It’s GREAT!

My super talented, sweet, funny and dynamo friend and fellow memoirist Sara Benincasa is now a YA author with the publication of GREAT, a contemporary retelling of THE GREAT GATSBY. I was so excited not only to see her back in NYC but to introduce my protege Jeaniah to Sara and a few other friends at the book launch party. Sara read from her novel then signed books as the crowd chit-chatted and ate cake that was designed to look like her book. Clever and yummy and a lovely night.

My friends are all comedians, actors, writers and artists so they’re not stiff grown ups and immediately treated Jeaniah like a long lost friend. Here’s the conversation we had as we walked away from the party:

Me: My friends are fun, right?
J: Yeah and funny! I like being part of the conversation.
Me: Yeah, nothing beats a good conversation with friends.
J: I like how the conversation keeps going…like, I make a comment and then they make one and that makes you think of one and then I comment and it goes on and on.

Thanks to my awesome friends for having a lot to say & being so funny and charming while they do it. She really enjoyed meeting you all & we got some good advice about the upcoming state math tests.

And, of course, huge congratulations and continued success to Sara who has more books & TV show pilots coming down the pike than I can shake a stick at.

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The Power of Choice

Here is something I told my protege and wrote to her in a follow up letter.  I thought was worth sharing as it’s something that is true for all of us young and old:Letter to Jeaniah

We don’t have control over many things in life, but we do have control over how we feed our minds and souls. We control the books we read, the movies and TV shows we watch, the music we listen to, the people we choose as friends, how we spend our idle time, and how seriously we take our studies.

You hold a lot of power in the choices you make.

I hope she’ll consider this and refer back to it as she grows older and choices and life become more complicated.

(Read the full letter by clicking on the image.)

 

Christmas 2013

I had an especially awesome week leading up to Christmas. I had three separate dates with my protégé which was the biggest treat. We hopped aboard a vintage train (pic at right & at bottom) to Midtown where we shopped at the Disney store and Toys R Us Times SquareNostalgia Train, and got tickets at the TDF booth for Newsies the Musical. Our seats were pretty high up in the mezzanine but this musical’s set design allowed for great viewing. The choreography was phenomenal and we enjoyed the show very much.

During intermission, Jeaniah pored through the program matching each actor’s headshot and bio with their characters. A few minutes into the second act, the lead male was singing in earnest and Jeaniah whispered, “He has a very pretty voice!” I agreed and took note at how enthralled she was. At curtain call, she applauded politely for chorus, loudly for a few of her favorite supporting cast members, then screamed the highest pitched dolphin squeal that could’ve broken glass when the lead male took his bows, like we were at a One Direction concert. Her unbridled enthusiasm made me happier than any gift could.

On the subway ride home, some boys started breakdancing in our car and could’ve rivaled any dancer in the Newsies chorus. Our car wasn’t that packed so it wasn’t too obnoxious and they were seriously talented, so Jeaniah gave them a dollar.

A few days later, I picked her up after school. She opened my Christmas gifts for her: a bracelet loom, tons of rubber bands and charms for making the bracelets, and a jewelry organizer for her new bedroom. These were met with gasps of OH MY GOSH! and COOL! I also packed her bag with her favorite treats that I normally would put in a stocking like some gummy bears (Gummy bears?! I LOVE gummy bears!) and a bag of Goldfish crackers (Goldfish?! I LOVE Goldfish!). This cracked me up. I’ve known her for two years now, so of course I know what she wants and likes to eat and do and see. Her surprise was delightful.

She mentioned that she had cards for her two teachers but wished she had gifts, so I let her pick two gifts from a shopping bag of heavily discounted Christmas items I had just snagged at Rite Aid. She chose an amaryllis and a candle/holder.

Later that week, I picked her up after school to go see “Frozen” in 3D. We both really loved it and the theme song “Let it Go”. In the movie, it’s sung by Idina Menzel but when then end credits rolled, it’s this Demi Lovato version. Dang it is a catchy tune! I felt so happy from the movie, so the heck with it….I’m gonna SING! We sang what words we knew (not many) at the tops of our lungs and mumbled the rest and bounced around in our seats. I gotta take this girl to a real concert.

ESB

A couple of days later Christian and I joined her and her family at the annual Hour Children Christmas party with gifts supplied by the Marine’s Toys for Tots program. We got a few really nice pictures and made some crafts before Christian and I scooted out to LIC for the LIC Flea and the gorgeous view of Manhattan with the ESB decorated in green & red for Christmas with an awesome light show timed with music airing on 106.7. Fun! (Click here for the YouTube video of the light show.)

All in all, it was a great week in the city with all it has to offer, but I was happy to leave it behind for a long “vacation” at our cabin upstate. We enjoyed dominoes, the wood fire, Vince Guaraldi, lots of good home cooked meals, “Cheers” on Netflix, making pomander balls, way too much candy and almost too much laziness. Among other gifts, I gave Christian a pair of Hunter boots and Morrissey’s new autobiography and a bunch of tech gadgets; he gave me a gorgeous vintage tub planter, a much needed wallet and  a 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. The latter was really a gift to him: I stayed busy and out of his hair for a whole week. ;oP

We rang in the New Year quietly around our fire, writing out our goals, the theme of which seemed based on this Samuel Beckett quote:

All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Onward and upward to us all in 2014!

Hour Children Christmas Party 2013 Hour Children Christmas Party 2013 Hour Children Christmas Party 2013 Nostalgia Train Nostalgia Train Nostalgia Train Nostalgia Train Newsies LIChristmas 2013 Tree2013 Tree Christmas 2013 Pomander Balls  Fireside Chat

47 ASL High School

Had a long but rewarding day at 47 ASL High School yesterday. The students were about 20% Deaf, HoH and CODA and the rest hearing but immersed in a school that embraces ASL. How wonderful.

I met 180+ great teens from all parts of NYC some who shared with me privately about their hopes to be involved with producing, dreams of being a writer, and brushes with domestic violence, drugs & alcohol, mental illness and more. I donated a copy of my book to the library and signed it to the kids. I went home and collapsed –exhausted but inspired– and awoke to this nice email from the coordinator today:

“You are the talk of the town! [T]eachers and administrators who made it to your presentation were touched and impressed by the way you shared your experiences with the students. And, of course, the kids are all going to be reading your book now and they are so excited and honored to have it autographed by you!”

I was honored to share with them. I’d take a repeat of yesterday Every. Single. Day.

Calm in the Storm

I’m seeing my protégé on Saturday, two months to the day since I last saw her.

That’s an eternity for kids but especially when the kid has been through some stuff, when she has seen mentors come and go for others. Even though I keep in touch with postcards and Facebook, there’s always the niggling feeling that this is it. It’s over. She wasn’t worth sticking around for. She wasn’t wanted or loved, relationships don’t last and people will abandon you at any given moment.

The last time I was out of town for this long, I surprised her. Her mom told her to wake up early and be ready to babysit when, in reality, I was en route to pick her up for a day together. When I walked through her front door, the look of shock on her face took my breath away. Think of your most exaggerated jaw-dropped, bug-eyed face and that was her but she wasn’t faking. She was thunderstruck; the textbook definition of blown away.

In an instant she sprang off the couch, bolted across the room and leapt into my arms. She wrapped her legs around my waist and arms around my neck and squeezed.

Squeezed like a tsunami was raging through Queens and if she let go of me, it’d be all she wrote.

I squeezed back knowing I’m not letting go.

We’ll ride this storm together, girl, and I’ll be your tree.

An “Epic” Date

After kicking off my gardening project, I drove home from the cabin so I could take my protege Jeaniah to a preview screening of “Epic” at the Museum of the Moving Image. When I picked her up, she and the other Hour Children kids were having a craft day with volunteers from the Kabbalah Center. We made jewelry, got professional photos taken and planted some flower seeds which took about 20 seconds. Throw some dirt in the peat pot, add some seeds, top with more soil, add water and voila. Four days later they sprouted.

It was a great reminder of what I said in my earlier post: gardening is much more simple than the Internet would have you believe. Don’t be afraid! Jeaniah wanted me to keep both of our pots so I can plant them at the cabin. I plan to find a special spot for our little flower pots to grow together. It’s lousy with symbolism.

Anyway, on to the movie. We were excited and surprised to learn that the director of “Epic”, Oscar winner Chris Wedge, was at the screening and would participate in a Q&A afterward. COOL! The movie is about a teenage girl who is transported (shrunken to the size of an insect) into the forest where she helps the “Leafmen” battle the dark forces after the forest Queen is killed. The movie itself was in 3-D and, damn, animation these days is simply breathtaking. I got dizzy a few times “flying” with the Leafmen on their hummingbirds that they rode like horses. So clever. Check out Metacritic for comprehensive reviews, but we gave it our thumbs up as did the other kids in the audience.

Chris Wedge - "Epic" DirectorWe also enjoyed the Q&A with Mr. Wedge who was really  casual, funny and gracious with his time. Jeaniah seized up with shyness when it came to asking for an autograph, so I asked on her behalf. We wanted to get it mostly as proof to the kids at school that she’d seen the movie before it was in theaters. Last time we did this (a preview of the “Croods” which was okay), no one believed her. So, this time we kept her program and autographed ticket stub for her to use to “show off”. Take that, non-believers!

Christian met up with us at Pizzeria Uno and during our drive home he told her about my undying love for David Lee Roth. When he showed her pictures of Diamond Dave, she burst out laughing and said, “He looks like a GIRL!”

I spent way too much time defending my love and trying to find a better picture. None were to be found. He’s pretty ridiculous in all of them and yet…sigh.

I can’t wait for the day I meet her husband and can tease her about how she wore Justin Bieber perfume.

Adventures in Gardening: In the Beginning

Growing up, we dug up rows of dirt, plopped in some seeds and had fruits and vegetables a few weeks later. The Internet made it all seem so complicated. After all the research and over-thinking, it was time to get my hands dirty.

I had a few days at the cabin and took the plunge on beginning my landscaping and gardening projects. I spent part of a day gathering rocks that I stacked at the base of the cabin, covering the concrete and creating a raised flower bed. Once it was in place, I filled it with soil from the woods mixed with bags of plain topsoil and two bags of high quality, fertilized soil. Then I planted some hostas that I purchased from Home Depot. Hostas are hearty, low to the ground, spread over time, and are great in the shade. I think this is the perfect spot for them as long as I can keep the slugs away.

Behold the before and after:

5864939688_1edbd2ba04_b After Before After After After

Kid Logic

I screamed out loud at “Jurassic Park” more than once but so enjoyed seeing it again for the first time in 20 years, especially in 3D. At one point Jeaniah & I were cringing and squirming and gasping so much I said, “This movie is STRESSING us OUT!” She laughed and said, “Yeah, but I don’t get it. If you’re gonna bring dinosaurs back, why would you make meat eaters and poisonous ones? Why not just stick with herbivores?”

I mean, really?