Sunday, May 19, 2019

An Abundant Life - Life Skills

A few weeks ago I was visiting the studio of the wonderful Artist Jean Antoine Norbert during the Mana Contemporary Open House. I have written about Jean Antoine in these pages before because not only is he a wonderful Artist, but he is a wonderful person too, who knows wonderful people from all different backgrounds and connects them with each other whenever he has an event or gathering. On this occasion I started talking to a young man who told me he had started his own company teaching Chess to children and teenagers in schools throughout Manhattan, and also to corporate groups, and because of my own background in youth and community development I wanted to learn more and asked him if we could meet for a blog post. He followed up with me and suggested a few different places where I could see him at work in different school settings, and so one afternoon I found myself in a classroom on Manhattan's Upper West Side that was full of first graders and one kindergartner, all who were avidly learning about the game of Chess from a Master.

Evan Rabin, the CEO of Premier Chess, is a National Chess Master, and he has been teaching chess since he was twelve years old. I have a personal love of Chess, though I haven't played in years, because as I have written about in these pages before when I was writing about the marvelous Father and Chef Paul Gerard who has been teaching his own son Chess, my father taught me how to play when I was very young, and helped me learn the strategies of it from the view and insights of the high level Electronic Engineer he was. The thing that amazes me about Chess is that not only is it a game of strategy, but it is a game that can transfer its insights into real life and how to think about a strategic approach to dealing with many different situations. Teaching young people about Chess helps them think in an analytical way, and though I have not done reasearch on it, it seems it must also help activate the part of the brain that learns to be patient and thoughful while analyzing the possible moves and motives of the person you're playing with. In these days of mindfulness and all sorts of philosophies that are meant to help people to take a careful step by step approach to their daily lives and decision making, to take time without rushing ahead and to sometimes take a step back to view the overall situation, it seems that Chess by its very nature can be a calming force that can help train the mind to deal with complex ideas and sort out a strategy of how to move ahead and be successful in an orderly, planned and careful fashion. Learning the strategies of Chess can improve confidence and focus, and the game is also known for the well mannered and respectful behavior of the opponents, so that although the desired outcome is to win, the game is played in a way that both parties are encouraged to show respect for each other, even to the point of shaking hands at the end of the match.

When I went to watch Evan in the classroom, I knew that it would be interesting, but I wasn't prepared for the type of thoughtful teacher he is. As I've mentioned before, I only write about people who do things with excellence. Whether they be Entrepreneurs, Artists, Designers, Writers, Humanitarians, Chefs or any other type of business owner, my effort in this blog is focused on people who are working toward their highest level in their craft and in their interactions with others. I want to celebrate and encourage those people who are using their skills in the highest way possible so that in turn others are given the light of their knowledge and creative passion. Evan Rabin is one of those rare people who not only is excellent in his knowledge of Chess, but he is able to teach in a way that is empowering, engaging, encouraging and transforming.

I've worked with children on and off for many years, and it's not an easy task to keep a room of young people engaged, never mind trying to teach them something as intricate and thoughtful as a game of Chess. The children who were in the class I watched Evan teach were thoroughly engaged, and when they sat down to play, their skills were at the highest levels. Of course there was some goofing around, some behavior that was very child-like in a healthy and natural way, and each time Evan respectfully brought them back to focusing on the task at hand, whether it be a game or a puzzle he'd put before them. I'd never seen anything quite like it - many times teachers just either give up or give in or get annoyed, but Evan kept his positive and even tempered joyful and conversational tone, while continuing to encourage the children to focus and complete the game or puzzle and answer questions he asked about game strategies.

After the class as we walked together to the bus stop where Evan would take a bus to the next private lesson he was teaching, I told him that the work he was doing was not only extraordinary, but incredibly important, because no matter how good parents may be or what type of background children have, having a positive role model who is also teaching them life skills can change the course of any child's life. I thought back to my own childhood and not only the Chess lessons my father gave me, but the many mentors and teachers I've had over the years who changed my view of life for the better and helped form who I am and the way I think about my life today. If not for those wonderful people who did their jobs with excellence, I might have ended up in a very different way. A teacher like Evan Rabin is rare to find, and he uses his knowledge and skills through his company Premier Chess to teach and train other teachers. It seems he's creating a strong army, in a way that reflects the pieces on a chess board, one that will go forward thoughtfully and carefully, empowering lives, building confidence, and gaining ground with the youth and children of today to help them move toward a much brighter tomorrow.

Evan Rabin, CEO
Premier Chess


Jannie Susan

Sunday, May 12, 2019

An Abundant Life - Finding The Words

A few months ago I was at an art and fashion and design event in Manhattan that was produced by Pim Shih who I have written about in these pages before, who is the Founder of Pim Comedy and The SetNYC. Pim always has a wonderful group of Artists of all kinds at his events, both in the audience and showing their work, and on this particular day I met a young man named Christopher M. Struck who told me that he had just completed a novel that would be released from the publisher BHC Press in the next few months. My biggest first love in the arts was reading which was closely followed by writing - I was reading so much before I began elementary school that the teachers told my parents they had to stop teaching me, and I wrote my first plays and my first stories when I was too young to even remember how young I was. Of course those early years of childhood joys were very small fry compared to what was to come later, and I cut my teeth listening to my mother reading Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, To Kill A Mockingbird and Pride And Prejudice. In high school when everyone else was struggling with Shakespeare class and reading Charles Dickens, I'd already read and seen the movies and the plays and novels and was helping coach everyone else through their agony. I loved reading, and read everything I could get my hands on, and the only thing that has stopped or slowed me a bit is that sometimes the things that are newer just don't excite me the way the books of yesteryear could do, and I just don't have the luxury of time any more that I once did. But there was something about Christopher that made me think it was important to keep in touch with him - it's hard to tell why, but there was just something about him that led me to give him my card and tell him about my blog and say I'd be interested in hearing more when the novel was published. It might be because he also told me he writes for Cabaret Scenes Magazine, a publication that I've had a history of my own with because of the people I've known who are in the Cabaret and Broadway community, or perhaps it was his presence, something very quiet and gentle yet also full of life, with a smile hiding behind an otherwise serious and even tempered, thoughtful demeanor. He spoke well, and that is something that I always notice - I'm an actress and I hear the sounds and qualities of people's voices that either make me want to find out more or walk away, and with Christopher I continued the conversation.

Fast forward with a jump cut to a few weeks ago when I received an email from him that his novel was available in a PDF format and would be released in hard copy shortly. I'm one of those people who love books in book form, but I thought I would at least give it a try and see if it was something I wanted to continue. The first night I sat down to read it I didn't want to stop. It's so beautifully written and such an interesting story that it was a pleasure to read in a way I haven't felt about many of the newer novels I've read over the years. I was feeling a bit of Fitzgerald, who is my all time favorite novelist, but there was something else as well, something that can only be described as the style of the novelist Christopher M. Struck. I read for as long as I could that first night and had to stop because of needing sleep for a long next few days, but as soon as I could I was back into the novel, and enjoying the reading of it in the all consuming way I hadn't read in many, many years.

Titled Kennig and Gold, Christopher's novel was inspired in part by the life of Nils Hanson, a World War II Marine Veteran and author of Lillian Lorraine: The Life and Times of a Ziegfeld Diva, and it takes you into a world of history, a time when writing letters was a regular thing that people did and when telephone calls of any kind were few and far between. It was refreshing to read this story in a way that is very hard to describe unless like me you're a fan of old movies, old novels, and the stars who populated the big screens and smaller pages. I felt like I was coming home again or that somehow I'd found myself back in the past while living my life of today with the new friends I was making in Christopher's world populating the pages of my own history and memory.

When I wrote to Christopher to tell him how much I was enjoying his writing, he responded that he put a great deal of effort into the art form and it shows, though not in the way that sometimes is the case with writers whose writing seems full of effort. The effort Christopher takes with the craft and art of writing show in the fact that the very words are knit together in a way seems effortless. There is a beautiful flow and feel to the words and story that bring us from moment to moment, emotion to emotion, without ever feeling forced or jarring. And the writing, though reminiscent of some of my favorite works, is wholly Christopher's own. In every moment I felt that I was in a new world, one that only he had created. My hat is off to this talented and hard working young man who prior to writing his debut novel had already received 6 degrees, traveled to 19 countries, taught at 3 universities, and studied 2 foreign languages. May he go far and touch the lives of many with his beautiful words.

Christopher M. Struck
New York  City
Author Photograph And Novel Cover Art
Courtesy Of Christopher M. Struck
Publisher BHC Press


Jannie Susan

Sunday, May 5, 2019

An Abundant Life - Beautiful Views

I've written about the wonderful restaurant Halifax at the W Hotel and the amazing Executive Chef Seadon Shouse in these pages before, and though I go back as often as I can, it has been a while since I've written about it. When I happened to stop by two weeks ago during an Art Opening and Sip and Meet at the studio and showroom of Ricardo Roig who is the Artist in Residence at the W Hotel, I saw Carlos Arteaga who is the General Manager of Halifax, and he told me that in addition to the wine tastings on Thursdays and whiskey tastings on Wednesdays that they are hosting at the bar and lounge area just outside of the restaurant, there were new cocktail offerings he and the wonderful staff have been creating. I stopped by on an afternoon to find out more, and just happened to arrive at the time when the lovely Floral Designer Christina Andersen was putting the finishing touches on her new week's designs, one of which was a grouping of cherry blossoms that I discovered was also being used as a garnish for one of the new specialty cocktails. I had the "Cherry Blossom" that day, and was so delighted that I took several photographs of that cocktail alone, and made an appointment with Carlos to come back to try some others. A week later, at the end of a very long day helping to install an art event at another space in Hoboken, I found myself sitting down to an incredible gift of an outdoor seated spring afternoon cocktail tasting along with some new menu items that made all my tiredness melt into the air around me. Halifax was perfection the first time I went there, and every time after, and it just keeps getting better and better.

The creativity of the Mixology is matched and enhanced by the beautiful design and decor of the space, and Executive Chef Seadon Shouse continues to delight the palate and the eye with his lovely and inventively delicious flavorfilled masterpieces. Each dish and glass that arrives at the table wafts aromas that promise and deliver a heavenly combination of tastes, and though I would like to say that I am ladylike enough to share with others, I was so very happy that day that my busy schedule made for a time to enjoy those luscious flavors and sensations on my own. I've gone to Halifax for their amazing weekend brunch with friends on several occasions and on those days I'm happy to share because I know that whatever I like I can order more of - with all you can eat small plates and bubbles that just keep on pouring, it's the happiest combination of deliciousness and flavor that keeps me feeling generous because there is more than enough to go around. Halifax is one of those places where the view and the dining experience are always sure to more than please, and the fact that the food on the menu and the cocktails in your glass are created with such loving care shines a very special light through each moment in time.

At The W Hotel
225 River Street
Hoboken, New Jersey

Seasonal Floral Designs
By The Lovely Christina Andersen

Reflected In The Perfection
Of A "Cherry Blossom"

A Very Special Taste Of The Season
On A Very Lovely Outdoor Spring Afternoon

Where Even The Sparkling Water
Is Something Just As Special

As The Fresh Flowers And Herbs
Used For Garnish

A Perfectly Lovely
Poached Egg And Spring Asparagus Tart
With Cabot Cheddar And Leek Fondue
And The Beautiful Touches
That Make Tastes and Views More Special 

A Salad Of Strawberries
Fresh Snap Peas And Smoked Humbolt Fog
With The Addition Of Almond Crumble, Balsamic Vinegar
And Urbana Greens
That Uplift And Refine

A Smoked Salmon Flatbread
Made With The Most Delicately Delicious In-House Smoked Salmon
Creme Fraiche, Arugula, Capers And Pickled Onion


Jannie Susan

Sunday, April 28, 2019

An Abundant Life - A Slice Of Life

In the days when I lived in SoHo, I walked everywhere the same way that I do now. I lived in a seventh floor walkup, and I'd drop down on the sidewalk and go about my day, not wanting to go back up those seven flights unless I really had to until it was time to go home for the night. SoHo was still a neighborhood then, and you'd see people you knew on the streets walking around doing ordinary things - I used to joke with friends that when I did my laundry on the corner I could imagine the announcers on the double decker tour buses that drove by pointing out the local woman with her laundry basket in the way that a tour guide in the rain forest would point out the flora and fauna. In those days when I walked around, my travels could take me down to TriBeca to my favorite pub or to the TriBeca Grand for a more upscale event, over to Chinatown for fruit and vegetable and fish shopping and up to the Farmer's Market in Union Square all in the same day. I might go up to Bleecker Street to Ottomanelli's for steak or chicken, to the old Murray's Cheese shop and then the new one when it became more upscale, to Rocco's Pastries, or perhaps across Spring Street to visit with my friend Kurt who owned the old Bell Caffe, or over to another favorite pub nearby.

My travels always took me on journeys that I loved to wander on, and on occasion I'd see this very cool and hip looking young man who I thought must be a designer or a photographer or some kind of artist. He always looked very happy whenever I saw him, and he had a crown of curly hair that shone like the sun even on dark and rainy days. Then one day as I was wandering on my daily adventure, I saw this young man in several different places all over the place wherever I went. The third time I saw him it was near my apartment, and I stopped him to say that I'd seen him before and now three times that day and I just felt like I had to say hello. He was as friendly as he was joyful, and he gave me his card, and when I got home and sat down to email him, I saw that he was a photographer and his name was Tommy Flynn. I had told him that I worked with different types of Artists and so I sent him more information about myself, and one day he invited me over to his studio to talk about having me help him with some PR work for an upcoming gallery show and some other projects he was working on. He lived just a few blocks away from me in Tribeca in a building right next to where a friend, a Director from Circle Repertory Company, lived, and it turns out they knew each other, so we ended up running into each other at that friend's parties on occasion too. He ended up helping me in a very big way one day when I met the Belgian photographer Jean Claude Wouters in Paris who created a silver gelatin print portrait of me on archival paper that he sent to me rolled up in a tube. I had no idea how to handle it, never mind who to show it to, and so I sent an email to Tommy and explained what was going on, and he recommended I visit with a friend of his at Duggal who turned out to be one of the top Executives in the business and who in turn helped me mount the photograph and recommended me to the Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery. That recommendation led to Jean Claude's first New York show, and paved his way as a Fine Art Photographer in America, and it was all because of a generous recommendation made by Tommy Flynn.

Because of his goodness and generosity, making a recommendation like that was a simple thing for Tommy, but the reality is that his word is worth gold because of his long history of hard work, craftsmanship and integrity. Originally from Dorchester, Massachusetts, he is a graduate of the Art Institute of Boston in Photography and Sculpture, and he received scholarships for his work in Photography for two consecutive years. His work has been exhibited extensively in New York City and around the world, and it is stunning, with every photograph an intricate work of art that can stand alone or be put together in pairs or small groups or a larger gallery wall. His attention to detail and eye for the immaculately perfect image made him a success in the advertising world and a successful entrepreneur, and led to his being a member of the team of trusted builders and painters of Sol LeWitt's pieces over many years. His kind heart opens his studio to help street artists photograph and document their work for affordable fees, and his connections with businesses and galleries like gallery onetwentyeight on Manhattan's lower East Side are long term friendships that have been developed over time and sustained because of the excellence and beauty of his work.

There was another project we worked on together, one with a much more serious tone. Because of where he lives, Tommy had a direct bird's eye view of the former World Trade Center and he would go up to his roof and photograph it in all kinds of weather. The photographs he created were all masterpieces, and he had put them together into a poster. It was a popular poster because of the beauty of the photographs, and after the towers came down on September 11, 2001, he began receiving even more orders for it. Not wanting to make a profit from it because of what had happened, he decided to give proceeds of the sales to the 9/11 fund for firefighters and other first responders in New York City. I helped him write the press release and announcements for that gift he was giving, and he gave me a copy of the poster that is one of most meaningful of treasures I have.

The last time I saw Tommy, he had been working on a new project, "Sliced Open". A home gourmet chef with an always inquisitive sense of the visually intriguing, he was seeking out exotic varieties of fruits and vegetables and using Takamura Chef's knives to cut them in half, then photographing them in ways that brought to life the intricate designs within. It had been a while since I'd seen him, and then one day a few years ago I was walking down Prince Street and I saw some prints that looked very familiar, and there was Tommy Flynn himself at the table. In addition to the fruit and vegetable prints he had some lovely pieces that used different types of shells and starfish and seaweed photographed in a variety of ways, and one print that I had a postcard of from years ago called "Hand In Vortex" of a hand underwater seemingly reaching for and meeting what looked like a tornado within the water. I took some photographs of him and posted a short blog post, and then just recently I was reminded of his photograph "Hand In Vortex" because of an Instagram post I saw from a filmmaker friend showing a video of a hand playing in colorfully lit water. I happened to be in SoHo right after that reminder, and so I decided to take a walk down Prince Street to see if Tommy was around. There he was at his table, and we set up a time to meet at his studio, and so one day shortly after that I found myself walking through SoHo on West Broadway on a beautiful spring day, and continuing down into Tribeca to visit my old friend.

I had the amazing feeling that day of having the thought, "It's good to be home," and though I love where I live now and don't want to go back to my tiny seventh floor walkup, I loved having the feeling of being in a place where I could still know my way around like I belonged there. It's one of the beauties of having lived in Manhattan for so long that whenever and wherever I go there, as much as some things have changed, there are so many memories of people and places and things that I used to do and go and see that when it's a beautiful day it feels good to be there. As I walked up the steps to Tommy Flynn's studio, so many memories came rushing back, and as we visited that afternoon, so many new ideas started flowing. We shared some freshly brewed fresh ginger tea he made while we talked, and after visiting and spending some time with his sometime muse and cat Tono who will be 17 on May 2, he took me to see the studio below his that belongs to the Artist James Bishop who has lived there for even longer than Tommy has. Now 95, his former neighbor of many years now lives in Europe, but he keeps his studio there "just in case" he ever decides to move back. Being in Tommy's studio and visiting his neighbor's gave me that comfortable sense of being back where I belonged. It's a good feeling to find yourself where your soul feels like it's home, and if home is where the heart is, when you're with someone as full of goodness and joy and creativity as Tommy Flynn is, you'll feel just how good life can be.

Tommy Flynn In Tribeca
New York City

With His Cat Tono
Who Will Be 17 On May 2

A Wall Drawing He Created
For The Sol LeWitt Retrospective
At The Whitney
For A Show
From December 2000 - February 2001

A Perfectly Brewed Cup
Of Fresh Ginger Tea

A Shift In Light And Perspective
Over The Course Of An Afternoon 

Selected Photographs From The Project "Sliced Open"
Photographs Courtesy Of Tommy Flynn

Two Prints In My Own Collection
On The Right, "Hand In Vortex"

At Work With A Sol LeWitt Sculpture
Photographs Courtesy Of Tommy Flynn

Choosing Vegetables At The Market
For The Project "Sliced Open"
Photographs Courtesy Of Tommy Flynn

On The Streets Of SoHo
Photographs Courtesy Of Tommy Flynn

With The Artists Who Show Their Work On Prince Street
Photograph Courtesy Of Tommy Flynn

Screen Shot From Instagram Of The Prince Street Artists
From Prince Street Kings
Photo Credit MaryLynn

With The Takamura Brothers
Photograph Courtesy Of Tommy Flynn

Tono At One Year Old
Photograph Courtesy Of Tommy Flynn


Jannie Susan