Cathy's Blog

Will Red Socks Get You to Carnegie Hall?

Here I am, the Great Pretender, appearing calm.

I’ve performed in each of my guitar teacher’s recitals since 2003, playing to an audience of friends, family, and fellow students in her crowded living room, precisely the environment in which this kind of music was played in olden times. “Chamber music,” they still call it–plucked stringed instruments, quiet by nature, played without amplification  in a small room. Each year I love having performed, but I never fail to wake up on recital morning with a groan: Why do I do this to myself? Playing solo is so scary, even if you’re someone like Julian Bream, whose stage fright, I’ve been told, was so severe that he would not perform without wearing his lucky red socks (over the years I assume he went through multiple pairs). So if Bream was shaking and quaking while performing in Carnegie Hall, who am I to chastise myself for approaching the chair, the music stand,  and the footstool in a state of abject terror?

That said, each year I have managed to play my pieces to my satisfaction, and after 12 months of practicing and finger exercises and memorizing and lessons and performance classes, deservedly so. But not last Sunday. No. At least, not solo. I also am a member of “No Strings Attached,” an ensemble of three students, and we launched this year’s recital with a lovely Handle Sarabande followed by a devilish Bach Presto, measures flying by without a single rest. Miss a few notes and catching up is like running after a speeding  train. But we did great. Besides, playing ensemble isn’t  scary. You’ve got back-up.

But solo? Not this time. I’ve had– as the therapists tell you to say–a challenging year. A lot of loss and disappointment, professional rejection, loss of income, loss of nerve, loss of teeth, loss of hearing, loss of confidence and belief in myself. So I decided to avoid the possibility of another disappointment by not performing my solo pieces (even though they were already listed in the program) because I just didn’t think I could do justice to the music. Helen,  my wonderful teacher, supported my decision. What a relief! After the ensemble performed I sat in the audience and just enjoyed listening to other people’s pieces,  feeling privileged to be in the company of so many courageous musicians, none of us professional, just impassioned, and taking in the gift of unamplified music in a small and intimate room. Like it was done in olden times. Two days have gone by since then, and my self-confidence is doing a slow U-turn. Life is good again.

April 30, 2019


The Wood Whisperer

The stump of an old-growth curly sequoia, salvaged from a California lake bed, is transformed into something both beautiful and

Gentleman Jerrold: Fierce Warrior in the House

  Congressman Nadler addresses his constituents in the Westbeth Community Room. Photo credit Maggie Berkvist. Republicans are very afraid of my congressman, Jerrold Nadler. Aside from his being the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, with jurisdiction

Yes, I Do Have a Head

Do you mind a little self-promotion on a lazy Friday of Labor Day Weekend? This is an interview of me in the August issue of WestView News, the local paper I write

And the Living Is Easy

Rothenberger and Nilsen families at the beach ca. 1965. Photo by Mary Nilsen. It's the last day of July and I'm wondering why. Wasn't it April last time I looked? Wasn't I twenty-five two weeks ago? Why does time accelerate with each passing decade? Who will ever know what can't be known or need

The Evil Woman Returns

"Children at Sunset." Photo credit: Rayne at "Kirstjen Nielsen is no woman!" said my friend, raising his voice above my ranting over the current crop of Evil Women in Power, whose assault on human dignity has been putting me in a tailspin since the curse of Jeane Kirkpatrick

Ultimate Meatballs

Photo by Colin Harrison With all due deference to my Norwegian ancestors (see August 2017 blog: "The Power of Meatballs"), I have discovered a new twist to making spaghetti and meatballs that I can only say makes me swoon. It's one of those culinary accidents that change my concept of the meaning

What the Old Ones Knew

Ellsworth Chytka, photo credit Maryanne Heldt. I've been working all month on What the Old Ones Knew, a book proposal for  Yankton Sioux elder and oral historian Ellsworth Chytka, getting it ready to submit to publishers next month. As this has taken up all of my writing time, the following

The 5Pointz Decision: From Taki 128 to High Art

"Love Warrior and Burner" by Toofly and Meres One. One of the destroyed 5Pointz murals. (This blog is a condensed version of an article I wrote for the March issue of WestView News, my neighborhood paper. The entire article can be read at When the art world

The Far West Village: A Valentine

Venerable old house with wisteria, Christopher and Gay streets. Painting by John L. Silver, 2005. I have an indelible memory of a map in my sixth grade geography book in which dots indicated the size of population centers in the United States. The entire midsection of the country was sparsely

Love and the Ghost of Jimi Hendrix

Photo credit: The Borealis Press, Blue Hill, Maine On this last day of 2017 I've been thinking about Nixon, Kissinger, and the Christmas bombings of 1972--not a pleasant way to close out a year, but bear with me. Like many anti-warriors in 1972, I had been working hard to prevent Nixon's reelection

Room 315: The Book Lover’s Sistine Chapel

In the years before I started considering myself a writer I spent a lot of time in libraries, looking for I knew not what. The massive main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, only a few blocks from home, was majestic in an Egyptian-temple kind of way, but the decor

“Only Fifteen Minutes of Your Time”

Without bangs, ca. 1964 His name is fairly common, so I’ll just call him Gene P. He was on the list of go-see’s from the booker at my first modeling agency. I was in my twenties then, a fledgling model/actress from the Midwest, new to the Big City and incredibly naive. The booker, an aging

“Something Wicked This Way Comes”

Sometimes a situation has to get really bad, I used to think, truly descend into madness, before people would wake up and do something about it. So when the pathological liar in the White House was silent for six days in the aftermath of a catastrophic hurricane and spent those six days having tantrums

The Power of Meatballs

Carrie Berger and her children (left to right): Stella, Trigve, Helen, Erling, Harold, Fred, and Edna When my Grandma Berger was approaching her ninetieth year, her seven children began to worry that it might not be safe for her to continue to live alone. Knowing how vociferously she would object

Memory Sticks

This happened a long time ago: I’m standing by the stove in the Revland family kitchen on Third Avenue South in Fargo, heating a can of cream-style corn. It’s a small kitchen, barely large enough for a family of six to sit around the table, which we do every evening. I have a feeling it’s

If You Want to Play Fast, Practice Slow

Helen’s guitar recital, class of 2002. I had the pleasure of hearing Andres Segovia perform in 1977, when he was 84 years old. Although I was sitting toward the back of the concert hall, I heard every note he played. How does he do that, I thought, this little old man? Not by playing loud,

Curbing Infobesity

Photo credit: Phillip Rothenberger, ca. 1972 This is not a manifesto. I’m hardly qualified to instruct others on how to cope with living in nightmare times when I struggle each day with a disorder my son-in-law Simon calls “infobesity,” or obsessive consumption of the news. The current