Use it up, wear it out, & live like royalty

I have a few friends from Russia and other former Soviet republics, and they are some of the loveliest people I know. Exceptionally generous, amazingly crafty, poetic and unbridled in their expressions of love, they also all seem to possess equal parts exquisite taste and an aptitude for ingenious frugality.

Case in point #1: Natalya, who almost single-handedly saved our wedding by whip-stitching my husband into his suit jacket when he had a bulky plaster cast covering his entire right forearm. (His plan for getting into his outfit involved about 50 safety pins, which would have brought a certain punk element to the proceedings, but in the end, I’m glad Natalya stepped in.) She also made my bouquet.

Dark haired woman with three calla lilies

Case in point #2: Elena, who shocked us all by trading her Manolos for Converse and car services for a Piaggio a few years back. She followed her dream to a farm in Arizona and a meditation retreat in India, but still made in time in between to take us on the trip of a lifetime to Russia. Now even her rock star mother and I are penpals.

Blonde woman in plateau among mountains

Case in point #3: Katerina, who I only met this year, but who I already know is a giant. She’s opening the first package-free store in the northeast U.S. next week in our very own borough of Brooklyn; I wrote about the venture for Bushwick Daily. A busy entrepreneur and mom to a young son, Katerina somehow always looks great, and her deeply felt concern for the future of our planet and its people is evident in her every classy move.

Woman standing in front of vegetable store

Not sure if it’s something in the water, something in the culture, or just my great good fortune to have continued to meet such fantastic humans from this part of the globe. In any case, we would all do well to follow their example: live generously, live carefully, and you will live beautifully.

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?

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.

Betty White, aliens, & OMG! Puppies: Tripping through Big Foot Land & beyond

Blue Wonder Woman mug with purple flowers

This sums a lot of it up

Over a ten-day span last month, Arthur and I ate supernaturally fresh produce among the Sequoioideae in California; viewed a surprisingly large number of Krylon-wrought, alien-themed murals on corrugated metal in the deserts of Nevada; and moshed in the pool with the hundreds of other metalheads attending the Psycho Las Vegas festival at the Hard Rock Hotel in so-called Sin City. (Okay, I did not mosh in the pool, and I am not even a proper metalhead—but I did survive among their throngs for several days!)

I’ve had the great good fortune of taking many epic trips in my life: I’ve driven Australia’s Gold Coast, seen the sunrise over Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán, made it through Iceland’s Fimmvörðuháls hike in one long day, gotten lost on a mountain bike in the Judean Desert, soaked in mountain onsen ryokans in Japan, even hobbled around the Great Pyramid of Giza in an air cast. I’ve been so happy and grateful for them all, but I’ve noticed that what makes a trip especially enjoyable and memorable can’t always be predicted. The most potent travel magic, I’ve found, isn’t necessarily made by combining a greater number of days with a longer flight and a more impressive to-do list. Not to say I don’t retain vivid memories of drunken late-night singing with locals in a rural Russian dacha, or speeding in a Jeep through the jungles of Cambodia with a bunch of brawny Aussies—I absolutely do! Just that, sometimes, a relatively unassuming trip will pack a bigger than expected punch of awesomeness.

Such was the case with this recent voyage west. I guess it was a few things: the combination of great food and great company throughout; the right balance of activities and downtime; and a rotating kaleidoscope of natural and social environs that kept my brain keyed up without making me dizzy. Well, some things did bring on at least momentary vertigo:

Toxic waste alien sign Nevada

Toxic waste, Nevada

Bellagio fountains show

Bellagio fountain show, Las Vegas

Goat Rock California

Goat Rock, California

Oh, and I think I touted these guys, too:

Per usual, I came home with too much show-and-tell to fit in one blog post—good thing this WordPress subscription automatically renews!

Until the next brain dump, thanks for the unassuming but epic embarrassment of riches, western U.S. I’ll be back for more.

2,000 miles of driving, 26 feet of truck, & uncountable marionettes: Mom’s miraculous move to Brooklyn

My mom had thought about moving back to Brooklyn, New York (from whence she came in the 1940s) from her adopted home of Colorado for many years. But when the time finally came to load up a big, bad Penske truck and drive it the 2,000 miles over here, my husband and I noticed something.

She hadn’t packed. At all.

Man and woman standing in moving truck

Arthur & Mom share a “ruh roh” moment in the Penske

As we walked around the large house she’d owned for almost 40 years, the house we’d budgeted about two days to liquidate before starting our drive, our thoughts were roughly split between, “Whaaaa?” and “How in god’s name are we going to do this?”

I chalk my mom’s lack of prep work up to a few things: not having moved in decades and forgetting how long it takes; deciding to take the relocation plunge on relatively short notice; and having struck an agreement with the buyer of her property that she didn’t have to leave it empty. Still, it was something of a jaw-dropper.

Fortuitously for us, my best bud from junior high, pictured above (who served as Gay of Honor at our wedding last fall), has orchestrated a few large-scale events in his time, and knew exactly how to pack a moving truck to perfection. Equally wonderfully, my mom was decisive about what she wanted to keep and what could stay behind, and my amazing huzz shuttled furniture and boxes to and fro for two straight days with a smile on his face.

After I’d snapped photos of my childhood home from every angle I could imagine, and taken one last soda-buying trip to the 7-11 behind our house (site of untold quarters spent on video games and untold numbers of dental cavities brought about by its bountiful, cursed pouches of Big League Chew), we were all loaded up and ready to go—a whole half day ahead of schedule!

Man screaming as woman drives moving truck

Mom takes the wheel

Farm silos from a car on the highway

The great Midwest

The week that followed, as I look back on it now, was a blur of $100 diesel fuel tabs, nights spent on midwest relatives’ couch beds, and the seemingly innumerable marionettes that hang from the ceiling of Rudy’s Tacos in Waterloo, Iowa. In other words: an ideal vacation.

Now it’s back to work (which I love), fixing up our house (which is fun), and teaching my mom how to use her new smartphone (which is… gratifying, at times). But a little piece of me will remain back at Cubby’s Convenience in Gothenberg, Nebraska, reflecting on our miraculous, once-in-a-lifetime road trip over a burning hot basket of fried something.

Colorful bunny shaped Easter treats

Bye for now, road bunnies

“…as i hit the gas and crash it through a store front window.”

So goes the last half of the last sentence of what is so far my favorite vignette in the very great Rick Berlin’s newish book, The Paragraphs.

Musician Rick Berlin at the Midway Cafe Boston March 2014

Rick at the Midway Cafe, March 2014

I’ve known Rick since my college days in Boston, and have had the joy of seeing many of his live performances, attending the first Jamaica Plain Music Festival (which he helps to organize), and writing about him a few times. I also once convinced the doorman in his old Piano Factory apartment building to let me sleep in the basement when I didn’t have anywhere else to go! Yes, Rick and I go way back.

Over the years, I’ve been the lucky recipient of much correspondence from Rick—both of the personal and email blast varieties. His fearless writing (as I was stoked to be quoted as saying in the opening pages of The Paragraphs) is vital and disarming, and it makes me so happy to know that some of it has finally been anthologized.

Read more about Rick in this awesome Boston Globe article from last month (written by the also great Joan Anderman, @middlemojo) and git your copy from Jamaica Plain’s own Cutlass Press. It’s a great companion on the subway, while waiting for the doc to see you, and in bed at night, when it’s the last thing on your mind before you fall asleep.

Two Shameless Feminists

When my friend Angela Altus—of Bushwick Daily and Shameless Photography—spread the word that she was looking for volunteers to man up in front of the camera for a project called “This is What a Feminist Looks Like,” I was all ears.

“The purpose of the project is to showcase the many faces of feminism, and how shared values span gender, age, race and so much more,” she wrote. While my combined characteristics peg me as just about the most predictable feminist in the world, I still wanted to represent! Thankfully, so did my fabulous husband.

Feminists in bike helmets

In our bike helmets, OF COURSE

The shoot took place at Shameless’s awesome space in an old industrial building in Dumbo earlier this month (site of countless body-positive boudoir photo sessions!), and has so far resulted in some gorgeous documentation on the studio’s website and Instagram; I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of these brilliant shots on billboards soon!

Big ups to all the ladies and dudes involved in this uplifting creative project. The organizers said it best themselves: “No matter our differences, if we can come together around equality, we can accomplish great things for the world.”

***

Also: My friend Kaitlin Archambault of Incendiary Designs recently redesigned Angela’s website. Wonderful, isn’t it?

A good sign: The Women’s March on Washington

Of course, there were about a BAJILLION good signs there, which is the focus of this post.

But the pun is not lost on me that this event was also a good sign of broad support for women’s rights (oh man—”broad support for women’s rights”? they just keep coming!) as well as for human rights, environmental stewardship, and general common sense and decency across the board.

Those sentiments came across loud and clear in thousands of amazing handheld signs and banners. (Which is quite fortunate for me: if a sign is worth a thousand words, and I tried to convey the meanings of thousands of signs… I’d have loads and loads of words to write!) If only I’d been able to capture more. But here’s a decently representative sample:

Womens march protest sign

Mega-love to all the amazing people out there! It was a miraculous day suffused with positive vibes, politeness on all fronts, and even the responsible disposal of litter!

See you at the next.

Family at Womens March on Washington