Sunday, April 20, 2014

Redemption and Resurrection in 2014

Today is both Easter and Passover, and it seems to me that both deserve a moment’s reflection about their meaning in my life.

We are at the part of the Passover holiday where we are not only still celebrating the exodus from Egypt and the deliverance from slavery to freedom, but also the part where we light a candle on the last night for those we lost who came before us and whom we wish to call to mind as the holiday draws to a close.

Sometimes random memories pop into my mind, and this morning, as I was driving to go sing at a spiritual service (neither Christian nor Jewish), I remembered being a young child in Hebrew school and asking the Rabbi if Jews believed in resurrection. Looking back, that had to seem at least a little bit odd a thing for a little kid to ask. When he told me that Judaism did indeed believe in resurrection, it came as a relief to me, because evidently my mind was already made up about this and I would hate to have been a heretic at the ripe old age of ten.

So we rise again. But what about now? In what ways are we enslaved, to what and to whom? From what do we seek deliverance? In what ways have we been betrayed and crucified, and in what ways have we betrayed and crucified others? These are not the easy questions to be asking, but what better day to ask them?

What would we like to leave behind and what would we take with us? What can we let die, and what needs to be reborn within us?

When I light a candle for those I miss, I will say a prayer that the best qualities they had live on in me. And as I move forward, I do so with a willingness to let go of blame so I can embody forgiveness, a willingness to let go of judgment so I can embody compassion, a willingness to let go of fear so I can embody love, and a willingness to let go of all that does not serve my highest good so I can embrace and embody all that does serve my highest good.

Whatever your faith or your custom this Easter and Passover Sunday, I wish you peace in your heart and an abiding knowing that you are loved and enough.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Recap: a milestone blog...

Almost five years ago to the day, I began writing this blog, and it has just surpassed 8,000 hits, which I believe is cause for both celebration and a little reflection.

When I was trying to get a book deal for In Search of George Stephanopoulos, my friend, Lisa, told me I needed to start a blog so I could come to publishers with an already established following. I personally thought it should be enough to write the darn book. I couldn’t believe I actually had to go out and find people to read it. But I agreed to start a blog immediately.

The first thing I did was contact my younger cousin, Erik and ask, “What’s a blog?”

You should know that I frequently say “yes” to things I have no idea how to do. And thus, In Search of… was born.

I didn’t know if one person would read it, let alone 8,000. So to anyone who has ever read this blog and particularly to those of you who have shared it – thank you.

It has provided an opportunity for me not only to hone my voice and to process my life, but to share it in a unique way that no other format provides. Writing is a solitary affair, and we never know if or when or how we will impact someone’s life or the world at large. But the need to express ourselves and lay bare that which matters most to us always seems to override the nagging doubts, at least for me.

I thought on such an auspicious occasion, I would leaf through the past five years of blog posts and pick one of them from each year that I’ve been doing this.

Since it was Lisa who told me I needed to be doing this, my pick from 2009 is the one where we got together after 25 years...

The start of 2010 had me thinking about what I know for sure…

In 2011, I shared my favorite video…

In 2012, an embarrassing encounter led to this, one of my favorite blogs of all time…

I believe that 2013 contained my most amusing Super Bowl blog…

And though we are only a little bit into 2014, in case you missed it, here is:

I invite you to let me know which ones have been your favorites over the years, and to share the ways in which any of them have impacted you or your life. I would love to hear from you!

Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my blog. And as always, please tell your friends!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

signs of spring...

The winter of 2014 has felt like an endless one, more to be endured than enjoyed in any particular way. On some level, I was glad for it, though, because the weather supplied a built in excuse to hibernate. But as signs of spring begin to emerge, so must I, I suppose, and go out into the world once again, ready or not.

Working on a book and a CD at the same time has been good for me, if not completely overwhelming, because both projects have provided ample opportunity for personal growth and reflection at the same time. I never cease to be amazed at what epiphanies occur as I’m writing and how the reason I start a project is never the ultimate reason for its existence in the end.

If writing In Search of George Stephanopoulos was about the unexpected rewards of following your dreams, then both my new CD and book are about the ultimate return to who we are born and meant to be at our core.

If we are honest with ourselves, we all want to live boldly and passionately, and we all want to know the thrill of accomplishing our heart’s desires. And yet, if we look at the world around us, starting in the mirror, most of us could not be farther from that if we tried.

So how do we get back to that place where we dared to imagine who we could be in our wildest fantasies? Or is that gone forever?

I saw the first little green buds popping up out of the ground, and I wondered how that was even possible. The snow is not completely melted yet. There was no indication that there was the promise of new life going on underneath the barren stillness of the frozen earth. And yet, here are those little green buds popping up. I wonder if they know what they’re in for. It would be so much easier to stay nestled in the darkness. But that isn’t what life is meant for. Not for them and not for us.

We are meant to push through and blossom. We emerge, we grow, we weather storms, still reaching beyond what we were, to a destination we don’t yet know the fullness of. And we prevail. Even through winters like this one.

It’s supposed to be warmer today, and I am looking forward to stepping outside without a scarf and gloves. Wherever your weekend takes you, I hope you pause a moment to enjoy the promise that signs of spring bring with them. Longer days, warmer temperatures, and the rebirth of whoever it is that you want most to be.

Peace and blessings to you…

Sunday, March 2, 2014

the Oscar blog 2014!

Sure, most of the country is obsessed with Super Bowl Sunday, but in my family, it’s the Oscar’s, baby! So today, Oscar Sunday, is like the Super Bowl and Christmas all rolled into one for me.

Do I have a song nominated this year? Nope. But instead of mourning that trivial detail, I am enjoying my Oscar viewing without the minimum three layers of Spanx and mandatory month of fasting required of all female nominees. So there is that.

I’ve seen a bunch of the nominated movies and performances this year, and it’s really hard to compare them. It’s like apples and oranges, if you ask me. So I thought I’d just talk about a few people whose work I really like.

For instance, Tom Hanks – why don’t we just declare him a national treasure and be done with it. He has got to be the most likable person ever. Don’t you just want to be neighbors and invite him over for a barbecue? And truly, a fantastic performance as Captain Phillips.

Meryl Streep – I think there should just be a special Oscar called the Meryl Streep Oscar and they should give it to her each year for whatever work she does. I don’t think anyone would argue that every performance of hers is Oscar worthy.

And speaking of Oscar worthy, which I don’t say lightly, Julia Roberts’ performance in August: Osage County is phenomenal, and certainly the best work she’s ever done.

And along those same lines of best work in their career – Matthew Macconaughey in Dallas Buyers Club. Holy smokes! And in this girl’s opinion, it was an incredibly important film with regard to what it says about our government, the FDA, and our healthcare system, whose interests run counter to what is in the best interests of our citizens. Important film.

A musical word. Idina Menzel – I am so glad the world is going to get to see and hear her tonight and that her reach is extending beyond Broadway now, because I think she is a world class, extraordinary talent. And it is a pleasure to see cream rise to the top.

Well, I’ve got to go primp and prepare now. Those Oscar attendees get dinner by Wolfgang Puck afterwards, but me, I’ve got to fend for myself, so I’ll be tossing my own salad, thank you very much. And there will be no ice sculptures at my table. But other than that, really, exactly the same as their party. I’m sure of it.

Thanks for stopping by, happy Sunday to you, and enjoy the Oscars!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

a record, an album, a CD, and a project...

It occurred to me that I chronicled the crowd funding element of The Gratitude Project quite a bit – the issues that came up for me, the lessons learned, the gratitude I felt, the sense of humility born out of a bunch of people putting their faith in me, the feeling of connectedness to those who said “yes!” to putting heart-ful, hopeful music out into the world.

There were a good number of you who said, in no uncertain terms, “I want to be part of this,” and every day that I am working on it, I am keenly aware that you are and that this is a group effort.

So I thought I’d take a moment today to fill in the blanks and take stock of this part of the journey so far.

First of all, I always volley back and forth between the various names to call it. I’m from the era of “records” and “albums,” and so I like to think of it that way and refer to it that way. I like the idea of a vision, a whole comprised of all the parts – even if people do end up downloading individual songs. I like artwork and liner notes. To me, it’s part of the overall energy, meaning, and content of the project. And I think of the “project” as the entirety of all the elements, including things like this blog and updates.

If I can sum up the overall theme of what I’m learning throughout this process, it is about what I am willing to embrace and what I am willing to let go of. And the more I think about it, I believe that applies to all of life as well. Isn’t that what it comes down to?

I am a stickler for wanting to map out, with certainty, the path that I will take down to its tiniest of details. The idea that it takes as long as it takes or goes in the direction it goes has just not ever been in my operating manual.

But life has a funny way of letting us know what we need to learn, and we can either go kicking and screaming or with the flow. So here’s a little nugget of hard earned wisdom from me to you – it is much easier and more fun to go with the flow than kicking and screaming. I’ve tried both.

Much as I wanted to believe otherwise, we don’t make something the best it can be by using brute force. We allow it by trusting the deeper part of ourselves that knows what we know, by trusting that. Not the easiest thing for a control freak to learn, but hey, we come to it when we come to it.

If the making of this were a reality TV show, I suppose I would reveal kernels of information bit by bit, in the most dramatic way possible. Of course, if this were a reality TV show, I’d also need to throw a tantrum or two and have some kind of serious meltdown or altercation with someone just to keep the drama going.

Instead, I happily show up to studio sans makeup and in a sweatshirt most of the time, ready to work. This is why you’ve seen no video or pictorial footage of me recording so far – not my best look. But fear not, you will see me in action before this thing is over.

So a word about the making of this record: it is a total joy. I read some pithy quote about how you can’t have a negative mind and live a positive life. And I think that goes for the making of this record. I don’t see how you can make an uplifting album without joy and love and heart, as well as talent, being present during the creation of it.

As for the incremental “reveal” of some juicy tidbits, I’ll tell you, for those of you who don’t already know, that this record is being produced by Tanya Leah. And every day that we move forward, I consider myself luckier and luckier for that. (After Friday’s session, I was going to do actual cartwheels. However, I realized that I’d never successfully done an actual cartwheel in my life, so I thought better of the whole idea. Tanya is, no doubt, thankful for that.)

Well, I’m off to work now, but before I go, I want to impart my profoundest of thanks to you – for standing with me in being the change we wish to see in the world, at least musically – and for stopping by today.

Peace and blessings to you…

Monday, February 17, 2014

the one about the bear, two guys with guns, Tony Danza, and me

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I’ve been doing this blog for five years now and can’t remember if I ever told this story. Sure, I could go looking back through five years’ worth of archives….or I could just assume that if I can’t remember, neither can you. Yeah, that’s the one I’m going with. And I tell this story in honor of my good friend Loralee’s birthday today. So happy birthday, Lor. This one’s for you.

When I first moved to Nashville from New York, one of the many jobs I had was working nights at the performing arts center downtown, which had me driving home on dark country roads well after midnight.

On one such night, as I was making my way back to my apartment, I saw something on the side of the road moving. Based on size and obvious appearance when it stood up, I shrieked in, well, utter terror as I realized it was a bear. Not Yogi. No, this was the real thing. I kept driving down the dark road to my apartment, envisioning the bear trotting behind me, licking his lips in anticipation of a late night snack named Ilene.

When I was safely inside my apartment, I nervously paced around, wondering if I should call someone to report it. The police? Animal control? Who does one call at 1am to report a bear sighting? And really, if some lady called the police saying she just saw a bear, would their first reaction be “I’ll get right on that,” or “maybe you should cut down on the crack, lady?”

I opted not to make the call. However, I did tell all my friends, who were slightly skeptical – that is until the news report a few days later about an unprecedented number of bear sightings in the area.

Talk of the bear was especially of interest to my New York friends, because, hey, how often does that happen?

Fast forward a few months to a visit home to New York. My friends, Loralee, Michele and I got tickets to a late night performance of Tony Danza at Rainbow and Stars, a cabaret venue located at the top of Rockefeller Center.

Now before you get all “Why Tony Danza?” on me, let me just say this about that – he taps dances and does a Louis Prima medley in his show. Need I say more? So unless you’re ready to do your rendition of “Zooma, Zooma” for me, quit your snickering.

Loralee and I drove into the city and met up with Michele for the show. After it was over, I drove Michele home to her apartment, which was located downtown, on a one-way street, lined with cars on both sides.

Michele got safely into her apartment, and Loralee and I were behind a taxicab waiting at a red light.

That’s when two guys with guns drawn walked up on either side of the taxi. But they didn’t go to the driver of the cab. They went for the passenger in the back seat.

These are the kinds of moments in life when time seems suspended. The obvious thought was that it was a robbery. But then, why didn’t they go for the driver who’d have the cash?

The next obvious thought was that, if this was a robbery, then we’d be next. So first reaction was Loralee saying, “Back up! Back up!” I turned to look behind me, and there was a long line of cars, single file. There was nowhere to go.

Do we duck? Would they shoot? Do you slither out of your car and make a run for it? These are decisions that must be contemplated and made in a matter of seconds.

The two guys with guns yanked the man out of the back seat of the cab and onto the street.

Were they undercover police? They flashed no badges and didn’t announce themselves as such. And I'd seen enough Law & Order episodes to know that that kind of stuff will get thrown out of court immediately.

Nope, they just yanked the guy out of the back seat of the cab. Then they hauled him across the street and tossed him into the back of an unmarked white van. Police? I'm thinking no.

The light finally turned green. It felt like an eternity. The cab pulled over to the side of the road. I think the poor driver might have been having a heart attack at this point.

I turned the corner and headed over toward the West Side Highway. I did not slow down. I did not stop. There was absolute silence in the car. Neither Loralee nor I said a word. My body started shaking involuntarily as I drove – a delayed reaction, no doubt, from the trauma.

We were safely zipping home on the highway when Loralee looked at me and said, “Beats the hell out of the bear, doesn’t it?!!”

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends. And happy, happy birthday, Lor!!!



Thursday, February 6, 2014

the benefits of "Throwback Thursday"

The good news is the snow plow finally came through our street. The bad news is it plowed on our side, which, for those of you blog readers who don’t live in wintry states and might need a translation, means the plow dumped all the snow it was scooping up from the street onto the foot of my driveway, creating a solid frozen mini mountain of white stuff that would have to be chiseled, hoisted and tossed atop all the rest of the snow on the sides if I were to, say, ever want to leave my house again.

I decided to call this new exercise regimen “a temporary, welcomed choice that my newly fit body will thank me for.” I can almost say it with a straight face and no eye rolling. Almost.

As it turns out, all but one body part are really thanking me for it. That one contrary part being my back – which, in a strange twist, it turns out I actually need in order to do such things as sit, and stand, and walk. And I don’t mind telling you, my back is plenty pissed at me about this new activity. It’s been wondering what happened to the kinder, gentler yoga DVD I was supposed to be doing. I’ve kind of been wondering that myself, come to think of it.

So getting to the topic of this blog, today I posted a twenty year old picture on Facebook and Twitter. There’s this thing called Throwback Thursday. I don’t know what genius started it, but it’s got everyone rifling through old photographs and posting them for all to see…on Thursdays. I started trying to do it regularly, lest the Facebook and Twitter police come a-knockin’ on my door.

At first, I was delighted by all the “likes” and comments about the pictures. I was in my twenties in them. Didn’t everyone look great in their twenties? Of course, it didn’t take long for the downward spiral to begin. How did I end up like this, I wondered?

Then I made the terrible mistake of averaging how much weight I’d gained over the past twenty years. (Do NOT try this at home, boys and girls…at least not without a glass of wine and box of Kleenex.) That’s when I realized that if I continued to gain at the rate I had over the next twenty years, well, first of all, I might not make it to twenty years. (Sobering thought.) And second, I might eventually end up as one of those people who need to be lifted out of bed by a crane. (Mild over exaggeration. Mild.)

So, not being one to want to dwell on the negative, I gave myself the pep talk. You know the one I’m talking about. It involves the “I can do this if I just set my mind to it” dialogue. It also involves a long and weepy goodbye to pasta and heaping portions of anything but vegetables.

I congratulated myself for already having shoveled AND eaten a salad for lunch today. I looked at that picture I posted on Facebook of me in my black sequined dress, with my skinny waste and skinny arms, and said to my younger self, “I’ll return to you yet.”

But there are things that these years of living have brought that the younger, skinnier Ilene did not have, and I’ve been thinking about the trade off.

First of all, I had no idea I looked like that, so I didn’t enjoy it. Hindsight is 20/20, and if I could time travel, I would take that body out for a spin and strut down the street like a runway model. But then? Not a clue.

Second, I think life is a journey of becoming more and more ourselves. So twenty years later, I know who I am, what I stand for, who my friends are, what matters to me and what I can live without.

But that hot chick in the picture was so worried about what she wasn’t, that she ignored the magnificence she was.

I do not think I am alone in this, which is why I’m so brutally honest about it. I think the world would be better served by us recognizing our greatness, instead of perpetually beating ourselves up for our perceived shortcomings.

So yeah, I’m grateful for having looked back, if for no other reason than to see how far I’ve come. Weight can go up or down. But who we are only increases in value over time.

Thanks for stopping by. Please tell your friends.