Ideal Day Off Had By Me

Brooklyn Bridge Park IIII really don’t require much to be happy — adequate rest, a little sunshine, daily exercise, music and solitude. Unfortunately, circumstances rarely allow me to enjoy all or even some of these in the same day. Today, though, was close to perfect: 12 hours of sleep, a glorious hour-long walk along the Brooklyn waterfront, loads of music (played and listened to) and ample time alone with my thoughts.

This afternoon I went to Julliard’s campus store to buy some sheet music. Even at the height of my piano career, I was at best an average sight-reader, so one goal is to improve in that area. To that end, I bought a collection of classical piano music that’s much easier than the stuff I ordinarily play. Having just spent the last hour with it, I’m awfully glad I didn’t go with anything harder. I also bought some Czerny and Hanon exercises, and they’re every bit as horrible and dull as I remembered them being. Horrible and dull, but also necessary for improving technique.

Also: I got carded buying beer. So, yeah. Not a bad day at all.

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Working My Way Back

Jo Seated on the Old Sofa from "The Most Beloved American Writer"I have forgotten how to write — if I even knew how to do so in the first place.

Part of the problem is the Internet. A large portion of my job involves copying and pasting. The rest of the time I’m condensing a story’s main point into a headline, or a 140-character tweet, or I’m emailing reporters and editors. That hardly counts as writing, now, does it?

The other part is that I’ve become lazy. Rock and Roll Grammarian, back when that was a thing, was a labor of love (though that may not have been apparent to my readers). I spent a goodly amount of time thinking about each post before I even started typing. Because I edit at the sentence or even word level — a terrible habit that I’m determined to break — the typing itself often took hours, even for a humble little 500-word post. So Rock and Roll Grammarian was work — but it was work that I loved.

My job now is demanding. I start the day at 7 a.m. and frequently don’t get home until after 7 p.m. I’m often drained by that point, but the things I’m doing to unwind — idly scrolling through Facebook and Twitter posts, fiddling with iPad apps, watching HGTV and drinking wine — aren’t really helping me unwind. I might as well spend some of those off hours writing.

And playing the piano.

You see, I was once an accomplished musician. It also was a labor of love. My freshman year of college I practiced a minimum of four hours a day. In high school, the weeks leading up to a big competition or recital were intense — painstakingly playing the hardest passages, measure by measure, over and over, until I could quite literally perform the piece with my eyes closed. Piano was work — but it was work that I loved.

Yesterday I bought a Roland digital piano. It was expensive, and I’ll have to scale back my spending for some time to make up for it. But I know without question it was worth it. I played for hours yesterday — Scriabin, Chopin, Beethoven, scales, arpeggios — and with each passing note, I felt a little more like myself. I devoted 30 or so minutes alone to the C scale and that of its relative minor, A minor. It will take some time to get my technique back, but the results of that half hour are proof that I can get it back.

The same goes for writing. And so, my plan is to do a little of each every day — a little piano, a little blogging. Hold me to it.

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Behold: The Piano Of The Future


If I were a digital-piano maker, I’d be working feverishly to develop a model with a built-in touchscreen display to replace or supplement sheet music. Pianists would be able to select measures, click on them and hear instantly how they’re supposed to sound. They also would be able to browse and download music at will, plus research composers and the history behind the music — a practice that can help musicians play pieces as they were intended to be played.

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18 And Life

20120318-123200.jpgAllow me to don my house coat and sensible shoes for a moment and say a few words about kids these days.


No matter how smart they may be — and in some respects they seem smarter than my generation at their age — they are not mature enough to take the wheel. It isn’t safe for them, and it isn’t safe for the rest of us.

I think 18 is more like it. Not sure if the lobbyists for the automotive industry would agree, though.

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CNN App Does Not Live Up To Journalist’s Standards

Perhaps I feel this way because I cut my teeth at a real-life newspaper, but apps and websites that lack a hierarchy seem half-baked to me. A well-edited product should guide the reader down and/or across the page, highlighting which stories are most important. Otherwise, it’s of little more use than an RSS feed reader.

Note: Assigning one “top” story above a seemingly random, unranked assortment of news, columns and videos doesn’t cut it.

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Meanwhile, Back At The Abbey

20120301-221542.jpgAfter hearing for months that costume drama “Downton Abbey” was the best thing since buttered scones, I decided to watch an episode via Netflix instant. And then another. And another. I emerged two days later sleep-deprived and hopelessly in love.

This show is like sweet crack cocaine for a silly woman with a head full of romantic notions and a genuine longing to know the world as her forebears knew it (witness past obsessions with the Little House and Anne of Green Gables series and everything written by Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters). The costumes are lovely, the sets are lovey, the actors are lovely … it’s just a lovely way to spend an hour — or many, many consecutive hours.

Now, I will admit that the plot wavers from believability once or twice, and that the whole thing might be slightly melodramatic. However, love is blind. And willing to forgo sleep, food, sunlight and human interaction for extended periods.


See that face? There's a war on, friends, and she will not trouble you with her cares, for she has wounds to dress.

I could and possibly will write more about the show, but for now I will end with a thought it provoked: Stoicism is close to extinction in America, if it isn’t dead already.

I think we can trace stoicism’s decline to the 1980s, when daytime talk shows — which rewarded people for blabbing their troubles before a live or taped audience — began to proliferate. When our once stiff upper lips began to soften. When it became not only acceptable but desirable to receive the pity of others.

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You Are Very Busy And Important

An observation: One often can measure a person’s status in a given company by how much — or rather how little — time he or she spends at a desk working.

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Tim Tebow

Is it really so impossible to believe that a pro football player could be genuinely wholesome and modest? And when did those become loathsome traits?

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Go ‘Way From My Window

ninja town 024

Like this, only in jeans and a white shirt, and on a metal ledge, in Brooklyn

Only once in my life have I been happy to be a light sleeper, and that was Tuesday morning.

Around 5:45 a.m., I heard a sound at the window one foot from my head, like tapping on metal. Initially I assumed it was Simon messing with the bedroom blinds — a favorite wee-hour pastime of his —  but then I remembered I’d raised them a few hours earlier because he’d been doing just that. The sight of his small form curled at my feet confirmed his innocence. I turned my head, looked up at the window, and saw a man descending from the roof via the fire escape ladder.

I sprang out of bed and rushed to the living room to wake up SGF, who’d fallen asleep on the couch. “Chris! There’s someone on the fire escape!” I whispered. It took three tries to wake him, but once roused SGF was on his feet and in the bedroom like a flash. Both of us still half asleep, we determined the best course of action was to quietly shut and lock the window and sneak downstairs to get a better look at our prowler. (I admit our judgment was perhaps not 100 percent sound at that given moment.)

Once outside, we crept to the side of the building, peeked around the corner, determined that the man was still on the fire escape and called the police. Chris kept an eye on the man — who’d by this point climbed down to the second floor, stood for an uncomfortable time staring into our neighbor’s apartment, then scaled the ladder back onto the roof and down the other fire escape — and when he finally vaulted over the fence, followed him at a safe distance down the sidewalk.

When the officers arrived, I told them, essentially, “He went thataway!” The dispatcher had sent three cars, all of which headed toward the far intersection. Two turned right, and the third did a three-point turn and zoomed back past me, driving the wrong way on a one-way street, lights flashing. I have no idea where he was going, but it was awfully dramatic.

Anyway, the police in the first car found Chris and directed him to jump in the car with them, and they sped away in hot pursuit. Chris spotted the suspect in the park. The officers wasted no time chasing him on foot. They instead hopped the curb and drove on the narrow jogging path to reach him.

“Hey, buddy, come here a minute,” they called out. In exaggerated fashion, he pointed toward himself with both hands as if to say “Who, me?”

“Yeah, you,” one officer said in response. When asked where he was going, the suspect didn’t supply a definite answer. I guess that was enough to justify cuffing and frisking him.

“Where you coming from?” they asked him. He mumbled that he’d been, you know, around. Then they asked if he’d been on any buildings that morning.

“Have I been on any buildings …?” he mused. After a pause, he answered sheepishly, “Yeah, I was.” He elaborated, explaining that it was his first night in New York, he didn’t have anyplace to stay and that, of course, he was practicing to be a ninja. Like one does.

They carted him off to jail, where I imagine he stayed until he sobered up. The police told us it’s unlikely they could charge him with anything, which shocked and disturbed me. Though this story had a peaceful — and arguably comical — ending, what if he’d lied about his career aspirations and was really A) stalking someone in our building or B) looking to rob or rape one of us? You’d think they could at least get him for trespassing. Sigh.


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More Than Words

This past week, I happened to notice a headline for a blog post about a black baseball player that included the phrase “legal  lynching.” Appalled, I argued — unsuccessfully — for its immediate revision. Unless the story is about a literal hanging, you do not use that term. Or at least I don’t, and I condemn all those who do. If the baseball player were Jewish, would it be acceptable to call it a “legal gassing” or a “decade in Auschwitz?” Of course it wouldn’t. Think before you type.

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this. Back in my newspaper days, that term wouldn’t have gotten past the slot editor. Not in a million years! Anyone who thinks copy editors don’t make a valuable difference should consider this little anecdote.

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