Day 17–Too Much.

As it turns out, after two consecutive doctor visits, nine-year-old does not have walking pneumonia. Instead, he has a head cold, upper resp only, but he is so congested that he swallows his phlegm, and then coughs so much that he throws up. Today is the third school day he’s missed. No one is sleeping much, and so even when the doctor told us this morning that he could and should go to school, I took one look at my poor kid’s face and melted. He is exhausted. And he is sick. No, he has no fever; no, his lungs aren’t crackling, but the kid was up all night puking. So I cancelled some things this morning, went to Stop&Shop and loaded up on OTC meds and enticing things for him to eat and drink.


The walls of Little Blue began to go up today! I am supposed to go look at kitchen cabinets this afternoon, but I am also supposed to go to JFK Middle School to meet with the Students of Color Association, and my kids have piano lessons. Somehow, I think I will do all three. Viva caffeine!

Really, not viva caffeine. No amount of caffeine could help me this morning when I sat in Couchland with my daughter and husband and Hudson crying because I don’t know how to get it all done, and I didn’t know what to do about my sick son. I had no inner resources. But in between then and now, I was able to lie on my back for twenty minutes with my eyes covered and my ears plugged. I wasn’t napping, and I wasn’t exactly meditating, but my day ran before my blinded eyes like a film, and I could see how all the pieces just possibly COULD fit together.

I am in a state of sorts, as you might have heard me say before, because my novel is in the hands of an agent who will only maybe take me on. Does she like it? How much has she read so far? Has she even started? IS SHE OK? MAYBE SHE’S NOT!!!! DID SHE SURVIVE THE NEW YEAR?????

Should I write songs in this gap between when I let the book go and when she gets back to me? Yes, I should. But I am scared to even start. What if I can’t write songs anymore? What is even the point? 

Yesterday I met with Katryna and Patty at the Roost and we plotted our 2018. I told them of my malaise and they rolled their collective eyes. “You always say that,” said Patty. “Write that song I told you to write about the bicycle,” said Katryna. And then Patty came up with a genius idea. I can’t talk about it, or she will kill me. Maybe I will talk about it in a subsequent post.


And yet. My back aches. I don’t sleep well. My energy is so unpredictable. I feel my age. I feel my mortality. Is this all in my head, or is it real? When I was younger, my body just did my bidding. Now I have to do what my body bids.

How do human beings do anything? I get it. “Hand your guitar to young ones stronger.” My sister Abigail has the most fabulous idea for a novel I’ve ever heard. But she has no time to write, nor has she any experience in writing a novel. I have the experience, but not the time, and it’s not my idea, so it’s hard to find the fire in my belly to write it. I should help her find a writer to pitch it to, but there’s this insane part of me that doesn’t want to let that great idea walk out my door. I want to hoard it!

Which brings me to my last thought of the day: I wish I could hire someone to take away about 15% of my furniture. Why do I need a treadmill anymore? Why do I need a bed in the attic where there is no bathroom? No one wants to sleep up there, because it’s not safe to navigate the stairs in the wee hours when one needs to… wee. I am going to find some movers, or just some strong people, and pay them some money to take away my things. If I have less stuff, will I have more time? Will I have more strength?

It turns out, as I write with my writers again, that I have tons of little song “starts” on my iphone. 12 to be exact. In the old days, 12 was the perfect number for a record album. I am told that no one buys albums anymore. I do, but I don’t listen to them, and I don’t count because I don’t listen to music in the same way I did when I was a kid. I am still sucking the juice from the songs that spoke to me when I was 9-25. After that, I started really writing my own songs. Tonight, I play my guitar and felt the river start to move underneath all that ice.

Day 16: Couchland in the Cold

I don’t really know why I am calling this “Day 16.” It’s not like I have written 16 posts in a row, or even 16 posts about Little Blue. Still. It’s comforting me somehow to call this “Day 16.” It makes me feel as though I have a project.

I started writing this series back in mid-November when I was feeling jealous of all my NaNoWriMo pals and also my 30 Poems in November pals, and wishing I were doing something stunt-like instead of waiting for my five beta-readers to get back to me about my novel. I had the idea that I should eat nothing but tofu for 365 days and blog about the recipes. All my friends told me this was a bad idea, so I did not. Instead I just blabbed about my life, focusing on the project that has taken over our backyard. And then I went on Christmas vacation.

I do not like not having a writing project. My novel is with an agent. I cannot touch it. I cannot think about it. My husband and sister are supposed to be reading it now, and it’s taking all my strength not to natter at them constantly about it. Or to not resent them if they don’t have the manuscript open, pen in hand, at all times.

I need a writing project.

Today the heater died. My nine-year-old son was home sick, and I had to get to a faculty meeting at JFK Middle School by 2:45, but I couldn’t leave my sick son alone with the heating guy. Fortunately, Tom was able to come home and spell me so I could get to the meeting, and then to Local Chorus, which has moved to the Montessori School of Northampton. These are projects, of sorts, of course. At JFK, I am part of the School Council, and part of a subcommittee on building a more inclusive school. We are planning a Day of Diversity on Feb. 2 complete with outside and in-house speakers and musicians. It is exciting work, and requires a lot of attention and footwork. Local Chorus is incredibly fulfilling, and also completely exhausts me. Today, there were almost 50 kids between the ages of 5 and 12 in the Music Room of the Montessori School, and we practiced “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “We Shall Overcome,” “Alexander Hamilton,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “This Land is Your Land” for our community’s MLK day next Monday. I came home and needed to sit on the couch and stare into space for 35 minutes. My son threw up again, and I called the doctor and am waiting to hear back. Fortunately, the furnace got fixed.

I mean.

The problem with Local Chorus is that my own kids cannot stop talking to their friends and back-talking me, and so I get mad at them and scold them in front of the other kids. It’s hideous.

But what should I do? Kick them out? No way. Nothing makes me happier than singing with my kids, even if they are mean to me.

Right this second, all four of my family members plus the dog are on our elaborate unmatching kitchen couches, which form a horseshoe shape around a long coffee table. This is my favorite place in the world. I could live in just this 10×10 space, a mini-couchland, as long as someone would feed me. I am typing on my MacBook. The ill son is watching baseball videos on his sister’s chrome book. Sister is sleeping under five quilts. Dog also sleeping next to me. Husband is…on page 379 of my manuscript. So I can’t ever complain about anything ever again. He has forbidden me from bringing up any house projects until Little Blue is completed. And yet I so want to mention to him that this awesome couchland would be even better if we could find the Just-Right projector, mount it on the ceiling along with a pull-down screen and occasionally watch episodes of This Is Us from our respective spots. I restrain myself. He is SO good, reading my novel and all.

Tomorrow, my first writing group resumes. Then on Wednesday, groups 2 and 3. And Friday through Sunday is my January Retreat. What am I going to write about? Of course, I am supposed to be writing songs. I haven’t written a song since “Tyrants Always Fall,” a year ago. I don’t know what else I even want to say, song-wise. All the thoughts that come to me seem more like poems, or excerpts from novels or stories.

I am also decluttering. I gave away four bags and a box to Big Brothers/Big Sisters. I took one of my guitars to the Montessori School and left it there for the semester, and I took another one to Katryna’s house for her to use in HooteNanny. I think my giving away of guitars ought to appease the guitar gods so that they will give me a song. Don’t you?

Maybe I should write a cookbook.

Little Blue has a floor!

New Year, New Post, Little Blue

Jan 2, 2018

Everything looks different in the new year, after the Christmas blur, after a week off, after some vitamin D c/o the Florida sun, after a snowfall brightens the world. The little house now has a foundation plus the beginnings of framing. Flooring joists are in place; the guys might come tomorrow if the temps rise above 15 degrees. Me, I am stranded at home. Our 2005 diesel Jetta died as I was driving it to my gig at First Night on Sunday. It’s in the shop, waiting in line to be examined. This morning, the van wouldn’t start. The lights went on, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. I let it sit, tried again. I had to go to the bank, so I called AAA; they were busy. I set out on foot and called my sister/neighbor Katryna who cheerfully offered to chauffeur me about and also try to jump start it. But I was happy walking for a time; 10 degrees feels practically balmy these days. I made it to the bank, did my errands, walked home and Katryna came over with her cables. We assiduously followed the directions (mostly) (she wanted to attach the last cable to the negative terminal on my battery!) (we didn’t). Nothing worked. AAA still had a busy signal. Finally at 5pm, AAA answered, though I was on hold for 20 minutes. They said, “We’re so sorry, but we’re only helping people who are stranded by the side of the road. Call us tomorrow.”

The measure of my privilege is that this is not even an irritation. My husband and kids are healthy and hearty and insist on biking anyway, even in this cold. I have my sister nearby. I have nice friends who offered to drive me places. I have the money for AAA, so even though they can’t help me now, I know they could, eventually. I can afford to live within walking distance of town. I have enough food in the house to keep us for another day. So. Big deal. An opportunity to be in my messy house and set some order to it. To snuggle with my sweet dog, who came into our lives just one year ago this week.

Here’s what I did the last few weeks of December when I wasn’t blogging:

-Finished two drafts of my novel, got comments from 5 readers, sent it to agent. !!!!!!

-Did a bunch o cool concerts, including a Christmas show CD release party, an interfaith service at B’Nai Israel, 3 shows at First Night, and on Christmas eve I got to sing “Jesus Was a Refugee” at my West Cummington Church. And guess who was in the second pew? Rachel Maddow!

-Did Christmas. ‘Nuff said.

-Traveled to Florida and hung with my family. Watched the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. Twice. Celebrated my dad’s birthday, and my mom’s. Thought about how fragile and beautiful a family system is. Fell blissfully asleep in a dune shack while my husband romped like a golden retriever in the waves. Read my new Beatles bio, Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year by Steve Turner. Did Byron Katie’s The Work. (My family didn’t know, but if they did, they would thank her.) Walked over a mile to get Starbucks. Almost kissed the barista’s hand when he gave me my cup after an unintended coffee fast rendered me semi-insane. Sat around a fire pit under an almost full moon. Did no work at all.

Also did not sleep, though. I don’t know exactly why. I foolishly gave away my copy of my friend Tzivia Gover’s new book A Good Night’s Sleep.

The sleep disorder continues. I woke last night to the full moon, the end of a blue moon. My silly floppy puppy stretches out his little blond curly body across my legs. My heart races. I think of all the things I haven’t done, all the people I made promises to. My friend Jane says she knows a man of God who, when he goes to bed, he thinks, “I just can’t keep all the promises I have made to people.” When he wakes up, he thinks, “I haven’t made enough promises!”

Tom had this big electrical thing–it’s official name is The Chargeamagizmo––that he used to use when he had a truck whose battery couldn’t hold much charge. He hooked it up to the van, and now it starts!

Jan 3

Doped up on my newfound wheels, I filled the back of the van with Christmas recycling, which was legion. For the first time since last year, I drove my daughter to school. (She’d biked on Tuesday, when it was -5. That learnt her.) On my way back, on this crisp sunny morning, I unloaded the recycling at the transfer station. About halfway through the job, I noticed that my fingertips, exposed, as I wore fingerless gloves, were screaming at me. The pain was so intense from the cold, that I feared I was doing irreparable damage. I finished unloading my cardboard and empty almond milk containers and hurried home, where I ran lukewarm water over my hands for five minutes.

What about the people who don’t have the luxury of doing this? Who have to work in the cold to make enough to have a home, have hot water, have recycling?

The temps went up to the mid-twenties, and the guys came back and laid flooring for Little Blue. I went to Sears and chose a dishwasher, went to Benjamin Moore and chose paint colors––blacks and blues. We want it to look like this:

Complete with small dogs.

Jan 4

The world is transformed, again and again. I walked into town at 7:30am, and it had just started snowing. An hour later, the roads were white. Now I am watching it from my kitchen–it’s covering the new floor boards of Little Blue. As soon as the snow storm is over. I will trade in the books my children rejected as Christmas presents (all chosen by me) for a copy of A Good Night’s Sleep. I will trade in all my cups of Starbucks for a good night’s sleep.

Day 14: We Pause to Celebrate Doug Jones’s Improbable Victory


I got up at 5:30, as usual, and immediately thought about the election. What had happened last night? I’d gone to bed with Moore ahead by about 5%. Ominous news to fall asleep to, just as it had been on Nov. 8, 2016.

Hudson and I made our way out to the dark, crunchy backyard–neither of us keen to leave the warm house. As he trotted around on the ice, I turned on my phone. The very first thing I saw was a text from a friend who always sends me her daily gratitudes.
“DOUG JONES!!” was number one.

I looked back to the house, and saw that Tom had turned the light on in our bedroom. “Tom!” I called as loudly/quietly as I could so as not to wake neighbors. He looked for me in the dark. I waved my phone around and jumped up and down. A minute later we were embracing in the kitchen. I can’t believe how happy this makes me. For so many reasons. Here are my happy thoughts (warning: some are decidedly mean-spirited):

  1. Doug Jones is a really good, decent person
  2. If the state of AL had elected a pedophile, I would have lost all hope
  3. The #metoo movement is going to bring down #45. Go, Kirsten Gillibrand!!!!!
  4. The wonderful people I met in the 90s in Birmingham (where we had a regular gig–at a club called The Nick, where I fell over and crashed into my amp, and hot water poured into my ear, and the amp fed back, and I thought I’d both re-broken my foot and also managed to deafen myself) must be on CLOUD NINE!!!! There are so many brave, fantastic people who live in red states and must feel so energized by this victory!
  5. Maybe the horribleness of the current regime will bring everyone out to vote in 2018. Maybe this long nightmare could end peacefully and democratically.
  6. Steve Bannon. IN YOUR FACE!
  7. #45 and his ridiculous morning tweets. I so look forward to his loss of power.
  8. Senate majority reduced to one vote
  9. Maybe now the good Republicans will have more courage to stand up and do the right things. Maybe they will not vote for the horrid tax bill. Oh, never mind, they just did. Well. Maybe that dumb bill will doom them for a generation.
  10. Thank you, African American women and men of Alabama. Thank you. Thank you. May the people you voted for follow through on the promises they made.

The new barn/house has a finished foundation. We are waiting for the weather to warm up so they can start framing. I am supposed to be looking at websites and making lists of things I need to get for finishes. But instead, I am working on my novel, finishing up my classes, planning Xmas, working on Diversity Day for JFK Middle School, and trying to go for a tiny run every day. When I say tiny, I mean 5 minutes.

On Tuesday, as the snow came down, Dave, Ben Demerath and Katryna and I rehearsed for our Christmas show for the Parlor Room this Saturday at 2pm. We’ve been doing a version of this show––Eat, Sing and Be Merry––for the past 6 years at Paul & Elizabeth’s on the Sunday morning before Christmas. P&Es can’t have us this year, so we moved to Parlor Room and the “Eat” part will be furnished by the wonderful Pie Bar in Florence, MA. Singing those songs–ancient Christmas carols from my childhood, spirituals, Revels songs––brings me home to myself. This happens every December–Christmas is an infuriating blur somewhere off in the distance at first. And then it comes into focus. My aunt Jenifer said once, “Christmas isn’t fun until you start making Christmas.” It felt like we were starting to do that on Tuesday.

And today, we got the best present ever!

Day 13: The Story of the Big Yellow House, Part 4

Tom and I moved quickly. I was 36; he was 41, and we wanted to have a family. Both of us had been undecided on this issue until we met each other. Then we got clear, fast. We got engaged in August 2004, moved in together a month later, and got married in May 2005.

But a few months before the wedding, Katryna was about to have her second child. It was an election year, and I hit the road with Lisa Loeb and Carrie Newcomer on a mini-midwestern tour called “Folk the Vote.” I have known both artists for years, since the early 90s when Carrie was well-known in the folk world, and Lisa was a newcomer like me. Now Lisa was a star, with a roadie who brought a Stairmaster to each dressing room so she could work out before her gigs. Did I want to be a soloist? What would I do when Katryna took this leave? I couldn’t afford not to work, but I didn’t want to tour by myself, or at all. I wanted to be with Tom.

When I had bought the Big Yellow House, I’d included my tour salary as an essential part of the calculus. We needed to cut our salaries for Katryna’s maternity leave. Meanwhile, Tom was working as a reporter and writer for People Magazine, but this was per diem work, and he too had to hoof it for his paycheck. He was rethinking his entire life path and had just applied to graduate schools to get a Masters in Counseling degree. How would we pay the mortgage?

Somewhere on the highway between St. Louis and Cincinnati, Jill Stratton, my dear friend and organizer of this whole tour, started talking to me and Carrie about this great life coach she was working with. Suddenly, she turned to me and said, “Hey, Nerissa. YOU should be a life coach.”

Something inside me clicked awake. I came home from the tour, did some Googling, applied for a program with Martha Beck, and six months later, I was trained and had a full practice of clients.

[It was like opening a curtain on a whole new world to have a client bring his or her portfolio to me. I worked with so many different people over the course of the six years I was active in my practice. Each one a treasure. I stopped coaching in 2011 for a number of reasons. Most of it was scheduling. If I could have set office hours, (“The Doctor is In, 25¢ Please”) I would still be coaching. But people don’t necessarily want to be coached at 10am on a Thursday morning. They want to be scheduled on their time, and my kids need me during most of the hours when clients could talk.]


In May 2005, Tom and I got married at our church in West Cummington, where the minister Stephen Philbrick takes his authority from his previous work as a shepherd, poet and cashier at the West Cummington Creamery. He is the wisest person I’ve yet to meet, and Penny Schultz, the music director, fills the sanctuary with soul every time she sings or plays.

After the service, we brought our friends and family back to the house where a tent was set up in the back yard. My band played, Tom gave a 20 minute speech, and we danced till after dark. The next day, we had everyone back for leftovers and playing in the back yard.

Then we hopped a plane for the West Coast for our honeymoon and my first book tour, for my novel Plastic Angel.



We kind of lay it on.

Today the guys are back. There’s a giant truck mixing cement and pouring it into the foundation over the newly-laid insulation. I have heard from all five of my beta-readers now, and just finished my own read-through of the latest draft of The Big Idea. I am eager to finish this draft, and I have hopes of getting it off to my potential agent by Christmas. The news of the world continues to be bad, and my loved ones are still suffering, and so I have Tom’s admonition, “Write like your hair’s on fire” cycling through me. Along with the voices of the Freedom Singers, whose work I admire so much, (and whose CDs seem to have disappeared from the internet.) I highly encourage you to give them a listen if you ever need to be inspired. Here’s my current favorite one.