The Blog

Me and the Sarge Are Fifty!

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

-Mary Oliver, “Blackwater Woods”

On June 2, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band turned fifty, and so did I. I’m not sure who made a bigger deal out of this anniversary, me or Apple Records, but a splendid time was had by all, so that’s good. My parents flew up from Virginia, and all four of my beloved aunts came to my gathering over the weekend. Tom got me tickets to see Sir Paul McCartney––a huge bucket list item, as I have never seen a Beatle perform live. Paul’s about to turn 75, just like my dad. No time to lose.


The other big present is a trip to London in July, which will include a side jog to Liverpool, where we hope to do some of the Magical History Tour or at least see the Beatles Museum. Katryna got me the fabulous new box set of Sgt. Pepper, and I have been listening to all the podcasts on Fresh Air (which I highly recommend!) Also, I learned “A Day in the Life” on piano. I made my musician friends play it with me on Saturday night, with Lila doing the entire orchestra part on her violin. Ben Demerath shook his head in wonder as the final E chord rang out, and he turned to my father and said, “Man! What did you THINK the first time you heard that ending?” And my father said, “Well…that was the first time I heard that ending. And I’m still trying to figure out what I think about it.”

I’m still trying to figure out what I think about turning 50. On the one hand, it’s no different from 49, or really 48. On the other, the actual number, especially when people write on birthday cards, “Welcome to your second half-century!” and such, freaks me out a bit. Me, 50? How did that happen? I got my passport photo taken at the CVS for our Britain trip, and I thought the woman in the tiny square they handed me looked like a “before” for a plastic surgery ad. There must be some mistake.

Who is this little old lady?

There also must be some mistake with the world. On the night of my birthday, someone mowed down a crowd on London Bridge–this just a few weeks after the Manchester bombing. Besides the now too-familiar grief for the lives lost, there’s a new, practical thought: Why am I taking my precious family abroad right now? What am I thinking? Can we even begin to enjoy ourselves in Europe (or anywhere) in this climate of fear and violence? Not to mention, will we have to disguise ourselves as Canadians, or make pins that say “I Was With Her; Don’t Blame Me”?

And yet, I have three beloveds right now who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer. They are each living vigorously, snatching all they can out of life, understanding clearly that now’s the time to live. One of them is driving all the way across the country  to see the full eclipse in a desert to make sure clouds don’t cover their once-in-a-lifetime chance. They are teaching the rest of us well.

My son has quit the violin, finally and for good. He hasn’t played since February, and even though I bought him an old beater violin to busk with, he hands it back to me, shaking his head, and said on Monday, “Sorry, Mom. I just don’t like music.”

“That’s like saying you don’t like nature!” I screamed, and then I promptly burst into tears and said out loud the biggest fear I have been harboring for the past five years: “It’s my fault! It’s because I pushed you so hard! It’s because I am a Suzuki mom from Hell! I have ruined everything!” And I wailed, tears gushing from my eyes. I was driving. It was raining. It was really bad, not to mention dangerous. Both my kids tried to comfort me. Johnny said, “Cheer up, Mom. I’ll still sing in your chorus. I have to. All my friends are in it.” Lila said, “Yeah, Mom. Kids go through phases. And Johnny will have to choose an instrument anyway when he’s in Middle School Band.”
“Yeah,” agreed Johnny. “Maybe I’ll like music a little.”

I was part of a women’s circle recently where we discussed the role of ambition in our lives. We defined the word broadly: as in “what do you want your life to be versus where is the River guiding you?” The original Latin means “to go around” and usually in the context of “going around courting votes.” The English word had a pejorative connotation for most of its history; it’s only in recent times that we’ve seen it used more positively, nodding with approval as we say about our daughters, “She’s very ambitious.” I wondered aloud what the difference is between ambition and desire. Desire for something is certainly informs my ambition. These cravings in my soul, I have discovered in my half-century, need to be listened to. They don’t necessarily need to be indulged, but it’s always important for me to give them a fair hearing. Is it desire or ambition that pulls me to bring my family to England this July? I long for it. I longed to know the Beatles when I was nine and first heard them, and so I made a study of their music. That music still enchants and fascinates me, 41 years later. Ambition feels different; like too much strong coffee. It’s me exerting my will, going against the river. Desire is the river. The trick is to figure out how to align your inner desire to where the river is taking you.

On the way to my Nields rehearsal last night, Johnny said, “Can we listen to the Beatles?” and I programmed my phone to play a non-chronological mix, as we are both kind of sick of Pepper, which had been our car soundtrack for all of May. The algorithm chose “Ask Me Why,” “It’s Only a Northern Song,” “I’m a Loser,””She Loves You,” and “In My Life.”  Johnny announced who wrote and sang each song, and he was always right. I explained to him how George Martin played the piano solo on “In My Life” and how they doubled its speed to get it to sound the way they wanted. When “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” came on, he said, “Do they know yet what John played on this?” (The last time he’d asked, I’d posted on Facebook, and we’d discovered that this is a controversial mystery. Some say 6-string bass. Some say organ. Some say he missed the sessions altogether.) “Do you really think he’s not on it?” John is his favorite, natch.

“I don’t know,” I said, “But let’s look it up when we get home.”

I feared this birthday for the last half of my forties. My grandmother was 52 when I was born, and she was OLD! I had wanted to be a singer since the age of 7, but even as a teenager, I thought I’d be a musician for a couple of decades max and then move on to some other profession. Probably minister, or professor, or writer, or caterer. By 50 I would be deep into some other career. Still, I play. The rehearsal was with the full band, and shows both duo and band are lined up for the next year. We talked about recording a new CD last night. What does it mean to be a geriatric rocker? Many things. My heroes have taught me you never have to stop. We get to make the rules on this one.

Paul and Ringo at the 2014 Grammys


We got home and Johnny settled in with Tom and Lila, who were watching Bend It Like Beckham. I climbed up to my attic studio and pulled down Mark Lewisohn’s wonderful volume  The Beatles Recording Sessions and studied it. It truly isn’t clear. The last take he was definitely on was actually lead guitar, but we all know Eric Clapton ended up taking the honors there. Still, it’s hard to imagine John sitting around doing nothing! The only clue I had was George’s offhand comment later that Eric’s presence in the studio had the effect of making them all behave and play better. Isn’t that what we strive to do for each other? I looked up at my son, cuddled on his father’s lap, moving his body back and forth to the rhythms of bhangra, and I said, “Looks like guitar. Just what we’d suspected. He’s on it after all.”

“I knew it,” Johnny said.



I Wanna Be a Woman Like Patti Smith

Tomorrow is the official Day Without Women.We are encouraged to wear red, to abstain from shopping and to tell our bosses to try to live without us. My bosses are my guitar students, writing students, and the characters in my novel, so I might slip some work in on the sly, though I have informed Tom that I plan on skipping all chores. I have a great red sweater and some red pants that will clash with it. And I already gave up shopping on Amazon for Lent, so I’m good there. I love this idea–this is my kind of protest. And it got me thinking about what it means to be a woman.

In 1997, I wrote a song called “Georgia O” about the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. The refrain goes, “I want to be a woman like you,” until the last chorus, when the singer changes it to “I want to be a woman like me.” This is my experience with women artists: we kindle each other. Maybe men do the same, but as I am not one, I can’t testify. I just know immersing myself in the work of other women musicians, artists and writers helps me to find myself.

I am reading Patti Smith’s wonderful memoir M Train, and I am using her as my latest model for I Wanna Be a Woman Like You.  She’s so authentic, so refreshingly cranky and real and surprisingly tender. I love her aesthetic, her polaroids, her passion for black coffee, which threads like a train through all of her chapters. The book was written many years after the death of her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, but it as if he is still a very active presence in her life. She is an inspiring loner. She writes about finding her ramshackle house on Rockaway Beach just months before Hurricane Sandy decimated the area, though miraculously sparing her house. Every day this independent women walks across the street to Cafe ‘Ino to drink their coffee, eat their beans and bread (dipped in olive oil) and write, or think about writing. She has mastered the art of living. The cover of the book has an iconic photo of the author:

…which says it all. Here she is, completely herself. Real, sad, tired, beautiful. I want to be a woman like her. But mostly I work my ass off at being cheerful and helpful and positive, and instead I end up driving people crazy.

For example. Last Monday, Johnny quit violin. He has quit in the past, but there was something about this quitting that felt different. He’s older–almost nine. He knows himself better than he once did, and he is just beginning to question out loud whether his mother knows him at all. A friend of mine tells a story about his relationship with his mother, recounting a time when he’d cut off contact with her over a critical remark. His mother was always telling him that he should be a lawyer. At some point, he wanted to say to her, “Do you even know me?” But he didn’t say that. He just cut her off. This terrified me, and I had this story fresh in my head on the day J quit. So I let him. Usually, I try bribery, manipulation, or just plain force. NO, you can’t quit. Everyone in our family has to play an instrument!

So we had a quiet week. At first, I felt good about the severing. I was letting him have autonomy. I was seeing who he really was. Also, he was much more cheerful. I began to frame the whole Suzuki thing in its worst light. Rigid. Enslaved kids. Emotionless performers. Blah blah blah. But over the weekend, I went into a deep funk about the loss, and Johnny stopped being cheerful. I thought of the parents of the 18 year old girl who opened for us at Circle of Friends Coffeehouse four years ago. They said, “We told our daughter, ‘You don’t get to quit Math or English. You don’t get to quit music, either.'” I thought of my own lifelong regrets about quitting piano when I was thirteen. I thought about the sick feeling I always have when I quit anything. I thought about tough love, about the many times I wanted to throw in the towel on violin with either kid in the past. I thought about how good playing an instrument is for the brain. I thought about how every drop of structure can be used by an unstructured mind like my own, and my son’s (we are much more alike in terms of study skills and willpower than my uncannily organized daughter.)

Then my back seized up, as it seems to under certain mysterious circumstances, and I was a prisoner of some internal corset of steel. Am I just completely fused with my son? Probably. I gently hinted to J that he might reconsider. He looked right at me. “Mama, are you taking lessons with Maggie right now?”

Whoa. As a matter of fact, I am not. In early February, I heard back from my agent who had a huge list of suggested revisions. I resumed work on my novel, and tried to disengage from anything not critical to the operation of our home and businesses. And as a result, my soul is a little sick. When I don’t practice my instruments, this is what happens to me. A part of me dies, even as another part thrives. I think this is the price to be paid for not ever being able to make up my mind about whether I was a musician or a writer. My shoulders pay the price, as does my poor family.

Tom took me by said shoulders on Sunday night and looked at me seriously. “Listen. You won’t want to hear this. But you need to lay off him. He is going to play music again. But you have to wait. You can’t nag. It has to come from him, and not from you or any other authority figure.”

I nodded, tearfully. “If you love someone, set them free,” I sobbed, thinking of Sting’s annoyingly ungrammatical song. I wiped my eyes. “You need to be my sponsor on this. I will call or text if I get the urge to nag.” We shook solemnly. I wandered into the empty music room. I stared at our old Steinway, already out of tune (my piano tuner says it’s a goner and we need to find a new one). I sat down and played the piano accompaniment to a couple of Johnny’s Book 3 Suzuki pieces: a Bach Minuet and a Gavotte in G minor, a very sad song. I was terrible. But as I followed the music on the page, my hands came to life a bit. They began to remember what to do. As I labored, Johnny passed through the room, doing some cartwheels and jumping on the couch. He picked up his violin and said, “If I WERE to play a song, I wonder what I would play?” I did not respond, but kept my eye on the page of music.

The next morning, Johnny un-quit.  I can’t say I didn’t have anything to do with it. Perhaps I had him sit down with a piece of steno paper, the kind with a line down the middle, and told him to list the pros and cons of playing violin. I did maybe also slightly bribe him with a 100 day challenge (100 days of practice = $100 gift card to Target.). Would Patti Smith do this kind of thing? Uh, dude. No.

But so what. The older I get the more I think it’s about self acceptance, not self improvement. I am a bossy, controlling person. This is not completely a bad thing. I get stuff done. I show up. And I have a really stiff back, at times. And for the past two days, I have a son who practiced his violin. Parenthood is hard. We never know if we are saving our kids or killing them. We can only do what makes sense in the moment, and out of the soup we are in, this seems right. This Sunday, Johnny and Lila and I are going to the Suzuki Festival at the New England Conservatory of Music. We will see who and what my children find when they arrive. Maybe themselves.

A Sermon for White America: Dyson

After Saturday, I felt happier than I have felt since, oh, about Columbus Day Weekend–– and I didn’t even march.  But I felt like I did. Tom and the kids went to Boston, and my parents marched in DC. Or rather, they stood. No one actually marched because it was too crowded. I was terrified that someone was going to get hurt, trampled, bombed, or (in the case of Tom) stung by a bee. (He is allergic. In my apocalyptic state, I’d forgotten bees aren’t around in January, even on 50 degree days.) But no one was hurt. Bored, maybe; frustrated at not being able to see or move, but completely unharmed. (The cynic in me wonders how peaceful the police would have been if the crowd hadn’t been so white and female.) Katryna and I did not march because we had a show that night in Connecticut, and I am learning that in order to do my job, I actually have to not do other things. (Most people with real jobs learn this by my age. I am a little slow.)

It paid off to rest before we sang. I wanted all my strength for the full house of Connecticut folks, many of whom had marched in Hartford earlier that day. The show felt part rally, part homecoming. We started our band in the Hartford area, and there were people in the audience who had been coming to our shows since the early 90s. We sang two brand new songs–one by Katryna and Dave called “Gonna Need a Boat” and one by me and Katryna called “Tyrants Always Fall.” We also sang our updated version of “America the Beautiful.” Afterwards, many folks thanked us for coming to sing and not cancelling so we could march. I guess we were in the right place after all.

But there will be a part of me that always regrets not marching on Jan 21, 2017 in the same way I know people from the generation just above me regret missing Woodstock. What a day it was. It fills my heart with delight to see the aerial photos full of the color pink. To witness my kids becoming activists. To see all strong, hopeful faces in different cities all over the world. To feel not so alone with the grief. The grief, of course, is collective–and on Saturday, we all got our marching orders. From my kitchen, I live-streamed Michael Moore’s speech, and then caught Ashley Judd’s. To our audience, I repeated the number MM told us to call daily, after brushing teeth and coffee and walking the dog–202-255-3121. Five days a week: Monday-Senator. Tuesday-other Senator. Wednesday-Congressperson. Thursday- State Senator. Friday-State Congressperson. Let’s take over all the swing districts. Did you know Elizabeth Warren’s seat is far from secure in 2018?

About the dog that I walk before I make calls. He’s great. Did we mention that Katryna adopted his sister? All is mostly well, but he doesn’t seem to understand that we don’t pee on the carpet. This got so bad that we rolled the carpet up and put it away. So far, no more accidents–but it’s only been about 5 hours. Any advice on housebreaking a puppy is most welcome.

I have two acquaintances–women I went to high school with–who voted for Trump. I am not friends with them, but they are on my Facebook feed, and it occurred to me to check out how they were feeling about our new Emperor. One posted that in her “rainbow-flag covered neighborhood,” someone sent their “young child over to vandalize” her Trump banner. She was outraged. I can sympathize. Folks have vandalized my Hillary banner, and stolen my Black Lives Matter signs. Vandalism is never OK, in any event. What I found interesting, though, was the amount of push-back she got from her friends. One offered, “Trump’s own words and actions do not engender or support those beliefs. Again, vandalism is not OK. And neither is promoting the division, negativity and hatred for the ‘other’ which made that family believe it was ok to vandalize that flag.”

I explored the other acquaintance’s page. It turned out she’d actually gone to the inauguration, and in a post in which she was asking for advice about what to wear, I was amazed to see how many of her friends were horrified by her support of Orange Man. A few were in same-sex marriages and worried in the comments that their basic rights would be overturned. I just checked back on her page and saw a heated but civil discussion about abortion rights. It heartened me to see, in both cases, that these people I knew were being challenged; but also that they tolerated friends with different opinions. That is better than I can do. I am not proud of that. I hate confrontation, even on social media.

But. Now is the time for spirited discussion between friends who disagree. I am reading Michael Eric Dyson’s powerful book Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon for White America, and it’s challenging and difficult to digest. “Beloved,” he writes–-the entire book really does read like an intimate, tender, harsh, fire-and-brimstone sermon––“your white innocence is a burden to you, a burden to the nation, a burden to our progress. It is time to let it go, to let it die in the place of the black bodies it wills into nonbeing.” He painstakingly catalogues the psychology behind our institutional racism, our unconscious clinging to our white status and privilege, in a tone that is in turns patient and exasperated. I don’t know anyone who would call themselves a white supremacist, or even the more PC term “alt-rightist,” but I know scores of whites who don’t understand Black anger, have a completely skewed idea of “equality” and believe that the playing field is level today, even while admitting it hasn’t always been that way.

The playing field is not level, and it will never be level in our lifetime, no matter how many Black presidents we elect. White people have to face that the scourge and sin of slavery has long lasting repercussions, that racism is institutional and endemic, an illness that affects all of us, and that we have huge amends to make. Yes, all of us; even those whose ancestors never owned slaves. We have consciously or unconsciously embraced “whiteness,”–the notion that “white” is normal and good, and that anything other is an aberration at best–– and that this embrace causes great pain to our Black brothers and sisters. We have a long way to go to to make reparations. As Dyson writes, “I want to tell you right off the bat that whiteness is made up, and that white history disguised as American history is a fantasy, as much a fantasy as white superiority and white purity. Whiteness is most effective when it makes itself invisible; when it appears neutral, human, American.” And the calculus that far too many whites accept in trading innocent Black lives for some supposed security by allowing our cops to shoot first and ask questions later is what has caused the dislocation of justice, the complete distrust of the police by the Black community, and much pain and grief for all of us. Black Lives Matter is an attempt towards reparations. Bring it on.

My father was telling our friend Edward, an African American man in his 30s, about being stopped by the cops for speeding.

“Oh, man,” Edward said. “Did they do that thing where they hold a gun to your head after you roll the window down?”

No. That’s not how they treat white men in business suits driving Priuses. But that is how Edward is greeted by cops even when he is not speeding. He gets stopped routinely for Driving While Black.

I don’t have patience for my white sisters who don’t get this. I’d rather do a whole lot of things before engaging with two women I never liked very much on Facebook to try to skillfully and patiently present a different point of view. I would rather write a song, practice piano, knit a pink pussy hat, snuggle my dog, listen to my kids play violin. Let’s get real–I’d rather clean the toilet or declutter a junk drawer. But maybe this is ministry. I am going to pray about it. The fate of the nation might just rest on us not giving up on each other.

Chasing Down a Trump Voter

Puppies and guitars–that’s my solution.

Yesterday, I met my husband and our friend Tony on the corner of Crafts and Main. It was 2pm, and I had Hudson in my arms. He’s a little celebrity, inviting ear scratches and admirers wherever he goes. An African American meter officer stopped to admire him. “He’s like a sweet fur blanket!” she exclaimed. We introduced herself. Her name wasDonna.

“He’s my anti-Trump medication,” I told Donna, stroking his ears. An older white guy who had just come out of Glazed, our donut shop, stopped and stared at us.

“That’s a terrible thing to say about that poor dog! I can’t wait till tomorrow! Go Trump!” And he turned to cross the street to his parked car, near City Hall.

“Wait!” I shouted. “Come back! We want to talk to you!” But he kept walking, waving me off. I ran across the street, puppy in my arms. “Mister!” I said, catching up with him and touching his coat sleeve. “Listen! Trump wants to take down our democracy!”

“Good!” he shouted. His eyes were twinkling, but intense. “This country needs that!”

“No!” I said, “Do you know how many millions of people have died for our country?”

“I know more about history than you do,” he huffed, opening his car door. A woman sat cowering in the passenger seat, gray hair, gray face, gray lips in a tight line.

“No, you don’t!” I said. “Please talk to me!”

But Tom and Tony and Donna were shouting too. “Come back here, Nerissa!” they said, and so I crossed back over, hearing his car pull out and screech away behind me.

Donna shook her head at me. “Honey. I love you. I don’t want you to get hurt. There are a lot of people out there right now whose passions are huge. Be careful, girl.” I looked into her kind face. And as angry and shaken as I was, I did not fail to take in the glory of this moment. The white guy ran from the police, an African American woman, who protected me not with guns or the law, but with a kind words. I fell into her arms and she hugged me, then laughed. “Take care of that puppy, now,” she said going back to her job (her other job–metering. She was totally doing her job by hugging me).

“Yeah, well, I have to go feed my meter before you give me a ticket.”

Donna laughed and walked down the street. Tom scolded me for endangering myself and our dog. “It’s good you aren’t marching with us Saturday, you’d get us all killed,” he said.


As I mentioned in my last post, I have been reading autobiographies of musicians. I finished Bob Dylan’s Chronicles in December, and next up is Keith Richards’ Life, which inspired me to buy my friend Jay Pasternak’s 1964 Gibson guitar (mahogany beauty, my first acoustic Gibson; anti-Trump strategy #2 is to learn Keef’s five-string G-tuning). Today I finished Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run. I am so glad I read this big fat 500+ page book. I have always loved The Boss, and now I know why. What a huge heart the guy has, and what a thoughtful person. And even though he is a multi-platinum millionaire legend, and I am a folk artist whose fan base was about 20,000 at my prime, I completely relate to much of what he writes about. The writer contracts, at the beginning of this kind of memoir, to reveal to the reader his mind. This he says, at the end of the book, he has done. And what I see is an incredibly hard-working artist, who is fully aware of his limitations–a less than pristine voice, for instance–and who when he compares himself to his heroes, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, he comes up short. But, he says, he knew he had to work for it. And so he did–he eschewed drugs and much of the stereotypical rock and roll lifestyle for the sake of the Holy Grail–his music. His dedication to music borders on religious fervor, and it’s contagious and inspiring to read about him. When I was in my 20s, I wanted to write political songs, but I couldn’t do it. Bruce taught me how. I think he’s actually the best male political songwriter of his generation.

The last day of my retreat, I wrote my song, called “Tyrants Always Fall.” It’s the first in a long time, and it feels like the beginning of our next album. In truth, it’s a co-write–Katryna came up with the lines for the chorus and some of the structure. I channeled my inner Bruce and tried to write an anthem for our times. Tuesday, at my reading for Pantsuit in the Back of the Closet, I ended with it and got the audience to chant/sing the refrain: “There are more of us than there are of them.”

The reading was gratifying. My poems are meant to be read. Like songs, they don’t really live on the page. I was blown away by the writing and presence of the other women I’d invited to read with me; Sarah Buttenwieser read a piece on listening to your children during this strange and fearful time. Naomi Shulman wrote “No Time to be Nice,” a reflection on the so-called “good Nazis” in 1930s Germany. Sarah Sullivan wrote a poem about wanting to hide from the news, and Miliann Kang exhorted us all to stay present, fight for our democracy and trust that struggle will make us stronger. Lisa Papademetriou MC’d the event and contributed her beautiful Click Workspace for the event. We raised over $300 for the Women’s Fund of Western MA on an icy January night, and I got to sing my new song.

I promise not to chase down any more Trump voters, though I do crave real conversations with them. This is the whole problem–we walk away from each other, and we are afraid of each other. I pray that tomorrow the marches are peaceful, that all are safe, and that we listen to each other. Though I don’t know exactly what I am going to do next, I do know I am in the right line of work. In fact, I have rarely felt so well-placed. For now anyway, providing space for folks to feel seems like our main job. To that end, Katryna and I are doing a show Saturday night at a venue in Granby CT (near Hartford, near Bradley Airport) for those who marched in Boston and just want some more, or for those who couldn’t march and just need some Spirit.

There are more of us than there are of them. Don’t forget it.


A Puppy is the Solution to Pretty Much Everything

Somehow, getting this new puppy has lifted my depression and made me optimistic about the future. I can’t tell if this is just delusion, or a real lifting of the veil. It’s very difficult to be in that anxious, wheels-spinning place I have lived since last spring (as Drumpf seemed more and more likely to be the Republican nominee) when one has a little fur-ball of unconditional love on one’s lap, or on the carpet chasing his tiny curly tail, or barking at invisible squirrels on the ceiling. Animals live in the present moment. There might be some body memories they carry–certainly I have known dogs who were clearly traumatized by some man in a uniform––but they certainly don’t have a fear of the future. Not this little guy, anyway.

More and more, the election seems a bad dream from which we must, eventually, awaken. When? I don’t know. But I have lived long enough to know that what goes up must come down. How is it that we have this repugnant person as our president-elect? Do you know his approval rating is at 37%, the lowest of any incoming president in history? How can he govern that other 63%, those folks who don’t like him? He can’t. We will be ungovernable, as my friend Jo says. What keeps coming to mind is that image of the Berlin Wall coming down. Hundreds of people scaled it, hurled their bodies over. Apartheid ended in South Africa. The British left India. At some point, the 99% will join together and overthrow the 1%. The Drumpf voters will have buyer’s remorse. The question is: when.

For the first time in years, I do not have a project to work on. My novel is with my agency, my poetry book is published, I am between records. I have some song ideas, but they seem far away, not urgent as they do when they are about to be born. I am reading autobiographies of musicians: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards, Patti Smith. Part of me thinks, “Why should I write another album? We have enough albums.” What does anyone want to hear me say, anyway? I am said-out. Someone else can have a turn. I want to sit back and play with my dog. I felt this way when I first became a mother. I have a deep desire to turn inward, keep house, play pieces on the piano that have nothing to do with my repertoire. Listen to my kids make their own music.

Time will tell what comes next, and I don’t feel worried about it. My guess is that this is a winter of creativity, a season not unlike the one we are all experiencing–in between administrations. Creativity ebbs and flows, as do social movements. But it is an odd feeling to come to the page empty. Someone at my retreat today said, “Passion needs developing.” This is my experience. I need to do the footwork to put myself in the stream of creativity in order for it to awaken in me. I need to pick up my guitar, sit down at the piano, and start by writing some bad songs. Bad songs lead to good songs lead to great songs. I have to give myself permission to be a beginner again. A puppy is a good model for this, both as itself–a newcomer to Planet Earth–and as its puppy mama–a not-inexperienced dog owner who still could learn a few new tricks.

Here is what does not help:

-interrupting my sanctioned writing time by checking my email to see if my agent has written me back
-interrupting my writing time by checking the polls to see if Drumpf’s unfavorables have dropped even more
-comparing myself to Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen or Patti Smith (OK to compare self to Keith Richards, though.)

Here is what helps:

-Showing up.
-showing up to the piano every day
-writing morning pages and really doing it–3 pages, hand doesn’t leave page.
-read whatever interests me–I call this the Hansel and Gretl effect. The trail of breadcrumbs leads, inevitably, to inspiration. So whatever seems shiny  and sparkly seems that way for a reason.
-cuddling dog
-cuddling kids
-cuddling husband
-getting enough sleep
-refusing to listen to the bad voices
-remaining fiercely on my own side.

Update on Day 2

I have a little more of the song. It’s all potential now, which is the best. So far, it’s an idea in my head, and it’s perfect. I just have to go slowly. if I write it too fast, I will kill it. But actually writing the song…well, I always forget this until I am doing it. There is nothing more wonderful that just being in the flow of new life. I have my Martin 018, a computer that works, my songwriting notebook and my little gold puppy. At this moment, I feel completely content.