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.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

where the rubber meets the road

Everyone has a set of principles and core values that they try to live by, and a set of beliefs, consciously or unconsciously, about the world, and how it works, and what is possible.

On our best days, we’d like to think we are steadfast in our faith, and secure in the knowledge that all really is well and that we are looked out for by a benevolent and loving God.

But our best days are not what test our faith or our beliefs. It is when we are met with moments of challenge that we really determine what it is we believe, in earnest.

Will we listen to that still, small voice, that part of us that knows that we know, even when it’s saying something we don’t necessarily want to hear, or something that is contrary to popular opinion?

Can we be of service to others and trust implicitly that what helps someone else cannot help but bless us tenfold? Can we believe in our own inner guidance when what it’s telling us is at odds with the material world?

We can say yes to everything when it is theoretical, but what happens when it is real? Who are we when it matters most that we show up as the love we say we want to embody? What do we choose when Spirit says to do one thing, and reason another? Who do we listen to?

I made a decision a couple of days ago to take down my newly released single – the duet with Kenny Loggins called “Friends Like Me & You.”

I know that on the surface, this is a decision that will baffle many people, because from a business perspective, it seems just plain crazy. But here’s the thing: when Kenny first came onboard this project and graciously offered and gave of his time, heart, and talent, I told him that all of us had to be happy. That was the rule. The creation of this album has been a celebration and a joyous love-fest, and that is the way in which I want it to go out into the world.

Kenny reached out to me after the single was already in the process of being released, because he had concerns about the timing of the single and the release of my album coinciding with his other project, the band Blue Sky Riders, who are releasing their own new CD in mid-September.

The ball was already rolling. Press releases had gone out. The song had been sent to 750 online retailers. I couldn’t stop it. So it came out last week, and I did not post the links to buy it on social media, nor did I give the go ahead for stories that had been set to run in the press nationally.

Instead, I decided to take the song down altogether, because, as it turns out, what I really believe is that this is a world of plenty, and plenty is not contingent on the timing of this release.

I also believe that honoring my word and respecting Kenny’s wishes is simply the right thing to do. 

I believe that the same people who were going to buy this song last week will still buy it when it comes out on my album a little bit later this fall. Yes, it is still coming out. Yes, you can still buy it. Heck, you can pre-order the entire In Color CD right now! (Pre-order Ilene's CD!)

I’ve learned that how things may look to others on the outside is nothing compared to how I feel about myself when I look in the mirror. I believe that possibility is infinite, that trust is necessary, and that all really is well.

I thank you for spending some time with me today. If you’ve enjoyed it, please tell your friends.

I wish you peace and richest blessings.


Monday, August 17, 2015

saying goodbye and saying hello...

It’s my birthday and even on a not-so-milestone year, that’s usually cause for some reflection on my part.

This seems like a period of major transition for most people I know, and I’m not sure if it is because of the times in which we are living, or the pace at which change is taking place, but it seems as if we are all on a runaway rollercoaster, being tossed about, with highs and lows we never imagined, torn between throwing our hands up in the air and seeing where this ride takes us, and holding on for dear life and some sign that we are going to be okay in the end.

Either choice brings with it its own pros and cons. And I think that the issue is not so much whether we hold on or let go, but that this ride is happening, regardless of which choice we make. So really, the only thing we are altering is our experience of the ride.

Life is perpetual forward motion, ever-changing and constantly new. But as with any change, we are leaving behind something known for something unknown, and that is a little scary, even on its best day.

As I leave my last decade behind, I am struck by a sense of peace that I in no way remotely possessed at the beginning of the previous decade of my life. It is not because I have become a Zen master, or have crossed off everything on my bucket list, but because as we get older, we hopefully get wiser. And that wisdom is hard earned with the passage of time. We lose people we love, and of the rest who remain, we become keenly aware that time shared is what is of most value, because no one is promised tomorrow.

So what is it, on this particular birthday, that I want to say goodbye to, and what hello?

I happily say goodbye to the version of myself that ever doubted or denied or simply didn’t know my value. 

I say goodbye to struggle and resistance, to taking on what doesn’t belong to me. And I say hello to allowing, releasing, and embracing all the miraculous good that is being sent my way constantly. 

I say goodbye to limiting thoughts and hello to the infinite possibility that exists at all times. 

I say goodbye to those whose contribution to my life has been completed, and hello to those with whom I am meant to grow and expand. 

I lovingly release and say goodbye to all that is not meant for me, and I say hello to what is meant for me.

I take a breath, and a step forward, and I open my arms – to life, to love, to an abundance of richest blessings. And as I do that for me, I invite you to do the same for you, because this is not a world of lack. This is a world of plenty. And as we see it, and say it, and feel it, and claim it, so shall it be.

I celebrate the start of a new decade of my life with gratitude and humility, with love and acceptance, with joy and so much appreciation for you who are reading this, for all who have ever stopped by here, for those who will visit in the days, months, and years to come, and for all who have ever touched my life in any way. I am richly, richly blessed.

Peace and love to you always,


Saturday, August 15, 2015

the Release of a Single!!

Project Update – the Launch of the Single!!!!!

It’s been…gulp…two years since we began this journey together, and I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to see this out in the world!

So the first thing we decided to do was to release a single, and the song we decided to go with was “Friends Like Me & You,” the Kenny Loggins duet.

So this Monday, August 17th, (which is also my birthday), the song will be available worldwide, everywhere digital music is sold. (iTunes, Amazon, you name it, it’s sold there).

Here is a small snippet of the song, a tasty morsel, if you will, to get everyone excited about it. Friends Like Me & You snippet

My cherished USA Projects (Hatchfund) supporters, of course, will have this song when you receive your copies of the CD and/or download in the days ahead, but if you just can’t wait a moment longer…and who can, really…you, too, can buy it on Monday for less than your Starbucks run will cost you.

So here’s the really important part – I need your help spreading the word. Have you “liked” my Facebook musician page yet? If not, here’s the link to that: Ilene's Facebook Page

Are you on Twitter or Instagram? If so, please follow me at: @ilene_angel

And lastly, as soon as the song is out and there will also be some press about it, I will share those links with you, here and on Facebook, etc. Please, please, please share it with your friends, family, followers, email contacts, anyone you meet on the street…you get the idea. If you love what you hear, then tell people. If you have a friend, purchase it and gift it to them. They’ll love you forever…and so will I. J

I cannot thank you enough for being part of this ongoing experience with me. I appreciate you more than I’ll ever be able to adequately express.

Big hugs and kisses to you all,


Friday, May 15, 2015

Project Update - Meet the Players, the Final Edition!!!!

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later – the final edition of “Meet the Players!”

In this installment, we feature Lorraine Ferro on background vocals, violist Kris Wilkinson, and artist Marina Drasnin.

One of the most beautiful aspects of making this record has been the cross section of people who are gracing it. It is an amalgam of those I adore and have worked with for years, people I adore and have never worked with before, and complete strangers whom I now, come on, sing it with me – adore.

And so it is fitting in this, my final installment of “Meet the Players,” that it encompasses just that cross section of all three.

Lorraine Ferro has been one of my favorite voices on the planet since I met her and we became friends in our twenties. For years, she was the voice on every demo I recorded, and the one I heard in my head whenever I wrote a new song. So to have her singing with me as I embrace my own voice is a gift beyond that which I can express.

You might best know her as the writer of the #1 song “Stand,” or from the TV show The Voice, or myriad live shows and TV jingles. In the past few years, we’ve finally had the chance to share the stage on many occasions, and all I can say is it is a heck of a lot of fun and I am still in awe. So thank you, Lorraine for adding your voice, your magic, and your soul to this project!

Kris Wilkinson is one of the people I’ve never met, but someone who was definitely meant to be a part of this. She has recorded and performed with too long a list to write in its entirety, but here are just a few of them – Jason Mraz, Elton John, Train, Carrie Underwood, Michael Buble, and the list goes on and on with just about anyone you could name in the music business that’s huge.

When I started this project, it was my intention that everyone who was on it would bring their heart and not just their talent. When you are asking a complete stranger, there’s no way to actually know that until they’ve played. But that has been the beauty of trusting this process and going with what felt right. I am so grateful to have crossed paths with Kris and that she gave the same artistry, energy, and beauty to this project as she has for all those people I listed above. What a validating gift! Thank you so much, Kris!

Last, but not least, is another kind of crazy story. I am Facebook friends with a multi-talented figure skating champion named Tai Babilonia. Truth be told, I did not hang pictures of musicians on my walls as a kid. But I did have a bevy of athletes I admired, and among them were my favorite pairs skaters of all time – Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner.

Social media is a funny thing. For all of its deficits, it also allows for connection between people whose paths would not have crossed otherwise. And such was the case for me in this instance.

So I am Facebook friends with Tai, and somewhere in my FB feed was a piece of art that one of her friends posted on her wall. Well, I fell in love with it, in fact, so much so that I wanted it on my album artwork.

So I, being the “nothing ventured, nothing gained” type of person, reached out and asked this completed stranger, who is an honest-to-goodness artist, if I could please use her artwork on my album. Well, needless to say, Marina Drasnin and her beautiful work are now a part of this project as well. And I have met another beautiful soul…thanks to Tai Babilonia, a world champion figure skater.

How’s that for the intricate tapestry of life?!!!! So many thanks and hugs to Marina and to Tai!

So here’s the wrap-up of musicians on the project:

Me – Ilene Angel J
Tanya Leah
Mark Prentice
Matthew Bubel
Caitlin Evanson
Kris Wilkinson
Everett Bradley
Lorraine Ferro
BethAnne Clayton
…and special guest Kenny Loggins!!!!

We are up to mixing and mastering next!!!

Thank you for hanging in there with me and for believing in this work and making it possible. I love and appreciate you all beyond words!