Jr. Mack at Terra Blues!

Sometimes you see live music and you’re so blown away you have to tell everybody.

Tonight was one of those nights.

After having dinner with a friend, I decided to head over to my favorite Blues club in Manhattan (actually, it’s the ONLY Blues club in Manhattan) … Terra Blues. They attract the best local and international talent around, and Jr. Mack and his band proved again tonight why Terra has the stellar reputation it does as a showcase.

Jr. Mack just got back from Amsterdam, he told the crowd, and he said he was a little jet lagged. If this is how he plays when he’s jet lagged, I can’t imagine how he plays fully rested! He and the band repeatedly brought the house down with his renditions of Born Under a Bad Sign, Melissa (he sits in with the Allman Brothers when they come to NYC) and original tunes like I Believe I Need to Make a Change.

Clip of Jr. Mack playing I Believe I Need to Make a Change:


Not only does Mack play the blues, he is also a jazz musician and sprinkled in jazz riffs throughout the night. His band backed him up every time, and the second guitarist (Bobby Bryan) did an amazing job alternating the lead parts with Mack and then singing a few tunes too. The bass and drums were also impeccable.

Oh yeah, did I mention Mack was just nominated for a Grammy? Yep, his album And Still I Rise, with the Heritage Blues Band was nominated for Best Blues Album in 2012. He’s really the real, real deal.

If you’ve never been to Terra Blues and you are in the New York City area and like live Blues, you absolutely must go. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to hear talented guitarists like Jr. Mack wail out the blues with such emotion and force, you can hardly stand up when he’s done.


New Story: For Art’s Sake Accepted by Word Riot!


My flash fiction work, For Art’s Sake, has just been accepted by Kevin O’Cuinn, fiction editor at Word Riot.

This is a new milestone for me, a third piece of flash being pubbed in the same journal: Woo Hoo! (Deep endebted thankfulness to Kevin, as always.)

The pub date has not yet been determined but when it’s published I’ll let you all know with a joyous announcement and link for your reading pleasure. For now, a placeholder will go on the Published Stories page…


The Turn Around

Right to left, east coast to west, then turn around and come back again…

I’m finally back on the east coast in my beloved New York City. I was supposed to spend two weeks in California, but plans changed and I wound up staying a third week. After two weeks on the west coast I started to feel homesick, and by the end of three weeks I nearly danced onto the plane to get home.

When we landed at Newark airport, and I saw the city in the window, my heart leapt up to meet it.

One thing that’s surprised me is how short term vs. long term memory works as it pertains to my travel schedule. What I mean is… after being away from home for three weeks, it feels much longer. I start to lose my day to day familiarity with the places I haunt regularly when I’m not there.

I know this because when I return home and go to my regular diner, for instance, they seem surprised to see me. “Hi!” they say, “I haven’t seen you in a while!”

Yes, they sense it too. I’ve been gone just long enough to seem really gone, and when I come back, it is surprising and somehow feels new. My first diner meal when I got home? Greek salad with toasted pita. East coast diners know how to do that right.

And on the west coast, I’m developing a set of go-to places too (a survival tactic). I found a diner, well… let’s call it a diner, but it’s a California diner which is not really a diner but it’s as close to a diner as I’ve found out there. It’s got chrome on the outside; inside it has a counter with swivel stools; a dessert case with eclairs the size of your head; and strange low-slung booths covered in vinyl; plastic plants: all the accoutrements of what is known as “diner.” The menu is decidedly west coast though. Most omelettes come with salsa and sour cream, which is just wierd; and the waitresses don’t call you hon. (I hate that!)

Yeah, Silicon Valley is a massive, sprawling suburb. The towns are intersected by large 10 lane freeways and 6-8 lane expressways and busy four lane “local roads.” The traffic there is oppressive. It is not unusual to be completely stopped on a 10 lane freeway, and when traffic begins moving, you’re doing 10 miles an hour for miles and miles. A trip that should take 10 minutes takes 30 during the morning rush hour. (The price of one gallon of regular gas was $4.35 when I left, incidentally.)

Ahh, it’s good to be home. I can jump on the PATH train for 2 bucks and be in New York City within minutes. I can stroll around my Manhattan and enjoy the early signs of Spring arriving (I’m choosing to ignore the weather prediction for light snow showers tomorrow…)

The thing is, I’ve spent this weekend doing a lot of laundry, paying bills and doing my best to catch up on all the tasks, large and small, that need doing but can’t get done if I’m not home.

For example, the handle broke on my heavily abused suitcase when I yanked it off the carousel at Newark baggage claim. So part of my weekend was spent in the search and acquisition of a replacement.

As I brought the luggage to the checkout, I casually mentioned to the cashier that I had just come back from California and the handle broke, so I needed a new bag, yadda yadda yadda.

She said, You were traveling in California? That sounds so glamorous.

That was the word she used. Glamorous. And I said, well, traveling for work isn’t glamorous, trust me.

But it sounds that way to me, she said.

I asked her, Do you have family here?

She tilted her head quizzically. Yes, she said.

Okay, imagine leaving your family for three weeks and living out of a hotel while going to work everyday, I said.

Her brows creased a little, Oh, she said, I guess I see what you mean. That must be kind of hard.

Yeah. That’s what I mean.

And soon I’ll be hitting the road again. And by soon, I mean tomorrow. I’d better enjoy the minutes and hours I have left while I can…

In the meantime, I’ve got to throw the laundry in the dryer………….

The New Normal

Readers, this writer is prone to thinking too much. I spend a lot of time analyzing the world, myself, other people (those I know, and those I don’t …in overheard snippets on the subway, in diners and at the airport…) and today my laser sights are focused on what is “normal” behavior and how does that affect creative output?

At some point in the past I realized I was normal in some ways, and in others very much not “the norm.” As a kid in junior high school, I hung out with a strange bunch of friends and we played Dungeons and Dragons. (D&D is a fantasy role playing game.) We used our imaginations to escape our regular lives to become magicians, knights in armor, theives and monks for a few hours each week as we pillaged and fought our way through imaginary towns and dungeons. We were often required to come up with innovative solutions for puzzles and problems we’d encounter in our “travels” and learned to work well as a group (or our characters would suffer the consequences!)

Once I got to college, I was out of the “norm” again as I joined a select group of kids who met in a basement in the student center once a week to put together a poetry magazine called The Anthologist. We too used our imaginations to debate and decide which poems would make it into our esteemed publication and which would not. (We often played “guess the rhyme” with the worst submissions, for our amusement.)

Out of the original group of D&D kids, there were a disproportionate number of us who were artists. Some of us liked to draw, others of us liked to write, some composed music, and now as adults we’re still doing that. Out of the Anthologist group, every single one of (the four) of us have published novels, poetry, short stories or academic works. Two of the four are university professors of English Literature, another is an English teacher at the high school level, and then there’s me… living in the corporate world but a weekend-warrior writer.

If I look across my lifetime of romantic relationships, it’s chock-a-block full of artists. My first boyfriend (one of the D&D kids) was a fantasy artist, something he makes a living at to this day. In college, my most important boyfriend was a writer, who now has published two novels (with more on the way). I’ve also had very significant relationships with painters, who are of a moody sort that I can’t seem to shake myself loose of… but none of these people were or are normal.

And these days I have too many friends to count that are writers, painters, photographers, musicians, dancers and others loosely or closely affiliated with creating artistic output as part of their daily lives.

I’m thankful for all these people who influenced (and keep influencing) me creatively and shared their out of the box thinking with me. Those that were the most “out of the norm” taught me the most about not conforming to standard ways of thinking or what society expects. Still others taught me about the philosophical underpinnings of creativity (and are still doing so.)

This, in turn, got me to thinking about how creative ideas manifest themselves. For those who are more constrained by “the normal” ways of living and thinking, does that mean they are hampered from coming up with the most innovative ideas for their fiction, paintings, or music? One of my good friends, an author, recently said to me that he thought I was too inhibited in my thinking and that it might prevent me from creating the most dramatic stories and situations. He may be right, maybe in that sense I’m still too normal?

In today’s shrill sensationalistic environment where people have the attention span of ten seconds perhaps being outside the norm is what it takes to attract attention to oneself and one’s art. I don’t know.

How about you, reader? Is your art outside the norm, and if it is, has that helped you? If it isn’t, do you think that is a disadvantage?

I’m going to continue to cultivate my abby-normal self in my creative life to push the boundaries of my stories, characters and imagination. I’m going to keep embracing the quirky, the odd and the unusual in friends and those close to me. Maybe, if I’m lucky, even more will rub off on me.

When the Bug Bites

As I’ve mentioned on my blog over the past several months, I’ve been traveling a lot. I travel to the west coast frequently. One thing I’ve become wary of during my many trips are the sneezing, coughing and virally challenged multitudes I’m sharing my air with on the six hour plane ride from east to west coast and back again. Sometimes I wear a scarf around my neck so I can put it over my nose and mouth if someone particularly bubonic is sitting near me. Or small children, who are all bubonic, generally speaking.

But germs are microscopic. All that re-circulating air on the plane means even if Typhoid Manny is sitting ten rows away from me, his virulent strain of whatever could be wafting up my nose while I sit and unsuspectingly sip my Diet Cola beverage.

And this past Monday, on yet another plane ride from right to left, I felt a twinge of something sneaking into my lungs while I sat there, trapped in the center seat. I was sitting next to a guy whose left arm kept smacking into me as he rhymically played a video game for FOUR HOURS and a nice woman at the window seat reading from her electronic book.

By the time 48 hours had elapsed, I could feel “signs” increasing, body aches and a bit of a cough and some sneezing. I ran to the drugstore and stocked up on Zinc lozenges (known to boost the immune system and are supposed to shorten the length of a cold) and Echinacea, which is a cone flower plant extract from the Daisy family… also thought to reduce inflammation in the body and help boost the immune system.

But it was too late, I had already been infected. By Wednesday night I was really suffering. Yesterday I was so sick I could hardly get out of my hotel bed to go to the bathroom.

One thing I’ve learned to deal with (sort of) is getting sick on the road. It’s very unpleasant to not be in your own bed, but there are small advantages by having so many staff around to help you out when you’re down for the count. Just by poking my head into the hallway yesterday, the nice ladies who clean the rooms gave me an extra box of tissues. And when I ordered a bowl of soup from room service last night, the gentleman could see my state and said please call down later so I can bring you hot water for tea…

Needless to say, except for the gentleman who brought me my soup, I have not allowed anyone to enter the sick ward that is room 658. I’m holding my own at this point, and continuing to chomp zinc lozenges, Vitamin C, and chewable Echinacea tablets with the zeal of a homeopathic believer.

I’m pleased to report that while I am not better, I’m not as sick as I was yesterday. And since I’ll be in California this weekend and next week, I’m hopeful that by Sunday night this regimen will have served me well enough to get me back on my feet.

But while in my hospital… er, I mean hotel bed, I’m wondering if I should go online and buy surgical masks for the flight home?