January 30, 2014

Facebook Invites (How Not To)

I recently posted the following to my Facebook timeline:
Facebook folks, if you are using your personal account to promote your business or services, send out mass INVITES to events and workshops to your entire friend list, etc. I am probably going to unfriend you. You need to set up a separate business page and direct your solicitations and invites to folks who have specifically LIKED your business, rather than to every single person you know.

I don't mind an occasional update on what is going on, but my INVITE list is often filled with invites to events I have no interest in from folks I rarely if ever see that are pretty much the Facebook equivalent of SPAM.
Despite this, one of the main offenders on my friends list proceeded to send out a spammish INVITE just this morning. And was summarily unfriended.

I look upon invites from the perspective of "what if everyone behaved that way". I have 580 Facebook friends. Not bragging; it's just that I move through many communities - yoga, music, arts, local, history, glbt, etc. and a few in particular (yoga teacher training, GLBT summer camp, and the Falcon Ridge folk festival) tend to be "meet lots of people" places. Mind you, that 580 is a conservative number of "friends" - I have a fairly rigid "if we've never met in 3D, we're not friends" policy, I almost never make friend requests (but also rarely turn them down), and I have a "one friend connection per person" policy for folks who have multiple facebook identities.

Now, if every one of those folks used Facebook to promote a business, hobby, group, or cause with a handful of events or activities per month, I'd be looking at 1000-2000 "invites" per month. Declining Facebook invites would become a full time job, and I'd no doubt miss a lot of events and invites that I want to see in the "noise" of the unwanted solicitations.

We're not talking about a party here - but rather things like a weekly meditation class, or a monthly reiki training. Hey, I teach yoga. I could, I imagine INVITE all 580 of my friends to each of the three yoga classes I teach weekly, every one of the dozens or so Guinea Pig gigs we play. But no, because that's abusing the system.

Learn how to use the technology, folks. Set up a business page for your business, and send out invites to those who have specifically LIKED the page and expressed interest (and no, accepting a friend request is not an acceptance to get dozens of event invites). Create events for your activities, but instead of inviting 100s of people to each event (and forcing them to decline through gritted teeth of resentment) just post it to your personal and/or business timeline - folks will see it.

And if you are active in a cause, be mindful of flooding your timeline with posts about rescue animals or queer rights or politics or whatever. While nowhere near as intrusive as excessive invites, my "friends" list has several dozen people who I effectively ignore (using the Facebook tools) because of one too many "URGENT PIT BULL RESCUE" post or whatever. Love animals, my pup is a rescue, but I really do not want to weed through 20 such posts on my timeline each day.

Doing the social media dance, whether you are using it for personal or professional purposes, is walking a tightrope between "out of sight, out of mind" (under utilizing the platform) and "annoying your fans" (resulting in "unlikes" and "unfriending") 

My Left Hand

A very vivid and remembered dream last night.

I dreamed I was at a party or function at the home of Dan, my fellow guitarist from The Guinea Pigs. During the party, there was a yoga class, taught by Ana Forrest (of all people; I've practiced with her a few times in the past but she's not really that present in my life right now) in the middle of the street (it was a cul-de-sac, in the dream). Somewhere in the practice, I attempted handstand (not a pose I do unsupported) and folded over or injured my left hand.

Flash forward to the next day; my hand injury has taken the form of slicing away significant parts of my four fingers - the index finger and pinky were pared down to the knuckle, the other fingers had more remaining but still pretty bad. The injuries had healed (no blood) and I was back talking to Dan and his wife Nancy about it (had they noticed this yesterday? Had I bled in their house? Did they find the remnants of my fingers?). I remember telling them not to worry about a lawsuit; I was not that type of person and besides it had happened in the street, not in their house.

And I remember having a deep sadness because the injury meant I would never play the guitar or bass again, and that it would impact my ability to teach and practice yoga.

At that moment, I woke up. The dream was so vivid and real that I immediately went to my left hand, found it to be intact, and was filled with a deep joy and happiness.

The whole thing reminded me of a zen story or parable I have heard, paraphrased here.

A man's child dies, yet he is strangely calm and unmoved by this.

When asked about it, he says "Last night, I dreamed I had four fine children, loving each of them as much as if they were my only child. When I awoke this morning, I realized it was a dream, and my dream children were gone."

"Do I mourn for this one child, or for these four children?"
A lesson dream perhaps. To be thankful for something as small as fingers. And that this body, this life, is on loan, and to enjoy it and use it wisely while it is in my care....

January 29, 2014

My Drinking Problem

No, I am not about to talk about addiction and recovery.A lot of folks in my life do not drink (either by choice or by commitment) and I've certainly spent some time in various flavors of twelve step circles. And I do not mean to make light of those in recovery or to minimalize the impact of alcohol on the lives of those who drink, and those family and friends impacted by alcoholism.

It's just that I'm not a very good drinker. It's not that I'm a sloppy drunk, nor that I am inexperienced, it's just that whatever combination of innate aptitude, preference, and proclivity go into the making of an alcohol aficionado, I don't have the right stuff. My facebook feed is filled with martini gatherings, creative and colorful cocktails, girls nights out, boys nights out, holiday parties, etc. and I just do not get it.

When I do drink, it's beer - usually something upmarket, and mostly because it's kind of controllable - it's hard for me to drink too many without having to spend the entire evening in the bathroom. As the saying goes, most recently quoted by Bruce Dern's character in Nebraska, "you don't buy a beer, you rent it". I might have 2-3 over the course of an evening, on a really wild night. Back in the (college, young adulthood) I guess I'd drink myself silly now and then, but insofar as alcoholism might require a genetic predisposition, I was favored without that particular genetic code. If I was slated for alcoholism, I would have fallen down that particular path in college. 

Somewhere along the line I picked up a bottle of gin and vodka with an eye to summerish cocktails - gin and tonics, cranberry and vodka. I dragged both bottles up the the folk fest, I actually made myself a drink a few times over the long hot summer, but the gin bottle is 3/4 full and the vodka bottle is maybe 1/2 full. I picked up a 1/2 pint (which ages me, I know it's really 200 ml, a transition that occurred when I was in college and working at a package store) of peppermint schnappes for post shoveling and holiday nipping - and was somewhat chagrined to realize that I do not own a shot glass. (I used a cold medicine measured cap to pour myself a shot  several times). That bottle still has 50 mL or so left - I bought another the last snowstorm which remains sealed. I am tempted by the sickly sweet, not so serious hard liquor of peach brandy or the like. I'm curious about wintery drinks - cinnamon whisky, a hot toddy, etc. But I'll probably remain just that.

Part of it may be social, physiological and economic - I do not really have much of a social circle so not a lot of opportunity to go out for drinkees, hang out with friends. I'm also pretty cheap, so the thought of spending $10 for a mixed drink or a glass of wine is just not on my radar. And finally, my liver, which has processed over a decade of oral estrogen, is just not really happy to get a solid night's worth of alcohol to deal with. I'm at an age where a hangover is just not worth it. 

So yeah, I'm not much of a drinker. And I'm kind of envious of those of you who seem to do it with class and style...

January 26, 2014

Oscar Nominated Films (and a few strays)

Colin McEnroe recently blogs:
I’m starting to believe the people who say 2013 is one of the great years for movies. Having recently piled “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Nebraska” on top of the long list of other last year releases viewed, I’m starting to see this as a crop that just keeps yielding.
And who am I to argue with him? I've been seeing a lot of movies myself this awards season. It's not something I do every year, but this year the combination of frigid weather, work schedule, interesting movies, and a fairly dormant (dare I say, comatose) social life has drawn me to the big screen more often. And while my normal movie watching generally is about 60% Real Art Ways, 10% Cinestudio, 10% mainstream movies, and 10% Out Film Fest, I've been out to the local multiplex (in provincial Berlin CT, matinees at the Starplex run until 6 pm and cost $5 - very affordable for the self employed with a flexible schedule).

So, with Oscar season around the corner, here is a listing of what I've seen, what I've liked, and what I've missed. Although I'm trying not to drop too many big plot bomb, there are probably a few spoilers following, so be warned.

In no particular order:

America Hustle: Did not expect to go see this, but what a treat. A double feature with Dallas Buyers Club would have worked in terms of bringing back the fashion, cars, and vibe of my youth. Loved the story, loved the music. Jennifer Lawrence was awesome in a "not the Hunger Games" role. Christian Bale was so deeply lost in a role as insane as Andy Kaufman's Tony Clifton alter ego, that I needed to wait for the credits to see who it was.  Totally not something I would ordinarily go see, but it was a total joy to watch.

Dallas Buyers Club: Confession, I went to see how problematic Jared Leto's portrayal of transwoman Rayon was. In fact, Leto did a great job, and was really such a secondary character. Loved Matthew McConaughey, loved the 80's vibe, Jennifer Garner was great. Totally loved it. 

Gravity: I could totally have done without the star power (Clooney and Bullock carry so many of their roles with them, I think I liken it to the Uncanny Valley phenomenon wherein a human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, causing a negative response) and there were enough technical holes in the plot to fuel a half dozen web sites.  But it was nevertheless a visual thrill ride in 3D ($8 at the Starplex matinee) 

Her: Another one I might have skipped, but for some positive reviews and comments from friends. Joaquin Phoenix was great in a role that vibed John Hodgeman; Scarlet Johansson's vocal work was perfect, and there's Amy Adams again (also in American Hustle). As a "be here now" yoga teacher, seeing all those folks with their noses in their PDA's, interactive video games, etc. was a little unsettling, but I liked the idea of the sentient operating systems evolving and deciding what to do about that in a way that did not involve Skynet and Terminators. Call it dystopia lite.

Nebraska: Just saw this one tonight (Oscar nomination brought it back to Berlin) and I was totally charmed. Not 100% sure that the decision to use black-and-white was perfect (or at least, required) - although there were some really amazing landscape and townscape shots that probably would not have worked as well. I kind of wanted a 70s era instagram filter for the thing. While Bruce Dern is getting kudos for his portrayal, I was much more interested in Wil Forte (familiar to this nerd as Jenna's cross-dressing love interest in 30 Rock). Loved the film, in a lot of ways,

Blue Jasmine: I saw this when it first came out. Did not wow me (if I recall correctly) and so very dark in a lot of ways (except cinematography, if memory serves it was a pretty bright film, in terms of light and color). Alec Baldwin does not seem right for a lot of roles, but her he was. And Cate Blanchette's journey through the film  was hard to watch.

Frozen: The only thing that kept this from being perfect for me was the damn snowman. Get rid of that "we gotta sell toys" candy-ass Ewok / Jar-Jar Binks plot excuse for a snowman and put a ghostly Miyazaki silent snowman in there, and it would have been awesome. But it was still pretty great. A few odd plot points (I totally got Ana's loss of her beloved big sister, not so much Elsa's trauma and fear), but so much ran pleasantly counter to the typical Disney princess meets prince plot. And if the songs made it seem like Wicked II (I was mentally comparing the songs as I watched, Idina Menzel's lovely voice only made it more pointed), that's not a bad thing. I'd go see it again....

Despicable Me II:  OK, it's been a while. When the original came out I never saw it, not really a Steve Carell fan, and my loss (happily rented it after seeing the sequel). The Minions were amazing in their whimsy, slapstick, and irreverence - Harpo Marx meets the Oompah-Loompahs, and cranked up to 11.

Inside Llewyn Davis: There's a lot not to like here (Greenwich Village seems kind of sanitized and empty), but a lot to like also. Here, Justin Timberlake gets lost in his supporting role, it was fun to grab all the musical characters and plop them into my knowledge of the nascent folk scene, I loved the "wrap around itself" plot device. Even the cat, which could have been a cloying and annoying bit, was deftly and amusing employed. "Oh Brother Where Art Though" seemed a lot more contrived, to me (there's Clooney again, unable to escape his celebrity)

Saving Mr. Banks: Tom Hanks might have the same sort of problems for me that Clooney does (hell, I remember his breakout role in Bosom Buddies, much as I try to forget) but for whatever reason, he does not. He was great here, Emma Thompson was similarly awesome, and I much enjoyed the period piece (Mad Men without the alcohol and sex) and the behind the scenes look at one of my childhood memories (the Sherman brothers were great, and love to see Bradley Whitford in anything, West Wing actors are beloved). I was a bit young to see Mary Poppins when it first came out but I am sure I saw in on Wonderful World of Disney, and perhaps from the back of my parent's ranch wagon at the drive-in. 

Finally, Twenty Feet from Stardom: Another mental double-bill for me, along with this year's Muscle Shoals (not nominated). Both were great looks back to rock n' roll history, and if Muscle Shoals was a bit more relatable to me (late 60's and 70's is the music of my youth) Twenty Feet was an amazing, heart-breaking, and ultimately inspirational story.  

In the "not really nominated for much" category, I did belly up to the cinematic bar for three "junk food" movies in the past few months. Catching Fire (the Hunger Games sequel) was pretty good but not much new as compared to the original. The Hobbit II / Desolation of Smaug - pretty much the same, with perhaps a tad more resentment for dragging what amounts to a thinnish book into three movies without a particularly meaningful of satisfying break point between the folms. And Thor: The Dark World was also pretty good (I especially like the way Marvel is bringing in young nerdish folks as foils / adjuncts for the heroes; I've kind of gotten hooked on Agents of Shield).

Now, what have I not seen?

Captain Phillips: No reason, really. Perhaps the Tom Hanks star vehicle (that Uncanny Valley thing, again), although I've heard a lot of NPR interviews that make me think I'd like it, and Tina Fey's "I am the captain, now" line from the Golden Globes (which, it turns out, was ad libbed by the Somali actor, per Tom Hanks) is bringing me around. I'll rent it between now and Oscar night, probably. 

Twelve Years a Slave: Again, no real reason.  Friends who saw it were kind of shocked by it, and being a lone wolf theater goer, mostly, (and being a bit down in life of late) perhaps I did not feel up to it. It's still in theaters so I really ought to try to get to see this one. I really enjoyed Lincoln (last year's "big, meaningful historical picture" that I did go see). On the other hand, I also seems to have missed "The Butler", so perhaps I'm a bit scared of pulling the scab off of my country's history of racism. 

Wolf of Wall Street: Just not a lot of interest. Leonardo Dicaprio has done nothing for me, in fact, looking over his CV, I seem to be actively avoiding films he's been in (Titanic, Gilbert Grape, and Catch Me If You Can are the sum of his films I've seen). Oh wait, I saw (and was pretty much unimpressed with) this year's Great Gatsby.  Similarly, Jonah Hill is another Jude-aversion actor (seeing only 2011's Moneyball). 

And finally, Philomena: Having spent my youth in the 60's and 70's catholic church (albeit south central Pennsylvania, not Ireland), I've got a kind of PTSD around a lot of the issues here. Themes of adoption, abortion, priests, nuns, folk mass, and catholic education swirled around my childhood. I love Judi Dench, so I'll probably see this. But might want to not see it alone....

One thing I try to do most years is get to Real Art Ways to see the Oscar Nominated films - they generally run the Oscar Nominated short films, short documentaries, and animated shorts in rotation and promise to this year from Feb 1 - 13. So I'll probably make it up to Hartford 2-3 times in the coming weeks.

And finally, all this cinema-passion is generally a preparation for the annual "Oscar Night Hartford" (a CARC / CT Aids Resource Coalition fund-raiser). CARC became AIDS Connecticut this year, and Oscar Night became Red Carpet Experience (probably for legal reasons). I've kind of pulled back from formal fund-raisers the past few years (not feeling particularly good about myself to dress up and be social) but Red Carpet Experience is in a good venue (Spotlight Theater) that offers some good hidey-holes for the anti-social (like, the theater, to watch the show) and the opportunity to put on a movie inspired costume. (Hm....I do recall a certain Minion costume) and besides, my friend and fellow yogini Wendy is the adult-in-charge of the event. So MAYBE.... 

January 15, 2014

Once more into the breech.....

In two days, I'll be knee deep into the first weekend of the 2014 yoga teacher training at West Hartford Yoga. This is the same training I attended in 2008 (I was, in fact, Teacher Trainee #1, signing up first for the first year of the training). I have been honored to have been part of this training since 2010 (when I stepped in four of the six weekends to hold space due to some personal issues with the other assistants). In 2011, I was invited back, and have been a part of the training ever since.

It has been a huge honor to be part of this, quite daunting and overwhelming, and something I look forward to both expectantly and with a bit of fear. I know I bring a lot to the training - a bit more Kapha energy than my teacher or the other assistant. Solid, reliable, consistent. I'm the teacher that the trainees can look to when they feel unworthy or inadequate, the real evidence that there many ways to practice, to teach. I'm the one seeking out the trainees trying to hide, to crawl into corners, to disappear.

But the training weekends are quite long and somewhat overwhelming - three long days, three hot and long practices (even though I'm assisting rather than teaching or practicing, it's quite draining). 

It's another big class. 49 this year (topping last year's 46), I think they set a max of 48 but for some reason one extra person snuck in (probably someone got overlooked or verbally committed but got left off the list until the last minute). I expect we'll lose one or two this first weekend (that seems to happen every year) and hopefully we'll be left with an even number.

We have two "repeat" trainees this year - not sure what their stories are yet. We tend to have a few each year; folks who feel they need another go at it, were not in a good place the first time around, or missed the deadlines for certification. But it will be nice to see them again. Other than that, the names are (mostly) unknowns. One Facebook friend, two or three names I recognize as regular students. I'm sure once we get them all together I'll recognize others from classes. But at least 40 who are at this point, unknowns.

We have a lot of guys this year - I count 11 names in the roster that are pretty solidly male gendered (and another 5-6 that could be, although I assume not). We've never had more than 4-5 men. So that will definitely change the character of the training, and give me a bit more to do - when it comes to assisting the larger guys, I tend to be a little more involved than Nykki and Barb. Barb will come assist me at times in class, not get me to budge at all, and then whisper "you did not feel that, did you?" Sometimes, height and weight provide a bit of advantage on top of skill and experience.

I spent a bit of time last night revising a document that I created last year to file the student photos. Last year, I took the initiative to take quick headshots on the first day and create a training class "facebook" (just photos and names) for the training staff to use, it helped us all a lot to get to know folks faster. I started with the 2013 document, so I got to look one last time at the 2013 class of trainees as a group. As I sit in the sharing circle tomorrow night, I am sure I'll have that odd feeling of familiarity (30+ sharing circles over the years) and newness (in my mind, the class of 2013 are "the teacher trainees", not this circle of strangers) . And it will be my great pleasure to get to know them over the next six months.

So yeah, teacher training 2014. I have no idea how I got here, but I'm happy that my life has turned in this direction. Bring it on.

January 12, 2014


I've been getting phone calls for my brother. It's a foreign sounding gentleman (india? middle east?) and he asks specifically for my brother. I tell him there is nobody by that name here. He hangs up, and a few days later, same dude calls back. Bill Collector? Telemarketer?

What's really weird is that my brother has not lived with me since the mid 90's. And there is a whole raft of changes that have come between then and now, including:

* I have a new name
* I've moved twice
* I've changed phone numbers 4-5 times, moving from personal lines to business lines, and back
* For 7-8 years, I had no personal utilities (electric, gas, cable, phone, water) in my name (I moved in with a roommate)
* My brother never had utilities in his name at the old place.
* I do not get a lot of telemarketing calls (on do not call list) and I also do not get calls to other folks who share my last name. So it seems kind of targeted.
* I do get occasional bill collector / marketer calls for other folks who used to have my number.

Totally weird. All I can think of is that this guy has followed a string of "call forward" references from Waterbury to Newington to Hartford to Newington to New Britain.

Alternately, the guy I bought my condo from shares my brother's given name, and perhaps they are conflating that with my last name. Next time they call I am gonna see if I can find out what the heck they want....

January 09, 2014

Supporting Roles

January has traditionally been my time for catching up on films, especially the more mainstream Oscar contenders (as opposed to the indie / arts flicks I tend to catch at Real Art Ways). This week I caught two Saving Mr. Banks (Disney's very meta film about the making of Mary Poppins, with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks) and Inside Llewyn Davis (The Coen Brothers Greenwich Village / folk music homage).

Before I did into the pics, a shout out to the supporting players. Specifically, Bradley Whitford (still indelibly marked and beloved in my memory for his role on The West Wing) and Ethan Phillips (a little less indelibly marked but none the less beloved as the heavily made-up alien Neelix from Star Trek: Voyager). It was really sweet (and only a tiny bit distracting) to see both of them on the big screen.

So first - Saving Mr. Banks. Like many of the films Tom Hanks has attached himself to over the years, the film felt a little too predictable, a little too designed to tug on the heart strings. But only a little - I still found myself deeply moved and appreciative of the 60s setting (kind of like Mad Men, West Coast edition), the integration of a beloved film of my childhood (which I have not seen in many years). Emma Thompson has been a bit of a personal crush for me, so it was hard to see her as crusty and cold. I appreciated the behind the scenes view of 60's film-making, and I thought the flashbacks to the Hoff family were quite effective.

Inside Llewyn Davis is a much more difficult film. I'm a folkie from way back, familiar with and have seen Dave Van Ronk* perform years back, have run into that sort of "dyed in the wool" authentic folk attitude, the musician too pissed off, too bent on being authentic or hitting every note exactly like the canonical recording of a piece to actually connect with an audience, etc. So it all felt very familiar in a cranky old folkie kind of way. There was a lot of dark humor in there (Llewyn trying to stash his box of LPs under a coffeetable and running into his hosts own box of LPs made me guffaw). I though Justin Timberlake's performance was great - well cast, subtly performed. And all of the performances (especially those of Oscar Isaac, as Llewyn) were spot-on.

There was some nostalgia here - days when a folkie would actually get signed by a label and have management (however inept or clueless). And also some things that never change ("I don't see a lot of money here....."). And the closing, with Llewyn curled up in an alley and a Dylan doppelganger on stage, was perfect.It was not the feel good movie that Saving Mr. Banks was, but it will stay with me.

So - both films get positive votes from me!

January 05, 2014

Ten Formative Albums

This one has been floating around Facebook, and I started doing it there, but decided it warranted a blog post!
RULES: In your status update, list ten albums that have stayed with you over the years in some way. Don’t take too long on this list - just a few minutes, tops. These don’t need to be “great” records or critical darlings. Just records that have meant something to you personally.

1. Neil Young - Live RustWhat's not to love, two sides of acoustic music I could play, two sides of guitar distortion I could play, and Neil Young's  vocals and harmonica playing seemed wholly within reach. Jimmy Fallon, I (along with a significant portion of my peer group with access to a guitar and a harmonic holder) did Neil Young impressions first

2. Lou Reed - Rock and Roll Animal I was a little old and a little uncool to get The Velvet Underground - but this album unlocked the whole NYC glam / punk / new wave scene for me.

3. The Who - Tommy I did a college thesis on this album, and to this date I can pretty much sing it through. I've never collected many Who albums, but this one I've always updated to the latest format.

4. On a Winter's Night (compilation) Not the more recent xmas / holiday release, this one is from North Star Records (1990). My intros to acoustic / singer songwriter music, and I discovered so many artists here that went on to become faves: John Gorka, Patty Larkin, Bill Morrissey, Julie Gold, Hugh Blumenfeld, Christine Lavin, David Wilcox, Cheryl Wheeler, David Mallett. There's a lifetime of music to listen to right there.

5. Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run I could pick any of a half dozen Springsteen albums (Darkness, The River, Wild, Innocent, Nebraska), but hey - Jungleland.

6. The Clash - London Calling Sandanista is a close second. If I've got the stereo blasting as I pull into the yoga studio, it's probably this album.

7. The Kinks - Kink KroniklesA little young and uncool to collect Kinks albums back in the day, but I wore out my vinyl copy of this one

8. The Cars - The Cars It's a little dated but it takes me right back to high school and it launched my rock music career. I still remember hearing that they mixed it on car stereo speakers so it would sound good in the car.

9. Dar Williams - The Honesty Room I was a Dar fan before THR came out - I actually own one of her pre-CD cassettes. So I've felt a little protective of her over the years and proud of her success. I bought my first copy of this from her at Roaring Brook Nature Center (where she was the featured performer for Open Mic night, not even a headliner) You never forget your first love. 

10. Peter Frampton - Frampton Comes Alive
Back in '77-'78 you either wore out Saturday Night Fever or you wore out this disk. This one was everywhere. If there were ubiquitous cell phones or digital cameras (or even videotape recorders) back in the day, one would be able to dig up footage of me faking the "do you feel like I do" vocoder bits, playing my Peavey T-60 through a wah-wah pedal at an end of school year lawn party. Any rock star aspirations I've entertained were born of this album. 

January 04, 2014

New Year / New Music

Well, not THAT new, really.

I braved the cold and slippery roads to make my way to New Haven last evening for the CT Folk / First Friday concert featuring No Fuss and Feathers Roadshow.

Who? - you might wonder.  Well, they are Karyn Oliver, Carolann Solebello, and The YaYas, familiar to this blogger from their visits to the Falcon Ridge Folk Fest. Karyn Oliver was an emerging artist performer in 2011,the Yayas were in the emerging artist showcase in 2012 and returned as "Most Wanted" artists in 2013. And Carolann Solebello is a repeat offender as a founding member of Red Molly, a group she stepped back from in 2010. Has it really been that long? The years they do pile up.... And although I generally get to know Falcon Ridg artists a bit through my work in the merch trailer, I rarely spend much time sitting in front of a stage at the fest, so catching up with Falcon Ridge performers in smaller venues is a nice side project.

Was a good sized crowd, surprising given the weather (bitter cold and the tail end of a pretty nasty storm that left the roads still somewhat snow covered and slippery) and the date (the first Friday after the new year), and a testament to both the loyal First Friday fan base and the quality and reach of these musicians.

This grouping (it's hard to call them a trio in the Cry Cry Cry / Red Horse / Red Molly / Brother Sun mold, since the Yayas brought a husband-wife duo to the ensemble) came together for the Joni Mitchell tribute album Blue (which I picked up last night), which in turn evolved from a women's folk collective called Chicks with Dip. Many of the musicians involved liked playing together so much that smaller sub-groups formed, including this one.

It was a wonderful musical evening. Not sure any one of the artists alone would have dragged me out, but the three in combination created a gravitational field plenty strong to pull me southward. Traditional guitars were supplemented with a bass (both Karyn and Carolann picked up what appeared to be a short scale bass, neither was funkmaster flash, although Carolann came close at one point, but both did fine). Jay from the Yayas brought a pea green Danelectro guitar at times which provided some tasty leads. Jay mostly played a Cajon beat-box, and Catherine played occasional shakers and miscellaneous percussion (and foisted same upon her bandmates unexpectedly). Mostly, each artist's solo efforts benefited through the increased heft of some backing instrumentation and wonderful harmonies - the three women's voices blended wonderfully, and the group was judicious in their use of instruments (sometimes these sorts of singer-songwriter cooperative efforts get a little "guitar army / 70s catholic folk mass" when everyone tried to play all the time) - but not the case here - they were well rehearsed and practiced as any full time band.

They played round-robin (somewhat like the Most Wanted or Friday Night song swaps at Falcon Ridge) which worked well, and augmented their originals with a mini-set from the Blue tribute as well as some interesting covers. I picked up Karyn's newest CD Magdalene, which includes a cover of one-hit-wonder Player's Baby Come Back which I sadly owned in my mis-spent youth (by dint of a K-Tel compilation album, no doubt) although I could not dredge the artist name out of my memory banks at Karyn's challenge to do so after she played it.

For a few years there I made it a habit to purchase the most recent Emerging Artist albums from eMusic (I'm a subscriber, and yeah, I know it's not the most artist-friendly way to purchase music, but I figure I get points for actually buying 16-20 albums from relatively unknowns each year). So I have Oliver's Red Dress and The Yaya's Everything albums - need to pick up their newest Paper Boats (was not sure if I owned it electronically, so did not buy it last night)  

So, great start to 2014, musically. See this trio quartet ensemble if you can!

January 01, 2014

2013 Recap

One of the benefits of being a cranky holiday curmudgeon with a social network insufficient to drag me out on New Year's Eve is that I have the internets to myself this New Year's Day. And although 7:00 am is far from early, it should be noted that's I've already made myself breakfast (the "almost never in the larder, but left over from xmas" bacon and blueberry pancakes) and done the dishes. So I'm up and at 'em.

Once upon a time I would scroll back through this blog to recap the past year. Alas, social media has cannibalized a lot of the minutia and epherma of the blogosphere - so I'll resort to Facebook to remind myself what the past year wrought.

Recurring Events

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (for the 20th time, I think. Or 21st. I forget). Camp Camp (third year). Both commitment I'm planing to keep for 2014. As a single person who has done a lot of traveling over the years, without a ton of money, these are perfect times to get off the grid, step out of the ordinary, and immerse myself in loving and entertaining communities. Although "working vacations" (I spend most of the "fest" time at Falcon Ridge in the merch trailer, and teach 10 yoga classes at camp) are probably something I ought to take a long hard look at.

On the yoga front, still teaching yoga, 3x a week plus occasional subs and intro classes. Still assisting with the teacher training program at the studio (since mid-way through the 2010 training; this will be my 4th full year). The studio did Om Street: Yoga on Lasalle Road again, and I (again) ran the sound system. (again with the "working vacation" theme)

On the ballooning front, I actually dragged myself out to the Frozen Buns Rally (coming up again soon), the CLAS annual dinner / banquet (on a very snowy night in Southington), and the CLAS Safety Seminar. All three are on the calendar for 2014. I have (thankfully) stayed out of management with the CT Lighter Than Air Society (although they keep trying to drag me in)

New and Notable Events

We had a pretty awesome snowstorm last February that took several days to escape from. Power and cable stayed intact, so a few days of hunkering down and nesting. I went to Boston to see a Red Sox game for the first time in decades, with the Camp Camp crew. Got down to Pennsylvania for the Trees Family Reunion for the first time in years - Falcon Ridge Folk Fest has historically conflicted about 80% of the time, but with the new fest dates, I hope to be more of a regular.

I had two natural visitors this year - a mother robin nested under my back porch, laying four eggs and fledging her chicks. And a pretty cool spider spun an orb web at my front porch over several weeks this summer. Those, along with my perennial suet cake feeder friends, provided good feedback that I'm carving out nourishing and nurturing space in my life.

And I made two runs at cleaning up my life, food wise this year - a 21 day Detox Cleanse and a 7 day juice fast (with 6 am kundalini yoga, what the hell was I thinking?) - and although both were interesting and useful, neither seemed to be the key to unlock whatever physical, psychological, and emotional impediments I bear that keep me eating poorly.

Music, Playing

My beloved Guinea Pigs kept busy this year. We started the year at MCC on Main (for the first of two gigs), opened for 41 Prospect at the Hartford Road Cafe in Manchester, played Hartford Hodge Podge, Blue Back Square, numerous farmer's markets (Wethersfield, Higganum, Billings Forge, and Bozrah, where we played without AC power), the Audubon Nature Center, and the Glastonbury Apple Harvest Festival. We snuck in an open mike appearance at Lasalle Market in December to close out the year.

In addition, I made my Camp Camp musical debut playing bass for the Scat Orrs (don't ask, it's kinda gross), the infamous camp lesbian folk rock ensemble. I also backed up one of the solo artists on bass. Lot of fun! And although I barely have memory of this, apparently I played bass for several Grateful Dead songs at a UU service in Manchester.

Although it does not really count as playing per se, I ran the sound for kirtan at West Hartford Yoga (twice) and for Little Ugly at Blue Back Square.

And broadening the category to all performance art, I did a piece at the December edition of The Mouth - the theme was "I Fought the Law" and my piece was titled Burger Prank Foiled

Music, Listening

As usual, a diverse musical year. Dervish and Deborah Voight were two "tag along with friends because I'm the one who can drive at night" shows that were nevertheless delightful. The many artists of Falcon Ridge (of course). I snuck down to the CT Folk Fest this year (which has become a mini Falcon Ridge reunion) and saw several notables, among them Honor Finnegan and Poor Old Shine.

Also, Dar Williams at the Iron Horse (twice!) as well as Meg Hutchinson. The Iron Horse has become a nice place to meet up with friends from that part of the world (holla, Amy and Patty!). Little Ugly (total age-inappropriate music crush) many times, most notably a WNPR livecast from downtown Hartford. Kate Callahan twice (once at West Hartford Yoga, once at the nascent Hartfolk Fest). String Theorie (loved 'em!). Hugh Blumenfeld's new group, The Faithful Sky at Roaring Brook Nature Center.  FRFF Emerging Artists from years ago Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin. And Girlfriend Project, one of my friend Julie's many musical projects.

Home Improvement

So yeah, I was a busy beaver. My friend Nykki moved into a new condo, and watching her spiff up the new place motivated me to redo my upstairs bathroom. What started out as a "slap a coat of paint on the walls" became two steps shy of a total tear-down. I replaced all the lighting fixtures, all the electrical switches, the thermostat, the towel racks and sink fixtures, the faucet and drain, and, to ice the cake, the shower curtain, towels, and rug.

In addition, I replaced an old (and never used) ceiling fan / light fixture in my kitchen with pendant lamps (dimmable LED technology), replaced my kitchen sink fixture with undercabinet light bars (which force me to clean the sink area far more often), two outdoor light flxtures (front porch and back deck) with downward facing fixtures (to reduce light pollution).

I also fabricated some spiffy shade screens for my front porch (to both block afternoon sunlight and give me some privacy from the building next door)

In the sense that ART = HOME IMPROVEMENT, I picked up some nice pieces - a series of Guinea Pigs doing yoga poses (keywords META YOGA CUTE), a beautiful photo of a blue heron in flight, an original hand-drawn bird print. My home's walls have become a nice reflection of my soul....

Toys and Consumerism

The biggies this year were sound and audio gack. I picked up a 14 channel audio mixer, 16 channel snake, and a pile of audio gear (mics, stands, monitors, power cables) - building myself up a nice little sound system. Right now it (mostly) augments the studio's sound system for kirtans, but I aspire to do more.

I also picked up a cheap ukulele (I blame Camp Camp, and my friends Eden and Kaia) and a cheap Epiphone electric guitar (I blame fellow Guinea Pig and guitar hoarder Dan)

In the non-musical territory - a tripod sunscreen / shade for Falcon ridge (intended to provide rain and sun shade for my tent, not all that effective), a small windo A/C unit for the basement office (the summer got pretty insufferable around August) 

I finally gave up and purchased a flat-screen HDTV (totally a late-acquirer, the cost came down to the point it was cheaper than my CRT television was when I bought it in the early 90's) - and with that came the decision to "cut the cord" (with HDTV, the low cost analog cable I was buying seemed kind of stupid) - I bought a cheap antenna which I hooked up on the outside of a second floor window, and that, along with a Roku box and subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu Plus, and the free apps on my iPad, are all the television I really need).

And lastly, I retired my old canister vacuum cleaner (a Kenmore unit I'd been lugging around since the mid 80's, one of my first adult purchases with my Sears credit card), replacing it with a much lighter Dirt Devil unit. I also started to use the vacuum cleaner to clean kitchen and bathroom floors (heretofore I've been sweeping them, how dumb / luddite-ish am I?). And bought the first dustbuster I've owned in 20+ years. (I had taken to using a hand broom to brush the dog hair off the bed each morning, and came to the realization that this might be one contributor to the dog hair covered rug up there). So now I vacuum my bed most mornings. TMI, I know.


I'd note all the new babies in my life, except THERE ARE TOO DAMN MANY OF THEM. But special welcome to Nate and Freya, who parents are particularly beloved. I will say that, although there are many young children in my world, without exception their parents are amazing, healthy, sane, and full of love and life, and the world will be a better place for each of these new life journeys.

I was fortunate to have no significant deaths in my life this past year, although friends did lose parents and loved ones. RIP especially to Lola the pug; her mama moved to Califormia this past year and although we did not spend a lot of time together, she was always a bit of a guardian angel to me.

This year I decided to stop playing with the studio's kirtan group - I was finding the events to be a huge sink of energy for me; I'd end up with a 2-3 day "hangover" from each kirtan, and be filled with resentment at those who I saw as taking from me, but not sustaining me. The group has survived (with a new bass player and guitarist, apparently it takes two people to fill my seat, although both are far better musicians, and their involvement has affirmed my decision) and I've taken on a new role a sound engineer which lets me be part of it (OK, I'm still there for hours of set-up and tear-down) without draining my energy. I'm very happy with that decision. 

This year I also seem to have made a decision to stop traveling for work. It was less than conscious - it was in fact very awkward. I took a trip out to Portland, OR - and never finished the trip report, never billed the customer. I've just grown tired of that aspect of my work - I'm busy enough with the things I can do remotely, it disrupts my financial, teaching life, and travel has become such an unpleasant chore. Getting older? World changing? Life changing? Not really sure.

Finally, my yoga practice has transitioned this year into something different. I've been (over the years) a "Type A" yogi - hitting the mat 5+ times a week for a vigorous power practice. Whether it's age, the physical cost of being overweight and eating poorly, wear-and-tear from the practice, or some combination, I know I am good for maybe 2 power practices a week with a very select set of teachers. Add an angsty relationship with the community itself (and my own difficulties balancing my expectations and roles as teacher, student, friend, community member) and lack of resonance with some of the available less vigorous classes, and I'm just not spending a lot of time on the mat there.

Friends and Relationships

It's been a tough year on that front - a lot of holidays and weekends spent by myself, digging in to a cave of loneliness and self-pity. Yet there have been some highlights.

My friend Cheryl, the dark spirit of my teacher training class who terrified me (and was therefore someone I was curious about) has become such a good friend. Although we are on such different wavelengths (she runs somewhere between 4x and 10x as fast as I in just about everything - jobs, passions, living arrangements, relationships - so it's hard to keep up with her) she is nevertheless the one person who I can count on for a "how you doing?" text or an out of the blue invite for pancakes or pho. 

My friend Amy, who has transitioned from being on the periphery of my life (we've been Dar List / Dar Camp and Falcon Ridge acquaintances for many years, although truthfully she was mostly memorable for her hat and her camera for a lot of years) to being a good friend through Camp Camp and Falcon Ridge. She's helped to bridge the lonely weekends with Facebook chat and the occasional folk music foray (yeah, Iron Horse!) - and I can only admire her stamina when it comes to getting out to see live music!

And my "Little Buddy", Kaia (which she has noted, makes me "The Skipper") . I've no kids, but if I did, and could pick, she'd be atop the list - smart, talented, beautiful, real. It's been such a pleasure (and honor) to watch her life journey unfolding and she's one of those "I knew her back before she was famous" people.

Finally, my friend and teacher Barbara, who puts up with all my bullshit and flailing around (and 2013 was a big year for both) and neverthless continues to hold a place for me in the yoga teaching ranks, honors me with the opportunity to assist teacher training, makes sure I have at least one healthy meal per month, and drags my sorry ass up and down the hills of Colchester periodically, occasionally in a downpour. 

And although my single status and lack of a life partner seems to be a recurring source of struggle for me, well, there are signs of life. Faint maybe, but they are there.

In Summary

So...much as I whine and kvetch about how sucky / empty / lonely my life is - don't let that fool you. I had a pretty full and awesome year. If 2014 brings more of the same, who am I to complain?

I'm going to publish this now (while the day is young) and then go back and hyperlink the hell out of it. Because that's how I roll.