I wake up between 5 and 6. I am a Buddhist and a father, which means early mornings. Sometimes I walk down stairs and fall asleep on the couch. I try to start the water boiling before I lie down on the couch, so the kettle will start to whistle, forcing me up to turn it off, to prevent the pitch of the kettle from disturbing our tenant. When the water is done boiling, I individually brew a large cup of coffee. I use Cafe Bustello, an Espresso grind not meant to be drip brewed, which leaves coffee residue in the bottom of the cup, and for some reason I enjoy that. My wife bought me a subscription to the New York Times for father's day, so I walk outside in my bathrobe and pick it up from in front of the Brownstone. This feels suburban, and is kind of funny.
On this particular morning I have limited time to practice meditation. I begin with nine full prostrations: hands placed in anjali pressed to the forehead, face, and chest, combined with kneeling and touching the forehead to the floor. Three are done to the words 'I take refuge in the Buddha', three are done to the words 'I take refuge in the Dharma' and three are done to the words 'I take refuge in the Sangha. After prostrations I sit in full lotus. I ring the bell and open with concentration practice. In concentration practice I split my attention between my breath, my peripheral awareness, noticing thinking, and the idol of Avalokiteshvara that sits in my shrine. I close with the daily reminder:
'Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of extreme importance, time passes quickly and opportunity is lost, you must strive to awaken, AWAKEN, do not squander your life!'
I establish the intention to notice fixation, ring the bell again, and my daughter Violet jumps on my back.
My wife Laura is soon behind her, and it is time to get Violet ready for school and out the door. This ranges from easy to extremely difficult, but today it is moderate. Around this time I remember that today I am supposed to be neurotically documenting everything with my DroidX smart phone, so I make a recording of Violet proclaiming her babyhood:
We are out the door, heading to the J train. We walk down Bushwick Ave. And hang a right on Grove. Bushwick Ave. is surprisingly regal. It is one of the main drags in a tougher part of Brooklyn that is currently experiencing an influx of post college types who are increasingly put off by the circus that Williamsburg has become. Though Laura and I own property, and both she and I run arts after school programs in the neighborhood, I sheepishly count myself as part of that demographic. At any rate, the buildings that line Bushwick Ave. sometimes have me thinking I'm on Main St. in a small town upstate:
On Grove, mainly Puerto Rican flags hang, with a token American one dodging a tree:
Grove deadends at Broadway, one of the most important streets in Brooklyn. A friend of mine once said, Broadway is like it's own, long, neighborhood. The entirety of the St., which stretches from the East river to East New York, is beneath an elevated train track...
The J train is an elevated train, and the color associated with the line is brown. The newer models have digital clocks and automated voices, still the vibe on the J is always a little crazy, and over all, it’s a lot of fun. I get on at the Gates stop. From the platform, you can see a long way in both directions on Gates Ave; almost to queens to the north, almost to downtown Brooklyn to the south.
Violet has an issue with her finger. I kiss it, and we’re back in the saddle. Soon, we are on the train.
The J is overcrowded. At 8:30 in the morning, the J is running express, which means our stop is only 3 away; Myrtle/Broadway, Marcy, Essex/Delancey.
Essex/Delancey is on the Lower East Side near Chinatown, where my daughter goes to pre kindergarten. Essex and Delancey are large, scary streets where people drive aggressively. The intersection lies at the base of the Williamsburg bridge. To get across Delancey, we must cross 8 lanes of traffic. Then we speed across Essex before ducking through a parking lot to get to Ludlow St. where we are surrounded by upscale restaurants and Chinese businesses that store and ship produce.
We immediately turn right on Broome and pop into the bakery that we go to every morning and/or afternoon, Baby Cakes. Baby Cakes specializes in every variety of dietary-substitute. Whether your sensitivity is to gluten, dairy, sugar, or even spelt, Baby Cakes has the antidote, and none of it tastes like the aggressively bland recipes of the 1960s that I was repeatedly subjected to as a child. Furthermore, Baby Cakes maintains a vaguely Riot Grrrl aesthetic, though I have never cracked exactly what that is about. That said, being from DC, I find it comforting. Violet orders a cupcake to the French Horn solo on Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush':
And our friends who make it all happen are hard at work:
Thinking we have extra time I hang and chat a bit. I tell the folks working there that I am neurotically documenting my entire day with my DroidX which is when and why the above video gets made. Violet finishes her cupcake and it’s time to go. I look at my phone and learn we have 5 minutes to get Violet to school in order that she be on time for her field trip to the petting zoo. I scoop Violet up, and run the rest of the way to school with her in my arms. We’re on time, and I hob knob with parents in the name of future play dates, so that my only child daughter won’t be lonely on the weekends.
Though Chinatown literally stinks, it is my favorite neighborhood in Manhattan, especially East Chinatown. I used to take the Chinatown bus back and forth from New York City to DC. The bus would always pull into Manhattan and go down Eldridge St. There are storefront Buddhist temples all throughout Chinatown, but there is one of exceptional intrigue on Eldridge St. All red with foggy windows and low light visible through the windows and doors. Idols enshrouded in mountains of ash where millions of incense sticks have burned. When my wife and I were told by an astrologist that we had three weeks to get married with the stars on our side, we approached the monk associated with this temple to be married. Though the shrine that led us to him is on Eldridge St., we were married on Chrystie St. Laura was pregnant at the time, and when our daughter was born, and then of school age, we learned of a good, affordable daycare and pre kindergarten on Eldridge St. where she now goes to school. They have a Mandarin program.
One of the things I like about Chinatown is that there are decorations featuring the 5 wisdom family colors everywhere. The colors are white, red, blue, green, and yellow. These colors have various significances in various Buddhist cosmologies. For me they signify the properties of the five wisdom families Buddha, Padma, Vajra, Karma, and Ratna respectively. Each family has all sorts of qualities associated with it, including those of an enlightened style as well as those of a defiled style. For most American/Tibetan Buddhists the main takeaway from the Wisdom Family teachings is the alchemical notion of transmutation that says that the defiled style already is the enlightened style. It’s complicated. At any rate, please enjoy this especially ostentatious example of some such signage:
I realize, having been in a hurry to get Violet to school from the bakery, I’ve left my tea at Baby Cakes, so I swing back by to pick it up. Now, it’s time to walk up Bowery to the Interdependence Project (IDP), the Buddhist Sangha I attend, for an individual meeting with my Shastri (or ‘spiritual friend’) Ethan Nichtern. The Bowery, infamous for it’s ‘bums’, and smack in the middle of downtown Manhattan, still functions as a shopping district for professionals in need of culinary and lighting equipment. The Avenue has a very particular vibe, and is littered with strange signage and naïve amateur graffiti. The sounds of delivery trucks are all around.
I meet monthly with Ethan. The staircase to the IDP is newly painted:
Ethan and I begin with a bow and sit for 60 seconds. Then we reflect around what had been happening a month ago and touch in on how practice has been going. My practice has been more sporadic than I would like, but effective, and things are going well. We settle on a familiar theme; does being a musician and an artist work with the attitude of Right Livelyhood promulgated at the Hinayana level of path? At the moment I am concerned about a media coup I am attempting, wherein I hope to parlay recent quotes taken by the New York Times and NPR into a full interview in another periodical. We discuss the outer, inner, and secret levels of path, and I am advised to focus on the secret experience of feeling tone emerging around actions taken toward the ends I desire to achieve, to keep track of the arising of hope and fear, and their impact on my intentions as I continue entering so deliberately into the world. My reading assignment is CRAZY WISDOM by Chogyam Trungpa, a welcome reread.
I am late getting to the community center where I run the youth art program so I book it back to the J.
The J pulls out of the tunnel to cross the Williamsburg bridge. Out in the open air I am able to draw up the internet on my phone, so I peruse a press update from ZS label and publicist, exchange text messages with our guitarist Ben Greenberg, and flip through the Business Day section of today’s New York Times. The view from the bridge is beautiful, but, momentarily, I forget that I am supposed to be neurotically documenting everything I see with my DroidX smart phone. You’ll have to take my word for it.
I walk into the school that houses the Beacon Center for Arts and Leadership, the community center where I run an arts program for young people who live in Bushwick. The program is roughly based on the five elements of hip-hop, and embraces a DIY attitude about cultural production. All of our students participate in producing and showcasing their own culture work. We serve about 75 to 150 students a day. They can be a tough crowd but I have a deep love for every last one of our students. Our students are extremely creative and funny, often in the face of great adversity, and I admire and learn from their tenacity and industry. I’m telling you, reader, these young folks here are seriously deep!!! I say hello to the school safety officers, walk past the medical detectors, and admire a mural that probably dates from the 70s of a baseball game in progress.
I have two meetings scheduled back to back, a managers meeting at the community center, and a corporate compliance meeting at the main agency that sponsors our center. Both are uneventful, though I am able to capture some telling footage of Buhwick on the way to the 2nd meeting:
In the 2nd meeting of the day we entered into a lively discussion as to whether it is appropriate for employees of our organization to have social relationships with adult clients, or with other employees. The idea that clients are Facebook friends with employees seems to be deeply disturbing to our Executive Director. I shoot my mouth off during this discussion, but I don’t have a personal Facebook, so…
Finally I am able to return to the center where our programming has begun. I take a tour of our classes to check in on our teachers and to hear from the students. A young lady who goes as Ro Ro shares an a capella song:
The overall vibe at the center is… hectic.
We are an autonomous community center housed in a school. We operate a youth arts program as well as an extensive adult programming complement. That said, there are thirteen other programs active in our building. We are the biggest and the oldest, but the plethora of other activity makes for a manic energy that can be a little maddening. My favorite part of the day at the center is the last half hour, a time we refer to as community connections. At this time all of our students from the five different classes meet in the auditorium as one group anywhere from 60 to 100 strong on any given day. Each day of the week, one of the five classes is responsible for presenting on a topic that is important to them. Our students are ages 10 to 14. Young people in this age group are not typically known for their listening skills, however our student body has cultivated a discussion atmosphere during our community connections time, the gravity of which rivals that of any other discussions I am a part of. I am extremely proud of this aspect of our work at the center. Today the topic is gun Violence. Young ladies from our dance class present and they pose the question ‘does anyone here have direct experience of gun Violence?’ One of our students responds ‘When I saw my father get shot right in front of me’.
Our students sign out at 6 and I run out. I have to walk a distance down Broadway to the Korean green grocer Mr. Kiwi to prep for a Trouble meeting at my house this evening. Trouble is the art installation duo that my wife and I collaborate around. We do a large scale installation and performance festival in New York every couple of years and, in preparation, we have to meet regularly with a team of people who help with production. The walk down Broadway articulates another side of Buswick and I manage to capture it on my phone:
I acquire the necessary supplies at Mr. Kiwis as well as a ginger, carrot, beet, lemon, orange juice, and I head home sippin’. I arrive just as the meeting begins. My friends and collaborators Lawrence, Forrest, Hira, Nate, Maya, and Duncan are all present. We chat and work together to get a meal going, Forrest makes a really brightly colored cabbages salad:
Laura and I are lucky to be surrounded by incredibly talented, funny, hard working people, and we have managed to convince a sub grouping of them that it is a good idea to build a maze in New York once every two years. The next one is going to be constructed out of poles that we have manufactured, and metal chords that we string through them to articulate the design of this years maze. The complaint in the past has always been that one cannot see when in the maze, which of course is the point, nevertheless we decided to make a maze that you can see through.
As the meeting wares on my heroic wife volunteers to put our daughter Violet, who is up way past her bedtime, to bed. I give Violet a hug and a kiss, and wish her sweet dreams, and then sit around musing about the maze among other things, while Forrest and I click around on Youtube. Forrest insists on playing multiple videos by The Coup from San Francisco, eventually I am given the opportunity to turn Forrest onto Joan Armatrading which he begrudgingly admits is awesome.
Finally everyone leaves. It’s about 1AM, and the place is a mess. I gesture toward cleaning it up, but worry about my meditation practice the following morning. If I stay up late and clean, I may not make it up to meditate, and if I go to bed now, when I get up to meditate, the mess will still be here. It seems that no matter how you cut it, there won’t be enough time for everything.
And that is what it’s like to live in Brooklyn…
Sam Hillmer has been active as a musician, facilitator, and organizer in New York City since 1996. Hillmer has lead several ensembles under his own name and is a founding member of the chamber ensemble/band "Zs". He is also a founding member of Wet Ink, a not-for-profit new music presenting organization, Representing NYC, a Hip Hop based youth development group, and Trouble, the time based arts and sculpture installation duo. Hillmer appears regularly in and around New York, across North America, in Europe, and in Japan.
Diamond Terrifier's full length record Kill The Self That Wants To Kill Yourself will be out via Northern Spy Records this September
March 9th 2012 Diamond Terrifier in Brooklyn, NY, 285 Kent
Time: 8:00pm. Admission: $12adv/$15door. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 285 Kent. Shrine Flu Tape Release Party! Touch Here To Resume / Diamond Terrifier / Oneohtrix Point Never / La Big Vic w/ Win Win DJs
March 13th 2012 Diamond Terrifier in Brooklyn, Zebulon
Time: 8:00pm. Admission: FREE. Age restrictions: No Minors. Address: 258 Wythe Ave. PRACTICE! Black Crown Ceremony (Sam Hillmer of Diamond Terrifier) w/ Nine 11 Thesaurus, David Linton,
Robbie Lee, DJ Dutch E. Germ. The Oracle DJs.
March 20th 2012 Diamond Terrifier in Brooklyn, Zebulon
Time: 8:00pm. Admission: FREE. Age restrictions: No Minors. Address: 258 Wythe Ave. PRACTICE! w/ Shooting Spires, Musuki Aruvavo Lee, G. Lucas Crane/Diamond Terrifier joint set, Sara
Magenheimer/Sadie Laska duo (Growing). The Oracle DJs.
March 27th 2012 Diamon Terrifier in Brooklyn, Zebulon
Time: 8:00pm. Admission: FREE. Age restrictions: No Minors. Address: 258 Wythe Ave. PRACTICE! w/ Noveller, Tom Carter, Ben Vida, DJ Dutch E. Germ. The Oracle DJs.
Unique local perspectives from cities around the world.
PLACES invites artists to give us a snapshot of the city they live and work in, revealing an insiders perspective on the music scene, the cultural landscape and the random discoveries that give a town its personality.
A list of opportunities including calls for work, including jobs, funding, awards and commissions. Registered users (free to join) can post information about their opportunities. To: Calls, awards, bursaries... A place to list and find opportunities including calls for work, jobs, funding, awards and commissions.