Philip Seymour Hoffman

His death is haunting me. Since the moment I read of his demise, I have been wrestling with the grim details and vividly imagining his final moments. I do not follow celebrity news, but for all his fame, he seemed like a true man of the people. I have seen him around town at various theater events and he was dedicated to that world–one that most movie stars abandon entirely or dabble in only occasionally. He was immersed in the craft and pursued it completely; it is obvious he had a true passion for the work and his career is astounding. His performances are so strong and so varied and every one of them draw the viewer into whatever world he is creating. His characters are alive and inhabit him. He makes great Art.

 

And now He is dead.

 

Heroin scares me more than almost anything else. How the most respected actor and a nameless junkie can be on that same high stakes quest to inject poison is beyond my comprehension. It transcends life and it ends life.

 

I will miss watching him grow old and continue his incredible work, but he will always be an inspiration. We are lucky that he gave us so much before his final credits.

2014

Time Check:

2014 is two weeks old.

Ivy is five months old.

I am 36 1/12 years old.

 

Free Me-time is extremely limited these days, which is why it has been over a month since writing here and it is 11:00 pm, which has become obscenely late-night for me recently but is the only time that everyone else is sleeping so I can be selfish and creative! In theory I could have these hours every night as I did Before Ivy, but somehow I am drained after a day of work and play and find sleep to be the most attractive evening option… Music Production, a staple of my previous life’s evening activities, has been negligent over the past 6 months; I miss it but know that my rhythms and melodies and harmonies will express themselves again. Movie and concert experiences have dwindled because of obvious logistical burdens, but art and culture cravings have not abandoned me so I am sure the balance will resume eventually. Social engagements are carefully planned and negotiated with many opportunities for old-fashioned hang-outs passed up for the sole endless purpose of child care.

The rhythm of my life has completely changed.

And I love it.

Everything became infinitely more complicated when Ivy arrived–the time and effort required to keep her healthy and happy was unimaginable before it happened. I was aware that it would be different but had no hope of understanding the impact it would actually have. I might have balked at the trade-off of My Time for Family Time before I knew how deeply rich and rewarding raising a human being would be. I have always loved making music and could never eliminate it from my life but it seems obvious to me now that if I needed to do it for my child, I would. I am a consumer of entertainment but nothing could possibly be as entertaining as watching my daughter grow every day. Friends have been and will be a part of my life forever but no one has ever given me pure joy like Ivy.

Life has never been better.

The First Thanksgiving

This may rank as my best Thanksgiving ever. I don’t really remember the first five or ten of my life and Ivy may someday overlook it in her list of greatest Fourth-Thursday-in-Novembers, but I can’t think of another incarnation of this Holiday that brought together such delicious food and incredible expanding family. We spent Thursday in Armonk with Alaina’s family and a beautifully prepared, classic spread of Turkey, Ham, Stuffing, Potatoes, Cranberry and Incredible Pies. Ivy is the newest addition to the next generation on this side, with six cousins under 13. It is a fun crew and I always enjoy hanging at the kids’ table but this year I brought a guitar and some instruments and we had a blast jamming “Eye of The Tiger”, “Roar” and some original compositions!

We finished our desert and I drank lots of coffee then got in the car and drove to Portland, Maine, to spend time with the Taylors. It was the first time cousins Lincoln and Ivy met and their grandparents could not have been happier to be surrounded by the growing family; they were thrilled to babysit so we could experience the new Hugo’s! Recently renovated into a stunning open-kitchen bar, we sat in front of my cousin Lars and watched him artfully create our dishes with the dance of kitchen activity behind as servers presented us with delicious and uniquely perfect taste combinations. Andrew has mastered the art and succeeds brilliantly in this restaurant, as well as the one next door, Eventide Oyster Company, which the whole family was able to enjoy on Saturday, and of course in his Thanksgiving meal home cooking which we all enjoyed for days! Complemented with epic paddle tennis matches, log cabin living, family sing-a-longs, and a long walk in the woods with Ivy asleep on my chest made this holiday celebration perfect. I Give Thanks!

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The Boston Red Sox Are 2013 World Series Champions!

The Boston Red Sox bring me great joy. With an amazing redemption from last year’s debacle, they go from laughable losers to World Series Winners! All year long they played with resolve and determination, willing victory from certain defeat, a different teammate stepping up every night to deliver when it mattered. It has been an incredible ride beyond this season that stretches back as far as I have memories; The Red Sox are always part of my life. Through pain and suffering to joy and celebration, I love this team and feel fortunate to have grown up in a geographical location currently conducive to winning Championships (even though I don’t live there now and this was not the case when I did). This group was special in Spring training, but after the Marathon bombing they became bearded Superheroes, called to save a wounded city and embody Boston Strong. They played valiantly and passionately, delivering the ultimate prize of pride. This is a Legendary Team and it is all Ivy has ever known!

Two Months

Time has lost any relative meaning it might have had for me. It is impossible to believe that two months have passed since Ivy was born; it still seems so new and yet hours pass instantly with me doing nothing but holding her and staring in amazement. She is always incredible.

But in many ways my life is the same! Every day I go to work as I did since before the dawn of Ivy! I still have friends that existed before she was ever imagined! And my eternal devotion to the sports teams of my youth has never been deeper! On Sunday I witnessed one of the most memorable days of greatness I have ever seen: After losing several of their key players to injuries, and relinquishing a late lead, The Patriots staged an impossible last minute drive to win and then the Red Sox, perhaps the most redemptive and hirsute bunch ever assembled on a baseball diamond, came back late on a Big Papi Grand Slam and took game 2 of the ALCS.

It would have been enough to watch those legendary sports events, but to spend the weekend with the Strong family in peak foliage Vermont, one day clearing glades at Magic Mountain Volunteer day then two days hiking through our new property with Alaina and Ivy made this one of the finest weekends of my new life.

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Six Weeks

It has been a challenging six weeks and we are still adjusting to our new sleep-deprived lifestyle, but it has also been incredible and amazing. Watching her grow and develop new skills (eye-tracking! head-swiveling!) has been wonderful and inspiring and I look forward to seeing her everyday when I come home from teaching. Even a frown and scrunched-up crying face is the cutest and most adorable sadness, and when she smiles I am enveloped in joy and love. This is the greatest adventure I have ever embarked on and my life has been enriched more than I could ever have imagined!

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One Week

Seven days we’ve spent with her and I am still out of my mind with joy and happiness. There have been some challenging moments but most of the time is bliss, enjoying the simple company of this child as she sleeps serenely or opens her eyes wide and sees the world unbiased and pure. She is so sweet and delicate as I hold her in my arms and have no choice but to nuzzle her nose and kiss the softest skin I could ever imagine. I am completely in love.

I have always loved being around kids and looked forward to having one of own, but this is so much greater than I ever imagined. The anticipation for this event has been building for years, and especially over the past 10 months. Every parent I have ever spoken to has described the birth of their child as incredible and amazing and life-changing and I wondered if it could possibly live up to the hype: I can say now that all that hyperbole is an understatement. Watching her emerge from inside the person I love most on Earth invokes a feeling I can never hope to describe. I remember it vividly in such rich detail, as if I am still watching it; I screamed then I wept. Love, the most beautiful emotion and deepest core of my life, multiplied instantly and infinitely. I left my body and entered the cosmos.

The euphoria still lingers today, though quotidian newborn maintenance brings me back to my corporal self enough to change diapers or visit the doctor. I can watch her sleep for hours in blissful serenity, with every face scrunch and leg stretch delivering raw, fresh and pure joy to my beautifully enriched life.

How is this even possible? And why?

Life is amazing beyond our ability to describe it. I am grateful to my parents for creating me and blessed to create Ivy with Alaina. Life is ever-expanding eternal Love.

Ivy Dorset Taylor

My daughter arrived on August 11, 2013 at 7:24pm at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, NY as she and her mother performed the most unbelievably amazing act I have ever witnessed. This is all I am capable of putting into words at this point as I try to process what happened in Labor and Delivery Room 3 from 9am to 9pm today. Maybe with some time and perspective I could describe the event in greater detail, but I will never be able to communicate any real sense of what I experienced there.

Love is Born!

More Summer Shows

This baby is late! The due date was July 29 and we are now into August and patiently awaiting the arrival. We are anxious to meet our new friend, but also focused on enjoying our final days as a couple without the enormous responsibility that will come with this child. One benefit to holding out: when I looked at the Celebrate Brooklyn schedule earlier this summer, I noticed many shows I might not get to see…

Philip Glass and his ensemble performed his score to the original Dracula, which I have been waiting to see again for years. I saw him perform it at the Orpheum Theater in Boston in 2000 and instantly claimed it was the best performance I had ever seen. He brought it to Celebrate Brooklyn a few years ago but a few minutes in, violent lightning was striking directly overhead. This time the weather was perfect and we watched on a packed lawn with a wonderfully focused and appreciative audience. If our small fry delays just a few more days, we will get to enjoy a live score to Beasts of the Southern Wild!

Dan Deacon is one of my favorite performers, playing spastic electronic music and manipulating the crowd into various dance games similar to what I use with my early childhood classes. By being a gregarious goofball, he has always pushed his shows with novel experiences and this one included the best stunt I’ve seen: creating a smartphone app for the audience to download then asking everyone to hold their phones up while he played. Across the crowd, hundreds of phones audibly performed with him and the screens lit up in unison, flashing different colors and incorporating a strobe effect with the camera flash, producing a spectacular and unique light show. I have never seen anything like it and was once again incredibly impressed with his creativity and technological wizardry. Jamie Lidell would be good enough as a straight up soul singer but he also uses technology to enhance his performance, recording vocal loops to add persussion or chordal harmonies to his drums and keys trio. It is a big, groovy sound and at the end, they were joined onstage by a Brooklyn girls dance crew that brought a great visual energy to the show; a very fun double bill of Deacon/Lidell.

While they didn’t play the Bandshell, I was also able to enjoy a live Phish show. From San Fransisco, on a projection screen in my living room. I discovered them in 9th grade and was instantly obsessed. For the next 10 years, until they took their break, I spent enormous time and money going to shows and trading tapes. It was the early days of the internet, when dial-up access got you onto a BBS where you could post a list of bootlegs and find others to trade with. I accumulated days worth of Phish tapes and I spent weeks worth of time going to see them live. They were always doing something new and had a charm to keep me wondering what they would do next. I have a greatly reduced obsession with them now, but I was still a bit disappointed to miss them on their East Coast summer tour, so I streamed one. And for all the great and weird Phish concert memories I have at countless different venues, watching at home is a great way to experience a show; the sound is great and the view is better. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s definitely not a bad alternative. Trading tapes has its quaint appeal, but streaming any show instantly is the best and most efficient music delivery system I could ever dream of. While their music sounds almost exactly like it did 20 years ago, they have grown with technology and provide a constantly improving experience for their fans.

Debt: The First 5000 Years

Since Introduction to Macroeconomics with Professor Michael Claudon in my Freshman year, I have been passionately infatuated with the study of money and its profound effects on every aspect of our civilization and society. It is one of life’s greatest marvels that something so ephemeral, dependent completely on a communal belief in its power, could be responsible for almost everything that man has ever made. How could we be so motivated by scraps of metal and paper that we would organize our entire lifestyle and human existence around it? I have always been both fascinated and repulsed by our obsession with wealth; while money can motivate incredible and beneficial projects, it can also serve death and destruction. Two of the most fundamental concepts from that Econ 101 course involved the origin of money as a substitute for the inconvenience of direct barter and the writings of Adam Smith and “the invisible hand” of the benevolent capitalist market in which everyone pursuing their own self-interest leads to the greater good of competition.

This was the bedrock on which all Economic study in my major was based, but in Debt: The First 5000 Years, David Graeber challenges this very foundation as he traces the roots of our modern financial system to a time before money, when people conceived of debt, exchange and ownership in completely different ways. He is an anthropologist approaching this topic from people’s perspective rather than money’s, while linking spirituality, war, commerce and family to their common elements and role in societies through the ages. Before cash and precious metals, people believed they were born into debt, both to their mothers, who bore and fed them in a way that could never possibly be paid back in any equivalence, and to the community that created the language and tools with which they would make their own contributions. It was a spiritual connection to their ancestors and community that gave their life meaning and purpose. As it would be impossible to directly pay back those who had contributed to their life, they were compelled to pay it forward to the next generation in an eternal societal debt circle. He describes early social life as “human economies” because they traded people: wives were given and received with token and ceremonial gifts of feathers or shells which represented the transactions while acknowledging that humans are priceless and any compensation is simply a symbol of debt. Unfortunately, force and violence have always been a part of human history and can remove any semblance of exchange from a transaction, making war and slavery a logical choice for those with the means. Graeber claims that the first markets to use currency were established by invading armies and done simply by requiring conquered citizens to pay a tax in the established scrip, forcing them to sell items and services to earn the money paid to the expatriate soldiers by the king, thus providing the army’s needs and creating the foundations of a market economy. When Adam Smith wrote about capitalism in the 18th Century, he described it as a populist free market, where no intervention was necessary to find equilibrium and competition would benefit all. But can there actually be a truly FREE market where the threat of government violence or prison influences every transaction we make, and would we actually want an economy that wasn’t regulated with some consequences? In addition, Graeber notes that Smith’s simplified example of inconvenient barter economy never actually existed on any relevant scale in his lifetime, with a limited supply of small change, most daily transactions were local and based solely on credit, with occasional reckonings where a community would gather and cancel debts to one another in a circle. The concept of interest and usury is central to modern finance, but was forbidden by almost all of the world’s religions until logic and law made it permissible over the last few hundred years and obviously only because those who held the power also controlled the money supply. Today, we live in a financial world dominated by instruments and tools designed almost exclusively to grow the money supply through debt and increase production but, as we are starting to realize, infinite growth on a finite planet may not be sustainable and could produce disastrous results for our wealth and heath if we aren’t careful.

I went to the Brooklyn Museum today to see an exhibition by the West African artist El Anatsui, who uses scavenged tin cans and bottle caps to create enormous striking and shiny patchworks. The art is powerful aesthetically and conceptually, taking human detritus and making something beautiful with our waste. I wondered about the motivations for these creations, and while he is an internationally renowned artist who is surely compensated well for his works, I’m sure he is working for a greater purpose than cash. Wandering through the other exhibits in the museum and seeing eternal artifacts from different historical civilizations, from ancient Egypt to contemporary Brooklyn, I am reminded and reassured that money is not the only reason for creation and that, in our humbled awe of human existence, we can freely pay homage and worship it through art and abstraction. Our culture is built on all that came before it and this unpayable debt can define our purpose infinitely more than a lifetime of earnings.

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