Category Archives: and everything

Sponge Shoes

If it seems to be good to be true, it probably is.

That’s the saying, anyway.

On the other hand (and isn’t there always another hand?), miracles, unexpected, undeserved wonderful things, happen too. If you are intentionally open to minor miracles, as I am, you can mistake too-good-to-be-true for a minor miracle.

I spent about 45 minutes this morning using daughter’s hair dryer to make my new dressy-casual black leather “sponge shoes” comfortable to wear.

They were one of those minor miracles. Just $19.99 at the Bass Outlet Store on Black Friday.

Sponge shoes, you ask?

Yes. It turns out the soles absorb water with extraordinary efficiency and transfer them to my socks with a speed and thoroughness I would have thought impossible. A bit of drizzle in New York and just walking a few blocks on a damp sidewalk and my feet were suddenly and unexpectedly wet.

Ha ha! A more minor miracle than. I’d thought.

How This Happened:

My partner loves shopping and in particular Black Friday. I’d always comfortably hid at home on Black Fridays until we met, and at first absolutely refused to go anywhere near Black Friday madness.

But then we found a win-win solution. There’s a big outlet mall in Edinburgh, Indiana, a little over an hour from where we live. Adjacent to it, just off I-65, are several motels, one of which is virtually in the parking lot. So two Thanksgivings ago, we had dinner at a nice restaurant in Indianapolis, drove down, and checked in to the motel-in-the-parking-lot. he could shop all night, I could sleep.

I did venture out with him for a while, to see what it was like.

And ended up buying shoes and socks (really good socks, too) that would last me a couple of years, at terrific prices.

We did it again this year. And I found these amazing looking black leather loafers at the Bass store on a super clearance for only $19.99!They look great. They fit beautifully. They are wonderfully comfortable.

I wore them for the first time Wednesday night as I performed a chamber music concert at DePauw. I liked them so much I wore them Thursday morning as my only shoes on a pack-light, long-weekend trip to perform and speak at a conference in NY.

Friday there was a very light drizzle in the late afternoon. As I walked a few blocks to a restaurant to meet a friend for dinner, I noticed that the ball of my right foot felt a bit damp. That’s strange, I thought. These are new shoes. I know there’s no hole in the soles. After dinner, we walked a few blocks to a concert. Both feet felt damp.

I hadn’t stepped in a puddle. The sidewalks were just damp. It was drizzle, not rain. By the time I made back to my daughter’s apartment in Harlem, my feet were wet.

I was going to buy some other shoes Saturday, since it was raining again. I met a friend for a late lunch, then others for a group drink. In between a haircut with my favorite NY barber. Somewhere along the way, I got used to the wet feet. There seemed to be a certain limit to the transfer of moisture.

I toughed it out. Dried the shoes this morning, and it was dry all day. I love these shoes today.

Maybe that’s the latest minor miracle.

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Getting Over “Gymtimidation”: How I Did It

It’s quite remarkable, and in some ways unfortunate: I can sit on an airplane and post things on the Internet. I subscribe to a monthly service, Boingo (the focus groups that led to that name must have been quite something), which must be charging some account of mine somewhere a monthly fee, and it turns out it gets me Internet access not only in a number of airports but also on Delta. So even here, after 10:00PM, a mile or so above Pennsylvania, I imagine, I am not free.

My daughter and I were watching television for a while, taking a little break from from the truly extraordinary views from our corner “junior” suite in the Millenium Hilton, and an ad for Platnet Fitness came on. A shy woman sat wrapped in a towel, while other women in tight spandex workout clothes talked to each other about how hot they were. “Break free of gymtimidation !” the ad offers. “It’s not a gym, it’s Planet Fitness.”

“Gymtimidation.” I love it. Turns I’m not the only one–the spot has been written up in the NY Times and other places.

This ad is aimed at women, obviously, but it will echo for many men.

I think I may actually have something resembling post-traumatic stress disorder, so humiliated and shamed was I by failing all but the sit-up portion of the Presidential Physical Fitness Tests in fourth grade, getting picked after some of the girls for games in elementary-school phys-ed games, and the subsequent humiliations and harassments.

I was the worst tormentor of all, I now realize. I bought into the idea that a boy’s worth was based on how muscular and athletic he was. I believed I was seriously defective as a person and as a male because of my, well, condition. And through a combination of hopelessness and laziness I didn’t do anything about it, like exercise or really try to get better at sports.

My “exercise365” project, which I mentioned in my last post (with all this Internet time on an airplane and two days ago most of a day in the Minneapolis airport, I seem to have taken up blogging again), in which I’m doing some form of exercise every day, is part of my adult self healing the little boy who hung on the pull-up bar, unable to hoist himself up. I started it with no goals other than to get more energy, release some stress, help out my blood sugar, and hopefully ward off Alzheimer’s Disease, which has turned my mother into a cheerful lady with a toddler’s vocabulary, and which I diagnose myself with regularly.

Amazingly, I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m beyond “gymtimidation,” where I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks about my body, and where I’m realizing that people really don’t care all that much about it anyway. So I’m quite comfortable going into the the Fitness Center at the university where I teach, and lifting lighter weights than the college guys.

I’ve made earlier forays into exercise. 25 years ago I was swimming regularly; when I got busy with work and a new child I got out of the habit. I’d gotten over my gymtimidation then, but it had come back by the time started working out seriously about 2000 or 2001. I remember being immensely uncomfortable going to work out with weights–something I’d never done much of–when I started a “transformation” program called Body for Life. I got over it then, too.

Once again I stuck with it for quite a while, many months in fact. I lost about 40 pounds, and my doctor was really impressed with my spectacular blood-sugar and lipid levels. Feeling too busy, I cut back and, oops, got out of the habit all together. It happens to a lot of people.

There was something more. It was that I still felt there was something wrong with my body. That it was inferior. I felt it needed to look a certain way, lean and muscular. And the more I worked on it, the further I felt I was from it. I’d weigh myself, I’d look in the mirror, and I just hated what I saw. The striving made the body-image problems worse. I just didn’t know to recognize that that’s what was going on. So I stopped hitting my head against the wall, so to speak.

Finally, a little over two years ago, I was on sabbatical in NY, and from the window of my room I could see people running on treadmills and working out on elliptical machines in the windows of the NYSC gym up Broadway a block. I was had teacher’s burnout and caretaker’s burnout, and was thoroughly exhausted and depressed. So I went in and joined.

I knew I might not go regularly. And I knew I had to do something. I’d had a session with a terrific personal trainer, Chris Fernandez, and I bought a very expensive package of training sessions with him–expensive enough that it would really hurt if I didn’t show up for one.

All my body issues came up. Especially because I was burned out and depressed. By now, though, with even more therapy under my belt, I knew what was going on. So I just told Chris everything. And he’d just listen, non-judgmentally, and gently encourage me.

After a while, I was feeling a lot better (and in a lot better shape). When the dark clouds had lifted, I told Chris, and he got tougher with me and pushed me harder.

When I got back from my sabbatical, I kept up the running I’d taken up. Weight lifting or other strength training I let slip. By the time January 1, 2013 came around, I realized I needed more energy and that my weight was creeping up.

So I made a commitment, inspired by Michael Moore’s walking every day for 30 minutes, to do some kind of exercise every day this year. Something Moore wrote really clicked for me. it was about walking every day to feel better, not walking to lose weight or look better–even though those things happened as by-products.

It’s not about “getting better.” It’s about not trying to get better. It’s just participating in a process. And it has been tremendously liberating.

I went back to the gym without the old intimidation feelings being triggered. And without the “there’s something wrong with my body [and therefore me] and I need to fix it [and thereby me]” crap going on. It’s been quite fun.

Sometimes I slip into comparing my body to those of others, or getting mad at myself for not having reached an impossible ideal. But I recognize it and can step out of that internal quagmire.

And I have lost some weight. And I do have more energy.

And as of today, I’ve done some kind of exercise every day for 69 days. Not bad.

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Filed under and everything, exercise, exercise365, Uncategorized, weight loss

To Blog, to Tweet, or to Facebook?

When I first started blogging, which I think was in 2005, it was new and exciting and a great way to connect with people. My inspiration was a series of sabbatical trips to New York, and I wrote about my experiences going to concerts. Once back to full-time teaching, the pace dropped off. Two years ago, I was living in NY on my next sabbatical, and wrote again about going to concerts. The blog had some brief popularity; I’d meet people in NY new-music circles and they’d say things like, “Oh, you’re a writer,” and “I read your blog.”

“Life, the cello, and everything,” I originally subtitled the blog, which migrated from Blogger to WordPress and became my temporary website. I’d gone through various phases of frequent writing–often when I have time on my hands–and infrequent writing (when I’m busy or depressed or both).

When I write here, it usually takes some thought. Very often it’s an internal wrestling match, because ideas form while I write and they don’t present themselves in a nice linear fashion. It’s all twisted and turned and convoluted and I’m not sure what I’m trying to say.

The short life-and-everything sorts of things that I would post on the blog now go on Facebook (I only decline FB requests from what appear to be fake people who have no friends; often there’s a photo of a pretty young woman with a foreign name, and I know it’s someone fishing in the wrong pool). I tried Twitter out for a while, and occasionally I go through a bit of a Twitter burst–once again, when I have time on my hands, especially too much of it.

When I write here, it gets posted on Facebook and Twitter automatically. It’s interesting to see that blogging, unless it’s serious reporting or extensive commentary, seems almost anachronistic. I’d tell a young performer she needs a great Facebook fan page and Twitter account long before a blog, and maybe doesn’t even need a blog.

I’m involved in a big personal project, one that’s been going on for over two months. I post about it on Facebook every day–that’s actually part of the project–but I’ve never been moved to write about it here. Facebook has taken over a lot of what I used to blog about.

The project, exercising (heavy or light, but something) every day in 2013, is something I want to make more public. Where a few years ago my immediate response would have been to start a new blog or website, right now I’m thinking more about a Facebook page or group and a Twitter feed. Times change, I guess.

If you have read this far, you have probably deduced that I have too much time on my hands today. Yep! I’m having a nice long break in an airport, courtesy of snowy weather in New York.

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“Whirled Drumming”

Here’s a great way to start your day.  I’d love to know the back story behind how this kid developed his washing-machine virtuosity.  Also interesting to see that it’s gone from about 1000 views to over a million in a couple of weeks.

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Adventures in Customer (Non) Service

Marketing, business, and entrepreneurship: they’ve always fascinated me.

My dad’s dad, Hugo, after having worked a bit as a lumberjack, eventually became a stock boy in a “dry goods” store, then a traveling salesman, and finally a department store buyer.  He loved to tell me stories about sales deals and marketing triumphs.

His favorite, I think, was when he bought so much of a certain fabric for the J. L. Hudson company that he told the marketing/advertising people that it would stretch all the way from the downtown Detroit Hudson building to the Detroit Zoo, which, two miles north of Detroit, was miles away.  They made a newspaper ad showing the fabric stretching from the iconic building to a giraffe holding the other end (I’m trying to find the image).

For years I’ve read a lot about these subjects, and now, as I’ve begun teaching entrepreneurship classes and am particularly interested in how classically-trained musicians can actually make money, my interest level has zoomed.

Dan Kennedy, who I first heard at a marathon, multi-speaker event years ago, writes often in his compnay’s newsletter about many topics, including customer service. He often points out how salespeople and servers can mess up a business–or make it.

On a weekend trip, I’ve been particularly aware of the service I have and haven’t experienced.  I’ll blow off a little steam–and there are some lessons musicians can draw from all this.

High-end (for this area) restaurant, inexperienced server: My $30 steak comes with potato or rice, but they won’t substitute a green vegetable (I can order one as a side dish).  I teasingly push the waitress a bit, so see if she can do something.  “That seems kind of cheap to me,” I say with a smile.  “Oh, well, you know that vegetables are more expensive than, like fries,” she explains in a somewhat patronizing tone.  It irritated me.  First, it seems like a counter-productive policy, because a baked potato loaded with butter and sour cream can’t be that much more expensive than some spinach or broccoli, and why in a place where with appetizer, drinks, etc., easily run $100/person would you not want to make people happy? Well, whatever.  It did get me wondering how I’d train servers to handle someone cranky about the policy better than this one did.

Huge music electronics complex: Outside the city I’m visiting is the extraordinary campus of one of the biggest sellers of electronics for musicians. Retail store, warehouse, teaching spaces, café, atrium, auditorium, arcade, even mini-mini golf.  I never saw anything like it.  There’s even a gym, which I assume is for employees.

I want to buy a portable digital recorder (to replace one that died), and a new pickup mic for my cello(s) (again, to replace one that died).  This firm, which has a strong online presence, has higher prices than online discounters. What they promote is knowledgeable salespeople who will give you advice and steer you in the right direction.  So I decided to go there and pay more than I would online just to have good service.

A receptionist directs my boyfriend and I to the retail store.  A salesperson, posted at a desk with an iMac, greets us and I explain what I am in the market for.

“Do you know what model you want to buy?”  No.  That’s why I came here, to get some help.  She asks me what I’ll use it for.  I explain I’m a classical and improvising cellist, and want something to record workshops I give, using the recorder’s own mics, and that I can connect microphones to.  She shows me a Tascam, one of two units on top of a display rack.

I ask her if it has phantom power (which powers the microphones).

“No it doesn’t,” she tells me.

I look at the box.  It says there is phantom power, and I point that out.

“Oh.”  She frowns.

“Well, what I meant was that someone else bought one and plugged in mics with quarter-inch plugs and phantom power doesn’t work for that.  You have to use XLR connections.”  OK, now, inadvertently, she’s told me not only that she’s confused but also that I must look like someone who, although I asked about phantom power, doesn’t know how it works.

“How’s the recording quality of the microphones?” I ask, moving on.

“I think it’s supposed to be pretty good.” Yep, that’s going to sell me.

There’s one other model, a Zoom, on display, at a big sales price.  It doesn’t do everything I want, but I love deals, and it does some sort of surround sound recording, which would be great in workshops.  So I look at that box, and she goes to check on pickup mics.  I can already tell she doesn’t know anything about them.

She comes back to tell me they don’t have any cello pickups, which I find hard to believe.  Maybe she’s searched the wrong way: what she’s done is to look on the website, on a big iMac out in the lobby.  Hoping that somehow she might understand me (I guess I just wanted to tell somebody), I tell her I have a Fishman pickup which I’ve found doesn’t work so well with Belgian bridges, and that I had a Realist pickup which was great (until it died, or more accurately was killed by a student), but I want to use it with multiple cellos and of course the Realist goes under a foot of the bridge.

She gives me a blank look, and searches their website for violin mics.

She shows me a photo of a plastic gadget that attaches to the side of a violin to hold a mic. “Would that help you?”  No, I don’t think so.

I ask about other models of digital recorders. She looks on the web, and tells me they have some other ones available online that aren’t in the retail store.  She leaves me at the computer, on which there are multiple open windows, including someone’s email, to look at the online reviews.

I learn a few things (from the reviews, not the email, which I did not browse!).

Then, since I’m shopping online anyway, I pull out my iPhone and compare prices with the Amazon app.  (I couldn’t bring myself to use their computer to look at Amazon.)  Everything is much less expensive.  Here my experience has been one of pleasant non-guidance. Why should I pay $40 extra for the privilege of telling the sales person that the one unit does have phantom power?

“I’m going to think about it,” I tell her, and we leave.

The hotel: Well, actually a motel.  Once we are back from not buying a recorder or microphone, I spend 30 minutes running on the treadmill and end up very sweaty.  Since we’d gotten up late, I figure our towels will still be damp, so I go to the front desk.  The clerk gets off the phone and I ask for two bath towels.  She asks for my room number and puts it on a Post-it note.  “If you come back in 15 minutes, they’ll be here on the desk for you,” she tells me with a smile.  Unlike earlier, I’m not annoyed, just amused.  “But I want to take a shower now,” I say, smiling back. “Oh. I’ll be right back.  She grabs a key, and in 45 seconds is back with the towels.

This morning:

10:00 AM: knock at the door.  “Housekeeping!”  “We’re still here, I yell from the bed.”

10:45 AM: knock at the door. “Housekeeping!” “We’re here,” I call.  “Do you need service today?” “No, we’re checking out.”

11:12 AM: knock at the door. Actually, really aggressive knocking.  “Housekeeping!” This time I go to the door.  “We haven’t check out yet,” I explain.  “Well, checkout time was 11:00 AM!” How do I describe the tone? It’s when someone is angry, trying to seem nice.  Contempt and accusation masked with a smile.  “Well, we’re still here,” I point out.

I call the front desk and ask for a  12:00, hey, better make that 12:30, checkout.  “Sure, no problem.”  And she’ll try to tell housekeeping.

12:15 PM  We are out.  And hungry.  There’s a Bob Evans, and it’s jammed.  Across the street, we find Willy’s Cozy Nook. Seated right away.  A great waitress who keeps the coffee and water filled, laughs at my jokes, massages my shoulders, and is amazed at the video of the sword swallower at last night’s downtown Busker Fest.  Great omelet.  They happily fill my big plastic cup with ice water.  I tell the waitress I’ve had this run of customer-service experiences and how much i appreciated her skill.  She gives me a knowing and understanding look.  All these undertrained kids who mean well–we get each other.

“Honey, I’ve been at this for 45 years.  I know a thing a two about it.” She gives me a sincere smile. Tells me her name and that I can ask for her next time.  “It’s always nice to be thanked,” she says, and reaches out her hand.

I take it.

And I know the one place I will definitely be back to.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations.  I’m filing this under “audience building” (and just noticed that “audience is misspelled in my category list) because for every individual artist and for every arts organization, it’s all about the relationship you have with your audience, with your fans, your friends, your followers.  It’s about the experience they have when they interact with you.

So I’m asking myself:

When am I the waitress who explains vegetables are more expensive than fries to a customer ready to spend a a lot of money?

When am I the salesperson who gives wrong information about a product and puts the customer on a computer to look things up?

When am I the desk clerk who doesn’t infer that the sweat-soaked resident asking for bath towels probably needs them right then?

And when am I the experienced, friendly waitress doing a great job, truly taking care of people, and in an engaging yet unobtrusive way?



Filed under and everything, audeince building, Uncategorized

“I was happy the one time I played for an audience.”

My ex-wife (and best friend) sits across from me in the living room, crying.

“I wanted to help him so much.”

The elderly man had come to her for a violin lesson.  Before he died, he told her, he just wanted to get better at playing the instrument.  But now his hands were shaking so much from his chemotherapy that he couldn’t play that day. So they just talked about his violin and his life.  “I’m not going to have a another treatment.  My body can’t take it.”  He’d play at the next lesson.

Quicker than anyone expected, he passed away.  No violin lesson.

His daughter asked her to play at the funeral.  “Edelweiss,” his favorite song.  Allison has picked a solo Bach movement, too, one in a major key that feels to her like his spirit.

She looks at me, over our morning cups of coffee.  “His daughter says she asked him when he was truly happy.  ‘The one time I played in front of an audience, when I was a child.'”

The one time he played for an audience.

It’s a Buddhist funeral.  Maybe he believed in reincarnation.  Some of my mystical/spiritualist friends do, for sure, and sometimes I sense that on some unseen energy level they may be right.

“Maybe he came to meet you in this lifetime and will study violin in the next,” I tell her.  “Look for him a few years from now, when you’re starting a three or four year old.”

He or she will be that enthusiastic, happy one.  Finally doing in one lifetime what he was born to do in the last.

I hope that’s true.

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Tears in My Eyes (the SCOTUS AHA affirmation)

Tears came to my eyes.

Doesn’t happen very often: a U. S. Supreme Court decision that makes me cry.  I’ve known so many people who haven’t been able to get health insurance, heard of people who have been dropped by their insurance, etc.  Absolute catastrophes.

And people who hang on to jobs they don’t like–jobs which need people who are enthusiastic about them to be done well–in order to keep health insurance for themselves and their families.

I have an individualist, libertarian streak; a function, I think, of the rugged-individualist tradition in American life and reading lots and lots of Ayn Rand–at times fanatically–when I was in my early twenties.  In some areas, the truth is that we are all in this together.

I’m sure there are many things that can be improved over time with various aspects of the Affordable Healthcare Act.  I look forward to the process playing itself out.

For now, I’m grateful to everyone who made this possible, and for everyone who will benefit from this.

(And I celebrated by washing my kitchen floor!  Which happens about as often as Chief Justice Roberts siding with the liberal wing of the Supreme Court.)

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