Fall Equinox, COVID, and My Broken Suitcase

posted September 23, 2022

Last week, four days before I was scheduled to go on the road, I dragged my trusty suitcase down from the attic. For the first time in three years, Katryna and I were going on a mini tour, complete with all the logistical insanity of one of our longer tours of the 1990s. To wit:

-Friday: leave Northampton at 1pm, drive to Bradley Int’l airport in Hartford and rent a car, leaving our own car in long term parking. Take rental car to Woodstock, NY where we would open for Dar Williams at the Levon Helm Studio. Friday post show, approx 11pm, drive for 45 minutes south on I-87 to spend the night in a hotel. 

-Saturday: drive down to Virginia in time for soundcheck at Jammin Java in Vienna, for a 7pm concert—one we’d rescheduled maybe three times since its original date of April 2020. 

-Sunday: leave our parents’ house at 10am, drive to BWI, drop off the rental, take a 1pm flight back to Bradley, retrieve our car, drive home.

All week long, as the suitcase hung with its broken lid open, I half-heartedly tossed things into it. This is how I like to pack. Reminding myself gently of the trip to come. Something about the pressure of travel, after my semi-traumatic memories of living on the road (340 days/year for about a decade) I like to ease my inner child into any kind of journey. I was looking forward to seeing Dar, hearing her play, performing for her generous audiences, getting a copy of her new book How to Write a Song that Matters. I was looking forward to seeing our parents in Virginia, our beloved DC area audience, and our new DelMarVA fans who discovered us during the Pandemic on Monday Night Live. I was looking forward to singing with my sister. 

But in truth, I was not looking forward to the car, the road, the rest stops, the boredom, the car sickness, the airport crowds, the rental car crowds, the bedtime of #I’mTooOldForThis o’clock. I was not looking forward to the inevitable backache I’d earn from the weekend of lugging our gear around and sitting in a car for 10 hours.

So when, on Friday, my son tested positive for COVID, I felt profoundly conflicted. Readers of this blog know that I love nothing more than found time. Was the universe giving me a great gift? Glory be! SNOW DAY!

But. The lost shows, the lost shows, the lost shows. We’ve lost so many damn shows! We’d had such a great gig at St. Paul’s Church the week before, and while I can forget how much I love to perform, every time we do get to venture outside to perform (in what Katryna calls “terrestrial time”) I remember. Something happens when people come together. There’s the Self, the Other and the Third Thing that grows between the two. A holy trinity of sorts.

 I was reminded of this phenomenon when Tom and I went to see Girl From the North Country last June on Broadway. Hearing those Dylan songs––some as familiar as my heartbeat, some quite obscure, all of them sung in a new way, with new passion and new interpretation––this felt holy.

I need to remember this when I doubt myself, when the voices start hissing, what kind of person are you to pretend to be a writer/musician/creative person? Go do something useful for a change!

What constitutes usefulness, though? Those moments hours in the theater with those actors and musicians, was that useful? Was getting an MFA in writing useful? If one tries to respond in some kind of survivalist way–like, useful as water? useful as fire? useful as a carrot or handful of almonds?––well, then, no. But we all know there are other needs human beings have.

I have a really kind mentor who regularly tells me, “God gave you a gift, Nerissa. It’s your job to use it” when I start talking like this. I had her voice in my head when I was struggling to decide whether to fly down to Virginia with the very real possibility that I’d be exposing my sister, my parents, and our audiences to COVID. If we didn’t go, was I denying some gift? Losing the shows felt like a profound failure, a waste. There was, of course, the real loss of income, the loss of getting to play in front of Dar’s fans, many of whom might never know our music now. But the loss I struggled with felt existential. If I’m not “out there,” do I even exist?

By Sunday, everyone in my family had tested positive for COVID, and my husband had it bad. We decided that since the Positively sick folks outnumbered the Negatively sick person, the latter had to leave the house so the former could stop being stuck in their various bedrooms. So I dragged that already packed suitcase across the yard and into Little Blue Studio, and there I remained for the rest of the week, waiting for my own lingering sore throat and congestion to turn my daily Rapid Test stick pink. (It never did.)

Me in Little Blue, Not Sick.

It was a strange kind of “retreat” to be quarantined away from my family, and I felt even more useless since they wouldn’t let me near them. (I did go to the store and the pharmacy a lot for them, though, so there’s that). But all that peace and quiet bore some good fruit. I wrote, I rested, I meditated and had a few modest epiphanies, mostly relating to the hissing voices and their seditiousness. Tom and I had watch parties every night which culminated in our finishing Season Four of Call My Agent (now I can’t wait for the movie and Season Five!) The equinox came and went, pretty much unnoticed, but I feel it in my bones, nonetheless. The summer is over, and the season of fires and hot tea is upon us. My third novel is halfway finished, and The Nields has a show at The Drake in Amherst on the Saturday of Indigenous People’s Weekend. And this Monday, we’re doing our Monday Night Live for the first time since July. It’s time to get back to work.

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