The other night, we were invited to a dinner party by Verna Gillis. Verna is a great hostess, adventurer, artist, raconteur and friend. She lives in Kerhonkson Village with her partner Roswell Rudd, a musician whose life work and list of credits could make you swoon: Gil Evans, Carla Bley, Charlie Hayden, Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor are among his sideman gigs and his own work and compositions have earned him Grammy Awards and a Guggenheim. Verna is a Grammy nominated music producer specializing in world music. For five years, she created and ran Soundscape - a multicultural performance venue in NYC that, in many ways, put world music on the map - this is how she and Roswell met. Nowadays, Verna is a storyteller and her solo show, Tales from Geriassic Park, was an audience favorite at the NY International Fringe Festival as well as United Solo this fall. It's funny and sharp and moving.
Verna and Roswell's house sits on a big piece of land with various outbuildings. Sadly, earlier this year, there was a fire and two of the buildings burned down - Verna lost a ton of her personal archives as well as work by her late husband, the sculptor Bradford Graves. But the property remains and on it is a sculptor park dedicated to Graves work - with over 200 sculptors about the land, perched on blue stone pedestals.
It was nearly dark when we arrived and, getting out of the car, we could hear piano music coming from the house. Roswell was noodling, as he calls it. We knocked, pushed open the door and the house and the people in it lit up at the new arrivals. Kate and Sarah, new friends from the area, were also there and an air of cheer hung about.
A few minutes after we got there, Larry Fink arrived. Larry is a photographer - I had seen some of his work in New York city over the years. He works mostly in black and white - i would have called him a street photographer but maybe that's not accurate. I learned more about him during dinner and hearing him speak - anyway, he's a great, celebrated photographer and at one point, someone was thumbing through his new book, which is all pictures of the Beats: Ginsburg, Kerouac, Burroughs...
I'm 50 now, so not a young man. I have my own experiences and stories and successes and failures. I have been to plenty of events and parties where I am now the elder and it can be a crap of the dice: sometimes you feel irrelevant and sometimes you feel lionized. It was beautiful sitting at that table with those older people and, I say OLDER with love and respect: people who connect me to a few generations before mine, artists who made incredible work in the fields of music and photography, creative innovators.
After dinner, it was time to leave. "Roswell," I said, "would you play a little piano for us before we go?"
"Piano?" he said, looking sideways at me.
"Well, it's not my instrument."
"The way you were earlier, when they got here," Verna said.
"Oh," said Roswell.
"Roswell is the best noodler," said Larry, and we all laughed and got up from the table.
Larry and Roswell have known each other for 50 years or so - they met in the Village when Larry was shooting pictures of the jazz scene at such places at the Vanguard and the Blue Note. Larry was making his way home that night from his teaching gig at Bard back home to his place in Western Pennsylvania.
We made our way to the living room - African drums stood about, masks hung on the walls, artifacts from lives of adventure and cultural exploration.
Roswell sat and began to 'noodle'.
Autumn in New York - in such a bright, distracted, fresh syncopation. His hands moved and landed and stalled. At one point, Larry, who stood behind him a bit, reached into his pocket and pulled out a harmonica. Roswell gave him a solo and he took it.
Through all this, Bobby sat on the couch looking through Larry's book of The Beats. Kate and Sarah and I stood at the baby grand laughing, swaying, marveling. Verna was over in the corner on her computer, having heard it all before.
It was a beautiful scene.
I had a chance to make some phone calls yesterday - so unusual, right? Just pick up the phone and call a friend for a chat! So 20th century! Anyway, I called my friend - she's an actor in LA, we've known each other for 20 years or so, did a bunch of shows together in LA back in the day. I was feeling kind of challenged yesterday - and reaching out for connection. She screamed when she picked up the phone, "You've called at the perfect time," she said...she went to explain that she had done a print job a while back, she had been paid for it and hadn't thought much more about it then yesterday, right before I called, she heard from her agent that the advertiser was renewing the ad and throwing $7500 her way. Out of the sky - I love that. When we have no idea that great little things are coming...we chatted for a bit, then she had to go get ready for another audition, she had copy to memorize and a drive to make cross town but, before she hung up she said she wanted to share something with me. "Ok," I said, "Lay it on me..."
"I've renounced disappointment," she said.
"Wow," I said, "Tell me more..."
"Well, I started writing about disappointment in my journal a few weeks back - or, well, i realized that a lot of what I write about is about being disappointed, how I haven't done what I wanted to do with my life, or this thing hadn't worked out, or one thing or another..."
And, of course, I loved the direction this conversation was going - I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of POTENTIAL - how we think of ourselves as either reaching or not reaching our potential. But potential is complicated - artistic potential, personal potential, etc.
She continued: "I decided to renounce disappointment in my life. I am too precious, my spirit is too rare and my life is too great to dwell in disappointment. So, I started to practice actively renouncing it - I wrote about it, like a spell, DISAPPOINTMENT, I RENOUNCE YOU! And I say it everyday - I have cast it out of my life..."
What a beautiful way to think of one's life - free of disappointment. I guess that means we have to let go of judgement - to let things be, just as they are. And, to take ourselves and our lives as they are, too. To accept them, to not seek to improve them, per se. I find this challenging - cuz I'm a striver, and an analyzer, but I love the idea of living without the yoke of disappointment.
We hung up - she had her audition to get to and I was driving into the city to teach a workshop. Had a beautiful group in class last night - people writing about their lives and dreams and visions and pasts. Working to make sense of their lives and experiences - the greatest threat, I notice again and again, to being able to make new work, to write, to create, is the judging. People stop because what comes out of them doesn't meet their expectations - we must have the courage to sit with what doesn't please us, to be in the center of the unknown, to be both patient and energized. To not be disappointment with the present.