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Talking to Strangers

Author: Stephanie Thompson

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Connections to other humans are crucial. But what does that look like? How can we trust others? Trust your instincts. Talk to the strangers that appear on your path, open up and share and listen and you most surely will find in others something to inspire you. If we seek, we shall find. Talking to Strangers follows host Steph Thompson's meandering chatting way through life. Come along and meet the fascinating people she encounters. Talking to Strangers makes for a very rich surprising life indeed. Let life -- and the people in it -- surprise you.
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How Naked Can We Be?

How Naked Can We Be?

2021-06-2918:18

For this episode, I sat down naked at the piano. Sometimes, it is only through music and rhythm that I am able to get at what I'm REALLY thinking and feeling, what I want to express. Sometimes, often, words don't work. I so like to express my naked thoughts and ideas. And I like to hear other people's. People often can see that in my eyes, in my body language. They tell me things, sometimes things they haven't told anybody else. I often wonder what that is, why people feel they can say things to me that they haven't felt comfortable sharing before, with  others. The reality is that I understand why people often don't share, why I don't (when I don't.) Because truly attempting to connect leaves you fully naked and vulnerable. And, mostly, we have been burned so much in the past that we might not trust, we might not let our guard down, we might stay clothed and covered and behind layer after layer of impenetrable walls. I discovered that rhythm can allow us to tear down those walls. In even a minute of playing percussion, people can forget to pretend, they can forget to dodge and dart and hide. They can be present, in the moment, with themselves first and foremost. And they can, often, be present with others. They can tune in, get in tune, find their rhythm, join in, create harmony. In this podcast, I play piano -- naked and nakedly -- to try to unearth the real thoughts in my head, then I explore some ideas about my very naked approach to connecting, through vibration and percussion, through rhythm. I want this space to explore more the world of connection through music, how in fact "Talking to Strangers" might best be done wordlessly, gathered in a circle with other humans. It is through rhythm that us humans might be able to shed some of those labels and monikers that divide us, might be able to truly see our ability to connect, joyfully and nakedly, with ease.Music is a gift. It offers transcendence for all souls if we let it, if even for just a moment...
Trust is an interesting thing. To talk to someone, to engage with them, is to offer them a sort of trust. When I first talked to Jason Naradzay a few years back, it was to interview him for a piece I was writing in support of Musicambia, a nonprofit music education organization he had been involved with during his time served at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. He was out of Sing Sing and applying the therapeutic skills he'd learned inside the prison to help those still there. He knew firsthand the crucial importance of music and self expression to create the much-needed connections incarcerated people--really all people--need to survive. We hit it off right away. His philosophies and mine dove-tailed exactly. He told me about going fishing, and I expressed my desire to do that someday, and he right away put a date on the calendar. It is sometimes hard to talk to strangers, let alone make plans to go on their boat. But Jason struck me deeply as a kind soul, someone who cared immensely about people, a generous person. And so, I trusted. During a global pandemic, Jason and another Musicambia alumni, Dexter Nurse, visited me and my family in upstate New York, and my husband and I took turns going out fishing with them. During my time--some of my most joyous hours ever--Jason and I hatched some plans to do a retreat for some of the alumni of Musicambia's program, men who'd performed together in Carnegie Hall's Musical Connections program inside Sing Sing.On June 25th, we are co-hosting a benefit to raise money for that retreat, and for Jason's work inside Sing Sing and potentially other prisons for the seriously mentally ill and violent individuals. But that event is also to build trust between disparate people, to allow for us to listen and play music together, to "break bread," as Jason would say, to bond. In this conversation, Jason and I talk about the Jeptha Group, the organization he started to do workshops in prisons and that he now wants to expand to help connect the guys who bonded over music in prison and are now out in the world, in desperate need of such connection and bonding. We talk about what to call people who've been incarcerated. Spoiler alert: "How about 'humans?'Join us humans on June 25th at El Barrio's ArtSpace, 215 E. 99th St., NYC. In collaboration with Jazz Habitat and sponsored by Iwona Szatkowska for her 60th birthday, the evening will feature food and drink, a solo by Musicambia/Musical Connections alumni Kenyatta Emmanuel and music sets by the Joe Stone Band and DJ Funky Punky. Donations of $25 or more by Venmo @Stephanie-Thompson-229 or at the door. 
I knew that Jamee Jurecki and Leonissa Morris were to be my pals back when I first encountered them in December of 2017. As we stood there in front of the long mirrors of the communal bathroom at the Posh Hostel in South Beach, brushing our teeth and hair, preparing to hit the town, it was very clear. We had come to Miami on our own, adventurous ladies staying at a low-cost high-style hostel by the beach during the city's fabulous Art Basel show, and we were definitely gonna be able to hang together, and have a blast. Jamee was a young woman from Wisconsin (who has since relocated to Brooklyn) and Leonissa is from Toronto. I invited them along to my friend artist Claudia Vieira's show at the Aqua Hotel and the rest, as they say, is history. There was something magical about that weekend, we all agreed over a recent Zoom call. Something about the cool relaxed vibe of Miami blended with artists from all over the world and a funky hostel with a free happy at the downstairs hotel bar and a rooftop pool overlooking South Beach for...$40 a night? It varied, I think, the price people paid for a bunkbed with a lockable drawer in a co-ed space (right down to the showers), but it was quite low and so drew a wide variety of folks, including artists staying in town a fair while for the show. The three of us felt immediately like good friends, we all agreed. We shared the same joy in the connection with strangers that we'd thought a hostel could provide. We welcomed one another's thoughts and ideas and histories, marveling at the comfort as one always does when finding kindred spirits. I have kept in touch with both ladies. I hosted Jamee in my home and have hung out with her on occasion (never enough) since she moved to Brooklyn, and had a super fun night out in the Village with Leonissa when she was in town. Social media has also kept us connected. With Art Basel canceled this year, and no travel plans currently in the works due to Covid, we three adventurous ladies shared a call and a remembrance of things past, of amazing connections that are possible when you put yourself out there and imagine the best in people. We will meet again soon, I am sure. 
On Facebook the other day, someone posed the question, "what career did you dream of having when you were a kid?" I didn't skip a beat. "A singer!" I responded. My sister and I spent countless hours singing into a tape recorder (yes, a tape recorder, with cassette tapes whose plastic film we often had to detangle and re-roll with a pen. I am that old.) There was something about the freedom of belting out one's more melodramatic emotions full on with a fake microphone in the mirror that was truly amazing.  Maybe that's why I'm so enamored with Ourida, the amazingly expressive singer/songwriter whom I sat down with recently to discuss what it's REALLY like to fulfill one's childhood dream of becoming a singer. I have borne witness to Ourida's amazing performances, belting out very real emotions on a real stage in front of a real audience. I met Ourida for the first time at Bar Lunatico a couple years back, as some of her bandmates were friends of mine. And it was her very realness and expressiveness that wowed me. She is modest, and maybe I am too gushing because I am so envious of the ability to express oneself so nakedly on stage, but when I saw her for the first time--a stranger on the stage, embodying the heartfelt words that came from her mouth--it was as if I knew her, as if she knew me. The deftly light, even humorous way she handled the difficult themes of her music left me giddy with the feeling of being understood. It felt like I was less alone, which is of course the power of art. I returned to see her many times. We talked during our sit-down at a restaurant near the water in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn of the necessity of art exactly because of that great power it has to help people get at their own complex emotions, consciously or subconsciously. And for that, artists need to get compensated. Ourida recently wrote a beautiful song called 'Amanti' with Raed El-Khazen and Ben Zwerin, which she put on Bandcamp (www.ourida.bandcamp.com) so that she might generate revenue for her work. It is crucial to support the making and sharing of expressive art. Listen in to our chat, and contribute to Ourida and to other artists who do the hard work (well beyond the childhood fantasy) of helping us make sense of our emotions, especially in these difficult times! 
I first met Nora Fish in a little cafe named Parco, in Park Slope. She had a beautiful German Shepherd named Annika and an adorable pug named Tootsie. As she reminds me during this podcast, she and I "were constantly complimenting each other's boots!" I have always admired Nora's style, from the great knit ponchos she makes herself to the gorgeous knit sweaters she has made for her dog, my dog and so many others, including those four-legged creatures she so lovingly invites to stay with her when their owners go away. In addition to dogs--including her new puppy, Esme--Nora's house is filled with bright colors, including those in her hair, and the yarns she chooses for her current knit creations. It is like her house is one of the graphic design projects she managed for many years for major beauty companies. I remember our meeting more than a decade ago like it was yesterday, and I have been so blessed to have met up with Nora on many occasions since to talk about color, and design, and dogs and--always--relationships. Her understanding of beings comes through in the beautiful calm way she manages the many dogs in her house. She understands how sensitive are the souls of these animals, and she so wisely and deftly protects them. 
When James Yang came to my kids' school to talk about his illustrated children's book back in 2013, I was immediately struck by its powerful simplicity. I had just started volunteering at a school where kids didn't get to meet authors like my kids did, and I invited James to join. We reminisced during this podcast about that day, about how the kids swarmed around him as he showed them on a big piece of butcher paper taped to the wall how to make the simple shapes and designs of the robots and planets found in his book. Seven years later, I reached out to James, so impressed with seeing his truly illustrative work on subway cars and in newspapers and magazines, depicting in humorous and helpful ways the difficulties of life these days. Talking to James at that author visit many years ago proved a lovely thing, and talking to him again, now, was fascinating. The kind of mind like his that observes the metaphors and translates them into simple images...listen in to get a window on it. It's fascinating.  
It was quite the coup to get one of my teenagers to come on to the podcast. After all, they are independent humans with ideas of their own about how to live life, and doing my bidding often takes low priority, as it should be. Over the years, I humiliated them bi-weekly with my Fearless Parenting column in the Brooklyn Paper, subjected them to a few awkward photo/video shoots for newspaper and TV and regularly interrupt family outings by...yes, talking to strangers (at one point stopping to give them gold stars.) But I am thrilled and humbled that Oscar chose (with only a small bribe) to chat with me for an episode of Talking to Strangers. He is lucid and articulate about what it's like to be a teen, why they (he) only share a miniscule portion of themselves with their parents usually, and why INDEPENDENCE is a good thing. It was a fun thing to chat with Oscar for a recording, and see what it is he is willing to share with me, and with strangers. I'm thrilled that we got this time together:)) Remember to push to talk to your teens, even when---most especially when--they begin to feel like strangers!! Dialogue is always crucial for both us and them!
When I first met the lovely Emily Sause a few years back, she was 'head of community'for a stunning Manhattan co-working space called The Assemblage. It was part of her job to be welcoming, but she seemed to go above and beyond with her bright-eyed enthusiasm. While I didn't end up joining the super-cool workspace, I did manage to come for a couple of events, including Emily's 'vocal toning' workshop, which was one of the more relaxing deeply meditative hours of my life. We got together a number of times for fun events--hers or mine--and I so appreciated Emily's great positive spirit every time. We have seemed to be so in sync. Funny then that, having lost touch for a bit, we would run into one another in an antique store upstate, where she had moved, post-Covid, and I had just bought a house. Life sometimes changes dramatically on a dime. Emily is now turning her great ability to connect and communicate to the plant world, living and working on a gorgeous farm owned by friends just above the Hudson River in Catskill, NY. She has applied the same loving, nurturing energy she showered on people and events in the city to the kale and tomato plants she cares for now, and her passion for learning about and teaching about this important world of 'permaculture' is palpable. Listen in as we chat, two one-time strangers finding connections along our path...
I met Roberto at Cafe Martin in Park Slope. He was a mathematician/philosopher working there between gigs. A song had come on and I asked a question about it, and he said how popular it was with the French kids. He said it with a bit of a scoff. He sounded French but...”where are you from?” I asked before I guessed.“I’m Italian,” he said. He grew up in Monaco though. Maybe I learned that then, or later, that relationship between his Italian roots and growing up in France. It read on his face, though, his pondering of things, his strong opinions, and I liked him immediately. We became friends. I had just started my nonprofit, InspireCorps, and he helped me in a variety of ways, including walking and talking with my dog, Ginger (seriously, they had a language), and tutoring my boys in math. He was a good friend in general, with his truthful straight-up philosophy of life. When he met the lovely always-smiling Sarah, a great poet and writer, in a philosophy class at the New School, it was a perfect match. The way two people can light up talking about Kierkegaard...amazing. They became regulars at our dinner table, often dog-sitting when we went away. We would see their incredibly high Scrabble scores on scraps of paper when we got home, and be impressed. It wasn’t until now that we played with them. I recorded a bit of that game, at the end. It is funny what we learn about others and ourselves when we play games, when we see them win or lose, when we win or lose ourselves, how we handle it. Listen in. 
When I run out of coffee, I am always glad because it means I can take a walk over to Java Joe. For so many years, I have been going to this little shop on 8th Street, in Park Slope, to buy their deliciously strong Black Magic espresso beans. The shop is adorable, run by a lovely frank Irish lady, and besides the INCREDIBLE mint malted milk balls (a holiday gift staple) I always have a good chat. In this episode, I went in for beans and a new mug (I have too many, but always want a new one when I see their fun selection) and I ended up in a great conversation with Ben, the lovely owner's son. He is a great young man, and we have discussed before his love of techno music, which he composes and plays loud over the store's speakers. I learned so much more than I'd known before about the store, about him, about his expectations of life...It is not easy or particularly lucrative to work retail, in a small business. We talked about how the neighborhood has changed, and what it was like for him to grow up there. Ben's eyes were bright and expressive over the top of his mask, and I so appreciated the frank conversation, as I always do when I enter Java Joe. Thank God some people are up for a long chat about how they really feel. I smiled thinking that he clearly got that gift from his mother. Honesty plus great coffee is a winning combination  Listen in to my chat with Ben. And head over to Java Joe if you're ever in Park Slope! 
In this episode, I head to the beach to drum, and I talk a bit about how we learn to trust ourselves and others. It's not easy. I often use the metaphor of music, and work with people, including homeless men, to try to get at thoughts about connection, and trust and flexibility through drumming together. What we can create together, quickly, us strangers, with a little music, is nothing short of magic. Have a drum or something to hit your hands on to make rhythm with me at the beginning. Listen as I talk about a recent experience with my Get in Tune workshop at a shelter, and meditate with me at the end...Connecting to ourselves is a crucial step in our ability to talk to strangers, and try to connect to them! 
What I loved about Samir LanGus from the first time I saw him was how comfortably he seemed to mix cultures seamlessly and stylishly. As a Moroccan musician steeped in the classically spiritual Gnawa music of his homeland, he is always sporting American fashions like his favored Adidas jackets or running pants along with more traditional Moroccan garb. The look is representative of Samir's extremely nimble balance of traditional and modern, which has shown up in the collaborations he has forged with all different kinds of musicians including British L.A.-based DJ Bonobo, who partnered with his band Innov Gnawa in 2017 for a beautiful haunting Grammy-nominated song that features the classic Gnawa qraqebs (castanets), sintir and vocals along with electronic beats. https://www.npr.org/2017/06/07/531753920/songs-we-love-bonobo-bambro-koyo-ganda-feat-innov-gnawa-analog-versionMore recently, on his own, Samir has been working with a variety of other musicians to fuse Gnawa with jazz and funk, and create arrangements that modernize the traditional trance music. I was a big groupie of Innov Gnawa, having met Samir and other members of the band at the shows of another of my all-time fave bands, The Brooklyn Gypsies. It was great to catch up with Samir to reminisce about those days and hear what he's doing now, and to thank him for all the evenings of healing music. We agreed that the collaboration of musicians onstage--people who may come from all different backgrounds--is magical and crucial. "Music is love," Samir says. And it's true. One can feel Gnawa music in the heart for sure. Listen in to our chat, and follow Samir's culture-crossing musical collaborations at https://www.youtube.com/c/SamirLangus/videos and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SAMIR.BIQINEAttend his Gnawa workshop this Thursday, Sept. 24th, with Michael League from Snarky Puppy.https://www.crowdcast.io/snarkypuppy
I'm "friends" on Facebook with a lot of people I've never met. Maybe we have mutual friends, maybe they read something of mine or listened to my podcast, maybe I heard them play somewhere. Neither Chris Rael nor I remember exactly how we became "friends," though we have a long list of friends in common, mostly musicians (since he is one.) Even though we've never met, I reached out to Chris recently after a post of his caught my eye, and asked if he would be on my podcast to discuss it. In it he said: "Our fear stokes our anger & this society is currently melting down in both. Somehow, even during periods of conflict & pain, we must find our way thru ourselves to the place within where the love resides. Our compassion, ethics & accountability to others grow from there. Fear is not cowardice; in fact it may provoke great courage. When I look in the mirror, I see a pretty brave, albeit pretty scared guy. Today I renew my efforts to be kinder to myself & feel less afraid. If you face anything similar, I wish the same for you."I am struck more and more by those people who try to find and tap into the universal emotions that we are all feeling rather than focusing on divisions. Fear. Anger. Love. Chris and I talked about these universal emotions and a whole lot of other things in a video call, our first-ever meet-up. He is fascinating. I love how we shared so much in common, most especially our belief in the need for artistic expression to figure ourselves and all those crazy emotions we feel...He shared this awesome video of a song he created with his son in a routine "Art of the Day." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BETCRmjbAE&feature=youtu.be  Love it. I'm so glad I reached out and that neither Chris nor I are afraid to talk to strangers:))
I try not to take advantage of my friendship with veteran psychoanalyst Mubasher Naseer. After all, he is clearly easy to talk to, listens well and has many years' experience helping people sort out relationships and other of life's strains and stresses with his sage advice. Since we met, roughly six years ago, Mubasher is always a good person to chat with about what's happening in the world and what people are feeling, including he and I. It is nice to hear what a mental health professional feels outside of the professional setting. I enjoy the back and forth with Mubasher greatly, and appreciate his knowledge and experience. Right now, with life a bit up in the air for folks (to put it mildly), it seemed a good time to have a sit-down with my friend and shoot the breeze about the human psyche:) Why is it that we're so rushed and stressed he wonders, then answers his own question. "Suppression, from an early age," he suggests as one possibility. Don't suppress, express! If you need someone to express to, you can email Mubasher at mubasher.naseer@gmail.com. And listen in for some free insight from a wise soul. 
Since meeting jazz pianist James Carney seven or so years ago in a little bar in Park Slope, I have sat many times in various venues to see and hear him tickle the ivories, his fingers flying fast across the keys masterfully to create rhythms that resound in the soul. It was a pleasure to sit with him again and hear a few of these sounds, this time in his new PianoWorks studio in Brooklyn's cool Industry City complex. While musical performances came to a halt during Covid, James decided to expand upon the piano tuning/repair work he had been doing out of his home into a full-blown piano shop, where as precisely and artfully as he plays, he is building beautiful grand pianos and some uprights back to their original glory. The passion he has for restoration (and his new power tools) is as inspiring as his music, making one think maybe the two are linked. After all, deep understanding of one's instrument could be said to lead one to greater heights as a musician, and James's understanding and continued learning about the inner workings of this complex instrument is immense. Such seems to be case, as Pure Heart, James' 8th album as a leader, is getting rave reviews and much media attention since its debut in June. It's awesome. Check it out at www.JamesCarney.net, and listen in to our interesting chat in the sunny new studio space he now happily inhabits. Stop by yourself if you're in the market for a beautiful piano or maybe, soon, to catch an intimate gathering of great jazz...
It is fitting that in our chat, in her sumptuous living quarters in the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn, stylist/creative director Hilary Robertson would quote Keats' Ode to a Grecian Urn. She waved her hand this way and that with her usual English dramatic flair, and the crisp striped fabric of the full-length dress shirt she wore shifted slightly. "'Truth is Beauty, and Beauty Truth' or something like that," she said, eyes up toward the soaring brownstone parlor ceiling as she rendered the perfectly apropos words. I remembered then, with a smile, the moment many years back when I encountered this wild wonderful woman, how I'd laughed loudly at the discovery of her at a crowded party when she spoke with such conviction of the brilliant beautiful world she was born in to, and lived in still, in her mind. Hilary Robertson creates beauty and, with it, The Truth, as she so clearly sees it. With the just-perfect placement of a Grecian Urn, together with a plaster lamp, and a horsehair couch, she can make you see it too: Aaaaaah, the joy of living, the art of it!Her styling of such an artful world and her writing of it in lyrical prose have appeared in the pages of magazines world round, and in the pages of her own and others' books on Interiors, which you can see and learn more about at www.HilaryRobertson.com. When we sat down together over the delicious avocado toast she'd prepared, I was finally able to ask her directly what it's all about, the whole 'style' thing, why beautiful 'stuff' is so important. What impact do our interiors have on our interior life, I wondered aloud, and she went there with me, as she does, with thoughts culled from a life filled with music, literature and art.There is a soulfulness and a spirituality to the combinations Hilary puts together in her still-lifes. "Authenticity," she said at one point, holding up her pointer finger decidedly. And I nodded. Yes. Strong images, filled with shapes and colors, somehow resonate in our bodies and minds as what is real, and true. And finding an expression for that truth, my friend Hilary well knows, can heal us. 
I first met Saskia Layden (now Saskia Layden Kaya) when she was teaching yoga to children at Still Waters in a Storm, a storefront after-school program in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Her smile and laugh lit up the room, and the children gathered around her, all over her, like puppies. I knew immediately I needed her to teach the kids in my own program for InspireCorps, at PS81, and when she did...I was blown away. She had no doubts, not a single qualm it seemed. She knew exactly what the kids needed, and she gave it to them: love. With her gentle yet firm tone, she told them where to sit or lie down, she told them how to move their bodies, and what to do with their minds. And they listened, even though they didn't listen to most people these kids, raised in the projects, often distrustful of others, distrustful of themselves. She has serious skills, my friend Saskia, and I saw it in her when she was just a stranger. She knows how to connect, how to build trust and love, how to forge bonds and build bridges where others might only see divides. And that's a crucial skill these days, one not to be taken lightly. Saskia and I have spent a lot of time together, albeit virtually, since the pandemic began. I could suddenly take the yoga classes and meditations she gives in Fethiye, Turkey where she lives, via Zoom. (Join her group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/yogawithsaskia). She encouraged me to start a writing group, Real Connections Mindful Writing, which she joined (https://www.facebook.com/groups/525789544963645.) And recently, struck by how seamlessly she has adapted to living in a foreign country, married to a lovely Turkish man, learning Turkish and spending time with her in-laws in a small Turkish village, I asked her to make a video. Just Like Us, I thought to call the series of videos I would ask people to do all over the world. After all, it may seem we are so different, but people are basically the same everywhere. There are a few essentials and one of them, as Saskia seems to know well, is  LOVE! We just need to be reminded. Watch the great video here, and listen to my heart to heart with this amazing lady. Peace. 
It is fitting that I am posting this episode of Talking to Strangers late at night, as that's when I met today's guest, jazz guitarist Andy Bianco. We met at Korzo, a Park Slope restaurant and bar, during one of the late great Konceptions Music Series shows put on by pianist James Carney and his wife Heidi Bayer. He wasn't playing that night, but I would hear him on a number of subsequent occasions, both in bars and in my house, where he began to teach my son. As much as I try, with this podcast and otherwise, it is hard to exactly explain the feeling of familiarity that comes over you when you meet a stranger who is sure to be in your life in some way. There was something about his voice, and the very serious way in which he placed his words, the care with which he spoke, that made me take Andy's number and follow up with him to see if he gave lessons. Even though he was funny, and made me laugh, I could also see that he took great pride in the knowledge he had about music and the other topics that got raised that night and on subsequent evenings as he came and went from my house, before and after the lessons he gave. Knowledge, and the enthusiasm for it, is a great asset in life, and certainly a phenomenal asset for a musician and teacher. Music moves people. It is a valuable thing, and Andy clearly values it, and loves to share it, in so many ways. Reach out to him for lessons! bianco.andy05@gmail.comIt was so fun to do this podcast with Andy, to really sit down and listen to how he became interested in guitar, to jazz in particular. I had given a bit to the GoFundMe he started for a music scholarship in his late father's name, but hadn't heard as much about his father's life as a musician and how it had inspired Andy. You can learn more about it and donate at http://www.gofundme.com/f/phillip-bianco-music-scholarship. Check out his website  http://artistecard.com/andybianco and his new album: https://ffm.to/kpdgkopI am always blown away by the dedication great musicians have to their craft, and there is almost no better example of that dedication than now, during a time when so much about musicians' lives have come to a grinding halt. Watching Andy take on new projects, new students, new efforts to keep focused on sharing the great mysteries of music is heart-warming and hopeful: music will never die, nor will musicians, whose legacy will live on and on and on through their music, and the people who have the great good fortune to listen to them play.
Believing in yourself can be a hard thing. With Stanley Mills' sure smile and easy laugh, and his gentle prodding, it seems easier. Stanley has been a personal trainer for over 20 years, though his body seems to defy that that's even possible! It is his physique that is physically impressive, but it is his amazing positivity that really drives one forward. I can hear his voice in my head sometimes, "You can do it Steph..." Everyone in my family except my oldest son has used Stanley as a trainer at the Y. I worried about him during the pandemic, and recently reached out when I heard the Y was finally opening so that I could book him for some sessions. It turns out they are not bringing him back in this first phase, but we agreed to meet separately, outside. We were the first clients he'd trained in nearly six months, and--for Stanley, whose life mission is clearly to help motivate others--it was a looooooong lull. Our session jumpstarted him to start seeing clients again, and we are so glad he is!! It is an important time for people to believe in the strength of their own bodies and minds, to work with someone if they have to in order to get focused and find their way forward after/during this strange time of uncertainty. There are certain people who can make you feel grounded and great and inspired, and Stanley is one of them. "We can't do this alone," he says in our brief chat. And it's true. Email me at stephsthompson@gmail.com if you want to reach out to Stanley for a session! 
When you buy a house and decide to gut renovate it, you are suddenly in contact with a lot of strangers you have to learn to trust. Last November, I hired upstate contractor Andy Kane from Peak Builders, and he began to work on the fixer-upper we'd purchased in Elka Park, NY. It has been 10 months since then, and there have been an amazing cast of characters Andy has brought in do the plumbing and electrical, to tile the bathrooms, fix the roof, deliver the wood, to paint and help him with all the massive amount of carpentry. Despite wanting these guys to fix up my house as fast as possible (throughout a pandemic as well as all the normal disruptions that make a renovation last far longer than one thinks it should), I often stop to chat with them about...well, about whatever's on my mind, or theirs. It is a lovely bunch up on the mountain, and it has been fascinating to get to know them. On this day last February, I must have been thinking as usual about how much to trust or distrust others, how much people can count on other people, and the guys were more than happy to jump in with their thoughts. It is fitting that the walls were literally down around in the gutted master bedroom as we chatted about the walls we put up with one another as humans, and how in charge we are of what happens between us...right down to how much we can control ourselves from going to all-out war. A huge hearty thank you to Andy and his amazing team (including Jerry and Jesse chatting here, from Batavia Kill Plumbing & Heating) for all the good mojo they brought in to this crazy house we bought, for all their hard work on our behalf, and for their humanity. It has been a pleasure. Talking to the strangers you hire to help renovate, understanding them as humans and having them understand you, is a beautiful thing. 
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