2017: Greatest Hits

Is there a five-second rule equivalent for saying, “Happy New Year”? Like, is it still reasonable to say it on January 13? I guess I’ll find out.

Happy New Year, readers! Let’s celebrate the arrival of 2018 by kissing 2017 goodbye in style: with my annual end-of-year newsletter!

I Peace NY sign in lights

Hark! The holidays!

This year, I got into…

  • Women with guns
  • The art(s) of community development
  • Fighting plastic waste in oceans
  • The future of work
  • Audio engineering day camps for girls
  • Ridiculous party games
  • A 26′ moving truck… for 2,000 miles

If this year-end-stravaganza didn’t already hit your inbox, you can peep it here, and even sign up to get one next year!

Peace out—or really, peace in! I’m psyched to be starting 2018 with you.

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.

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

Laurel Snyder’s solosarehardtomake makes wildly good sense

Dancer Laurel Snyder screaming

Laurel Snyder wails in solosarehardtomake

Read my review in Bushwick Daily!

The first thing I said when I spoke with dancer, singer, and musician Laurel Snyder on the phone before seeing her solo work solosarehardtomake was, “Thank you for writing an artist statement that makes sense.”

Don’t get me wrong: I feel quite sympathetic to anyone tasked with writing about their art (even writers!), but some of the blurbs I read go beyond just not illuminating the work; they actually muddy the waters with a bunch of big words and esoteric constructions and make it harder to understand. Yikes!

So when Laurel stated that the multiple creative disciplines she works in allow for “layered expression,” and that playing her field recordings during shows “invites performers and viewers to exist within the same world,” it made sense to me on the page—and then it enriched my understanding of her performance when I saw it on stage.

That’s brilliant! That’s the point!!

And, as a bonus, my heightened understanding of her work didn’t at all detract from its innate sensational-ness: it’s a wild show with lots of spontaneity and emotion, packed to the gills with nuance. So “getting it” didn’t break it down or make it boring. It just made it like a Beck song: orchestrated chaos I can get into.

My favorite.

A late summer toast to old friends, new books, and… Ragnarök?

The Tricksters Lover

I’ve been friends with the hilarious, curious, adventurous, and all-around lovable Samantha MacLeod* since I think third grade. We grew up together, playing anthropomorphized tigers on the playground right up until adolescence, getting into some real questionable music in junior high, and eventually self-publishing a book of our high school poetry before parting ways at college-time.

In the years since then, we’ve both seen the world as WWOOFers (she in Italy and me in Belgium), held a few real questionable jobs (she was a barista at the University of Chicago Divinity School coffee shop, Grounds of Being; I threw my body and soul into many “healthy patient clinical trials” in Boston), and have now settled into pretty awesome lives in our respective climes: she’s a Maine-based mom of two with a kickass chemist husband; I’m a good-times Brooklyn girl who gets to work in my pajamas by day and plan my wedding with the world’s handsomest bass-playing vegan bicyclist at night.

I’m so tickled and happy that Samantha and I have stayed friends all these years. (The fact that I can’t find any e-photos of us together should be no comment on the quality of said friendship! I attribute that mostly to digital cameras’ nonexistence for the first 20-ish years of our knowing each other. To make up for this awful dearth, I am happy to present instead this adorable photo of Samantha’s daughter carrying their cat Maxwell Finnegan up the stairs in the summer of 2013.)

Toddler carrying cat

Girl with cat

Now, a new chapter (pun annoyingly intended) has begun in Samantha’s life, and I want to shout it from the rooftops: she’s a serious published author with a juicy new paranormal romance heating up the shelves!! You can find The Trickster’s Lover right here.

Classic Samantha, the book combines a grad student’s wavering commitment to a career in Norse mythology with a scandalous visitation from Loki, “the enigmatic and irresistibly sexy Norse trickster god.” Mayhem (and many steamy love scenes) ensue as protagonist Caroline wrestles with her choices, her sanity, and Ragnarök—the mythical apocalyptic battle that will ultimately submerge the world in water.

On the grounds that she is a fantastic human being and because capping your summer reading list with an unusual and super-hot book like this sounds like good advice, I hereby urge y’all to order a copy today! And check out Samatha’s blog. It’s also really hot, in the way that funny, clever, and endearing things are really hot.

*Not her real name! Who knows when this romance author might want to run for President?

Finally, Victoria’s Secret gets it

Arthur and I dropped our passports off at a Russian visa expediting service in Herald Square last week, in anticipation of our June trip there (godspeed, little passports!).

When we walked out of the building, I saw these ads beaming out from the nearby Victoria’s Secret:

Happy women in unpadded bras

Woman in unpadded bra staring

Woman twisting in unpadded bra

VC: This is what I BEEN sayin’!

For how many years have I wondered where all the honest-to-god, regular bras are? Ones that aren’t lined with three-quarters of an inch of memory foam?? For as long as I’ve been in the market, American Apparel has been my only reliable source for such sensible garmentry. While that’s a decent scenario if you’re only given one option, it’s just blown my mind that there haven’t been more.

Maybe now, VC will help set the tone for more Natural Woman hippie breakthroughs in unmentionable-wear? And we can repurpose all those foam getups into nerdy, useful bike shorts??

Yeah!

Ooh mens padded bike shorts!

See? USEFUL.

Two upcoming writing events very worth your time

I think I could write a story every week about some awesome person I know who’s doing something fabulous that I want more people to know about. (And what’s stopping me, I suppose?!)

This week is even more fabulous-er than usual, because I have not one but two admirable friends’ events to shout out, AND they’re both really useful and enjoyable writing events!

Tracy Sayre

A picture of Tracy that is unrelated to the conference, but that is super fun

Coming right up, next Saturday, April 9 in Manhattan, I can recommend Tracy Sayre‘s fifth Writers Work conference to writers of many stripes: novelists, short story peeps, anyone curious to learn more about the publishing world, and on from there.

I’ve been to at least two of Tracy’s epic conferences and spoken at one, and am happy to say with utmost surety that you will get your time and money’s worth. Tracy is uber-connected, super-serious, and hardcore-dedicated to her mission of helping writers develop their craft, career, and community.

The April 9 conference will include a pitching workshop, an online marketing tutorial, and talks by a former New York Times editor, a multi-bestselling author of thrillers, and publishing industry mavens galore. See lots more info and sign up here.

Danielle DeTiberus and Ryan Schenck

Danielle and her pardner Ryan outside my apartment before her reading at The New School with Sherman Alexie last fall!

Coming up a little later, June 18 to 25 (which is good, because you’ll need time to pack your bags and get a base tan!) is the Best American Poetry-anthologized, Charleston School of the Arts-teaching, Program Chair of The Poetry Society of South Carolina Danielle DeTiberus‘s first writing retreat! With yoga! In COSTA RICA! If I weren’t already getting married this year, taking a trip to Russia, and possibly trying to buy a house, I would be there in a heartbeat.

“Whether delighting in the view from the mountain top, coming to the mat, or giving your breath a voice on the page,” reads the event info, “we will find our strength, our creativity, and our intuition.” Plus the whole thing is called “Elevated Union: A Yoga and Writing Retreat. Shifting Perspectives on the Mat, on the Page, and on the Path.” Sounds dope, right?! You can see some mesmerizing photos of the tropical venue and surroundings, read more about the retreat, and get sign-up info here.

Lastly it wouldn’t be April Fool’s Day without a little fun for fun’s sake, right? Well, as usual, you’ve come to the right place for that! Anyone who’s still reading this far down is cordially invited to Neil Totton‘s and my joint birthday party in Hell’s Kitchen tomorrow night!! Here’s the flyer. Bring your A game! (Or your B game; we’re not picky.)

Neil Totton April Greene aries birthday party