Where do you find wonder?

I’ve been a bad arts person lately. I haven’t been to see a lot of live shows. A few years back, I lived for going to theater and dance and music. These days I’m lucky if I go to one show every couple of months.

There are reasons for this. One is that TV is so good these days and my couch is so comfy. Another is that I now live in one of the most expensive cities in America, I no longer get all my tickets for free, and I simply can’t afford to go very often.

But there’s a more disturbing reason that I’ve been pondering. Am I outgrowing “the arts” as I knew them in my 20s and 30s? It used to be that I’d go to a show to fill up something in my soul that needed filling. I don’t do that anymore. I wish I knew why.

These days, when my soul needs filling, I go outside. I go to my neighborhood Arboretum, or a hike in the woods, or, when I can swing it, to one of our glorious national parks/monuments.  It’s become a physical and mental necessity, actually; if I don’t get my outside time, I become a version of myself that I don’t like much: puffy, sluggish, grumpy, and convinced that the world is really as bad as it seems sometimes.

Recently, I attended a concert at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I admit it – it still gives me a little thrill to think that one of the best orchestras in the world is my hometown band, as they say. We were going to hear Mahler’s 3rd Symphony, which, I confess, meant nothing to me other than I’ve heard of Mahler and people seem to think he’s pretty good. On the way, I asked my musician friend why she liked this work, and she said, “Well, because it’s big and loud and interesting…it’s just one of my favorites.” She also mentioned that Mahler is a more programmatic composer, often trying to tell stories with his music, which is speaking my language. It was enough for me to get excited to hear the piece.

The first movement of the work was marvelous. I don’t know what story Mahler was telling, but it didn’t matter; I was along for the ride as the music changed and chased itself and contradicted itself and resolved and made me smile on more than one occasion. I kept trying to remember specific musical moments so I could tell my friend about how they’d resonated with me.

And then, something happened. As the musicians shuffled their music between the 2nd and 3rd movements, I happened to notice a trumpet player, with his instrument, get up and leave the stage. I figured this part of the score required one less trumpet, so that’s was why he was leaving. An idle thought.

The movement began and I don’t remember much about it until suddenly, a trumpet sounded in a clear and poignant solo…in a tone I’d never heard. It was slightly muffled, coming from far away, like an echo of itself, so soft and pure and lovely that it made me sit up in my seat. It wasn’t coming from the stage. My eyes darted around while my brain tried to catch up with my ears, and I looked at my friend in delight and like a little kid whispered, “It’s coming from outside in the hallway!” She just smiled (we’re not supposed to talk at concerts, after all).

The first refrain of the post-horn (that’s what my music friends tell me it’s called) solo seemed to go on forever, and when it was over, I heard the entire Symphony Hall release a collective breath. As the musicians shuffled their music again, I whispered to myself: “Come back, trumpet player, that was amazing,” and the stranger sitting next to me agreed, adding his own whisper: “That was extraordinary.” This was a case where it was just WRONG that we couldn’t clap between movements.

It was a moment of wonder. Complete, unexpected, delightful, awe-inducing, and I realized I have never experienced that in a concert hall during a symphonic concert. Ever. As I took the bus home that night, I ran over the memories of comparable gasp-worthy moments:

  • A certain moment in the Broadway show Next to Normal when the audience realizes a character that we thought was there, wasn’t;
  • The first time I saw Elphaba fly in Wicked
  • The first time I finished the Hamilton soundtrack
  • When I watched Sutton Foster tapdance as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes
  • The first time I saw the work of choreographers Ohad Naharin and Jyri Killian

Now I can add “The first time I heard the post-horn solo in Mahler’s 3rd” to that list.

Wonder, as defined by Google:

a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

Just a few days after this musical moment, I found myself in Joshua Tree National Park. A whole weekend of wonder-full moments, and I realized at least one reason why I’ve been trading my concert/theater time for outdoor time.

See, when you can see stuff like this at every turn:


It’s easy to get your hit of wonder. Since I started getting obsessed with parks and hiking and being outside, I’ve seen hundreds of these wonder moments and they never bore me. They are always a surprise even though I know they are coming. They always make it hard for me to believe that the bad guys will win.


I’ve had to look harder for them in the arts lately, and I don’t know if that’s about me or the art. But it’s been easier to find them outside, so I’ll keep going there. But I’ll hold out hope for another post-horn solo moment, because it was really, really wonderful.


Dear Arts Marketers…let’s stop counting occasionally

I’m an arts marketer. This means, among many other things, that I count things. Many things. Everything from website hits to YouTube views to people in the audience to number of times someone asks me “hey, have you ever thought of [insert marketing idea I’ve most definitely thought of]?”.

My job is to somehow quantify the unquantifiable. I’m not allowed to say “that felt like a big crowd,” or “seemed like folks saw our ad”. I’m supposed to have numbers to back it all up.

It’s hard sometimes to get those numbers. In truth, it’s hard most of the time, because once we get them, inevitably we want more and different numbers.

And there are times when this need to justify our existence via numbers puts us at odds with our artistic or education colleagues. It’s not PC to say it, but it’s true; sometimes we speak different languages, even though we’re on the same team.

That’s why I love moments like today. Here’s the setup in its briefest format.

A local public radio station puts on a festival called Cartoonfest. Basically, they play Bugs Bunny on the big screen in Boston’s Symphony Hall, and invite a bunch of local groups to play classical music in various rooms throughout the day. Kids get their faces painted and scavenge for stickers and otherwise run rampant in one of the most hallowed symphonic music halls in the country.

It’s cute. It’s fun. And today I realized that, despite my hopes otherwise, it’s a pretty lousy marketing/PR event for my little non-profit. See, the local radio station doesn’t carry our radio show, and there’s barely any time to try to collect emails or contact info from people in the audience. Half the time, people arrive 15 minutes into our 30 minute set and leave 10 minutes later. There’s no real way to count the audience.

Depressing, if all we care about is numbers. But I left our 30 minute set anything but depressed.

See, the young musicians we work with at From the Top are exceptional teenagers. There’s no other word for it. They are remarkable. And today, I watched a 15- and 17-year-old sister/brother cello/violin duo put on a 30 minute presentation that was more interesting and thoughtful than most chamber music concerts I’ve been to. They poked fun at each other like siblings do. They played Bach, Schubert, Shostakovich, and Piazzolla. They gave charming little intros to every piece of music they played. They THOUGHT about their audience and how to engage them. They were delightful and played like a million bucks. And did I mention they were 15 and 17?

I watched the crowd of kids as they played. A few were bored or squirmy. But more than a few sat rapt, knees pulled to their chests, completely attuned. I happened to catch this little moment with one of the youngest audience members:


When was the last time you went to a concert and got that kind of connection with the musicians on stage?

I kept trying to count the audience as I was watching the show, until finally, I mentally threw up my hands and said, “No.” The number of people in the room did not even come close to representing the GOOD that came from this little 30 minutes of music. That two busy teenagers would give up hours of their time to write a script and practice together, and do it with such care and consideration, was worth more than any numbers.

That a few young audience members could see people their age, less than 10 feet away, playing with joy and passion and obvious respect for each other and their music, was entirely worth it. To think that even one kid in that audience might decide to keep playing music because they were inspired – that was enough.

For a few lovely moments today, I simply didn’t CARE what the quantifiable result of this performance was. I was just able to appreciate how making music is wonderful, how listening to music is wonderful, and how supporting young people in doing those things is one of the best jobs a person could have. And one of the most important, if we want our country to be the greatest in the world.

Sometimes, we have to stop counting and simply appreciate when good things are happening. When a few good people do something good. I’m glad I got to do that today.

A grand western adventure

There are some vacations that, when they are over, however awesome they were, we are glad to get back to our lives.

And there are some we wish would never end.

Other than a twinge of missing my dog once in a while, my most recent western adventure is one of the latter.

Together with a semi-old (we met in 2009) friend turned new travel companion (this was our first extended trip together), I recently spent 9 days flitting…well, driving…about the American West. Here are the stats:

States I’d never been to:  4 (Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana)
Miles walked/hiked: more than 60
Miles driven: more than 1500
Times we heard “Desperado” on Sirius XM radio: At least 3
Mormons met: 3
Bears seen: ZERO…harumph, and I even got bear spray
Bison traffic jams: 2
Ankles rolled: ZERO (seriously, that’s a big deal)
Cans of Febreeze needed for the car: 1
Times we tried to visit Delicate Arch at dusk: 2
Stars seen over Yellowstone: Millions
Times we didn’t die in Death Canyon: 1

So, yeah, it was quite an adventure. Lakes, mountains, waterfalls, geysers, bison, sunrises, sunsets, Korean barbeque, Mormons, red rock canyons, arches….so many wonderful things were seen. I could write a whole blog post on the experience of traveling as a twosome, but really, you don’t want to hear me rant against how society is biased toward couples. You’ve heard that before.

Nah, let’s just look at some pretty pictures. You can live vicariously and I can try to keep the buzz going.

Day 1: I flew into Salt Lake City and arrived late. Nothing exciting to report there.

Day 2: The first part of the day was spent wandering the city, trying not to sing tunes from Book of Mormon out loud. We were given a tour of the Tabernacle and Conference buildings by several really, really nice Mormons. One was named Sister Hug. I kid not. It was quite the impressive setup.

Salt Lake City

The view of Sal Tlay Ka Citi from the park built on top of the 21,000 seat theater where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs

Then we drove the 4+ hours north to get to Grand Teton National Park. We pitched our tents in the dark and turned in with plans to rise early the next day.

Day 3: And rise early we did. So we could see this.

Grand Teton National Park

And this:

Jenny Lake

We got a few miles in on relatively flat ground at Jenny Lake to ease my East Coast legs and lungs into higher elevations, then decided to do a hike called Death Canyon, which, let’s be honest, was really all about the name. The legend is that some dude entered the canyon and didn’t come out, though the ranger we talked to said he could have just kept going to Idaho. At any rate, I struggled with this hike, although views like this helped:

Phelps Lake

At one point, I sent Shawn on ahead so he could, you know, hike at more than a snail’s pace for a bit, and spent some quality time communing with nature by the side of the trail. Needless to say, I slept pretty well that night despite chilly temperatures.

Day 4: On this day, we were bound for Montana, to check out an arts center called Tippet Rise that has sprung up from the ranchland. You can read about it here; I don’t want to try to explain it when others have done it better. But it was an interesting experience; we heard some incredible solo piano, and trekked a few miles out into the fields to see these sculptures:

Montana (47 of 15)

Montana (49 of 15)

Montana (50 of 15)

But really, the highlight was the locally-sourced barbeque. Yummo. We stayed the night in a totally adorable little cabin, complete with antlers and horses as our neighbors. Get it, “neigh” bors? Cracking myself up over here.

Day 5: For the first time, our drive wasn’t more than 4 hours, and we made our way down to Yellowstone National Park in good time. So began two days that are a blur of wonderfulness – hikes and photos and views and campfires and stars and bison. I’ll just share some photos and not try to talk about it too much.

Yellowstone day 1 (41 of 42)

Yellowstone day 2 (42 of 3)

Yellowstone day 2 (43 of 40)

Yellowstone day 2 (47 of 40)

Yellowstone day 2 (72 of 40)

Yellowstone day 1 (62 of 42)

Seriously, y’all, Yellowstone is a magical, magical place. I plan to go back. Anyone who wants to invite me along next time you go, don’t hesitate.

Day 6: Our drive back to SLC took more hours than it should have due to some nasty wildfires in Yellowstone, but by this point, we were pretty tired and dirty and smelly, so heading back to civilization was worth it. Civilization also meant Korean Barbecue (my first), a long shower,  and sleeping on a mattress, plus yummy Mexican food the next day before we headed south.

Day 7: If being among the craters of Yellowstone felt like being on the moon, Moab, Utah and the parks there felt like visiting Mars. We got to Moab fairly late, but managed to get in a two short hikes, one into a canyon, accompanied by bagpipes…yes, I said bagpipes

Moab (41 of 1)

…and one up to try to see the Delicate Arch. If you don’t look too closely, this is a good photo (no tripod, alas):

Delicate Arch

It was warm and pleasant in Moab, so camping that night was pretty easy. It’s also worth pointing out that this day was the official 100th birthday of the National Park Service. We are lucky that at one point, some politicians decided to do something noble and visionary for all of us to enjoy.

Day 8: On our last day, we ran/drove a gauntlet of gorgeous red rock places: starting off in Canyonlands National Park, where we hiked out to Upheaval Dome, a crazy crater that was formed either by the movement of oceans or a meteorite; we chose meteorite, for obvious reasons.

Moab (4 of 1)

Next up was a walk along the canyon rim at Grand View Overlook, where you can see the Colorado River.  It was indeed a grand view.
Moab (4 of 2)

After lunch at Dead Horse State Park (don’t ask how that park got its name, it’s a terrible story), we went back to Arches to do a 7.5 mile hike through Devil’s Garden. Hiking on the so-called “primitive” trail, we saw a bunch of arches, and also did some scrambling over rock fins and down into canyons. Shawn breezed through, I had some moments of struggle, but it was super fun and the views were incredible. See all those towers/spires of rock down there? We basically came through that to get to where  took this photo.

Moab (5 of 2)

Later, we visited the Windows area of the park, and saw some more arches.

Moab (4 of 1)-2

And then we decided to end the day with a race against the sunset to try to see Delicate Arch at night. That was an adventure I’ll tell you about over a beer sometime, but suffice to say that it involved headlamps, a few curse words (uttered by me) and two different paths to the arch (one for me, one for Shawn), but in the end we both made it up and down in one piece. We then enjoyed what was probably the best burger I’ve ever had, and passed out in our tents for our last night under the Utah stars.

Day 9: With markedly less enthusiasm, we rose and drove back to SLC, where even the shower was less awesome (but still delightful). And then, I flew home.

And that, as they say, is that. If you’re still reading, I really do owe you that beer sometime. Hope you enjoyed my travel ramblings.


New York City like I’ve never seen her

Snow days.

Let me state unequivocally that I love snow days, despite the stress they cause my friends who are parents, despite the fact that work-from-home technology has robbed them of their magic. I still love them.

They are for cuddling, comfy pants, sledding, and hot toddies. They are for stews and soups and binge-watching, for slippers and afghans and the rush of blood to cold cheeks once you come inside.

But there’s one key to all of this that I’d never considered before this past weekend. For snow days to work as I laid out above, there’s a requirement.

You have to be at home. If not yours, then someone else’s, but you need to be in a residence of some kind. One with afghans, a soup pot, and preferably a dog or two, if you get my meaning.

Thanks to a rabid and ridiculous media engine, everyone in the entire US knew that there was a big snowstorm hitting the East Coast this weekend. As is typical, they couldn’t say just HOW big, but it was predicted to be big enough to send most folks below the Mason Dixon line scuttling to the store for bread, eggs, chili-fixings, and liquor.

Us hearty Bostonians shrugged a collective meh, since 1) it appeared we’d miss the brunt of it, and 2) we’d seen worse.

But me, I was bound for NYC, for a long-planned theater weekend with a friend I hadn’t seen in two years. Everyone kept telling me to “be safe!” as if I was heading into grave danger, but I, intrepid New Englander that I now am, wasn’t worried. Because surely, the snow wouldn’t be that bad, I had good boots, and Manhattan really can be a winter wonderland when it wants to be. I figured it’d be an adventure and we’d slog through a foot of the white stuff to get where we needed to go.

But Mama Nature and the Mayor of NY had other ideas. The former dumped nearly 30 inches of snow on the city, and the latter decided to shut down the entire transit system in the city on Saturday. So EVERYTHING was closed. And I mean everything. Broadway, Uber, subways, movie theaters, most restaurants, museums, shops…pretty much everywhere that a visiting tourist would go to pass the time during a blizzard.

So my friend and I found ourselves doing the snow day thing on the 36th floor of a Times Square hotel with a bottle of rum and some cable TV. We were cheerful and made the best of it, but I was bummed. This was NOT the way to spend a day in NY, and it was also not the way to spend a snow day.

Around 6pm, I decided we needed to leave the hotel. Really, I just wanted to do something other than ogle homes on HGTV. And considering we’d sustained ourselves on liquor and potato chips for the afternoon, some real food seemed in order.

So we struck out in hopes of finding an open restaurant. Instead, we found a Times Square that few have seen.

Now, I know that most New York locals hate Times Square. I am not much of a fan myself, once I’ve had my fix (an hour or so of marveling at its sheer…well…brightness). But that night, it was transformed.

There were no cars, save the odd police cruiser. No bike messengers. No horns blaring, no cabs dodging pedestrians.

But there were people. Hundreds of people, like us, who had taken to the street. Hordes of winter-gear-clad folks stumbling around aimlessly in knee-deep slush, with nowhere to go or be, looking at first glance like a scene out of The Day After Tomorrow or The Walking Dead. Snowballs flew. Snowmen sprouted up to gaze up at the red stairs of the TKTS booth. Kids scrambled to the top of giant snow piles, then tumbled down in glee. Snowy selfies abounded. Happy chatter, in several languages, was punctuated by the occasional squeal of delight. Snowflakes swirled all around us, changing colors as the billboards, that never-ceasing silent light show, cast their glow over the scene.

It was magical. It was peaceful. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. I wondered if anyone out on the street actually lived in New York, or if we were all visitors, usually neatly herded by schedules and agendas into the various dens of entertainment of the city, but now claiming this place as our own for a few childish minutes.

I hoped there were a few locals in the mix. Because it was a really beautiful moment in this city that never sleeps.


And PS: We eventually found dinner.

Exploring my new camera: Provincetown

A few months back, I decided it was FINALLY time to invest in a real, actual camera. You know, the kind with lenses and a viewfinder that you actually look through and a button you press to take a picture.

Why, you ask? Well, it’s mostly because, and this is really kind of dumb, I like the tactile feel of a camera. I feel cool when I cradle it in my hand and bring it to my face. And because I need a project. I am surrounded by creative people all day and I’m a little jealous of their “artist” label. Because try as I might, I can’t make “arts marketer” into a legit artist label.

Back in my high school years, I learned photography with actual film. Mr. Swedberg, my teacher, taught me, and I loved the darkroom most of all: the chemicals and the magic of burning and dodging. Today we don’t have film and our darkrooms are our laptops. And too many people tell me I’m a “good photographer” for me to really be ok with it, considering that every picture I have taken in the last 8 years has likely been on an IPhone. That feels like cheating.

So, I saved up and decided to go for it.

I scoured blogs and asked advice from my social interwebbers, and eventually landed on my Canon Rebel EOS T5. And then, I took it out and shot some stuff, and it was fun and pretty and I was pleased with myself for photos like this:

Pink flower

Then, my former college roommate started sending me blog posts and challenging me to contests like #niftyfiftyfriday, and I realized how little I actually know about taking photographs from anything other than a “point the camera at something I like” standpoint. See, there’s MATH involved. Ugh. And on these newfangled cameras, more settings and buttons than you’d think you need to take a pretty picture. So I bought a prime lens, and set out to figure this stuff out.

Anyway, this has been a good exercise for me, to really dig into something I know nothing about, and to find that it’s really damn hard. I still don’t get a lot of it. The math seems unreasonably unintuitive. I still do a lot by instinct and gut. But I have noticed that, since I started thinking this way, I take fewer photos. I know that doesn’t make sense. But I’m spending less time clicking away on my IPhone and more time thinking what I’d need to do to capture a scene with my Canon. I find this intriguing, without really being able to ascribe meaning to it.

It’s also worth noting that most of the photos are lousy. This is also intriguing, part of that whole “you’ve gotta break stuff down before you can build it back up” cliche.

So, anyway, I thought it might be fun to share some of the not-as-lousy-as-others recent photos with you. I’m currently vacationing on Cape Cod (yeah, I know, doesn’t that sound so, well, New-Englandish?) and plan to spend hours photo-ing beaches and dunes tomorrow, so I thought I’d share a few less epic subjects here.

You will quickly discover that I love boats. You’ve been warned.

Photo of boat named Hindu

Sailing ship mast

What I wanted with this photo was the red boat in focus and everything else blurry. But I was using my 50mm lens and had no zoom and so I couldn’t figure it out. But I liked the reflection on the white boat on the left.

Red Boat

I should mention that all of these photos were taken in Provincetown, on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The whole harbor is such a mess of boats. I loved it. Lots of Boats

Keens seem to have a special place in my summer adventures. This one is for Jennifer and Lisa.

A row of colorful Keen sandals

While my travel buddy was chatting with a client, I went on a little binge and found some neat things to try to capture.

Part of a rusty ship's wheel


Flowers in pots on stairs

And it was on the last one that I had some magic happen – a tiny bird hopped onto the railing above the flowers I was shooting. I clicked as fast as I could without time to change the settings, and managed to get this little gem.

Bird perched on a railing near potted flowers

As the day came to an end, we wound up at a little bar overlooking the water, and I snapped some more boats. I think it’s fascinating that turning basically the same scene (just a few degrees counterclockwise from my perch) into black and white makes it look so much more ominous.

boats on the ocean with pretty sky

Photo of boat

So, as you can tell, I have a long way to go to learn to use this new tool, but I’m finding that I am more excited about the stories behind how I got the photos than I am by the technical details. That seems to jive with my life in general. 🙂 Thanks for coming along with me on this little journey through P-town.