Monthly Archives: February 2012

Have you ever felt that you were “different”?

I have, and it used to bother me a lot, so I tried to be less “different.”

Where did that get me? Absolutely nowhere.

So I finally (and very gradually) woke up to an important fact:

There is no “different.”

As the apostle Paul put it so simply: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female…”

And that list could go on and on into infinity.

We are who we are, and each one has an important role in life, a significant message to offer…it doesn’t even matter if you’re part of the smallest minority on the planet, you’re just as powerful, important and BLESSED as anyone.

The secret is to EMBRACE that, CLAIM it, and then LIVE it…

Easier said than done? Maybe, but just keep on keepin’ on, and pretty soon the essence of YOU will take over, as if it had a life of its own…because it does.

Do you feel “different”?


Filed under individuality


I miss having my hands in the dirt.

In my book, I write about growing up in the country and always having a garden of some sort. My sister Bertie and I, when we lived in Newtown, Connecticut, had a yearly ritual of planting marigolds and zinnias in a small plot right in front of our house. We planted them from seed, turning the soil over with a fork and making neat rows. I used to love to water them and watch every day for the tiny green sprouts to push their way up through the dirt.

In another plot at the side of the house, I had a big red poppy plant that was my pride and joy, and we also had peonies, lily of the valley and daffodils that grew wild in various parts of our acre yard, and which we tended with care. Azaleas and purple and white lilacs with their heady scent graced the entrance to our house. Bertie and I used to prune them every year, along with the barberry bushes that grew alongside the stone steps leading to our back yard.

But what I missed in my Connecticut gardening adventures was growing vegetables. When we used to live on Long Island, we had a small vegetable garden. Much as I love flowers, there was no bigger thrill to me as a small child than picking fresh peas in the pod and eating them raw, or pulling a fresh head of curly lettuce out of the ground, or yanking up juicy orange carrots. It seemed like a little miracle to me that such wonderful things could grow in the ground.

Now I’m a city soul and it’s been years since I’ve had my hands (and feet) in the dirt. I have to confess I sometimes fantasize about having a little plot of land out in the country somewhere, perhaps with a small pond, and lots of space to plant things.


Filed under gardening


…if things weren’t the way they seem at all

…if everything were actually wonderful and perfect

…if there really were some benevolent principle governing the universe

…if we were really meant to be happy and healthy and fulfilled — always

…if all people loved each other and knew they were brothers and sisters

…if we really weren’t dragging around a physical body, but were actually spiritual

…if life were actually a continual, never-ending unfoldment of wonderful events

…if we really lived forever, like twinkling lights in the heavens

…if all we had to do was open our eyes and hearts to realize all of this



Filed under spiritual

Pure, Free, Bright…

Pure as crystalline water in a lake, silent and still

Pure as the gentle breeze that that wafts through my window

Pure as the deep sky at night, dotted with stars and the sliver of a moon

Pure as the raindrops falling on the grass in the quiet afternoon

Free as the flight of gulls over the curving shore

Free as the wind blowing through the tree-lined streets

Free as the steps of children running on the mosaic boardwalk

Free as the red balloon loosed from a boy’s small fist

Bright as the white sheets drying on my neighbor’s line

Bright as the sun when its rays find their way through my curtains

Bright as the billowy clouds dancing in the azure blue

Bright as the moonlight reflected in the ocean at night


Filed under poetry

Brass Tacks

I had always been a jazz pianist, from age 13. I started playing professionally at 15, and joined the musicians’ union, gigging all through high school with musicians twice and three times my age. It was great fun.

I give a fuller description of my musical trajectory in my upcoming book, of course, but today I want to mention a major change of direction that took place for me in 1983.

Piano trios, me with bass and drums, had always been my “thing,” but I reached a point in the early 80s when I started yearning for something else: a bigger sound, some kind of vehicle for my compositions that would be fuller, more, shall we say, boisterous.

The result of this longing was Brass Tacks, my 10-piece band. It includes seven brass instruments (no reeds), among them two euphoniums, a rarity in  jazz.

Here’s a sample from my CD, “My Joy” — “Passarinho do Mato,” my original composition, which means “Little Bird of the Jungle” in English.

Leave a comment

Filed under jazz

On deadline!

Recently I took a month off from my regular translation work to finish up a music project. That project actually ended up taking more than a month, but it finally did get done.

Now I’m back to translating, and yesterday I got a HUGE job that will keep me very busy for the next four days. But I’m not too concerned about finishing it, because I’ve been given a deadline. Somehow, deadlines always manage to get me up off my proverbial butt and spur me on to do things that can seem almost impossible.

When I don’t have a deadline, I find it very hard to impose one on myself. This bothers me, because I’ll soon be working on several music projects that will require me to set my own time frame. And the worst thing is that I’m trying to transition away from translating all the time so I can get back into my music, which is really my heart’s desire.

What about you? Do you need to have someone else impose a deadline to get things done, or is it easy for you to set one yourself? Do you have a hard time with the deadlines that others set? Feel free to reply right here — I’m really curious to know!

P.S.  Also, I’m embarrassed to admit how many YEARS it took me to start writing my autobiography after a friend strongly suggested it to me.


Filed under deadlines

Haiku Thursday

There’s a fine, thin line
Between loving your neighbor
And being a chump.

Leave a comment

Filed under poetry

Carnival in Rio ends today…sort of

Today is the judging of the major Carnival parades. One samba school (samba schools are the large social groups that make up the parades) from the Special Group will win first position, and two will drop down to Access Group A, which means they’ll still have a chance next year to get back into the top group, if their parade is good enough.

The parades are judged in a variety of categories, from best samba song, best theme, best costumes, best floats, best overall harmony in the group, and so on. The competition is fierce, and the judging is a solemn occasion, televised all over Brazil.

I watch Carnival every year, and participated in it for around seven years as a drummer. Every year I’m filled with wonder at how these ordinary people can stage such a magnificent, larger-than-life event involving thousands of people, and actually pull it off, even though there is always a lot of last minute scrambling around to get things done. But that is the Brazilian way, and especially the Rio de Janeiro way of doing things. And they do get everything done, as can be seen every year in the Sambadrome with each eye-popping parade that passes by.

Of course there are upper class folks and tourists who take part in the parades, but many people who can barely pay their rent save up all year long to buy a costume, just so that they can have their 80 minutes of glory parading in their favorite samba school. The baianas, the older women who, from a bird’s eye view, look like twirling, swirling flowers dancing down the avenue, wear gigantic skirts that can weigh 20 pounds or more. Some of the baianas are in their 80s and 90s. In the video below, the baianas are dressed as bees:

And when it’s all over, the “garis” enter. These are the clean-up men and women, and they often put on their own show. Dressed in bright orange suits, they enter the avenue with their long-handled brooms, and have been known to samba their way through their job of sweeping up streamers, confetti, and trash left behind by the huge Carnival crowds.

But Carnival isn’t quite over yet. On Saturday there will be the championship parade, featuring the top six samba schools. It’s not quite as engaging as the original parades. I know this from experience, having gone out in one in the 90s. Carnival is essentially over, and you don’t feel the same enthusiasm repeating the same parade, but you do your best to make it a spectacular experience for the people in the grandstands, and I honestly don’t think they can tell the difference.

Who will win today? I don’t know, but I’ll sure be glued to my computer screen this afternoon to watch the judging.


Filed under Rio de Janeiro

Burning question for Tuesday

Which do you think is better, to have one great passion in life and devote yourself to it, or have a number of different things that you do reasonably well?

And, most importantly, why do you think one or the other is better?

The one with the best answer will win…well, nothing, but I’m really curious to find out what you all think!

So which is it, jack-of-all trades/Renaissance person or specialist/expert in one thing?


Filed under burning question

A sensitive little girl…

Here’s an excerpt from my book:

Even back in the early 1940s, I had a feeling that I was different from other kids, and from the grownups, too. It wasn’t always an unpleasant feeling because it made me feel special. But the bad part was that I was so sensitive, touchier than any of the kids I knew, and certainly more than the grownups, I was sure of that. When I was really small, I didn’t know what “sensitive” was, I just knew that a lot of things made me afraid or made me cry — going to new places, the way some grownups looked at me, having to eat unfamiliar foods. My sister Bertie said I was a sissy.

Once when I was around three, Ma took me and Bertie to have our pictures taken by a professional photographer. I didn’t want to sit on the bench with Bertie while the big man fiddled with an ominous-looking black box that I was certain would shoot out knives, bullets, flames or worse when he pressed the button. I wanted to bolt and hide my face in Ma’s skirt. But she was raising us according to the “snap-out-of-it” method, so I had no choice but to sit there and try not to cry or wet my pants. I still have that photo today, and there I am — a tiny girl in a flowered dress and pigtails, round eyes wide with terror.

Ma didn’t know how to deal with me. She was a sensible woman who expected us to be the same, and she wanted us to be thick-skinned, too. She was a strict disciplinarian, very controlling and not particularly warm or affectionate, although she had a great sense of humor. I had no idea when I was little that she was already afraid that I’d turn out to be unstable like Pop, and was always on guard to make sure I didn’t make a “fuss” about things.


Filed under my history