Saturday, November 30, 2019

November Reign

It occurred to me Thursday, having stayed up all night after a late gig, facing the massive cooking-marathon with equal parts of anticipation and dread, that I hated Thanksgiving as a child.  I don't have those warm Kodak-memories of family and holiday cheer.  Like most children, I didn't particularly care about food, especially unfamiliar things.  Even playdates, besides beloved milk and cookies, brought strange smells and styles of cooking that made me customize schedules to exclude mealtimes.  Family structure in those days was rigid; parents forced children to eat, made few concessions to aversions and allergies.  We sat at table and absorbed dysfunction without having the skills or permission to process these dynamics.

How things have changed... mothers and fathers seem super attentive to their kids' food preferences.  They experiment and compete.  Even the cooking shows on the Food Channel have under-12 contestants who can not only prepare but know about food chemistry and cuisine.  In the 1950's we had unsophisticated palates.  My mother became a better chef as time went on, and lunch progressed from grilled velveeta-cheese to salads and wider nutritional choices, but our childhood food experiences were limited.

Thinking back, most Thanksgivings were at our aunt's.. not our 'blood-aunt' but one of those women in my parents' circle that we referred to that way.  She had her actual relatives crammed into an expanded dining dais-arrangement that was always uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking.  One of her sisters was super fat and had married a blind man; my sister would make weird faces at him and whisper to me that he can't see her anyway, but I was halfway between suppressed giggling and actual fear of his disability.  I hated the food.  Rolls were safe.  Milk.  Even the pie was awful.  Back then my mother would sometimes let me have a peanut-butter sandwich before we left.  And it wasn't the food-- I just wanted to leave, to go up to my cousin's room and look at her strange dolls and books.  To go home-- back to my little easels and looms and library.  My lair.

Once I reached teenage years, I could do volunteer work-- serve at the local shelter, cook for the poor and sick; this was a relief.  During college, these holidays were for reuniting with old mates-- for football, for some-- the meaning changes.  Newly married, I wanted my British husband to experience American tradition-- despite the fact that I had to invent mine since most of my extended family had 'fallen out' by this time from divorce or petty dramas.  And once my son was born, well.. I reinvented the day for him-- there was the Wednesday night visit to the inflating of the floats, then the parade... and I learned to cook turkey and host my musical families with joy.  I'm an adult now, I repeated over and over when my own family began to leave us out of their inner-sanctum invitations.  Me the single Mom-- perpetually hung over from lack of sleep and late-night gigs-- the annual Hendrix tribute foremost on my mind every late November; I checked the Head-of-Household box on my tax return and appreciated the one perk of being a sole parent.

For a time in the 90's and early 2000's, my annual dinners were all-night parties; I hosted people who hated their families, European transplants who simply enjoyed the food, my son's friends who escaped their own dinners, strays and band members.  My house was full and my cooking skills impressed even me.  There was music... there was joy and great conversation.

This year, for the first time in decades, there was no Hendrix tribute.  There is no more BB King's; Iridium closes down before 10 PM... even the Cutting Room seemed not welcoming.  I struggled to find the motivation to plan a dinner.  So many friends have been ill, have lost family members and parents, lost their personal mojo to the crushing daily reality of Trumped America; the holiday reminder of an increasingly distant past and pending future isolation grows a little more palpable.  My son's relationships are in flux; many of his closest friends are married and have started their own families.

My usual guests have seemed less enthusiastic than in the past.  I have dropped a couple of them along with the more challenging dishes-- the sweet-potato/green-apple casserole which requires hours of prep-- the pies.  I still do a huge turkey with my well-loved stuffing-- the cranberry, the other fixings... my building staff waits patiently for their plate-- my son eats up a storm, but my own enthusiasm has shifted.  I keep diagnosing the start of this as the 2016 post-election shock.  It's hard to believe that by next November we will have chosen again, god-willing we are able to survive one more year and have the collective sense to do something about this.

Nevertheless, this was the smallest table in a long time.  I didn't even bother changing into my traditional dress.  We sat and enjoyed one another at an intimate meal, and I finished clean-up at a reasonable hour.  Of course there are a few days' worth of leftovers and sharing, an extra reason for my son to come uptown and help me with my Christmas tree... but the shift in time is apparent.  Maybe I will have grandchildren before long and these traditions will regain their magic.  I'm not sure.  Watching this cartoon president pretend to honor the confused military ranks certainly took the air out of our Thanksgiving balloons.

I thought this year about the 1963 holiday-- how profoundly, post-assassination, our world had changed... how in 2001 I felt so conscientious about giving and appreciating, about generosity and post-9/11 understanding... the second generational loss-of-innocence for us baby-boomers: we re-set  our sense of compassion... humility, humanity.  But Thursday night the football game was blaring from the back room-- nothing on my turntable; halfway through eating I realized we hadn't lit the candles.  And just this morning, on the last day of a sad month, I can't seem to recall saying my usual Thanksgiving grace.  Amen, November.

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Thursday, November 21, 2019


I began this blog in early 2007.  I'd been ghost-writing cd reviews for a time, pretending to be a cynical teenaged harsh critic of music, and a British 'zine was paying a bit for my wallfly's-view of the post-mortem New York City scene-- the death of culture as we knew it, and some personal venting pieces.  The 'zine was bought out by some online publisher and by the time euros converted to pounds then dollars, I actually owed my bank for the wire.

A friend of mine at the time suggested I enter the online word-army: you'll catch like wildfire, she assured me, and before you know it you'll have book-deals and industry followers.  So here I am... I began with a bit more humor, ended up pleasing myself occasionally, accumulating readers-- sharing on Facebook-- peaking out at something like 1,000-1,200 a month.  No, I did not allow advertisements or cheap add-ons.  It's clean-- no web-pollution nor even the stock self-promotion and hyper-links I am constantly advised to weave in.  I sat down and fired off every two weeks or so.  I felt briefly 'completed'.  For close friends it was like one of those newsletters of which you send multiples at Christmas, but more frequent.  They could 'check-in' at their leisure.

This month, after a few early-November flashes of inspiration, I've been dragging my feet here.  I have always used myself-- my brutally honest self-- to gauge the barometric reading of the general public.  Admittedly,  I can almost feel the cold shoulder of viewers and on the rare occasions I check analytics, there are days where they log single-digit site visitors.  It is not lack of audience but the sense that I am burdening my readers with an adult version of homework.  Admittedly, my early pieces were more like stand-up routines-- funny and a little cruel; anonymity was the signature and I slogged quite a few mud-pies behind the disguise, to my own amusement.

Now I'm quite the confessed author of these 320 posts.  I own them, for better or worse.  They've become personal and emotional-- autobiographical and adult.  My life bleeds through the pores of these essays; perhaps it is the winding-down of my activity-career, the increasing ratio of rumination to action that has slowed their trajectory. Maybe they are simply weighted by this elephant of aging that has dogged so many of my old partners-in-crime and turned them from stage-divers to front-porch rockers.

Between the impeachment hearings, the democratic debates, the million-billion television offerings, mountainous piles of even decent literary output and journalism-- there are not enough seconds to eat, breathe, have a coffee... let alone pursue the kind of human drama that used to propel us.  My family has grown up or died off; I have few obligations there, but many friends who have become needy and solitary.  Our days, as my peers well know, seem to fly by; I am far less efficient and rarely make it through my lists.  I am easily side-tracked and actually enjoy the distractions of phone calls from ex-husbands, high-school classmates; I listen to the gossip of neighbors and the petty heartaches of schoolgirls.

Incidentally, the friend who suggested this blog turned out to be a lying drug-user whose sobriety I'd defended in court.  She was not only a husband-swindler but a pathological kind of manipulator who when I quietly distanced, inserted herself in my own family and created all kinds of bizarre twisted scenarios.  Needless to say, her prediction suffered the same fate.  She, I'm certain, has reinvented herself and managed to use the internet and the 'industry' for her own monetary gain.  Not so the victims of her treachery.  No worries, as my son and his generation reply to almost anything from an excuse to an apology to a car crash.

Will anyone miss me if I delete myself from this site?  If I propel myself into obsolescence, or simply extinguish the tiny LED match-flame that has become a bi-monthly stop-off for a dwindling few?  This year has been tiring; perhaps I am just weighted with the reality that my enthusiastic little projects receive little remuneration-- that I must hire marketing specialists in order to see my investments returned, that there is a formula:  You must pay to play, my dear...  when I thought that people would simply come-- even a few... and it would be all right.

No one promises anything in this life... it's not that I'm disappointed-- we're well beyond that.  It's just that I feel apologetic simply posting these things, and the last thing I need, in this phase of my life, is to be sorry to any version of 'public'-- to 'beg' for audience, as people do-- to Instagram myself onto some stage where people have agreed in advance to applaud.

So forgive me if I fail my commitment here; nearly 13 years is respectable... and it could be a phase; it could just be the moon or the cloud-cover that prevents me from observing tonight's meteor shower-- me who looks for signs on sidewalks and hears melodies in train wheels, who feels tonight as though I'm merely exercising some writer's muscle and occupying stagnant space rather than shooting across someone's horizon like a star. Maybe it's okay to just close your eyes.

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