Wednesday, January 18, 2012


National Geographic: A Time to Run

Last July, I traveled to Japan for National Geographic. My assignment was to write a "cultural piece" about tsunamis in Japan--the world's most tsunami prone country. There were no firm rules about the piece, and my research and my questions led me to lots of interesting places, and into conversations with many different people.

Ultimately, I ended up writing a more personal piece than I had expected to. You can read "A Time to Run" here, or in the February issue of National Geographic, with the dog on the cover. In this essay, I talk about the childhood journals I kept in Japan. Each night, I'd write an entry under my mother's watchful eye, and do a drawing. It's strange now to see that many of these pictures included waves and the water--but then this is not so strange when you consider that we were often by the beach.

I'm heading for Japan tomorrow, but this will be a personal trip. And quite quick. It's an odd time to go to Japan--the New Year has started and we are still weeks away from any winter festivities and from the first cherry blossoms. But I'm looking forward to some quiet time and some conversations with friends and, of course, relaxing in a nice, big Japanese bath. There are a few things we just don't have in the States--a good onsen is one of them.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Mahler, Marimba, Manners and the New York Philharmonic

Maybe you've read the reports about the iPhone interruption at the NY Philharmonic on Tuesday, January 10th. I was there. I Tweeted about it as soon as I got home. The story keeps building, and there are a few things that are being left out, and so I thought I'd just write up my own feelings about the whole thing here.

Thinking back, I'm pretty sure the phone started ringing *before* the 4th movement. It kept ringing and ringing and ringing. I don't mean it rang 4 times and then shut off and went to voicemail. I mean, it rang at least 10 times. Maybe 20. And then it would stop. And then it would start again.

I thought the phone was abandoned. I thought maybe it was backstage, by the door and had been forgotten by someone who was calling repeatedly to find the phone. I do that sometimes. I can't find my phone in my apartment, and so I call it and it rings and rings and stops and I call again until I can find it. That's what the ringing was like at the NY Philharmonic that night. We aren't talking about 4 rings and then straight to voicemail. We are talking about incessant ringing. For at least a half an hour (on and off. On and off). And this is why I think the ringing started during the second movement.

The woman behind me forgot to turn off her cell phone too. When it rang during the first movement, she jumped and turned it off and was deeply embarrassed. Her son scolded her in between movements. She told him to shut up. Then they were all quiet. This was annoying, but it's a part of going to concerts now. I hate that it's a part of concerts--just like I hate that people seem incapable of *not* unwrapping candies during the opera. I hate that the candies are opened slowly--like that's going to be less of a nuisance (note: unwrap your candies pre-performance, put them in a baggie, and pull them out of the baggie if you need them so badly).

As for the infamous iPhone--the man who owned it made no move to turn if off. There was no lurch to turn off the phone. Why? Why not jump and turn off the phone? Along the way, the orchestra played loudly--here is a clip of how loud Mahler's 9th can get: That's loud enough for most people to ignore the Marimba. But now put the cursor to 9:05 to 9:10. That is not loud enough to cover up a marimba. Note, according to Youtube, that the last movement has now been going on for at least 9 minutest. That's 9 minutes of a constant iPhone ringing.

Some have suggested that Alan Gilbert should not have stopped. But at that point, the iPhone was beyond rude. I was incredulous that it kept on ringing--and that its owner hadn't done something about the noise. I couldn't believe that no one sitting next to him was nudging him or doing anything to get him to shut down the phone. And that is why I thought, initially, that the phone didn't have an owner. That's how bad it was.

During the break, as Gilbert engaged the audience--the phone KEPT ON RINGING. Like-you'd think that as soon as you realized that the orchestra has *stopped playing because of you* that you would *turn off the phone*. The man didn't turn off the phone. We just sat there--waiting for the ringing to stop. That's when someone in the balcony yelled; "Just walk outside." Which seemed like a reasonable suggestion. But the man didn't go outside. And we kept sitting there. While the phone rang.

At last it stopped. But because it had also rung in previous movements, I wasn't sure the hall would be quiet. According to news reports, Gilbert extracted a promise that the phone had been shut off. I didn't realize this. I was just tense and worried for the remainder of the performance (which was a shame, because the orchestra sounded *great*).

And as for Gilbert--he showed he had some cojones that night. I liked him for confronting the audience member--and then apologizing so courteously to all of us. He had balls and class. I remembered years ago when I went to see M. Butterfly on Broadway and a woman came in late to her seat and David Dukes absolutely skewered her. It was uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable to have the suspension of disbelief broken like that. It's even worse, I think, that manners have broken down so much. I say this as a relatively "young" person who wasn't even alive during the height of thank you notes and please and thank you. But it really is now as though we all think we are in our own living rooms, and we are not.

On a related note--my next concert going will be to see Lang Lang, the pianist, whom some might remember I talked about for a presentation at the Knitting Factory during my book tour.I had the audience do a blind listening to Lang Lang and Rubenstein doing Chopin. I read reviews of both players, emphasizing the whole "too Asian," "too emotional," "too technical" thing, and then had the audience guess which recording belonged to whom. Finally I will get to hear Lang Lang myself. I can't wait.

Friday, January 06, 2012


Salon Dot Com and Weight Loss

Happy New Year.

I've written a piece for on weight loss and diet which you can read here. One line:

I wondered about the split in my head: the idea that fun girls are willing to eat and can comfort us with a cozy, permissive warmth and that thin girls are the paragons of a beauty that only a very few can emulate. Who really wants to be so thin if it just makes you bitchy? Or does it?

Food and diet and exercise are rather engrossing topics. I've received more email from this one essay than I have for anything else I've ever written. In a way, I wonder if weight--and all the other subjects that weight touches--isn't one of the most personal things we can ever really talk about.

One thing I will write here--just very quickly. A number of people have written to tell me that their weight gain coincided with some kind of depression or illness. Obviously, I sympathize as this was true of me too (depression). The terrible thing about depression related weight gain is that exercise is often prescribed as a way to help alter your mood--and yet if you are depressed, it's nearly impossible to find the energy to do anything more than what is necessary to get through the day. I get this too, and have absolutely been there. But I do want to say that I have finally found a way to work out at home, and that this really more than anything now is what helps me with my moods, my sleep and my general health.

At any rate--it's my birthday tomorrow! And according to my handy iPhone app, the sun will set at 4:44 tomorrow--which is about 17 minutes more sunshine than December 7th. For me, more sunlight is always a reason for optimism. We have yet again made it through the dark time of the year. I hope you are feeling it--certainly I am here.

With all my best wishes for the new year--the year of the Dragon.

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