Who Needs the Bravermans?

I’ve been watching the now defunct TV show Parenthood recently. Skip this paragraph if you don’t want spoilers. I am up to Season 4, and just saw the episode where Victor hits a home run, Julia quits her job and Kristina tells the family she has cancer.  I love this show so much, and like probably everyone, it makes me wish I had a big extended family whose members all live in one city and show up at each others’ kids’ recitals and baseball games and dance around the kitchen after they do the dishes. I also wonder how the women got their eyelashes to be so fat and long. (Seriously, check this out.)

 

But this weekend, my family got our Braverman on. My excellent sister Abigail drove up from Philly with her twins, Emmett and Reese, and the bunch of us hiked up to Turner’s Falls to see Katryna’s daughter Amelia perform with her band Kalliope Jones. 2015-07-25 16.45.27 FullSizeRender-2The cousins were in heaven, and the aunties and proud moms whooped and hollered and took a lot of photos and waved the mailing list around. (The CD is coming out soon….) and then we went for a picnic and came home and danced around the kitchen. (My sisters both have great eyelashes, too, but their only advice was mascara. Maybe it’s Maybelline.) (Sorry.)

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Kalliope Jones, from left to right: Alouette Batteau, Isabella DeHerdt, Amelia Chalfant

As I spent time with my sisters, I felt a sense of resurrection. Tom knew it was coming. “You’re a person who needs your family,” he said when I had complained to him of my low-grade malaise. I am a person who needs her people.

Some part of me had gone numb after the highs of my Summer Writing Camp and my kids’ Suzuki Camp. The only pleasure I got was by counting my FitBit steps (always a bad sign for me). That, and listening to my kids play violin. Lila and Johnny and I had spent a glorious week at the Suzuki Summer Academy in Easthampton, and I certainly got my steps in, running up and down the stairs of Easthampton High School, dividing my time between my kids’ classes. They played like little maniacs all day every day, all week long. And then at the end of each 8 hour day, they came home and practiced. I am not kidding. In fact, they wanted to. Lots of soccer was played at Suzuki camp, and many drawings of Carli Lloyd were composed 2015-07-15 19.28.03in the breaks between master classes. Once again, I was deeply impressed by the Suzuki ethos of practice not for the sake of becoming a good violinist, but rather in the name of building a beautiful character.

 

The other thing that brought me happiness were my 5am writing sessions. I have been working exclusively on my novel The Big Idea, (as you know, since I have barely been posting on this blog at all). But trying to get up at 5am while my kids were on summer vacation and stubbornly maintaining an obscenely late bedtime was making me psychotic.

But part of the reason Abigail came to visit was to lend me her daughter Reese, the 11-year-old phenomenal singer. She and Amelia (14) and I had been cooking up the idea for awhil2015-07-26 14.26.08e now for me to re-release my 2005 novel Plastic Angel as an ebook, and 2015-07-26 13.59.21to re-record some of the songs from the accompanying soundtrack using their voices. So this we did (with the help of my beloved brother-in-law Dave Chalfant), with amazing results that I hope will be published in the next 6 months. Each of my nieces brought so much to the project: incredible style, preternaturally good singing chops, and a delightful attitude. We got four songs done in five hours. Not only that, but the girls had read the book and had lots of ideas for a sequel.

As I write this, I remember the Golden Rule of creativity that my friend Pam Houston taught me long ago: the joy is always ALWAYS in the creative process itself. The joy is in the moment of inspiration, but it’s also (even more, for me) in the refining, polishing, pondering, choosing, and of course, performing. The aftermath is a whole different animal, and it’s never been that great for me. Even when people love my work and gush and tell me that it mattered, or helped them, those moments are just stories, completely disconnected from my body and soul. The work is out of my hands at that point, and really just theoretical. It’s not my own anymore. My nieces kept saying, “This is so much fun!” as they sang their parts. I totally related. It’s among my favorite things on earth to record vocals. I would pay to record vocals. I would pay to write novels. To paraphrase Elizabeth Gilbert (whose podcast called Big Magic I have been enjoying), it never works to demand that our creativity support us. Rather, we need to support that precious, dear, sweet little fragile being inside us that is our creativity.

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Last night, we rehearsed with our CrackerJack band for Falcon Ridge. These are the guys who have been there from the beginning, in the case of Daves Chalfant and Hower, and even Paul Kochanski, who joined us in 2002 has been with us now for years. John Colonna, our 31-year-old cousin, drove up from NYC to play his piano magic, and I could not wipe the huge grin from my face during our 3 hour rehearsal. “Can’t we create an alternate universe where we can play together every week and make albums and also still have our kids and husbands and wives and stable lives in Northampton?” I asked them.

My novel is about a band in the 1990s. They are a family, trying hard to make it in the big time, while also maintaining their love for each other. The book is about how we see each other, and how we grow from our struggles and failures; how we as young adults eventually come home to ourselves. My goal is to have a soundtrack that we (The Nields) record to go with the book, just as we did for Plastic Angel. I want this book published. But I realized, as I rehearsed with the guys, that what I really want is the pleasure of writing––the book, and the 90s flavored songs. And I have that already, just as I have a Braverman-like family, and just as I still have that alternate-universe rock band. In the midst of playing with these amazing musicians, once again, I got it. This IS the alternate universe. I am living it. It’s in the daily practice.  It’s in the Creativity Retreat Katryna and I have scheduled for the fall. It’s in the show we are doing on Sunday at Falcon Ridge, where we will play our hearts out, get inspired by the other musicians there, hand our guitars to the kids, and then come home to a calendar full of shows to play. We all come home to ourselves differently. My way is to practice music and writing, to listen to what I have made, read what I have written, and nurture that tender being that makes all the magic happen. And all the while, nurture those tender beings outside myself.

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Music Alone Shall Live, or A Perfect Weekend In NYC Has a Tiny Cost

On the Monday after we got back from NYC, these things happened:
-The Jetta went in to be drained because one of us put gas in its diesel engine. Yes, we drove it.
-Jay quit violin, and more importantly, I quit violin.
-While talking to his violin teacher about how to manage his quitting so he feels good about his experience, I hooked my iPhone on a kitchen drawer pull and it fell to the ground, the screen shattered, and the home button stopped working.
-Stella refused to pee or poop all morning.
-Instead of going for the run I desperately needed, I had to spend that hour on the phone with Apple and AT&T, getting misinformation about whether I could get an upgrade for $99. (No, I can’t. It would cost me $23/month for 18 months instead. Can anyone out there tell me why I shouldn’t switch to Verizon? Besides that they are the devil? And that I don’t need to waste anymore time stuck on hold by a corporation when I should be going for a run?)

Anyhow, I thought of the people I love who are struggling with way worse problems, like cancer and MS and divorce and serious concerns about their kids (way worse than a 6 year-old’s tantrum and throwing of his violin on the floor thereby breaking the bridge), and I found some packing tape and taped my phone’s screen. There’s this neat work-around you can do where you go to the accessibility settings and get a “soft” home button which floats around your screen. So now the phone works, well enough. It’s kind of hard to read on account of the multiple shards of glass, but it’ll do.

All this happened, I know, because we had fantastic gigs in New York. I say this, not in a kind of morbid “when good things happen, they’re inevitably followed by bad things” way. On the contrary, I firmly believe that good comes from good. What I mean is this: we had a full house in Manhattan at the Rockwood (just south of Houston), and we had my sweet, amazingly talented 30 year-old cousin John Colonna playing piano with us for two of the songs. My other cousins came; my aunt Elizabeth came; fantastic NYC fans whom we haven’t seen in years came; Armando did a fabulous job on the sound, and in short, we were inspired to sing our hearts out. It was one of those shows that lifts my energy so high I have trouble falling asleep afterwards. Which was fine, as we stayed up late at the club talking with our cousins and Aunt, had a hilarious drive back to Brooklyn where we were staying, and when I got home, there was an email from our videographer with the latest version of our video for the PledgeMusic campaign we’re launching Monday Oct. 27 (THIS MONDAY!). I stayed up to watch it. And then I lay in bed and listened to the sounds of Brooklyn, my head full of John’s playing. It was well after 1am.

The kids got me up at 7:30, which is so not enough sleep for me. They insisted on breakfast, so I skipped my yoga. We walked the three Jack Russell terriers, we played with blocks and remote control cars, we rehearsed some more with John Colonna, Katryna went to see her mother-in-law in a play, the kids and I went trolling for Halloween costumes, and then we had a show at Jalopy in Brooklyn. And another full house, five songs to play with John, another reunion with fans we haven’t seen in years, deep connections with family, and another extremely (for me) (and the kids) late night. And early rise to walk to the soccer fields on Brooklyn Bridge Park, visit with Kathy Chalfant, hang out and have lunch with our aunts and uncle and cousins, load up our van and return to MA, via hours of traffic, kids screaming over who had the better iPad in the backseat.

The fantastic gigs and fantastic time with family drained us. We used ourselves up, over the weekend, and that’s not a bad thing. As I once said, What are we for if not for this? We’re here to love the people we love, and that takes time and energy. We’re here to sing the songs we wrote, to deliver them to the people who are supposed to hear them, and that takes time and energy. We needed a day or two to recover, and we did not figure that into the equation. (Next time I will know better.) Getting what you wanted means you are frequently exhausted–I’ve known this for years. What we want now is to raise money for this new album XVII so we can perform more often with other musicians like our cousin John, like the Daves of yore, like Kit and Chip, our production team. We want to see our old fans, and we want to make new ones. I live for moments like the ones I had on stage Saturday when John played “Normandies”, and I felt something pure and clean in me fly up to the top of the room––for joy, for music. I love to hear from fans who tell me their daughter refused to read anything but Plastic Angel for two years. I love to hear from fans who discovered us with Bob on the Ceiling.

And I also love my routine, of morning yoga, meditation, running with Stella, practicing violin with the kids, practicing my own piano, going to River Valley Market, writing with my writers, meeting with my spiritual buddies, staring up at the sky, walking my labyrinth, going to bed next to my husband and sleeping for 8 hours. It’s a good life. I know it. And this life sustains me so that I can exhaust myself on occasion, destroy my property, and shrug. It’s just money. We’ll fix these problems which are not really problems. But, as the song says, music alone shall live. Everyone needs to live for something greater than oneself. Yes, I live for my kids, for my family, for my community. I also live for music.

Addendum:
The Jetta ended up costing us less than $500 to fix. It seems good as ever. Jay did quit violin, but he has agreed to play through December and have a 1/2 Book One Graduation. We are exploring the possibility of Bass lessons. (He wants to play “Bass Guitar, which is a bass with five stwings, Mama. A bass with four stwings is just a bass.”) The home button on my phone magically started to work, so I might just go to a kiosk and get them to replace the glass. Stella did eventually pee. But as for me, I can’t shake the feeling that what I most need is to go to the Adirondacks for three days with only my husband for company, sit on the couch and watch the leaves fall with a cup of hot tea in my hand.

August

Mid-August, I am deep in edits and rewrites of How to Be an Adult, which I hope to publish as an ebook sometime this fall. Today, though, I am working on a much grander piece: a play to be performed by my kids and their five cousins on the occasion of my father’s 70th birthday. We’re decamping to the Adirondacks for high merriment (and some required golf, tennis and hiking.) The play is about a School for Wizardry, Music and Mountaineering called Nieldsworts, and the hero is a grandfatherly character named Granddaddydore. Each of the kids is possessed with a magic instrument (drum, guitar, violin, maraca, etc.) Abigail (our sister who is an actor) will play Granddaddydore, Katryna will be the narrator, the kids will be themselves (only with Potteresque names like Ginny Reesely and Liley Granger and the highly original Johnny Harry Potter and the actually brilliant Ementor). I am going to direct, which means there will probably be lots of fights.

Falcon Ridge seems eons ago. I intended to write a long piece on how great it was, how brave the folks who prevail against the almost inevitable bad weather, and how the whole festival never fails to energize me for the rest of the year, inspire me with new musical ideas, remind me how much I love to play with a band. So even though the actual weekend is now firmly in my rear view mirror, it has left me with a resolve to deepen my musical practice. To wit:
-I’m taking voice lessons with a 78 year old amazing voice teacher in Amherst
-I’m about to start taking guitar lessons, with the goal being to learn the entire Beatles catalog
-I’m thinking about our next big musical project (Katryna, as usual, is full of big ideas)
-We’re planning to play the Iron Horse on Oct. 13 with our CrackerJack band. If we could, I’d play monthly with the band. There’s nothing, NOTHING like being with those guys to fill me with joy.

In fact, it makes me wonder why we stopped. Then I remember. It cost too much. Too much time, too much sanity, too much gas, too much summer, too much views of highways, too much smelly rock clubs and shows that started at 11pm. Not enough early mornings looking out at my own garden.

Part of me wants to just let the music and the touring life consume me, use me up. And part of me hears my daughter practicing her violin. She is playing Two Grenadiers by Schumann right now. I can hear her wade through the difficult middle section, and when she gets to the phrases from the French National Anthem, she blasts through, playing it three times too fast. Don’t we all?