musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Musings (Page 1 of 10)

Germination

Starting from a seed, carefully (obsessively) tended.
Can a new plant die from over care?

Suffocation; not allowed to grow by itself.

No trust in the natural order of things.

Fretting and worrying
stunts natural growth.

And yet, I am so halting —
and feel so very fragile.

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The Frustration of Groundhogs

Digging through from his underground lair early in the spring,
tired and hungry,
only to find a new structure in place,
and nothing as he remembers it.

Working hard, trying to dig through the clutter in her life
and the messy knots of dissatisfaction,
trying to find optimism, enthusiasm and light,
only to find herself at a dead end.

They must both go back underground and seek out a new direction.

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Who Was Kyle Yorlets? A Sad Tale from a Dysfunctional America

Kyle Yorlets

Kyle Yorlets

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed yesterday, when I came across this news headling — “Teens Charged in Shooting Death of Nashville Musician.” Sadly, people are murdered all the time in the U.S., and typically it doesn’t go beyond a local news story. This time, however, the story was so sad and so shocking that it was picked up by national news outlets.

The victim was 24-year-old Kyle Yorlets, lead singer of Nashville pop/rock band Carverton. The group first formed in the summer of 2014, when Yorlets and Michael Curry, both from Pennsylvania, moved to Nashville to pursue their musical dreams. They hooked up with Michael Wiebell and Christian Ferguson, and created a sound that blended rock, indie pop, pop punk and hip hop. Releasing their debut EP in 2017, they would go on to perform at the Firefly Festival, open for various bands, and were starting to make a name for themselves.

Tragically (as if the rest of this story isn’t tragic enough), they had just finished the debut full-length album, Chasing Sounds, which is set for release on March 29. The official video for the single, “Wildside,” was just released a month ago. Yorlets said about the album, “We hope our music can be both relatable and encouraging to those who need it. Life is crazy and unpredictable, and we want to portray that in our music.”

Life got especially crazy and unpredictable last Thursday, when five kids, aged 12-16, robbed and then fatally shot Yorlets outside his Nashville home. They had stolen his wallet, and when he refused to hand over the keys to his vehicle, they shot him. They were apprehended at a Walmart with stolen guns and a stolen pickup truck.

The mother of one of the young perpetrators blamed the shooting on “a failure of the system.” She claims that her family reached out for help with their troubled teen, but didn’t get any. That may well be true, but what exactly happens to kids that young to make them so angry and so full of hate that they no longer value human life?

Robbing someone is one thing, as is the ridiculously easy access to guns (how simple is it for children to steal guns in Tennessee, I wonder?), but to shoot someone at close range is quite another. Blind violence such as that doesn’t occur until a person is past all hope and beyond all reason. Mental illness may account for a single person committing a senseless crime, but five people, and young kids at that, committing murder together? That can no longer be blamed on mental illness, unless the entire world has gone mad.

The crimes of a child should be blamed, at least partially, on poor parenting. But it has to be thrown at the feet of American society, as well — not just the gun culture, but widening income inequality, rampant poverty in a land of plenty (for some) and a sense of hopelessness among the disadvantaged. Until all of these issues are seriously addressed, I can see no hope for improvement, and I feel just as badly for those confused, angry kids as I do for Kyle, his friends, bandmates, fans and family.

A GoFundMe campaign was launched for Kyle’s parents, Pennsylvania dairy farmers, to help them with funeral and travel expenses. The money will also help keep their business running while they deal with the unpleasant task of burying their son and settling his affairs in Nashville. They have stated that any leftover funds will “go towards scholarship opportunities arranged by the Yorlets family in Kyle’s honor.”

Kyle’s band released this statement:

On February 7, 2019 we lost our brother, best friend, and bandmate Kyle Yorlets. We are in a state of shock and are having to grasp the reality that is now in front of us. We are heartbroken. Our condolences for his family and loved ones and all the lives that he touched. We will never forget Kyle, and though he is gone too soon his legacy is here to stay. We thank you for your support and will talk to you soon.
Love,
Michael, Christian, and Wiebell

Because this is a music blog, at least part of the time, it seems fitting to end with some more of the band’s music. May we all find a way out of this darkness.

Carverton: web | facebook | twitter | instagram | bandcamp | soundcloud | spotify | youtube | Listen To / Purchase Their Latest Single

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The Furry Climate Change Denier

Jason Cohn/REUTERS

Jason Cohn/REUTERS

After the Arctic warmed,
after the polar vortex lost its way,
after -30 degree temperatures in Chicago,
after three feet of snow in one day in upstate New York,
after 121 degrees of heat and wildfires in Southern Australia,
after torrential rain in Queensland, the Alps and the Himalayas —

Punxsutawney Phil came out of his hole
and proudly proclaimed
that there is no such thing as climate change.

Punxsutawney Phil is wrong
61% of the time.

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The Art of Letting Go

TheArtOfLettingGo

Inspired by Victor Robert Venckus’s Expanding Awareness program with Yvonne Donovan about decluttering one’s personal space.

I have always been exceedingly sticky. Things stick to me. People stick to me, too.

Have you ever had a piece of cellophane refuse to let go as you attempt to shake it off into a trash bin? That happens to me all the time.

I listened to the woman speak, but she never scratched her way below the surface, as much as I tried to encourage her psychically from my couch as I sat staring at the radio. She preferred to focus on how marvelous it is to clear away all your clutter — how freeing it is to be unencumbered by all those belongings.

But sometimes those sad old objects are all you have left to remind you of who you once were, who you perhaps still are and who you once loved.

The direct memory fades with the dispassionate passage of time. The right song at the right moment, can, if you’re lucky, bring it all back. So too can a well-worn, familiar object, however seemingly junky and insignificant.

I realize it isn’t altogether healthy, to remain attached to the past by means of a physical possession. When Mom and Dad died, as I systematically went through the contents of a 7-room, 4-level, 50-year family home, I found myself sentimentally attached to the silliest of things. Not because of their value, but because of the personal meaning they held.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), my folks, despite having been children during The Great Depression, were devout gifters. A piano I never quite took to as a child taking lessons was given to, I think, a community center. A pool table, which we enjoyed when I was young, ended up going to an old folks’ home. The Jacuzzi, a treadmill, a hammock and garden furniture, all kinds of artwork and decorative items, vintage clothes, virtually all my old toys — somewhere.

And so, when I was faced with the task of moving special items from a spacious 7-room split level to my tiny 4-room ranch, it was easier than it might have been. I simply didn’t have the space. But still, even without the old furniture, I’m surrounded by boxes of photographs, slides, cards, letters, old films, books, records, CDs, documents, artwork and decorative pieces, household items and even electronic devices, all bursting with the essence of their former owners.

Or so it seems to my sticky mind.

As if I didn’t already know that one can be mentally and spiritually burdened by possessions, I periodically have my bag lady dreams. In them, I’m inevitably trying to leave a place, or catch a train, or make a flight, or follow someone out of a room, except that I must first decide what to do with all my baggage. And I mean that in a literal sense. I have bags, or boxes, or just stacks of things, all of it apparently mine, but quite often stuff I don’t even recognize. Regardless, I’m convinced that it must all be thoroughly gone through before I can proceed. I typically wake up feeling oppressed and frustrated.

I used to be a collector. I stopped actively collecting specific items like music memorabilia and films or TV shows of an actor I enjoyed. But I still collect objects from my past, and after the major sell-off of 2018, I suddenly don’t want to part with anything else. Ever. But I’ll probably feel differently about it in the light of a new day — or when I can no longer stand the claustrophobia of being surrounded by boxes.

There are far worse hoarders than me. Oddly, I think of Andy Warhol and his cookie jar collection. Maybe he just liked cookie jars. Or perhaps he experienced some sort of great loss in his life and collecting those cookie jars gave him a feeling of comfort and wholeness. Things are solid and tangible, unlike people, who can come in and out of your life on the wings of birds.

I met him once, Andy, at the B. Dalton’s on 8th Street in the Village. The year was 1985 and he was signing his latest book of photography, America. I had just purchased the Velvet Underground and Nico’s ‘peelable banana album’ at a record show in New Jersey, with the intention of sending it to a guy in the U.K. in return for Bowie memorabilia. And that night, as synchronicity would have it, I saw an ad in the Village Voice for the book signing the next day. So, there I was, standing in line with the city’s hipsters, waiting for Andy. He walked in with his painted black leather jacket, sunglasses and white hair. We were all transfixed.

When it came my turn, I handed him the requisite book to have signed, and then quietly said, “Hi Andy, I wonder if you would indulge me?” With that, I handed him the album. Andy, in an equally quiet voice, said “Sure.” I heard someone in line behind me say, “Oh man, I have that; I should have brought it!” Andy marveled at the legendary album of his own design and said, “Oh, I haven’t seen this for so long!” He loved it, and signed his name proudly, big and bold, across the entire length on one side, before handing it back to me. From one collector to another. Of course, that British guy never did get his album.

I remember when Andy died. I was loading tapes onto video machines at a public television station in Hartford, Connecticut. I must have seen it on a news feed and learned that he was gone. It felt like someone grabbed inside my body and removed my heart. I just felt this emptiness — an inexplicable sense of loss. I didn’t know him, had only met him briefly just that once, and yet his passing stayed with me. Sticky.

Such is the power of objects from the past. They can stir memories that you thought were long forgotten. Not all of this is bad, is it? I imagine it becomes a problem when you find yourself, in life or in dreams, paralyzed by your memories and your possessions, unable to move forward. And then, it’s time for a rigorous round of spring cleaning, to rid oneself of things that are old, sticky and full of cobwebs.

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Mom’s Cookbook

KitchenWallpaper

I knew why I hadn’t taken it. It was an old French-style Julia Child type of cookbook with a faded yellow cover, with loads of recipes for meat dishes and other things I don’t eat and haven’t eaten for years. It was highly unlikely that I would ever want to cook up beef bourguignon in this lifetime. Besides, French dishes, with their over-abundance of cream sauce, always wreak havoc on my digestive system.

And yet — it was Mom’s cookbook, and as I realize now, when it’s far too late to retrieve it, that she was a brand new homemaker when it was purchased, in the late 1950s when she married Dad. And I also realize, too late, that hidden in its pages were very likely family meals that she prepared throughout my childhood. For a strange reason, quite suddenly, my disregard for that tattered old book feels like a dreadful mistake and the thought of it gnaws at me, like some terrible loss.

Certain dishes I remember. There was salmon souffle, served in little Pyrex custard cups that I also parted with, as I was trying to be practical when I selected what would come back to Massachusetts with me and what would be left for the Connecticut estate sale. Chocolate pudding, which I remember helping her mix up and cook in a saucepan, for the privilege of getting to scoop out the delicious hot chocolate remains, straight from the pan, was also served in these custard cups.

Mom also made veal parmigiana, in single-serving ceramic cordon bleu au gratin baking dishes — thankfully, those I kept, though I have no idea why. There are three; one for each of us. She also made these pastry cheese puffs, which I loved. They featured Cheese Wiz and a single green olive pushed into the center of each one, which was my job to insert, when we worked together to create them. I was so young — how is it I remember this? As I recall, they were only made when we visited family or for the rare house party they once had for Dad’s coworkers. I also remember Mom making veal chops and asparagus, and there was a baked salmon dish that was made with a sweet sauce — I think it was something like orange juice and soy sauce?

Some of these things may have been in that cookbook; I’m not sure.

What’s more, the cookbook had a handmade book cover, to mask the old yellow board of the original. This was probably crafted by Mom, from leftover kitchen wallpaper — a bold, eye-popping mid-’70s burst of whimsical orange and yellow flowers. That seems like something a person who is hopelessly nostalgic would keep, doesn’t it? But it was in the hectic months after Dad died (Mom was already a year gone) and I had apparently put my sentimentality on a shelf so that I could carry on efficiently with the impossibly difficult and heart-rending task of going through nearly 50 years of family memories.

It all made sense at the time. It was in the middle of winter, and I was spending a small fortune on heating costs (to keep the old pipes from bursting), real estate taxes and the rest of it, traveling four hours back and forth every other week, and I didn’t want things to drag on and on. So, I journeyed between my place and theirs, bringing down junk I had no further need of, and bringing back mementos I wanted to keep. Mostly, I think, I made the right decisions. I took very little furniture — just their two favorite chairs and a few smaller plant tables. I brought back a beloved statue of a Native American family that Mom discovered in a department store display and spirited away, certain household items and supplies, various decorative items, some of their books and records and CDs, a lot of artwork and several cartons of photographs, slides, films, cards, letters and important documents. It was enough. It was already too much. But every so often, there was a little pang of regret — inexplicable sentimentality over something rather insignificant that I have no power to rectify and had no use for to begin with. Maybe it’s a strange form of self-protection, to avoid facing those really big regrets. Or perhaps it’s symbolic.

Who knows what became of this vinyl-wallpaper-covered old cookbook? I close my book of thoughts on this wistful subject with the hope that in some thrift shop in Connecticut, it fell quite unexpectedly into the hands of a new homemaker whose heart was warmed and curiosity piqued by this charming throwback from simpler, less nutritionally-aware times. And who knows? Maybe they’ll try out a few of the recipes. That’s more than I would have done.

Grief works in mysterious ways.

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Cold Toes for Secrets

Oh howling wind, can I know your secrets?
We are now lovers
I am no longer fearful of you.

Once I made the decision
to forego
a life in the sun
I committed myself to understand
your austere, mysterious ways
however long it took
and however many sleepless nights
and cold toes.

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The Year In Review: 6 Things I Learned About Myself

SelfPortrait_inMirror

1 – Surprisingly, I am capable of being a “morning person,” so long as I get to sleep before midnight. And in fact, I will frequently awaken with strange and wonderful delights in my head that I can put to paper.

2 – I can successfully and single-handedly navigate through probate, go through the contents of a 7-room, 50-year-old family home, prepare said home for sale and close on it, and coordinate eight different contractors and their crews to do various projects around my own hovel — and not lose my mind or get (too badly) ripped off.

3 – I actually don’t enjoy being at a venue I don’t like, seeing a band I don’t care for, late at night — and I shouldn’t feel like I “should” be there because it’s what other people do and seem to enjoy. Sometimes it’s OK to stay home and read a book (although this might just be a function of getting old).

4 – White is my least favorite color, and everything in my home, inside and out, is white. I literally just realized this fact this year. It’s thanks to the previous owners and their unfortunate design sense and peculiarities. Even white people annoy the hell out of me at times, which is odd, seeing as how I am one.

5 – It’s not always helpful to be cynical and sarcastic, even if it does get you more followers on Twitter. Sometimes it’s cool to find positive things in life that you can share and make other people feel good about. Or, as an astrologer friend of mine is fond of saying, “Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

6 – Feeling burdened by regrets and “I should have’s” is a sad and terrible way to mourn the loss of loved ones. A far more positive way, and one that pays dividends while easing the pain, is to channel all that love outward into a creative process, such as organizing photos, slides and films into an online memorial, or transcribing informal interviews into background material for a novel. I am doing both.

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The Menorah

Menorah

I don’t usually celebrate Hanukkah, but this year it somehow felt like the right thing to do.

As I lit the first night’s candle from the shamash center candle, I said, devoutly, “for you, Mom and Dad.” It seemed a little ridiculous, for Dad’s sake, as he was a devout agnostic. But he died last year, just a few days into the Jewish Festival of Lights, so this holiday will be forever linked with his passing.

I was with him, in the hospital, in his final days. He had grown confused, though he had some lucid moments when he seemed his old snarky self, such as when a gentleman came in to speak with us, to see if we were satisfied with the care he was receiving. At the end of his visit, he moved very close to Dad, leaning in so he could hear him, and told him that he had to be strong and pull through, as it would be unappreciative of god not to do so.

Fortunately, Dad didn’t hear him, and when the man left, he asked,” what did he want?” I replied, “he was asking what you thought of the care you’re receiving — with a little missionary work on the side.” Dad laughed, and I was grateful for the opportunity to provide a rare moment of levity in the most dire of circumstances.

The menorah is old. I remember it from my childhood, when Mom was younger and healthier, and she would light it, in a noble attempt to honor our Jewish roots. Around the same time, I was sent to Sunday school. Although well meaning, this practice was soon abandoned, when it became apparent that neither of them had any intention or desire to attend synagogue, not even on the High Holy Days. Being rebellious, I was quick to point out the hypocrisy.

The menorah is also unstable, and it occurs to me that this probably isn’t a good idea, with multiple burning candles haphazardly stuck into small wobbly candle holders. But it represents our family dynamic perfectly — elegant and kindhearted, yet fragile and flawed.

The candles are old, too, judging from the 1970s-style graphics on the box. They’re special “Chanuka candles,” direct from Israel, 44 of them. It’s an odd number, but that’s exactly what is needed to celebrate properly for the full eight days. Although, when I counted them, I discovered there were only 43. What happened to candle #44? It seemed quite odd that someone would open the box and use one candle. This made me chuckle, especially when I heard softly in my head, “a day late and a candle short.” That was Dad’s humor, cynical and self-deprecating, and my heart soared at the thought that he was there in the room with me. Maybe Mom was also watching as I resurrected an old family tradition.

I took in the scene of the slowly dwindling candles, with my Tibetan Buddhist statues standing guard in the background. That seemed fitting as well.

On each night, as I babysat the burning Hanukkah candles to ensure that I didn’t start a fire, vague memories of holiday celebrations trickled in, like wisps of smoke as each thin candle slowly extinguished.

For each night of the holiday, there would be small gifts, as is the custom. One I recall was a little sack of milk chocolate coins in shiny gold tin foil covering. At times, we would visit my aunt, uncle and cousin, who lived nearby, though that was typically for the Passover Seder, a more structured affair. Following copious amounts of wine and an attempted read through of the ceremony, gifts would be hidden around the house, which the kids (my cousin and I) would try to find.

In my early childhood, I was envious of those who got to have beautifully decorated Christmas trees. One year, my parents went out and bought one. When it came time to dispose of the tree, they were too embarrassed to put it out for the trash, as people do, since we lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. So, my enterprising father cut it up and burned that sticky, sappy pine tree in the fireplace, filling the house with dense smoke. This incident became a favorite family holiday story.

Two Jews trying to make a large Christmas tree disappear.

Two Jews trying to make a large Christmas tree disappear.

It just so happened that at the time of Hanukkah this year, I was reading a book I had purchased as a gift some years ago for Dad, but never read myself — “The Lower East Side Jews,” about the Jewish immigrants who came to New York City from Russia in the late 19th century. They were escaping the Russian pogroms. The story follows Abraham Cahan, a key figure in the Jewish socialist and labor movements, and editor of The Forward. Simultaneously, I had just discovered a rather brilliant Amazon Prime TV series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” about an Upper West Side Jewish husband and wife and their family, which takes place in 1958. They have what seems like the perfect life, except that they don’t (dysfunctional Jewish family, a perennial theme), and it’s also the tale of a woman’s journey of self-discovery. Suffice it to say, it was a mystical convergence.

I think it was a combination of the two that was so perfect for me. There was the literary discussion of Jewish laborers and the first American unions, the Yiddish theater and Yiddish press of the Lower East Side, where my grandparents ran a luncheonette on Second Avenue, on the same site where Veselka serves up blintzes and borscht to this day. And then a spot-on portrayal of New York Jewish culture with the crazy shenanigans and banter of the Maisels, who reminded me of family get-togethers in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island in the 1960s.

They say that one becomes more religious as one gets older. It must be the realization of one’s mortality and I suppose the sudden need to “hedge one’s bets.” Though I don’t think Mom felt that way, and Dad, if anything, became even more of an agnostic in later years. As for me, it’s just that the sight of the menorah and the vintage box of Hanukkah candles makes me think of family, and an earlier, simpler time. It’s a fond nostalgia that tastes of bagels, lox and cream cheese.

Mazel Tov!

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Another Entrance to the Attic and to One’s Creativity

The Home Improvement Series, Part 10 of 10

HIS_AtticStairs

The problem: The only entrance to the attic was precarious and dangerous, making it difficult to access.

The metaphor: In dream interpretation, the attic of a house frequently represents spirituality and higher thought. Adding a second entrance is like finding another way to access one’s higher purpose and creative aspirations. At the same time I had a contractor install pull-down attic stairs, I started meditating again, so that I could be calmer and better access my creativity.

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