Aimez-vous silly?

I wish I could remember who sent me this very silly video titled Everybody Loves to Dance. There is some really silly stuff on YouTube and other places, some of it truly ridiculous and much not worth watching, but this arrived via email and I find myself watching it more oftwn than I’d care to admit…maybe I’m just desperate for a giggle, or perhaps that should be a gaggle of laughs. It helps if you like animals…. click here to watch

Update and Writerly Quotations

I’ve been hard at work rebuilding SnapSizzleBop and it’s almost ready to launch. So whilke I get back to tweaking the programming code, I’ll leave you with these pearls of wisdom:

Having imagination, it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that, if you were unimaginative, would take you only a minute. Or you might not write the paragraph at all. ~Franklin P. Adams, Half a Loaf, 1927

An original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate. ~Chateaubriand, Le Génie du Christianisme, 1802

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. ~Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades, 1947

A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident. ~W. Somerset Maugham, Summing Up, 1938

Transitions – Part II

Before I get back to my plans vis a vis ArtistShare, allow me two short digressions. Two weeks ago I attended a National Writers Workshop and heard speak some writers I have long admired. Some of the “stories” they write are more slice-of-life/snapshots than news stories (ie the stuff I love) Pulitzer Prize winner Jacqui Banaszynski was inspiring, as was Rocky Mountain News Columnist Tina Griego, but it was depressing, too, because these writers are on-staff at newspapers and/or teaching — they have a big platform/assignments and/or other income. Such jobs are few, many in jeopardy, and not a viable option for a 50-something year old writer seeking entry.

Two days later, reading Hilton Als look at the life of Ralph Ellison (The New Yorker, May 7, 2007, p74) I found this quote from the prologue of Ellison’s Invisible Man

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those that haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms…I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”

Granted, he was writing in the 1950s about the “invisibility” of “Negros” but looking around today I see lots of invisible people – they may be poor or homeless, physically or mentally challenged, or set apart by cultural or socioeconomic differences, but they are people, and they should have a voice. We should see them, and come to understand them.

Again I am plagued by the lack of compensation for doing the kind of writing that I think is important. And again I start thinking that I have my own online platform and that *if I write it, they will come* — okay, am I about to naively make the same mistake all over again? I hope not.

My resistance up to now has been one of self-identity. Having been a publicist in years past I am aware of the power of image and public perception. I am also haunted by the phrase ‘jack-of-all-trades, master of none’ Writing is not a hobby. I have spent years studying and honing my craft and I want to be known first and foremost as a writer, not as a personal manager, or publicist, or web designer… who also happens to write.

That being said, I also want to pay my bills. The problem, a friend tells me, is that I am trying to make my passion pay the bills. (Actually my mother has been telling me that for a long time, but sometimes we tend not to listen to our parents.) What I have decided to do is change my focus and restore my priorities. Or, as a friend put it to me this morning over coffee and mixed metaphors, “Stop tilting at windmills. Just grab on to one of the spokes and ride the Ferris wheel.” And then there is this apropos quotation:

The writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratification, is a curious anticlimax. ~Alfred Kazin, Think, February 1963

Well, I’m not so sure it’s an anticlimax, but here’s the big picture: I define myself as being a writer. I am going to concentrate on the writing and keep trying to “get noticed” through the quality of my work and word-of-mouth and click-of-mouse. In other words I am going to pursue my passion regardless of recompense. AND, instead of wasting time and energy tilting at windmills, I will allot ‘that’ time to building web sites for paying clients. In other words, passion and practicality will henceforth be separate but equal, one feeding the soul, the other putting wine in the fridge and bread on the table.

The smaller picture is this: SnapSizzleBop will be reborn with a new tag line: Shop, Look & Listen. The “shop” part will be an online store where you can buy books and other items. The Look & Listen part will feature, for FREE, news and clips relating to my current projects — “At the Feet of a Jazz Master,” “Seeking Harmony: The Life and Music of Luther Henderson,” and a series of short pieces titled Neighborhood Narratives. These will be the slice-of-life type of stories I enjoy, and I think they will provide contrast and balance to the book-length projects that are underway. Those who sign up for the email announcement list will be automatically notified when new files become available.

I’m not expecting the store to generate any big bucks, but it will be a convenient place to buy our wares — I’m thinking of the books and perhaps some cards or coffee mugs made from our personal photo collection. But my real hope is that the free content will be of interest to a wide audience and that you will enjoy looking and listening audio and video clips, photo galleries, and such. And I’d love it if the Neighborhood Narratives create even a local buzz. Given the stories shared by the narrative newspaper writers at the one-day conference I mentioned, coupled with responses that I’ve had recently to my blog post about the death of my long-time friend Les “Coach” Fernandez, I really do believe that there is a wider audience out there interested in stories about average people.

I still think we should be able to earn a living as writers covering stories we feel to be important, even if those stories speak to a smaller audience, but I sure am tired of ramming my head against a wall. So, if you know anyone who needs the services of an ace writer or web-builder, send them my way for I am both…or as some dear friends have dubbed me, SuperD.

Stay tuned at DevraDoWrite. I’ll let you know when the transition is complete and SnapSizzleBop is back in action. I hope to have it up and running by next week.

Transitions – Part I

Two years ago I began blogging, and it’s been great. And yes, I will continue, but not for the reasons I started. The “biz wiz” (business wisdom) was, and still is, build a platform. That was the chorus sung by publishers and agents. (Remember the movie Field of Dreams? “If you build it, they will come.”) So, I built my platform and have developed a small but respectable and fairly consistent readership – worldwide, figuratively from Borneo to Nome. (Remember that old bit of lyric from Guy’s & Dolls? That’s a post of it’s own for another day) In reality, last week’s DevraDoWrite readers hailed from Japan, Australia, Brazil, Singapore, Scandinavia, Turkey, France, Poland, the UK and of course the US. My readership is wonderfully eclectic, but not yet large enough to impress anybody.

Still, blogging has other benefits that are perhaps more important and less tangible. Blogging motivates me to write often and better, and the more I write, the better I write and the more confident I feel. (Teachers told me that would true, but I didn’t realize how true!) Blogging also allows me to connect with others (you) in a way that is often missing from the solitary nature of a writer’s life. So, this brings me back to the old dilemma — what’s more important in life, commerce or the other stuff?

I tried to find a compromise, a way to merge the artistic and the humanistic with the need to make some money, a/k/a crass commercialism. ArtistShare seemed to be the solution. So a year ago I registered the SnapSizzleBop domain and then spent five-plus months prepping three projects for launch. Why three? Well, not having a large pre-existing fan base I thought the combination of my readers plus John’s friends and colleagues, plus Clairdee’s fans and Leroy’s network would create a synergy – a critical mass sufficient to generate a buzz and hopefully some sales. I thought that the subjects of jazz history, biography, photography and singing would be of interest to a broad spectrum of people. We launched in mid October and today, seven months in, sales are tepid and not sufficient to cover the expense. Biz wiz? Cut your losses and re-assess.

I was the first writer to try out the ArtistShare model. Dan Ouellette, writing the authorized biography of Ron Carter, has since joined the ranks and I wish him the best of luck. If it works well for him, I suspect it will not be because of *his* fans (though I am sure he has a following from his work in Downbeat, Billboard, and other publications), but more so because of Ron Carter’s stature. I have come to believe that people today only want to peek behind the scenes at those who have already attained some degree of fame, and that fame is often defined by being onstage (or onscreen) rather than ‘onpaper.’ Yes, there are some who might just want to see a work in progress, regardless of the artist’s ‘fame quotient’ but they are mostly students hoping for a how-to manual and their plates are already quite full with school assignments. Others who, in theory, might be interested are an older demographic — while comfortable with email and perhaps an iPod, they do not live online and they prefer holding books in their hands and watching movies on a larger screen.

I may be all wrong about what audiences want and don’t want and whether they want it online. Or maybe I’m just not waiting long enough for the tide to turn. If so, it won’t be the first time that I am out of sync with the tides. I just heard the news that Simon and Schuster is creating author videos to post on YouTube. The Wall Street Journal says “the videos will address such issues as how authors get their ideas, personal anecdotes about how they became authors, and a sense of who they are as people.” But I still think that the artists/writers will have to have avid fans and/or more than an iota of fame to be of interest.

I remain a supporter of ArtistShare — “where the fans are making it happen.” It’s a great concept, and I myself am a fan participating in half-a-dozen or so projects by other artists. But even I, who am something of a tech maven, am having trouble keeping up online. I also have to admit that I am part of that older demographic and I do prefer books in hand and movies on a larger screen.

So what to do?

More about “Coach”

I am thrilled to see comments about my tribute to Les Fernandez! In addition to a very touching note from Coach’s daughter, Lanette, I am also gratified to see responses from people who were pleased to read about such a man even though they did not know him. Several people have asked me to write more about him and to tell of how I came to know him. This is a request that I will honor, but not today. At one time Coach and I spoke about writing a book and I deeply regret that the time was never right for such an undertaking. I need to spend some time with my memories before I write more.

Meanwhile, however, Lanette wrote a very wonderful eulogy, and I told her via private email that it was not only moving but also beautifully crafted. I asked her if I could post it here for you to see and she said “yes.”

A Tribute to Dad
by Lanette Fernandez

We are gathering today not only to comfort each other during this difficult time, but to celebrate the life of a beautiful man and to ask God to invite him into his world.

The term “gentle giant” comes to mind when i speak of my dad, Coach. 6’ tall, and a shoe size to match, he made his mark in life quietly and unpretentiously yet, his strength and love for life and people roared like a jet breaking the sound barrier. He had the ability to speak to anyone, from all walks of life – rich or poor, educated or not, troubled or fortunate – and make them feel like he understood – like what they had to say or what they were feeling was the most important thing to him. He spent his life reaching out to anyone that needed a hand or a sounding board.

I so readily recall hearing young and old speak of my dad’s kindness throughout my entire childhood. I remember often sharing dinner or our home with a youth that was going through difficult times. Coach would meet some troubled youth, and after he removed whatever weapons they may be carrying, say, “ok now – how about you come home with me and we’ll talk over dinner?!!” Sometimes I was frightened by the people he brought home, and now when I think about it as an adult, rightfully so, but God watched over Coach and guided him to make the right decisions.

As kind as Coach was, he wasn’t a push over. He always set the bar high. He encouraged those in his presence to attain a higher standard and gave them the tools to experience success. So many people I have met throughout my life have spoken the words, “your dad saved me from a life of …” whatever their demise may have been.

The eternal optimist, he could find a “reason” to explain the most horrific behavior (except poor grades from his children – there was no reason for that!!). Coach always reserved judgement and repeatedly preached, and lived, a life of understanding, acceptance of differences, kindness and honesty. He had a magical way with people that was almost supernatural – unexplainable, as though God blessed him and only him with this uncanny sixth sense.

Fortunately for him, he married my mom who went along with his crazy ideas of saving everyone!! She would keep him grounded in reality when his desire to “fix” someone’s problem was just not reasonable or too dangerous. Her strength allowed him the freedom to fulfill his calling of helping others.

So as we say goodbye to Coach and thank god for blessing us with having known him, the best “thank you” we can give to Coach for enriching our lives is to continue his mission of understanding and kindness. Let’s make a conscious effort to reserve judgement, practice acts of kindness and patience. Hold the door for the next person; let that car into traffic even if you have the right of way. Offer someone in need a few moments of your time – even if you don’t know what to say or how to help. When there is a reasonable choice, act unselfishly. This is what Coach devoted his life to and there is no better tribute to a “teacher” than to let him know —

“I heard you, I watched you and I have learned from you”

SloaneView

On April 18th Carol Sloane launched her blog SloaneView and she’s on a roll. As a consumate interpreter of a lyric, it’s no surprise that she has a way with words and is an engaging storyteller. (If you’re not hip to Carol’s vocal stylings allow me to reiterate a recommendation I made two years ago this month: get thee to Amazon now! One of my favorites is the 1988 recording Love You Madly, with Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, Akira Tana, Art Farmer and Clifford Jordan. It’s one of Carol’s favorites, too. )

Carol’s stories are often humorous. Having been Carmen McRae’s publicist many years ago I am all-too-familiar with her phone manners and laughed myself silly at Carol’s happy birthday story. Her tales are told simply, conversationlly, with unflinching honesty and candor, coupled with a dash of explication for those not in-the-know. But what I really love is that these vignettes always show something about the people that might otherwise not be known. For example, I never knew that Jimmy Rowles was fanatical lover of animals. Okay, it’s not that the revelations are earth-shattering, but that unique perspective from being there allows us a glimpse of facets that make up the whole person — it’s those “telling details” that narrative writers are always talking about.

In addition to memorable career moments, Carol promises also to write about sports and cooking, politics and culture, and something I am very much looking forward to, ” and the occasional screech and holler aimed at knuckle-headedness.” I’ve added SloanView to my list of recommended sites and I will be checking in regularly.

Les “Coach” Fernandez R.I.P.

Foreword written on Saturday:
What a pathetic excuse for a writer I must be if words fail me at a time when it means the most. Instead of tears, I’m wading in a puddle of platitudes….”I’m so very sorry for your loss.” Clichés run amok in my brain – my heart is heavy (as lead), my heart goes out to you — out where? And why is loss such a palpable ache? I am constantly searching for the universality in a story, so why do I seize up when universality smacks me in the gut?
Perhaps because I am human.
Yes.
No.
Yes, but I am a writer. I refuse to be pathetic. Ass in chair, open a vein, write!

A good man died yesterday morning. Admittedly lots of good men died yesterday. Some died in the line of duty, while others simply reached the end of their line. Some died heroically, and others died horrifically. Some died before their time, others finally expended the borrowed time they had been given. The good man whose loss saddens me today was a friend to me for 40 years.

###

lesfernandezsml.jpgApril 30, 1991 was declared “Les Fernandez Day” in Westchester County. Now, sixteen years to the day, Les “Coach” Fernandez is laid to rest. He died Friday morning from congestive heart failure, one week after celebrating his 80th birthday with family and friends.

I spoke to him the night before the big party and I told him how very much I wanted to be there, as I had been for so many of the milestones though the years – The Cage 25th Anniversary, Les’ wedding (Coach’s oldest son and namesake), a 50th birthday party or two, even an occasional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, Coach’s 70th birthday bash, the renewal of Coach & Nat’s wedding vows on their 50th anniversary….. and some scary times too, Coach’s car crash, Les’ heart surgery…. I won’t call it a premonition, but I somehow knew this party would be Coach’s last big event, but I could not go, not this time. He knew that I was there in spirit, just as I know that his spirit lives on in all of us whose lives he touched.

Coach held many jobs ranging from boxing coach to psychotherapist, but what he was, always, was a youth worker. From his undergrad days as a “street gang worker” for the Police Athletic League back in the late 1940s, until the day he retired in 1991 after 29 years with The Cage Teen Center (26 as its Executive Director), his focus and his gift was in helping young people to cope and excel.

He believed that school dropouts, drug abusers, runaways, youthful offenders, outcasts and young adults with family, social or even police problems do not have to be alienated from society’s mainstream forever. He recognized that these kids, who came from all walks of life — all races, socioeconomic strata, educational levels, from all parts of town – had one thing in common: their basic psychological needs, to love and be loved and to feel worthwhile to themselves and to others, had not been fulfilled. So one-on-one, one at a time, sometimes in a boxing ring or on a basketball court, sometimes folding his 6-foot-plus frame into a desk chair in a classroom on the top floor of the rectory of Grace Church, he touched the lives of many.

dropincenter1963.jpgWhen Coach first started working at the Cage Teen Center in 1962, it was little more than a deserted basement bowling alley used as a drop-in center. Teen strife caused problems and the adults in charge, not being professionals, were unable to control the situation. They hired Coach as a part time group worker, then, in 1965, they appointed him to the full time position of Executive Director.

boxing.jpgThe following year The Cage Teen Center youth made a film entitled “Tell It Like It Is” which not only gave them a voice, but helped the various community agencies to better understand their problems. That was also the year that Henry Jeter, 175 lbs., Light Heavyweight, became the first member of The Cage Teen Center Boxing Program to win a Golden Gloves Championship at the old Madison Square Garden.

In 1967, Coach used a $25,000 Federal Government grant to launch EduCage, an Alternative High School Program, that included academic subjects, arts, and job skills ranging from typing to automotive training. A year later he established the first in-school Infant Care Center in New York State, offering parenting skills to young mothers and fathers, and daycare services for Educage students with babies. Another new program to emerge that year was The Cage Drug Prevention Center, the first official drug treatment program in Westchester County. Whenever an obstacle arose to prevent a young person from achieving more, Coach sought and fought for solutions.
class.jpgceramics.jpgautomotivetraining.jpginfantcare.jpg

He was one of the most dedicated men I have ever known, seemingly tireless, always on the go. He served on city and county boards and committees too numerous to mention, lectured and consulted with organizations, schools and agencies interested in the problems of young people, and even testified before the House Sub-Committee on Crime. Throughout the years he maintained his State Certification as an Industrial Arts Teacher, Guidance Counselor, Secondary School Principal and School Administrator and Supervisor, but that was not enough; at a time when most would be planning to retire, he went back to school and earned his Doctorate Degree in Counseling and Human Development a Post Graduate Certificate in Psychotherapy.

ny-008.jpgSomehow, on top of all that he did for others, he and his wife Natalie, raised a family — Les, Richie, Don, and Lanette — four remarkable, strong, and loving people who shared their dad with so many other young people who who grew up and remembered Coach with love and appreciation. They wrote to him and his files are overflowing with notes like this one:

Educage was the only school I had ever been to where I felt I really belonged, and that the teachers and faculty really cared what happened to me… A lot of us kids lives would’ve gone down the drain if we didn’t get help, and I’ll always remember the dedicated people who were there when we needed them.

One of the many plaques and awards given to Coach bears this quotation from Henry B. Adams: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” A thought echoed in the letters he treasured, like this one:

You started Educage, in which you have helped hundreds of people like me to get their high school diploma, and furthering their education. Your love and caring have rubbed off on most of us you touch. Because of the love and dedication you showed the youths in past and present, a lot of your ex youths are now in the field of youth counselors…

As a WWII vet, the funeral service will include the flag ceremony and taps. As a beloved leader of the community, the funeral cortege will be accompanied by the White Plains Police Force. Though it may sound hyperbolic, the fact is that over the years Coach touched thousands of lives. He will be honored by many and missed by all.

Win-Win Is My New Mantra

This morning, over coffee, I was reading an article about Google and Viacom and copyright in New York magazine. Once upon a time (not so long ago) I was a staunch defender of copyright and even thought that it should exist in perpetuity — why shouldn’t I have the right to pass future profits on to my heirs? Why should anyone other than myself and my assigns reap the benefits from my own work? But I’m beginning to change my mind, or perhaps more specifically, my focus.

What is important to me? I’d like to be able to work at my craft and earn an honest wage doing so. I’d even like a little recognition for my efforts. I want to be able to pay my bills, and afford a few luxuries. (Health insurance should not be a luxury, but that’s another discussion). The image of others using my work to turn a profit without compensating me still doesn’t feel fair, but does that really matter? If I have what I need, and maybe a little more, and if am relatively healthy and able to enjoy family and friends, that should be enough. And if someone else also benefits from my work, either monetarily or emotionally, mightn’t that be a good thing?

I’m growing weary of the whole argument and found myself skimming large parts of the article, but one statement stuck with me — the writer described the Google mindset as in favor of win-win situations while Viacom’s game was a strictly “I win/you lose” scenario. I don’t know whether or not the characterization of either company is accurate, but I do believe that the world would be a better place if “we” weren’t so darned greedy. Eating a whole pie alone causes more than indigestion.

Presidential Candidates – Online Town Hall

Tomorrow, April 10th at 7:15pm Eastern, MoveOn is using the Internet to connect presidential candidates directly to the people.


Join MoveOn.org's Virtual Town Hall: Iraq

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, and Joe Biden will answer questions from MoveOn.org’s 3.2 million members in the first of three unprecedented virtual town hall meetings. The topic: Iraq.

MoveOn members are asking candidates the tough questions about their Iraq plans, and gathering in living rooms from coast to coast to hear the answers directly. The mass media won’t be filtering our questions or filtering the answers—-MoveOn will be connecting candidates directly to the people. You can sign up to attend a local house party and experience the virtual town hall with others by going here then plug in your zip code and click search to see what’s nearest you.

Right after the virtual town hall meeting, MoveOn will survey our members to see which candidate they believe will do the best job of leading us out of the war in Iraq. We will also let MoveOn members know how they can get involved with the candidate of their choice.

When Worlds Collide

As I may have mentioned, in an effort to generate a little more income to sustain me while I work on three books, two of which are artistshare projects at SnapSizzleBop, I have been spending some time designing websites for clients who happen to be in the psychoanalytic field. So here I am, immersed in Freud and issues of ego identity, transference and such, missing my jazz, feeling guilty about time not spent at SnapSizzleBop, when the worlds suddenly collide in a delightul and unexpected way.

I just received notice that soprano saxophonist/composer Jane Ira Bloom‘s musical composition based on Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams has garnered her a Guggenheim Fellowship. Actually, I don’t know if that composition directly resulted in the award, but the press release mentioned it. These awards are given “to further the development of scholars and artists by assisting them to engage in research in any field of knowledge and creation in any of the arts, under the freest possible conditions and irrespective of race, color, or creed.”

Jane, who has already won many awards and been distinguished by having an asteroid named in her honor by the International Astronomical Union (asteroid 6083), is also receiving a 2007 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award for lifetime service to jazz. And guess what. She’s got an ArtistShare project too.
Here’s my favorite quote from her web site:

“Sometimes I throw sound around the band like paint and other times I play and feel as if I was carving silence like a sculptor.”