When to request a wizard on live radio

Two years ago this evening, my husband (who was then a lowly fiance) and I called up the host of Pyramid Power!, a monthly radio show that broadcasts on WGXC 90.7-FM, a community station based in New York’s Greene and Columbia counties.

Man and woman inside green pyramid

Pyramid Power! in action

The show is great—full, as its show page promises, of “amplified thought forms,” “sounds from this planet and others,” and “space news and self-help.”

But the reason we dialed its digits that April night was not (solely) to profess our love for radio programming well done. It was to ask the esteemed host of Pyramid Power!, one Sarah Van Buren, to be our wedding officiant. Except that’s not exactly how we put it. I know because I saved the script we wrote so we wouldn’t choke on the air!

Unison: Sarah!
April: This is your friends April and Arthur in Brooklyn!
Arthur: We’re calling to say that we love Pyramid Power!
April: And that, as you know, we’re getting married in Hudson this October, which is very exciting!
Arthur: And we’re thinking about our ceremony, and realizing that it isn’t a job for a priest
April: or a rabbi
Arthur: or a justice of the peace
April: or even a Love Boat captain
Unison: We need a WIZARD!!!
April: A wizard who will sanctify our cosmic adventure
Arthur: and unite us by the power invested in the pyramid!
April: So, we’re not asking for you to reply now, BUT!
Unison: Would you be our wedding wizard???!!!
Arthur: We’ll take our answer off the air! <3 <3 <3

You can hear bits of it here, starting at about 1:25:00. We are happily squished between some Constance Demby space bass and Led Zeppelin’s “In The Light,” but you’ll get the drift.

We asked Sarah to marry us for many reasons. I’ve known her since I was her Resident Assistant in the Arlington dorm at Emerson College back in the ’90s. Since then, we’ve taken part in uncountable adventures, both together and together in spirit, including unprepared car camping in California:

Woman outdoors with plastic bag hat

dance parties galore:

Woman in black dancing in red makeup

and at least one Polar Bear swim on New Year’s day:

People smiling on a beach

 

After Hurricane Sandy, I biked some peanut butter sandwiches down to Coney Island and followed Sarah around while she photographed the wreckage. When she was working at a gourmet food store in Brooklyn and I also had a shite-paying job, she’d hide their day-old bread in a paper bag near Prospect Park and text me so I could pick it up. We’ve been to Trees of Mystery together, we’ve had blue margaritas with her family on Easter together. We’ve ridden the Skunk Train and cried over breakups and once she decorated this Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’77 LP exclusively for my birthday:

Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '77 record album

On top of all that, she rides a motorcycle.

She has gravitas.

And she knows how to, as the Germans say, make party.

Sarah first met Arthur at an old apartment of mine, shortly before she moved to Wales for a while. In him, she recognized a fellow devout music-head. He still remembers her dazzling hand gestures. I felt so happy that day, and remain so grateful, that these two impeccable people are two of my best friends, and that they also see the genius in each other.

To our great thrill that night in April 2016, Sarah immediately granted Arthur’s and my wedding request, over a cacophony of mutually delighted cackles. Six months later, dressed in head-to-toe wizard regalia, she joined us in holy matrimony in a 19th-century steel forge and foundry.

But not before she had led some of our guests in a pre-wedding pose of some mystical import:

People balancing on one foot in a circle

Was it Pyramid Power?

Isn’t it always?

To bee or not to bee (hint: it’s the first one)

UPDATE: Our bees got us in The New York Times! Happy to have gotten my 15 minutes of fame with a box of bees on my back.


The trouble began three years ago this June, when I wrote a blog post for a client about a couple of fun-loving guys from Pennsylvania who’d endeavored to disrupt beekeeping.

This was not a joke! They built a modular honeybee hive called BEEcosystem that combined the visibility of a classic observation hive (the kind you might see at a science fair) with the workability of a classic Langstroth hive (the kind you see dotting the idyllic, sheep-fuzzy farm in your dreams).

Langstroth beehives in a field of lavendar

Thanks for the idyll, Homesteading.com!

It was cool. I enjoyed the fact that the hive’s inventors wanted people to know about and care about and see bees—these excellent creatures who are responsible for producing much of our food, and who offer us interesting ideas about our own behavior and habits. I also just liked that it was a wooden hexagon that hangs on the wall. That’s a good look.

But if you had told me that in the winter of 2018, my husband and I would make the nutty late-night decision to order a BEEcosystem and start shelling out hundreds of dollars for beekeeping classes, specialty accoutrement with names like “veils” and “smokers,” and (yes, this is how they do it) a three-pound package of LIVE BEES, well.

I would totally have believed you.

There is a LOT to know about keeping bees. (Did I think there wouldn’t be?!) We rushed out and got our copy of Beekeeping for Dummies, enrolled in a daylong beekeeping primer, and have been checking hourly to see when the UPS man is going to pull up with our booty so we can start officially freaking out.

The class was very informative, and enjoyable, led as it was by Andrew Coté, who I have come to understand is something of a giant in this world. He’s one of the main humans behind Andrew’s Honey, the New York City Beekeepers Association, and Bees Without Borders. This is him last Saturday, with the first slide he presented:

Andrew Cote beekeeping class slide projection

At least he was honest about what we’re in for!

Other highlights of the day included this slide that features his father next to a swarm of bees engulfing a statue’s head in the sculpture garden at MoMA:

Bee swarm engulfing head of statue

And the live smoker demo fellow beekeeper Flynn gave us in Columbus Circle:

Man with bee smoker

In reality, the class was much more substantive than these photos suggest. I suppose it’s just that nothing can prepare you a hundred percent for taking on a hardcore hobby like keeping bees. You just have to leap in—preferably veil on.

Ow!

A brush with vegan greatness

Last night, Arthur and I celebrated Valentine’s Day a day early—because even vegetarian restaurants are booked hella far ahead for V-Day in Brooklyn!

We settled on Modern Love in Williamsburg, purveyors of “swanky vegan comfort food.” Not only did this restaurant’s name scream Valentine’s Day, but our excellent realtor and friend Alison McQueen had given us a Modern Love gift card to say congrats after we closed on our house last year (thanks again, Alison!). The stars seemed to be aligning.

Vegan cheese plate with fruit, cocktail, and flower

Part 1: Into the (nut cheese) void*

We walked in to find the place abuzz with well-dressed veg-heads.

We opened our menus and found approximately two dozen mouthwatering choices.

And then, We Saw Her.

“Hey—by the host stand in the black overalls. Do you think that’s…?” Arthur asked me.

“Holy crikey! Maybe!” I replied, craning my neck.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz is the brains (and at least some of the brawn) behind such legendary acts of veganism as Post Punk KitchenVeganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World—as well as Modern Love, which also has an Omaha location (of course).

Woman with glasses holding a plate of food in a restaurant

Our lady in the flesh!

We were giddily discussing the possible implications of sharing a thousand-square-foot space with this mythical woman when the colorful fruit and cheese plate pictured above was set down on our table by none other than… the Notorious ICM herself!

While we blinked alternately at the plate and up at her, she explained each cheese and cracker variety to us (including their homemade Cheez-Its). When she was done, I ventured:

“Um, are we having a celebrity sighting right now?”

She looked at us, and with delicious deadpan, said:

“Yup, I’m Sarah Silverman.”

Then she walked back to the kitchen.

Isa, we love you even more now.

 

*Sorry, folks—that’s an inside joke with the Arthur-man. Happy Valentine’s, my sweet!

Faces of Work

In my experience, what we might call the architecture of work is not the same for freelancers as it is for full-time employees of organizations. The idea—and the doing—of work hang differently on a sole proprietor’s frame than they do on a company’s. For one thing, when you’re on your own, it’s your job to build the frame itself—as well as to make whatever you’re going to fill in with!

Powersuit Making Workshop at the Wassaic Art Festival 2012

Maybe you’ll make a powersuit!

When you start out to work for yourself, there is no path or plan ahead of you. There is no preexisting ladder to climb or maze to figure out: you have to make your own goals and your own route to reach them. There are no preordained titles to aspire to: you have to decide what you want to be called. There are no rules to chafe against: if the company culture sucks at You LLC, it’s YOU who has to change!

Woman standing in a green garden with a rake

Sarah, YOU should never change! You’re great.

These and many other aspects of work have been on my mind lately. Simultaneously, I’ve recently found myself captivated by others’ musings on work. Rather than try to deduce whether the chicken or the egg came first, I’ll just share two perspectives that have most recently tugged at my brain-strings.

Blonde woman with sewing machine

Another Sarah tugs at another type of strings.

  • “The Spirit of Work” by Marie Corelli. The variously regarded English novelist and mystic touches on lots of potent themes in this fin de siècle essay, such as the attitude of the worker determining the quality of the work; the weirdness of humans trying to elevate and separate themselves from the brilliant workings of nature; the notion that the having of love makes anything easy and the lack of it makes anything hard; the recommendation that everyone should learn a trade as part of their education; the misuse of the word “common” as an insult; and the fact that “‘gentlemen’ are not made by position, but by conduct.”
     
    Man holding cup on roof

    Neil T is a gentleman whether he’s working or working it

    Among many other gems (and some hyperbole I am actually not down with, such as basically suggesting that people never take a day off), Corelli also invokes Goethe, whose “inspiring lines should animate the mind and brace the energies of every worker :—.

    ‘Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute,
    Whatever you can do, or dream you can—begin it;
    Boldness has genius, power, magic in it;
    Only engage,—and then the mind grows heated;
    Begin!—and then the work will be completed.’ ”

    If that doesn’t get you jazzed to do something, perhaps you would feel more at home in the company of the “toadies, time-servers, and hypocrites of the community” whom Corelli depicts as crawling “before a trumpery ‘title’ as abjectly as a beaten cur trails its body along in the dust under the whip of its master.” Dang, girl! Sing it. Nice use of “trumpery,” too.

    Woman opening bottle of wine while camping

    Cynthia has never committed trumpery in her life.

  • Jerry Seinfeld interviewed by David Remnick. A century or so after Corelli, top-tier funny guy Seinfeld dropped such interesting insights about work during this exchange that I listened to it all the way through twice. When Remnick asked him what made him think he could be a comedian, he said:
    .
     ………“The truth is, I really didn’t think that I could. And I didn’t really care whether I could or I couldn’t. I just got to this point where I was so in love with it that I just decided, ‘What’s the difference?’ It seemed much more important to me to do the thing you want to do than success or failure.
    .
    ……….“This is 1975, you know, and we were still [in] a little bit of the vapors of the ’60s, where you did what you believed in. It wasn’t a ‘success’ culture, it was more of a ‘soul’ culture, I think.”
    .
    Soul culture!! Who among my fellow Gen X’ers—we who are coming to terms with our vocational destinies while wading through a waist-deep culture-sea frothy with vocoded singing, native advertising, and a bank storefront in every formerly vacant lot—does not envy this description of someone’s adolescent zeitgeist?!

    Man with headphones and laptop in easy chair

    Drew’s productions might occasionally involve a vocoder, but they remain excellent.

    A bit later, Remnick asked Seinfeld how long it takes him to prepare an hour-long stand-up show. He replied:

     ………“That’s like asking God how much time goes into an oak tree. He says, ‘I don’t know. I do it every day, I do it all day. I don’t know, I plant the tree, it grows, eventually it’s an oak tree, who the hell cares? It’s all I can do. I don’t know.'”

I think all of us—freelancers or employees, plumbers or pundits—do well to meditate on work and our relationship with it from time to time. Whether it’s been hunting our food to eat, breaking rocks in the hot sun to appease the man, or selling insurance to yacht owners, people have always spent lots of our time working. Let’s do what we can to make it time well spent.

Woman standing in office Lichtenstein

Yours truly working hard—or hardly working?!—in arts administration circa 2006.

Remembering Suzanne: An elegy in correspondence

The last email exchange I had with Suzanne Davenport—leader of NYC’s Violin Femmes, instructor at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, and committed tapir conservation enthusiast—was in May of this year. In it, she wrote of a recent tapir benefit concert of hers that I had apologized for missing:

Don’t worry about the missed event. It was absolutely amazing though, I will say, great music, 3 original tapir songs, although not performed by tapirs but fellow artists, we had a surprise guest from Japan who played monk-punk in his traditional Japanese monk outfit and his basket over his head, we had super cute hand knitted tapirs and hand printed tapir shirts – we left few stones unturned and whipped everyone into a tapir frenzy. It went so far that there were knitted Tapir Kidnappings and ransom notes! (Happy ending). All in all totally awesome.

Needless to say, I was pretty crazy about this woman.

Woman standing with tapir animal

Suzanne with a tapir, her favorite

On January 2 of this year, we commiserated about the results of the presidential election. She wrote:

No words. Only 😱😱😱. Even more so I hope to see you in 2017 – we have to stick together!!!

In 2016, when I lamented missing another of her gigs, she replied warmly:

It is so easy to grow apart in the big city, and the Femmes have taken a little bit a different path the last year, but tonight we just rocked it and I think we are back on the prawl (isn’t that a word? The thing big cats do, what’s that called). I am getting better with social media, but still a far cry from what’s possible – it does help to at least FEEL in touch.

In 2015, when I told her I’d moved in with Arthur, she replied hilariously:

April, congratulations to the moving in with the beloved! For me of course it means I can’t send you any cards as I don’t know your address. But honestly, I don’t write that often – you certainly get more out of moving.

I first met Suzanne five years ago through our mutual friend Anya, who also played in the Violin Femmes. In 2014, I wrote about them for Brokelyn. Suzanne had been a professional performing musician in her native Germany, making a good living. When she moved to NYC in 2002, she founded the Violin Femmes to give adult musicians (mostly women over 40) a venue for performing publicly (usually in the subway and on street corners), no matter their level. Why did this pro devote so much time and energy to a music gig that was poised to pay just above diddly squat?

I just really love to give these guys this opportunity to play music with each other. It’s a very democratic band, it’s not “my band;” everybody has the same say in what we do. But on a very small level, I feel that starting and maintaining it has been my contribution to adult music education. It gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction. It’s my favorite thing I do musically.

Women playing the violin dressed like Santa

The Violin Femmes rock the NYC subway one fine holiday (Suzanne on the far left)

Suzanne approved of the Brokelyn story, writing to me:

April, that is amazing! You will make us famous.

After that, Suzanne and I got to sending each other the occasional picture postcard or small package containing items such as (according to my journal) an “acorn holly cluster” and sheet music for the Violent Femmes song “Blister in the Sun.” In response to one of her gift boxes, it appears I replied, in part: “Awesome dream your friend had about the golden glasses, though I’m with you that the gift of fun could be just as valuable.” The fact that I can’t remember exactly what delighting volley of Suzanne’s I was replying to is evidence of just how rich the fruits of her friendship were.

Last month, on November 10, Suzanne died suddenly and completely unexpectedly of a heart attack.

While I know she was too cool to have been serious about wanting to get famous, Suzanne did achieve celebrity status in the minds and hearts of her students, collaborators, friends, family members, and everyone she impressed on the streets of New York City with her instant generosity, super-friendly take-no-shit vibe, and of course her musical skill—which were all evident even (or maybe especially) when she was wearing a burlap sack and a Santa hat.

Suzanne’s husband Scott (who, if I remember right, she met at a bar in Hell’s Kitchen over a pack of Pall Malls some years ago), set up this wonderful memorial page for her. When I tied the knot last year, she wrote to me:

I thought I’d never get married and it’s one of the best things I have done. 💝

Of course, all of this is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. I wasn’t even a close friend of Suzanne’s, and still she maintained a thoughtful and enchanting correspondence with me for years. I never felt she had forgotten about me, or wouldn’t be happy to see me at her next show or for a sit-down pint-and-chat. Especially in the ‘big city,’ cultivating such an easy familiarity over time and distance is rare. But Suzanne was rare.

My heart goes out to Scott and everyone else who knew and loved Suzanne. I think she would be glad to know that she’s given us all so many good experiences and lessons. In a frenetic and selfish world, she modeled how to stick together—namely, by showing up, in every way, every time. Now, she reminds us to regard our lives and relationships as the miraculous and chancy gifts they are. Thank you, Suzanne. Your genius will live on.

This weekend in Brooklyn: Sound summer camp for badass young ladies!

Teen girls with headphones and microphones

When I took the Bushwick Daily assignment to write about SoundGirls.org’s Live Sound Camps for Girls, I thought it would be cool. Music, Brooklyn, empowering teenage girls—what’s not to like?

Well, I was right! There was nothing not to like about writing this story.

The end!

SoundGirls.org logo

No, no—of course there is more. But it’s the good kind of more!

It turned out that in addition to getting acquainted with an awesome nonprofit that connects female sound engineers the world over, hearing wonderful stories about girls learning to rock intimidating audio gear, and bookmarking the knowledge of this traveling summer camp program for the next time I meet a cool teenage girl, I also got to spend half an hour talking with the woman who’s been Pearl Jam’s sound engineer for the last 25 years: SoundGirls.org’s executive director and co-founder, Karrie Keyes!

I will pause to mention that, while I do enjoy me some classic Pearl Jam, I was even more stoked and awed to learn that Karrie has also worked with Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and Neil Young, and did a 10-year stint as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ monitor engineer.

Waynes World not worthy

ANYWAY, what Karrie’s doing with SoundGirls.org is just as cool as all that, of course. Check it out, and if you know an NYC-area teenage girl who’d appreciate the chance to get her audio on this weekend, do spread the word!

Deconstructing guns with Of Note magazine & artist Jessica Fenlon

“Gun violence is a women’s issue,” begins editorial director Grace Aneiza Ali’s introduction to the latest issue of her magazine Of Note. Grace goes on to explain that while ‘gun culture’ in America is dominated by men, it’s women who bear the brunt of gun violence:

  • Every 16 hours, an American woman is fatally shot by a current or former intimate partner.
  • 80% of people shot to death by their intimate partners in the U.S. each year are women.
  • Women are 16 times more likely to die by guns in the U.S. than in any other developed country.

Yet the silence and stigmas that blanket most of our country’s gender inequalities continue to hamper efforts to combat the gun violence that hurts women most.

Of Note magazine cover with gun image

“The 10 multidisciplinary women artists in Of Note‘s ‘The Gun Issue’ engage the gun as an art object in their artistic practices,” Grace continues. “In doing so, they confront the infiltration of guns in our day-to-day lives.”

It would be tough to think of a more vital and urgent topic to write or read about. Couple that with the fact that I have long been a huge fan of Grace’s, and you can imagine my excitement when she asked if I would interview one of those 10 artists and contribute a story to Of Note‘s Gun Issue.

While I would have been eager to speak with any of them (you can see they’re all spectacular), I wound up feeling especially lucky to have been paired with Jessica Fenlon, a brave, articulate, and intuitive poet and visual artist, currently based in Milwaukee. Jessica uses a process she calls “glitch sabotage” to visually break images of guns in an effort to neutralize their danger. As she said it:

“There’s a feeling of power, of control, in that moment of, ‘Here’s this thing that kills all these people, and I’m just going to break a bunch of them!’”

Jessica went on to say a lot more interesting things as we talked—but please don’t take my word for it. If you’re interested in art, guns, women, technology, reading, thinking, and/or Pittsburgh, I hope you’ll check the story out when you have time for a sit-down read. Extra credit if you drop me a line to let me know what you thought.

Al Franken: Another person I don’t know, but like

Al Franken Giant of the Senate book cover

It’s funny that we say things such as, “Ooh, I like that Joan Cusack!” or, “Ugh—I can’t stand Shingy!” when we don’t actually know these people. At all.

Joan Cusack SRSLY gif

Srsly! I like you.

Well, I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but I myself have definitely said both of the above things, verbatim. It’s the vibes these people project, I guess, even from a screen. It’s the way we see them emote, the work they choose to do, the few and possibly decontextualized things we hear them say. Still, I realize that expressing these sketchily formed opinions, while it can make for easy conversational fodder with our friends (and foes), is kind of… dumb.

Nonetheless, I found myself issuing another hastily wrought impression of a celebrity recently, when I chanced to see Senator Al Franken discuss his new book, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. I suppose I’d always had a basically positive impression of the man, though I never really followed Saturday Night Live, or Minnesota politics. But hearing Franken wax eloquent about the basic decency of Democratic values, the intractable Antonin Scalia, and the tough political row to hoe we all now have before us did genuinely endear me to him, though we’ve never so much as made eye contact.

Thanks for a fun and enlightening time, Senator! I now like you almost as much as Brooke Gladstone.

Brooke Gladstone WNYC knit hats project

OMG—remember when Brooke personally crocheted a bunch of hats as thank-you gifts to WNYC donors?! *swoon*

“I don’t want my education to make me just another educated person…

Drawing of a woman in black pants

I want to use it to help people.”

Thus spake one of the stellar Sarah Lawrence College students and recent graduates I spoke with for a feature called “Crafting Careers” in the spring issue of the college’s magazine.

Drawings of college students

A winning cohort!

Other highlights include the basketball MVP who volunteered with a domestic violence-combatting nonprofit; the human resources analyst who started college as a poet, then got into film and TV writing before finding his career groove in HR; and the unlikely management advisor who landed her gig by recalling what she’d learned in college psychology classes.

Read more about these fabulous young people who are making their mark in a host of industries, and restore some of your faith in humanity!