On the Danger and Difficulties of Groups

There have been many “Firsts” in my life .Recently,I attended  my first book club., Normally, I avoid groups. Book Clubs mean groups, and groups mean people and people clutter up the room with too much random peopling stuff. The meeting was scheduled to last an hour,  Surely,  I could handle it.
Where’s the Beef?
First came the introductions. Next, we  spent fifteen minutes discussing a Netflix series I hadn’t seen.. Then we moved on to movies. I’d thought we’d be talking about the book. Not so. No one led. Everyone led. It was one if these off-the-cuff groups. But cuffs are good. They add weight and substance.  You can turn them back, or roll them  up, but they still need to be there; we need the boundaries. We need the beef.
 
The Nana Diaries
Along the way, we made it to the book. That’s when the group splintered into mini-groups and everyone spoke at once. Toward the end, a woman told a story about her “Nana.” Also, her grandfather’s unveiling. And her 3 year old nephew’s family antics. What she said had nothing to do with the book. .Not even close. The book was “Wild.” Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical adventure of a disconnected, damaged, risk-taking woman’s search for whatever it was she was searching for: freedom, clarity,.healing, absolution?
The dangers of unbidden advice
This is why I avoid groups. Everyone has a story to tell, and in this case it was not the author’s. These stories are closely akin to unbidden advice. They’re rarely interesting, meaningful, apropos, or funny. Would that they were, I’d be glad to listen. I may or may not return to this group..It depends on if I can bear another chapter of The Nana Diaries.
 
When kindness is overrated
Yes. I’m being unkind and ungenerous. But enough is enough. In full disclosure, for me this group was a breakthrough. I spoke (i.e, “contributed, shared”) more than my name. Perhaps we don’t always need cuffs. Perhaps this was better than I allowed myself to think.  . .
Please share your own experiences with groups. Clearly, I could use some advice.
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Seymour: Three Daughters and a Pianist

At 88 years old, Seymour Bernstein looks more than a decade younger. He lives on the upper West Side of Manhattan in a prewar studio that he shares with his grand piano and momentos of his life in music. He is nothing less than extraordinary As a pianist. A musician. A composer. A teacher. And as a man.

The film “Seymour,” created by Ethan Hawke, is a work of wonder. Far more than a film about music, or the biography of a brilliant pianist, it’s a film about life. How to live it. How to look at it. How to survive it. And how to feel it in your bones.

It begins as Seymour speaks with Michael Kimmelman, award winning author, chief art critic of the New York Times, and a concert pianist himself, who has been Seymour’s student since the age of five. He questions Seymour about his life, and delicately, yet powerfully, this life unfolds before us like a worn, yet gorgeous, silken quilt.

His childhood: “There was no music in my house.” 

His father: “I have three daughters and a pianist.”

His time in Korea: “I hiked 20 miles in zero degree weather. Others didn’t make it.  I kept going. It was the musical mindset that did it.”

When I think of Seymour, and I’ve been thinking of him a lot, since I saw the film last week, he’s a place as well as a person. He’s the Seymour place, where the irritations and difficulties fall away. A place of solitude, grace, and beauty, where life’s detritus is forbidden to make the slightest appearance.

Along with hearing him speak, we see Seymour teach. We see the meticulous practice of a phrase played again and again, until the notes flow, until the slightest failed nuance is addressed.

Despite his success and stunning reviews, Seymour stopped playing in public when he was fifty. He was at the height of his celebrity, but had terrible stage fright — an experience he shares with Ethan Hawke.  It took too much from him. It got in his way when he wanted to give the world and himself something else. Something not so self-obsessed. Something beyond the conceit of a brilliant performance.

Toward the end of the film, there’s a small private concert where we hear him play. He admits that he’s nervous. Yet, once he begins he’s calm. Transparent. He plays like an angel. No drama. No ego. Pure art. Even I could hear it, and I’m no musician.

Life is many things. Love, beauty, connection, happiness, joy, pain, failure and triumph. At this juncture, I can add Seymour. Yes. Life, if you’re lucky, is Seymour. You might enjoy seeing this film. And you might choose to invite Seymour into your own life as well. You could hardly do better.

Note: A friend pointed out that Ethan Hawke was “the shy boy,”  in Dead Poets Society.” In a way, he remains that boy. Wondering what it’s all about; how to relate to life in a more genuine way. Here, he looks to Seymour, as his character did with Robin Williams in that long ago film. But Seymour is a better bet. He’s real. And he chooses life at every turn

Smoke Screen

Last week, a train stopped dead, 800 feet outside the L’enfant Plaza Metro station in DC. As passengers dealt with the darkness and the conductor’s conflicting narratives, smoke began filling the cars. They were told to get down low. To stay where they were. Not to open the doors, or to get out of the train. Some panicked. Some lost consciousness. Some prayed and tried to comfort each other. Some closed their eyes and remained calm. Eighty-four wound up at area hospitals. One woman died. And two people chose not to obey orders.

Just Following Orders

I’ve always been, unnerved by machines that stop, get stuck, go dark. Whether they be elevators, cars, trains, whatever. I’ve been tested and have failed miserably several times. I don’t quite panic, but I don’t stay calm. Yet there’s one thing I know for certain: my fear of being locked in and my terror of not being able to breathe, trump my fear of the dark and the unknown. As for following orders, I stopped doing that by the time was six.

Had I been unfortunate enough to be on this train,  I would have stuck with the former navy guy who labeled it “a situation,” then opened the doors, and offered to lead people out. Yes, there was the third rail to worry about, but if you’ve ever found yourself unable to breathe you get the picture. There were several who followed this man, as he walked away from the smoke toward the light. But by the time he got to the grating that led to the street there was only one person behind him. The others had all turned back.  

Become Your Own Authority

The voices of authority are easily enamored of themselves. They love to give orders. They tell you what to do and how to do it. As Rudy Giuliani walked the streets of New York after 9/11, taking up his role as “Leader” of the city’s millions of terrified pehple, he neglected to disclose that he’d approved the decision to put the emergency command center on the 23rd floor of the World Trade Center. It must have slipped his mind.

Dan Baumbach, a software engineer from Merrick, was stunned to find that building officials in One World Trade Center were telling workers not to evacuate, even after the first jet struck. “You can try it, but it’s at your own risk,” he quoted one official as warning a hundred people on the 75th floor. Many went with his advice; Baumbach continued his descent and survived.

“The reason we got out,” Brumbach said,  ”was because we didn’t listen.

Imagine yourself on a smoke filled train, or in a high rise that has just been hit by a jet. Imagine how you’d feel. Imagine what you would do. How about choosing to Become your own authority.To listen to your first voice. For me, that’s the voice that says: What are you waiting for? Take your chances. Do it! Go. Get out! 

Yes. It’s that simple. There are no guarantees. No one knows any better than you do what may happen.So don’t analyze your choices. Just make them and move on.

Here’s an image to empower you to do this:  

Choose You Can’t Lose

 This is best done by having someone read it to you. Make your choices quickly. And go from the gut.

Close your eyes, breathe out and Choose:

 

Left or Right.

Day or Night.

Dark or Light.

Fast or Slow.

High or Low.

Yes or No.

Stay or Go.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Joan

I found a New York Times clip on line today — A montage of Joan Rivers moments. Seeing how she changed herself over the years is both amazing and scary. Before she put on the  Zsa Zsa face, she was no ugly duckling. Indeed, there was a time when she looked quite lovely. But Joan wanted more than lovely. She always wanted more.

 

I never really liked Joan. Her mean streak put me off in life, as it did on stage. But despite my judgment call on her character, she made me laugh. I loved her wit, her work, her ceaseless energy, her fearlessness, her devotion to making her audience happy, and to them loving her, at least a little.

I once had a dream where both Joan and Woody Allen made brief appearances. In the dream, Woody was my friend. He liked me. Joan was not my friend. She didn’t like me. In fact she hated me. For years, when either of these people were mentioned, by me or anyone else, I explained that Woody liked me, while Joan hated me. It became part of my shtick. It made me famous by association..

Though I never actually met Joan, I did come face to face with Woody at the Cafe Carlyle some years ago. He was walking toward the stage to perform with his jazz band, I was on my way to the ladies room. The aisle between the tables was so narrow he stepped aside so I could get past. And call me crazy, but I swear there was a moment of recognition. How could there not be? We had already met in my dream.

The good thing in all this, a kind of blessing really, is that Joan was in top form to the end. No withering away. No extended painful illness. She went out looking and performing the way she wanted. At the top of her game. No downturn. No dementia. No final act. She was the energizer bunny of female comedians. Like Robin Williams, when she was out there, on stage, she kept going and going and going. But unlike our dear tortured Robin, she wanted to live forever. And I get that. For so do I.

Use this image if you dare to experiment with Living forever:

Eternity

Close your eyes, breathe out one long exhalation, and see yourself living forever. No beginning no end, just you and eternity. See, sense, feel, and know this endless state of being. Cast off your fears and be.in this one timeless moment. What happens how do you feel? What do you see, learn, discover, know?
Then breathe out, return, and open your eyes.

Remembering Joan

Subject:
I just watched a NYTimes clip I found on line today. A montage of Joan Rivers moments. It’s amazing to see the changes she made over the years. To see that before she put on the  Zsa Zsa face, she was no ugly duckling. Indeed, that there was a time when she looked quite lovely. But Joan wanted more than lovely. Joan always wanted more!

More beauty. More youth. More money, fame , success, admiration, and work.

I never really liked Joan. Her nasty streak put me off in life, as it did on stage. But despite my unkind judgment of her character, she made me laugh. And I loved her wit, her work, her ceaseless energy, her fearlessness, her devotion to making her audience happy. And to making them love her, at least a little.

Some years ago I had a dream.in which Joan and Woody Allen made appearances. In the dream, Woody was my friend. He liked me. Joan was not my friend. She didn’t like me. In fact she hated me. For years, when either of these people were mentioned, by me or anyone else, I explained that Woody liked me, while Joan hated me.. It became part of my shtick. My twisted bogus history.

Though I never actually met Joan, I did come face to face with Woody at the Cafe Carlyle some years ago. He was walking toward the stage to perform with his jazz band, I was on my way to the ladies room. The aisle between the tables was so narrow he stepped aside.so I could get past. And call me crazy, but I swear there was a moment of recognition. How could there not be? We had met before in my dream.

The good thing in all this, a kind of blessing really, is that Joan was in top form to the end. No withering away. No enfeebling dementia.or  extended painful illness. She went out looking and performing the way she wanted. At the top of her game. No downturn. No final act. She was the energizer bunny of female comedians. Like Robin Williams, when she was out ther, on stage she kept going and going and going. But unlike our dear tortured Robin, she wanted to live forever. And  I get that. For so do I.

Use this image if you care to experiment with that “Live Forever” thing.

 Eternity
Close your eyes, breathe out one long exhalation, and see yourself living forever. No beginning no end, just you and eternity. See, sense, feel, and know how this is. Cast off your fears and just be. What happens how do you feel? What do you see, learn, discover, know?Then breathe out, return, and open your eyes.