Gail Needleman: We Are Not Monads

Second in a Series on my Mesa Refuge Cohorts

Gail Needleman came to Mesa Refuge to sort through years of notes.

Photo by Brandon Geisbrecht, via flickr Commons

Photo by Brandon Geisbrecht, via flickr Commons

A pianist and university professor, Gail was working on a book based on her musings and observations about music. Music not as some optional add-on, or the product of a professional, but absolutely essential to our souls. She sequestered herself in the upper room and got to it.

I have to say I was itching to be a mouse in her pocket, because I love sorting through tidbits and insights.

Her advice to writers: Do not make notes in tiny notebooks; you will regret it later. (She teasingly scolded me for my habit of scribbling in a little notebook, but I love my wee notebooks!)

An interview she gave to Works and Conversations magazine is called Music is Something You Do. In it she mourns the trend toward music as performance instead of communal expression—effectively cutting us off from the healing power of our own voices.

She says it’s quite a modern idea to experience the self as a “monad,” a self-contained unit, separate from others. “And music, the most communal of human activities or arts, becomes those billboards with the person with the iPod dancing to music that no one else can hear.”

Photo by Thomas Neilsen, via flickr Commons

Photo by Thomas Nielsen, via flickr Commons

I love her story of the children’s game “Lemonade,” a call and response song-game. It includes the line “Give us some—don’t be afraid” before the child in the middle pretends to pour lemonade, and the others gather around and hold up their cups. Gail thinks this is about breaking the barrier between individual and group.

“It was just a very simple example of how in making music together, the barriers between people go down…We’re armored most of the time, even to ourselves, but certainly to others.”

Gail brought a dry wit and down-to-earth sensibility to our dinner table conversations. Her warmth and wisdom made me treasure her presence. One evening she advised us younger women, all prone to burnout from taking on too much, that “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you must.” She told of a time when she was in charge of an event and had many demands on her. The line she used, which I intend to borrow, was “Is this a question only I can answer?”

One night when we gathered by the woodstove, she sang a beautiful song that had us all mesmerized, especially her smitten husband.

Jerry and Gail Needleman on our last evening as Mesa Refuge residents

Jerry and Gail Needleman on our last evening as Mesa Refuge residents

It’s almost impossible to write about Gail without mentioning husband Jerry (philosophy professor Jacob Needleman, also in residence), and vice versa. The two are so clearly and completely meant for each other. It’s beautiful to see the love and trust between them—not to mention their lively sense of fun. Each seems to be the other’s biggest fan.

On the last evening she read from her work in progress, which she had been so reticent about discussing, and again held us spellbound. Her handwritten pages were pure poetry. I can’t wait for her book.

A Week in the Life, Irvington-style

Last week, I realized how much I rely on my neighborhood for commerce, entertainment, exercise, and other essentials. To wit:

Tuesday morning I took part in the Writing Habit, a weekly mini-retreat for writers put on by Urban Plot in the library of a local church. With two other writers tapping away on their keyboards, I cranked out some verbiage.

Kitley finds writing more taxing than stalking sparrows. Sometimes I agree.

Kitley finds writing more taxing than stalking sparrows. Sometimes I agree.

In the evening I walked two blocks to Dairy Queen (OK, it’s not locally owned, but a business in our own little plaza). My neighbor had called a meeting, sweetening the deal with ice cream. We were there to explore teaming the Irvington Green Initiative and a budding arts initiative with local organizations like Trade School Indy to share admin/event/classroom space sometime in the future. An intriguing possibility.

Wednesday, before sunup, I went to earlybird piyo (Pilates/yoga fusion) at Irvington Wellness Center, my favorite place for yoga and other such pursuits. In the afternoon, I biked over to meet a writer friend at Starbucks (because our old haunt, Lazy Daze Coffeehouse, tragically closed this summer).

I walked from there to Help My Mac Plus, where I found a refurbished MacBook Air with my name on it. A stunning development, given how terminally conflicted I am about gadgets and the resources they require. I had just begun to put out feelers for a lightweight laptop for my upcoming research trip/ writers’ residency. I’m thrilled with my find, awarding myself double bonus points for supporting a local business and avoiding buying new.

Thursday evening it was back to Irvington Wellness for yoga class, taught by another Irvingtonian (I inquired after her hens, as one does here).

Friday evening was the highlight. First we went out to eat with a friend at local eatery Legend, where the owners know us by name and the food is delicious. Then to see Delta Duo and friends perform at Bookmamas in the Underground 9.

JJ plays a resonator slide guitar in the style used by Delta bluesmen of the 1930s. Irina's violin accompaniment is haunting.

JJ plays a resonator slide guitar in the style used by Delta bluesmen of the 1930s. Irina’s violin accompaniment is haunting. Photo courtesy of the Delta Duo.

Two local singer/songwriters kicked it off, after which the headliners laid it down. Delta Duo pairs JJ the Chicago-born bluesman with Irina the classically trained Russian violinist for a sound like none other. Suffice to say this monthly show will be a priority from now on. (Bonus: no cover charge.)

But the weekend wasn’t over yet. Saturday after supper, Judy and I rode our bikes to our new neighborhood ice cream shop Wyliepalooza, then popped in on old friends to catch up.

And Sunday was the farmers market. Judy and I biked over, bought bread and produce, and ran into several friends, including the aforementioned JJ and Irina.

This is the third mention of ice cream in this post. Confession: I actually can't eat ice cream! Wish I could!

This is the third mention of ice cream in this post. Confession: I actually can’t eat ice cream. Wish I could!

In short, it was a great week to be an Irvingtonian. What’s new in your neighborhood?