POEM: the queen of the silk worms

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POEM: conundrum

conundrum

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Hmmmm. Maybe I’m not a saxophonist.

10689708_444543982372330_8776283175552531218_nClearly I’m a saxophonist, right? I mean, I’ve been playing the saxophone for nearly 30 years now. For a bunch of those years, I did it for my living. These days, after 15 years away, I’m playing the saxophone professionally again. So, in light of the evidence, I’m a saxophonist.

Except I’m not sure if it’s really my instrument. I enjoy the saxophone. I’m OK at it, but not great. Years and years ago I realized that I can be entertaining on the saxophone without actually being a brilliant saxophonist, and I decided that was enough and never really practiced again. I have enough natural ability to carry me through the musical situations in which I find myself, and I tend to avoid things that I don’t think I can handle. (Just ask Josh Rutner, who was there the last time I was in one of those situations, how good a sight-reader I am.)

But here’s the thing: I don’t LOVE the saxophone. I think the main reason is that I’ve always wanted to be a pop star. I like singing and writing songs, and you can’t sing and play the saxophone. Well, you can, but it ain’t easy.

When I listen to music and air-play along with songs, I never air-saxophone. I always play air-guitar or -bass or -drums or -hand percussion or sometimes -keyboards. I enjoy playing the ukulele because I can sing when I play and use it to write pop/folk/whatever songs.

It only recently even occurred to me that maybe saxophone isn’t the instrument I should be playing. I mean sure, I’ll play it on gigs and I’ll enjoy it. But I’d like to find another way of expressing the music inside me.

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POEM: Dear _______________

28julydear

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POEM: the piece of me shaped like you

smallthepiece

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On (finally) leaving New York City

Leaving NYC by bus on June 1, 2012. [Photo by Kate Moser]

Leaving NYC by bus on June 1, 2012. [Photo by Kate Moser]

Something unexpected happened to me today, just over three years after I moved out of Brooklyn. I said goodbye to New York.

It’s been happening slowly over the past three years. Little by little, the pieces of my heart that I left there have been traveling around North America trying to find me. First they followed me up and down the continent during my I’m-Homeless-But-I’m-Calling-It-Something-Else Tour in 2012. Then they lurked around Auburn, Alabama in 2013. And for the past year and a half, those heart fragments have been reassembling themselves during their slow march to this most unlikely of places — State College, Pennsylvania.

I finally realized it today while listening to Benjamin Walker’s excellent three-part series on post-gentrification New York City, “New York After Rent.” As I listened to the stories of people pushed further and further into Brooklyn by gentrification and its rapidly increasing rents, I could feel in my stomach and chest that tightening I’ve now begun to associate with living in New York City. A physical sensation that means, “Nope.”

Certainly a big part of this feeling is that I’ve never lived in New York as anything other than a poor person. The first time I lived there, I worked for a Japanese news agency. The second time, I was a combination of unemployed and running a podcast, which are essentially the same thing.

That meant that living in New York was a constant struggle to pay rent, buy food, have enough for the train, keep the lights on, and on and on. Now don’t get me wrong, I make even less here in State College than I made at least part of the time in New York. But it’s easier to be poor here, even with the inflated rents of this wealthy college town.

Another big difference: I live alone. In New York, I had between one and four other roommates. Even when some of these people were people I loved, it still left me with no private space. Nowhere I could go and be truly by myself. That’s very important to my mental health, and if I were living in New York now, I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford to have my own place. I doubt I could even find a job.

For several years I used to say that “New York is where I understand how I work. Where I feel like I fit in.” And yes, there’s some truth to that. I love the big city and all its crazy adventures. But mostly it’s a slog when you’re poor, and it’s not a particularly healthy place to live if you have mental health issues but no money. Or even if you have no mental health issues but no money.

Maybe I’m starting to figure out how I work, period. Regardless of place. Maybe I’m aging and don’t have the energy for the million-miles-an-hour pace of New York life. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve crossed a threshhold to a place where I no longer feel an ache for a city I once couldn’t imagine leaving. It’s a nice place to visit, but, at least for now, I wouldn’t want to live there.

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