8 things i’m thankful for. (not including the new wheels)

The incredibly awesome gig with the Ryan Forrester Band on Saturday night. (Plus it was nice to be called “L Train” again.)

Being involved and engaged in positive, healthy conversation about diversity, where the main focus is to be respectful of each other.

The importance of not just listening, but taking the time to truly hear what is being said.

That when I do my morning walks, I never look back to see what’s behind me, and I just focus on what’s ahead.

The L Train is back on track!

Marching to my own beat – if I lived according to the status quo, I’d be miserable.

My incredibly eclectic group of friends….they truly run the gamut!

Lew Soloff’s trumpet solo on Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “Lucretia McEvil”…..it’s musicianship on a completely different level!

Peace.

water music.

It feels good to have a gig on the calendar. As much as I’ve been enjoying a break from the music grind, there’s still an excitement that gets me energized when I know there’s an opportunity to make great music with others.

This past weekend we had a “socially distanced” rehearsal for the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet down at Lake Anna in Central Virginia. The leader of our group has a beautiful house right on the lake, and we had plenty of opportunities to relax as well as rehearse. I actually kayaked a few miles on the lake, but more importantly, Jenn and I took the time to relax (both on land and in a float on the water) and just take in the beauty around us.

Music truly soothes my soul…to sing with this amazingly talented group is very invigorating. Although I still struggle with the fact that my friend Andre is no longer with us on this earth, his presence was definitely felt throughout the weekend, as we took time to remember him this weekend, and the tremendous impact he had on all of us as a member of this group. I will always sing in his honor, and his legacy will never be forgotten.

Sunset at Lake Anna. (photo by Jenn Stowe)

There’s a certain feeling/sensation when 4-part harmony is sung with perfect blend and focus. I felt this way throughout our rehearsal on Saturday. We haven’t rehearsed as a full group since last summer, but we picked up right where we left off. Having the time to relax (and kayak) and focus prior to rehearsal helped to get me “in the zone” to rehearse, as I was able to clear my head of any distractions.

I know that our gig next month will be phenomenal – although we’ll have the challenges of COVID protocols, the four of us will be ready to do what we do best….plus it’s at Lake Anne (not to be confused with Lake Anna), so the concert will take place in a beautiful setting on a (hopefully) clear summer evening.

Perhaps I should bring the kayak?

8 things i’m thankful for.(while technically off the grid)

That I’m wonderful 88% of the time.

That even though I lack culinary skills, I now know how to “bake my own cake”: (1/4 cup kindness, 3/4 cup funny, 1/4 cup smart, 1/16 generosity, 2 cups creativity, 1/8 cup impatience and overly critical, 1/16 cup determination, 1/8 cup resilience); compliments and insults are just icing.

My “off the grid” location.

Rob Collins – my best friend from college who emailed me from his home in Vienna Austria today. I was nice to wake up and read that email to start my day.

Avalon. ‘Nuff said.

That through all of the COVID and racial issues, I still try really hard to practice the Golden Rule and see the good in others, however challenging that may be sometimes.

That the “critic voice” in my head is not nearly as powerful as the “balanced and centered” voice.

I’m really tired of checking these boxes about myself.

The incredible musicianship of Steve and Miles Brown. Thank you for taking me back 30 years with your incredible music.

Steve Brown – my professor,
my mentor and my friend.

That I hope one day (probably not in my lifetime), people can accept that we’re all equal. God (or the universe, or science, or whatever you believe) made us all different for a reason – to learn from and respect each other as equals.

And so it is. ✝️🔯☪️🕎☯️☮️💟

it’s just talk.

Thank you, Pat Metheny.

This has been an enlightening weekend while in Richmond. I’ve seen beauty in many different forms – through my surroundings, through conversation, and through graffiti in a way I did not expect.

A beautiful morning walk in a beautiful city.

On Saturday morning, I met my friend Candace at Starbucks for iced tea and conversation. We are what would be considered “polar opposites” in today’s society. Here’s what I loved – we talked for two hours, and it was about all the stuff we have in common, and when we did touch on political topics, it was respectful to the other person…in all honesty, we spent more time laughing, and “arguing” over the difference between New York and Upstate New York! It was truly an enjoyable morning!

Iced Tea, and productive dialogue…my kind of Saturday!

As Jenn’s daughter lives down here, we’ve had the chance to do some walking around some of the very scenic parts of the city. For as divided as things are right now between COVID and civil injustice, it’s been quite enjoyable to meet and talk with people as I’ve been walking around. People have been very friendly, and it almost makes me forget about how much unrest is still taking place.

This afternoon I visited the Robert E. Lee statue in Downtown Richmond. Although this is the only one not yet taken down, all of the Confederate statues in the area have been vandalized. I understand the anger and the resentment behind why they were vandalized, but I struggle with how they were vandalized in certain ways. There’s a mix of messages of hope and messages of anger. What I found incredibly inspiring was the graffiti painted on some of the concrete barriers around the monument, as these had words and sayings like Unity, Solidarity, and “We Have A Dream.” For all the ugliness we have seen with the controversy of these historical figures, it was nice that someone took the time to be very artistic and detailed with their words of hope.

What saddens me right now is the lack of healthy dialogue – social media continues to be the breeding ground for negativity, and everything on TV seems to be sound bytes of arguments and/or finger pointing. We communicate with our thumbs and fingers, and we hide behind our profile names. I now scroll past anything that starts with “I know this is gonna offend…”, because that’s only stirring the pot. Between now and Labor Day, if anyone wants to have dialogue (not arguing, or focusing on having the last word) with me, I’m very open to that. Yes, we’ll have our differences, but let’s talk not only about differences, but solutions and commonalities. These are the steps towards healing, and God knows there’s a LOT of healing that needs to take place.

Looking for hope in an area
where signs of anger were very present.

They say that pictures are worth a thousand words. I hope that the images in this post encourage positive, valuable dialogue. Who says talk is cheap?

musicals….from the meadowlands?

I know this idea sounds completely crazy, but it’s 2020, and nothing has been normal this year.

Yes, when we go to musicals, the sets and backgrounds are a key component of the production, but what do we remember more than anything else? The characters, the songs, and the amazing choreography. With the technology that’s available, why can’t we take productions from Broadway to MetLife Stadium, and outdoor NFL and soccer stadiums across the country and use 100-yard playing fields to stage a production?

Yes, I can see how cost could be an issue, but think of the people that could benefit…actors, musicians and all crew from the theater, and stadium employees who have been out of work (baseball) or could possibly be out of work (football)?

This is sad….hoping to see the lights back on
sooner than later.

It breaks my heart to know that Broadway will be closed until 2021….we’re seeing pop-up drive in movie theaters all over the country…why not figure out a way to use these expensive stadiums that are rarely used during the week? If we can go to rock concerts and watch the performance on the Jumbotron, why not utilize an 80,000 seat stadium for completely-socially-distanced performances that could hopefully have a positive financial impact?

Just my two cents….to all of my friends in theater not just on Broadway, but around the globe, I support you, and I cannot wait to see your performances again…possibly in East Rutherford, NJ?

souvenir. (aka EMDR and facing my fears)

“Yesterdays disappear, and your memory’s my only souvenir.” – Ricky Peterson, from the title track of his album “Souvenir”

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve needed to find closure on a few issues, some dating as far back as 1992. I’ve had this crippling fear in my head of EVERYTHING that could go wrong by taking this action, but I decided to “put my fears upon the shelf, and be true to myself,” and do what I’ve needed to do for quite some time.

In therapy, I’ve incorporated EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing) into my sessions. This is to help me refocus my outlook on a number of traumatic events from my childhood through adulthood (most of these being self-inflicted). Although it’s not complete amnesia, it’s focusing on the positive moments and people who were in my life when these things happened, and it’s finding a place in my mind of tranquility.

As I’ve been working through this process, I started reaching out to those who were a part of these moments of trauma (either directly or indirectly) to say what has always been in my heart and mind, but I’ve always been afraid to say out loud. As I don’t have direct contact with a couple of these people, I’m thankful that other friends have helped me through this process (thanks, Laurie H).

The biggest challenge of closure is to do it knowing that I wouldn’t get a response…the closure has come from knowing (or at least assuming) that my feelings were heard. As I always felt that I was not as good as everyone else growing up (pretty much until recently), my biggest fear was that this communication would be perceived as needing validation.

Putting the past into a healthier perspective, and learning to let things go.

I first reached out to my girlfriend from 11th grade. When we dated, a few of her friends thought I was not good enough for her, and this made me feel that I was not good enough. She was very goal-oriented (in a good way), and I just always felt like I fell short of what her ideal boyfriend should be. After we broke up, I still felt that I needed to prove to her and her friends that I was worthy (in hindsight, I cringe when I think about this.) When I spoke to her recently, she flat-out asked me why I felt I needed her validation. Being able to be open and honest about what I had been feeling about myself for many years helped me to reframe the past, and it gave me the opportunity to say what I feared to express, and I did this without any expectations or validation…I was focused on being true to myself above all else.

Next on the list was “Francesca”, from the incredibly fucked-up part of my life called my 20’s. Reaching out to her (albeit very indirectly) was something I had feared for years, because of the magnitude of the mistakes I made with her. Each and every one of these mistakes was self-inflicted, incredibly damaging, and all triggered by the fact that my perception was that I was not good enough for her. For many years I felt incredible shame and embarrassment for the things I did, until I was able to forgive myself (definitely not an easy task). I sent her a text message where I was very honest about my mistakes, and the reason I made those mistakes. I found closure in that I told her everything….I knew there would be no response, but I was able to let it go, because through looking at what happened all those years ago with a healthier perspective, I know that I’d finally made peace with myself, and realize I never had anything to prove to her or anyone.

I wrote a seven-page letter to Miss Vitriol 2019 this week. Although I had forgiven her months ago, there were some things that still needed to be said. These things were not about validation or revenge – it was about saying what I’d been feeling, but was afraid to say, as it could impact other people. I’m thankful that I took a few days to think about what I wanted to say instead of doing this on emotion. I found incredible closure in telling her point blank that I forgave her, even if she still thinks that she doesn’t need it. And yes, I wrote this knowing there would be no response, as my opening remarks were “Although I don’t expect a response to this letter, this is a letter that needs to be written.” I can’t even imagine being able to say these things back in the day, as I’m sure I’d have written letters strictly hoping for a validation response, even if it meant “poking the bear” to get a response.

What I’m learning and enjoying about EMDR is how to close my eyes, and go to my happy place in my mind. My happy place is Tucson Arizona – I remember going on vacation to Arizona about 17 years ago, and driving down to Tucson from Phoenix on a perfect and sunny autumn afternoon. I also vividly remember the album that I listened to on the drive down – Ricky Peterson’s “Souvenir” album. The title track from the album is what I focus on during my EMDR time, and I’m starting to incorporate this into any stressful situations. Being in a mental happy place also gave me the courage to reach out to these people from my past and say what was long overdue.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I am a work in progress. But I’m also good enough, worthy, and equal to the people around me, and in all honesty, these feelings are still very new to me. As a reminder of my self-worth, I think I need to get something to remind me of this on a daily basis…perhaps a souvenir?

vanilla chex and beer.

I stepped on the scale on Monday morning, and had the rude awakening of seeing that I’ve gained 20 pounds over the past year. I know that the majority of my weight gain has happened since the beginning of 2020. As this has been an incredibly stressful year, I’ve been eating for comfort, and although I’ve been walking every week, I’ve struggled to find the motivation to do this every day.

It was my serious bout of pneumonia at the beginning of 2019 that was my wake up call. It was how I found out that I had high blood pressure and that I was prediabetic. Although I wasn’t at my all-time heaviest weight of 252 pounds, I was still in bad shape. This was the motivation I needed last year, and I was in a very positive frame of mind as I focused on both my physical and emotional health. Between COVID this year, and the most recent turn of events since the death of George Floyd, it has been very challenging to feel motivated every day. There have been some days where I haven’t wanted to get out of bed.

I’ve always had a sweet tooth….it’s been my Achilles’ heel my whole life. I’ve always loved ice cream, Krispy Kreme donuts, and IHOP. I always dread Girl Scout cookie season, as Thin Mints and s’Mores have always been my kryptonite. Even when I’m focused on eating healthy, carbs have never been my friend. I’m trying to cut out all unhealthy food, and focus on fruits, vegetables (kale!!), grains and lean protein. As Jenn has been walking diligently for the past three months with awesome results, she has given me the motivation to get my ass out of bed every morning to walk a few miles before my day starts.

Because it’s about my health
more than anything else.

My goal is to be down to 200 pounds by my birthday in August….it’s not about how I’ll look, as it’s about how I’ll feel. I feel the difference in my energy compared to last year, and I know my vitals will improve…to be able to work towards a goal and achieve it is something that gives my spirit a boost!

Cutting out junk food is going to be a struggle, so I’m allowing myself two rewards to enjoy in moderation: the occasional bowl of Vanilla Chex cereal, and the occasional beer/hard cider. To make it more of a challenge, I’m only enjoying these if I hit certain goals during the week. Why am I sharing this? Because it adds an extra layer of accountability, and because my friends have been very supportive of me during my journeys with my weight loss.

Vanilla Chex and beer….not ideal together, but very motivational!

the ex factor.

I thought about calling this post “Julio Iglesias Can Suck It,” because it’s about all the girls I’ve loved before, and how one in particular impacted how I viewed relationships for many years.

I had a really productive therapy session this afternoon. I brought something up that has been impacting me for almost 32 years, and I was thankful that both my therapist and Jenn gave the the space to talk about this. It’s something that changed my outlook when it happened back in the Fall of 1988, and I’m finally able to let it go.

I met Mandy in the Spring of 1987 at the Music Educators All-Eastern Conference in Baltimore, as we were both selected to sing in the All-Eastern Choir. We instantly clicked, and this developed into a long-distance relationship that continued through our freshman year of college (me at Ithaca, her at Plymouth State in New Hampshire).

During the Summer of 1988, she went to Detroit to do an internship, and the plan was that I’d fly out for a few days in August before she went home. A month before I was supposed to head out, she called to tell me she was going home. Even though I wasn’t going to Detroit (and hadn’t yet bought my plane ticket), we still had our phone calls, and I still sent letters, as we had always done. When I got back to school, I noticed that our communication was not as frequent, but nothing prepared me for what came next.

It was a Saturday night in October…my friend Steve also knew Mandy, and I mentioned that I hadn’t heard from her in a few days. Steve reached out, and that’s how she broke up with me – she asked Steve to tell me that she didn’t want to see me anymore. No reason why, no explanation…..nothing.

I was already having trust issues (part of which were buried because of the sexual abuse), and this made me question myself…was it because of something I did or said? Was it because of my color? Was it something else all together? At this point, I went into a deep feeling of self-loathing, and truly feeling like I wasn’t good enough to be in a relationship with anyone. I’d had a previous girlfriend while in high school, and the prejudice of one of her friends had a major impact on our breakup. I truly lost a sense of self. As I was 18 years old (and my frontal lobe wasn’t quite developed yet), I did not react well at all.

Older, wiser, and with a complete frontal lobe!

As I went through the rest of college, I was afraid to date, and there were certain girls that treated me like I was not worthy of their time. As I went into my 20’s (aka “the Fuckup Years”), I was dating one girl, and simultaneously pining for another girl (Francesca), who I felt treated me like I wasn’t good enough for her. The mistakes I made? Ouch. Then I got into a pattern of dating girls who treated me as less than equal, as I had endured that from my dad, and I had accepted this as normal. One of them actually said to me that “she was the smarter one in the relationship,” and I didn’t have the self-esteem to walk away.

As I’d become less trusting (and simultaneously more arrogant), I had a humongous chip on my shoulder. When I was married to my ex-wife, I had told her about what had happened in my previous relationships, and she used to tease me about Mandy, right down to changing the Barry Manilow lyrics at my expense. Between this and the religious browbeating, this was when I started to hit the wall. I truly believed that I was incapable of feeling like an equal to anybody.

There’s an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Raymond couldn’t understand why an ex-girlfriend broke up with no explanation. That resonated with me, especially when his wife Debra helped him find closure. It wasn’t that he still had feelings for his former girlfriend…it was the feeling of getting an answer.

Fast forward to my therapy session today…although I’ve worked extremely hard over the last year to get in a really good headspace, I felt like I needed to address this issue that has always been tucked away in the corner of my mind…and I’m really glad that I did.

I got insight today that gave me a new perspective. To use today’s lingo, I was “ghosted” by Mandy. The reasons that she said nothing did not fall completely on my shoulders. We were both 18-year-old kids (whose frontal lobes weren’t yet fully developed), and she was either too scared to say anything, or just didn’t know how. I took the feeling of rejection so brutally hard all those years ago, and I didn’t believe in myself as a result. It feels like I can take that monkey off my back that I’ve let slightly eat away at me all these years.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve made a point of reaching out to a lot of people from my past – people that I hurt and people who I felt hurt me, all the way back to junior high. It wasn’t about any type of payback, and although some of the conversations were a little bit odd or slightly off, it was good to say the words that I wish I’d said years ago, but that I didn’t think I was good enough and/or too scared to say. The results have been mixed, but I don’t have the fear that I always felt in the past when thinking about reaching out.

I’m at a point now where I can see and better understand what happened, and although it would be very easy to kick my own ass for all the self-loathing and mistakes for all these years, I’m finding the ability to forgive myself and let it go. I don’t need to know why Mandy did what she did, because it’s a reflection on her, not on me…..and although I’m still not there yet, I’ll get to the point where I can truly forgive her.

This ex will no longer factor into who I am, and how I feel about myself.

beepers, flip phones, and the french toast dilemma.

I was going through some of my stuff in my “music closet” the other day, and I came across a picture from 1996. At the time I was living in Scranton PA, and the picture is of me playing in the band FM and the MF Horns. What cracked me up about the photo is that I could see my beeper on my belt (that, and I still had hair at the time). I also remember getting my first analog cell phone a couple of months later (it had an interchangeable battery and car cigarette lighter adapter….cutting edge), and I remember how awesome it was to feel so “in the moment.”

I say this because feeling “in the moment” 24 years ago feels a helluva lot different that feeling in the moment in 2020. 1996 had its share of tragedy (the Oklahoma City bombing), but as a country, it felt much more like a feeling of hurting together and healing together when this happened. It wasn’t about the color of the people who lost their lives that day – it was about the Americans who perished. The same can be said for 9/11…everywhere you looked, you saw signs that said “USA” or “United We Stand.” The 3000+ people who died were from all different backgrounds, nationalities, religions and preferences. Again, we hurt together, and we healed together.

Now here we are – people cannot wait to say red when somebody else says green. People are all but at each other’s throats about having the last word, and not caring about hurting other people. We are truly 180 degrees from where we were on September 11, 2001, after what could easily be described as our country’s most devastating tragedy. How did we get here, and how do we get back to the simpler times of the past, where people had more genuine respect of others, and couldn’t easily hide behind their vicious comments on social media, or feeling entitled to be so vocal about their hatred?

There’s more than one reason why I choose
Vermont maple syrup.

This morning, the Quaker Company decided to focus on re-branding and renaming their Aunt Jemima syrup. People are losing their fucking minds over this, as there’s a divide that is all but based on color on this decision. A lot of social media comments have been made, varying from “this is ridiculous”, this is “extreme political correctness” (as well as some other vile comments that I flat-out refuse to reprint), to people saying that it represents a depiction of slavery, and is still part of the negative stereotypes of Black people that should’ve gone away a long time ago. What’s really pissing me off today is the feeling of hesitance – yes, I’ve always found the images of items such as this syrup and Uncle Ben’s Rice as “outdated”, and I can’t express how they make me feel as a Black person without fear of backlash, and that really fucking sucks. As a society, are we too stuck in our ways that we can’t even try to see things from a different perspective. I have one White friend who told me that they never saw this as offensive, because they thought this was a depiction of people who escaped slavery. I can see and understand why they had that perspective. What I really respected was that they also took the time to research the story of Aunt Jemima, and realized that this was created on the depiction of a ‘house slave.”

I shudder to think of how much worse things will become before they start to get better. I hope that there’s more of a focus of learning and understanding going forward, instead of fighting and trolling. There truly are no winners right now. All I can do is try to be the change that I would love to see in our society, and hope that others will join me in doing the same.

If you need to reach me, just call my beeper.