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(the pre-show view from the balcony at SMAC on Thursday night)

This past week was all about taking baby steps and knocking the rust off of things—my in-person performance chops, my out-in-the-wild social skills, and, most especially, my ability to stay present in the quickly changing circumstances of all these things.

This past Thursday night, Shawn and I played in the barn of Stone Mountain Arts Center, a local listening room gem that has hosted everyone from Lyle Lovett to Judy Collins to… me?? The main hall is dark right now, and so owners Carol and Jeff have transformed their barn lobby into a magical place with little ‘hobbit holes’ where folks can dine in little pods and then move their chairs a little and take in whatever is happening in the middle of the barn—and on Thursday night, it was Shawn and I that were happening.

It was my first time in front of a living, breathing, in-person audience since last August. Applause?! Wow, what is that?! Faces not on a screen?! Really feeling someone’s presence. Really hearing their silence. Really noticing their eyes smiling above their masks. How full of life each and every one of us is. Every moment was beautiful, and I leaned into every second without reservation. The waves of joy and surprise and ease and even awkwardness and discomfort that rise and fall during what used to feel so commonplace are an experience that I hope to never take for granted ever again.

After we set up and sound-checked, we were seated up in the corner of the balcony. This was a five course dinner deal, and we weren’t excluded from this star treatment. Vegan delight after vegan delight arrived at our station, and we were stuffed full before the main course.

Shawn joked, ‘Carol, you’re spoiling us! Every gig should be like this! Play a couple songs, eat some food, play a couple more songs, eat more food…’

Shortly after the second round of music, I was making my way back upstairs when I was stopped by someone wanting to briefly chat. As I looked deeply into the eyes of this fellow human—another action I hope to never take for granted ever again—I thought I felt something crawling on my left hand and, without looking away from my conversation that was now coming to a close, I brushed away the nuisance. What came next as I walked back to my table was an excruciating pain along the edge of my left palm below the base of my pinky. The hell is this? I thought to myself, and then realized that I had just been stung by one of the few hornets that all of us up in the balcony had been noticing as they performed their early-spring, aimless, slow-motion drift, newly awakened from within the walls of the old barn.

The side of my hand was swelling quickly. I went and got washed up and someone brought me a bag of ice. Within minutes, I was eating more delicious food, laughing the whole thing off, and ready to play the rest of the night with no problems. Carol apologized to me profusely. I smiled and said, ‘I appreciate that, but it’s no big deal, really. It’s just preparing me for my first vaccine this week.’ (This Wednesday!)

‘She’s a tough kid,’ she told the chuckling crowd as we started the next round.

Later, after getting home and feeling so full in heart, body, and mind, I realized how similar I am to that hornet—slowly waking up from the hibernation of this whole last year, moving around with some sloth and uncertainty, not quite in my rhythm yet—and, in my exhaustion, not without some venom and the ability to use it! I hope I can always remember to contain my grumpiness, and laugh and be grateful instead, as we all take these baby steps back to shared in-person experiences.