Once in a blue moon

A week ago an email database of mine disappeared. 

Gone from the server, no clear explanation of how it happened other than an unfortunate glitch in the process of moving my website/blog from one server to another. That’s reason enough to warrant freaking out (or appeal to the Russians for help) but what kept me sane was my suspicion that all was not lost since those very emails exist on my laptop via a desktop app.

That’s not to say I haven’t had a sleepless night or two figuring out how to save a retrievable backup of the emails. In the best of all possible worlds, emails backed up from one database waltz smoothly into another. More often than not, the transition requires a little tech support even for a reasonably tech-savvy woman like me.

Yet a funny thing happens along the way. You look at your inbox and ask yourself: how do I have thousands of emails? A file cabinet filled with letters would likely be thinned down from time to time. But emails—received, read, flagged, sent, discarded—find their way into that deceptive out-of-sight/out-of-mind compartment of our brains.

Until one day a potential disaster forces your hand. Maybe you saved a bunch of emails for a good reason back in 2014. Or maybe you just didn’t give it that much thought.  They don’t take up space after all. 

And maybe it’s a hedge against that once-in-a-blue-moon moment when there’s an email you absolutely need to unearth and you simply can’t rest until you do. Why that particular email is so important is beside the point. 

We all hate losing things. We all resent the feeling of vulnerability that kicks in when the very technology that has been such a good friend begins to give us pause. 

Pause is a perfect word for the moment, once in a blue moon the most exquisite of tropes. There’s nothing necessarily blue about a blue moon, even if it’s riddled with everything the color evokes. Melancholy comes to mind. Elvis may have defined the song, but Cowboy Junkies took it to another level.  

Powder blue. Dusk blue. Midnight blue. 

Sky blue. Ice blue. Cerulean. 

Yves Klein blue.

The blue of distance that Rebecca Solnit writes about so evocatively. 

More than a color, it’s a mood, a state of mind. In a recent Brainpickings roundup, Maria Popova characterizes it as “a symbol, a state of being, a foothold to the most lyrical and transcendent heights of the imagination.”

Listen to the blues as much as I do and you’d be hard put to disagree. What genre of music is as riddled with sexuality, sensuality, vulnerability? Not to mention the cultural undertones it embodies.

There’s a thread here, and vulnerability may be its epicenter. 

Who isn’t feeling vulnerable these days, what with the Manchurian Candidate occupying the Oval Office? 

Last week brought me a riveting poem by Terrance Hayes via The New Yorker.

things got terribly ugly incredibly quickly
things got ugly embarrassingly quickly
actually things got ugly unbelievably quickly
honestly things got ugly seemingly infrequently
initially things got ugly ironically usually
awfully carefully things got ugly unsuccessfully
occasionally things got ugly mostly painstakingly
quietly seemingly things got ugly beautifully
infrequently things got ugly sadly especially
frequently unfortunately things got ugly
increasingly obviously things got ugly suddenly
embarrassingly forcefully things got really ugly
regularly truly quickly things got really incredibly
ugly things will get less ugly inevitably hopefully

Last week also brought me to Springsteen on Broadway via Netflix. As a longtime Bruce fan, I resisted the impulse to get tickets when the show had its Broadway run. The intimacy of a solo performance struck me as out of character with the nature of the large venue. The price of a ticket to be up close enough struck me as out of sync with a performer who prides himself on being a working class hero. More to the point, nothing will ever come close to having seen him in his up-and-coming days at a small club, the Bottom Line, NYC.

Streaming the show, via Netflix, on a large-screen television, was the way it was meant to be seen for fans like me. The vulnerability of the man behind the music shines through as he takes us through his life, via excerpts/adaptations from his wonderful memoir and the songs he sings.

This week brought me to “Sonny’s Blues,” a masterful James Baldwin story in which music becomes a catalyst for a moment of transcendence between two estranged brothers. The fragile reconciliation that unfolds in the course of the story brings the brothers to a new understanding of each other.

“Sonny’s fingers filled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others. And Sonny went all the way back, he really began with the spare, flat statement of the opening phrase of the song. Then he began to make it his. . . . I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, with what burning we had yet to make it ours.”

All of which has me thinking that maybe, just maybe, the things we hold onto are the ones most in need of being let go. Even if it takes a blue moon to realize it.


Young at Heart

July 1985. I’m behind the counter of Farmhouse, Inc., an East Hampton design shop my husband opened with the man who would have been his partner had he not died. It’s Saturday night. We play Frank Sinatra music, always a draw.

It had all the markings of a good plan. Keith, my husband’s assistant in his NYC interior design business, wanted to open a design shop in East Hampton. He spent half his week in the city and the other half in Sag Harbor where he lived with his life partner, Peter, who had a thriving hair salon. The Hamptons had plenty of antiques shops but nothing focused on contemporary design. Lew liked the idea.

They found a space for rent, gave it a name: Farmhouse, Inc., a gallery of craft/tech. That was February 1985. Another person might rethink signing a lease with someone just diagnosed with HIV. But that other person would not have the spirit of the man I married. By springtime Keith had full-blown AIDS but was holding steady. We had a Memorial Day opening bash filled with friends (including local luminaries), and all the promise of a creative new venture.

 

If pictures truly are worth a thousand words, how’s this one for silliness and feeling young at heart? Please ignore the socks I’m wearing. It was a time. It was a look. Do not ignore the smile on the face of my dear friend, Regina, and me.

By early July Keith was gone.

Can’t say I would ever really fill Keith’s shoes, with all that he would have brought to the partnership but we gave it our best shot. The following July would find me very pregnant and overjoyed by my mother’s visit. Sara would be born a month later.

Why is this on my mind now?

Well first there’s the Frank Sinatra connection. Almost any song on the cassette we regularly played as customers browsed takes me back, but “Young at Heart” puts me there in a flash, the wistfulness of it, hand in hand with a melancholy undertone.

Then there’s the novel I would write, sparked by the need to make sense of a very troubling time. These were the early days of AIDS. Nobody knew what was really happening. Days felt shadowed with clouds.

More and more a sense of innocence lost took hold. All those years of sex/drugs/rock ‘n’ roll free love and now we have sex equated with death. What would the impact of that be on anyone coming of age in the ‘80s? I pictured a girl, a beloved uncle, the mysteries surrounding him. I pictured her born in the summer of ’69, coming of age in the ‘80s, a time when the mysteries give way to tragedy. How does a young person, in all her innocence, make sense of it all? How does she confront the ugliness of that thing we call homophobia?

How does she handle grief?

And, what if her own sexual awakening occurs while her uncle is dying?

There you have it, the seeds of Just like February, which will at last be published next April by Spark Press.

In the words of the young narrator’s quirky grandmother: “If you live long enough, you see everything.”

Speaking of which, here I am, another July years later, the kitchen renovation I recently wrote about brought to completion but forever holding all that’s contained in those moments defined by before and after.

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I live in music

The other day I had a yearning, very specific in its musical nature. I wanted/needed to hear “Dance me to the End of Love,” à la Leonard Cohen when he first recorded it. Maybe not an anthem song in the way “Hallelujah” is, but there must be a reason his last two tours opened with that number. It’s a set-list/strategy that works. Make a show of time with a song of yearning transformed into a wistful waltz.dance me

Tracking down the original is easy these days. Yes, you have to be a fan to appreciate his voice (not that ‘voice’ was ever his strong point). And, yes, only a fan would want to go back, immerse herself in the sound/the spirit/the poetry that first hooked her. For all the change, subtle and otherwise, that years bring to a singer/songwriter, any song is bound to be infused with echoes of its earlier incarnation.

I downloaded. I listened. Found myself transported, in an instant, to another time and place. Nothing does that to me the way a piece of music does. Don’t ask how many nights I needed those “Sisters of Mercy” or slipped into the longing of “Suzanne.” Or told a boyfriend that’s no way to say good-bye.

But this is not about being maudlin (though I can be). It’s about the power of music, the way it infuses itself into your heart/your soul/your bloodstream. It’s about the ways in which a piece of music courses through your body, taking you back, no line between today and yesterday. Here I am/there I was: sprawled on a white Haitian cotton couch, head resting against the pillows, a twenty-something living in a NYC studio apartment, my sanctuary. Take a toke, pump up the volume. Feel the space between the notes and the lyrics. Leonard Cohen got to that crack in my heart. Janis Joplin took a piece of it. Billie Holliday made it ache.

Pink Floyd required my undivided attention.

Bob Dylan LPs had a shelf of their own.

Rubinstein playing Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2” brought me to tears more than once. When I got around to reading the liner notes (something I still resist before getting my own impression), I learned that the great Russian composer was emerging from a period of despair when he wrote this concerto. Doesn’t the heart know what the mind takes time to figure out?

I happened to live next door to a talented concert pianist. He lived next door to the disco kid. It was the ’80s. Walking down the corridor to my apartment gave new meaning to the battle of the bands. We were all friends.

Turns out my concert pianist friend, Michael Lewin, is a featured artist on “Winds of Samsara,” which won the 2015 Grammy for best New Age Album.   Not long ago I felt compelled to reconnect in the way that old friends do on Facebook. Now I had reason to give a congratulatory shout-out, share the news on my wall, along with a You Tube link of him playing the Ricky Kej/Wouter Kellerman arrangement of a Chopin nocturne I love. What a thrill!

Better yet, it brought us from Facebook to e-mail. We did our best to catch up on twenty+ years. He asked me to choose a CD I’d like in exchange for my book. If just sampling the range of possibilities via his website brought it all back home to me—the sound of his Steinway echoing through the walls—imagine the sensation when I listen to that full spectrum of birdsong made manifest in his enchanting CD, If I Were a Bird. Now I know something even more about him than I did back when.

CD birdMusic is infused into the very fabric of more than one novel by Richard Powers, including his latest, Orfeo.   A glimpse into his way with words may tell you why I just can’t get enough of his work.

Music forecasts the past, recalls the future. Now and then the difference falls away, and in one simple gift of circling sound, the ear solves the scrambled cryptogram. One abiding rhythm, present and always, and you’re free. But a few measures more, and the cloak of time closes back around you.