‘Bad news Jews’ and New Year tidings

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There’s a deli in Toronto owned by a good friend, Zane Caplansky and at Caplansky’s you can buy t-shirts that say ‘Bad news Jews’. It’s still funny!

It’s a whole year since I moved back to London to start my job with City of London Sinfonia and it’s the third year that I’m not together with my family for the Jewish High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the Jewish New year and subsequent Day of Atonement. Some of the holiest, or most important days of the year. It’s a time for reflection, family and most importantly, food. It’s really interesting to be a Jew abroad. British/English Judaism is different. It’s stealthier. Under the radar unless you live in specific Jewish communities. The fervent and public Jewishness of Toronto is virtually unseen here. I’ve always worn my North American Conservative Jewishness like a badge of honour. A statement of: I am a person who values community, family, charity and inclusion. Perhaps that’s an over simplified view, but I think it’s part of what makes me, well me. It’s the parts of me that people love, the parts of me that allow me love others with abandon and verve.

I’m not religious. In fact, I’m probably a pretty ‘bad’ Jew – but culturally it brings me such comfort and connection – to my family who are far away. To my grandparents who taught me some of my most useful lessons and to my ancestors who’ll I’ll never know. It ties me to something greater, not a deity, so much as a community. A spirit of togetherness. I miss that a little. It feels odd to not be with them and to be in a place that lacks the same kind of cultural awareness I’m used too. It’s not bad, it’s just part of the journey of finding my life in London and how my Jewishness fits into that bigger picture. I love Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur because I like to reflect. To think about what my weaknesses are and how I could be better, be kinder and be more generous to myself and to others. I think it’s meaningful to ask others to forgive you for carelessness or downright meanness. I also think it’s important to go hungry sometimes, especially when there are millions who go hungry everyday.

I get a little weepy thinking about it all.Walking my grandfather to his seat. Hearing the cantor singing Kol Nidre next week and not holding my father’s arm in the uncomfortably air conditioned sanctuary at Beth Zedec. In those moments, we’re united with great and great great grandparents who listened or sang these prayers. There is such power in that collective memory.

Whatever your background or belief, it’s such a natural time to reflect and embrace Autumn, a kind of natural start to the year. I wish you an easy back to school or work from time away and a sweet 2015-16 with those you love. For those for whom it has meaning, l’shana tova.

I live [here]

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Today marks my 29th birthday. I’ve spent the last month or so feeling less then my normal self – mysteriously down. And I think I figured out why. I cracked the case!

A year ago I was preparing to move to San Francisco and had no idea when I’d come back to London. I lived everywhere and nowhere. When I was in Toronto this past April, it sunk in, I don’t live there anymore. (Duh Nancy.) I’m not on holiday, I’ve chosen to build a life elsewhere. There is a certain bittersweetness there. But really, today with floods of texts, Facetime calls, Facebook messages, emails rolling in for my birthday, I am struck with the thought that some people live in a place, and I live in the world – a world where I have a  home in London and friends/chosen family everywhere. A heart spread over continents, oceans and in excellently decorated kitchens all over the world.

I feel that kind of loneliness you feel when you’re far…but also a kind of universal understanding and love with my global friends that is constant and assuring. I wouldn’t trade these feelings for anything. I wouldn’t trade this wacky life for anything. I can honestly say that the adventure keeps getting better and better and I look forward to this year’s adventure.

Thank you for being a part of the magic. I think 29 will bring some incredible opportunities, challenges and triumphs and I look forward to raising a glass with you, sharing a hug or a meal with you in some great city of the world sometime soon.

The smell of honeysuckle

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Last night, I walked down Nassau Street with my friend Nikola and I smelled the sweet night time scent of honeysuckle. When I lived on Nassau I would stop. Take a deep breath. And quietly think how lovely it was to be here and now. I stood across from my old home and said hello. The magnolia tree next door is still there, the chestnut tree since looms over the yard. The crazy woman across the street still grows bitter melon and the Neighbourhood Watch sign has been appropriated by Picard, Riker and Data. 

I’m preparing for the next adventure and the market greeted me as it always does, with joy and wonder. Thanks Kensington.

And now a little ragamuffin poem I rustled up and wrote for you:

I love love
I love its tender notes
Its sighs
Its caresses. We would all like more of it.
More of its romance and wonder
More of its assuring glances
Bold brush strokes
Bold love
Heartfelt and heartbeats
I love love

12 Months in Review

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1000+ – # of people I’ve met in the last year from everywhere
60+ – # of hours I’ve spent dancing since January w/ Swing Patrol
35+ – # shows I saw in London over 9 months
8 – # number of countries I visited (mostly in a 30 day period, oy vey)
5 – # of times I rehearsed my routine for LBF in Saul and Selene’s living room
3 – # of bank accounts I have on two continents
2 – # of international cabaret festivals I debuted in
1 – # of hearts I got filled with love for you, my friends, my chosen family

The late night time zone-ignored phone calls, supportive photos, FB posts, quiet emails, coffee dates, posted valentines and innumerable hugs.

Friday, I graduate from my masters program (with distinction bitches!) and I am infinitely grateful. For my visionary parents, the chance to align with you, my wildly talented friends, and newfound room in my heart place. I didn’t know I could feel love like this. Thank you.

Lonely teardrops

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Alright! In three weeks you can all call me a Mistress in Magic (Master of International Marketing – from HULT International Business School). I’m counting down the minutes till I can revisit my stuff in storage, resort my wardrobe and repack to move back to London in the Fall. Strangely, it feels like I’m getting ready to go home when I’ve only lived there for nine months. London lingers in my heart.

I don’t know if I mentioned previously about the loneliness I’ve felt adjusting to life in new cities with virtually no close friends… I know we talked about how to build a network, but depending on how you draw strength, find community and navigate foreign dating cultures it can feel like too much. I’m a sociable person, I make friends easily (most of the time), I am rarely want for company – but there are moments when you move that can seem infinitely silent, empty…lonely.

Those moments are natural and prove that you’re not a robot. You are moving at a pace where it’s difficult to find tenderness from others, you have to create it yourself. With that in mind, I thought I’d drum up a few suggestions on how to acknowledge and live through those lonely moments and maybe find some quiet resolve in that pursuit.

First things first…some questions to ask yourself:
Is this loneliness or previously ignored unhappiness and frustration?
Unhappiness and ongoing frustration might be better dealt with talking to a professional rather than reading a blog post by a schmo like me.

Did you drink last night?
Alcohol, shockingly, is a depressant and will likely make you feel tender, sensitive and sad for no reason. If you’re feeling particularly down, try drinking less and see if it makes a difference.

Are you hanging out with sad people?
My brother (who has some tremendous wisdom sometimes) says that you become who you’re hanging out with. If your friends are particularly negative, maybe try cultivating some friendships with more positive people.

Okay, once you’ve asked these questions, the next step is acknowledge how you’re feeling and let it go (as best you can). I have a few suggestions on how to cope in those moments that work for me. I encourage you to find what works for you though.

1. Be kind to yourself – don’t beat yourself up about bullshit that doesn’t matter. Chill out. Recognize you need some down time.
2. Be indulgent (within reason) – I buy myself nice flowers, or a modest but delicious meal.
3. Say affirmations or set intentions for a day/week/month – this may feel weird to some, but I find it tremendously helpful.
4. Identify your restorative friends – the ones who require no effort and are uplifting to be around. Call them and see if they are free for dinner or a chat.
5. If someone gives you a nice note or sends you a nice email – keep it, print it, whatever – read it if you’re feeling down. I find those notes grounding.

Take care of yourself and I hope to see you in some great city of the world soon. Until then, here’s some Jackie Wilson. Enjoy.

‘Party time’ and ‘hammer time’ are like the same thing, right?

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I am riding home on a 242 bus listening to every girl jam I have and charging my phone on my laptop. That certainly feels like an accurate picture for life in London! It’s my 28th birthday! A year ago I quit my job (that I loved), produced a sold out opera that seemed impossible with some damn fine collaborators, gave notice at my beloved apartment, sold my stuff and hit the road.

I’ve been more risky! Shocked everyone (including myself) with my scholastic achievements! I’ve taught more lindy hop classes, tasters and quality of movement workshops then any other year. I have given some of my best performances to date and become an international cabaret performer. Drunk some great cocktails. Laughed with new and old friends. Shared my contagious love of the high five with several Brits. Went to numerous operas, movies and events. Ran mixers for awesome people in London. Made a piñata and danced on a bar top in Copenhagen.
My internal monologue often starts with “notes from the field” or “and today our heroine accomplishes the impossible, cinnamon rolls without measuring cups”. It has been beguiling, daring and a very tender year. The weird thing is that it feels like the beginning…
And no, I’m not drunk, or high, or in la la land. I’m just proud. I’m scared. I’m excited. I’m ready.

London (and this year) brings out the best in me. It demands me to be open to things I never even dreamed for myself. For the coming year my hopes include: warm hugs, joyful celebrations, challenging moments and great meals shared with great people. I aim to only say ‘sorry’ when I’m really sorry, support my friends as they reach for greatness and value all our good health.

27 was pretty f@#$ing epic. 28 is full of promise. Let’s create something beautiful guys! Happy birthday to me!

Vision and thanks

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I often observe that many of my friends are destined for greatness. The definition of that greatness is unique to that person. For some, it’s raising a beautiful family. For others, it’s reimagining beloved theatrical works, slaying public relation demons, or juggling machetes for international audiences. These individuals are a constant source of inspiration. The strength, tenacity and focus they bring to each of their pursuits is incredibly beguiling.

I write tonight to congratulate some incredible people and to thank some others for their kindness. One of my friend’s dreamed up a large scale burlesque show in Toronto as a fundraiser and appetizer for the Toronto International Burlesque Festival. Along with her devoted team and partners, she executed a show that sounds like from all accounts a pretty remarkable affair. Although I am far away, I could certainly feel the triumph from across the pond! So a brief, but heartfelt bravi tutti for their mastery, artistry and dedication this week. I know they gave Toronto a show to remember!

I’d also like to talk about those that have taken care of me in the last few weeks. I’m excited about the next phase of my adventure in San Francisco, but I am certainly scared. I will be back in London in anywhere from six weeks to three months. I have asked for help and several people have stepped up to the plate and for that I am eternally grateful. Everything is up in the air so let’s focus on the things I know for certain: 1. I have the best friends in the world…worldwide. 2. I am ready for what comes next. 3. I have the right shade of lipstick for the occasion.

And now for my song of the moment and a beautifully danced backdrop. I’m pretty sure this was filmed in Toronto judging by the TTC train.

A one, a two, you know just what to do…

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Five years ago, thousands of lindy hoppers gathered in New York City to commemorate the 95th birthday of Frankie Manning, the ambassador of lindy hop. What had originally been planned as a birthday celebration became a tribute to Frankie’s life, as Frankie passed away a month shy of the celebration. I was lucky enough to take a few workshops with Frankie (because I’ve been dancing that long – oy vey). I didn’t know him personally but I can tell you that his generosity of spirit, liveliness and joy were contagious. He lived to see the dance he loved so much fall out of favour and come back to life, spreading to the far reaching corners of the globe.

The best part of Frankie 95 was the hang. Seeing friends from everywhere, together, in that room. Dancing, listening, talking, reminiscing. I still remember everyone dancing to a song on the overly crowded ballroom floor and hearing a break coming in the music. Everyone prepared…the whole floor lifted together to hit the beat. I always say it was as though everyone was listening to the music in the same way at that one moment. The magic of lindy hop (and partnered dance in general) is how it connects us. We need each other – the partner, the band, the ballroom – all of it.

I have many friends travelling to Frankie 100 in the next two weeks. I wish I could be there, I’ll be thinking of you. Please, have a wonderful time, be patient with the overly crowded dance floor and remember to take in the grandeur of our community coming to together for this special moment. We are so lucky. THIS is what we do in our spare time! WTF!? Drink it in. Savour it.

Five years ago, I was in New York City for Frankie 95. I was in pain. I didn’t know why. I danced hard two nights and could barely walk the other two nights. A few weeks later I got the results of an MRI. I had a herniated disc. I needed to stop dancing…ASAP. I realized that was the last time I felt the same amount of uncertainty I feel now. I didn’t know if I’d be able to dance again. My body was against me. Shoes and socks were my enemy.

Five years later, I’m dancing hard, teaching often and still in love with the dance. Lindy hop and the people I’ve met through this dance are a gift. My mobility is a gift. Frankie Manning and his joy were and continue to be gifts. This crazy adventure is a gift. I feel an immense amount of gratitude. As we roll up to Frankie’s 100th birthday, I ask you to reflect on the things that inspire wonder in your life. Whether you’re in New York, London, Toronto, Seoul or wherever, we are connected, together, linked by this silly dance and are constantly reminded that it “t’ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”. Let’s make Frankie proud.

Life lessons with Duke Ellington

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This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the London Lindy Exchange. Standing in a ballroom of 400+ dancers I often think “I can’t believe this is how we spend our free time. How lucky are we?” Those moments where everyone hears the break coming and you watch the dance floor communally hit a particular beat or jump at the same time. It’s like for that split second we were all hearing the music in the same way. That feeling is magic. It is energy that is created by the band, enhanced by the dancers and lifts the spirits. Those are the moments where I feel the most connected and tapped in to the community. It also helps when the band is Gordon Webster and Friends. Gord’s joy playing for dancers is only matched by his ability to rally great musicians and produce music that inspires. What a gift!

My friend Sam posted this video of Duke Ellington explaining how to snap your fingers and it seemed like the right tone and pace for today, “You don’t push it, you just let it fall.” Words we could apply for many aspects of our lives and even in our dorky but beloved subculture, “one can become as cool as one wishes to be.” Enjoy!

Easily distracted…

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I started writing a paper about peer to peer file sharing and it’s descended into listening to all my favourite songs from 2004. Solid year guys! Arcade Fire, crying my eyes out to “Crown of Love”, Feist, “Let it die”, singing the Weakerthans loudly with Mat Katz and and our university crew. All excellent memories. It happens to be a dreary day here in London, so I offer a few recommendations for rainy day reading and music playlists:

The Writer’s Almanac – Garrison Keillor could read me the phone book. I have Angela to thank for this gem. A poem a day and a ‘today in literature’ segment. What’s not to love?
The Toast – a blog that explains feminist truths and offers vintage pictures of smug bitches (no, really they do!). A suggested read from Cecily, one of the smartest women I know.

Weakerthans – Left and Leaving
Arcade Fire – Funeral
Feist – Let it Die
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
M. Ward – End of Amnesia (in particular the song Carolina)