A free woman in Copenhagen.

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The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is a lot of things – a collection of music memorabilia; a monument to the power of songwriters, performers, and record label executives; a pile of history that exits through the gift shop.

During my recent visit there with Shawn and his mom and uncle, I saw many objects, like Michael Jackson’s Thriller jacket; Bob Marley’s hat; Ray Charles’ sunglasses; Gregg Allman’s B-3; Joe Strummer’s Tele; Roger Daltry’s microphone; stunning photos of Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder taken by Bruce Talamon – you get the idea.

My favorite things, though, were the tiny windows into the worlds of the songwriters as living, breathing, creative humans moving across the Earth’s surface in pursuit of what is true – lyrics handwritten into college ruled notebooks or onto hotel stationary – the looping and scribbled cursive of Kurt Cobain, Billy Joel, Randy Newman, and many others. One that deeply moved me was this foreshadowing of Joni’s ‘My Old Man’.

Seeing this 50+ year old piece of paper sure got my mind moving:

I pictured a 20-something Joni at the Palace Hotel in Copenhagen, guitar in her lap, pen and hotel stationary on the bed or desk beside her, one lamp on, digging in the post-performance Danish air for the gem that would become one of the most beloved songs on what is arguably her most beloved album.

And she ultimately took out if I’ll come for the recording session, but it persists here, not scratched out. Was she in doubt about Graham Nash, and herself, from the very start of their relationship?

And I wanna know more about what happened that time in London, and about those rock n roll children on that rock n roll Sunday.

And was it in that room where she first sang one of my favorite lyrics of all time? We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall keepin’ us tight and true.

And look at how the paper was folded, but not neatly – maybe she was checking out of the Palace and in a rush, and the idea was hastily stuffed into her purse or guitar case.

I’ll keep pondering, I’m sure, and I’ll keep digging in the air around me for more questions and answers and hypotheses.

Laziness continued

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After practicing medicinal laziness the week before, I had to practice something a little different this past week—something I’m calling ‘medically induced laziness’.

I thought for sure I had COVID.  I arrived home on the evening of September 11 from a weekend gathering—the same one I had been resting up for—and woke up Monday morning with all the symptoms.  

Here we go again, I thought.  I looked at what was coming up—a lesson with a student, a community sing, a live-stream, a studio session, a Friday night show, an upcoming road trip with Shawn and his mom and uncle we’ve been planning for ages—and I fell into despair.  So many endeavors that, by design, are for cultivating joy and community—you know, the good stuff!—would need to be cancelled and rescheduled.  

I got into a blame game:  If everyone could have pulled in the same damned direction early on in this pandemic, this wouldn’t be happening.  

And I pointed the blame at myself: If I wasn’t such an overachiever, I wouldn’t be feeling so disappointed.  

Round and round my mind went, and with a suddenly much emptier schedule, I had nothing to do but ruminate.  

This past week, daily rapid tests and one PCR test all announced that I was negative.  My voice was still in no condition to create anything for prime time or posterity, and I was feeling run down.  

The online community sing still happened—with so many songs already programmed into my looper, I was able to rely heavily on technology as I sipped tea and Bernice and I shared songs with folks from around the world, including our first participant from Australia!  This really lifted my spirits. If not for the pandemic and the precise way it unfolded, I likely wouldn’t be connecting with so many awesome folks all over the world.

At some point, I did find equanimity with the whole situation.  This is how things are right now, I remembered.  Simple, yes—but not always the easiest point of view to take!  I noticed my aversion and disappointment, and I attended to those feelings.  I napped.  I cried.  I stared at the bird feeder.  I read a good book.  I wrote some poetry.  I was taking care of my health, and that of others, with this medically induced laziness.  Things would be, and have been, rescheduled, and those experiences will perhaps be all the richer for everyone once they do unfold.

The road trip we’d been planning for months was in question until the last minute—and as Shawn and I continued to test negative, the answer was clear.  

As of this writing, the four of us are happy and healthy and in Cleveland, Ohio, making our first time pilgrimage on Monday morning to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  I slept well after connecting with folks at ‘Sharing The Journey’ on Zoom last night. The train rumbles by with a soothing regularity. There was a wild and kinda wonderful thunderstorm this morning. This is how things are right now.

I am excited and grateful to be on an adventure with Shawn and his mom and uncle!  We’re getting to know each other, and ourselves, a little better with each mile.

Ask your inner critic if laziness is right for you!

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I experience such a deep sorrow when I can’t get to everything on my to-do list in the time in which a much less exhausted version of me drew it up. I hate to cancel or postpone anything, especially creative projects. I figure I’m gonna be dead a long time, so why not fill up every hour of every day on my calendar now with all those things I want to do?

Sounds… not so great, doesn’t it?

Oh, if only we could come up with a way to not need so much sleep…

I had to cancel a studio session last week, and I really hated to. I am always up for everything – until I burn myself out and I’m not. My mind was and is always eager, and my body was saying, ‘You’ve got a hell of a busy weekend coming up – you need to be fully rested for it.’

So, instead of going to the studio last Thursday, I sat in the front yard for a while, staring at the bird feeder. Nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, and goldfinches, all in near constant motion preparing for the coming cold. I was really enjoying the peace and ease and calm, feeling gravity settle me into the chair, noticing the regeneration of stamina moving through my mind and body – and of course, I started thinking, Hmm, I’m feeling better. I could’ve gone to the studio today after all…

Shawn came out to chat at one point, and I told him what I was thinking.

He smiled at me and said, ‘Everyone needs medicinal laziness from time to time.’

Medicinal laziness! I love that.

And there’s that word I use to criticize my need for stillness and rest – ‘lazy’. Why do I so often, in my own case, frame the act of taking time out as ‘laziness’? Even in my daily meditation practice, I view it in part as working on something, working on the project of being more present and aware. I’m very often creating more work for myself, even when I’m sitting still and literally doing nothing!!

I do enjoy staying busy.

How many times have I supported the choice of others to take that same time out, but then criticize my own need for that same restoration? I gotta keep a little bit of that care and compassion for myself.

(More work on self to do, haha)

The birds are busy as hell these days, and I have been too. And it’s okay, like them, to rest on a branch for a bit, taking stock of what’s happening and what’s to come, and show up as fully to this body and mind as I always hope to for anyone else’s.

The tenor’s toilet.

Yesterday afternoon, September 4th, I experienced about three hours of sublime magnificence just a twenty minute walk from my house. Mountain Top Music Center, in conjunction with Music In The Great North Woods, presented Bach’s Mass in B minor at the Majestic Theatre on Main Street here in Conway. I don’t have the words to properly convey how incredible this experience was. Every detail – from the obvious virtuosity and care of the performers to the almost surreal quality and appearance of the replicas of 18th century instruments, right down to the tuning of concert pitch to 415 Hz – was exquisite and beautiful.

And though I’ve been away from blogging for a bit (I’m back from summer break – I think!) faithful readers will know that it’s often the absurd and hilarious details that stick with me the longest.

During the intermission, I stood in a very long line for the restroom, occasionally making small talk with others, watching performers and audience members milling about. During a lull in the chatter, I watched one of the 18 singers come walking down the hall, who just a few moments before had been singing:

cum Sancto Spiritu:
in gloria Dei Patris.
Amen
.

signaled to another singer by waving his thumb over his shoulder, and announcing to everyone within earshot:

‘Toilet’s clogged.’

Flanked on all sides by concert goers who seemed to be ignoring this exchange, it was all I could do not to burst out with laughter.

Towards the end of the second half of the program, this same tenor got his solo:

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini

and as his gorgeous voice filled the hall, I pictured this same human encountering the clogged toilet. Was he upset? Angry? In a rush? Did he mutter anything um-Mass-like under his breath? I wondered if anyone managed to clear it, or if an ‘out or order’ sign had been posted, or how many others of the performers had been inconvenienced, or disgusted, or amused, by any of this.

And while I’m thinking about plumbing and the very down-to-Earth details of backstage life, here is the genius of Bach being channeled across the centuries through the hands and hearts of a stage full of folks who, like the rest of us, long for things like unclogged toilets and harmony and laughter.

I shook my head at myself and this goofy tangent, and then moments later, another singer – the countertenor – raised his solo voice in the final Agnus Dei as tears of astonishment streamed down my cheeks.

I’m not Catholic – neither was Bach – nor am I anything. I’m just another human who longs for both beauty and mirth, and I enjoy being reminded again and again of how both can be found in overwhelming abundance everywhere we look – even (and sometimes especially) in a shared line for the restroom.

It’s time to take some time.

Hey there, faithful readers.  It’s been a hell of a couple of weeks, as you no doubt figured from my last post—and with all the news from the world, there’s so much going on, internally and externally. 

I hope to resume this blog later this summer.

I’ve been writing up a storm lately, though, processing a thousand and one things, and I’m feeling a need for radio silence on this particular channel for a bit.  After a month on the road, Shawn and I are heading home tomorrow, and then we will both be on silent retreat for a few days in early July.  We both have a full calendar this summer—lots of shows closer to home, recording plans, rehearsals, and other assorted projects.  

It’s time to take some time.

I’m grateful as ever for your open eyes, ears, and hearts.  I’ll still be posting new songs and poetry to Patreon every Monday and Thursday.

Here’s wishing you happiness and joy, strength and ease, freedom from suffering, and peace.

Love,
Heather

Open letter to a thief.

To whomever broke in and robbed us while we slept the night of June 12th—

I’m really scared that we were sound asleep in a private residence while you pried and squeezed your way through locked French doors and back out again—and in a country with 400 million guns on the ground, it terrifies me to think what could have happened if you had woken us up and we had stumbled out, half asleep, and found you there with our belongings in your hands. Who knows—maybe the earplugs we were wearing to block out the noises of the air conditioning and the Quarter saved our lives that night.

I am so angry that we have to replace so many things, and some expensive things, too. And I’m so torn up about the irretrievable song ideas and writing I had been working on since we left home. And you made off with a bunch of cash that we worked our asses off to earn. And every hour for the first couple of days, in pangs of sorrow and rage, I remembered yet another thing that is now forever out of my reach—my datebook planner, and all the handwritten notes in it; my COVID vaccination card; my Charlie Brown Christmas cloth mask; my favorite cloth napkin from Ten Thousand Villages; my little birding binoculars; the laminated four leaf clover given to me a few years ago by a fan after a show in New Jersey; the tiny composition notebook and pencil I used for communication when I had laryngitis back in 2019; one of my old Maine driver’s licenses, depicting a 20-something-year-old-me, one of the very few photos I had of that period in my life.

I’m also really disappointed with myself for being as upset as I am about material things. Our situation could be so much worse—Shawn or I could be fighting for life, just as our friend Leslie’s husband is at this very moment in a New Orleans hospital after being shot in a home invasion last month.

Most of all, though, I’m just really heartbroken—not just for our losses, but for you and for the world that you and I share.

That heartbreak led me to this place of curiosity, and I started to wonder if you’re a young kid, trying to prove yourself to older peers, or if you’re a junkie, desperate to feed your addiction.

I get that. My life has been touched in some way by these things, too. I shoplifted a few times when I was in junior high, trying to appear cool to a group of kids that I briefly thought I wanted to be part of. I grew up with an alcoholic parent, and I struggled with my own drinking until I gave it up in 1997. And I’ve experienced a brief brush with the horrors of opioid addiction, once when I had my wisdom teeth out in 2001, and again when I had a kidney stone in 2003. I didn’t even enjoy the feeling of the hydrocodone or the oxy, but some part of me craved each one terribly. It’s the way I’m wired. I can’t even keep potato chips in the house.

Believe me, though, it took me a while to find and remember this place of empathy. In the hours after we woke up that Monday morning, I was pacing around, trembling, jumping at every little unfamiliar noise, yelling at you, swearing, calling you names. Because I was angry and scared. And sometimes I still am.

And still—I wish you well. With all my heart, racing as it is, I do. I really do.

And I wonder if you’d laugh at this or roll your eyes. I wonder if you’d call me a fool or an easy mark. I get that, too. It sounds like some bullshit, right? ‘Hey, person who robbed me—I want you to be happy.’

But I really do wish this. I want the same things for you that I want for myself, and for every person on this planet—to be well and safe and free from suffering.

I am also really grateful, too. I’m typing these words on a device that you didn’t steal along with the rest. We are now in a safe, secure place with full bellies and our instruments and the means to continue on. We’ve been in close contact nearly constantly with friends and family who have been offering unconditional love and support.

And this feeling of gratitude, of knowing that there are people who have our backs no matter what—I really do know how lucky we are to have that. And I really want you to have that, too.

Believe it or not, I don’t want to punish you. Yes, I called the cops, because I was angry and scared—and really, I just want our stuff back. But if the cops figure out that you did this, they will punish you.

And please know this—this world you and I live in right now, where you have to steal shit to meet your needs and I have to call people with guns who want to put you in a cage to meet my needs—this is not the world I want. I want a world where justice is about restoration and not retribution, where everyone works with whatever skills they have toward a world where no one has a reason to steal from anyone ever again.

And I am willing to bet that this is the same world you want, too.

In time, we will replace many of the things that you took from us. Some, of course, are gone forever. And yeah, for some terrifying hours, you shattered our sense of safety and security, and our hope. But we still have our lives, our empathy, and our willingness to continue working towards that better world. And in a life so short and precious, those really are the only things I want.

Fixing the old grip.

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A week ago today, Shawn and I set out from home for a month on the road. One week in and a few great shows under our belts, we’re kicking back now and getting after some sunshine and some new song ideas before we get moving again.

On Saturday night, we played a show hosted by our friends at the Americana Community Music Association in Fort Myers. It was, like the shows before it in Tallahassee and Pensacola, a night full of connection, joy, and fun.

Before the doors opened, one of the ACMA’s volunteers took notice of my merch case – an old cardboard suitcase that I found years ago at a second-hand shop in Northampton, MA. It’s been slowly coming apart in recent months – and though I know I ought to replace it with something more trustworthy, I’ve grown irrationally attached to this old thing and the many stickers that I’ve put all over it. I recently learned this type of suitcase was once referred to as a ‘grip’, and I now think of it as ‘the old grip’ (though we still call it ‘the merch case’ when we’re packing and unpacking the car).

‘Oh, I love those old cases,’ the volunteer said as he took the last bites of his dinner. ‘I love it too!’ I answered, and when I told him how I use it, he smiled and said, ‘I know so many of you musicians use them for your merchandise, but when I look at them, I just think, “Hey, that’s my mother’s luggage.”‘ And we both laughed.

As I started setting up the CD table, he came over and looked at the recent repair that Shawn had done with some aluminum tape around one of the bottom edges. I noticed this and said to him, ‘Yeah, it’s really coming apart, especially at the hinges.’ The pins have been slowly pulling out for quite a while now, and it’s an odd job that we just hadn’t gotten around to yet.

He looked at me and said, ‘Tell you what. My wife and I are gonna go take a walk, but when I get back, I’m gonna fix this. I think I’ve got all the tools I need in my truck.’

‘Oh, that would be awesome, thank you!’ I answered.

‘Just make sure it’s all emptied out for me when I get back,’ he added.

True to his word, he came back some time later with some tools and got to work on the empty case. At one point, he went to the kitchen in search of an ice pick that never materialized.

He was still at it when the doors opened t 6:30, and as ticket holders filed in, many were asking him about it. ‘Saving a piece of my mother’s luggage,’ was the answer I heard more than once. The whole scene elicited many smiles, sweet little conversations, and offers of help.

I was really moved that he offered to fix it and ended up spending as much time on it as he did – and what moved me most was how the old grip put this stranger in touch with fond memories of his mother.

In the end, he wasn’t able to fix the hinges to his satisfaction, but he left it in much better shape than he found it. He reiterated how happy he was to have a go at it, and again, the comment about his mother’s luggage. After the show, he spoke with Shawn briefly about what he had done, gave him some pointers about how to finish the job and what tools to use, and, as he got ready to leave, his wife approached me with a wide smile and said softly, ‘The show was absolutely beautiful, thank you.’

When words fail

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When words fail, there is music.

There is nature.

There is the memory of unspoken love between family and friends.

There is the balm of connection and reconnection through a hug, or a smile, or the touch of a hand.

The news from the world this past week has been excruciating – and here I am, saying things like ‘when words fail’ and digging in my mind for… words to write about that?

Yep, this is what I do.

My heart is broken by so many things.

And my heart is filled, too, by the tremendous generosity and compassion of friends – and that too of strangers who are comforting others in their corner of this beautiful and tragic world.

When I feel helpless, when I feel so overwhelmed with despair, I sing. I take an instrument into my hands. I write. I go for a walk. I ask Shawn for a hug or just some shared silence.

This week’s blog is overshadowed by the terrible current news cycle – and no matter when or where you are reading this, I am certain of two things:

  • that there are things happening in the world that threaten to break your heart.
  • that each one of us is capable of picking up the tools at hand to do the necessary and important work of caring for ourselves and others.

Whoever you are, I love you and I wish you well. Go ahead and let the words fail, and let the promise of love, the impermanence of all things, and the stunning beauty still left to be discovered and enjoyed in this life be the lights by which you find your way.

Small moments, many times.

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This past weekend was another one filled with traveling and live performances, this time with the Acoustic Trio. Shawn, Davy, and I zigged and zagged across upstate NY and NJ to bring our songs and stories to folks in three different communities, each one hungry for live music, each one warm and sweet and open.

As I continue to weave myself back into the 3D world of touring, I find that my practices of all sorts have become even more important. One of my favorite phrases in meditation practice is: small moments, many times. The idea here is to erase the boundary between formal practice and the rest of life, and cultivate a life that is itself the practice. Bringing one’s attention back to the present moment, again and again, whether it’s always to an anchor like the breath or the body, or in a choiceless awareness of whatever bubbles up – the idea is to keep punctuating one’s day – one’s life – with these small moments of awareness.

The cardinal calling from across the road.

The aroma of this cup of coffee.

The delight and gratitude at seeing two friends who drove nearly two hours to see us.

The tiny spider crawling up my arm.

The steepness of this spiral staircase.

The smile on the woman’s face when I sang that one line.

The beauty of the storm clouds letting go of their rain.

The sweetness of these fresh strawberries.

And while I do appreciate, and will continue on with, my extended daily formal practice ‘on the cushion’, I was and am thankful for the opportunities this past weekend to bring the ‘small moments’ practice into focus, all of which helps illuminate my path, my heart, and my life.

Always arriving precisely on time.

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The early spring window that delights me so much every year slammed shut this week with the arrival of those most unwelcome of guests – the black flies.

And they really like me, always have.

Black flies don’t bite, they suck! So goes the old joke.

Because of these tiny hungry pests, I’ve quickened my steps on our recent evening walks, which can still be so thoroughly enjoyed for their exquisite, kinda-feels-like-summer stillness, and for the salmon colored brush that washes over the sky.

I was so thrilled to hear my first hermit thrush of the year this week, too, with its otherworldly trilling echoing through the woods. And we finally spotted a pair of loons on the pond, and I watched them through my binoculars diving for fish again and again as we swatted at the bugs.

And wow, did it get hot this week. In the 80s with hot dry sun. The high fire danger was finally quenched this weekend with some much needed rain, and the green that was just beginning to bud out is now exploding vibrantly into view.

Everything is always arriving – black flies, birds, leaves, rain, sun – and though my personal clock says, ‘Okay, no thanks on the black flies, and I’ll take the rain at night and sun during the day, please,’ nature gives no damn about that. It just shows up precisely on time, all the time.

I’m trying to be a little more like that, too – showing up precisely on time for everything. And I don’t mean being punctual (although that matters a lot to me, too). I mean in the sense of being present to what’s happening – being reflective rather than reactive. I keep remembering, again and again, to practice zooming out at the beauty of the whole scene, rather than in on each annoyance that distracts me from the larger view.

And I’ll be getting lots of practice as the mosquitos arrive… and that means the dragonflies and bats will soon be doing their zigging and zagging across that same peachy sunset sky looking for their supper.