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It started out like a song…

December 2010

… I started quiet and slow with no surprise. Then one morning I woke to realize I had a good thing going.

That observation, paraphrasing a lyric by Stephen Sondheim, encapsulates my life in 2010 in several areas. It refers, for instance, to an early-January four-mile run in 10-degree frigidity that made me feel I could run all winter, whether outdoor or indoor at the Middletown YMCA, without succumbing to the hibernation blues. Building on that foundation, I did my first hilly run on the season during a balmy first weekend of spring on the scenic dirt roads at Easton Mountain in upstate New York where I was attending the first of seven 2010 retreats/workshops. Short speed workouts on a rail trail on sunny April evenings before music-team rehearsals at Unity of Sussex County in Lafayette, N.J., eventually led to 5K races in May, June and August; in all four of them, I won age group medals, with a personal best of 20:15. I also ran a five-miler in Central Park on June 26 in 33 minutes, finishing in 127th place out of more than 3,000 runners.

Starting slow and finishing strong also characterized the many hours from February through May that I spent driving in the car and singing along to a tenor-highlighted performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” to prepare for a May 22 concert by the Pike County Choral Society. Despite my initial fear of the high tones and intricate harmonies, I finally started feeling comfortable with the Mozart piece in April, and my perseverance paid off as the chorus delivered a stirring performance.

The wheels were set in motion for a performance of a more playful kind when I heard from friend Scott Mason back in the winter that his community theater troupe Cornerstone Playhouse was considering doing “Me and My Girl” as its summer musical. The frothy, funny British show was my favorite musical during my stint as a Broadway critic from 1986-97, and repeated listening to the cassette (I’m dating myself) of the original cast recording had imprinted the score on my mind. So I told Scott to let me know when auditions were. He did, I tried out in June and won the part of Gerald, who opens the second act with the high-spirited song “The Sun Has Got Its Hat On” and who contributes funny bits throughout the show. Six work- and play-filled weeks later, including the construction of sets on a 100-degree July Saturday, we opened for five well-received performances in Sparta, N.J. Besides the many new friends I made and the confidence the show gave me, an offshoot of that experience was my immersion in weekly jazz/tap dance classes with castmates and others at the Ziegler Studio in Vernon, N.J. A natural I’m not, but it’s worthwhile to have a new challenge and to keep my body moving in rhythmically different ways.

The focus I put into “Me and My Girl” was but a microcosm of the focus of my life the last three years, the paying off of $30,000 in debt. Having reached one milestone in that journey in October 2009, when I paid off $9,500 that remained from a personal loan, I set my sights toward October 2010 when, if I continued to save, I would have enough to pay off $6,700 that remained on my car loan. When Oct. 4 rolled around and the money was in my accounts, I went to the credit union, transferred the money to the credit union, and left with the title to my car and with a feeling of triumph. I was done paying for my past and could now live in the present while saving for and looking to the future.

Then, however, to shatter the illusion that I was in control, and with no little sense of irony, on Oct. 7 my car was broadsided by another vehicle while I was driving near Sussex Airport. The upside? I was unhurt, my insurance company paid for all but $554 of the $10,600 in vehicular damages, and I could afford to pay for the $554 plus the $985 for the three-week car rental.

With all the slow and steady accomplishments of 2010 amid the day-to-day and week-to-week events of my life – full-time newspaper copy-editing, part-time massage business, singing lessons, Scrabble playing, visiting Mom at the Merry Heart Nursing Home in Succasunna, N.J. – I look to 2011 with a feeling of cautious expansiveness. Workshops, enjoying time with friends and family, saving for a new car and for retirement – all are in the works, God willing. May I share my life’s song with you in the new year and beyond.