Friday, September 29, 2006

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Y is back from Japan!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I Did It

Well, it's a done deal. I have the car. It is delightful. It is sporty, fast, well appointed, has a good sound system, security, looks almost new with just a few very minor blemishes. And the presence of those little dings relieves me of the burden of waiting for that first one, a rite of passage for a new car owner. As my neighbor said, it's already been blessed. My drive back here from New Jersey, about sixty-five miles, was a breeze. I was sad as I watched the dealer drive the Volvo away, and they did not give me much money for it, but so it goes. I am not a hard-nosed bargainer and was not going to agonize over a few hundred dollars, since this was a car I really wanted. I do understand why the auto people are going so crazy for Mazda, though. It is much more fun to drive than the other inexpensive Japanese cars, Honda-Toyota-Nissan. The only one I can compare it to is the Subaru WRX which is much more expensive. I like it so much that after I got home I gathered up Mabel and took her for a ride (she was nervous at first, because she is only used to my Volvo and doesn't like going into strange cars) and then I did some errands in far-flung places in Brooklyn that are difficult to get to by train. Now I will be taking more frequent weekend jaunts as I used to in the old days when my Volvo was in better shape.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


In a comment on my last post, Lodgerlow wrote:

Oh no. It's just not right: a metallic-sand modern car, instead of The Volvo. I'll miss pics of that car.

I too feel sad. I had to move my car to another block just a while ago (the old tired NYC parking drill) and I felt pangs of regret, because I have so many happy memories of the Volvo, and it was the first car that I bought that I really cared about. But I have agonized for months about this. I did the math, and I am paying so much in repair bills that I could easily have been paying for a newer car. If I were wealthy and could afford to indulge in the expense of operating an old car, I would. But the Volvo is no longer reliable; I am nervous to take long trips for fear of some malfunction. If I drove it like a typical non-city-dwelling American, around town and such, I would keep it. But I rarely make trips of less than 100 miles, and thus I rarely use the Volvo because I don't trust it on the road. So I am sad. I will miss my red car. It has such charm. But charm alone isn't cutting it...and one more thing. The Mazda is sporty and handles excellently; it is fun to drive, and that will be a nice change.

something (almost) new

Tomorrow I will drive to New Jersey and pick up my almost-new car. It is a 2003 Mazda Protege, like this one, only "metallic sand" color and without the sunroof. I am nervous and excited. It has all the modern conveniences, things my beloved Volvo lacks, like cupholders and a CD player. It is also one of the mostly highly-rated used cars in terms of reliability, which is the most important thing for me. I am sad to say goodbye to my Volvo, but she can no longer be depended on for trouble-free driving, and I have neither the nerves or the patience or the dollars to keep her in line.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Watch Bill Clinton Chew This Guy Up

Damn I love Bill Clinton. How I would love to see him debate George Monkeyface Bush. That would be something.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Originally uploaded by madabandon.

At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I must mention a phenomenon that strikes me more and more lately: the culturally confused name. What is it? Take the name Cooper Lowenthal, for example (I did not make it up). The first name, Cooper, suggests generations of dusty WASP heritage, a large ramshackle house on Martha's Vineyard, attendance at St. Paul's, then perhaps Amherst or Yale. Lowenthal is clearly a Jewish name. So what gives? Is this the same as the older practice of immigrants in America, changing one's last name to something more "American," less ethnic? Ralph Lauren, for example, was born Ralph Lifschitz. Would he be the household name that he is today if he were Ralph Lifschitz still? Doubtful. With increasing frequency I encounter these odd hybrid names. Taylor Rabinowitz. Tucker Chang. Gardiner Cacciatore.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


I had an oddly annoying experience this morning. I went to a car dealer, one whom I had contacted last week, to see about replacing my car. I had made it clear that I did not want a brand-new car, but a late-model used car. But from the moment I walked in the door they pulled out every trick they had to get me to buy a new one. I resisted quite effectively, but I was shocked by the aggressiveness of their approach. While I may be naive in this regard--I have heard of the unpleasant experience most people have at the dealers--I guess I was not really prepared for just how ridiculous their tactics were. I told them, finally, that it was not my intention to buy a car that day, that I had made that clear when I scheduled the appointment, and that if they were not going to give the information I needed to make an informed decision they would never have me as a customer. In a perverse way it was amusing to watch them get more and more desperate only to see me say "thanks" and walk out the door. I will never go back there again.

on the road

Y is now on his way to Tokyo (or he may have arrived by now). So by midweek he will be back in New York. I wish I could meet him in Tokyo, but I have neither the available time nor the plane ticket. I would love to go there in autumn, when the weather is beautiful. I was there in winter. It was not too cold, but it wasn't exactly warm. And it is such a good walking city--such confusing streets--and autumn weather would make it more so.

This morning I am going to a car dealer to try out some cars. I am now committed to selling mine. I want to have one that does not make me worry about that part is going to fall off next. My lovely Volvo, sadly, has reached that stage in its life.

Friday, September 22, 2006


One of the best things about not feeling depressed is the increase in my confidence. I used to feel very confident. During one long period in Chicago when I was not depressed I felt full of a kind of energy--not mania--but a kind of power that comes from not constantly second-guessing myself, from feeling in command of my thoughts, from realizing that I do have abilities and talents that are valuable and can be put to good use. I am not going to question why, now, I am feeling so good. I just want it to last. But whether it does last or doesn't, I am going to appreciate it in the present.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


I have always been fascinated by the affluent who adopt a bohemian lifestyle. Of course, it was not until I went away to college that I knew any such people. The blue-collar and lower-middle class town where I grew up rarely produced any. No one could afford it. But when your doctor-lawyer-CEO-mogul parents pay your rent, or buy you your apartment, pay your tuition, your plane ticket to Europe (or these days China or Africa) it is so simple to put on a cloak of "non-materialistic-throw away old values-money means nothing to me-ness." Tired of your job? Simple: drop out and go off to Amsterdam-Berlin-Paris-Shanghai and hang out, dabbling in the arts or writing your novel. Do I sound bitter? Probably. But with ample reason. I try to find my bitterness, its tough digging roots, and flush it out of me. I don't want to be angry or resentful or sad about the past. And I think that by doing this I am truly getting to the bottom of my depression and, as a result, defeating it.

When you know that the bottom can fall out at any time it is difficult to be so free. In graduate school I won a no-strings-attached fellowship given to alumnae/i of my college who were artists; one a year. It was a lot of money, especially at the time. A week earlier I had won a BMI Prize, which involved another sturdy chunk of cash. I was advised by one of my old college teachers to take time off from grad school, go to Africa-Asia-Europe and sit in a bohemian setting and be a composer. I was excited. I made plans. I bought my plane ticket on Icelandair to fly to Luxembourg. From there I would start my adventure. I would take a year off from school, or two, or maybe never go back. Then reality set in. First, after a month in France, I called my mom to check in; there had been a spate of bombings in Paris and I knew she was worried. She told me that she was ill. She didn't know, at the time, that soon she would be diagnosed with terminal, horribly advanced lung cancer. But I sensed something bad. Then I thought some more. If I left school, I would have to pay back the college loans that my father had taken out in my name without ever telling me (long story). I would have no health insurance. My fellowship money would not last very long. I could not bum around the bohemian outposts of the world; who would take care of my mother? If I left school, I would have no more fellowship stipend so generously given to me by U.Chicago, and since I had no savings, and no family money to prop me up, my dreams of the artist life burst like a pin-stuck balloon. I had to stay in school. And when I finished school, I would have to find a teaching job, or any job, right away. I have managed to be a composer, and a reasonably successful one, anyway. But I have not had the trappings of bohemia to comfort me. And I have had no cushion, no parents with the fat checkbook, to catch me if the bottom falls out.

So these are the roots of my bitterness, at least one branch of it. I look at this matter-of-factly. Do I wish things had happened differently? Sometimes. But it is pointless to think this way. The past is the past. Coming from where I did I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to make my way the way I have. And there have been benefits, too. Unlike so many fauxbohos, I have no sense of entitlement. I don't feel that the world owes me a living. These days I don't feel resentment that I had to work, two jobs at a time at the least, through my years of school, that my summers were never spent backpacking around Europe. There was a time when I did, when I felt sorry for myself, felt shame at my background, would have been embarassed to invite school friends back to my mother's humble, shabby house, with the junked cars in the yard next to ours...

But I will never forget, one summer at the MacDowell Colony, how a certain fellow composer told the story of his family's epic tragedy, being forced to leave their homeland with only $100,000. I didn't say a word, but inside I thought that this was a lot of money. Things could have been a lot worse. As I usually do, I kept my mouth shut, but I have not forgotten it almost twenty years later.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Originally uploaded by madabandon.

I am so tired. I can barely talk. I felt bad after B called because I was so out of it that I could hardly have a conversation. Sorry, B. Why am I so tired? When Patsy woke me at 630 I had only been asleep for about five hours. But then Mabel woke up. She peed on the dining room floor, which I did not discover until I took her out and noticed that she did not seem particularly eager to pee outside. So after I cleaned it up I figured I would do my laundry. I should have gone back to bed instead. But I did the laundry, and then it was too late to sleep again. After teaching I swam, probably too much, and then did some errands. By the time I got home it was 3 pm and I got busy practicing. So I never even had a nap. Now I can barely function. Tomorrow morning I have to go to the dentist. Boring. But today I was realizing that I have not been depressed in quite a while, and that thought made me feel really good.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I almost cried with joy when I read this article a little while ago. Actually, that is hyperbole (something I am prone to). But I am very happy about this development in the college admissions game. Now both Princeton and Harvard have stopped early admissions, a practice which had grossly favors affluent students from private schools and wealthy public school districts: Scarsdale, New Trier on Chicago's North Shore, etc. I teach at a school in which the student body is generally quite wealthy, although we do have generous financial aid. I have watched in growing disgust as the inequities in college admissions have grown outrageously over the past decade. Many people of my generation--my friends who went to "elite" colleges-- discuss how none of us would be admitted if we were students today. Wealthy students pay for hours of tutoring for their SAT, their Advanced Placement tests, and hire expensive college admissions "consultants" to help them write their essays and facilitate the application process (this on top of the already-connected college counselors at most top private schools, who have easier access to admissions officers based on ongoing personal/professional relationships). For those who can't afford such help, they have no choice but to apply under regular admissions guidelines, making it much harder for them to get into selective schools. I have wondered where it would all lead, this madness, as if the college one attends is a referendum on one's entire life, making impressionable students and their status-obsessed parents feel that they have all failed if they don't get accepted at Williams or Amherst or Vassar or Yale. Thankfully, administrators have finally taken the high road and decided to end this poisoned system. I applaud them and hope that all "selective" schools follow suit. And if my college, Vassar, does not go along and abolish early admissions, they will never get another cent from me.

One of my colleagues told me to shave. She said I look too old like this. "You don't like it?" I asked her. She said, "it's not that I don't like it, but it depends on how you want to look. You look so young when you shave." We are long-time colleagues and good friends and there is no concern, on either part, that we might offend one another. Then, walking Mabel, I saw a few of my students sitting on a stoop. "I like your face," one of them said, shyly. They were happily playing with Mabel while discussing the merits of my stubble. I told them that my colleague told me to shave. They laughed and said "don't do it." Personally, I hate shaving, and I like looking scary, so it suits me fine.



My eyes are red.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

wrong way

one way
Originally uploaded by madabandon.

Today, another day of solitude, got me thinking about just what it is that makes me feel bad with this kind of situation. And I realized that it is just another way to make me wish that I had a more functional family life. Not that I want to be married with kids. It is just that I wish that my family did more things together. I rarely see any of them. For example, last evening my sister and her husband had a well-known jazz musician, a friend of my brother-in-law's, over for dinner. It did not occur to them to invite me, even though my sister gleefully told me about it when I called her yesterday morning. I had dinner with my brother on Friday, but that was the first time I'd seen him in a long while, other than having lunch with him one afternoon in the summer. My cousins on my father's side, well, forget them. I only see them if someone dies, gets married, or has a baby. C, who together with M are my surrogate sisters, are never available since C has become a total workaholic who has no time for anything anymore. So without Y here I am simply lonesome on the weekends. I am like the guy on the bike, going the wrong way down the fire lane.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

solitude, addendum

The odd thing about spending a weekend in solitude is that it is taking place in the city. When I was up in the country I cherished my time alone. Here, it feels very different. The self-conscious part of me feels like some sort of loser. I went into Manhattan to the Upper West Side to buy a pair of shoes (yes, Birkenstocks, my umpteenth pair). Everyone seemed to be part of a group, or at least a couple. And then me. I couldn't wait to get back here.


I just got an email from Y. He just arrived at his father's house and saw his dog May-chan. He has had her since he was a boy. She is very old now. He wrote that he cried when he saw her. I met her three years ago. She is a sweet sweet dog. When meals are served she sits and eats with the family. We went sledding on the mountain where Y grew up, and every time Y or his brother or sister went down the hill May-chan would get worried and try to rescue them.

looking up


late summer afternoon clouds

I realize that one of the things I like most about teaching is that it is a social activity. Composing or painting is a solitary one. I need solitude to do my creative work, but I also crave interaction.

Since we got back together last spring, Y and I have spent almost every weekend together. We don't see eachother much during the week, as we are both busy and he works long hours sometimes. But our weekends are great. Now he is in Japan and I see the weekend as an expanse of time to fill. Last evening I took my brother to dinner for a belated birthday celebration. It was very nice, food was excellent and it was fun to talk to him. I have not seen much of him the past months because he goes away every weekend and during the week is busy working and socializing (he is a much more compulsive socializer than I am).

But this morning when Patsy woke me up and I started my routine I realized that I had this whole weekend with no real plans. So I did some work, cleaned, read the paper, and still it is only 10 am. I have an urge to go buy some shoes but I really don't want to spend any money. But I will not obsess; if I feel like it I will buy them anyway. I have not been spending much on things other than necessities anyway: food, bills, the car.

I think I will enjoy this weekend but I had better make plans for next weekend because the charm of it will wear thin. Worst of all is that I can't call Y as he doesn't have a cell phone in Japan. He called from Narita but it was in the middle of the night, and my phone was in a jacket pocket and the jacket was in the front closet so I would not have heard it while immersed in my foggy sleep.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Ozzie and Harriet in 2006

One thing I find disturbing in our culture today is the reverence for traditional conservative life: the kids, the family, the house, money. When I was a kid in the sixties and seventies things were in turmoil, culturally and socially. Feminism was a rising movement. Women were not content to pop out babies and make flower arrangements. This schism was underscored by Ann Richard's death; her life story is an illustration of how our culture was changing in positive ways. But now, when I walk around Brooklyn, I see the latter-day Ozzies and Harriets, only now they have lots of tattoos and drive Range Rovers and hang out at self-consciously un-Starbucks cafés. It makes me want to escape to the past.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


miniature rose

I am happy going to work. I look forward to it. Composing, so solitary, can be so frustrating. I wish I made more money sometimes--I am generally broke by the end of the month--but the trade-off is worth it to me. So many people I know go to work grudgingly.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


patsy cline in the bath

Do you know Patsy Cline's song called "Crazy?" Poor Patsy (my Patsy) is lonely. She misses Tuna. She used to play with him, cuddle with him, and sleep on the bed with him. Now she drives me a little crazy. She wants to play all the time, and the keeps knocking things off of my desk when I am trying to work. I will have to get her a companion kitty soon, but I am holding out as long as possible.

I have been teaching. Yesterday was a whirlwind, my busiest day, and I woke up this morning with a headache.

Monday, September 11, 2006

story of my life...

Consider what you can do instead of dwelling on what you can't. If you don't strive to make your life better, you will slowly give in to a stalemate. Stop talking about what you want to do and start doing.

September 11, 2006

The freaky thing is that the sky and the air feel exactly the same as they did on this day five years ago. No clouds, cool crisp air suggesting fall is here...


Sunday, September 10, 2006

summer is really over now

late summer afternoon clouds

Well, tomorrow I start teaching, which means that summer is truly over. I am looking forward to teaching, though, which makes me feel better about life in general. Today I had a very good meeting with the director of OEDIPUS and I am now assured that I am on the right track. Getting to midtown to her apartment was a chore. The subways are always so messed up on weekends. I checked out the MTA website in advance to plot an efficient course, but nonetheless the information was not 100% accurate, and I was forced to detour. Finally I ended up in a taxi on the last leg of my journey. Later, in the evening, after I had given Mabel a bath (finally washing away the last traces of her country sojourn) some friends came over and they asked me to play for them. I have hardly practiced all summer, but I played Ravel's "Pavane" and they enjoyed it, although I was annoyed with how out of shape I am.

I have decided to sell my car. As much as I am fond of it, I simply can't afford to keep pumping money into it. If I am going to spend money on it, I might as well spend money on a car that does not give me such headaches. I am not sad at all about this. It is a relief, actually, to have made the decision. I will probably wait a bit to replace the car, but when I do I will be practical and get a Honda or Toyota or Subaru, something that won't cost a fortune to maintain. I am even toying with the idea of buying a new car, but I doubt that I can afford one really.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

life, profound and mundane

Theo wrote that I don't write of my sentimental life. And I thought about it. For a long time, in the first year of this blog, I wrote so much about my sentimental life that reading it now makes me queasy. I was in such tumult. Writing about it was cathartic. So I supposed it was like therapy. But I have learned, for me, to keep my depression at bay it is best not to dwell on the little crises and big ones that send me off the edge. There is a belief among some psychiatrists and psychoanalysts that the constant revisiting of past traumas does nothing to heal the wounds that cause depression; in fact plumbing those depths makes the depression worse. I have found this to be true. And when I am happy in my sentimental life, or at least content, I feel little need to write of it. I write this blog, at least in part, to present something interesting. And my chest-beating, wailing and mourning are not interesting unless they can be turned into something more abstract, which is what fuels my music and art.

But speaking of chest-beating, yesterday I was tempted to pummel myself. It was the annual car inspection, and there were a few things with the car that needed fixing, the headlights being the most urgent. So I took my car in earlier in the week. I figured that the total bill would probably be about $300. But of course it was almost twice that. So I was pissed. Pissed not at the car--these are things that happen--but at the fact that the cost is, for me, so high. At my age most people make so much more money than I do. So my life, in the financial sense, can be difficult. But as I sat in my office yesterday getting prepared to start teaching next week, and then later while I was practicing, I reminded myself that the work I do is so precious to me, that I love it, and that it is worth the tradeoff.

But when I was driving the car to Fairway to buy groceries I found that the turn signals did not work. I was disgusted. I drove back to the mechanic. The guy who had taken care of me came running up. I told him about the problem and then I strode past him into the office and dumped the keys on the counter and said "I don't mind paying over five-hundred bucks to have my car fixed if it WERE ACTUALLY fixed." Actually, it was a lie, because I did mind paying that much. But I was aiming for dramatic effect. They jumped into action, quickly figured out the problem (something with the fuse box), and I felt like a fool.

Friday, September 08, 2006

memory, fear, and desire

lower manhattan

There has been a lot of talk recently about September 11, 2001, since the five-year anniversary approaches. I am unsettled. I witnessed the events of that day in a very immediate way; my apartment looks out at lower Manhattan; I could see the towers from my bedroom window, and I watched the second plane crash and then, later, the towers fall from my roof, where neighbors had gathered, watching in horror. I will never ever forget what I saw, and I feel a suffocating fear when I think back to that day. To this day, when I hear a plane fly overhead, I cringe. And the thrum of helicopters overhead, which happens much more frequently since that day, brings on panic. I think anyone who was here that day was changed by the experience. It was, and remains, terrifying. People who were not here will never understand. I cannot go to "Ground Zero." I have no desire to see the site. I don't even like to see pictures of the towers. I don't dwell on September 11. But I know that on Monday, if it is a clear day with a brilliant blue sky, I will feel an awful dread and a kind of panic. And it will pass. But I doubt it will ever go away, and I will never be able to stand the sound of helicopters or low-flying jets again.

Thursday, September 07, 2006



Yesterday was a whirlwind of activity. I went to meetings. I yakked, I schmoozed, I organized, I assembled equipment. I ate. I walked Mabel. I took a short nap. I taught a piano student. I saw an super-cool renovated carriage house; it had been gutted and the interior turned into a modernist gem. I bought Benjamin Moore Decorater White paint and painted three walls of my living room. I fell asleep exhausted at midnight.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Today I went in to school to pick up my class lists and find the stuff I ordered over the summer. I cleaned my desk, went through some materials, saw a few colleagues, drank too much coffee, and admired our new bathroom (the men's room on our floor had seen better days). I went swimming and the pool was blissfully empty as it had not been all summer (day camp kids filled it continuously) and the water was clear and clean as it had rarely been all summer. I then got my hair cut. I went to a new place, much pricier than my usual, but much better and hipper atmosphere. The guy I normally use is always so down and moody that it can be painful for me. So I think I will just get my hair cut less often and go for the better experience.

It was nice to have things to do, a schedule; it makes me better organized. Long stretches of time don't work well for my productivity.
Trolley Cars, Red Hook

Monday, September 04, 2006

sugar refinery (II)



Yesterday in the late afternoon I drove to Fairway with Y. We had two goals: to walk along the water and look at the light, and to buy food. Obviously we would do the former first. The clouds were rolling in and the sky was dramatic; the intriguing sort of Red Hook decay blends with the self-consciously urbane Fairway shoppers. The store has opened a very nice café where you can buy sandwiches and pastries and coffee and the like and go sit overlooking the harbor.

Walking away from Fairway and down a little narrow passage between two buildings we found this inlet and swimming in it a beautiful swan. Y walked toward him/her (?) to get a good picture but he/she hissed in anger. Swans are quite fierce, and quite amazing to look at.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Lodgerlow wrote the funniest comment about the picture of myself smiling that I posted on Flickr. She assumed I never smiled because I had bad teeth. I laughed so much. Actually I have very good teeth. I've never had a filling or a root canal or anything at all. I just get my teeth cleaned. My brother and sister are the same. My mom did not give us candy or soda when we were kids, only occasionally. We didn't have it in the house. I want to get my teeth bleached (vanity) but I can't afford to presently.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


All day yesterday the reporters on the radio talked about the wild weather which was to begin last night, with fierce winds and driving rain, risk of flooding, so promising. Before I went to bed I shut windows, which I don't like to do. I was convinced that it would be a crazy night. But I awoke once or twice. Nothing. And at six, when I took Mabel out, it was fairly calm. Oh, the wind blew a bit, but nothing special. A few raindrops fell. Why is it that journalists and media companies always blow things out of proportion? The JonBenet case is another example. Despite all the glaring holes in the case against this strange John Karr guy, one television show after another trumpeted that the case was solved, blah blah blah. And of course the guy is a twisted liar, but he certainly didn't kill that strange puppet-girl.

Nghiem, in a comment on one of my photos, wrote that I looked more content in the country, more serene. He is right. Now I have to figure out how to arrange my life so I can have more of the serenity that being in nature, out of the city, provides.

morning fog

Friday, September 01, 2006


self portrait smiling


I decided to check my profile on Blogger and it stated my age as 250. I was born in 1756.


horse house

I'm back in NYC. I woke early yesterday after a night of fitful sleep. I can never sleep the night before I have to travel. I was back here in Brooklyn by 10:30 after an easy drive. Patsy was so happy when I came in. Mabel was tired but excited. I was tired but felt relaxed until I saw the note on my iMac. Y could not get it to work the other night. He didn't tell me while I was away--and for this I can't thank him enough--because he didn't want me to stress out. But the short of it is that I had to erase the hard drive and reinstall everything, system software etc. I lost a lot of financial information and mail, but not too much else. It was not the way I wished to spend my afternoon, but such things happen. I wish I knew what caused it.

I am going to slowly adjust to being back here. Luckily it is a quiet weekend. I wish I were still in the country. It was sad to leave.