How To Paint A Girl by Gbenga Adesina

This is the Nigerian poet Gbenga Adesina.

He is visiting New York for a few weeks and stayed with us for a few days. (When people stay with you, it is a window into something else.) He and I caught each other in passing and sat at our dining room table a few times and ended up talking about many things. He practiced for a reading of his work while in New York by reading a few of them to me: Me. An audience of one. I said, “So slow! Like you are singing the words!” And it does! It sounds like he is singing. And then, being moved, I impulsively said, “Will you read while I play?” So, before he left our house, he read this poem while I improvised. It took probably 2 minutes (because we did it twice).

I want you to know about this poem and this writer because I am finding that being in a space in which room has been made to reflect and create is healing: for everyone.

This is his poem How to Paint A Girl which was published in the New York Times Magazine on July 8, 2016.

How to Paint a Girl


With him you come to learn
that when a man is called to paint a girl
he paints all of himself.
His tiny songs are the floss in her hair,
the tulips on her blouse are the stories
his sisters told him under half-nights long ago
in the lost country of music. With their half-furls and
follicles and buds and brown twigs that speak more
of withering things. The tiny sigh, the one you almost
didn’t see, the silence in her eyes, is the night his mother
died while he fought rebels in the Nigerian army.

How Like Stars, When Lit (Stories From The Cello Train – Sprint 1)


I am generally a pretty poor sleeper. I have been most of my life, I think. I don’t have a problem falling asleep – it’s the staying asleep. But, it’s okay, because I love the stillness of very early mornings. Sleep being interrupted at 3, 4, 5 or 6 am isn’t all that bad: I am calmer then. I can focus. Be alone. Think clearly. There is a bit of reassuring restlessness and creative urgency in the quiet of these darker early hours. My days can drag, but I hate naps. It works out somehow.

These past few months especially, when I can’t sleep, I work. Luckily, I am blessed with the gift of gentle housemates who don’t mind me playing late into the night or early in the morning occasionally.

This morning was no exception. And it being Sunday, the most quiet morning of the entire week, I was able to compile a project I’ve been surreptitiously working on – okay, a bit publicly. These are approximately 1 minute story-score mini-movies for a game I started recently on my Instagram. (Hashtag for easy finding is #StoriesFromTheCelloTrain) This is the final installment, the final frame, of the 4-post set. I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback, but the overwhelming comment is “make them longer!” So, I’ve made this final piece to end the story a bit longer…for you. I’d call these scores mainly “Prepared Improvisations”.

A word about Sprinting: I have written about being a Sprinter on my blog before. I’ve had some friends read that post and tell me later: Yes! That’s me! It’s reassuring to not be the only one on earth who feels this way about themselves.

Sprinter (the EHP definition): the act of Super Focus on a chosen activity – or, occasionally, a person – for a very specific period of time but then experience a sudden and unexpected withdraw in Super Focus, most often not feeling the need to return to the activity again. The Super Focus time period can be minutes, hours, days, or months. It is rare that a Sprinter takes something on for years, but it happens. Other indications of sprinting behavior are the need to finish quickly to anxiously create or rush the feeling of euphoria upon completion or returns.

Being a Sprinter feels different from having an obsession, though I see how one might use that term. It’s more than the Sprinter simply choosing a thing. The two violently choose each other. For me, being a Sprinter is more than just having a Super Focus: it is a desire to consume as quickly as possible and to understand completely (which, eventually, is found impossible) until exhaustion, usually. But because being a Sprinter is so intense for such short periods of time, when the Sprinter experiences the Focus Drop, it feels like a true emptying. They can experience extreme sadness while simultaneously a sense of relief from the energy expenditure. I am more of a Sprinter now than I ever have been before mainly because I have openly accepted it’s what I do. I have become more present and self-loving in the attempt to understand my own sprints. However, I’m finding that because I am more aware that I am a Sprinter, I take things on with a more controlled moderation so my focus can last much longer. I can sustain activities now, slow myself down, be patient and understanding as I wait for it to come back if a break is needed, or simply be grateful for the time I had as I feel its need to end.

As a Sprinter, I am finding this new practice is a different kind of work than simply wanting to ultimately consume to deflect or distract. While it is still a Super Focus, it feels like a patient self-loving and a giving back to The Self instead of an exhaust. Inevitably, I appreciate, respect, and show more love to the object of my sprints because it’s coming from the most accepting and warm place within – that place of self-honor. Love.

Having said that, I have found what helps appease the Sprinter in me is to customize easy, short, creative “sprinting” projects. It feeds the hunger for constant and extreme variation while also feeding the need to complete things very quickly. All are satiated.

So, here you are:

A friend said to me today, “Sad is good for creating art.”

I have a penchant for the dark and sad because I am a romantic and an idealist while also being a skeptic and a cynic. Things must make no sense at all while being absolutely and totally logical. Unreal + real. I am simultaneously horribly relieved and extremely saddened by truth and inevitability and secretly feel like both are things you should be able to stop and mold at will with your bare hands. It’s all a special recipe for sadness, I guess.

Happy everything to you today.

How Like Stars, When Lit

[1] You are in a desert, and I am in your desert, too. The sun is full above us, and glassy water is to the left of you and to the right of me. We face each other from a far distance and because our images are distorted by the heat, we ask ourselves: Is it you? Is it me? I raise my arm and point. The gesture makes you turn to glance behind you. As you twist, you begin sinking into the ground – but you are being pulled by little hands! I come running as fast as I can through the sand for you but you suddenly fall through. I dive to grab you but you are gone – where?! Where do the tiny hands take you? What was I pointing at? And will I ever get to you wherever you are?!

[2] I lost you. Deep in the sand.
Do you feel safe? I yelled.
Safe? You yell back.
Yes – do you at least feel safe even if you are unsure?
I can’t hear what you say back to me through the deep. Then I decipher it:
Can you feel safe if you are unsure?
I don’t know, I say back. I’m bad at this.
Then how will you find me if you don’t know?
I’m not sure, I say.
Then we are both uncertain, but I think we are safe – yes?
I yell back because you have stopped talking to me. And because I am…uncertain…I wait next to the sink of sand. I wait because this is the last place i saw you, but I know that doesn’t mean this is where you are now. And if I leave…well, what if I left to find you some other way? What then?
Time moves so slowly when you are anxiously engaged next to a sink of sand trapped by The Melancholy…

[3] I am laying near the edge of the sand sink waiting for you to resurface. I finally rise to my feet after many days of listening for your voice.

I am so thirsty.
There is nothing.
No life.
No sound.
Hello? I say, finally.
Then I will leave! I say.
One last yell into the sink:
Hello! I scream.
But as I am listening, I see the sink begin to fill itself up as if there was never anything at all: as if you had never even existed in this place. The landscape has now become one huge monochrome desert valley.
In this moment I have become aware of the scrapes on my knees and the sand in my ears and in my nose from when I threw myself to save you. I see the holes in my shirt from anxiously pulling during the waiting for you.
So I walk. I walk far towards the water in the West. (Long ago, you taught me to stay nearest to the water.) It is a slow walk because I have a hurt knee now. It is a hot day, and I expect to find very little. But I see the water in the distance, and I can finally make out a shape there. Round? Square? Or is that three points? It is blurry. Is it rising? Falling? Breathing?
If is it more than The Nothing I just left, then it certainly is something.


[4] It has taken me time to reach what I think is the water. So much time that it is now night – but the little lights from the sky still make the surface glow. I remember you telling me about this: how the water still shines in the night but how it is different from in the day – how it calmed you. How you felt home here. Just then, in my remembering, I pause because – wait – I think I hear you. But I do not. I walk. I am almost touching the edge where the sand ends. I anticipate relief because…maybe the strange, tiny hands would have taken you here? Maybe you came here? I look for signs in the sand. I look for a sink, hands, feet…water. Water? I go to the edge of the sand. Water? I drop to my knees and survey the vast surface glow. I don’t hear the expected wash or rush but… faint tingsclinks? Like how stars, when lit and plucked from their places, might sound rolled up, all broken like glass, in a soft bag. I search again and find what I saw shimmering in the distance during the day was just a vast and endless sea of sharp metal pieces – not unlike crudely made swords without hilts rolling and gesturing mockingly like the water might. They are of all sizes. Of all kinds. And this is now all I see shining in the darkness at my kneeling.

Where Things Go


Backhanded Illustrated

You say: You’ve been gone a while.

And then I say to you: I know. I’ve had to be away.

You ask: Is this about me?

I pause to think: Well, it’s about everything. And you’re a part of everything. It is a creating of…art, I guess. I don’t like that word art…for myself. Art is real. But it’s also unreal.

You get quiet. Because sometimes you’re quiet: I feel like I’ve been doing all the work.

I interrupt: Well, I miss you. That’s work. And before you did all the work, I did a lot of the work.


I say: I got…tired.

You are still quiet.

I say: Sometimes, when I’m on the train, I want to wrap my arms around a person and hold them until my stop comes. I don’t do it. But sometimes I really, really want to. Not every person. Just some people. And the people are always different. Maybe if I actually did it, it wouldn’t feel as nice as the wanting of doing it. The wanting of holding a stranger on the train feels magical. But I am living in me. They are living in them. It might not be so magical for them.


Then I ask: Haven’t you ever stopped yourself from doing something you really, really want to do?

You don’t answer. Because sometimes you don’t answer.



Flee As a Bird To Your Mountain

I am sitting at the desk in my room. There is a single window to my left. I rise early every day and hear life outside, but Sundays are the most still through this window. Sunday mornings are just incredibly still. On mornings like this I like to pretend it is the apocalypse – like I am the last person living in New York City, and I must fend for myself.

I am thinking about loss. (What a topic for a Sunday at 7 am. Thanks, Brain.)

Loss happens because we are alive. Loss of love, life, jobs, money, hope; the ample arm of rejection…it is a cruelly long list. But at the root of loss is Fear. Loss is a stupid plastic bobble head waving its arms on the dashboard of your ego. Fear just keeps it gripped there, hard and tight. I’ve heard the emotions associated with fear are all linked to our ancestral survival instinct (and the unknown, of course) – we still think we can’t survive if we lose our tribe. We’ll be alone. We can’t sustain ourselves alone and wild beasts will hunt us down. Today our tribe is our friends or lovers. The beasts? Well, they’re far more numerous and complex than just a hungry animal – though that metaphor is a favorite. At this point, I don’t really need to say anything poetic about loss, really – it is already made up of poetry: the writers write about it and the singers sing about it.

Some lines people feed to those who lose life or love (but they can be the same though, can’t they?):

“You will see down the road that all this was for the best.”

“Nothing lasts forever.”

“They were really sick for a long time.”

“I’m so sorry. But, you know, I’m not surprised. I saw this coming.”

“They’re in a better place.”

“They aren’t feeling pain anymore.”

“You’ll find someone else. Someone better.”

“This happens to everyone.”

“[You are, she is, he is] free now.”

“[They aren’t, she isn’t, he isn’t] your person.”

“It gets easier.”

The list is enormous and varied. They mean well. Writing these out cheapens the sentiments, I know. But somehow, loss takes away any value all on its own.

Loss is varied, strange, and irreverent.

People think they know what you’ve lost so they know what to say to you when you’ve lost it. I don’t blame them. What can you say? But I think the pain associated with loss is more secret than that. I find it to be the case particularly as an artist: people love guessing what or who your work is about – particularly in reference to loss. They want to identify and find meaning. To know. To understand. I know! I do it, too. But there are secrets to loss. Buried so low – as if in a tomb. Rest assured: loss is private, secret, intimate. It is never exactly about what you think.

Loss brings a fever. You must sit through the fever.

I read an article once that you can actually take ibuprofen for heartache. I haven’t tried it. Your brain fires the same kind of information to your body for heartache that it does for physical pain.

Loss can be expected.

Loss can be absolutely unexpected.

Loss can be kind of expected but still process like a total surprise.

It is a sideswipe no matter how it comes to you – even if you think you were the most ready, nothing quite prepares you for loss.

There is no sure way out of the emotional residues of loss but through them.

That is my treatise on loss.

Now, this is a work-in-progress I started back in the spring but, really, a piece like this begins further back than that, I guess. I have always been fascinated by and drawn to religion generally as a study but particularly Judaism. (I grew up Mormon but have since exited. Aye, me: Humans and religion. It is sticky and viscous.) I can’t say why Judaism particularly has stood out to me all these years – maybe its ancient nature? I find so much about it really beautiful. My fascination with it has been there since I was very young, and it has stuck around. It has played its little theme in my life, weaving in and out. Encounters with it have needed their own life, so I present this smaller work-in-progress for your mind-ear.

I gifted this work-in-progress for a gentle birthday. This is what I said about it at the time:

This is a compositional work in progress in movements incorporating a scripture from Psalms and three Jewish prayers and words from them. As you know, I understand very little about them, but I looked for ones that spoke to me; ones that told me a story of how things are right now. They are not literal quotes as you will recognize them, but interpretations…

 Introduction (Motif)

  1. Flee as a bird to your mountain, Psalms 11:1 (Theme)
  2. Tefilat HaDerech – rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to earth
  3. Shehecheyanu – who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.
  4.  Anim Zemirot – I shall sing sweet songs (Theme)

About what you’re hearing:

Motif: Sonar pings – the use of sound transmission to navigate, communicate with, or find objects (most often in water). The searching.

1. Theme: “Flee as a bird to your mountain.” I love this. I love it. It carries with it the weight of a million meanings – the symbolism of a bird, a mountain – even the word flee. The word is not run or go. It’s very specific: flee, “to run away from a place or situation of danger.”

At the time when I started this piece, I just happened to be revisiting some old repertoire: Bloch’s Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque for Violoncello and Orchestra. I was a freshman in college when my teacher showed me this piece. I was hooked immediately. It’s a stunning and very difficult piece. I learned a bit of it and left it, so it haunts me a little (as does Ysaÿe’s Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 28), so I went back to it. There’s a tiny quote of it in the theme.

2. Move. Travel very far. So far that you will wear down skin on feet. There will be ghosts where you are going (brief return of the theme). It will be mysterious, vast, and maybe even uncomfortable for a long time. But not forever, and it will be alright.

3. Gratitude. When you have survived, what will you do? Tell the stories. There is an electric surge in this moment that is felt throughout because of where you have been. Then a detection of an underpinning that was once small that grew big and then small again until it became just a whisper. But it is still there. It is now a thing that makes up who you are until you are gone into the earth.

4. Finish. After all you can do and all you have done, what is left? This is it. We are as we began: “I shall sing sweet songs.” It is melancholy in nature, true, but have hope: our endings are not so often happy, but they are lived. They were loved. They are loved.

I recently read a funny thing in a cartoon about happiness:

“I am not a happy person…Instead, I’m busy, I’m interested, I’m fascinated.”

So, after all that, I will leave you with this thing I read in a book my friend lent me about co-dependency (yet another ample subject. Thanks, 7 am):

You are the greatest thing that will ever happen to you.

So, you see? Loss didn’t take that much from us after all.



My therapist says…


I’m On Fire – Bruce Springsteen Cover



Here is a cover. If I was to be frank, it’s to prove something to myself after a very long and taxing day – for mind and body.  Even if I didn’t actually prove anything, it is good to do. And I love this song.

I have two versions of this: a live version and a ‘tracked’ version with arco cello arrangements. There’s something nice about a simple, raw live version of something new and unplanned.

It is now 4:12 am. Why are you awake?  Why am I still awake?


I’m On Fire – live – Bruce Springsteen cover

Hey little girl is your daddy home
Did he go and leave you all alone
I got a bad desire
I’m on fire

Tell me now baby is he good to you
Can he do to you the things that I do
I can take you higher
I’m on fire

Sometimes it’s like someone took a knife baby
Edgy and dull and cut a six-inch valley
Through the middle of my soul

At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
And a freight train running through the
Middle of my head
Only you can cool my desire
I’m on fire




And here we are. It is July.

Saving the details, I’ve been back home to see my parents twice in just a few months – I have just returned, actually. My dad had quadruple bypass open heart surgery several weeks ago now – though it seems like it was just days, really. I documented various moments of the visit on my Instagram account (which is full of other interesting things, might I add, so feel free…)


The night before his surgery was a dark and stressful one. My mom and I stayed in his hospital room. Due to major discomfort, among other things, my dad didn’t sleep much that night, so in the darkness I sat trying to remember words to songs he liked – Michelle by the Beatles, I Only Have Eyes For You by The Flamingos and others – at times like this, where a specific kind of memory is needed, it’s unsurprising how much it fails you, so I hummed a lot of the verses I couldn’t remember or just repeated the ones I could recall.

The next day, his surgery day, waiting for him to come out, was the longest day… but the week following I spent in the hospital watching nurse after nurse come in every few minutes is a blur. But I do remember fetching the cello he keeps at the house and taking it to the hospital to his room. I played for him every day I was there, minus one, and fiddled from a very large print music book called the “popular song book” which he bought for himself (my dad is an amateur every-instrument musician but has really taken to the banjo and ukulele). I opened up to this song and immediately remembered how utterly beautiful it is, and because he was sleeping most of the time, I found myself going back to this song to play again and again, over and over.

I felt like getting it out to play again today, and I was reminded all over how much I love it. So I sat in my tiny Brooklyn apartment bathroom tonight and did a quick version of it, just like I played for my dad as he recovered in his room post-surgery.

And, how is everything, you’re wondering? Well, his surgery went well – a great thing considering he was a high risk patient – but while the world of science and medicine can be a wonderful one, the world of the mind and body, in many ways, is far more vast, mysterious, and complex…and so we sojourn on, one day at a time, hoping the next will be riddled with less pain, more gratitude, more empathy and more love than the day before.

The original recording of this song, which appeared in Disney’s Cinderella in 1950, is most beautifully sung by Ilene Woods – what a voice.

A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes

In the style of a Brooklyn bathroom

A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes (The Brooklyn Bathroom Version)

Le Rêve (La Vie En Rose)


I was recently dreamed about. A friend wrote me to say they had a dream about me playing my cello on the top of an amusement park ride at a fair – I didn’t get their permission to retell this, but…but…I’m not really giving anything away…am I?

I wondered later, “What would I be playing on top of an amusement park ride at a fair?” For whatever whimsical, stereotypical reason, I imagined an amusement park ride in Paris. Do the French have super tall rides like we do in America? Because I also imagined it being on top of a very, very tall ride – atop the tallest ferris wheel? (Taller than the one in London, even). And somehow, like in the movies, the sound would magically carry throughout the entire place and it would be stupidly idyllic and wonderful and there would be no death, loneliness, or sadness… just a moment in sound.

I also mainly chose this particular song because I miss my dad. He’s a champion for the classics and songs with tunes you can walk away singing. Right-o daddy-o.

Recorded over a bit of time, and very quietly, after everyone and all the dog(s) were asleep…I underestimated the range this song covers…it goes as low as low can be – a key must be selected very, very carefully – but the awkwardness of the register works on all fronts as I wanted that “this is uncomfortable” feeling. I mean, playing cello on top of a tall, tall amusement park ride? Thrilling. But uncomfortable.

Good night, fools.


La Vie En Rose

words by Mack David (french by Edith Piaf)

music by Monnot/Louiguy