Have you ever felt stuck in a riptide of work and circumstance that has you pitching and diving? That’s been my Monday. Working on the clock. Wasting time. No writing. Haven’t hit a goal. Drowning. The new year is starting off with a very mild and annoying cough. For me anyway. How is it for you?
Back at work. All dressed up. I’m wearing tights and they’re bugging the hell out of me. Gravity pulls them down to areas that are not comfy on my body. But boy, it’s chilly in Los Angeles, and I need the extra warmth.
First day back in the office, and I’m in a daze. I haven’t had much of my coffee yet. People are raring to go all around me, walking from office to office, getting things done, greeting each other with “Happy New Year!” I’m working quietly at my desk, as if I’m hung over from two weeks of pure comfort with my own time schedule. Two weeks of having my dog by my side, ready for a hike in the hills or a walk to the village. When others gain weight during the holidays, I lose weight. I don’t sit in front of a computer for long, nor do I sit by someone’s phone. I get up and do stuff. Shake off those calories. Shake up that metabolism.
During the break, I didn’t write much. I jotted down ideas for stories, wrote a first draft of a letter to a comedian I think would be curious to read my book “Hitting Water”. The book kicks off and is inspired by a mutual friend of ours who passed away years ago, and she may smile while reading it. I read a book about Phil Hartman and have started Tony Robbins’ tome about money (which kind of depressed me). A bit thirsty for fiction, I cracked open Pulitzer prize winner “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (whose book was featured in a clue on Jeopardy last week). This book is lovely, dense, and it’s my road map on WTF it takes to write a Pulitzer prize winning book. Just reading Ms. Tartt’s biography, and I could see why. She has some pretty intense writing chops. Lots of literary weight there.
2015. You better be good to me. 2014 was a terrific year. I didn’t let life happen to me. I created the building blocks of making life happen. My book “Hitting Water” was released in December – just when I was ready to shut down for the year. No major promotion has been made yet, but I’m getting there. It was one thing writing my own book. It’s quite another to get on one’s soapbox and promote it. That takes a whole different set of conjones to get that done. I’m mustering up the strength, the inner confidence and the ideas to get this done.
I’m still in a twilight. Last night’s dreams are still floating in my brain. I had a dream I was on a business trip to New York City and was staying in a cute studio apartment. Alec Baldwin entered my dream as Jack Donaghy from ’30 Rock’. He told me I must join a dinner that evening with a client and Liz Lemon. The evening came, and I totally forgot. I was so pissed that I was just lolling about, letting the evening go by, when it hit me that I was missing this dinner. Strange. I guess watching those episodes of ’30 Rock ‘ on my computer last night seeped in, coupled with the inner fear of letting responsibilities fall by the way side. Because I’ve let them slide these past few weeks.
It’s just the first day back into the thick of things in a new year that shows promise. It’s just my tights are bugging me and I want to go back to sleep to apologize to Jack Donaghy for missing that dinner.
A little over a year ago, the New York Times covered a story about the demise of 5 Pointz – the urban artist mecca, located on the outskirts of Queens, NY. Abandoned buildings clustered together like old dying New York, the owner of the abandoned warehouse allowed graffiti artists to take their spray cans and paint to create works of wonder. Flashes of blues, blacks, browns, cartoon creations, classic portraiture, vast sprawls of glorious color like rainbows flourished the drab bland grey corner of the borough. If you rode the number 7 train (like I do – to Mets games at Willets Point), you could see the glory of artist creations – not produced under the cloak of nighttime, but living and creating in the bright light of day. It was a living, breathing cartoon of artistry – enlivening a bustling neighborhood that had a view of the Manhattan skyline rising above.
The building itself really wasn’t really abandoned. The company that existed in this warehouse decades ago, left behind an old space and remnants of whatever they did for commerce. (Who knows? I’m not really interested in researching that info.) Yet, the years since it was made a haven for urban creatives, the spaces had been rented out to artists as studios. It wasn’t just exterior world of gonzo artists spraying their imaginations and sociopolitical emotions on the wall – there were artists producing work from other mediums within.
Sadly, the owner of the building decided to fall way to the ever increasing need for the dollar. Greed, wealth and the promise of making millions upon millions in the real estate market made the promise of 5Pointz future cave in. The building was sold in 2013 to a developer who will build unaffordable ultra expensive homes for the rich because there aren’t enough luxury apartments in NYC, and the need to increase rent is ever so important. (Sarcasm). So, while waiting for the wrecking ball, the soon- to- be- former owner white washed the artwork in a strange effort to make the impending demolition day less painful.
There are varying opinions. Some people thought the artwork itself was a blight – a defacement of a building. Then there were some artists who rationalized the whitewash as proof graffiti should never be permanent. It’s an ever changing form of art, painted over, Banksy-ied and mysterious. Here one day, gone the next. It’s the basis of the medium.
Then, there are those like me who loved it. Who thought it added texture to the concrete, enlivened the spirit of those tired of streets and crumbling buildings. It wasn’t ugly, dirty graffiti – like the kind you’d see scribbled on the subway in the 70’s and 80’s. No. That was ugly. Useless tagging in a place that didn’t call for the aesthetic. Yet, 5Pointz celebrated free spirit and poetic street expression. The buildings provided the gift of an open canvas with the open invitation for thousands of possibilities. Damn. And now it’s all gone.
The photo of the beautiful Latina above is actually in Hollywood , and the gorgeous mural I posted from my last post can be seen on a building in downtown LA. But it doesn’t matter where you find it. The luster of color on both LA based murals provokes realism in the features, much as it does in any urban frame. Intricate patterns and shapes allow the light of day to create the vision of a realistic human being with emotions coming to the surface – against brick, mortar and greyness of a tired old building. This is in direct spirit with 5 Pointz. Wall art, murals, graffiti, tags – are alive and well all over the world. But the heartbeat lives on in Queens, NY. Even if it’s only a memory now.
My comment on the white washing of 5Pointz – in the New York Times, November 19, 2013:
The act of painting over the graffiti is bothersome. If the building is going to be erased, why erase the artwork on it? Why not embrace the artists who’ve created it – perhaps let them personally keep a reasonable piece of the facade of the building? Or keep well maintained slabs of the art to place in the lobby of this development (which will likely block out that last view of the NYC skyline before it disappears in the distance) as a dedication to 5Pointz. This puts another ding in an ever changing city – where starving artists are being priced out of the place and basically disrespected. From Soho to Brooklyn to L.I.C…gentrification has erased the beauty of grime. What was once affordable housing in scary hoods is now million dollar havens for the wealthy. I’m all for cleaning things up. I’m glad graffiti no long exists on subway cars (that was not a great medium for it – nor pleasant), but leave us some concrete and color. This action is part of the homogenization of NYC. It’s losing its texture, long upheld by artists who can’t even stay there anymore. As a lifelong New Yorker who currently lives 3000 miles away, and as a Mets fan who comes back home to ride the 7 and marvel at this stretch of artwork along the way – this news is a heart breaker.
I’m one of five people who are in the office today. Tomorrow will likely be the same. I’ve decided to bring in my dog tomorrow. Just to liven things up. As the holidays approach, I find myself living in a lovely malaise. No writing. Trying to do on to others as I feel the warmth of friendships and the bittersweet feeling of turning the page on another year. As mentioned, I’m stocking up on movie viewing and just saw “Birdman”, an exhilarating, bizarre movie starring the incredible Michael Keaton. (More to come – “The Theory of Everything”, “The Imitation Game”, “Inherit Vice”, “Into The Woods”) and books (Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please”, Tony Robbins’ “Money: Master the Game”, “The Goldfinch”, an autobiography on Phil Hartman and a spy story about a guy and his basset hound.)
I hope to write during the time off between Christmas and New Year, but until then – I’m hanging up the “Out For the Holidays” sign in my brain. It’s hard. I feel guilty not writing. It’s my passion. It’s the reason why I exist. I can’t keep going on like I have, working at another company’s job where my own boss, as lovely as she is, barely knows I exist. Perhaps I can find a new job in the new year – that pays better. But until then, I’m working away at my writing, trying to build a new career – not just as an author, but as someone who wants to help others write too.
Something on tap for next year: Training my dog for film and television. I’d also like to train him to be a certified therapy dog so we can children’s hospitals and senior homes to put smiles on peoples’ faces. Perhaps keep a blog on Baxter’s do-goodness, write a series of children books, perhaps? There are so many children books out there – even with Basset Hounds. We’ll see. It could be an interesting side venture that will allow me to share the wonders that is Baxter the Basset Hound. He’s already famous in parts of Hollywood!
Now, back to reading Tony Robbins’ and figuring out how not to outlive my money.
Last week, I wrote a blog post about my piano teacher entitled “Looking For Mr. Weiss.” The story touched a nerve with me. As it unfolded through memory and emotion, I realized my years of learning how to read music and to play the instrument was one of the most valuable lessons of my life. It was ten years of exasperating practice, fumbling fingers while fighting youthful distractions like TV, playing with friends, or listening to records all for the purpose of completing a piece without error. I didn’t know it as a spotty kid, but now I value this gift of music like it’s precious gold. This – despite enduring living room recitals for company, encouraged by my dad, where certain members of my distended family would roll their eyes. Riiiggghhht…because I loved playing for this group as much as they loved listening. The feeling was mutual.
My ten years as a student of Mr. Weiss affected me deeply. The very fact I can play an instrument is extraordinary. No, I can’t just sit down and play “Summer Highland Falls” or gather a group of cocktail addled friends around the old piano for an impromptu rendition of “Fame” nor do I take requests. But I can sit down and plunk away a mean sonata – after many days of rehearsal – with the music sheet in front of me. It’s even cooler to know how to read music, as if it’s a secret language that is communicated through melody, beats, rhythm and sound. To be able to create it, is just as satisfying and mystically compelling as writing a book or a satisfying blog post.
Sadly, my father sold our Steinway and Sons piano when I left for college. Yet, I’ve picked up the piano here and there over the years. About 15 years ago, I had a small Yamaha electric keyboard I laid on top of a desk on which I played simple sonatinas, since there were only about 70 keys on the thing. Playing as an adult is a different experience. I have a deeper understanding of life and how music folds personal emotion into the flow of a piece. My brain finds a beautiful, peaceful portal where you can capture a deep, focused, meditative state when you’re really playing something you like well. After a work week filled with business and responsibilities, being able to play an instrument such as the piano, allows a certain cleasning of the mind. It’s time well spent, beating TV, Internet and video gaming. I long to return to this amazing practice.
When my little Yamaha keyboard broke, my reacquaintance with the piano was shelved. Life took over. I kept my music sheets handy in case I was able to find the room for a piano. A real one. As an apartment dweller – I’m still holding out for an actual piano. However, I do have some space in the corner of my home office which has prompted my decision to purchase a digital piano complete with perfect key action and pedals. There will be a headphone jack so I can play in silence, and a volume button, so when I’m not using “cans”, I can crank it up to show my neighbors during reasonable hours, what this student of Mr. Weiss can do.
It’s time to return to my music. Time to put all the money my father paid to provide lessons to good use. Time to honor Mr. Weiss.
(And by the way – Looking for Mr. Weiss has inspired a book I’m currently outlining.)
When I was a child, we had a neighbor who was a flutist for the New York Philharmonic. His name was Mr. Morris. His home was behind ours. It’s possible my father called him Sam, but my memory is fuzzy. I was so incredibly young at the time. His backyard was large and unruly. An old collapsed greenhouse was buried beneath overgrown brush and small trees that had given up years before I was born.
Although Mr. Morris and the state of his backyard is a faint, early memory,I remember in summertime, when his windows were open, I could hear him practicing his flute. His instrument was part of the atmosphere. The sound of his practice floated through the air, mixing with the hiss of passing cars, birds chirping and children playing. Years later, when I moved into Manhattan, where you could throw a penny and it could land on a creative’s doorstep, the sound of vibrato voices practicing scales in the building next door, or the rehearsal of a lone french horn through a window would bring me back to Mr. Morris. Today, when I listen to the gorgeous recording of Aaron Copeland’s, “Appalachian Spring” performed by the New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein conducting, I think of him lending his flute to the cacophony of beauty in a grand recording studio somewhere with Lenny himself.
When I was eight years old, my father (a music lover much like my mother and myself) wanted me to learn piano. When he started looking for a teacher, he consulted Mr. Morris, whose work within the Lincoln Center community could offer some names. It just so happened, that an acquaintance of his – a Mr. Allen Weiss – was a prominent piano instructor who happened to live in our small little town. He was a graduate of Julliard, had a very progressive way of instructing young people in piano, and was a mentor to gifted students who were on the path to being accepted into the very institution from which he graduated. He also hosted a show on WQXR called The Midnight Showcase, where those gifted, classically trained proteges would be presented. Let it be known that I wasn’t one of them, nor ever was. He also took on regular kids who just wanted to learn piano – like me.
When I attended my first lesson in his home, I entered a separate door to a side room in his house, so small, it barely fit the two giant pianos that lived there: one baby Baldwin piano, and one Steinway grand piano. They slipped side by side, their Lima bean shaped bodies on opposite ends, fitting like puzzle pieces, with the keyboards opposite so two pianists playing at the same time could face each other. The walls were lined with brown cork, and gave off a sweet smell that lingered with the wood of the piano and mixed with the fluid aroma of cherry tobacco drifting from Mr. Weiss’ pipe.
Mr. Weiss appeared to be in his early to mid-thirties, and was married with two little children. This was 1972, and he was a young man of the time – raffish, hippy-like, curly longish red hair. His limbs were long and lanky. There was an ease and elegance to him as he sat cross legged with worn out corduroys, well worn suede Earth shoes, a pipe between his teeth, listening to me play scales and fumbling over fingering. It was ever thus, as the years went by, and my books like “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” morphed into sonatinas, sonatas, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn and the various classical pantheon of old music I hardly cared about, but enjoyed playing – once I got it right. Remember, I wasn’t one of those gifted students Mr. Weiss mentored. I also remember I was so painfully shy that I’d just sit in silence for months of lessons. Then, one day, I just opened up and responded to a question he raised, delighting him, as if he just found gold in a ditch. I don’t remember why I shed that wall of shyness. It’s likely the more confident I became with the piano, the more comfortable I was with him.
He was a teacher with a dream, creating cutting edge ways to teach kids about piano and music. Within the first two years of lessons, the small little room that barely fit two pianos, was bulldozed to make way for a giant solarium type studio. Floor to ceiling windows let in natural light. The space was modern and open. He graced his layers of shelves with instruments for students to explore, opening our vision on music that went beyond the acoustic keyboard. Synthesizers, electronic pianos, drums, dulcimers, and percussion accessories were everything, a virtual wonderland of music exploration for kids and teens.
The two pianos could now spread out comfortably with enough space to accommodate audience chairs for our quarterly class lessons and recitals where individual students gathered for one interactive meet up. These classes were split up and held on various weekends according to level (beginners, intermediate, advanced, uber-advanced-Julliard-bound) and touched upon various topics of music theory. Each session focused on new concepts, such as early renaissance music, or choir, African beat or sound vibrations. He’d use his instrument collection to demonstrate degrees of sound. One time, he wove nails and metallic objects inside his Steinway piano strings, making the key hammers pound against an altered wire, producing a foreign sound as he began to play a tonal, avant garde piece. The one constant was that each class would end with the dreaded recital, where each member got up to perform a piece they slaved over since the last group class.
This must have been Mr. Weiss’ glory days. His radio show continued to attract respect from the Lincoln Center crowd, and he even performed in concert at Alice Tully Hall, headlining an evening of complicated classical pieces that blew my mind. (Yes, my family attended). Back at Chez Weiss, he had a school of teachers who worked for him. As I grew into a teenager, I wanted to play more contemporary music; plus, I wasn’t growing into an elite student, a special unit of gifted teens who became his main priority. So, he assigned a new teacher who worked under him to come to my house for instruction. His last name was Dunn, and he wore a toupee, which I could see him pat in place from time to time in the mirror above our piano. I still attended Mr. Weiss’ quarterly classes. I may have given up Chopin for Elton John, and wasn’t playing Liszt’s ‘Leibestram’ from memory, but I was still rehearsing classical music, and I was still part of his school.
Then came the day I graduated high school and moved on to college. I bid adieu to my piano school days and moved into a dorm, embarking on adulthood, sadly leaving the keyboard behind.
I wasn’t the only one growing up and moving on. As the years went by, I figured Mr. Weiss he still lived in that beautifully renovated house on Beacon Hill Road in Ardsley with more young students showing up at his door. That wasn’t the case.
One day, years after my last lesson,my father ran into him at an
gas station auto repair shop*. He was pumping gas. Apparently, he sold off his instruments to enter into a partnership to co-own the repair station** It’s possible he may have been divorced, and his young family was torn apart in some way. (Or is that just a sad romantic notion? Or my own father’s view of the situation?) Yet, the stark contrast in circumstance was troubling. Indeed, owning a gas station is a noble profession, but it’s a long way from a career as a respected piano teacher, mentor and concert pianist within the world of Lincoln Center (which my father sensed, via mutual friends, harbored an internal cut throat atmosphere that possibly lead to Mr. W’s decline). (Update: I’m sad to say it was a “decline”. Just a very sharp turn on his path in life.)
Today, I hopelessly search the internet, looking for Mr. Alan Weiss (or is it spelled ‘Allen?), only to find another Alan Weiss, a pianist who trained through Julliard and is teaching students to become professional concert pianists. Very odd. Very coincidental. However, one look at his photo and I can attest – that’s not my Allen Weiss.
This past weekend, the memory of Mr. Weiss invaded my mind along with all the remembrances above. I searched and searched the internet, trying to see if I could find him – his whereabouts. Not much was found, except an excerpt from an old newspaper article reading more into his mind than I – the young student – ever realized.
Strangely enough – an article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal, “In New York, Thousands Play Waiting Game”, dated December 24th, 1978 (when I was his student) where he is quoted discussing the high expectations a Julliard student carries with him/her:
“You walk out the door of Julliard and say ‘Here I am!’ and nobody is listening. So you teach. But it isn’t what you though of when you were in there. A lot of people do it with bitterness. But I had no choice. I practically retired as a performer the day I walked out of school. I don’t, you see, have a family with millions of dollars behind me. I was a good pianist. Respected, generally. I mean, nobody thought I was crazy to want to be a pianist or anything. But you are faced with such competition that it is very difficult to sit back and look at yourself and ask ‘who am I, how do I play and how do I wish to play?’. There simply isn’t time to question anything. Your whole pursuit is giving the perfect performance, playing your octaves faster than anybody else, and getting management, getting the right people to hear you. And winning competitions.”
I hadn’t realized the struggle Mr. Weiss was going through until my father ran into him all those years ago at that autobody shop. As a young child, he loomed over me as a piano god, a young, enthusiastic educator who taught kids to appreciate the profound meaning of music rather than just merely learning to play it. His inner turmoil never showed. To me, he arrived at a perfect destination, but he was really lost in the midst of grasping hold of a dream that was slipping away.
There was another item I found online. It was from Julliard’s alumni newsletter dated September 2009.
“Allen Weiss, Piano, graduate 1962. Deceased.”
I’m hoping it’s the wrong Allen Weiss.
I’m still looking.
*Revisions thanks to Debra Weiss Barrett.
So the process continues! I’m really excited. My book is getting to the marketing stages – prepping for the publication with Amazon, and I’m learning the hell out of this business. The craziness lies in my day job – which has just recently had a re-organization, so things are getting super busy. Juggling new responsibilities and trying to bring out the theme and subtext of my short stories to a marketing expert at Createspace (which is the platform that brings a self publisher’s book to Amazon and the world) so she can write a back cover blurb, categorize the book for search engines, devise snazzy ways to make me interesting to the passing Amazon buyer.
The cover above is just another mock up. A really wonderful artist from the UK I found via Fiverr.com put this together using the photo I selected, and it looks awesome! The only thing is – during the time it took for her to do it (where there was radio silence and I kind of thought I just threw away $30.00) I found another really terrific artist who is pulling it together, along with formatting the interior of my book. I also trimmed the name of my book to “Hitting Water”. So, although the photo will be the same – the titling should be different. How about the color? I was thinking of making the sky blue maintaining the sepia in the water, diver and rock.
I’d love your input! Please comment!