July 24, 2011

RIP, Ms. Winehouse

“Holy shit -- Amy Winehouse was found dead.”  That’s what my husband said to me reading his newsfeed on his Blackberry while we stood in line at Starbucks waiting for our mocha frappaccinos Saturday afternoon.  (God, we sound like such yuppies, but what can I say?  That's what we were doing.)  He continued to ramble on – actually making a poignant remark about how Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain died at the same age, and I interrupted him to say, “Just wait a minute.  I need to have a moment.”  Stunned, I stood there waiting for my beverage, while I processed the tragic news. 

I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised, or so stunned.  After all, it was no secret that Winehouse was a hardcore addict – both a troubled alcoholic and drug abuser – who had been in and out of rehab numerous times over the past few years.  But still, there is an almost assumed immunity in the young and the extremely talented, that I thought Winehouse would’ve been exempt from the kind of tragic death that might consume an ordinary person overtaken by such an illness.  This may be a wrong assumption, but that’s the kind of musical genius I thought she was, that I think many people thought she was. 

In the past couple days, though, I’ve seen a lot of comments, namely on Facebook, by people saying that her life was a waste, and why should her death be such a shock when she was a one-hit wonder anyway?  I would venture to say that those who were not impacted by her death the way that her fans are had not subjected themselves to the talent that was Amy Winehouse, which I think is sad.  I don't think it's necessarily sad that they were not impacted by her death, mind you.  We're all affected by things differently (personally, I thought the reaction over Michael Jackson's death was a little overdone), but it's sad for someone to not have known her genius, that she was far more than just a "one-hit wonder."   

Her album, Back to Black, released first in 2006  won her six Grammys.  And let’s be honest – it’s a mother f’ing masterpiece.  Her first album, Frank, had less notoriety in the U.S. because it had only been released in the UK, but it is probably equally as good.  (I recommend “You Sent Me Flying/Cherry” and “Take The Box” – two notable standouts on that album.)  Sadly, she had not released an album since Back to Black and before her death, but those two albums – whether you’re an aficionado of R&B or not – will go down in history as cult classics. 

I think some of the animosity toward Amy Winehouse is the manner she supposedly died – over a seizure related to excessive alcohol consumption.  That doesn’t take well to a lot of people.  Coming from someone who is pretty anti-drug herself, I totally get that.  And, in a way, she opened herself to some of that flak as the result of her big radio hit, “Rehab.”  But that’s what made her so appealing – that raw grit that not only described her vocal appeal, but her lyricism as well.  Winehouse was not known for her beauty or for her put-on charm.  In that sense, she was a musician, tried and true.  There was no staged charisma; the essence of her appeal was in her I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude – not in that annoying hipster way – but sadly, more likely as a result of her energies being consumed by her addiction. 

Despite that, even when she appeared visibly intoxicated during concerts she was incapable of escaping her gift, that astounding voice and presence that was unique to only her.  Whether you were a fan or not, it’s a sad day when a musician of her caliber leaves the music community, because she touched a lot of people – both fans and musicians alike -- as well as lent a unique sensibility to the music industry; there was simply no one out there like her.  Drug addiction and alcoholism aside, she was a  powerhouse of a vocalist and songwriter-- a true musician who happened to leave us just a little too early.  Beyond that, I guess I have nothing else to say, other than, RIP, Ms. Winehouse.  You will be missed.

July 17, 2011

The Family Bond: Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Growing up, if someone told me that I would one day have any kind of relationship with my brother that was anything but tumultuous, I would’ve called you nuts. Both middle children, I, on the younger side of middle, and my brother on the older side, we were like oil and water. Aside from both being caught in the middle, our only similarity was that we bore a similar physical resemblance. My brother Joe, a bull by birth, frequently teased me and beat me up, a sensitive fish. My first black eye was from him, as well as my second, if I can remember right. To him I was a “dog” with a “pot belly” who wasn’t allowed in the fort he had built with his friends. The only times we got along was at Christmastime when we bonded over the new Super Nintendo or when he sold me used goods in exchange for my allowance, such as his leather Raiders baseball  football cap and Arrested Development album he sold to me for $14.

During our teenage years, our differences became much more glaring, in part because of his introduction to drugs and my retreating to my own adolescent angst, which consisted of Ben & Jerry’s and Fiona Apple. Then, the only times we got along was when he was high and I had services to offer, such as a ride to his girlfriend’s or to his dealer’s house. Otherwise, he was stealing my CDs and foreign-coin collection for dope, and I was finding ways to prevent him from doing so, such as shackling my bedroom door with a lock and key -- which worked just some of the time.

When he was 25, my parents gave him a one-way plane ticket to California. Seeing him off, I would’ve been content never to see him again in my life. Just reflecting back on that makes me shudder at the frigidity of that former thought. A year and a half later, I was sending him letters to his new home, a halfway house in San Rafael. His process of getting clean and going through therapy is what marked the dawn of a new relationship between Joe and me – one that would ultimately be one of the deepest bonds I would ever have with a family member.

Last fall, I saw him for the first time in six years. He was tall, built, and had eyes just like mine. He was eloquent and polite, a good communicator, interesting, and sarcastically charming. He was the same brother I had been having phone conversations with since he’d left the halfway house, but he was nothing like the brother I had known in person years that last time I had seen him. This version never existed to me in real life before.

This weekend completely out of the blue, I came home from my morning walk to find a package at my stoop.  In it was a beautiful porcelain teapot and teacup from him. Possibly one of the most thoughtful gifts because of what it represented – one of my favorite rituals of tea drinking and the deep bond that my brother and I now share, despite our differences and our past. Because of our history, my brother knows and understands me like very few people do; I believe this to be true of my understanding of him also. The kind of relationship we’ve been able to build in spite of, or perhaps because of our history, says something about the depth of our loyalty to each other and the deep love we have as brother and sister, as well as about the intimacy of family in general. Blood really is thicker than water.

July 8, 2011

All In The Ritual

I’ve been thinking about rituals lately – the things we do to relax, to center ourselves, or to be reminded that life has a deeper purpose beyond the mundane goings-on of everyday life. Rituals can be anything as simple as washing your face with a particular facewash every morning or practicing yoga after work or something more indulgent such as getting a pedicure or a massage on a weekly basis. Whatever it is, having rituals reminds us to slow down and reflect, allowing us to recharge so that we have the energy to engage more fully in life, whether in our careers, our studies, or our creative pursuits.

I have practiced the same rituals for a while now – listening to music, drinking tea, exercising, and having solo time. I am lucky that I can share a few of these rituals with my husband, but probably my favorite ritual is that of being alone, such as in the comfort of my own space in my study where I have a nice set of speakers and a subwoofer to blast music from.  (If you're going to take listening music to the ritual level sound quality is important.) There I sit in my stuffed chair, sipping tea (another ritual that I enjoy during this time), leafing through magazines, writing, and/or just daydreaming.  Most importantly, my ritual is experienced by simply being in the moment.  Sometimes I’ll do this for 15 minutes; other times I do this for an hour or more. I always know when I’ve had enough, which is marked by that feeling of replenishment and a desire to re-enter the world.  This is when I know that my ritual is working.

While the technical definition of ritual is a "religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order" (Dictionary.com), I believe the key to practicing rituals is that they be whatever it is you feel like doing, rather than something you feel you should be doing, practiced in a manner that feels almost spiritual or meditative. Sure, my ritual of sitting by myself and listening to music and drinking tea may sound boring and a complete waste of time to some, but to me it’s always the perfect remedy when I’m feeling overworked, overtired, cranky, or uninspired. A little soul time always makes me feel like I’ve regained a part of me that has gotten lost in the shuffle during the day or after a long week.

I watched a great documentary last week called All In This Tea, which, in addition to following an American man in China in pursuit of the finest teas, showcases the ritual of tea drinking, which is what got me on the subject of thinking about this ritual thing. In China, tea drinking is all about the experience of the act itself and relaxing, not letting other distractions get in the way. Whether it’s drinking tea or washing the dishes (whatever it is that you identify with) the notion of being present in the moment is the essence of what participating in  ritual pursuits is all about.

July 3, 2011

All-Americana Fare

Though it may be a somewhat unexpected combination, lobster and homemade popovers suggest a certain kind of Americana in my book.  A welcome departure from the traditional summer BBQ fare, it was a perfect meal for a low-key dinner on the eve of Independence Day.
Homemade Popovers
I absolutely love popovers, but I had never made them myself before, probably intimidated by their supposed tendancy to prematurely deflate during the baking process.  But by following the directions closely from this classic recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook, they turned out to be divine -- perfectly puffy, flaky, and tender all at the same time.  Pared with fresh lobster that I bought pre-shucked at my local fish market and steamed broccoli, it was delicious and uncomplicated, and one that felt appropriately celebratory in that all-American kind of way.  Happy Independence Day!


I saw this little message on one of my newly discovered favorite blogs, Johan + Francoise, and I had to share it because I thought it was simply perfect.  Actually, the entire blog is full of deliciously inspiring eye candy, but this poignant little quote struck me, in particular.

Isn't that great?