Thursday, November 26, 2015

a blog of Thanksgiving...

On any given day, most of us can rattle off a long list of what we’re thankful for. This year, in particular, I think we are all keenly aware and thankful for our safety, our freedom, and the opportunities afforded us because we live in the United States of America.

I’ve had a hard time with Thanksgiving being largely glossed over this year, as the commercial Christmas season inches its way earlier and earlier. I have every confidence that it will begin in July pretty soon, bypassing Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving altogether.

Be that as it may, I am setting aside this day to focus on the gratitude it warrants, thankful for more blessings than I could possibly ever list in a blog…which doesn’t mean I won’t try to articulate at least some of them.

I’d like to start by offering up a prayer for those who have suffered recent losses. There are many this year, and I know the holidays are the hardest days when people are absent.

And for those battling illnesses of all kinds, you, too, are held in my thoughts and prayers with love on this day, in particular.

When contemplating what I’m thankful for, I like to let myself be random and go with whatever pops into my head as I’m typing this. So here goes…

I am thankful for making it to Thanksgiving 2015!
I am thankful for good health and for my wonderful family.
I am thankful for my crazy dreams and the ridiculous amount of perseverance I still possess to make them a reality.
I’m thankful for laughter.
I’m thankful for the precious time I get to spend with my father.
I’m thankful for the colors of autumn.
I’m thankful for football. (Totally kidding. Replace that with figure skating.)
I’m thankful for the people I’ve met this year.
I’m thankful for the friendships that sustain me and make my life rich.
I’m thankful for all the work and income I’ve received.
I’m thankful for chocolate. (We can all come together on this one, can’t we?!)
I’m thankful for any way in which I’ve made any life better.
I’m thankful that Aaron Sorkin is still writing.
I’m thankful for lessons learned and who I’ve become because of them.
I’m thankful for old friends reunited.
I’m thankful for things that sparkle.
I’m thankful I finally found a great hair colorist in New York! (The importance of this cannot be overstated.)
I’m thankful for art that moves me.
I’m thankful for my faith in the inherent goodness of life.
I’m thankful for anyone who has ever stopped by and read this blog.
I’m thankful for the journey that lies ahead, whatever it may be and wherever it may take me.

Life is a gift. Today was not given to everyone, so no matter how heavy the burden we carry, we owe it to ourselves to say “thank you” and to wring every bit of joy out of it that we can.

Happy Thanksgiving…

Saturday, November 21, 2015

who we become...

For many people, maybe most, in fact, high school is a high point in their lives. It is the first glimpse into impending adulthood, complete with the requisite taste of first love, unchaperoned parties, stereotypes, peer pressure, and acne.

As with elementary and middle school, if you attended public schools, as I did, your classmates were decided largely, if not entirely, by geographical proximity to the school. And your class choices were mostly predetermined.

It took me a while to realize that this whole luck of the draw thing might be why I harbor no affection and little recollection of that time in my life, outside of shows and choir performances, that is.

The only friends I maintain from that period of my life, (minus recent reconnection due to the advent of social media), did not go my high school. We met in performing arts camp and Yonkers All City Choir.

I say this not because high school was traumatic or particularly awful, but because, when I think about my life, I consider it to have begun the day I stepped foot onto the campus of Northwestern University. (Go Wildcats!)

I chose Northwestern because it produced (and still produces) an astounding number of successful people in the performing arts. You cannot go to a Broadway show, concert hall, opera house, movie, or watch a TV show that does not contain Northwestern Alumni. And that was a good enough reason for me to choose it.

My freshman year found me living in a short wing on the 4th floor of a dorm called Allison, which, at that time, was all girls. Five of us from that little wing would go on to become roommates in the subsequent years, adding two more to our mix.

We represented diverse interests, majors, religions, and parts of the country, but we were all drawn to each other. Ultimately, our group would become doctors, lawyers, musicians, journalists, academic scholars and writers. That sounds dizzying to me now, but when we met, we were all just trying to find ourselves and our way in the world.

Life has a way of scattering us, of keeping us busy, and focused on what is immediately in front of us, not what has passed.

We live new places, take new jobs, make new friends, marry, divorce, have children. It is the natural order of things, I suppose. And usually, those things leave little time and energy for staying in touch, no matter how deep the affection.

So to find ourselves together again – all of us – nearly 30 years later, was an unbelievable feat…and treat.

Who are we now? Would we still recognize each other? Was what drew us together in the first place still there? And what was that, anyway?

Would the conversation be polite and superficial, or deep and meaningful? Would we get on each other’s nerves? Would we still like each other? Would the air be pregnant with awkward silences or filled with laughter and love? Would we have anything to say once we got past the initial details of catching up? Would it be all about memories, or would we be creating something new?

Most of us already turned 50. What wisdom had we acquired in a half century, and what would that look like? Who are we now? What had we figured out – about ourselves and about life? What brought us together now, at this particular moment, and why?

I can only speak for myself, of course, but I would say that each of us is at a crossroads in our lives, seeking something we didn’t know we should or would be looking for.

Yes, there were moments for reminiscing. And there was laughter – lots and lots of laughter. It turns out that Stephen Colbert had been to a party at our apartment. Of course, I wouldn't remember that, because I was too busy running around screaming, "We're gonna get evicted! We're gonna get evicted!" In my defense, that was right before the police showed up at our door. It does make for great storytelling years later, though. And we did not, in fact, get evicted.

In addition to the laughter, though, there was also depth and courage, compassion, acceptance, admiration and genuine love all around.

There was a feeling of gratitude that permeated every moment of the weekend. We were all wise enough to know that this kind of friendship is rare and precious and should be recognized and appreciated as such.

Relationships take effort. All relationships. They deserve the kind of care we’d give to something we treasure. They deserve the time for a text, an email, a phone call, and a visit. Friendships deserve our time and energy, because they sustain us throughout our lives.

I may have forgotten what I learned in Oceans of the World, (and it’s quite possible I could not have told you, even when I was taking Oceans of the World), but what I learned and took away from Northwestern was far more important – be grateful for, nurture, support and cherish those whom you hold dear. They will sustain you for a lifetime.

If you’re reading this now, go phone a friend, reconnect, reach out, make the time. You’ll be glad you did. 

To my roommates and all my friends, old and new, I count your friendship among the richest blessings of my life. 

Thanks for stopping by...
Diane, Tanya, Julie, Nancy, Paula, Christine, me, & Alisa

a Project Update - November 2015

It is inevitable that whatever we choose to pursue in life will teach us lessons. Valuable lessons, if we let it. And this project is no different.

There are a multitude of things I have learned and continue to learn as I go along.

One of them is that things happen in their own time, not in mine.

When I look back on the list of intentions I set and wrote down (and I really did write them down) when I began to formulate this project, not one of the things was for it to be done fast.

In hindsight, that may or may not have been something I should have contemplated, but I was more concerned with the content, the spirit, and the hearts of those who would be co-creating it with me, as well as what it would be putting out into the world.

And so here we are. A verrrry loooong time after we began, and having blown past every release date I’ve projected along the way. And there are many reasons I could give you for it that are, in fact, all true. But it occurs to me as I look at what’s going on in the world that the reason may be one I don’t yet know or understand.

On a nuts and bolts level, I will tell you that I am working with the best and most talented people in the business, who, because of the shoestring budget of this record, are working for little to no money because they love and believe in this project.

I am humbled and unbelievably grateful for that, but it also means that they have to fit it in around their other, higher paying work, and I understand that, too. If I were working with lesser talent, we’d probably be done, but it would not be nearly as magnificent as it is turning out to be. So I am willing to trust that you will find it worth the wait.

On a deeper level, I hope the end result is that this album touches lives in exactly the way that it is meant to, that it uplifts, inspires, motivates, comforts, and empowers people. I know that’s a tall order, but at its best, don’t you think songs do that?

Every day that I work on this, I am both aware and grateful that you chose to go on this journey with me. You are as present in this record as those who joined me playing and singing on it.

You are the people who, for whatever reasons you had at the time, backed, supported and made possible the dream and decision I made to say something that matters and put something wholly positive out into the world musically.

In the weeks and months to come, I am going to be asking you again to join in with me in getting this up and flying. You can do that by spreading the word and the excitement now!

The album is available for pre-order on my website:

And you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram:

I know I will say it a gazillion more times – thank you!

Peace, love, and blessings to you,


Sunday, October 18, 2015

...a legacy

If we live long enough, we are bound to endure that which we once thought unimaginable.

Most of us, despite our noblest efforts, go through our day to day lives unconsciously, assuming an amount of mundaneness that we take blissfully for granted.

And then something happens, and we are shaken to our core. And suddenly, nothing looks the same or is the same, and life becomes a stark contrast that we mark forever in our minds by “before” and “after.”

We know the only dependable constant is change, and yet, we pretend to be oblivious to that, because to really live in the knowing of that uncertainty would mean to acknowledge our fragility. And we cannot bear to do that, let alone embrace it.

We are fragile. And the truth of it is we do not know each other’s pain or the burdens we bear. If we did, we would treat each other with kid gloves, and caress each other with our words, and comfort each other with our deeds. We would know to tread lightly, for each of us is harboring a broken heart of some sort that another cannot fathom.

When I first decided to record an album of heart-centered, uplifting songs, I needed an image to use that would somehow visually embody the feeling I wanted people to have about it. I had one in my mind of someone on the beach, arms outstretched, the vastness of the ocean before them, triumphant, victorious, empowered and love filled. I didn’t have any such pictures of myself like this at the ready, oddly enough, so I scoured stock photos online, as well as those of anyone I knew that popped into my head.

I don’t know why I thought of her, but when we went to Michelle’s Facebook page, there was the exact picture I had imagined. I asked her if it was okay to use it and she was thrilled. She was the image of The Gratitude Project, as it was called initialy. Gratitude was what we shared (as well as an unabashed love of Barbra Streisand), and Michelle would go on to be a staunch supporter and champion of both this project and of me, with “Grateful” being her favorite of my songs on it.

When someone chooses to take their own life, their pain outweighs everything else. I know that. It is not a choice made from lack of love. It is one made from seemingly inescapable pain.

For those left behind, the devastation is unrivaled. And I, who would try to find the ray of sunshine in the middle of Armageddon, am hard pressed to find anything even remotely resembling something positive to take away and carry forward as each new day dawns since Michelle’s passing.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of a legacy. What is our imprint on the world? Who are we to others? What ripples do we cause in the sea of humanity?

It is easy in our grief to focus on how Michelle died. But couldn’t we, even for a moment, shift our focus to how she lived?

It is natural to see a future forever left unfinished. But we must also see the valuable time spent here as both a seeker and a teacher. She impacted the lives of the many she touched with her spirit, her love, her sensitivity, her beauty and her light. And if her legacy is to be anything, I think the world would better benefit from those qualities than the means by which her life ended.

I sent Michelle an email a few days ago, and she answered back immediately and cheerfully, signing off with “Love & Light! – Michelle”

She was gone the next day. But I will do my best to carry with me the love and light that was Michelle Angel at her truest self, and pay it forward in whatever way I can. I believe we honor those who have left us not only by remembering them, but by recognizing and appreciating how we have been changed forever by their presence in our lives and by being that love and light to others as we live out our days from here on out.

Rest in peace, Michelle.

And to Jill and all my family, as well as anyone hurting right now for any reason anywhere – may God hold you in the palm of His hand and grant you peace.

May we all be ambassadors of love and light. 

Michelle Renee Angel

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

the Book of Life

In the Jewish religion, as the sun set last night, the Day of Atonement began. It is a solemn day, a quiet day, a day to reflect and to pray for the coming year ahead.

When I was a child, I used to think that the Book of Life that was spoken about was a real book, and that we would either fail to measure up and not be written into it, or we would miraculously make the grade and find our names there.

Now I see the playing out of our lives as more of a team effort, if you will, with more in our own hands than we would like to think. It is daunting to be responsible for our own lives. It is easier to absolve ourselves of the responsibility and say it all rests beyond our reach. And maybe some of it does, but not all of it.

If it is true that we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we’ve been selling ourselves short for far too long. We, too, are creators, able to fashion the world we are given into something of beauty and love and light. Is that what we’ve done? Is that what we are doing? Is that what we will do?

If we are created from the Divine force of good, of love, and of mercy and compassion, is that who we are showing up as now?

This is a day to reflect on that. This is a time to take stock, to decide, to repent, to wipe the slate clean and start anew. But the truth is every day brings with it that opportunity, if we would but avail ourselves of it.

In the Jewish religion, we must first seek forgiveness from those whom we have wronged, before we ask God for it. And we must forgive others before we ask forgiveness of God. In short, we must clean up our own messes. And I believe this would be a different world and we would lead far different lives if we did this every day.

So let me start by saying, if I have hurt or wronged you in any way, I am sorry and I ask your forgiveness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately, because I lost someone recently who had been in my life and that I genuinely considered a friend. I did not lose them to death. It was much worse than that. I lost them to unadulterated honesty.

I suppose I should be grateful that I’ve never experienced this before in my 50 years. And I am. But I am also wondering what the lesson is, because not to come away in some way better for any experience is a waste of the experience.

So perhaps at least part of the lesson is to be willing to live in the not-knowing, in the ultimate unfoldment of life. Perhaps the lesson is to pray for those we don’t particularly feel inclined to pray for, those we don’t agree with or who have hurt us profoundly. Perhaps the lesson is to come away more loving and compassionate toward a world full of people who have been hurt far worse than me.

Who we are when we are treated unfairly or meanly matters. Who we are at our best moments and our worst moments should not be all that different from each other. It is not our job to help karma along. (I know, karma in a Yom Kippur blog? I’m inclusive of all traditions. Let’s just leave it at that.)

So on this Day of Atonement, I pray to be a loving heart, a forgiving spirit, and compassionate listener, a perseverant peacemaker and a bringer of hope to all whose paths I cross.

I pray to sever the bonds of unwillingness that would keep me playing small and residing in pain, bitterness, and resentment. I have no need for those things, so I lovingly release them now.

I pray for the strength to walk the road that would most benefit this world with the time I have left, however long that may be.

And yes, I pray for both you and me to be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Whatever your beliefs may or may not be, I wish you peace in your heart, joy in your soul, and abiding, eternal love now and always. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

how we remember 9/11

The passage of time tints the lenses through which we view things. Our experiences add up to this day and our current lives, and if we’re lucky, those experiences not only provide wisdom, but they soften us in a way that only the terrible beauty of life can.

I don’t know what 9/11 feels like today in other parts of the country. I don’t know that it carries the palpable solemnity that it does here in New York. Here, the wounds seem fresh, though fourteen years have gone by. And the way the world and we changed forever because of that day seems almost more tragic than the lives lost.

For a brief moment, we came together. For a brief moment, we understood that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. For a moment, we lined up to pitch in, to give blood, to lighten the load of our neighbors, without concern for their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. For a moment we understood what really matters.

It is difficult to look at today’s societal landscape and not think that all of that has been lost, that is was but a fleeting moment in time. And if it didn’t teach us a lasting lesson of compassion for one another, then maybe the lives lost truly were in vain.

History repeats itself when we fail to learn the lessons it would teach us. That’s why the words of Dr. Martin Luther King ring truer today than when he said them:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The word “love” today is mocked. It is not considered a viable political stance, or spoken of as a way of showing up in the world. And those of us who consider it the only option, and the only way of showing up in the world are thought of as somehow immature or lacking in practicality, when, in fact, we have tried the other way for centuries, and in our current lexicon of “How’s that working for ya?” it is clear that it has not.

Love is the difficult choice, the mature choice, the evolved choice, and the choice that demands the most from each of us. How many of us consider ourselves followers of a Judeo-Christian faith, where we are explicitly commanded, yes commanded to love one another? I often think that if God were in human form right now, he’d be gently weeping with his head in his hands and consider this whole creation of man and free will thing to be a colossal failure.

I know I sound like Debbie Downer here, and maybe it is the weight of hearing each name read aloud, one by one, but I can’t help but think we can do better, and that not to do so is tantamount to spitting on the graves of the lives lost to the kind of hatred that fills our worst nightmares.

If 9/11 taught us anything, it is that what we take for granted can be gone in the blink of an eye – the ones we love, our sense of security, our way of life. There is no way around the fragility. There is no certainty.

If right now was your last moment before the skyscraper of your life came down, what would your last words be to those you care about most?

What would you most regret leaving undone or unsaid?

What would you want those left behind to remember about you?

What would you want the summation of your life to be?

This is what we are called to contemplate today. This is the gift of this moment of remembering.

So whatever words you would say, be they “I love you,” or “I’m sorry,” – say them now. Whatever thing you’ve been putting off, whatever longing in your heart, whatever dream you once had for your life – do it now.

Let’s say a prayer for those who died and those who lived. And if we are to bear witness to anything, let it be to the eternal power and triumph of love.

Thanks for stopping by, and please know that whether you are stranger or friend reading this, you are cherished. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Colbert Report...Card

There’s a simple rule in entertainment as in any successful business – know what the people want and give it to them.

In the days and weeks leading up to the premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, there was much speculation about who Stephen Colbert actually was, how much of what we’d seen up until now was a made up persona, and which version of whom would be hosting The Late Show.

I don’t mind telling you that it’s been a tough year for a talk show junkie like me. I come by my talk show addiction honestly, having grown up with the yardstick of Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, and Dick Cavett to measure future talk show hosts by.

I should also say, in the interest of full disclosure, that it’s entirely possible I was in some required college science class with Stephen Colbert, since we were both at Northwestern the same years. I wouldn’t know if this was, in fact, true, of course, because I was asleep through much of my required science classes, and therefore have no recollection of classmates or anything else from it. You, Stephen?

I, like Colbert himself, watched David Letterman from his inception in late night, and also reveled in Jon Stewart’s entire tenure at The Daily Show from first show to last.

So saying farewell to Craig Ferguson, David Letterman, and Jon Stewart in less than a year, left me not only bereft, but relegated to watching what was left of late night television.

I mean no disrespect to the two Jimmy’s, James, and Seth. They all seem like lovely people. I just don’t find celebrity drinking games and reenactments of Paula Abdul videos to be my particular cup of tea when I tune in to watch a talk show. (And I also mean no disrespect to alcoholic beverages or Paula Abdul. Both have provided wonderful entertainment at the appropriate times.)

I was a bit worried that all the hype leading up to Colbert’s debut would only leave us disappointed if, in any way, he didn’t live up to expectations.

My worries were for naught, however, because Colbert delivered big time. Opening singing the national anthem – check. Cameo by Jon Stewart – check. Funny, intelligent, accessible – check. Donald Trump jokes – check. George Clooney – sigh – and check. Kick-ass band – check. Political interview – check.

Short of giving everyone a car like Oprah, I’m not sure what he could have done better. I bought in. I was immediately hooked…and reassured that I would have something to watch every night from now on. Order has been restored to my world. Thank you, CBS.

I know that we as a society love to build people up just so we can tear them down. We dub people kings and queens of things – the King of Pop, the Queen of Soul. Okay, so maybe it’s just musicians that do that. But the point is I am predicting that The Late Show will reign triumphant for years to come, because, as it turns out, what we wanted and they gave us…was Stephen Colbert.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.