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.

I’m ‘kind of’ a mother.

A stomach bug swept our little abode this week. Shawn’s illness was a couple of days ahead of mine, so by the time he was feeling well enough to go visit his mama for Mother’s Day, I was still living on the BRAT diet and needing rest.

After Shawn left, though, I had a simple breakfast and was feeling well enough to take a short walk to the pond and back. En route, I was passed by a friendly jogger, who smiled and said, ‘Hi! Happy Mother’s Day!’ and I smiled. I didn’t think much of this friendly stranger’s gesture. She doesn’t know that I’m not a mother, I thought to myself.

And then another thought arose to push back on that one: Hey, I’m ‘kind of’ a mother.

While it is true that I’ve made the choice thus far to not birth new humans into the world, I’ve been lucky enough to engage in mothering practices and instincts in my life – for the kids I babysat as a teenager; the three families for whom I nannied in my 20s; at the daycare center where I worked in the early 2000s; in my six years as the children’s librarian for the town of Naples, Maine; in my nearly decade-long stint as an assistant at a dance studio. I have worked a lot with young children in my life, and I have enjoyed every moment of that work.

The capacity to give and love unconditionally – isn’t that the hope of every mother, every parent, to be able to do just that?

Long-time readers of this blog, as well as those who pay close attention to my song lyrics, will remember and know that my troubled relationship with my own mother and our eventual estrangement have been the source of much pain and grief, and also the inspiration for much self-reflection and growth. While it’s true that neither she nor I were able to find that place of unconditional love for both ourselves and each other when she was still alive, I like to believe that I’ve developed that muscle of mine in the years since her passing – and largely because of the wisdom that comes with aging; you know, that ‘hindsight is 20/20’ thing.

I suppose that I’ll always be ‘kind of’ a mother – to my songs and writing, in the memories of those kids (most of them now adults!) whose lives I have touched.

Every one us, regardless of our sex or gender, has that boundless capacity to be a nurturer, an unconditional lover, and an unflinching supporter of the lives around us. So, to every single one of us, Happy Mother’s Day – which really should be every day, huh?

Riding on the wind

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I spent some time last week with a borrowed electric guitar while I was ‘helping’ Shawn choose some plugins for the home studio set up. (All that means is, Shawn was dialing in sounds while I was playing along with old Judas Priest and Metallica, haha)

Suddenly, I was a young teenager again, with my SG plugged into a Marshall Valvestate combo, rocking out to all my old favorites. Songs that were and are loud and intricate and raucous – and so deeply satisfying.

On this recent occasion, Shawn put the album on and cranked it up as I took this borrowed axe into my lap, hunched over it, hair covering my face – just as it did 30+ years ago – and somehow, like riding a bike, my fingers remembered where to go, stumbling a bit here and there, and each crunchy power chord thrilled me just as much now as it did then when those same big six-string yells cut through the drafty old house of my childhood. I played along as best as I could with Glenn and KK’s relentless riffs, all while singing along with Rob Halford’s shattering voice:

Well I’m riding / riding on the wind
Yes I’m riding / riding on the wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiind

holding that last note forever right along with Metal God…

Contrast that recent experience to the one I had this past Saturday night, when my friend Leah and I were making our debut as our new duo, Peaceful Means. No raucous power chords that night. Originals that are all about peace and harmony – and covers, too, by folks like John Gorka, The Indigo Girls, Bill Withers. These notes were all sweet and gentle and joyous – and just as deeply satisfying.

I met Leah around the same time that I was playing along with those headbangers. She and I started off in a rock band together, and then our musical relationship evolved and moved into other places, most of which involved singing in intricate vocal harmonies with each other.

As I get older, I realize that, for me, there is no bright line between all these forms of music, these dialects of the same shared language. Music that moves is music that moves. Why not recite every word of N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton album and then sing every single note of every instrument of The Allman Brothers At Fillmore East? Or scream along with Rob and scat along with Ella, hang on to every slip note of Floyd Cramer’s and then marvel at Oscar or at Art Tatum? Life’s too short to do otherwise.

So whether I’m rockin’ out at home, or sharing the stage with a dear friend, I intend to keep on riding on the wiiiiiiiiiiiiiind………!

Honesty in the darkness.

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This past weekend was the trio’s first short run on the road with our new sound, and it was awesome!

At Saturday night’s show, I introduced my song ‘Lines and Spaces’ as I often do by dedicating it to anyone who is currently taking piano lessons. Though the hall was dark enough and the stage brightly lit enough that I had a tough time seeing a show of hands when I asked who was currently taking lessons, I did see one young arm (maybe 10 years old?) shoot up into the air from the second row.

‘Oh hi, I see you there. So you’re taking lessons?’

‘Yup,’ a small young voice chimed.

‘Do you love it?’ I asked.

And after a slight beat, her reply came: ‘I don’t know.’

And I smiled and said, ‘That’s a great answer! Sometimes you just don’t know if you love to do something until you’ve done it a while.’ And I sensed some nods and murmurs of agreement from the audience.

I did get to speak to the young piano student after the show. I asked her again, away from the spotlight, if she enjoys the piano. She shrugged and said she doesn’t love it, and that she’s not even sure if she likes it.

‘So, tell me what you do love!’ I replied.

And then she lit right up! She loves singing and dancing, and she especially loves cats. She told me about her cats, about her nicknames (‘Loon Cat’, ‘Crazy Cat Lady’), and then even more about her love of cats.

I want to always be brave enough to say ‘I don’t know’ when that is the only honest answer. I want to keep cultivating my curiosity about it all. And yes, uncertainty is a really unpleasant place sometimes – and it is also a place of tremendous learning and growth.

The blinder I get, the more clearly I can see.

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It started happening the moment I turned 40 – I’d either move my arm a little further away or tilt my head back slightly to see the text in a book or on my phone a little more clearly. No big deal, just a slight adjustment. No squinting required. Maybe it was just some dust in my eyes.

Then some months went by, and I was stretching my arms further still, and squinting at things up close became instinctual. The people closest to me started to notice. The Acoustic Trio was on a tour that year, and Davy gave me a pair of his 1.25+ readers, with a soft case and everything! I put them in the glovebox and thought Phooey.

More months of squinting and arm stretching went by, and I moved those gift glasses from the glovebox to my nightstand – and I did occasionally use them at night when I was reading and thought, Wow, these do help.

My close-up vision continued to worsen. My arms were truly not long enough at some point, and then there was another feature added to the landscape – never enough light! I found myself increasing the brightness on every screen, and turning both my body and the small print on a label or in a book towards the nearest available window.

Sometime in 2019, I did a very grownup thing and bought a second pair of readers – still just 1.25+ – at Reny’s in Bridgton. I decided that these would be my go-to, keep-on-the-kitchen-table readers, for those rare occasions (haha) when I needed them.

COVID hit, and everyone was home all the time, and I was looking at screens and books a whole lot more. More ocular decline was noticed and measured.

And now, a few months past 46, I need these damned readers for everything – chopping vegetables, reading sheet music, balancing my checkbook, looking at any book or screen. I don’t leave the house without my favorite pair either safely tucked into my purse or perched atop my increasingly gray head.

Just this past week, I admitted something out loud to Shawn: ‘I think I need to consider a pair of 1.5s.’ We both laughed.

It should be no surprise to anyone, especially me, that this is happening. I watched my parents go through these very same motions at roughly the same ages. Dad even got prescription bifocals in his 40s. Shitty eyes are in the bloodline, and I haven’t escaped nature.

Boy, did I hate this at first. I hated admitting that I am in a body that is, slowly but surely, falling apart. I didn’t want to have to rely on some pair of glasses to help me. I can see this, dammit, just give me enough time and I’ll squint long enough to give myself a migraine, but dammit I will read this 8 point font on this bottle of hot sauce with no help at all!

And then I remember – haven’t I always relied on so many for so much? For the glasses, for the food in my belly and in my pantry, for the clothes on my back and the roof over my head, for the technology that has allowed me to stay creative and keep contributing to life, for every single person, place, and thing I’ve ever come in contact with? For my very life?

And won’t I always be so reliant?

Can I honestly believe for a moment that my life and my fate and my very nature are not intertwined and interconnected with that of everyone and everything else?

The blinder I get, the more clearly I can see all of this.

I guess I better get to Reny’s soon for a pair of 1.5+. Maybe two pair.