winter

Finding a blue sky in Buffalo.

Painting by Phil Durgan

Painting by Phil Durgan

Can we agree that this Buffalo winter has been a real bummer? Misery for most, heaven for some, what we haven’t seen are many blue sky days. This has made the shooting of my album cover, “Here Beneath the Blue,” a near impossibility.

I had pictured me standing, relaxed arms wide open, under a brilliant, clear blue sky. However, glamour shots in 20° weather with icy howling winds don’t portray the laid back vibe I’m shooting for. Streaming eyes, nose and flailing hair might be fine for a metal band, not classic jazz.

Friends suggested Photoshopping me into an idyllic background — dependent only on a good shot and mad editing skills. While I’m at it, why not copy/paste a 20 lb. slimmer body on me, put a margarita in my hand, a nearby pool boy applying sunscreen and call it a day?

No, desperate times lead to desperate measures. Somehow, I’d create my own blue sky; that is to say, hire an artist to paint a blue sky behind me while I posed happily beneath it. Luckily, I know a few wonderful painters and was able to line up the talented abstract artist, Phil Durgan to be my performance painter. I supplied him with a thumbnail sketch of my vision and we were on our way!

What to wear for my cover — sexy, vulnerable, spiritual or slinky? Ask an expert. Last night I met with BFF and style maven Pamela Sieracki who shopped my closet for five potentially awesome outfits. She combined fabrics and colors like the designer she is and advised me against my own “What Not To Wear” disasters.

Mari McNeil outfits

In two days, the photo shoot will be a coordination effort worthy of D-day: first, my hair will be cut and styled by Michele Ruffino of R Salon. Then, my face will be painted, troweled, and airbrushed by Hollywood makeup artist, Dani Weiser. Next, it’s off to the indoor loft apartment/French bistro owned by the generous Paul and Sandra Wilkins. It has the distressed brick look I’m hoping for, plus lots of natural light. Phil will arrive on site with his partially finished canvas and painting supplies to set up a live backdrop to my posing.

Then, it’s time for my photographer, Marc Murphy, to work his magic with existing light and my thoroughly natural, hey-I-look-this-good-everyday, appearance. If all goes as planned, I’ll look happy and open — here beneath the blue.

Just like in real life, when blue skies in Buffalo are not cooperating, we create our own.

 

In the woods; then and now.

fear-courage-independence-snow-grand-island

I am five. I am in the woods in front of my house on the south side of Grand Island, NY. It’s winter and the forest is hushed with a muffle of snow. The trees are black and bare, like spiders against the pewter sky.

I am captivated by the silence and intimacy. It’s like a church, but spooky. I am intoxicated with freedom and independence. This is what is good about a large family. I can sometimes get lost and not be missed.

Crunch, crunch, go the sticks and dried leaves under foot. I hit a smooth hard surface, brush away the snow with my brown vinyl boot and discover a pane of ice. Underneath it are rotten leaves and black water, a glass paperweight.

I can skate! I run, and zoom on the smooth surface – my own private ice rink. In the middle of the pond I hear a cracking, the ice groaning and buckling under my feet. I try to run, but the ice traps my feet. The brackish sulphur-smelling water pours into my boots. It is only a foot deep, so I am safe, but shaken. I slosh out of the pond and make my way home to stuff newspaper in my boots, fairly sure I will not receive a scolding; one of many adventures.

I am fifty and have left the comfort of a good job. The possibilities loom large. The silence of my home office is rarely broken. My time is my own. I am both exhilarated and terrified.
I make phone calls to prospective clients and meet with rejection. Press kits go out unnoticed. Calls to bars and restaurant owners result in tepid recollection.

I trudge on, practicing, creating, calling, writing and planning. I am shaken, but believe I am meant to be here and will find my path.

Never let the odds keep you from pursuing what you know in your heart you were meant to do.
~ Satchel Paige