Friday, March 7, 2014

Follow follow follow follow...

You see, sometimes there are days when I wonder about this choice I've made here, driving for hours alone in my van with almost 200,000 miles on it without the current means right now to buy myself what I would like (a Prius, used, even, but better gas mileage and not on the verge of breaking down). Driving alone for hours with an IPhone loaded with great music. Driving alone for hours with the company of the voices in my head. And sometimes the voices are welcome company. When they gift me lyrics or uncover memories or just swirl around in places for meaning and connection. And sometimes those voices lead me down dark paths of disconnection and, if I'm truthful, vulnerability and loneliness. And thus began today. Fighting the dark voices. Alone in my van. After a wonderful night of playing music and a great show, a great audience. Sometimes the voices are just in a bad mood because the clouds are out. Nothing more dramatic than that. And you wait for them to change their mood. Or you feed them: John Moreland's new record, Otis Gibbs' podcasts, NPR. But sometimes, like today, the voices take me to questioning this path, this solo journey, the choices I've made. And there I was in my little self-contained swirl this afternoon as the sky opened up to blue sunshine along the little road I found myself on. 30A. A familiar road from Nashville bumper stickers I've seen from the songwriter's festival I've never been to. And as I had Robert Ellis' brilliant new record playing and was thinking about how it must be amazing to be here during that gathering of song, I pass Robert Ellis Street. And it stopped me. And shut the voices up in my head. And then that little road became yellow brick and strange magic began to occur. This afternoon I was to play Central Records, a cool indy record store here along the beach in Florida. And the dudes who work there were super friendly and welcoming and I literally expected nobody to show up, but as I plugged in, the shop became full of people, old and young, holding glasses of wine and cans of PBR, people who came intentionally, people who would lean their heads in and I watched their bodies be drawn in by the music. Hipsters who just about an hour ago I would have thought in my dark self-flagellation wouldn't pay attention to me at all. And folks who reminded me of my own parents. A young guy, probably early 30's, holding a newborn bundled in pink smiling at me in surprise as if finding me and my music was the best part of his walk with his daughter. And even the hipsters who worked there were smiling and listening. And my view from where I stood and sang "The Sea & The Shore"? A doorway to the ocean as the sun set pink along the fading blue sky, the blue waters lapping up along that white sand and the sky bursting with pastel. And I thought, I am lucky. And at one point I forgot the lyrics to my song "Ghost" because I was honestly distracted by the sunset and the thought of my grandfather the sailor along those waves and I invited someone who had bought the record to hand me the lyric book and up walked this older man who had something of my Dad in him, in multicolored Madras shorts, bright yellow and blue sneakers, and multicolored glasses. He held out the lyrics and gave me his glasses and we both just laughed through this whole spontaneous bit. And I hugged him at the end of the song. And at the end of the show, when someone asked me where I was staying and I said I'd be driving towards Jacksonville and finding a motel along the road, this man with the shorts and the glasses and his wife offer for me to stay in their guest room in their condo. Stu and Jane Campbell from Chicago who spend 3 months a year here in Florida. But they need an hour or so to get the room ready, they said, so a few girls who were at the show standing there buying my record, girls who seem cool and hip and beautiful and stylish in an East Nashville kind of way, offer to take me to dinner and I find out that 2 of them are new transplants to Nashville (where I live now) from Jersey City (where I moved to Nashville from). And the other is an incredibly smart and interesting woman from DC who lives here part time who took me on a walking tour of the artist retreat and talked to me of the tight knit community here who, I swear I would hire as a tour manager if she'd have me. She said, 'We take care of each other here. We don't let anyone fall down. We're right there to pick them back up if they do.' And as the night sky grew chilly and I drove to meet Stu and Jane I thought of my own parents who had spent a month in Florida 2 years ago before my mother's health had started getting squirrelly, and how happy they were and how young they looked for that month. And I thought: I am lucky. How blessed I am to wander and stumble and sometimes intentionally walk down this yellow brick road I'm on, albeit alone, to bump into strangers who take me in and tell me their stories. And distract me from the voices in my head that tell me I should be doing something else.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Falling Back

I made use of the extra hour tonight. It's 2am. I'm not sleeping. I've been sitting at the piano in my quiet house like I did when I was a teenager. Back then, I'd light candles and hover my hands over the keys, hoping for divine intervention even though I was fairly sure that God didn't exist (or if he did he'd pretty much ignored me or would be way too busy to intervene with a 13 year old's desire to start songwriting when she couldn't even play by ear and had no ideas, just this strong almost physical desire to create). I thought if I just sat quietly with my hands somewhere in the vicinity of the key of C, something, anything would come through the silence, seep through and move my hands like a Ouija board. It never happened. It was sharp and such a tug that I remember the physical ache of the need and then the disappointment. Like I'd failed. Like something in me that was deep rooted like DNA was calling and I couldn't hear. So I let it go, forgot about it. I, instead, began to date songwriters. Or at least crush out on them. First was Jon Goodman in high school. The boy with the most incredible baritone voice. A superstar of a high school singer. A songwriter. We never 'dated'. He didn't seem interested in me like that. But one summer I thought something shifted, I went away to a summer program for the Arts, a kind of prestigious thing that I'd auditioned for and bartered God with everything I had to get in. Jon had gone the year before and he was clearly so far more talented than anyone else in our school, hell, in our State, that just by being accepted I felt a bit closer to the stars. That summer, he wrote me a song. I still remember the first line. It started with "She left for Spain today, seems time has left me too". After he went to college, I lost touch and didn't really see him anymore in my life. A few more songwriter-crushes until one day, when I was about 25 or 26, a few songs of my own fell out awkwardly. Something moved inside of me and trickled, then about 5 years later, it started spilling out like water. It still feels clunky and slow to me. Never fluid. Never easy. It took picking up the guitar and wading through a completely new instrument to hear what was happening in the silence.

So, tonight I sat at the piano, playing a few of my songs, awkwardly, clunky and rough. Then I tried to play a few songs I knew. It was slow and I had to think too much, translate frets to keys, but it got easier as it got later and later. And then a friend sent me a song and I had to learn it and play it. And now I feel like I wish I had three days of nothing to do but sit at the piano and play until the current runs smooth and clear. Right now there's rocks everywhere.

I envy my friends who started writing when they were really young. I always feel years behind. Which is why it doesn't matter that it's 2am and I need to wake up early to get somewhere important to my soul - my kind of church - where I find God -- or what I feel is more like a current of wind or water than a blonde human with blue eyes on a cross. It's not just about quiet for me. It's about really early morning or really late at night quiet. There's an electrical hum and a fearlessness that comes from being half-awake. Hovering hands over a shapeless idea. If I catch even a corner of it in this weary state, maybe when I'm awake I can make sense of it. 

Like saying "MacBeth" outloud in a theater, I wonder if I'm about to be struck down for writing 'outloud' this mystery. It's the thing that makes me feel most insecure. Most vulnerable. Most terrified. Most joyous. Most hateful. Most despairing. Most blissful. Most alive.

Most in the current.

p.s. and for the record, I'm glad that boy in high school didn't return my crush, as that maddening ache started something far more important inside me than any slow-dancing Prom date could promise. 

p.p.s. he really was the most incredible singer. Probably still is. Wherever he is in the world.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Five Fingers

Falling asleep on the edge of the woods in Frederick, MD in a large log home my parents are about to put on the market although I always had this dream that one day one of my songs might make enough money that I could pay off the house for them and still have my place in Nashville and buy their worry off their back with my dream that they helped pay for when I was much younger but sofar that has not happened and so instead of wish for things out of my reach I will be grateful that I had an evening off to come here and have dinner with my family and watch a movie with my parents and listen to the falling rain on the large windows that look out to the creek and the acres and acres of trees that when I was much much younger my father might have taken me on walks amongst in order to collect and classify the leaves to identify the trees, shadowing the forester.

These are things that I am made of: a five finger spread against a red gold leaf, the afterburn musk of a campfire, a bushel of hard shell crabs slathered in Old Bay on a Bethany deck, the hum of my now 13 year old niece when she was the size of my forearm cradled in warm bath water while I sang to her, the Boston accent that slipped and slid from my grandmother's words, oyster stew and lemon meringue, a hound leaning on my knee and letting go, an oversized Red Jesus Bible, and a Maryland rain lullabye.

Monday, June 3, 2013


The rain started in suddenly about fifteen minutes ago and then, as quickly as it came, it left trailing off like a sigh.  The late night humid spring took a cool turn and my dog’s panting slowed.  I’m sitting here on my couch, not watching a movie I have on the TV.  Instead, I’m watching my dog breathe.  Memorizing every fold of her skin, every spot on her ticked fur.  I lay with her a while ago, alongside her worn body, gently trailing my palm down her back, feeling every anorexic ridge of her spine sticking out, my nose buried in the fur of her neck, breathing in the dog smell I’ve come to know as home.  I can feel the catch in her breath, the effort of remaining.  I am afraid to go to sleep, to let down my guard, to let go.

Tomorrow I may have to euthanize my dog. Her name is June and she is 12 and four days ago I learned she most probably has cancer, although the only way to be sure would be an invasive surgery she might not survive at her age.  The news was devastating, as I’d convinced myself her rapid weight loss was a simple infection that medicine could fix.  Still, I thought, cancer does not mean today. I once had a Rottweiler diagnosed with bone cancer and given 4 months at most who lasted 2 beyond that prognosis.  Surely June might have a few months. Surely there must be a way to beat this.  Just yesterday I was told there is no beating this, it is beating her, and rather quickly, and the kindest act of love would be to let her go. And soon. As in a few days.

I became practical.  Not today, I thought. She has to come home and eat dinner and I have to at least have another walk with her. She has to sleep to the side of my bed below me in her dog bed, looking up to see if I’m still awake.  Not today.  Maybe Thursday. I leave town on Friday for a week. I cannot leave the sad task to my dog sitter. I have to do this myself. So Thursday. That gives me a day to grieve before having to get on a plane and get to the festival. I call my best friends.  They will take off work and help me. They will drive with me. I do not want them in the room. I want to hold June on my own, the two of us together as it has been for the past 3 years. Thursday it is.

Last night my friends came with their old dog, June’s friend. June perked up a bit. My friends brought me dinner. They let me cry. We shared our dinner with June. We laughed. We talked of other things and for a moment everything was normal. Then I’d see June try to lie down on her distended belly, in obvious discomfort, and I’d cry again.   After my friends left, my ex husband called on a video call. He wanted to see June one last time. To see his face breaking down was more sorrow than my heart could take. I tried my best to hold the phone up so that he could see her. We talked briefly about the day we adopted her, 11 years ago. For a moment, I missed him. I missed us. In the grieving, much was erased.


This morning I awoke and looked into June’s eyes and something had changed. There was effort. A fog. Maybe pain. I couldn’t tell. My stomach dropped and I thought, not today, not today. And then immediately a calm settled in and I thought: if today, so be it.  I got out of bed to put the kettle on the stove and June padded in behind me as she always has, waiting for her breakfast, and then gulping it down and licking the bowl clean. Not today, I thought, with relief. Not today. And then I began planning: if she can make it a few days, a few weeks, maybe even a month… I thought, I just have a one week teaching gig then a festival. She’ll be fine with Milton, my friend who watches her while I tour. I’ll come back, we’ll have some time together…I began stretching out the days ahead, believing she’d hold on.

I have held three other dogs as they fell to the last sleep.  I grieved each of them deeply, most especially the first. But with all of them, I shared that last moment with my ex-husband before the ex-ness.  It is a far emptier thing to let go alone.  With my marriage, it was partly the dogs that kept us together for a long time.  That was a good thing.  We allowed silence to creep into our marriage and were able to ignore it with one or two large dogs sleeping in between us.  We drifted away from each other and closer to the dogs. Eventually, I confronted the quiet and I left.   It was a sad parting, but felt inevitable, and we both grieved deeply into the fur of our beloved shared dog June.  Somehow in this, we remained close friends, helped each other find our new apartments, June going back and forth between.  Perhaps it was June who prevented bitterness from infecting our bond.

June lived with my ex for a while, as he grieved, when I first moved away. He says that it was June who kept him sane, who saved him.  They’d walk for miles and miles in the shadow of Liberty, rebuilding his life.

Eventually I moved thousands of miles away to a new town and brought June with me into my house with a fenced in backyard.  I fell in love with another man when he got on his knees immediately upon meeting June and nestled his beard into her nuzzle.  He would live with me for a very short time, bringing his own dog into my home.  That man would tiptoe backwards very slowly out of my home, my heart, my life, his dog would die, and through it, June was my anchor. June would lie next to me on my front porch as I watched the sun set over my street, drinking enough wine to numb my heartbreak.  June would sleep next to me in my bed, curled up around my legs or on the pillow. 

I joked that June saved me like my ex says that she did for him. But living alone never seemed lonely with another breathing creature with sad hound eyes sharing my life. And when the loneliness did crowd in, all I’d have to do is lie on the floor with my dog and I’d know I was not alone.

I lay on the couch Wednesday with her and decide to spend the night sleeping next to her here in the Living Room. She wakes me at 5am, panting, whimpering, and I know something has shifted. She is not seeing me. She is confused. I rush her to the ER, clearheaded, exhausted, alert.  My friend accompanies me, the one who loves her the most, who takes care of her when I am away. He is solid, but worried and I appreciate having someone here next to me. 

Eventually, the doctors tell me there is nothing more to do and I look into her eyes and see the weariness and I realize it is time.

It is Thursday. As if she heard me earlier in the week, planning. As if she set her own calendar alarm.  She is letting me go right now, I can see it in her eyes that droop in pain. She is showing me pain so that I will let her go.

The only thing right now I know to do is keep looking her way, keep memorizing her fur, her eyes, her being.  And to keep telling her she’s been the best dog I’ve ever had. And that I love her very much.  And that I’ll see her on the other side. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Kickstarter Has Launched!!!

Hi y'all!!!

I'm going into the studio in a few weeks to begin recording "How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat" with Neilson Hubbard producing and to celebrate that in necessary indie fashion, I'm launching as of RIGHT NOW a KICKSTARTER campaign to raise the funds so that I can a) pay for the record and thus b) own it myself. Would you consider helping me? I would so appreciate it. Just give what you can (cool pledge packages galore) and also share the campaign/video with everyone you meet.

Thank you so much,

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Very Long Day

Tonight I went to see "Long Day's Journey Into Night" starring David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf. Had cheap tix but I got to the Box Office and they said 'we can move you to the 2nd row, orchestra. Would you like that?' Um. Yeah. Duh. So I sat close enough to see the wig lines around Laurie Metcalf's temple. Close enough to get spat upon. Close enough to be weeping like a baby. This was undeniably one of the best pieces of theater I have ever seen in my life. And afterwards, I was walking around the neighborhood looking for something to eat and ran smack into Laurie Metcalf on the street and babbled at her "you were...I mean...I'm so sorry to bother you, but you were...devastating, amazing...thank you for your performance" and she was so nice and smiled under her knit hat, tiny as a slip of paper she was, and I felt like a gurmy drama student. But my soul was stirred and I was wandering alone in London, just wanting to grab onto someone's arm and stop them and say "did you SEE that?" Do you know the play? It's devastating. Long. And bleak. And there are these moments in it that just brought me to almost choking. The moments of each character confessing or realizing that they are all reaching, or were reaching, for some big awesome truth something larger than what is there in reality, some DREAM, that failed them. Each of them were wrecked by the realization of the failure. To me: that is communion. WE all have that. The thing we want that we lose or we never reach. Perfection. Andrea Del Sarto, wasn't that the poem by Robert Browning? "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for?" (sounds like a graduation speech). But that's the tragedy of life and it just tore through me tonight. IN a way that was both completely depressing and completely uplifting.

And then, I had to eat and drink some wine. Quickly.