about the turkeys? Some day for them, those poor, engineered creatures who cannot even walk properly because they've been bred to have plentiful breast muscle.
So I've had it with Thanksgiving. But I do believe there's a place for Gratitude Day and that's what I am celebrating.
I am grateful that I live in a place where I see sunsets like the one I photographed and shared with you here.
I am immensely grateful for the wonderful, exasperating, brilliant, neurotic, kind and hilarious man I live with.
I am unimaginably grateful for my son and daughter, who have been the greatest joys, the biggest worries, the most fun and the dearest people in my lives since they first decided to visit this planet.
I am grateful for the insane, stupid town where I grew up and now live again; a place where aging artists invite people to come to their home to dance as an aerobic workout, and where every party I've been to has introduced me to someone else I've decided I'm going to like forever.
I am grateful for the pets I've loved, the life I've lived and the experiences I've had - every single one of them.
I am grateful for the jobs I've loved and the jobs I've hated - they all were the right jobs at the right time for the right reason.
There is a lot more, but it's time to go get ready for the family gathering. And I'm grateful for them, too.
Happy Gratitude Day to all of you!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sometimes A Storm Is Required

The wind tore through the Catskills last night. Living nestled at the foot of the mountains generally means we don't get extreme weather. Between the mountains and the Hudson River, the screaming storms tend to soften for us. I've lived in a spot just a couple of hours away that seemed to be a weather vortex - the most massive electrical storms, the heaviest snows, the howlingest winds. Last night it felt like that again.

I woke to a constant roar - the wind was screaming while rain pounded down. I'm a heavy sleeper; storms don't usually wake me. My guy was up on an elbow, peering out the window.

"Is it a hurricane?"

"Sounds like it," he said.

And I went back to sleep.

I really like wind, at least when I know I can take shelter from it if I need to. I've stood outside in 60 mph winds just because it was exhilirating. But I've been outside, a long way from home and lone, buffeted by winds and scared, realizing just how powerful that invisible monster can be.

But inside, safe, hearing it tear around the house and scream up the road, it's wonderful. It feels like the world's being cleansed and it will be all fresh and new in the morning. I don't get that impression when it rains - rain gives the world a dusting. But wind blasts off all the old, rotted, dying things, opens up space for the new, growing things.

The sun's coming up now, I suspect it's cold and not nearly so romantic as I imagine. And I'm sad to know that once I'm out in the car, driving up the highway to work, the wind won't be my friend. Maybe I'll just open up the windows.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Metropolis - Too Disturbingly On Target

I had never seen Metropolis - the Fritz Lang original. I knew what it was, sort of. I knew it was considered a classic and it's influenced many films that have come after it. I've seen some of those movies. What I didn't know that in 1927, it predicted much of what we have become.
I stumbled upon the restored version on television the other night midway through the film. I had no idea what it was until they went to a shot in the lab and I saw the "Man-Machine." I was then thoroughly hooked, as I've always been curious.
Do you know the plot?

The world is divided into Thinkers and Workers. Thinkers have ideas but no idea how to make them practical. Workers know how to run everything but have no idea what it's for.

There's a saintly young woman (who puts in hell of a performance in her first film) whose appearance is stolen so an evil machine can use the Workers' trust in the girl to make them destroy themselves.

Then there's the Messianic young man whose job is to "unite head and hands...with heart."

He has to act fast - the good girl's trying to keep the Workers' children safe from drowning but she can't do it alone.

The Matrix owes Metropolis a big fat thank you. So does Blade Runner.
It's a visual stunner, with art shots I haven't seen since Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible. But it's much more than that. It's eerily close to modern reality.

It struck me last night as I made Jello. Seriously.

Jello was such an incredible convenience when I was a kid. A dessert that only required that you mix in water and let it chill. Now it seems like a big deal - we can buy it in little individual containers when we're making a treat for someone who's not feeling well.

Soup, too. It's so simple to make, yet we can get it in a can. Why bother?

Dinner? Order out. Go out. Or buy some pre-made pile of mystery ingredients that only requires heating or the addition of meat.

The final straw? There's a new ad for corn flakes. "Give your kids a warm breakfast!" How do you do that? Microwave some milk and pour it on their cereal.
Good god.

Our lives have become so busy, so mechanized, so exhausting, that the thought of preparing a meal is something just too strenuous for many of us. It's got to be simple and fast. Yes, there are people who love to cook but it's more like a specialized hobby now than something we all do.

I'd love to slow down. I'd like to have the time and energy but when I get home at six and have another job that demands my attention within an hour or so, cooking just doesn't fit in the schedule. I have made a couple of meals in the past few days and it's really pleasant - but it's something that requires a conscious effort or I'll just fall into the "I'll heat up whatever's in the fridge" mode.

We're out of whack. We've lost that balance between work and our own time and even when we've on our few free precious hours, we've got our infernal email and blackberry for work to track us down and demand attention. And right now none of us can afford to demand that our free time be respected- we're lucky to be employed.

It's a puzzle and one I'm trying to untangle. But I refuse to concede that this new society is one I have to fall into step with. I'll march for now, but I'm looking for a path that leads elsewhere. The main road leads to Metropolis.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Backup Vocals, Joyless Meetings and a Kitten on My Shoulder

I started this post before dawn on Friday. I'm supposed to be getting dressed to leave for work. But I've got a kitten on my shoulder and it's just too damned cozy to leave yet.

My morning routine goes this way: Wake up, double check the clock to be sure I really am supposed to be awake before the sun comes up (sadly, I am), go downstairs followed by my much-loved old cat, whose goodness is equalled only by his girth, enter the kitchen to find the other three cats, who do not appreciate his sweetness, clamoring for their breakfast, too.

Everyone eats, (Boris, the kitten and the light of my dark mornings, cannot be predicted - he will either attack his breakfast with gusto or ignore it completely), I make coffee (only a push of a button thanks to the lovely man who loves me), then I go to my computer, sip coffee, check email, Facebook and maybe the day's headlines.
It's a comfortable way to start the day, particularly when Boris finishes his meal and jumps onto my shoulder to knead his paws in my hair. It's a bit awkward, as I need one hand to support him, but it's so cozy that it's well worth a bit of discomfort.

The hard part comes next - walking away from all that, getting dressed and going to work.

I will not gripe about work. I am grateful for the paycheck and I'm incredibly lucky to have gotten a job with a substantial pay raise when many are losing their jobs and their homes.

Here's what I will say - I sat on a meeting on Thursday so horribly dead, so uncomfortable, that it took a real act of will to make preparations to go back to that place again on Friday.

This is what happened: it's a monthly meeting about matters important to my place of work. I attended as an observer for the first time. What I witnessed was a roomful of people not only serious, but sour. I have spoken with many of them individually and they're not that way at all....yet this group had a dynamic so sour that I could imagine their mouths puckering.

They reacted to questions from each other with thinly veiled disdain, they offered information with an "I hope this is okay" plea in their voices; it was a roomful of worried people. Their worry had nothing to do with the content of the meeting; it was their interaction with each other. They targeted one person in particular for a universal sniff of superiority, and that person has been part of these meetings for years. It should have been held in the Google eggs...might have been much better!

I walked out when it was over, nearly ran down the stairs and out the door to breathe some fresh air.

It's not always like that, but some days it is. I don't like it one bit.
But my arrival home was greeted by the news that my composer/musician partner needed me to sing some backup vocals on a track he's working on.

Let the celebration begin!

I love to sing, though I think my voice is of the "that's very nice, dear" variety. It can be strong if required, it's generally on key but I'd love to have a distinctive growl or SOMETHING that sets it apart and makes it memorable. But I have what I have - and fortunately it's good enough for some support work on my guy's records, which is a treat beyond treats for me.

So that horrible, nasty, discouraging meeting was blown out of my head by donning a pair of headphone, cozying up to a microphone and singing along with my guy.
The next day, more Boris-ing in the morning.
I guess the trick is to dwell on the good stuff.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ghost Bees

Ghosts sound like bees, at least to me.

I've heard them twice.

Let me back up and tell you that I'm a pitiful excuse for a ghost whisperer. My mom was the real deal. She saw them, she talked to them. She didn't talk about it to many people, but she talked about it to me and I can tell you that she had some stories that were absolutely incontrovertible. My favorite was the one where one of my dad's long-gone relatives told her about things that he swore had never existed - until he asked his aunt about it and she confirmed that yes, indeed, that had been the way things once were. He never doubted my mother again.

I used to wish I had her abilities, but then again I was often glad I didn't. I'm easily scared.

So back to the ghost bees.

We were looking for a home in the country when my kids were young. We looked at a lot of old farmhouses and one in particular seemed to beckon the moment we pulled in the driveway. It was an old white farmhouse with a big front porch and a massive lilac bush beside the two story barn. It looked a bit like this.

Something was very wrong inside.

It was tired, to say the least. Wallpaper peeled off aging plaster. But that wouldn't deter me. It was the buzzing.

It started in the kitchen, as I recall. It sounded like a swarm of bees all around us, yet there were no bees. I mentioned it. No one else heard it.

"Maybe they're in the walls," I speculated.

"I don't hear a thing," the realtor said.

The buzzing got louder as I walked through the house, so I finally excused myself to join the kids in the barn, where they were merrily leaping into a hay pile. No bees there.

Another old house, totally remodeled and in perfect shape, was one we seriously considered buying. But then I had the bloodiest, most gruesome dream of my life the night after we saw it. And when I mentioned it to the realtor, he said he'd had the same dream. Needless to say, we walked away from it.

So fast forward to a big old house that had been in my then-husband's family for generations. Dark, a bit dreary and damp as most lake houses are, it never affected me particularly until I stayed behind one afternoon while everyone else went to the store. I had work to do, work I didn't particularly feel like doing, but work that required a clear head and nimble fingers on a calculator.

But the buzzing was making me nuts.

It took awhile for me to identify it - unlike the incident in the old farmhouse, this was a buzz that I knew was in my head. But it was so loud that I couldn't think. And instead of being frightened, I got angry.

"Okay, knock it off!" I was loud enough that had anyone been home, they'd have heard me, even upstairs. "I know this isn't my house and I don't belong here but I have no interest in your damned house - I'm just here with my husband and my kids and THEY belong here. So shut up and let me get my work done!"

And it stopped. Just like that.

"Thank you," I said with a bit less graciousness than I probably should have, and got back to work.

Not long afterwards, we were all upstairs getting ready to go for a swim. My three year old daughter pointed into the room opposite.

"Who's that?"

"Who?" There was no one there.

"That lady."

Cue the hairs on the back of our necks to stand up.

She described her and said she looked kind of cranky. Sounded like a pretty good description of my then-husband's grandmother, "Harriet" - long, long dead.

So I went to see my mom and told her what had happened.

"Will you go and see what you think?" I asked.

We went on a beautiful, sunny fall day when the house had been closed up for the winter and no one was around. We stepped onto the porch and I opened the front door. My mother looked in and froze.

"I'll stay here," she said.

I went in, took a look around to make sure everything was secure, came out and locked up.

My mother was sitting on the porch.

"I wasn't welcome in there," she told me. "There was a woman on the stairs and she made it very clear I was not to come in."

Her description matched my what my daughter had seen. That night, Mom said she had a dream that that same woman showed up next to her bed.

"What were you doing in my house?" she demanded.

My mother explained that she wanted to be sure that her granddaughter was safe. "Harriet" said family was safe there, but no outsiders were welcome in that house.

"Do you want me to pray for you?" my mother asked.

Her dream visitor snorted and said she had no use for such nonsense. And she left.

That house burned to the ground a couple of winters later.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity - Isn't This News?

I'm watching a live feed of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. The Washington Mall is packed with thousands of people, all laughing, singing and smiling. News reports indicated that more than a thousand related rallies in foreign countries have been organized by US expatriates. There are thousands more rallies in communities across the country.
But it's not news.
Network news, the nation's "top" newspapers and good old NPR made the decision not to cover this event.
Let's see - thousands of people converge on the mall to sing "It's the Greatest, Strongest Country in the World", a satirical and very funny tribute to the flaw in both sides of the liberal/conservative debate; watch musical acts (I saw the O'Jays and were they dressed to kill!) and pay tribute to some people who made headlines for their civil behavior - and that's not news. Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow actually performed a song about frustration with our society that was good spirited and kind.
Now of course, the "news" outlets are going to have to cave in lest they look ridiculous. But how sad they even tried to avoid reporting on a truly positive event.
As Mick Foley just said, "Civility is cool."
But apparently only fear, loathing and paranoia are news.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Left Brain/Right Brain, Do We Have To Choose?

I'm living in two worlds these days. At home, the world is sticky with creative juice. Breathe deep, run your finger across a tabletop, taste it, inhale it, it's inescapable, a tune you can't get out of your head, a taste on the tip of your tongue, colors that are deeper, sunsets that catch fire into Peter Maxx/Maxfield Parrish impossibilities.

It's a world where every building should look like the Dali Museum.

At work, all colors fade to shades of gray and black, with frantic crosshatching of detail.

It's work that needs doing, detail that matters, yet somehow the amount of angst that goes into its production seems so out of scale, so truly ridiculous, that a part of me is always sitting back in wonderment, transfixed by the hyperventilating victims of high blood pressure all around me.

I'm torn between the two worlds. The childish, desperate- to -please -and- excel perfectionist wants to be the best damned hamster on the wheel.

The inner rebel wants her solitude and freedom to express herself in whatever way she chooses in her own little world - paint vines on the doors, write fairy tales, take pictures of the world's most minute details.

Circumstance requires income; I continually remind myself to be grateful that my black and white job pays the bills with dollars to spare.

But I so miss the color - and wish I had more energy to spare for those precious hours when that's my world.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Life is Passing Me By on the NYS Thruway or Where the Hell Am I Going Anyway?

Sorry I haven't been around to write. Even sorrier I haven't had time to catch up with the wonderful bloggers I've found. Life got stupid.

I'm driving an hour each way to work every day, working in an office in a corporate setting, learning the new information I need to know, slowly figuring it out and getting things into a system in my head which makes sense. It took a good three months.

Now I'm able to sit back for a second, at least, and wonder where the time is going in such a hurry.

I'm missing the summer - I just haven't noticed much. I cruise down the highway practicing with my new Spanish CDs.

Tengo trabajar; no ai una hora escribir. Lo siento.

I get home, eat, then march up to my office to work on my other job. I'm still doing a radio show. I still enjoy it. But man - I don't think I'd know how to lie on a beach and do nothing right now even if I could.

I would, however, love to learn again.

My guy, whose new EP is out, is finding himself equally busy. The studio, which for awhile was his quiet haven from the rest of the world, is now hopping with people who want to make records, who need him to compose music for a commercial, and he's still trying to finish off the rest of the songs to release a full LP that coordinates with radio promotion and a tour.

Deep breath.

But I planted some flowers today and I have gotten an inordinate amount of satisfaction from seeing them outside the screened in porch.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Shameless Plug Department

My guy, the very talented Mr. Kevin Bartlett, has a new album out. If you know anything about indie music, you know it's not easy to get the word out without the big record company machine behind you. So you get help from your friends.

Go here. Listen.
If you like it you can buy a CD or download there or on iTunes.

I have been hearing this EP evolve for the past two years and have fallen madly in love with every single song. I am biased, yes, I am. But I'm not alone. This guy, known for gorgeous, lush, symphonic movie soundtracks has suddenly stood in front of the microphone and recorded songs that are singable, intelligent, interesting and just plain fun to listen to. And that's what other people are saying. I could say much more.

If you want a giggle, pay attention to the white girl church choir backing vocals on "Dear" in the Headlights and the bridge in Cool Thing. That would be me and, on Cool Thing, my daughter.

Another fantasy fulfilled. I got to sing backup on a rock album! My next fantasy is to be able to sing like the way-cool wailing backup on Cool Thing. That's Machan Taylor. Maybe in my next life.

What Did You Used to Love?

Do you remember what you used to hold most dear? Think about when you were a kid; what were your favorite things? What have you forgotten as you became the responsible, busy adult who you now are?

I forgot the fairies.

I can't believe I did. I loved them from the time I was a little kid and read my "Big Golden Book of Fairies" over and over, my complete rainbow of Arthur Lang's collected Fairy Tales, oohed and aahed over Arthur Rackham illustrations. And yet I forgot.

I recently read a book that reminded me -
"Faery Tale: One Woman's Search for Enchantment in a Modern World." It's by Signe Pike.

I approached it with a "what the hell - it might be fun" attitude, especially after reading the line where she said she was going to "go find the damned faeries."

I thoroughly enjoyed it and realized I needed to go find me a faery, too. I used to believe there was magic in the world and even after all my reading on quantum mechanics and unified theories of everything, I somehow had relegated the fairies to some dusty back closet in my head.

No more. I'm old enough to be as silly as I like. And I like to be damned silly.

So I went outside, apologized to the fairies for not having greeted them sooner here, laid out a little stone ring with pebbles I'd found at the beach, and told them I'd be a far better neighbor from here on and that I'd like to be friends.

Hopefully, The Folk will forgive me and let me back into their world. I like this world a whole lot better when I believe theirs is part of it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The World's Gone Crazy - Or Is It Just Me?

What the hell is going on, people? Seriously.

We've got a long-term oil problem in the Gulf, and suspicions that that shiny cap may lead to gas blowing out from other unstable areas of the sea bed, while BP spins the story to be, "Hey, if you want us to open it up and let it start spewing again, then it's on your head." Nobody willing to step up and say, "Do THIS." And then take responsibility.

The drug companies are trying to get the FDA to approve cholesterol-lowering medicine for kids. It's so much easier to give the kids a pill along with their vitamin, because everyone's working multiple jobs, nobody's able to be home to boot them out from in front of the television or the computer, take away the chips and say, "Go out. Play. Come home when it's dinner time." So the next generation sits on their widening little butts, not even knowing what they're missing. Besides - if they went out to play, there's probably no one else out there to play with.

A science blog actually agreed to let PepsiCo. host a page called "Food Frontiers."
Pepsi knows a lot about good, wholesome food, I'm sure we all agree.

Not surprisingly, they got slammed.

They took it down after their scientists starting leaving en masse in protest.\

Now that I'm a corporate type I realize that I'm totally losing touch with the natural world. I wake up, dress, drive to work, spend the day in an office, drive home, and spend my evening inside working on my book, my show, playing Freecell and trying to stay awake until 11. I am a hothouse flower and that is not me at all. But it is who many of us are.

It's unnatural. And it's dangerous. You could almost begin to forget that our lives rely on that world outside our windows.

There is one bright spot. A couple of years back I stumbled upon a small blurb about a proposal to lease drilling rights all over my area of New York for horizontal gas drilling. I did a series of stories and the news started to spread, thanks to some of the environmental groups I spoke with.

The movie "Gasland" is doing the rest. It was shown at a school auditorium nearby this past weekend and suddenly the entire region is mobilizing with online activists who are emailing, writing, calling and visiting their legislators, concerned that the hazards that Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and other states which are already allowing hydrofracking are facing will be coming soon to a flaming sink near them.

I am impressed with the power of film. Similarly, our friends at Tribe of Heart are opening hearts and minds with their film, "Peaceable Kingdom". It's an attempt to reconnect that mental schism between our love for animals and how we get the food on our plates. They're winning awards all over the country and audiences are reacting thoughtfully, starting conversations, starting to talk - just as they'd hoped.

It's a Mad Mad World, my friends. But I don't think it's hopeless yet.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What Makes A Performance or The Joy of Men in Kilts and Pigtails

My guy is a prog/glam rocker from way back. He probably has a photo of himself in his silver sequined miniskirt somewhere. And if you're not a performer, you probably think that's just strange. I can now attest that it makes perfect sense.

Here's what happened: we went to see Steve Hackett over the weekend. Steve was part of the original Peter Gabriel era Genesis band. He's a gifted guitarist. What he is not is a showman.

The show opened with the lead performers lined up across the front of the stage. At one end there was a slightly overweight guy wearing baggy black pants and shirt with a jacket (or a vest - I'm unsure). He would have looked at home working in your local hardware store. Beside him was a tall blonde with shiny, straight hair dressed in a loose black top, wrinkled black skinny jeans and high black boots. They were both holding guitars. Then came a skinny blonde with platinum pigtails, chiseled arms, a black kilt, high black socks and clunky black shoes holding a bass. Then there was a young guy in a cap, black version of the shirt the Monkees used to wear, jeans and Chuck Taylor sneakers holding a saxophone.

My guy looked into the wings, wondering when Steve Hackett was going to come out. He was already there. Hardware Store Boy was our headliner.

The show began and Steve was wonderful but my eyes were glued to the Amazon with the bass guitar all night long. I knew it was a guy within 30 seconds but my guy, my daughter and her guy were confused all night long. What was clear, however was that we were watching an amazing bass player and a terrific showman.

Nick Beggs has been doing this awhile. Remember Kajagoogoo? He clearly gets stage performance and he was great fun to listen to AND watch. He moved with the music, he emoted, he was absolutely wonderful. And talented though Steve Hackett is, he was thoroughly upstaged.

My daughter's guy, who is an aspiring musician, totally missed Hackett's guitar abilities. His verdict? "Nothing outstanding."

I'm convinced it was because Hackett looked most comfortable when he finally had a stool, an acoustic guitar and began to noodle some classical stuff. He's not an extrovert, he's not a ham and if you want to put on a good show you HAVE to be.

Kevin Bartlett

My guy will be touring now that his new EP is out. This new CD is new school rock and roll and he sounds like the lovechild of David Bowie and Lou Reed. The music's great - but performance is a whole different challenge.

I have only seen him perform in small venues but I'm sure I know on which side of the performing bar he'll fall. He may be a bit of a hermit, he may be a bit shy, but he's also a ham and when he turns on the personality he takes over a group.

I guess we'd better get the kilt out of the back of the closet.

If you want to find my guy's music, you can download it here or on iTunes. Just look for Kevin Bartlett.
Songs for the Big Kablooey

Saturday, June 26, 2010

OverAchievers, Sit Down

I just did an interview with Marcia Reynolds, the author of the book "Wander Women: How High Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction." I wish it had a different title - it's really much more interesting than you'd expect. Particularly if you're one of those women.

The wandering women she describes are over-achievers, the baby boomers who were raised to believe they were amazing, significant beings put here to achieve great things.

"They were told, 'you can do anything'," Reynolds told me. "What they heard was 'you can do everything!"

And we try, don't we? I've heard the analysis which says that women don't know how to say "no" because they were raised to be helpful. That's never felt right to me. Reynolds agrees. She says women who don't know how to say no say yes to everything because they think they're the only ones who can do the job right.

Bingo. That would be me.

I knew a counselor once who was my biggest fan - as I poured out my frustrations, my fears and my dreams she'd assure me that I was simply amazing, a true powerhouse. But once, just once, she did pull me up short.

"You take on everything because you think you're the only one who can get it done right, don't you?"

I nodded.

"You do know that's neurotic?" she said solemnly.

It is. But there are bunches of us wandering around, women with a burning conviction that they're here to do great things. They do them, too. But it's never enough. We're always looking for the next achievement, the new frontier.

Aren't you tired?

Don't you just want to sit back and let somebody else do it for awhile?

Wouldn't you like someone to step up, grab the reins and say, "I've got this. Relax. Take a break."

Reynolds says the first step is to see what we're doing. Step two is trying to figure out who we are separate from our achievements. What do we want? What do we like?

Finally, sit down. Let someone else do it. Teach them how if you must, but let them do it.

As one person she spoke with in her book told her, "When I raise my hand now, I make sure I know what I'm raising my hand for."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Peace of Mind

Something's clicked. I don't promise it'll hang around, but it's great for now.
Everything's okay with me.

That's a huge statement coming from an award-winning worrier. If worrying was an Olympic event, I'd have medaled every year since I was a kid.

So what's changed? Damned if I know. But suddenly I've just clicked into "chill" mode and everything that's swirling around me seems like no big deal - all just part of being alive and all small stuff in the big picture.

Money? It'll work out. The future? Who can say? It's okay now. My kids? They've got their worries and their concerns and I'm doing what I can to help, but they'll find their way. Selling the house? It'll work out. Moving into a different place that we like as well or better? We'll figure it out. All my aging relatives and their increasingly scary ailments? It's part of life. We'll be okay. My own future? I've done what I can to make it what I'd like and I'll continue to, the rest is kinda out of my hands.

I have a birthday coming up. The big Five Three. And maybe this is the Universe's gift to me - a break in my constant what-iffing, furrowed browing and restless nights. If that's the case, that's a great present. Thank you very much.

My guy, a stellar human being, is throwing a birthday party for me. I haven't had one in a gazillion years. I think this is going to be a terrific birthday. And I'm going to hang on to this serenity with a relaxed grip and enjoy every second of it.

I deserve it. We all do. So maybe for my birthday I get to wish that for you, too.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

My iLife Bites

You can have my iLife. You're welcome to it. It was stressful, frustrating, tense and upsetting.

I'm not blaming Steve Jobs, at least not entirely. But he can take some of the blame.

I do a radio show. I guess that makes me a professional. But in reality I'm just a hack who knows how to do what she has to know and that's all.

I had the opportunity to create my own personal studio and so I took a long hard look at the wonderful world of Mac. It looked good.

My guy swears by it (when he's not swearing at it). I wanted to get out of the "oh no here comes another virus" merry-go-round. So, as I so happily announced not long ago, I bought a Mac mini.

She was a cutey. Small, stylish, incredibly quiet.

I navigated the essentials with no trouble; I've worked with Macs before.
But Logic Express was another story.

Imagine you know how to drive an automatic transmission Chevy and someone hands you the keys to a Lamborghini. "You've got five minutes to catch on - good luck."

It's designed for music. I don't do music. It has a gazillion features I didn't need and I didn't have the time to sit and learn it. And I had an impending deadline.

My hair has all dropped out, I haven't slept in two weeks and I've now taken to drinking vodka for breakfast. Okay, I exaggerate. But really - it was just awful.

So I have surrendered. I packed up Minny the mini and shipped her back. I pulled my old PC out of mothballs, loaded a demo version of Adobe Audition and am trying to get back on schedule.

Why, you ask, didn't I just use the Adobe program I can do in my sleep on my Mac?
Here's where Steve Jobs takes the hit. He's in a snark-fest with Adobe. He doesn't let that program be compatible with Macs. He's got Logic and that's what you'll use if you want an Apple, dammit. Or Pro-Tools...yet another program I'd have had to learn from scratch.

So I returned the mini but I'm eating the cost of the extended warranty I bought. AppleCare, apparently, is non-refundable even if you've never used it and you don't own the computer. Register it and it's yours. Thanks, Steve.

I can't return Logic, either. Software is not returnable. Good thing I'm just made of money., huh? At this rate I'll be working six months just to pay for the equipment and programs I need to do the job.

My employer is totally off the hook on this; they gave me a budget to get what I needed. Sadly, I gave it to Apple and it cost more than they gave me. I thought it was money well spent. Wrong. Now it's coming out of my own pocket.

So that's my iLife. Expensive, stressful and, ultimately, not worth living.

My name is Susan and I guess I'm going to be a PC forever.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What's Life About, Anyway?

My guy often bemoans the fact that when he gets together with his family (every holiday - his mom likes holidays) they seldom talk about things that, in his words, mean something. Big questions, things like what life means, what they honestly think, what ticks them off or delights them in a cosmic sense.

We all get trapped in that mundane conversation sometimes; it's safe. It's unlikely to lead to choppy waters if you stay in the shallows talking about traffic on the highway this morning. And it's deadening.

My daughter was visiting this week and I am happy to say we seldom get stuck in the shallows. She's 21, that age where all the questions are big and the answers are murky. This time her dilemma was one that got me thinking, too. It mirrors my own questions. I bet you've thought about it, too, if you're at all out of step with mainstream culture.

"Should I be planning for a career," she wondered, "or should I be planning for a future that interests me?"

Now don't bother objecting that those don't have to be mutually exclusive; we know. The problem is that for a person who apparently should have been born in the sixties, the professions of today hold little appeal. Lawyer? Economist? Doctor? Teacher? Politician? She sees their value but also sees them as intrinsic parts of a system that she thinks is inherently wrong; a system that holds profitability as its highest value.

She is considering the growing field of sustainability, a place where she sees a possibility of doing work she finds interesting as well as making a positive impact.

But here's the basic problem as she explained it: Do you pursue a career to make money, have a nice place to live and a nice car and spend your life working to hang on to them, or do you create a life that needs little and allows you to breathe, to enjoy the hours of your day and pursue your interests? Do you work in an office and make the big bucks, or do you live on an organic farm commune and dig in the dirt for your keep?

She tells me the organic farm idea is catching on with some kids- it even has an acronym: WOOF. Work On an Organic Farm.

Can you blame them? The job market is atrocious - I listened to an NPR interview with Georgetown law graduates who took on massive student loans anticipating six figure jobs when they graduated. They can't find any. And they think they probably won't; when the economy recovers, the big firms will hire students in that year's graduating class, students who intern with them and who they can train from the start.

So here's my daughter, midway through college, intelligent, idealistic and considering a completely alternative lifestyle. Part of it is the influence of friends, of course, but part of it is something that resonates with her. How do I know? It strikes me, too.

And here's where it gets a bit rattling. I spent my life managing to stay on the fringe of the system; I was a journalist, a teacher, a mom. I was connected, but I never worked in places where I felt immersed in the corporate world. I do now.

I get up early every day, slip into my torturous but very attractive high heels, grab my jacket, slip on my security pass, throw my blackberry into my briefcase and commute to a very nice high rise office where I have a lovely office. I sometimes have to go to New York City and go to our sister office on an upper floor of a very tall building. I am up to my neck in the corporate world.

It's not bad. It's different. The people are great, there's a work ethic and a commitment to doing a good job that I admire. But there are very clear, unwritten laws. Thou shalt not submit anything that has not been edited by at least two other people. Thou shalt maintain a paper trail. Thou shalt always consider any new idea from a dozen angles and vet it through at least that many people. Once part of the system, there is a heavy pressure to not rock the boat, to do a good job without making big waves.

I can understand why. Yet it also stifles creativity. I've heard management almost beg employees for ideas, yet no one wants to stick their neck out and offer one.

And is this where I belong? I rationalize, telling myself that I have spent a lifetime skating across systems that swallow other people, and this is just an interesting and very useful experience that suits my purposes for the moment. I'm still working on radio as well, I'm still writing a book. Who knows what happens once the kids are out of college?

Yet it makes me think about my daughter's question. What's life about? Jobs like mine are about security, making enough money to cover whatever bills exist. Security is a good thing, but it doesn't seem compatible with a life that's full, that's challenging, that's interesting.

And damn it, I demand that of my life. Apparently that's a gene you can pass on to your kids.