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My Vision Board, Sans Perfectionism (and Plus Playlist)

12 Jun

My vision boardThis weekend, that fateful day finally arrived: my return to self-help. In the form of my friend’s vision board party that I excitedly, yet with some trepidation, RSVP-ed “Yes” to. Would I be triumphant, happily reunited with collaging as if we’d spent no time apart, and the past seven years since my last vision board were just an insignificant blip? I had my doubts.

As the day approached, collaging anxiety crept in. Plus, I had volunteered to make the party playlist and was starting to feel the burden of responsibility. I felt like I had to prep. Go shopping for an array of magazines that represented all the areas I wanted to cover on my vision board. Swing by a few home furnishings stores to pick up catalogs. Buy art supplies. Decide on a vision board base–should I put everything together on one huge piece of poster board, or break up my collages by category on scrapbook pages with labels? Then I’d have to print out category labels. And I couldn’t just bring labels for myself, I’d need to bring extras for the rest of the guests. I’d started a file folder a while ago of images I liked and wanted to use in a future vision board. But I couldn’t find the file anywhere, and felt like I’d lost part of my vision. A few days before the party, I made the mistake of looking at the last vision board I made seven years ago, pre-self-help detox, and it was A-MA-ZING (categorized scrapbook pages, labeled). A sheer thing of artistic beauty, I couldn’t believe I had created it. There was no way I could live up to my collaging past.

And then there was the playlist–all the new songs I wanted to buy on iTunes, and how to organize them for optimum flow.

What happened was this: my perfectionism was taking over, turning a fun afternoon with friends, glitter, and glue sticks into an oppressive list of tasks and To Dos. So I decided to scrap everything–all the planning and preparation (it wasn’t even my party!), and just do the absolute minimum. As if I was cramming for a final, I quickly made the playlist at 11pm the night before with nary a newly purchased song, or a second thought the order. I wanted the music to be uplifting, so I just did one round of edits where I stripped out all the codependent love songs about needing someone else to be able to live or breathe.

An hour before the party, I picked up three magazines–a yoga one, a home one, and a vacation one–and found the ideal compromise of half-sheets of poster board at an art supply store. I let go of trying to locate my image file, and embraced the idea of creating my vision afresh in the moment. Pounding an iced coffee for sustenance, I was ready to collage. Imperfectly, dammit.

Me with my vision boardAt the party, my friend read a few vision boarding suggestions before we got started, like keeping some white space in your collage to leave room for other things to come in, and so it doesn’t look chaotic and clutterred. Flipping through magazines, I still doubted my artistic abilities, but reminded myself that this didn’t have to be the end-all-be-all vision board, just one attempt.

I was a little behind, only on Phase 2 (deciding which images to use) when everyone else was on Phase 3 (gluing), but somehow mine came together quickly in the end. While I’d thought my vision board would be significantly career focused, and had even brought cut-outs of the New York Times Best Seller list and logos for places I wanted to write or teach, I tucked them underneath my poster board before I started and none of them made it on. Mostly my vision board wound up being about joy, relaxation, playfulness, fun–and a balanced life. And by the way, I love it.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that my playlist was a huge hit. Someone even said I should make playlists professionally, if that’s even a thing. Other than like, DJ. And someone else asked me if I’d publish the playlist, which was the inspiration for this blog post. Having recently met Maxwell, it’s a little Maxwell intensive. But as I told my friend who was hosting the party, it was a major accomplishment that my playlist wasn’t just: “Maxwell CDs.” So here it is, codependent love song free, and guaranteed to uplift!

Vision Board Party Playlist
1) “Imagine Me” – Kirk Franklin
2) “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” – Maxwell
3) “Superwoman” – Alicia Keys
4) “Beautiful” – Christina Aguilera
5) “Brand New Day” – Joshua Radin
6) “Declaration (This Is It!)” – Kirk Franklin
7) “A Star Is Born” – Jay-Z feat. J. Cole
8) “Closer” – Goapele
9) “Best Of My Love” – The Emotions
10) “Seasons of Love” – Original Broadway Cast, RENT
11) “Just Fine” – Mary J. Blige
12) “F**ckin’ Perfect” – Vicci Martinez and Niki Dawson on The Voice
13) “Party” – Beyoncé feat. André 3000
14) “Over the Rainbow” – Glee Cast Version
15) “Pretty Wings” – Maxwell
16) “My Love” – The-Dream & Mariah Carey
17) “September” – Kirk Franklin
18) “Ganapati” – Girish
19) “Guru Brahma” – Jai Uttal & The Pagan Love Orchestra
20) “People Everyday” – Arrested Development
21) “Lovely Day” – Bill Withers
22) “Lifetime” – Maxwell

What songs would be on your Vision Board Party Playlist?

How Something Really Bad Can Turn Into Something Really Good–Oh, and Holy Shit, I Met Maxwell!

9 Jun

Maxwell GAP ad

Maxwell in an ad for The GAP

Last week I was racing across the street in flip-flops when, before I could stop it, my left foot landed on a pulverized rat. This was upsetting. Standing on the curb taking deep breaths, I decided to turn around and take a second look. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.

Closer inspection revealed that I did indeed just step in rat guts with nothing more than a thin flip-flopped sole between me and them. Trying to stifle my gag reflex, I peered down at what had once been a rat but was now just a flattened layer of mush pressed into the concrete, a tail and one foot the only discernible features that remained.

Walking away, I tried to convince myself that this was not a big deal. Maybe I’d actually only grazed a sliver of the rat, or missed it entirely. A few blocks later I gathered the courage to look at the bottom of my shoe. There was black gunk on the upper left corner, and some reaching up along the left side of my shoe, centimeters from my bare pinky toe.

Not a big deal, not a big deal, I thought as I practiced Lamaze breathing. But I knew that there was no amount of scrubbing and disinfecting I could do that would make me feel OK about stepping foot back into my apartment in these shoes. However microscopic, I would never step soundly again knowing there could be rat entrails on my floor.

I looked down at my flip-flops. I loved these flip-flops. I’d gotten them at The GAP last summer so they probably didn’t carry them anymore. They were super-comfortable and the perfect neutral shade to go with everything. And I was super-broke and not excited about shelling out money for any unanticipated expenses. But the ratty flip-flops had to go.

On my way to meet a friend for coffee, I thought about cancelling and immediately heading to The GAP for my replacement. But he was going through a hard time and needed my help so I felt like I had to show up. I spent an hour with my friend, silently praying that I wasn’t at that very moment contracting the Bubonic plague. I’d planned to go to an event afterwards, but there was no way I could sit through even another five minutes with this rat on my foot, so I changed my plan and walked in the opposite direction towards the closest GAP.

Why does this shit always happen to me? I thought. Who the fuck ever steps in a smooshed rat?!? It wasn’t enough to feel sorry for myself on my own, so I called a friend.

“I’m on the way to buy new shoes,” I said. “Because I just stepped in a fucking rat!!!”

Which was when I walked past a guy who looked a lot like my favorite singer, Maxwell, but it was kind of hard to tell because he had a full beard and was wearing a baseball cap. I smiled, and he smiled back.

I kept walking, but I had to take one more look to make sure so I turned around. He was looking at me (checking me out?), AND IT WAS TOTALLY HIM!

“Gotta go, bye!” I said to my friend, hanging up. She texted me right away, “Feel better, the Universe just wants you to have new shoes!”

“The Universe just wants me to meet Maxwell!” I wanted to text back, but I had more pressing things to attend to first.

“Maxwell?” I asked, and he nodded yes.

“This is so crazy. I was just buying shoes,” he said, nodding at the shopping bags in his hands. “I can’t believe you recognized me.”


“I’m Max,” he said, reaching out his hand.


“I’m Jen,” I said, shaking his hand.

Let me semi-digress for a moment here to say that if I could meet one person in the whole entire world, it would be Maxwell. That I’ve been very vocal about my love for him for a long time (as evidenced in this, this, and this blog post), and went through a brief period in 2009 where I proactively hoped I’d meet him.

I was shaking and totally overwhelmed so I said, “I can’t believe this! I’m shaking! I’m so overwhelmed!”

He stood there smiling as I traced my love for him through the years, beginning when my first roommate in New York City introduced to me to Urban Hang Suite in 1998 to the present. Some highlights included when I took a half-vacation day from work three years ago to see him perform on a morning television show and told my boss I was taking a “Maxwell Half-Day;” how I went to see him in concert at Madison Square Garden by myself because none of my friends would go with me, and in the elevator at home that night I ran into my neighbor who was coming back from that same concert and I discovered that another die-hard Maxwell fan lived a mere four doors down from me; and how I listened to his music in my cube so much at an old job that whenever I came back from being on vacation, if an issue of TIME or People Magazine had come out while I was gone with an article about Maxwell in it, my boss and coworkers would leave a copy of it on my chair. I talk fast, so I was able to cover 14 years’ worth of stories in a relatively short period of time.

Me and Maxwell“You made my day, you made my day,” Maxwell kept saying, and hugging me. Multiple times. Needless to say, I no longer cared that I was standing in rat.

“I put your songs on so many uplifting playlists!” I said, clutching my heart. “Your music has brought me so much joy!”

“You made my day,” he said, and hugged me. Again.

After Max and I parted ways, I found my way to The GAP in my post-Maxwell haze. I couldn’t believe that they had the exact same style and color as my beloved flip-flops, circa 2011–the second miracle of the night! Unfortunately, they didn’t have my size, so they directed me to the GAP on 5th Avenue which allegedly would.

Walking into the second store, I pointed to my feet. “Where are these flip-flips?” I asked a woman who worked there.

“We don’t have those,” she said.

“But the GAP I just went to said you’d have them in stock here.”

“This is Bebe,” she said.

“Oh! I’m so sorry! I just met Maxwell!” I said, by way of explanation.

“I LOVE MAXWELL!!!!” she squealed. “I walked by him once but I would have had to leave my little brother in the middle of the street in oncoming traffic to say hi to him so…I didn’t,” she said, with a look of remorse that conveyed this had been a difficult decision, and she wasn’t sure she’d made the right choice.

“He’s my husband!” she exclaimed.

“Mine, too!”

Our sisterhood cemented, we hugged goodbye and she wished me luck finding my shoes.

Then I stumbled into the actual GAP a few doors down, and while they didn’t have my size either, they assured me that their Chelsea location would. That was the next stop on my shoe mission, and I found flip-flops in the exact color, style, and size to replicate my beloved pair. And–miracle number three!–they were on sale for only ten dollars! I put them on right away, and tossed my contaminated pair in the nearest trash can.

As soon as I got home, I called a friend to give her the play-by-play of my night.

“The best part of that story is the rat!” she said laughing.

Having lived through it, I was pretty sure the best part was Maxwell.

“We give thanks for the rat who gave his life,” she said solemnly.

“–so that I could meet Maxwell,” I finished.


Stepping in a pulverized rat on a New York City street is an unbelievably crazy bad thing that is almost statistically impossible. Running into Maxwell on a New York City street is an unbelievably crazy good thing that is almost statistically impossible. Which just goes to show you, sometimes a terrible thing can change your course and put you in exactly the right place for a wonderful thing that you would have never experienced had you not had rat guts on your foot.

The catch is, to fully experience the miracles that can unfold and surprise you in life, you can’t get attached and expect them. You just have to be present to what is, present enough to notice when you walk by Maxwell in a full beard and a baseball cap. And not get attached to the bad things either, feeling sorry for yourself and lamenting why they happened. There’s a saying that goes, “Don’t give up five minutes before the miracle,” and I’d amend that to be, “Don’t give up five minutes before you meet Maxwell.”

So sometimes, when an unbelievably terrible thing happens, an unbelievably amazing thing could be right around the corner if you just keep your head up, and keep walking.

Amos Lee on Reliving the Pain

19 Mar

“The emotional situation is passed, but I have to relive it every night for you guys.” -Amos Lee

One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year was to see more live music, and one of the musicians I most wanted to see was Amos Lee, so when I saw that he was playing at The Bell House, a small, intimate venue in my very own neighborhood, I jumped on it and got a ticket right away.

Last night as I got ready for the concert, I was feeling tired and sad, had a headache, and was not particularly energized or enthusiastic, but I popped two Tylenol, drank coconut water to replenish my electrolytes, and pushed myself to go because I knew that I would feel better once I got there, and I did.  Standing with my friends a few feet from the stage listening to Amos Lee sing, I looked up at the high wooden mountain-lodge-like ceiling, the chandeliers hanging down rocking slightly, the dust swirling in the spotlights, and I was pulled out of my melancholy mood.

I was just kind of soaking in the whole atmosphere, when Amos said with a smile, “The funny thing is, the emotional situation is passed, but I have to relive it every night for you guys,” and I looked back onstage and paid extra-close attention as he launched into singing “Careless” in a way that felt like he was pouring his whole soul into it, and really was reliving something heartbreaking in that moment.

A large part of why I was feeling sad last night was that I’ve been writing something that is incredibly painful for me.  It is a tricky thing, because it’s very sticky – writing about it pulls me in and it is so not easy to get out, even after I’ve stopped writing.  And though I love writing and feel compelled to tell my stories, sometimes I question why I am doing this and putting myself through this torture, and think that I’d be a lot happier if I wasn’t.  After all, the emotional situation is passed.  I don’t have to still feel this pain.  It would certainly be easier if I didn’t.  Why not just leave those painful times far far behind me and never look back?

But hearing Amos Lee say those words and then sing that song was the reminder I needed about why.  Why anyone would choose to relive their pain, and transform it into something else, something that reaches out to connect with other people.  Because even if I haven’t had the exact same experiences as him, I know that feeling.  And writing and singing and reading and listening can make us all, at different times, and in different ways, feel less alone.  And that is why.

So when he’s singing, or when you want to write about a difficult time, there’s no getting around it.  We have to dip way down into that pain, just immerse ourselves in it and feel it and relive it, so we can transform it into something else – a song or a passage or a picture.  And then just do the best we can to untangle ourselves from it and come back out to where we are today.  It’s Friday, March 19th, 2010.  It is 68 degrees and sunny in Brooklyn, NY.  I saw an amazing Amos Lee concert last night.  The emotional situation is passed…

Be A Bruise

11 Sep


Photo Credit: Laurie Scavo

“…to just really be a bruise, to be a wounded, exposed nerve to the world so that you can cure and somehow bring a common connection between us all through sound.”

-Maxwell, on the purpose of making music as a service and not out of being wrapped up in your ego, at the BLACKsummersnight Listening Party & Press Conference 4/28/09

This summer, I blogged about Maxwell’s Q&A at the BLACKsummersnight Listening Party & Press Conference, and there are so many juicy goodies in this interview that I want to return to it.  And also, not that I’m counting down or anything, but I’m going to see him in concert at Madison Square Garden in 17 days and 5 hours and 29 minutes…

In this interview, Maxwell talks about how some artists today get so wrapped up in their egos that they forget that making music is a service, and that the purpose is to heal.  And you do this, he says, but putting yourself out there as “a bruise…a wounded, exposed nerve to the world.”

This reminds me of when I was a rehearsing an emotional scene for a play over 10 years ago before I retired from acting, and my director saying that in life when you are crying and in pain, you put your head down and hide it from the world.  When you are acting and you are crying and in pain, you have to hold your head up and let the world see you like that.

This is what I strive to do in my writing – take the pain I have experienced, that I want to stuff down and hide from others and from myself in my life, and crack it open for the world (or whoever is reading my blog etc…) to see.  And it is totally hard and scary to do this.  The times that I have been the most open in writing, say, my Writeous Chicks Newsletters, like the ones about my depression or anxiety or insecurity, I will sit at home alone in front of my computer scared to put myself out there so much, wondering if I can really go through with it and press Send and usher my vulnerable, exposed words/wounds out into the world of my email distribution list.  But the ones that I have been the most scared to send have been the ones that I’ve gotten the strongest response to, and received emails from people thanking me and telling me how much they related to my writing.

Sometimes I put myself out there and it is not so well-received.  A few months ago I performed a story at a venue where I’ve kept my stories pretty light and comedic in the past.  But this time I wanted to delve deeper and talk about something that was difficult and painful for me, in a very open and honest and put-it-all-out-there kind of way.  As I told my story, the audience was silent, and I was unnerved that I wasn’t getting the laughs that I usually did.  After I finished speaking, I stood in front of the crowd feeling like a wounded, exposed nerve, and a very vulnerable one at that, and I walked off the stage in a daze.  I got lower scores on this story than I had on my previous stories, and although a few people told me they liked what I had done, it definitely wasn’t the positive response I was used to.

I continued to feel completely raw and exposed and didn’t even know when the event had ended, and had to ask my friend if it was over.  The next day I felt humiliated, and berated myself for putting it all out there like that.  But then, I remembered my intention, which was to do just that – to take a risk and put myself out there.  And I was able to shift from humiliation and self-reprimanding, to feeling proud of myself for my courage in admitting to and sharing my pain, and lifting my face up in a world that encourages you to deny and hide your pain, and keep your head down.

Maxwell splits his heart open and pours his pain into his music, which is in part why people resonate so strongly with it.  He also pours his joy into his music, and holds the whole range of human experience, the light and the dark, within his songs.  And because he puts it all out there, we then, as listeners, can connect to something within him that is also within us.

In writing or music or whatever form you are creating in, challenge yourself to be a bruise.  Sometimes you won’t go far enough and sometimes you will go to far and feel like a raw open wound exposed to the world.  Keep returning to the goal of healing and connecting, and eventually you will strike the right balance.  And keep heaping compassion on yourself as you do this and you will find that exposing your bruises and wounds will not only heal others, but will ultimately heal yourself, too.

Internal Theme Song Du Jour!

21 Aug

I’ve started picking an internal theme song for the day.  I often feel like I am in the movie or music video of my life anyway, and have songs running through my mind or through my headphones throughout the day, so this is a fun little way to make it official.

Last week, my first Internal Theme Song of the Day was “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey.  On Wednesday it was “Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder and I highly recommend watching this video if you, like me, desperately longed to be a Solid Gold Dancer at any time in your life.  Or if you still long for this…  That night, I walking home from the subway singing “Break My Stride” out loud (sometimes my internal theme songs leak out externally), when a car drove by BLASTING “Don’t Stop Believing,” and I felt like the stars were somehow aligned and all was well in the Universe. 

Yesterday’s song was “Right to Be Wrong” by Joss Stone.  I especially like these lyrics:  “I’ve got a right to be wrong, my mistakes will make me strong.  I’m stepping out into the great unknown, I’m feeling wings though I’ve never flown…Got a right to be wrong, I’ve been held down too long, I got to break free, so I can finally breathe.  Got a right to be wrong, gotta sing my own song, I might be singing out of key, but it sure feels good to me.”  Sing it, Girl!  I like it in part because I’m working on my wings…

Today I started out my day having a POWER breakfast with some POWER ladies, a group of fabulous, inspiring, supportive creative friends, which gave me such a BOOST right at the start of my day, and made today’s theme song choice obvious:  “I’ve Got the Power” by Snap.  Which reminds of when my sister was on a mission to bring back “Oh, Snap!” (It never took off as a revival.)  And also brings back vague memories of wearing a wool sweater, short pleated skirt, and green lollipops and dancing to this song for dance team or cheerleading in high school.  Or maybe it was just playing in the background when I was standing around a keg holding a red plastic Dixie cup post-game.  Ahh, the early 90’s….

And this leads me to Part Two of the Internal Theme Song Du Jour – The Dance Break.  By no means is this required, but if you can take a 5 minute dance break to your internal theme song that’s the bonus track!  You can do this walking down the street or on the subway, in your chair at work, or, if all else fails, in your mind.  Or, one of the most fun ways to do it is to blast the video on YouTube in your co-worker’s office and have a GROUP dance party (I’ve done this and it’s a great way to get a boost during a slump without sugar or caffeine!).

Also important to note is that this is a low pressure thing, so no need to come up with a new song every day if you don’t feel like it.  You can stick with your Internal Theme Song Du Jour for a day, a week, a month, a year, whatever!  It’s YOUR LIFE so create YOUR OWN PLAYLIST!  You can play your song in your head on your commute, while you are doing errands or mundane tasks, or while you are someplace you don’t want to be – it’s like affirmations, but set to music!  Try it, it’s fun!  And it will launch you into the starring role in the MUSIC VIDEO OF YOUR LIFE!!!

What’s your song today?


Got Insecurity? So Does Maxwell.

10 Jul

“I’m a really, really insecure person at best…”

– Maxwell, Q&A at the BLACKsummers’night Listening Party & Press Conference on 4/28/09

A few years ago, I blogged about how John Mayer gets anxiety attacks.  And lately, with all the Michael Jackson coverage in the news, it’s been mentioned a lot that Michael Jackson was extremely shy.

OK, these are obstacles.  Big obstacles.  If you have “crippling anxiety attacks” as John Mayer’s were described in a September 2006 issue of Rolling Stone, one could assume that you might not be able to perform in front of huge crowds, have your albums go multi-platinum, and win Grammy Awards.  and if you are extremely shy, maybe you are just not meant to be the greatest pop star of all time.  Or maybe just maybe, you would be able to perform in front of thousands upon thousands of people, wow crowds, and maybe even become the King of Pop.  Maybe, despite all the obstacles that would seemingly make these things impossible, you can, and you do anyway.


In a recent Q&A at the BLACKsummers’night Listening Party & Press Conference, Maxwell confessed to being a “really, really insecure person at best,” and this is what he tweeted before his dress rehearsal for the BET Awards in June:  “on the STAGE gettin’ ready to do the dress rehearsals… so NERVOUS…”

I have long been fascinated by insecurity and fear, and how it can stop you.  Or not.  In my own life sometimes I will hit a wall of fear that is so scary it makes me want to stop, drop, and roll under my covers, question if it’s worth it, and be tempted to just give up altogther on that particular hope.  And it is easy to think that if you are at all insecure, shy, nervous, anxious, or fearful, well, maybe that big bold dream just isn’t for you anyway.  Maybe it’s for those totally secure, calm, fearless people, and you, well, you can stay hiding out, snuggled under those covers, and settle for a listless life devoid of meaning, in which your dreams are absent, having been chased away by your fears. 

But who are those supremely confident, ever-unflappable people?  Does anyone really not have to walk through some form of fear or insecurity on the path to their dreams?

Whenever I’ve performed or spoken in front of large groups, and even when I teach small groups, I often get very nervous (the heart-racing-difficulty-breathing-sick-to-my-stomach variety) beforehand.  A calm then sweeps over me once I get onstage or get started, but I’ve wondered if there are certain people who are extremely successful at what they do who just get to skip the fear step.  I’ve wondered if there is a way to override those nervous jitters and instead only embody complete confidence and calm at all times, in all situations, even in the most jitter-inducing of circumstances.  Seeing people who just SHINE, or ROCK, or do whatever they are doing to its fullest and most radiant expression, I’ve longed to know, what is their secret?

And the secret is this:  these people are often insecure, shy, nervous, anxious, or fearful.  But they do their thing anyway.

Maxwell describes himself as insecure.  Watch this video for “Pretty Wings” and see if it appears that he has anything at all to feel insecure about, or if “insecure” is one of the top five adjectives that comes to your mind to describe him.  Personally, I think, “dizzyingly beautiful, amazing voice, off-the-charts-talented, soulful, and sexy.”  Insecure doesn’t make it anywhere close to my list.  Or check out this performance for the CBS Early Show and see if you could guess that he ever gets nervous before performing.

In this recent Q&A Maxwell said, “I’m a really, really insecure person at best,” and he then continued with a laugh, “I mean, I know I front hard on that stage, let me tell you, it’s all fake.”  That’s the other piece of the secret:  sometimes you really do just have to fake it ’til you make it.

Fear, shyness, insecurity, anxiety, and nervousness can be obstacles that stop you in your tracks, propel you into hiding under your covers, and chase away your dreams.  But they don’t have to be.  John Mayer gets anxiety attacks.  Michael Jackson was shy.  Maxwell is insecure at best.  But they all stepped through their fears to share their incredible gifts with the world.  Don’t let those things stop you from sharing your gifts with the world.  Just take a deep breath, front if you have to, and step out into your spotlight to rock.

Maxwell Is Singing To My Soul…& Curing My Anxiety

9 Jul

This is how it started:  two weeks ago I was listening to as I was getting ready in the morning and Maxwell‘s song “Pretty Wings” popped up, reminding me how much I love Maxwell.  I didn’t realize it was a new song and thought maybe it was just one that I had missed in the past.  When I got to work, I told my co-worker, who sits behind me and gets to hear about all my musical loves, about my excitement over hearing that Maxwell song.

“You must be really excited for his new cd then!” my co-worker exclaimed.

“What??!?!”  I had had no idea that Maxwell had a new cd coming out after the 8 years since his last one.  I had been excited about creating a new Maxwell station on Pandora; now I was over-the-top about the news of his new cd.

This is how it really started:  In 1998, I graduated from college and moved to New York City to go to acting school full-time, and into an apartment on the Upper East Side with two of my best friends from high school.  One of my roommates had Maxwell’s cds “Urban Hang Suite” and “MTV Unplugged” and introduced me to the wonder that is his music.  She had been introduced to Maxwell’s music by her ex-boyfriend who had played his cds when they were still dating, while they were making out.  I imagine that that guy smartly put Maxwell’s cds on permanent rotation in his bedroom cd player.

In my first New York City apartment, Maxwell cds were often playing, for musical enjoyment purposes not making out purposes, although I did go on to follow in my roommate’s footsteps and make out with my own boyfriend circa 2000 to the live version “Whenever Wherever Whatever” on the unplugged cd.  I played Maxwell’s live version of “This Woman’s Work” off that same cd as emotional preparation when I was acting in plays where I had to be sad, crouched down backstage in the dark, or in a green room, listening to it repeatedly before going on.  I had a painful break-up with boyfriend circa 2000, wrote a play about him, and used the aforementioned version of “Whenever Wherever Whatever” in the play’s soundtrack.  Years later, I’ve happily divorced that beautiful song from the painful memories of the break-up and can deeply enjoy it once again. 

In August of 2001 Maxwell’s last cd “Now” came out.  I got it right away, and listening to the songs “Lifetime” and “Get to Know Ya” made me feel happy, and hopeful.

And I remember a mix of Maxwell songs on the soundtrack of my first few years living in New York City in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, woven in with the experiences of my 20’s when I was new to the city, everything was an adventure, and I was guided by my dreams.

This February, I was meeting my Dad and Stepmom for dinner at a French bistro in Manhattan.  I got there early and was waiting at the bar when “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” came on.  I felt flooded again with that same sense of happiness and thought, “I love this place!”  After dinner I stopped at Barnes & Noble on my way home to buy my very own copy of “Urban Hang Suite,” because I have not lived with that Maxwell cd-owning roommate since Maxwell’s last cd came out.

Back to Summer 2009, for the past two weeks, I have been so excited about Maxwell’s new cd coming out, and have been listening to his music practically non-stop.  And here’s the thing.  Sometimes music can bring you so much joy, and just make you feeeeeel soooooo goooooood.  And Maxwell’s music does exactly that.  Several times over the past few weeks, I’ve been walking down the street when I’ve noticed anxious thoughts creep into my mind, and I’d start down the path of worrying about some insignificant thing that is a waste of my time and energy, but a familiar and seductive pattern nonetheless.  And several times I’ve grabbed for my iPod Shuffle in those moments, shoved the headphones in my ears, and pressed play to “Pretty Wings.”  I’ve discovered that hearing it just melts away my anxiety, and makes it pretty much impossible to give any time or energy to a negative worried thought, because all my energy becomes captivated by the music instead.  And on a crowded subway, I will throw in those headphones again, and blast “Pretty Wings” or “Fortunate,” and suddenly I am literally bursting with energy and excitement (and sometimes dancing), oblivious to space-invading rush hour commuters, transported into a whole nother, more joyful, zone.

Maxwell Concert July092I got his much-anticipated new cd “BLACKsummers’night” yesterday, and today, I took what I called a “Maxwell Half-Day” at work, and went to see a free outdoor concert that he was doing for the CBS Early Show.  I had wanted to go to his concert at NJPAC in Newark which was the closest show to NYC listed on his tour schedule, but it had sold out the week before.  However, the same day I found out that that show was sold out, I learned about this free NYC one.  Walking from the subway to the outdoor plaza where the CBS concert would be this morning, I was so excited that I started having difficulty breathing and I had to pop a Tums.  It was an amazing, joyous show from an amazing, joyous performer, and it always inspires me how something so simple as a song, has the incredible power to transport, transform, uplift, and even, when needed, to cure anxiety.

Stay tuned, there is a good chance I will write more about Maxwell, and this just might turn into Maxwell Week on my blog…

What Are Your Michael Jackson Memories?

28 Jun

Amidst the very unclear and devastating tragedy of Michael Jackson’s death, what is clear is how many people’s lives he touched through his music and performing and very being, in both obvious and more subtle ways.  The past few days as I walked down the streets of  Brooklyn, I’ve passed cars with his music blaring through their windows like a time capsule of the 70’s and 80’s.  I’ve been surprised when I’ve turned on the radio and his music was not playing, as since Thursday it feels like the whole world is united in listening to Michael Jackson together.

Among my friends and I’ve noticed memories surface, memories of listening to his music throughout our lives.  His songs were not just songs in a vacuum at a certain moment that then evaporated and disappeared; his music is tied to our memories, feelings, stories, and so much more.

I remember…

-Listening to the Thriller album on my plastic Fisher Price record player when I was 7 or 8 years old, sitting on the floor in my living room as the record spun, the album cover nearby, playing the record straight through, from first song to last.

-Being 8 years old, the summer before I turned 9, visiting my Aunt Pam and Uncle Mark in Cleveland, OH.  I was tan and my short feathered hair (before my hair turned curly), was parted in the middle and flopped open.  I think I was wearing a turquoise cotton sundress, and one large single cooking mitt to simulate Michael’s single sequined glove, and, performing for the audience of my family, I had just done a moonwalk and spun around and threw up my kitchen mitted-hand into the air when someone snapped a photo.

-When my parents got divorced, my Dad moved into a small apartment a few towns away that sat at the entrance of a dead-end alley.  My sister and I would go there every other weekend, and sometimes we would visit my Dad’s neighbor Nancy, who lived a big old run down house at the end of the alley.  She was in her early 40’s and the youngest grandmother I had ever met, we’d play Parcheesi and she had a huge record collection filled with albums like old classic Billy Joel, and The Jackson Five, and I associate her house and Parcheesi with the first time I ever heard “ABC.”

-Being planted in front of the television in my wood-paneled family room watching the video for “Say Say Say” on network television, back when they used to play videos on network TV, riveted by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney driving away on the back of a truck, and Michael Jackson’s tearful clown make-up…

-My seventh grade class trip to Washington, D.C. I associate with the song “Man in the Mirror.”  I had the cassette tape of “Bad,” so maybe I listened to it on a walkman on the bus ride down.  I remember the first sense of freedom, four 7th grade girls staying in our very own hotel room, and there was even a telephone in the bathroom, and we went sightseeing, and to a mall, and on a boat cruise, and stayed up late talking to boys, one of us from the phone in the bedroom and someone else on the phone in the bathroom, and there was always the possibility that a cute 7th grade boy you had a crush on, or wanted to practice flirting with, would knock on your door to say hi.

-Junior year of high school, my friends and I going over to Chip’s house to watch the television premiere of the “Black or White” video.

-The summer after I graduated from high school, my best friend Zoe and I cocktail waitressed at The Chart House.  The restaurant played the same official restaurant soundtrack over and over again, and one of the songs on it was “Wanna Be Starting Something,” and I remember being giddy and delirious after a 10 or 12 hour shift of working outside on the patio in the blazing summer sun, cleaning up and stacking cocktail trays and packing table tents away in bus bins, when that song would come on and we would dance, standing up tall to “It’s too high to get over, Yeah, Yeah” and ducking down low for “Too low to get under, Yeah, Yeah.”

-Being in acting school after college, getting there early in the morning and bringing in cds and blasting them on the boom box in the classroom, some of us launching out of our chairs that were lined up in rows to have a dance party before our first class started, before 9am.  Dancing and moving to have fun, and release some anxiety before an angsty day of difficult classes, and somehow those early morning dance parties helped get me in a happier and lighter mood, where I could feel more in control, and maybe deal with the criticism that was to come a little better.  Dancing to The Jackson Five, “ABC,” or “I Want You Back,” and feeling that burst of energy and joy that music can bring.

Michael Jackson’s life ended too soon, and tragically, and seemed to be characterized by an unknowable…something… sadness or loneliness or trouble or torment…  But for everyone who has lived in the past 40 years, his life reached out and touched all of ours.  We all have our own different Michael Jackson memories but we are all connected in that we all have them – memories, feelings, and stories we associate with him and his music – and we were all affected at different times, at different ages, in different places, and at different moments, by his music, and his presence in this world.

So, in honor of Michael Jackson’s life, and the ways in which he was a part of our lives, for the inspiration he provided, for his music and dancing that brought people glimpses of joy and upliftment and connection, for his passion and drive and dedication and creativity, and for all that he created…

What feelings and stories do you remember?  What friends and family and people and places and times and ages do his songs make you think of?  What are your Michael Jackson memories, where are those pieces of your life when his music was playing along, creating the soundtrack of your stories?

“And my goal in life is to give the world what I was lucky to receive: the ecstasy of divine union through my music and dance.”  – Michael Jackson

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam

My Seasonal Affective Disorder Is In Remission Until November

19 Apr

Several years ago I self-diagnosed myself with Seasonal Affective Disorder.  This past winter, I even had an indoor bout of S.A.D. inside my apartment when, one cold, grey, sad, S.A.D. Saturday in January when the heat in my building wasn’t working, I couldn’t even muster up the energy to get out from under the relative warmth of my covers to walk to the other side of my apartment, and it was too cold to change out of my pajamas, put on a sweater, and like, do something.  Anything.  The cold grey days and long dark nights can just suck all the energy out of me until I don’t even remember that I am person who has a lot of energy.  Or, any energy.

So, when it felt like the first day of spring had finally arrived this Friday, I was delighted to find myself, once again, bursting with energy and restored to my spring/summer effervescence!  For the first time this year, I threw on my open-toe shoes and headed to work.  It was definitely one of those days that you hope the teacher will say, “We’re having class outside today!”, although I’ve found that that actually never happens in the workplace (and also, really didn’t happen that much in college either, despite all those bucolic pictures decorating college catalogs, with teacher and students sitting cross-legged in a circle on the Green, underneath a lush leafy tree, looking contempletive and ostensibly discussing Kierkegaard).  Overtaken with uncontainable giddiness, I started singing “Cool It Now”  with my co-workers in response to someone talking about “Ronny, Bobby, Ricky, and Mike,” and followed up with an encore of  “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”  Or, OK, maybe I was just singing by myself…

And then, Saturday arrived and ahhhh that first sunny, warm weekend spring day…  When I am in a really good, sometimes weather-induced, mood, I will blast music as I walk down the street or take the subway, and imagine myself to be in The Music Video of My Life.  My current music video is to the song “My Love” by The-Dream f. Mariah Carey (complete with trademark Mariah Carey high notes a la the early 90’s).  I bounded out of my apartment building and onto the sunny Brooklyn street with this song blaring, and, realizing that it was too hot to be wearing a sweater, dramatically peeled off my cardigan to the rhythm of the musis in a move that could have been in “Footloose.”  When I take on stairs in Music Video mode it always elevates the grooving to a new level, and as I descended into the subway, my steps took on the quality of that stair scene in “Dirty Dancing.”  I was in such a great mood that I couldn’t help but shake it, and then the shaking it put me in an even better mood, and it turned into this R&B snowball effect of positivity until I was bursting with so much energy I was barely able to hold myself back from like, full-out choreography and kinda thinking that everyone else on the subway platform just might join in the routine.

With months of fun-in-the-sun, increased levels Vitamin D, tank tops, open-toe shoes, sundresses, ice coffees, outdoor dining, leisurely strolls in the park, lush leafy trees and blossoms a’ bloom, and maybe an R&B soundtrack, sprawling out warmly in front of me, I am happy to report that my Seasonal Affective Disorder is officially in remission until November, and I have a new self-diagnosis:  Spring Fever.  And it’s highly contagious.

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam


21 Jan

My deep and passionate love of all things hip-hop & R&B prompted me to see the movie “NOTORIOUS” this weekend.  I went with a friend and felt slightly bad that perhaps I was dragging her to all these hip-hop movies (the last time we saw a movie I had suggested “The Wackness”), recognizing that not everyone shares my musical preferences, or um, obsessions.  However, during a scene where the Lil’ Kim character is performing, my friend surprised me by singing along to every single word, revealing her own hip-hop love.

At the end of the movie, Biggie is described a storyteller.  I love the stories that music tells, and the ways in which it tells them; different than a book read or words spoken, how it reaches out in its own way and connects with people, weaving them into its beats and rhymes. 

One of my favorite things to do is have dance parties for one in my apartment.  I turn on R&B or hip-hop and turn it up, loud, and groove around the room.  My Facebook status update is often something along the lines of:  “Jennifer is rocking out to Girl Talk” or “Jennifer is basking in “The Light” by Common,” or “Jennifer is listening to Beyonce & ready to take on the day!”   Dance parties for one are a surefire way to lift my mood and get my energy pumping.

And sometimes, I get so overwhelmed with my desire to MOVE, that I will take my dance party on the road, and bring it on the subway during my rush hour commute, or into the streets, in a contained way on the exterior, but in my mind, I am full-out rocking out.  Since seeing “NOTORIOUS” on Sunday night, the song “Notorious B.I.G” feat. Puff Daddy and Lil’ Kim has been playing in my head on a continuous loop.  I was walking/dancing-in-a-contained-way around my Brooklyn neighborhood singing it under my breath all day on Monday, and that afternoon, I had a lunch at a cafe, and then found myself mid-move, shakin’ it as I was drying my hands under the hand dryer in the bathroom, and I hadn’t totally realized that I had been dancing, nor had a made a conscious decision to start.  I just could not help myself, what with No-No-No-Notorious playing in mind.

On Tuesday, I emailed some friends that if I did not go dancing soon I was going to explode, and we are now planning a Girls Night Out to take this dance party to the dance floor.  I sent them YouTube links to Biggie videos while I danced in my chair and one of my friends wrote back, “I’m glad Biggie got you thinking Big…”  I asked my nearby co-workers if it was OK with them if I played “Notorious B.I.G” out loud on my computer instead of with headphones on and they said yes, turns out they have their own love for hip-hop, too.  You just cannot sit still, you cannot be in bad mood, when you listen to this song. 

I looked up the word “notorious” on and it is defined as “publicly or generally known, as for a particular trait.”  And the chorus of the song goes:  “No-No-No-Notorious, we are, we are, No-No-No-Notorious…”  What if we could be notorious in our own lives, known by those near and maybe even those far, for…our creativity, our boldness, our chutzpah & courage, our thinking-outside-of-the-box-ness, our dancing-in-the-street-ness, our refusal to be confined, our rejection of limitation, our fierce determination to follow our bliss and live juicy & large and never settle for less, our extraordinary commitment to ourselves, our absolute dedication to living our lives, creating our existence, exactly in line with our pure pulsating spirits and our most authentic alive selves, designing our days to shimmer with excitement and glow with possibility, being the way we want to be, and not the way someone, or someones, or society says we should be, never defaulting exhaustedly on auto-pilot, but rather revving up our own engines to the tune of our blasting internal radios, moving our bodies energetically to the rhythm of the beats and the rhymes, telling our own stories, in our own voices, in our own ways, in our own sweet time?  Why then, we truly would be, No-No-No-Notorious.  We are.  We are.  No-No-No-Notorious.

Just press PLAY, and start to rock your life…

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam