Mardy.

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A bad photo of a great person – taken shortly after he delivered a bit of brilliance at Norway Open Mic Night in October 2003

In the weeks and months after September 11, 2001, I was deeply saddened by news reports about how folks were staying home, frightened into isolation by the terrorist attacks, clinging to the familiarity and comforts of home. My intuitions suggested that, perhaps, creating something around which folks could regularly gather would help restore some normalcy, some hope, some light in the darkness. So, in January 2002, my friend Diane and I launched the Norway Open Mic Night, held in the fellowship hall of the First Universalist Church of Norway, Maine. On the last Friday of each month, she handled the refreshments, and I handled the entertainment, and we opened the doors to whomever would show up. For the next ten years, it was a local staple and a wildly popular event both for churchgoers and folks in the wider community.

On a last Friday in early 2003, the church’s board meeting was wrapping up upstairs as the open mic was getting underway. An older gentleman came down the stairs, poked his head in, smiled curiously, and decided to stay. At the end of the evening, he introduced himself as Mardy, the church treasurer, and could he have one of my cards? What a sweet guy, I remember thinking.

He wasted no time emailing me. If memory serves, Mardy reached out to me the very next morning after the open mic, explaining that their music director was resigning, and would I be interested in taking his place? Even if on a temporary basis? I agreed to a temporary position, and stayed on for 16 years—in large measure because of the loving, caring congregation that grew to be like family—and there at the center of it all was Mardy.

Mardy wasn’t just the church treasurer—it turns out he was a hell of a bass in the choir, and could sing tenor whenever called upon. His excitement for things was infectious— he was able to draw more people into the choir fold, including my dear friend Bernice, with whom I’ve formed a deep and beautiful friendship, out of which has come Heart Songs & Circle Songs.

That was Mardy—always connecting dots between people and things, solving life’s puzzles, lighting up every corner with his boyish, genuine enthusiasm.

Mardy was other things, too—a physicist; a lover and reciter of poetry; a deep, insatiably curious thinker; a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat; a jokester; father; friend; and husband to Cynthia, who also sang beautifully in the choir and recited poetry and nurtured every flower and shrub to maximum fullness of life and beauty and rooted shamelessly for the Red Sox—and loved and adored Mardy until the day she succumbed to Alzheimer’s in 2011. Witnessing Mardy’s care and love and concern for Cynthia, both in sickness and in health, was another bright shining light in the lives of all who were fortunate enough to know the Seaveys.

Mardy was a regular at the open mics, too. He became well known for his brilliant, entertaining recitations of ‘Jabberwocky’, and for his whimsical rendition of Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘When The Night Wind Howls’ at Halloween—and accompanying him on the piano and interjecting with the ha-HA!s is a joy I’ll not soon forget. (And he NAILED it!) And he cheered the rest of us on as heartily and as happily as we did for him.

Directing him in the choir on Sunday mornings was also such a treat for me. Not only was he a gifted singer, and so willing and eager to share his gift, but he was also deeply committed to getting his part right. He’d get so frustrated with himself when he couldn’t quite get some tough passage exactly right, and when I’d nudge him, gently, towards the correct tempo or the correct notes, he’d grumble a little, and then as he sank into it, that voice would grow more and more sure of itself, growing in volume and in intensity… and when it was ‘showtime’, during any church service, wow!, did he deliver, and then some, with so much gusto and style that he’d often bring many of the congregants—and this choir director—to genuine tears of joy.

One of the dearest memories I have of Mardy—of anyone, in fact—is his soaring rendition of ‘The Christmas Song’, sung on some Christmas Eve for a packed house—and lucky me, once again, I got to be his accompanist. For a few sublime moments, we were all transported to a place where ‘kids from one to ninety-two’ were anxiously awaiting Santa’s arrival, wide-eyed and full of joy and wonder—and Mardy, with his smiling, golden voice, took us there.

It seems impossible to me that Mardy died this past Friday, after living for nearly a century, succumbing to his own battle, his with heart failure. I had only spoken to him once since the pandemic began—believing, as we all do, that the wisest and strongest among us will live forever and always be there for us. And whenever I did speak to him in the those years after he moved from the Norway area over to the seacoast, after we got through the usual questions of ‘How are you doing?’ and ‘What are you reading right now?’, more than anything, he wanted to hear what I was up to musically, and after I’d tell him, he would always tell me, more than once, how much he enjoyed my music and his time with the Norway UU Choir. His was a passion that he wanted you to know and not forget, dammit. He insisted on sharing his passion and curiosity with anyone who would listen—and those of us who were lucky enough to know him would simply lean in and listen for more.

I loved him so much. I still do. Everyone who ever heard his voice, and his chuckle, and experienced his kindness, his humor, and the light of his curious eyes couldn’t help but love him. And boy, did he love us back.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

We all know what it means.

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I’m excited for tomorrow night’s live-stream show with my quartet. We’re doing a special Mardi Gras show from the stage of The Majestic Theatre here in Conway, NH. We’ve been rehearsing, masked up and distanced, for a couple of weeks now, and I think we’re sounding pretty damn good. After months of being apart, it’s amazing to be making music and fun with these fellas again.

In the process of getting ready for this show, I’ve been looking through photos from many New Orleans adventures, to share before and during the live-stream, and I came across this one:

and immediately my heart ached, but in a beautiful way. This was a moment that I’ll cherish forever – Shawn and I in 2012, first year campers at the New Orleans Trad Jazz Camp, having just performed a set of fun music with new friends at the legendary Preservation Hall. We were hot as hell, and excited. Are there marks on my arm from me pinching myself?!

It’s amazing how a photograph can instantly transport you, to conjure a cascade of fond and forgotten memories. I see our faces here, just a couple years into our relationship. I think now of the miles and years and adventures that lay ahead for those two young’ns – the touring and the songs and the adventures – and the gray that has crept into more recent photos, but the smiles and the joy and the love remain. We still return, year after year (except 2020), to the city that continues surprise and delight and challenge us. We bring our love of this place to every stage, every song, every performance, and to many of our moments together in our day to day life.

As the song asks and I answer: Yes, I do know what it means to miss New Orleans. Each of us misses some place, too – a place that makes your heart sing at the mere thought of it. Maybe that place isn’t geographical – maybe it’s in the eyes or the arms of those from whom you’ve been separated during this strange and challenging year we’ve been living through. We all know what it means to miss hugging the people we love, and to miss gathering with friends and like minds around the things we love, like music and art and food, and connection.

I really miss those crystalline moments in which I’m able to create those unique experiences on a stage in a venue with friends and strangers alike, swimming in that beautiful alchemy that is only possible in live performance. There, there are no edits, no take-backs, no second chances. It’s a kind of high wire act that, if performed with levity and love, is the most magical thing I’ve ever experienced.

I’m so grateful to get a taste of that magic this week, celebrating the musical traditions of a place I love with people that I love just as much, and for the opportunity to share what we pull out of our hats. I really enjoy the emotions that a single photograph can inspire!

‘We will enjoy our walk without thinking of arriving anywhere.’

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Shawn quipped this past week: ‘Punxsutawney Phil came out of his hole and said, “Winter is finally here!”’ And that sure seems right—here in New Hampshire, anyway—and so for the first time since last winter, we got our snowshoes out of the garage and onto our cabin-feverish feet.

There’s an area near our home that is privately owned and welcoming to folks on skis, snowshoes, and snow machines, so we made our way over to this wooded heaven for an afternoon this week.

I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoy doing this! Crunch crunch crunch through the quiet woods, the breath coming and going, no rigid plan, only to make each step follow the next one, and the next one, pausing to take in the smooth, light gray bark of a beech tree, or the fresh tracks of an ambitious squirrel, or the soft sighing of the wind moving through pine boughs overhead. In these woods, the world becomes a black and white photograph rendered in countless shades of stunning gray, setting in stark, beautiful contrast those same whispering evergreens and a few leftover yellowing leaves that still cling to and rattle against sagging limbs.

Snowshoeing brings to mind one of the most beautiful teachings from Thich Nhat Hanh:

‘We will walk. We will only walk. We will enjoy our walk without thinking of arriving anywhere.’

Though I am longing to return to the ‘before-times’ reality of touring in warmer climates during the winter months, I am also feeling so grateful to be able to connect so deeply to the unique, peaceful joy of the New England woods in winter—and only a few paces from my own backyard.

Feeling grief and awe in one’s nose.

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It’s been really cold here in my neck of the woods lately, and it’s been reminding me of some moments from throughout my life, particularly from childhood:

  • the radiator in my second floor bedroom that never worked all that well (despite all of Dad’s earnest tinkering)
  • sledding and tubing in ‘The Bowl’ on the Hebron Academy campus and making that trek up the hill again and again and again after every sun-soaked, thrilling ride down
  • watching the chickadees hopping about in the snow and feeding on the seed that fell from Mom’s beloved feeders (usually from the crafty hands of the squirrels)
  • my feet and face and hands getting so cold from playing outside that stepping into the bathtub or the shower seemed like a form of medieval torture
  • nose hairs freezing with every inhalation

This last image is one I remind myself and others of regularly when I introduce my song ‘Starlight’. It was a bitterly cold night that inspired me to write the song, and it’s a story that I’ve told from stage many times—still living in Maine and standing in the driveway and staring at the impossible dome of stars sparkling in the crystal clear night sky, pondering the words of Carl Sagan: ‘We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.’ It was a beautiful moment that I’ll never forget.

The part I’ve always left out of the banter is the circumstances of my life at the time. What my particular part of the cosmos knew at that time was grief—paralyzing grief over the loss of my mother and, with her, the hope that she and I would ever reconcile our deep and devastating differences. I was getting to know grief quite well in those days—because Mom and I had been estranged in the last couple of years of her life, I didn’t know that she hadn’t done anything with any of Dad’s, well, anything. All of his books, clothes, tools, his eyeglasses on the living room table—every last thing he left behind, along with everything of Mom’s, was awaiting my shaking hands and broken heart as I made my way through the impossible task of being the only heir sorting through it all, buttoning up their lives and life together, and cleaning and preparing the house for sale.

Throughout that whole ordeal, I was still working multiple jobs, including my job at the hotel playing piano. I was also grieving something that felt like a long, slow fall into losing my own hopes and dreams—I was longing desperately for expression and sharing of my deepest and most authentic creativity, and at that time, aside from brief glimmers at the hotel or at Norway UU, there was none of it, save for those rare evenings at home when I could work on songs like ‘Starlight’. The night I stood and felt the wave of awe that inspired ‘Starlight’ was a hotel night, and despite my state of utter exhaustion, I allowed myself a moment to put it all down before walking into the house.

And the driveway in which I stood was the one I shared in Fryeburg with an abusive partner who was slowly squeezing the air and the joy and the life right out of me. I’ve blogged in the past about this, so I won’t belabor it now, but the writing of that song—and the rare solitary moments I had to work on it and the others that would become my 2010 Make It Mine album—kept the flame of hope alive in my heart during that dark time.

About three years after that moment in the driveway, I broke free from those tethers of abuse and self-doubt with my heart full of songs and the overwhelming drive to, as I sing in ‘Starlight’: ‘let [my] light shine now for every woman, child, and man’. And though the grief is in remission most of the time these days, the cold January air freezing my nose hairs can bring me right back to that one starry night, drinking in that grief-stricken awe inspired by a world that can so easily and so completely both break your heart and fill it back up achingly to the brim.

Voltaire’s afghan.

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This is a photo of a beautiful mistake. (Hint: it’s in the far right hand column.)

My mom knitted this, and many dozens of these afghans—along with many more baby blankets and dish cloths—as gifts for friends, family, and acquaintances throughout her life, much to everyone’s delight. Her mother—my Grannie—was a gifted knitter as well, who delved into the trickier territory of sweaters (one of which you can see in this photo I posted recently).

Though I may have inherited and developed both the fine motor and organizational skills to create something like this, I lacked two other basic ones required of knitters of this caliber—interest and patience. And I’m sure that this disappointed her. My fine motor skills were focused on and destined for other things, like Bach and Mozart and Chuck Leavell and Fats Waller and Floyd Cramer.

This Thursday marks the 14th anniversary of my mother’s passing, and the urge to knit has struck me precisely twice since 2007—both times to knit simple square blankets for the chihuahuas who currently live upstairs from Shawn and me. As my hands worked the needles, I recalled the many hours my mother spent sitting on the couch, smoking cigarettes, drinking wine, and watching TV while knitting—and how when she would occasionally check back over her work, a snarl of anger would capture her face whenever she found a mistake—and then the agony of her having to ‘rip it a’ th’ way back oot’ and start again.

I’m honestly not sure if she enjoyed knitting. Every step of the process seemed to stress her to the point of devastation—right down to the very last stitching of the ‘Made Especially For You by Edie Pierson’ labels that were sewn to every creation after they’d survived the washer and dryer. I’m sure it was all for the joy of the recipient. She beamed at every thank you card or phone call that came into the house.

At her funeral, the pastor asked everyone in attendance, ‘Who here has an afghan knitted by Edie?’ I looked around the sanctuary to see many hands in the air, and it was at that moment that it hit me—and hard—that both of my own hands remained in my lap.

One of those hands in the air belonged to my friend Annie who, several years ago, decided to give her own ‘Edie afghan’ to me, and it now lives on the bed I share with Shawn.

The afghan is still breathtaking, even with the mistake. It proves that a human being made this, labored over it, tried like hell to get it just right. Maybe it’s an Easter egg. I didn’t notice it right away, so I suppose it’s possible that Mom never noticed it, either—though I really doubt that. I’m guessing she didn’t notice it until after the last stitches had been cast off and there was no turning back. And if she’s anything like me, she probably never forgave herself for it once she noticed it, and then ultimately said, ‘To hell with it.’

It brings to mind all the errors I’ve let go on every single song I’ve ever recorded and released, the ones that pang me every time I hear them or even think of them—every little glaring bit of evidence that, try as I might, I can’t play or sing anything perfectly.

’Perfect is the enemy of good,’ as the old saying goes.

And though I wasn’t the original intended recipient of this very uniquely human afghan, I’d like to think that Mom wouldn’t mind that I ended up with this particular one.

A half taken breath.

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I turned 45 this past week.

I’m not sure why, but this number is landing in a way that no other number has. And I think, ‘How can that be? It’s just a number, right?’

I’ve been reflecting on what my parents were up to when they were 45:

In 1984, Mom was still packing her eight year old daughter’s school lunches in the mornings and working at the Academy, knitting afghans and dish cloths, baking lots of birthday cakes, and worrying about everything. She hadn’t yet opened the pizza shop, and she was not yet mourning the death of her own mother, which would follow just four years later.

In 1992, Dad was still a machinist at MMPCO by day, delivering Edie’s Pizza in the evenings, driving me to school in the morning in the little ‘shitbox’ Nissan (his words) as we listened to The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East over and over and over again, and then watching me graduate from high school rather unceremoniously (a year early, no cap and gown/marching to Elgar stuff–I just picked up my diploma from a secretary in the office, and that was that).

For my 45th, I was home with Shawn in the midst of a pandemic, in front of a screen, eating homemade pizza (imagine that) and uttering the most commonly used phrase of this time in human history: ‘You’re on mute.’ I had a really fun virtual hangout with friends and family. Some folks Zoomed in for a few minutes, some stayed for the whole two hours. There were beautiful songs, hilarious stories, moments of joy and grief and cheer. It was, in some sense, a microcosm of what my life has become—an opportunity to shared and be shared, to connect and be connected, to remind myself of the beautiful people in my life and also of how much joy, love, music, and mirth have passed through so many beloved hearts and hands in my life.

I do wish my parents could have been there, and that they had lived to see what I’ve done with my life. Would they have looked at the life I have built at 45—very different from theirs—and given their blessing? Or would my mom have worried herself sick about, well, everything, like she always did, while Dad stayed quiet and kept leaning into his work ethic and his love of music and his fantastic jokes? It’s likely that it would be a mixture of all those things.

When Mom turned 45, she still had another 22 years to go. When my father turned 45, he had just six years left.

These milestones are growing more significant—and more frequent—as I get older. A little more silver up top, and—hopefully—a little wiser, a little less prone to reactivity, a little more careful with food and language and my heart.

It all brings to mind that lovely quote from Rumi:

‘With life as short as a half taken breath, don’t plant anything but love.’

(insert adjective here) New Year

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Remember when you felt really hopeful about 2021? Like, a week ago?

Holy moly.

I was at the dentist on Wednesday when the news of the events at the Capitol exploded into awareness. Thankfully, I was up and out of the chair and not being poked and prodded and scraped any longer. (Can you imagine learning about the attempted coup while a dentist is working on your teeth? I actually don’t mind going to the dentist – I really like my dentist – but wow, for a lot of people, that’s the stuff of nightmares!) Dr. C. has NPR playing throughout his office 24-7, and a discussion about vaccine rollout in the state of Maine was cut short with an abrupt sentence from NPR headquarters in Washington, something about ‘the Vice President is safe’. He and I both froze in our tracks as he was handing me my next-time appointment card.

I got out to the car and called Shawn. ‘What’s going on?’ My heart started to race.

After a brief exchange, trying to make sense of things, we hung up and I turned on the radio for my drive home. As I drove along roads that I hadn’t seen in months – the bright, beautiful, frozen landscape of Western Maine in early January – the horror of what was happening in D.C. was sinking in, and I couldn’t stop shaking or crying.

I couldn’t wait to get home, and see and hug my best friend.

Wednesdays are live-stream days for us, so the question bubbled up: Do we go on with the show? Will it seem tone-deaf to start up Facebook Live and sing songs like ‘Pennies From Heaven’?

We did go on with the show. We would have picked up our instruments and played anyway, even if there was no stream scheduled that day. So, why not do it, and share it, and see what happens? We started with a rendition of Horace Silver’s ‘Peace’, and the hour unfolded from there. And we put our hearts into every note, every word, and the folks who tuned in thanked us for it, for giving them a respite from the shock and sadness of the moment.

Using the turning of the year as a pivot point for one’s outlook and plans is a time-honored tradition. There is this sense that we can shape the New Year into anything we want. ‘Happy’? Sure. ‘Peaceful’? That sounds good too. ‘Joyful’? I’m all for it. When we look more deeply into this tradition, this exercise of renewal, we can see that every day, every hour, every moment is the start of a new year, the start of another chance to set things right.

I am no pundit. I just want to live in a world where people don’t believe that they have to resort to violence – ANY kind of violence – to be heard and understood. I don’t want to write anyone off. I want to listen and learn and understand and have compassion and empathy. Boy, is that tough when you don’t agree. But I’m here, and I’m trying. Holy hell, am I trying.

2021’s cape.

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IT’S A BIRD!

IT’S A PLANE!

IT’S….. 2021!

And the new page on my calendar is looking at me shrugging its shoulders, like, ‘Huh? You see a cape on this?’

I get it. There is a ubiquitous feeling of excitement and relief to see the numbers ‘2020’ in the rear view mirror (unless, of course, you’re hoping for a perfect next eye exam).

And I share the hope and excitement! I have a list as long as my arm of stuff that I hope to accomplish in the New Year, though I wouldn’t call the things on this list ‘resolutions’ so much as I would describe them in terms I borrow from my friend Kate: ‘striving for approximations.’

‘2021’ isn’t a benevolent superhero that will save us from the evil villain ‘2020.’ It’s a number on a page on the calendar—which of course is a slice of paper made from the fiber of a once-living tree combined with the muscle and know-how to create a stand-still time-keeping device. And, you know, my calendar is just a boring day planner. No pretty pictures. Maybe I should get a nice wall calendar, with mountains or puppies or something…

See how distracted my mind gets? I bet yours does that, too.

And that’s just it. I think what matters is attention. What am I paying attention to—to some far off moment when everything will be better, and to the hopes and expectations I’m pinning to that moment? Or am I paying attention to what’s happening right here, right now, in this moment—the only moment I can be sure of?

And when I *do* pay attention to the here and now, sometimes all I’ve got is, ‘I’m exhausted.’ And of course! Who isn’t exhausted right now? Last year kicked our asses. And there is still some ass-kicking in store for us. This year, next year. Today, tomorrow, every day.

What matters, moment to moment, is how we can manage our attention—to remember what is happening now, to stay connected to what cultivates gratitude and celebration in our lives, and to go easy on ourselves when we stumble. Even superheroes trip on their own capes sometimes.

The Return of the Blog Thing

Hey all y’all! Remember me? I used to blog here once in a while.

I haven’t posted anything here since ‘Charlottesville’. Holy moly has so much happened since then.

So, instead of attempting to get creative and cleverly recapture the last few years and fill this space with phrases like ‘such a challenging time’ and ‘where did the time go’ blah blah blah… I’ve decided to just start from here.

Besides—is there really anywhere else from which to start?

So I’m officially announcing 

THE RETURN OF THE BLOG THING

(cue the orchestra and the plate reverb and the cheesy monster movie sound effects)

Starting in January 2021, I’ll post some writing here once a week with a focus on creativity, gratitude, and mindfulness—and whatever else bubbles up.

I’ll be rebooting my podcast in 2021 as well. 

Wishing you continued health, safety, and peace.

Love,
Heather

Charlottesville.

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I’ve just finished spending the last two days working in the studio with a very dear childhood friend, helping her to record some of her original songs. Every moment I spent with her was a gift.

When she and I took breaks from our work, the turmoil that spilled over from Charlottesville into the world weighed heavily on our non-musical conversation, and on our hearts.

To say that all sides are to blame for the violence might be true in a very literal sense – people on all sides of this ideological divide were throwing real, bloody, physical punches – but to blame them all equally strikes me as myopic and knee-jerk, and revealing of a profound misunderstanding.

In human interaction, it seems that there are two choices – conversation and violence. Conversation can take time. Violence can be perpetrated in just seconds. Conversation can fail, and violence can dominate. Self-defense, both with words and with violence, is sometimes terribly necessary.

These last two days, while I did the work that I love, I kept coming back to this: The right answer to hatred is compassion. Though it is hard, I want to take this love I have of making music and point it in every possible direction. I want to open my heart and bear witness to another’s anger and fear, no matter their ideology, and to *really* hear what is being said. Yes, I will fail, over and over again. Yes, I will sometimes succumb to my own anger and fear and impatience and misunderstanding. It takes longer – much longer – than to compose a tweet or write a song or live a lifetime – but little by little, doing the difficult work of loving other human beings, especially the ones with whom I disagree the strongest, is the only hope for peace.