Robin.

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When I was ten and eleven years old, I wanted – or so I thought at the time – to be a stand-up comedian.  In the privacy of my bedroom, I would arrange every stuffed animal I’d ever snuggled or otherwise kept close in rows on my bed to face me as I stood, with hair-brush-microphone in my hand, reciting, word for word, the routines from my two favorite albums at that time: Bill Cosby: Himself and Robin Williams: A Night At The Met.

I knew every single syllable of these recordings and I never tired of repeating them, word for word, before my beady-eyed, non-responsive audience.

Bill’s rhythms were slow, steady.  They would build, and then they would relax, and then they would build again.  Himself felt safe, warm, friendly.

A Night At The Met, however, exploded like a bolt of lightning, even after thousands of repeated listenings.  The rapid-fire frenzy of Robin’s routines were, to me, absolutely heart-stopping genius.

I’d loved Robin since I was a young child, when I, too, had a pair of rainbow-striped suspenders and would chant “nanu nanu” and “Earth to Orson!”  We even had two cats named Mork and Mindy.

I amused friends – and, I’m sure, often drove them crazy – with my incessant quotes of Robin’s material, both from his stand-up and from his movies.  I really wanted to BE him – to be able to create so effortlessly (or so it seemed) – and to somehow bring electrifying, manic, child-like joy into the world.

Eventually, my obsession with Robin faded, but I never lost my reverence for his genius. Oh, and how deeply I imbibed Dead Poets Society from my seat in that dark, crowded movie theater where I first saw it.

And to think that a man who brought that much happiness and laughter and light into the dark world couldn’t hold onto enough of it for himself to see him through.

When I first heard the news about Robin’s suicide, I couldn’t hold back the tears.  Is there really a world in which he no longer exists?  Unthinkable.

And then… I started to get very angry.  How could he do this to his family, to all of us?

It’s always the ones you wouldn’t suspect.

Though he rarely spoke of it, my father was completely devastated by his brother Roger’s suicide on New Year’s Eve of 1981.  Dad was so angry that he refused to attend the funeral services.  He simply bottled up those feelings and never brought them out again.

Roger was a brilliant musician, a father, full of that same manic joy — and yet he fell prey, quite surprisingly, to the same demons of drug addiction and despair.

And those same poisons taint my blood, too.

Life really sucks sometimes, you know?  It’s hard friggin’ work.  I know exactly what it feels like to despair, to lose hope – to feel like, “You know, I just can’t do this business of waking up every morning anymore.”  I really do.

The sun sets and then it’s dark – too dark for some.

Poor Robin.  His poor family.

I’m not angry anymore – just devastated by the loss.  Aren’t we all – all of us who felt like Robin was in our close circle of friends, who were immeasurably and irrevocably shaped by his influence?  He was one of us – one of so many beautiful, mournful, lovely people trying to get along in a big, crazy world.

Yes, there is more darkness than light when you look up at the night sky – but it’s the stars, the givers of light, that persist.

So, for as long as we can stand to do it, let’s choose to remember the light and the joy.

So long, Robin.

Saturday Morning Musings – Forever returning.

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Hello!  I’m back.  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Where to begin?  I’ll be very brief.  A successful SERFA conference in May with Shawn and Davy.  Six wonderful weeks in New Orleans.  Four years and counting with my sweetheart.  More traveling to more shows all over the country.  A new record in the works.  So much excitement and joy!

It’s incredible to think of how unhappy I used to be a lot of the time and how, unfortunately, the residue of those unhappy times had indelibly stained much of the rest of my life.

But that stain is slowly fading — I see it in photos, in the mirror, in my improving posture.

I’m smiling more than I ever used to.  I’m growing more confident.

Wynton Marsalis once said, “In jazz, every moment is a crisis and you bring all your skill to bear on the crisis.”  Life can be a crisis too, can’t it?  Hard work for sure.

I feel like I’m forever returning — to the piano, to melody and harmony, to the blank page, to here and now — and when I arrive, all I can do is just try to figure out what needs to be done next.

In the meantime — which is also here and now — I hope to continue to hone my skills and bring them to bear as wisely as I can.

And keep smiling!  :)

Saturday Morning Musings – Farewell, for now.

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Have you ever tried to prepare your own self and a 31 foot Winnebago for an eight-week long adventure?  Let’s just say, it’s been a really hectic week.

This Monday, Shawn and I are headed on another adventure.  Along with Davy, with our instruments in tow, we will be setting sail on Miss Winnie!

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We will arrive in Montreat, NC next Wednesday for the SERFA conference where, in addition to presenting an official showcase on Friday night, we will be meeting up with old friends, making new ones, sharing our songs, stories, and selves with presenters, radio folks, venue owners, and fellow artists from all over the globe.  This is a fantastic opportunity for us!

We’ll be in North Carolina until Sunday-ish – then we bring what we do to Eddie’s Attic open mic in Decatur, GA on the evening of the 19th!  That’ll be fun.

Davy flies home from Atlanta on the 20th, and then Shawn and I mosey on down through the deep south to New Orleans (arriving on the 23rd) where we will be camped out until the end of June.

I.  Can’t.  WAIT!

Nearly a year ago, I set out to post every Saturday morning to this blog, and for nearly a year I have done so.  I’ve shared stories, lyrics, sometimes deeply personal, other times light-hearted, always honest.

It’s time now for me to take a break.

Believe me, I’ve still got plenty to say.  I am just feeling a need to write a little less often, to ease up on my pace.

“It ain’t a race, kid,” my dad used to say.

If you’re so inclined, you can certainly follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter (links in the sidebar).  I’ll be posting at least one photo and/or a short video every day of our eight-week-long adventure.

Writing has always been and will continue to be a deep passion of mine.  Though I won’t be posting every single Saturday morning as I have for the last year, I will still on occasion and as the muse strikes be sharing my thoughts here.

So… farewell, for now, friends!  I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated you taking the time to read my musings all this time.

Stay tuned!  And much love to you.

And off we go…!

Saturday Morning Musings – An unexpected thaw.

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Memories are quite puzzling things.  Think of it – in the time it takes to blink an eye, a memory can arise into consciousness from its hibernation – quite often unbidden – and carry with it all of the attendant emotions.  Encapsulated within that memory, one can find a range of time from moments to years: a first kiss; a concert; a friendship.

The brain is amazing!  And yes, I do believe that everything about our conscious experience can — and will someday — be entirely understood at the level of the brain, the most incredible supercomputer on offer.

“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself,” said Carl Sagan.

Sometimes, though, a memory can take hold and not let go.  That inability to let go can turn ugly — sadness, despair, anger, resentment — or it can be transcendent — love, joy, peace, contentment.

Sometimes… it’s hard to tell.

Like, thinking about an old flame.  Sure, that might be fun, even inspiring, but ultimately it’s a frustration that cannot — and likely should not — lead anywhere.

Or when gazing into the photographed eyes of a long-deceased parent — what an alien mixture of joyful longing and heartbreaking acceptance of fact.

What about pondering the demise of a friendship that ended abruptly in unexpectedly bitter words and anger?

When is it time to forgive?

In that moment — when cheeks are flushed, earlobes are hot, heart is throbbing with adrenaline and sadness, throat is raw from forcing out the vitriol — it seems that nothing could ever repair that ashen bridge.

But perhaps all is not lost.

There is nothing left here for me
Nothing for as far as my crying eyes can see
There is nothing left for me here
Nothing that’s worth me shedding another tear

Those lyrics were written while adrift in an emotional cyclone, mourning the loss of a friendship that gone painfully awry.  Every time I sing them, I still feel the sting of their genesis.

A phone call and email this week from the friend for whom the song was written reminded me: ice hasn’t always been so.  It was once water, flowing freely, refreshing and clear.  Sure, that water might be damned cold at times and not at all inviting, but as long as it’s moving, there is an opportunity to move along with it.

So, spring has finally sprung here in the White Mountains — and the thaw feels good.  I still have an eye on the snow that still persists at the shady end of the lawn, but it, too, will eventually have no choice but to succumb to the warmth.

My heart, I am sure, will do likewise.

Saturday Morning Musings – To move the heart of a child.

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For the past week, an elementary school in Wisconsin has been faithfully rehearsing one of my songs – “We All Have A Song” – for their spring concert. Under the guidance of a one Ms. G, these kids are lending their voices to the following words:

We all have a rhythm
And we all have a pulse
And we all have a song to sing
So find your heartsong
Your heart is the drumbeat
You are as strong
As the earth beneath your feet

It’s amazing to me how this came about.  I received an email a couple of weeks ago from Ms. G (an elementary school music teacher) asking for my permission to teach the song to her students.  “Of course!” I replied.

She learned the song several years ago from a music therapist in Michigan.  That in itself is pretty cool.

Then, on Tuesday, I received this message from her: “[o]ne of my favorite reactions was from one of my third graders. He is such a sweetheart and tries very hard, but doesn’t always succeed. As we were lining up while singing to the end of We All Have A Song, he looked super excited. When the song ended, he exclaimed, ‘Ms. G, I’ve never sang that good before! I love this song!’ Thank you for inspiring my kiddos.”

Wow.  How can I get an email like that and not cry?  So humbling and inspiring.

Last night was a regular night at the hotel, solo piano, six to ten.  I’ve been playing there for nearly eleven years now – holy smokes – and my favorite moments are always the ones that involve children.   Over this past decade, I’ve had many kids come up and sit at the bench with me, talk with me, ask questions, request “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the like, their little legs swinging in the air under the bench.

Then, there are the ones like the little girl who sat at the table directly next to me last night… who kneel on their chairs while they eat, so that they can better see my fingers and then absent-mindedly put down their forks and move their finger tips on the table top, pretending, who blush when I look their way, too shy to come up and say hello.

So precious.

In my six years as a children’s librarian, I read stories, worked on craft projects, sang songs, banged on plastic tambourines, helped with homework, checked out books, collected hugs.   After much soul searching, I left that job nearly four years ago in order to go after the musical golden ring.  It was certainly the right thing to do, but I really miss working with young kids every day.  Luckily, Shawn and I live downstairs from an amazing family with three young daughters, so I get my kid fix somewhat regularly.

Those moments, when you can witness, in real time, the demonstrable positive effects of your actions in the life of a young child – is there anything better or more worthwhile than that?

I admit – as much as I love children, I’ve always been a little too frightened of the awesome responsibility of bringing a new life into the world.  And yes, I realize I’m not getting any younger, either – but I’ve never had a sense of that ticking clock about which many other women speak.  Maybe my clock was never wound up.  Maybe that sense of urgency just isn’t wired into my DNA.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this… with these words and thoughts, or intentions, or lack thereof.   All I know is that whenever I’ve touched the life of a child in some meaningful way, there is simply no better feeling.

To move the heart of a child?  That is the definition of success.

Now, if only I could be in Wisconsin to hear those kids sing my song…

 

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Saturday Morning Musings – How to put together a homeless backpack.

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So, I finally finished something yesterday that I’ve been wanting to finish for a while and I’m excited to share the idea with all y’all, in hopes that others might want to do the same thing.

A while back I saw a video on wimp.com about a couple that puts together and distributes backpacks to the homeless and I was inspired to do the same.  (I blogged about it, too, which you can read here if you missed it.)

I found two backpacks for a buck fifty each at the Conway Humane Society thrift shop.  I filled them with the following items that I purchased at the following prices at Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, and Christmas Tree Shop:

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1 bar of soap – 33¢
1 travel size first aid kit – $1
1 1oz bottle of hand sanitizer – 53¢
1 1oz deodorant – $1
1 roll of toilet paper – 25¢
1 toothbrush – $1
1 6oz toothpaste – $1
2 16.9oz bottles of spring water – 33¢
1 travel size pack of hand wipes – 33¢
1 comb – 8¢
1 microfiber wash cloth – 33¢
1 pair of mens socks – 33¢

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1 stainless steel dinner spoon – 50¢
2 granola bars – 50¢
2 fruit snack pouches – 40¢
1 4.75oz can of Vienna sausages – 50¢
1 10oz plastic jar of peanut butter – $1
1 package of peanut butter crackers – $1
1 travel pack of Kleenex – 19¢
1 knit scarf – donated from me (I didn’t need so many scarves)

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1 4oz bottle of bubbles (I couldn’t resist adding a little fun) – 42¢

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All this, plus the backpack, totals $12.52 for one backpack that could turn someone’s life around, or at least get them over the hump maybe?

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I have a bunch of things left over to start future backpacks. Right now, I have two complete packs. For now, I plan to keep one of these backpacks in the car until I see someone that needs one. I do a lot traveling, and I’ve certainly met people who could’ve benefited from something like this. Next time I’ll be ready.

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I hope this inspires others to do the same or, at the very least, to pass this idea along.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday Morning Musings – One jelly bean at a time.

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This week, I read an astonishing book – I Am Malala – about (and by) the young Pakistani girl who spoke up for the right of girls to go to school – and was shot for it.  She and her father (an educator himself) had received numerous threats, and still they raised their voices from the Swat Valley against the misogyny of the Taliban, nearly paying the dearest price for their convictions.  The story of the attack on her life in the fall of 2012 captivated the entire world.

For what would I be willing to risk my life?

It’s a hell of a question.

In her book, Malala speaks with such passion about her studies, her competitive nature come exam time, about her love of science, her voracious appetite for reading.

She also expresses her sadness about how many young girls and women in her country – and, indeed, around the world – are uneducated and illiterate, regarded as unequal to men and boys and not deserving of the same access to education and information.

It’s amazing what one takes for granted.

As much as I also loved (and still love) learning and reading, I really didn’t like school much beyond third grade.  I was always shy, awkward, probably seemed aloof a lot of the time.  I was so uncomfortable at school, more so as I got older.  Naturally introverted, I shied away from most things social.  I didn’t have a lot of confidence.  I didn’t really like myself too much.  I couldn’t wait to graduate and get the hell out of there.

On the heels of all this, there was a very moving video on wimp.com the other day, in which each day of one’s life is represented by jelly beans:

http://www.wimp.com/timebeans/

As the original pile of 28,835 jelly beans (representing an average lifespan) is whittled away to account for school, work, sleep, eating, commuting, watching TV, chores, errands, bathing and grooming, down to an unthinkable 2,740, the narrator asks a few stirring questions, including this one:

How much time have you already spent worrying instead of doing something that you love?

Boy, I do have a worry wart streak in me.  I get it from my mother.  I even worry sometimes that I worry too much.

Davy said something to me a while back that rings true.  He observed that I wear the world as a tight garment.

I know what he means, and he’s right.  I get up into my head a lot.  I do hold the world close.  It’s miraculous and maddening, inspiring and infuriating.

I think of all that time I spent worrying as a kid, too.  Didn’t we all?  Worrying about where I stood, how I seemed, what kind of mood Mom would be in when I got home, about doing okay in school.

About feeling safe and okay.

Nowadays, I worry that I might miss out on something, that some opportunity might pass me by because I’m not prepared for it, that I’ll have a dream about the most amazing song that would be a smash hit and then forget the whole damn thing as soon as I wake up.

Then, I read Malala’s book and I think, “What the hell do have to complain about?”

In the grand scheme of things?  Nothing at all.  She is a champion, a hero – and I’m a hobbyist, living a charmed life.

Time to let all that tension out of my shoulders, contemplate and appreciate that finite supply of jelly beans, and savor their sweetness.

Saturday Morning Musings – Remnants of stars reuniting.

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Writing from the road again.  This morning I am in Northampton, MA at my friend Carrie Ferguson‘s house.  She’s a wonderful soul and songwriter.  I fell in love with her songwriting at NERFA in 2012.  Her song “Paris” is an aching ode, mourning the obsession that often overtakes the mind when your lover leaves you.  The first time I heard her sing it, I was hooked.

We became quick friends that weekend.

Last night, we played a show together in Becket, MA at a wonderful gem of a place called The Dream Away Lodge.  We swapped five-song sets all night.  Attentive crowd, snapping fireplace, glowing smiles, full bellies, beaming hearts.

I tried out a brand new song last night.  “Like You’re Already Gone.”  It’s dark and it’s heavy.  The moment that I strummed that last E7 and the applause came, a man said, “Wow, is that your song?”  I told him it was.

It really got to him.

Two nights ago, Shawn, Davy and I saw The Stray Birds in Portland.  Incredible night of music.  For me, my love for them began the first time I ever heard their “Dream In Blue”.

What is it about a song?  The emotional power of just a few chords, a melody and, sometimes, some words; an instrument in the hands of a performer; voices echoing; vibrations rising in the air; ears, minds and hearts to receive it.  All of it remnants of stars reuniting.

All of us singers and songwriters are after that special bit of stardust.  Joni sang about it this way: “The lights go down / And it’s just you up there / Getting them to feel like that.”

Carrie and I captured a little bit of that tonight.  Tonight, we’ll go after it again in Portland, ME, then tomorrow night in Portsmouth, NH.

Then.. in the intervals between gigs, I’m sure we’ll each, in our own way, seek to capture that lightning bug in the jars of our hearts, kindle the flame long enough to set another heart ablaze in another room somewhere, sometime.

I love my job.

 

 

 

Saturday Morning Musings – Where is spring?

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It seems like everyone in this neck of the woods is asking the same question: “Where is spring?”

A year ago at this time, yes, there was still snow on the ground (as seen in this photo that I took at that time at Arethusa Falls) but this year we didn’t even attempt our-first-day-of-spring hike to the falls.  We’re waiting until some of this stuff melts – whenever that may be.

On the day of the vernal equinox this year, we awoke not to chirping birds, dazzling sun and balmy breezes, but instead to a heavy, gray sky and a fresh foot of snow in the yard.  We went snowshoeing in the woods behind the house instead.

So, yeah – where is spring?

It’s been an exciting week.  I’ve been selected as an official showcase artist at SERFA, taking place in North Carolina in May.   This is an awesome opportunity to share my work with venues, presenters, fellow performers, and to make new friends.  I’ll be traveling down and sharing this opportunity with Shawn and Davy, bandmates extraordinaire.

Just six weeks from now, we’ll be loading up the Winnie and headed south.  First to the conference, then Shawn and I continue on for a few-weeks-long adventure in the Big Easy.

This week I also received an email from a woman in Utah who wants to cover one of my songs – “We All Have A Song” – on her upcoming CD.  What an honor!

Dave said, “This has been a great week for you!  You should buy a lottery ticket!”  Ha!  The last time I bought a lottery ticket was about 20 years ago, and I won $250 on a scratch ticket.  I figured I was ahead – why push my luck?  So I stopped buying them.

With all of this snow still on the ground and all these exciting developments, I’ve been having a hard time staying focused on what’s in front of me.  I keep thinking about six weeks from now, all the things that need to be done and tended to.  I keep daydreaming about New Orleans, about green grass, about opening my bedroom window and letting a cool, sun-kissed breeze bring in some desperately needed fresh air.

“When is spring?”  As weary as I am of the endless winter, I’m equally fed up with this feeling of wanting it to be over with.

It’s time, at least for now, to shed that impatience.  Normally, I think that patience is an overrated virtue, that it gets in the way of living a full and passionate life.

When did I get in such a rush, anyway?

What is wrong with this moment?

Or this one?

My life is unfolding, petal by petal, from the tightly twisted promise of the bud.  The sun is already shining on my face.  The water is already flowing under the ice, against the rock.

It’s already beautiful.  I just have to take the time to notice it.

Spring is here!  It is always here.

 

Saturday Morning Musings – Add a little spice!

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One of my greatest passions in life is cooking.  I love to be in the kitchen, cooking for myself, for friends, for me and Shawn.  I wrote a while back about fridge essentials and had promised a follow-up about pantry staples – and that’s still on the agenda – but this week I’m thinking about what’s in my spice cabinet.

I’ve got a good collection going and I’m always looking for more.

If you have nothing else in your spice rack, I think these are the absolutely-must-haves:

  • sea salt
  • black pepper (freshly ground is best – so much tastier!)
  • garlic powder (for when you don’t feel like mincing fresh)
  • basil
  • oregano
  • parsley
  • crushed red pepper (for a little heat)
  • cayenne (if you enjoy a little more heat, like I do)

Soups, pasta, you name it – these few will get you through most anything.

Then there are the baking essentials:

  • baking soda
  • baking powder
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • clove (whole and ground)
  • vanilla extract
  • coconut oil
  • dried peppermint

Other leafy spices that are a must for all kinds of cuisine:

  • sage (mushrooms and sage.  mmm.)
  • rosemary
  • thyme (do you have that song stuck in your head now?)
  • marjoram (another sweet leaf – try it instead of basil!)
  • tarragon (great with mushrooms and asparagus)
  • cilantro (salsa, bean dips and fillings, Indian curry top-off)
  • bay leaves (a must for soups)

I love Indian food, so I keep some other must-haves around:

  • turmeric (bitter root – essential – stains your clothes, watch out!)
  • ginger (another essential bitter root with lots of great uses)
  • cumin (whole and ground)
  • coriander (ground – this and cumin are also great in Mexican cuisine)
  • cardamom (pods and ground)
  • saffron (so expensive and so wonderful when cooked into basmati rice)
  • paprika (just the smell of this is worth keeping it around)
  • yellow mustard (whole seeds and ground)
  • garam masala (I cheat and buy it. I’ve actually never made my own – but I should try!)

Other miscellaneous spices/flavors that I use on occasion:

  • onion powder
  • celery seed
  • kelp granules
  • dill
  • chili powder

When Shawn and I were on the road in Florida last year, we found an amazing place in St. Pete called Savory Spice Shop.  I could’ve spent thousands of dollars in there!  Dozens of varieties of sea salt, peppercorns, leaves, roots… holy moly!   I did finally settle for a few things:

So.. this is what I’ve got.  What’s your favorite spice, or combination of spices?  Any suggestions of spices I should try?  I’d love to hear from you – especially if you’re into vegan cooking!

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