Sunday, June 26, 2011

Friend ...

I love this.

Doreen gave it to me last night before we headed out for a night on the town. She saw it while away on a trip, thought of me, and bought it. Which is just exactly like her. She is always thinking of other people, always mindful of things they might like, even people she hardly knows. She is exceeding thoughtful. And an exceedingly good giver of gifts. (Which is an art form. Truly.)

Because her gifts always come with a meaning, a message. She does not buy gifts for gifting's sake. Every gift she gives is an embodiment of love.

Doreen is one of my dearest friends and surely one of my most ardent supporters. Her belief in me never wavers, even when it wavers wildly on my own. For my 40th birthday, she gave me a cheering box, a box that erupts in applause when it is opened, because she knows that some days, I need a little boost.

And so yesterday's gift, while unexpected, came as no surprise. It is just the latest nudge down my path, another reminder to do what I know I am meant to do, however I am meant to do it.

I love that the "C" seems imperfect, too heavy, a different font. As though the artist started stamping this little bit of ceramic, which feels like a small bar of well-worn soap in my hands, and then thought of characters she'd rather use. But she didn't scrap the piece. She just kept going.

That is a lesson I need to really learn. I stop too easily, too frequently, to start over. My perfectionism is silly that way. If I make a mistake when addressing an envelope, I throw it away. If I hit a wrong note in a song, I want to take it from the top. Years ago, when I read for CRIS Radio, I never recorded all the stories in a given folder because each time I flubbed, I'd start over again. Until the day the engineer told me that it was OK to make a mistake, that it was more important for callers to be able to access all the stories. And then I eventually read stories live on the air and at that point, well, I had to just keep reading. I had no choice.

I am so very grateful to have such kind people in my life. Doreen and a host of others, cheerleaders without the embarrassment of pleated skirts and sweater vests. Friends who are always standing by, wanting what is best for me, knowing I can do more, giving my hand an encouraging squeeze.

Create, indeed.

I love this.

And Doreen, I love you.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Contemplating Bruce ...

It's not because our Clarence died.

I'm sitting here, noticing the sun (which was gone all day), sipping some wine (should have bought the Cabernet), and contemplating Bruce (there's a lot to contemplate), because earlier today, my pal Aimes tagged me on Facebook, and asked me to name my favorite tune by The Boss.

You'd think I'd have a favorite. You'd think, given my love for the man. Given my collection. Given the number of times I've seen his shows. But a favorite Springsteen tune? One Springsteen tune that stands out above all others?

"I need parameters," I thought. "Favorite tune lyrically. Favorite tune to be performed live. Favorite album cut."

I was hedging. Favorite Springsteen tune. Whoever heard of such a thing?

The choice for Aimes is clear: "Thunder Road."

A great cut, sure. And who am I to disagree with her choice? I wouldn't. Why would I? That would be like telling someone that they're wrong about their favorite color.

But for me? Huh. I had no idea.

My first impulse was "Jungleland." But that might have been prompted by all the mentions it's been getting since Clarence died. His sax solo on that cut is legendary.

So then I thought of "If I Should Fall Behind": "We said we'd walk together baby come what may / That come the twilight should we lose our way / If as we're walkin' a hand should slip free / I'll wait for you / And should I fall behind / Wait for me."

Damn, those lyrics. They get me every time.

But then I thought of "Rosalita." If you've ever seen Bruce and the E Street Band perform "Rosalita," you understand.

But then I thought of "One Step Up." Though, really, my love for that song stems from a cover of it by Eddie Vedder.

Still, so much Bruce. So many reasons to love him.

I went to see him in Detroit the night before the release of "Devils & Dust." He opened the show with this spellbinding performance of "Reason to Believe." Seriously. I was transfixed. I remember realizing that I was holding my breath. How many artists are so extraordinary, they make you stop breathing?

I'm pretty sure I've breathed right through every other show I've ever been to. Well, McCartney. I may well have stopped breathing at McCartney. Just because I was in the presence of Paul McCartney.

But back to Bruce.

I hauled out my box of Bruce, to help me figure out what qualifies as my favorite Bruce tune ...

... and started flipping through discs. (Many of these were gifts. I have very kind, very generous friends.)

"Born to Run," obviously. But it's so obvious that I think everyone takes it as a given.


"Sprung from cages out on highway 9 / Chrome wheeled, fuel injected / and steppin' out over the line."

Did you just throw your fists up in the air and yell "WHOA!"?

If you've ever been to Bruce show, that's exactly what you just did. That's exactly what everyone does at every show, house lights up, 20,000 people on their feet.

So, "Born to Run." That one's a given.

That leaves, oh, this many.

Hell, I can't even get out of the As without picking four contenders.

For many, like me and my friend Jay, Bruce took on an entirely new level of relevance after 9/11. "The Rising" was a balm that soothed our stricken souls. "You're Missing" and "My City Of Ruins"? What else is there to say? I still cry every time.

"Born in the U.S.A.", the whole album, the iconic cover, brought a lot of people into the Bruce fold with its hits like the title track and "Dancing In The Dark" and "Cover Me," but "Darlington County," "Working On The Highway," and "Downbound Train" are three of my favorites of his, all in a row. And then he comes in with "I'm On Fire" and it's all over. God DAMN, I love that song.

Then again, I'll always remember looking in the rear-view mirror, watching one of my nephews, when he was much younger than he is now, bopping around in the backseat to "I'm Goin' Down." Bruce is beloved by all ages.

You know what? This post is fun to write. But it's hopeless. I'll never be able to settle on a single Bruce song. I love so many for so many reasons. I'm grabbing each jewel case and flipping it over, thinking perhaps I can pick my favorite from each album. But I can't even do that.

"Red Headed Woman"? Awesome.

The Oscar-winning "Streets of Philadelphia"? Outstanding.

"Cadillac Ranch"? Saucy. (See? So many words already, and I'm just now touching on "The River." There's just too much Bruce goodness!)

"All Or Nothin' At All"? Infectious.

"Badlands," "Adam Raised A Cain," "Prove It All Night," "Darkness On The Edge Of Town"? Those are on one album.

You see my problem.

"She's The One"? You always have to experience that song from the very beginning.

Bruce's re-imagined "Blinded By The Light" from "Live In Dublin" is one of the most outstanding things you'll ever hear.

"Outlaw Pete"? Fabulous.

"The Promise," the two-disc set of the lost sessions from "Darkness On The Edge Of Town"? You have to own that, of course. Though if you're a serious Bruce fan, you'll already own the "box" set, which isn't a box set. The whole release is genius.

So, Aimes, this was an exercise in futility. But it was a fun way to spend some time.

I've never left a Bruce show sorry that he didn't play a certain tune. He always makes sure to give his fans the meat of his catalog and he always dishes up a generous serving of sides. But now with both Danny and Clarence gone, I wonder if he'll tour with a remade version of the E Street Band. Maybe this time, the days of the E Street Band really are over.

But I'm sure Bruce will continue to tour. And I'll continue to go. And he'll never disappoint.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Some Days ...

There are days. And then there are days.

Some days are mundane, which is my own fault, I know.

And some days are sad. I feel like I have a little less power over those. Emotions are pushy bastards. They often get their way.

And then there are days when everything just gels. Not in big ways. The earth does not shatter, minds do not bend, but everything just clicks. Flows. Easy world, my friend Julia would call it. Easy world, indeed.

And today was one of those days. Goodness was everywhere. People helping people. Friends pursuing dreams.

Even in moments of extreme stress for some in my circle, the goodness came from them standing up for themselves and saying, "No more," and not buying into the drama of others for another day.

I like it here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Clarence ...

A couple of years ago, on the phone together, Dave and I watched Bruce perform the halftime show at the Super Bowl with the E Street Band. "You have to see Bruce on this next tour," I told him. "You have to see him perform with the E Street Band. It’s life-changing.”

Dave died, very unexpectedly, just a few days later.

And now the E Street Band will never be the same.

I wondered last night if Bruce will tour again. The band's loss of Danny Federici was great, but Clarence is truly irreplaceable. Bruce may be married to Patti Scialfa, but Clarence was, and will always be, Bruce's other half.

Can you imagine being the musician to try to step into The Big Man's shoes, even with The Boss's blessing?

So perhaps Bruce will tour solo. Or perhaps the E Street Band will once again find its way.

Regardless, while I'm very sad that Clarence is gone, I'm very glad that I had the opportunity to see him perform so many times.

Bruce's reverence for him was evident at every show. And last night, when I heard the news, one of the first Clarence thoughts that came to mind was Bruce's introduction of the band on the "Live in New York City" CD, during "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out," the song, they say, that tells the story of the band.

No one introduces a band like Bruce, and he always saved Clarence for last.

This is the cut. The introduction of Clarence begins at 11:42.

As Bruce asks the crowd, over and over, "Do I have to say his name?"

No, Bruce, you do not.

(If the embedded player doesn't render, the direct link is here.)

I love this striking image of Clarence and Bruce. Their mutual love and admiration was clear in every show.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Lamp, A Lamp, My Kingdom (Such As It Is) For A Lamp ...

My standards may be too high. Or too different. Because I have the damnedest time finding things for my house.

I've lived here coming up on 11 years. I still haven't found a rug for my bedroom. Now, granted, I've mostly stopped looking, and it's not like rugs just present themselves in my path every day, but really? In 11 years of being out and about, a rug hasn't caught my eye? A rug that will work? Nope.

I think I finally settled on FLOR carpet tiles for my TV room, but the FLOR people, bless their creative hearts, keep adding new products. Every catalog that arrives leaves me saying, "Ooh! Maybe these!" (I'm planning on mixing two styles.)

And so my latest home-decor frustration is my search for a lamp to perch upon this table:

Could it be any cooler?

My awesome $5 lamp won't work. It's just a wee bit too tall. (And I have yet to get a shade for it, and the one I was most inclined toward is no longer available, so I guess that wasn't the right shade after all.) And I have searched every lamp-y site I can think of, and keep my eyes open for lamps when I'm out and about.

Clearly, the right lamp is hiding out with my would-be bedroom rug.

I think the problem is in the looking. I didn't plan on buying the awesome table. It just appeared in front of me at my friend Lenore's (now-shuttered) store and I fell in love with it. But I didn't buy it and I didn't buy it and then she announced that she was closing and she marked everything down 25% and then, with a week left, she marked everything else down 30%, and there the table sat, forlornly, in the corner, surely feeling unloved.

So I had to give it a home. I am nothing if not compassionate when it comes to wayward furniture. Why, just yesterday, I saw that a coffee table I like is still for sale on Craigslist and it was all I could do not to call and go get it. I don't really have a place for it (though I suppose it would be happy enough in front of the couch in the basement for the time being), and I will not become one of those people who has to rent a storage locker because they have too much stuff.

So, I let the Craigslist table be. But I really do need a lamp for this table. Any suggestions? You can leave links in the comments and if you point me toward the lamp I buy, I'll totally bake a batch of cookies and send 'em your way!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Customer Is Al- ... Eh, On Second Thought, Screw 'Em ...

We've had a stormy spring, thunder and wind and rain.

Looking out my dining-room window, I can see some branches on the phone lines that run along the back edge of my yard. Big branches. Not wee branches. Dead leaves. Sad.

Being a fan of phone service – and an even bigger fan of DSL – I called AT&T to report the branches on the lines.

I figured AT&T would want to know. I would think that phone lines generally like to be free of debris.

A customer-service rep came on the line after just a few minutes – that was nice – and took my name and address and asked about my problem. I told him that I wanted to let AT&T know about the downed branches.

The gist of his reply was, "Yeah, we don't care."

What he said was something to the effect of, "We haven't had a tree-trimming service for, oh, at least a dozen years."

"I would think AT&T would want to maintain its equipment," I said.

"I apologize," he said.

"You don't need to apologize," I said. (I feel for CSRs. Theirs must be a very thankless job, bearing the brunt of anger in situations they had no hand in creating.) "I've done my due diligence. I've let you know about the problem. If AT&T doesn't care to do anything about it, that's its prerogative."

He thanked me and that was that.

So, given that AT&T doesn't care to address a known situation, I can only surmise that its plan in this instance is to either hope the limbs blow off the lines at some point or wait until the weight of the limbs takes down the lines, at which point I will suddenly be without phone service, and will need to contact the company again to let it know. Isn't that a good plan? Instead of responding to a customer who took the time to alert it to a problem, it would prefer to wait until that proactive customer (who believes she pays too much for phone service, by the way) is inconvenienced and then address the situation.

Gosh, isn't that just super swell?

So much for customer service.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Good Times, June Edition ...

The June cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features sesame seed rings and Roditis-infused, sweetened cream cheese dip, the cookie interpretation of my travel fantasy.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Life As I Know It ...

A week's worth of disruptions have kept me away. I miss it this place. Writing is my therapy, my way to think things through.

But normalcy is creeping back, and bringing with it a renewed appreciation for all those I am blessed to have in my life.

In dark times, the goodness of people shines through.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Makes Beth Happy, June 3 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Say it a few times. It's funny.

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Cream Biscuits

Two ingredients, people! TWO!

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Gen-Lite Rossini Chrome Two-Light Table Lamp with Black Rugate Fabric Shade and Crystal Accents

This lamp is the antithesis of a cream biscuit, but that's what I love about them both! One is super, super simple, humble, modest, and beige. And the other is super, super fancy, the lampy equivalent of a night on the town. Yay, contrast!

Sudden Catharsis ...

Well, well, well, Shania Twain.

Who would have thought we'd have so much in common?

Not that we really have much in common. I didn't record the best-selling country album of all time and I don't have five Grammys and I didn't just get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and I am very surely not married to a handsome, accented man named Fred.

But last night, I was watching the latest episode of "Why Not? with Shania Twain" on my DVR and she said something that went straight to my heart.

She was talking about her fear of performing and said that it doesn't matter if there are five people or 50,000, it's all about the leap.


The fear of performing is all about the leap. It's not as though I can perform for 10 but I can't perform for 100. The crowd doesn't matter, however big or however small. It's the leap.

And I've made the leap, a couple of times, once at an open mic, once as part of a class.

And I make the leap every time I record, though that's less of a leap and more of a little hop because I'm comfortable singing for Brian. I still have shaky first takes – the first pancakes, I call them – but those are more about the time that elapses between sessions and less about singing for him.

But yes, the leap. Everyone has leaps, I know. But there's something about sharing one's artistry, laying bare a part of your soul, knowing it will be judged, that's so, so hard for me. And, clearly, others.

She set out on this journey to find her voice and share her story as a means to inspire others, and for that, I'm grateful.

I've written before about the moment that I stopped singing and finding my voice has been a long, slow climb.

But there surely is comfort in knowing that others are feeling the same way. Even gorgeous, talented, award-winning, rich and famous others. And she is truly talented. I was listening to some samples of her songs last night. (I don't own any of her albums.) And it's refreshing to hear true vocals. So much of what I hear these days is so overproduced, it's almost impossible to hear the singer's voice.

But Shania sings subtly. Anyone can make a lot of noise and sing big. Push enough air and you'll create sound. But it takes a lot of talent and control to sing the way she sings.

Which would explain why she's done so well for herself. And which will make her return to recording and performing all the more triumphant.

I'm rooting for her.

And on a much, much, much smaller scale, I'm rooting for me, too.

Post-It Question ...

Today is Day 4. Today's prompt is from Jenny Blake.

"That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? . . . Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Identify one of your biggest challenges at the moment (ie I don’t feel passionate about my work) and turn it into a question (ie How can I do work I’m passionate about?) Write it on a post-it and put it up on your bathroom mirror or the back of your front door. After 48-hours, journal what answers came up for you and be sure to evaluate them.

Bonus: tweet or blog a photo of your post-it.

So, I won't be writing on this topic for two days, but for those who are wondering, yes, it's bugging Editor Beth that Post-it is either being used generically or is not being capitalized properly. It is also bugging Editor Beth that "ie" is being used (without periods) where e.g. was intended. And that "48-hours" has a hyphen.

Gee, I think I know what I'll be writing on my Post-it Note.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

One Strong Belief ...

Today is Day 3. Today's prompt is from Buster Benson.

"It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

The world is powered by passionate people, powerful ideas, and fearless action. What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family? What inspires this belief, and what have you done to actively live it?

Wow, Buster. That's one hell of a prompt.

And the topic that immediately springs to mind is "religion," but I have purposely never written that post.

And the more I mull, the more I realize that this prompt is a minefield.

What "strong belief" that isn't shared by most in my circle won't inflame someone by my writing about it? A blog doesn't seem like the best place to broach any of those subjects.

I hold views different from others I know. I also don't discuss many of those views with those people, just as I appreciate it that they don't discuss many of their views with me.

Which isn't nearly as ostrich-like as it sounds. Obviously, the topics have been discussed to some degree. Enough for us to understand that our views are very divergent and neither is going to change the other's mind.

Strong beliefs do not arise from weak topics. The best flavor of ice cream, the cutest breed of puppy are not topics that repel us into opposite corners.

But politics and religion? I think it's often best to bite one's tongue. Not with everyone, mind you. I've tested the waters. I know who is up for a spirited discussion and who will not be convinced of any other view.

I've spoken up from time to time, gotten others to stop shopping at certain merchants, pushed recycling, small things.

But on the big things, I mostly stay silent. Often out of respect. One of the staunchest Republicans in my family is in his 80s. He believes what he believes. No amount of argument from me will change his mind. And I love him and I like him, so I let it lie. He doesn't go there. I don't go there. We talk about safe things.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Today ...

Today is Day 2. Today's prompt is from Liz Danzico.

"Your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing. The force of character is cumulative."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

If ‘the voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tracks,’ then it is more genuine to be present today than to recount yesterdays. How would you describe today using only one sentence? Tell today’s sentence to one other person. Repeat each day.

This is my sentence:

Today I reconnected with the essence of myself.