A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Polonius Was Right

Happy Return To Sender Day!
What? Never heard of it?
That's not surprising. It's a brand-new event invented by Sarah Kidder, a professional etiquette consultant and event planner in Oakland. The day is dedicated to returning items you've borrowed and asking for the return of items you've loaned. The first one is next Tuesday.
"I was reorganizing my office and came across a few things I've been trying to give back to people, things I've been tripping over, including some old shoes left behind by a houseguest and a pair of designer candles I've been holding for my brother," she says. "And I keep looking for things I've loaned out but have never been returned.
"I was chatting with my friend Jenny, who was also in the same boat, and she noted how awkward it is to ask for something back after six months, or a year, or five.
"So I said, 'What if we made it easier for people to ask for their stuff back? And what if and took the shame out of returning something two years late?'"
And we said, "We should come up with a day!"
The first Return To Sender Day- RTS Day, for short - will be next Tuesday, March 20, the first day of spring. (Spring cleaning, get it?)
But is anyone really hankering to get their old stuff back?
"Absolutely! Very few people forget about the weird stuff they've loaned out, even if it's been decades. You don't forget about that book or that swing record. It doesn't even matter if you really want it any more. It's the principle of the thing."
To make it easier for you, Kidder has set up a website and Facebook page with a FAQ sheet and some downloadable templates of reminders to send your friends. Among them:
"Missing: Deep Fryer. Last seen: Your house. For that BBQ you hosted. You said you'd bring it back Monday. That was nine months ago. I'd like it back on RTS Day."
"Wanted: Faux Vintage Telephone. You borrowed it for a theme party. You don't even have a landline. I miss it. It's been two years. Please return it on RTS Day."
"I have your DVDs. I'll drop them in your mailbox on RTS Day. Sorry it's taken so long to get them back to you."
To access the Facebook page, go to www.facebook.com/RTSDay/ To access the website, visit www.sarahkidderdesigns.com/
"RTS Day gives everyone a chance to ask for their stuff back without sounding like a nag or petty, and it gives a guilt-free way to return items," she says. "I don't know where this is all headed, but I hope it goes viral. I think it would be wonderful if people had a way to get their power drills or Tupperware back and keep their friendship."
Old Polonius was right: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." But if you must borrow, give it back!
So get ready, Cliff Stoll: I'm going to return two books - "Courtesans and Fishcakes" and "Bowling Alone" - that you loaned me five years ago.
And David Kemnitzer: I'd like to get back that autographed copy of "Fear On Trial" by John Henry Faulk, which you borrowed from me back in 1970.
What's on your RTS list?

Sunday, March 4, 2012


(Above: The Montclair Women's Big Band)

Hey, all you young jazzwomen. (And there are a lot of you out there - more than you know.) Tired of being one of the only females in the band?
Wondering where all the other girls are?
Thinking about joining a jazz group, but feeling shy or discouraged by the lack of other female musicians?
Have I got an event for you!
Come to Berkeley High next Saturday, March 10, for the first ever JazzGirls Day, led by prominent professional women jazz musicians and educators, including trombonist Sarah Cline, director of the Berkeley High Jazz Program; trumpet player Ellen Seeling, director of the Montclair Women's Big Band; tenor saxophonist Jean Fineberg, co-director of the Jazzschool Girls Jazz & Blues Camp; and pianist Susan Muscarella, founder and executive director of the Jazzschool.
"We'll play some tunes, have a jam session, break into groups by instrument, and talk about our experiences as women and girls in the jazz world," says Cline, the first female to head Berkeley High's award-winning jazz program.
This event is for girls only. It's absolutely free. And you don't have to be a student at Berkeley High. It's open to all girls age 10 and older who sing or play an instrument.
"Bring all your friends," says Cline, "even if they don't play jazz yet."
JazzGirls Day will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Please RSVP to Cline at sarahcline@berkeley.net to let her know you're coming.
Not only is admission free, attendees will also get discounts on tickets to another, related event happening that evening and the next day a few blocks away: the first annual Jazzschool Women's Jazz Festival.
Saturday night features the Young Lionesses, an all-star band of emerging jazz stars in their twenties and early thirties, including pianist Erika Oba and alto saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, already a legend for her bebop solos.
On Sunday afternoon, a dream team of veteran jazzwomen - including Cline, Fineberg, Seeling, bassists Carla Kaufman and Ruth Davies, alto saxist Mad Duran, and drummer Kelly Fasman - will join forces at the Jazzschool for a once-in-a-lifetime concert.
Each of them has a well-established reputation, but this will be the first time they've all played together. Tickets are expected to go fast, so call the Jazzschool at 510-845-5373 to reserve yours now.
It's hard to believe in 2012, but jazz, unfortunately, is still a bastion of male chauvinist piggery. Unless they're singers, jazzwomen have a hard time getting gigs with bands, bookings at jazz festivals, or teaching positions with major university jazz programs.
Things really haven't changed since Cline was a student at Berkeley High herself 30 years ago. At the time, she was one of only two girls in the school's highest-level jazz ensemble.
Despite all her efforts, guess how many girls are in that jazz ensemble today? The same number: two.
That's why she and her fellow musicians are putting on next weekend's events: to tell the next generation of jazzwomen, "Yes, you can."
Have a blast next weekend, girls. And don't listen to anyone who tells you that you can't play jazz as well as boys.
It's about as valid as something similar I used to hear all the time in the 1950s and early '60s, when NBA coaches, players and sportswriters all firmly believed that African Americans can't play basketball as well as whites.