The One With Kind of Blue

Even if you’re not a jazz aficionado, chances are you’ve heard of Miles Davis. His 1959 album “Kind of Blue” was groundbreaking in that it drew a line in the sand. There was before “Kind of Blue” and after. It’s been described as soulful and avant garde; simple but complex.. More than five decades after this was recorded, it still sounds fresh.

 

When I came across a podcast about “Kind of Blue” from PRI’s Studio 360, I was excited to hear details about how Davis recorded this iconic album, but I was surprised to learn that he could be, um, kind of a jerk, to put it mildly. He had a “disdaining attitude toward his audience” and a sense that he didn’t owe his fans anything aside from playing his music. He didn’t even want to smile. He often went out of his way to stir the pot.

But it gets worse. According to Studio 360, he was “unrepentant about his treatment of people. He shamelessly admitted to beating his wives and pimping in order to pay for drugs.” In her essay, “Mad at Miles,” Pearl Cleage says that learning this about the jazz great made her angry. She could never again listen to his music without thinking about  what Davis might have been doing the day he recorded the song. She writes, “I kept thinking about Cicely Tyson [Miles’s then wife] hiding in the basement of her house while the police were upstairs laughing with Miles…I wonder if thinking about his genius made her less frightened and humiliated.”

For some reason, I’d had in mind a very different persona of Miles Davis. I suppose I wanted him to be as illustrious a human being as his music was. But he can’t live in my spit-shined image of him. Elvis Presley said, “The image is one thing and the human being is another. It’s very hard to live up to an image.” Was the truth a shock because I had built him up to be larger than life?

Then a few weeks ago, Robert at 101 Books posed this question on his blog: Does an author’s personal life influence you?  The comments to Robert’s post leaned toward “No,” and that was my initial reaction. Authors, like musicians, don’t live in a bubble. Their experiences inform their work. One need only look to Hemingway to see that in action. Then Sara Lewis’s comment got me thinking. She wrote, “There cannot be any integrity in the work if there’s no integrity in the person, can there? The heart behind a piece of art has some bearing on its value too, doesn’t it?”

Michael and Ann from Books on the Nightstand tackled the subject in this podcastThey discussed accusations of child abuse against author Marion Zimmer Bradley and bigoted comments recently made by Orson Scott Card, and if their personal lives affect how and if you read their work.

This certainly isn’t limited to musicians and authors. The more I thought about it, I realized there are some artists, athletes, and entertainers I choose not to support because their actions have caused harm to others. I wanted to delete “Kind of Blue” from my playlist, and I won’t be reading Ender’s Game. Sometimes there is a line in the sand. Just like the line Miles Davis drew with “Kind of Blue.”

What do you think? Does an artist’s personal life influence you?

Have a great weekend, everyone!  

The One With Halloween

My neighborhood gets all decked out for Halloween, even more so than Christmas. Let’s take a walk around the block and see what people have come up with this year.

 

The Low Maintenance

Halloween

A few pumpkins…a few skulls…aaannnd we’re done.

 

The Ghoulish Jeeves

Halloween

The black wreaths are a nice touch.

 

 

The Even-Skeletons-Need-A-Vacation

Halloween

Maybe Jeeves can get them a margarita.

 

Halloween

Aloha!

 

The DIY

Halloween

 

Halloween

 

The I-Didn’t-Think-This-Through

Halloween webs

How will they get inside?

 

The Two-Cool-Pumpkins-and-I-Got-Tired

Halloween

 

The Creepy

Halloween

The eyes blink, sometimes independently of each other.

 

Halloween

Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean 13?

 

The Lost in Translation

 

The fresh mums don't scream spooky.

The fresh mums don’t scream spooky.

 

Does your neighborhood decorate for Halloween? What are some of the craziest decorations you’ve seen? 

Happy Halloween, everyone! 

The One With the Job Titles

A few years ago, I was at an event hosted by Poets & Writers magazine. The cocktail hour was coming to a close, and I was just about to congratulate myself on escaping without having to make small talk.

Cocktail hour

Then a friend appeared with someone in tow, and before I knew it I was introduced as a novelist to a published author of some prominence. I could feel myself blanche, wanting to crawl under the buffet table with a martini and a plate of those little crudités the waiters were passing around. It wasn’t because I was anxious meeting said author. I felt (you writers know where I’m going with this) self-conscious to be introduced as a novelist. I don’t feel like a novelist and all that it implies, certainly not in the presence of someone who has won awards for that very thing.

When is it that one becomes the description of themselves? The lawyer. The plumber. The vice president of corporate relations. Is it when you pass an exam, or when someone else confers that designation upon you? Is it after you feel you’ve reached a certain level of competence?

Some descriptions happen instantly, even if you’re not fully ready for them. You cross a threshold of no return. You’re a mom or a dad in the blink of an eye, with no prior experience. Same goes for wife or husband. Or retiree. With that one you have to switch to past tense (I was a…) and look to redefine yourself.

I wasn’t upset with my friend for introducing me as a novelist. He was just reaching for the quickest way to identify me and landed on the one thing the author and I had in common. I’ve done it myself—used someone’s job title or position as kind of shorthand. It happened just this weekend. I was at a friend’s birthday get-together. I was hanging out near the guacamole (the best place to be in my opinion) when someone came up next to me and reached for a chip. We introduced ourselves and I, apparently already out of witty repartee, said, “So, what do you do?”

guacamole

At first, I chalked it up to small talk. I’d always thought of the question as an empty one, similar to “How are you?”  It’s a shortcut in a culture with a collective attention deficit disorder, but maybe it’s more than that. It’s a way to define someone. I suddenly felt bad for all the times I’d led with the what-do-you-do question or introduced someone with their job title as a name attachment, “Mark, this is Susie. She’s an accountant.” I’ve inadvertently put my friends and acquaintances into a little box. I’d thought I was breaking the ice, trying to make pleasant conversation with someone at an event. What’s a poor INFJ to do?

Really, it’s a conversational dead-end. Unless Mark is an accountant, he and Susie are done talking. Worse, if Mark has a lot of preconceptions about accountants, he’s now making judgments about Susie based on her job title.

My new guacamole friend was already one step ahead of me. Instead of asking me the same question in return, he asked, “What do you like to do?” What a difference one word makes!

How do you introduce friends or introduce yourself to someone new? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With the Fate Worse Than Death

I’ve been volunteered for a new! and exciting! effective leadership! training class at my company. (There are always a lot of exclamation points when you get volunteered for something.) It’s a seminar designed to brush up on presentation skills.

I am on board if only because A. It means time away from my desk and incessant emails, and B. My current role doesn’t require me to give many presentations. I like it that way. We’ve covered the Myers-Briggs scale in a previous post (Any fellow INFJs in da house?) Things began to go terribly wrong when I received a reminder about the class, and in the small print, it said each student will need to prepare a 15-minute presentation which will be videotaped and critiqued. If we have visual aids to accompany our presentation, there will be projectors and screens available. *

public speaking

I’ll speak in front of small groups when necessary without going comatose. For example, when I was teaching, I didn’t mind standing in front of the classroom. And when The Subway Chronicles was published, I did several book readings and didn’t need to imagine the audience naked. Then I was asked to be interviewed on a local television station about the book. The glare of the lights. My reflection in the camera’s giant lens. The microphone pinned to my shirt. I broke out in an anticipatory sweat. I still can’t bring myself to watch the clip.

I think I can trace my public speaking problem to high school, which seems to be the genesis of most of my problems. Our class hosted a fashion show for a local charitable organization. Somehow I ended up as the emcee of the event. I can’t even remember to agreeing to that. I must have been absent from class that day. The auditorium was full. I held a Bob Barker microphone in one hand and my notecards in another. The little red light flashed on the camera and I froze. My notes got out of order and I was announcing the wrong people in the wrong outfits. I knew my future career would not involve news anchor or game show host.

The worst part about my upcoming presentation is that we were told to pick “any professional topic that interests you.” Now I have to write a 15-minute presentation and then stand in front of a video camera while I melt into the ground like the Wicked Witch of the West? I’m down to the wire and I’m still brainstorming ideas. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  1. Tips on surviving the zombie apocalypse (kindly suggested by a co-worker)

    I promise I won't include any gratuitous personal hygiene shots.

    I promise I won’t include any gratuitous personal hygiene shots.

  2. Video montage of Reggie
  3. Top 10 reasons I love John Hamm
  4. One word: Zumba
  5. How I Met Your Mother series finale—yay or nay?
  6. Puzzles: fun hobby or torture device?
  7. 101 uses for paper clips
  8. Tennis balls: how do they make the yellow fuzz?
  9.  Slideshow of my trip to Martha’s Vineyard
  10. An exploration of my feelings for grilled cheese
  11. A 15-minute silent meditation

 

 

 

* In corporate-speak, “if” equals mandatory. If you are available for this meeting… If you have the numbers ready for the report… If you finish the report by the end of the day… If you want to keep your job…

 

Do you have any suggestions for topics? I’m open to ideas! How do you feel about public speaking? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

The One With Martha’s Vineyard


Every few minutes or so during my visit on Martha’s Vineyard, the word quaint came to mind. It’s so overused, but quaint feels like the right word to describe the place. This island seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is indeed charming. You’re never far from a lighthouse or a shingled cottage. The beaches are pristine. Boats of all sizes bob in the harbor.

What makes Martha’s Vineyard so delightfully prepossessing, despite hosting vacationing Kennedys and Obamas, is more about what isn’t there than what is there. There are no billboards, traffic lights, or highways. There are no chain restaurants or big box stores (gasp).

Martha’s Vineyard is home to about 15,000 year-round residents. The population swells to more than 100,000 in the summer.

Martha's Vineyard

There are six townships on the island. Each has its own personality. The harbors on the west side of the Vineyard, or up-island as the area is called locally, had a more working-class vibe. There we found trawlers and lobster traps, and burly fishermen in wading boots. The harbors on the east side seemed to be ritzier with yachts bearing names like the “Aqua-holic” and the “Unsinkable 2″ (which leads one to wonder what happened to the “Unsinkable 1″).

Martha's Vineyard

Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard (East)

Martha's Vineyard

Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard (West side)

Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard (West)

 

Martha’s Vineyard has five remaining lighthouses. The Edgartown Lighthouse is the most popular, though I don’t think they allow visitors inside.

Martha's Vineyard

 

The Gay Head Lighthouse was the first one on the Vineyard. It is in danger of toppling over the nearby cliffs due to beach erosion. The beach is eroding at a rate of two feet per year. It’s estimated that within the next two years there won’t be enough beach left to allow the heavy machinery access to move the tower.

Martha's Vineyard

Gay Head Lighthouse

 

Martha's Vineyard

Gay Head Cliffs and Lighthouse

The cliffs rise about 100 feet from the beach and are made of clay. On a clear day, the sunset can’t be beat.

 

Martha's Vineyard

 

Martha's Vineyard

 

On an island with a storied seafaring history like Martha’s Vineyard, you’re probably expecting some gratuitous food shots of lobster rolls and clams. Instead let me tell you about the best thing we ate:

Martha's Vineyard

 

Hidden at the back entrance to the Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Cafe and Bakery is the business-within-a-business known as Back Door Donuts. They open at 7:30 p.m., and there is usually a line gathered for piping hot doughnuts as they come out of the fryer. This place has more five-star reviews than some Michelin restaurants. The menu is pretty simple.

Martha's Vineyard

 

We decided to order an “old-fashioned”—a plain doughnut with sugar glaze. I wish I could share a photo, but I ate it within seconds. It melted in my mouth on contact. In order to get a fair assessment of the place, it was only right that we should sample more offerings. Enter their signature selection. The apple fritter. Worth. Every. Calorie.

 

Martha's Vineyard

 

 

Hope you enjoyed the tour around Martha’s Vineyard.

Have a great weekend, everyone!