December 2009

In the Decade of an Eye...

... a blink goes by.

Were we not just reading something about this so called Y2K problem? And how the world’s computer systems might interpret “00” on January 1, 2000, as January 1,1900 messing up major industries such as utilities, banking, manufacturing, telecom, airlines—hurtling us back to the days of McKinley and oil lamps? Unfortunately, it didn’t happen and we still wound up with the same exorbitant electric bill that January, right on time.

And as for the banks, little did they know that the biggest problem wouldn’t be their computers crashing, but their cash crashing; falling on their assets. Say that fast three times.

And as for technology, or the lack thereof, or the seeing of what is or isn’t there, who can ever forget The Hanging Chads? The eyes cross in retrospection of that wonderful moment in our history.

What we thought we saw coming never happened. What we didn’t see coming… did. And it will forever be known by its numbers: 9/11. Though the phrase “Shock and Awe” which would be heard soon after, was quickly replaced by the less poetic and ongoing… “Iraqi War.”

Feel free to Google these events for further information and your own interpretations.

Ah, Google! Its IPO of 19,605,052 shares of Class A common stock (at $85 a share) took place on August 18, 2004, without, we regret to note, our participation. Our daughter, then 18, had urged us to buy some shares. Yeah right. Like a teenaged girl spending all that time on line knows anything about the stock market. ROTFL!!

It all of course goes by so fast. In a blink, she becomes an adult. In a blink, Google becomes an icon. So now we keep— not our nose to the grindstone, but— our ears to the mobile phone; our eyes on the “killer app.”

Blink again and we missed Janet Jackson’s breast popping out at the Super Bowl XXXVIII half time show. For the record, it was the right one.

Oh the consternation it caused in so many. As if there could be no greater affront than a fleeting nipple exposed on TV. But all of humanity would indeed be affronted by a tsunami at the end of that year, which would devastate eleven Asian countries. And then we would forget all about it. For such is the passage of time, with its mish-mash of events large and small, coming and going, in and out of context.

Unshakable institutions got rattled. Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay marriage (May 17, 2004). The United States elected its first black President. A man with the most unlikely name any American could ever imagine: Barack Hussein Obama. (Speaking of Hussein, how long ago was he captured? And executed? And what followed?)

“And so it goes,” to quote Kurt Vonnegut who though in perfect health at age 84, died in 2007 from a brain injury suffered in a fall at his home. And on that cruelly ironic note, we welcome the next decade. We can’t wait to see what we never saw coming, and not see what we expected. Oh, by the way, in case you missed it, we found water on the moon. 40 years after.



Released from the silent red engine
of throbbing grid and wire—
a browning mechanism if you will—

the transformation of body to soul
of earth to fire

pops up perfectly done!

On this New Year’s Day when time
has once again played its slight of hand—
setting heads to shaking in that template of wonder:
“Where did the past year go?” —

there is the warmth and comfort
that only toast can bring.

With its subtle scheme of heat in balance
and distribution

with its staff of life and woodsy aroma
suggesting the allure of hibernation

with its kindest of cuts—
two Pythagorean theorems—

and atop, played out,
the slow disappearing act of the butter…

I may have been as young as nine
toying with a slice at the kitchen table
when I had the first taste of the curious notion

that life is about moments
in half-moon bites.


No “Pie in the Sky” is Nellie McKay

She is the real thing this Nellie McKay (pronounced Mc-EYE), who burst onto the scene with her first album Get Away From Me in 2004. Ok…so maybe “sneaked” onto the scene might be more like it. While the album received much critical acclaim, it ranked only 181 on the Billboard Top 200 charts. But still, she was only 19 at the time. Or was it 22? There seems to be conflicting reports regarding her age. Either way, we have socks older than that. We were impressed.

Her style has been described as eclectic, as it covers a broad spectrum of musical genres: Jazz… Rap… Blues… Latin… Rock … and something called Anti-folk? We “older folk” had to look that one up, and noted it defined as…

“a genre that takes the earnestness of politically charged 1960’s folk music and subverts it… the music tends to sound raw or experimental; it also generally mocks the seriousness and pretension of the established mainstream music scene.”

Yes. That’s our Nellie. Which is one of the reasons why the purity and depth of her singing voice has tended to get lost in many of her songs, that are so heavy on narrative-driven lyrics with political or social axes to grind. “Mother of Pearl” (spoofing feminists), “I Want To Get Married” (spoofing that institution) and “Respectable” (challenging the social strata), come readily to mind.

But now finally, in her fourth album released this past October—Normal As Blueberry Pie: A Tribute To Doris Day —we get transported by a voice that is nothing short of divine. And while that may sound a mite bit gay of us (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) there is no other way to describe her renditions of such classics as The Very Thought of You, Mean To Me, Sentimental Journey (Doris Day’s signature mega-hit), Crazy Rhythm and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Meditation— with a new arrangement that seems to have the sparkle of champagne. And on the subject of new arrangements, two particular chestnuts— I Remember You and Wonderful Guy— get treatments that border on the surreal, what with their flat-note sounds and off-beat rhythms.

Nellie McKay

Ms. McKay is not fooling around here. Her admiration for Doris Day (with whom she shares a passion and activism for animal rights) is heartfelt. Says she:

“It’s really incredible that something on a major label hasn’t been done in tribute to Doris Day before, because she’s made so many records,”

“What she possessed – beyond her beauty, physical grace and natural acting ability – was a resplendent voice that conveyed enormous warmth and feeling,” (The New York Times, 2007).

Nellie knows of what she speaks. Doris Day had a huge career as a singer, which took off in 1944, when her first hit with the Les Brown Band, "Sentimental Journey," sold over one million copies. Many more followed, but all that is for another “day.” Today, we sing the praises of Nellie McKay.


This I Believe

When we picked up a copy of This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies Of Remarkable Men And Women last month, we knew that it was a compilation of essays taken from that independently produced three-minute segment on National Public Radio. Sadly, it concluded its popular four year run this past April. What we didn’t know, was that This I Believe was a revival of a 1950’s radio program by the same name, hosted by Edward R. Murrow, which also ran four years (1951-55). And so what made the book especially compelling, was that it included essays, taken from both of those divergent periods in our lifetime. The premise, as stated in the book’s introduction, is this:

This I Believe offers a simple, if difficult invitation: Write a few hundred words (350-500) expressing the core principles that guide your life—your personal credo.”

“We issue that invitation to politicians, nurses, artists, construction workers, athletes, parents, students, the famous and the unknown, everyone.”

Some of the celebrated names in the book who have answered this “exercise in philosophical self-examination in a public context,” include: Bill Gates, Leonard Berstein, Colin Powell, Jackie Robinson, Gloria Steinham, Helen Hayes, William F. Buckley, Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein, Newt Gingrich, Helen Keller…quite a broad spectrum to say the least.

Beyond the book (and its sequel), the franchise is now being kept alive by an international project on the This I Believe website (, which continues to ask for essay submissions. We could not resist the challenge. And in keeping within their guidelines, which include the suggestion to “tell a story” and to use the first person singular, “we” complied as follows in under 400 words:

Doing The Homework

I once ran away in the early ‘70’s, from a seemingly uncreative desk job, to pursue a glamorous career as an actor. However, after seven years of what would prove to be less than a glamorous pursuit, I returned to the “real world.” Though fully chastened, I now had great resolve. I saw that a connection could be made, between what I had learned for “the stage,” and what I could bring to “the desk.”

Through my acting classes, books— including Uta Hagen’s seminal work, Respect For Acting— and roles on the stage, I had learned about the preparation and diligence, that a good performance requires. How to break down a scene to understand its dynamics; how to use sense memory to bring life experiences to a role (yes, I was a trained “Method actor”); how to really observe and really listen; and most importantly, how to achieve a relaxation that translated into confidence.

The value of being fully prepared, was certainly not something brand new to me. It was indeed drilled home often by the nuns of my Catholic grade school education. I did not dare come to class without my homework done. And here was that lesson in my adult life, being re-enforced.

Now those seven years later and back at my desk, I was able to bring a personal plan of action and passion, to what had previously seemed to be “just business.” I was now able to make seemingly mundane data, come alive in making presentations. I was better at human contact; spoke clearly; used plain English. This flying in the face of conventional wisdom at the time, that talked of the need for a cool professionalism and a command of industry jargon. And finally, I could think on my feet and improvise as needed, not because I was so bright, but because I was relaxed, and had done the homework.

Beyond the office, I have applied this approach to most of my life’s projects and endeavors. These have included teaching, serving in non- profit organizations, public speaking, and in my new found “retirement career,” as a poet and writer. I’ve even applied it to my role as a Lector in church at Sunday mass.

Life itself is not a rehearsal. We have one shot to get it right. And getting it right— this I believe—comes from doing the homework.


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