Sunday, February 12, 2017

Self-Care (a poem)

In this swirling windstorm it’s important to remember a few things--
To stand barefoot or at least to press your toes into the cushion of a sole
To run without headphones to stop up the calling of the birds at dusk
To lay in a warm tub with the faint sounds of chanting riding the lavender air
To sleep in flannel pajamas
To drink water and to eat bananas
To read the sky and to listen to the river
To curl into his arms at night and thank god for the falling that happened after the crash
To take the rage out in laughing
To take the grief out in singing
To take the fear out in softness
And to lie on the wet damp earth with a hound dog lapping at your tear stained face
In this unease it’s important to remember the ground is the bottom 
That’s where your feet belong, not pressed to the top of the circus tent pushing
(2/8/17)


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Good Timing (January 14, 2017)



I have such a love-hate relationship with Facebook. It inspires such envy in me when I'm at my worst, or most tender. And it can remind me of the good in people. I do like the little reminders it sends us of where we were last year on this date, or 2 years ago, or 3. Today, January 14, I got a reminder from January 14, 2014.  Here's what I wrote:

I'm not even sure where we are exactly but we are within a short walk of the sea and near The Hague and we are in the most incredible seaside hotel. The day spits grey mist. I took a late-afternoon walk through the dunes, mostly heathered shades of green and brown brush, yellow-red berries the only color dotting the day. The sea opened up before me, after a promenade of little closed stands promising ice cream and pizza to summer children, boarded up by the dunes' end. The sea, the open sea, calm, like Lake Michigan in late winter. Too far north to feel like ocean to me. I walked for hours it seemed, got lost in the sand and then the forest. Finally found my way back to the 3rd floor room with a view of the dunes and a large bathtub. The only thing I hear is a hum of the old heaters, a seagull squawk like a cuckoo clock, and the wind against the old paned windows.

The writer in me is so grateful for this post. "the day spits grey mist". I can use that. 'heathered shades of green and brown brush" and now I remember that walk exactly, as if I'm there, on those trails next to the foreign northern sea.  I remember that hotel room. I don't remember the tour at all, nor the show that night, but I remember that walk, those dunes, that sea opening up to me. 

The sky right now is brown-grey, if there is such a thing.  4:30pm in January and the sun will start setting if it not already on the descent. It is spitting rain all day, a mist hangs over East Nashville. It is neither warm nor cold. Damp. Chilly. Warm tub kind of weather and we have no plans tonight. Jamey lays on the couch watching football. I have headphones on listening to Debussey while I write.  And as I write, sentences spill out of me like the rain, no direction, stray clouds.  A metal sign hangs off my shelves next to my desk. It says "Breathe". I bought it in Woodstock, NY the year I lived in a small shack in Shandaken in the Catskills in the shadow of Hunter Mountain.  The shack was damp and had a sharp tangy scent, a biting cold undertone that could have been mold.  It was owned by Johanna Pleasant. I spoke to her maybe four times that year I ran away.  She was in her late 70's. A gravel-voiced woman always in a terry cloth house robe and slippers or fur lined boots, depending on the season, a cigarette dangling from her well-lined lips.  Her voice was as New York as Fran Drescher's "Nanny", a gnawing thing.  She lived in the house at the bottom of the hill, overstacked piles of newspapers and magazines lined the hallway walls, various rusting gardening tools lay strewn about her front yard. My shack was at the top of the hill, "Pleasant Way".  I rented it for $500 a month. It included wifi. There was no phone. No TV. Cell phones didn't work there. The only heat was a small cast-iron wood oven and I had to chop the wood myself. I had forgotten all the details of this place.

A few days ago I became obsessed with remembering.  It bothered me that I couldn't remember when THIS event or THAT. Not the year. Not how old I was. I had to find out. So that adventure took me to our attic, to boxes of journals, and I spent the day reading through 15 years of journals, making a timeline on our chalk-board wall in our writing office. It started at 1994 and went to 2009, when I moved to Nashville. 

I don't recommend this activity for anyone who is not in therapy or recovery and even then, I might suggest you don't do it.

Pages and pages of the same old complaint, the same story, same chaos, different characters. It was like I was starring in the same movie each year with different actors in different towns that had a different name, but it was the same plot and I had the same lines. It was fascinating. And then I began to see where the script changed and HOW it changed and when I had written down on this time line every person, every lover, every chaos, every move, the years, the dates, the seasons, I stood back, looked at it.....

....and laughed.

Yep, I laughed. I didn't cry. 

A few years ago I would have cried. A few years before that I might have cried AND gotten drunk AND contemplated a high dive off a bridge.

But last week I laughed. I remember where I was on that timeline when I met Johanna Pleasant and rented out her house. I also remember just a few years back getting a note from her daughter letting me know that her mother had died of lung cancer.  I wrote "The Killer In Me" during a blizzard there. My friend Abbie lived there when she ran away from her life.  It was a good place to hide, deep in those hemlock woods.

It was October through May 2007. I now know this and that means something to me. It means that I was moving through to somewhere, although I didn't know I was.  

So, today, looking at the Facebook reminder is nice. I once took a walk along the sea in The Hague on a  cold, damp January afternoon.  That was the most memorable, enjoyable thing about that day, two years ago.  Today I sit in my writing room, the wall above me is a collage of framed photos and pictures, my mother in her wedding gown, my grandmother in her nurse's uniform, a baby photo of my sister and me, a photo of the canyons near Lyons, Colorado given to me by Kathy Hussey one year at Rocky Mountain Folks Festival, a piece of art Kira gave me that says

when she finally remembered
what she was
she laughed;
it had taken
so long to get here,
yet she had arrived at
the perfect time.

Friday, January 13, 2017

New Years Eve 2015

It is the morning of the Eve of the New Year and, as the grey day around me threatens rain, I am curled up in a writing chair with my feet wrapped in a blanket. The local classical radio station plays Mozart (again) and a pine scented candle that burned last night still lingers Christmas in the air. This may be the first year I will not saying "Good Riddance" to the passing one. This year has been good to me. So, I'd like to share my Thank You List to The Year 2015:

1. "That Kind Of Girl".  I birthed a record of honesty and pain and vulnerability and surrender and relief into the world, and it was well received. It didn't change the world. It didn't get to the top of any charts or win any awards, but it helped me and I am proud of those songs. I hope it helped a few others. My then but-not-now-manager but still friend John Porter was an invaluable partner in this, always encouraging, always full of understanding and love. A cheerleader, and when you are spilling some blood out there, you need a strong cheerleader. Grateful I had one.

2. The New York Times. Thanks to fellow Amherst College alum and writer Ron Lieber, I can now say I have been a published writer for The New York Times.  I had to register with The Times as a freelance writer. I got a check with the paper's name on it. I wrote a piece for the New York Times. Seriously. I may dance a bit again thinking about that. And I know, I know, it was a short essay, not a huge piece, and it may be stretching it a bit to ever say "I wrote for the New York Times" and I won't bring this up too much at cocktail parties as in "what do you do?" "OH, well, this year I wrote a piece for the New York Times" - I won't be THAT person, even though here, in this blog, I AM being that person.  However, when you've been a folk singer and you bring THAT fact up at cocktail parties (and you don't even drink cocktails, which makes those parties very socially awkward after everyone else has had their few freeing drinks), the response is usually a tilt of the head, pursing of the lips in a forced smile and an apologetic, "Oh, I'm sorry, I've never heard of you" as if fame is the barometer of success in any artistic career (and it's impossible to explain to someone that there is really no such thing as "folk fame" anymore).  Maybe fame IS the real line in the sand. But I've been at this creative game, whether theater or folk music, since I was 22 and so far I'm not homeless and I've mostly paid my bills on time and I've not asked my parents for one dime since I was 22. But despite my pride in my work, there was this moment when I saw my name on the Thursday Financial Section of the New York Times in March that felt as good as winning any award.  Felt like a real THING.  Something to send home to Mom and Dad.  It was a HUGE HUGE HUGE honor to be asked to write a song and then write an essay for the Times and then have people from all over the country write to say they read it. And then to have NPR's show Marketplace call to interview me about the story. And, the kicker is, all this happened the same week my record was released. And Ron didn't even know this. It was completely serendipitous. And none of this would have happened had I not written a blog here on Facebook that Ron read a year ago about the struggle of trying to buy a house in a bohemian artist's neighborhood that is now being taken over by people with money who want to live in an artists neighborhood but build $400,000 homes around our little tiny $180,000 cottages. If I never get published again, this was a real thing in 2015.

However, my friend Mary is writing a book for Yale Press about songwriting and THAT to me is an amazing, amazing thing. Even better. Maybe I'll put that on my dreamboard. Not about songwriting, because Mary's gonna write the one everyone's gonna want to read. I guarantee it.  I'll find something else to write about. There's so much out there if you pay attention.

3. Songs From The Well.  After years of teaching Performance and Songwriting at various camps, with the encouragement of friends like Stacie Huckaba and Mary Gauthier and Amy Kurland and Steve Seskin, I dove in and put together my first self-led Writer's Retreat. Once I said "yes" to the universe, it all kind of came together very easily. Penuel Ridge Spiritual Retreats appeared like Brigadoon, a gorgeous deeply spiritual place led by a woman with an engaging spirit, Laura Valentine, and with the help of one of my besties, Renee Rizzo, we put together a transformative weekend for 13 songwriters. I got to watch each of them grow and have emotional breakthroughs in their writing and it went even further and deeper. I watched them all change.  Jon Vezner came one night to talk for an hour and he stayed for three. Told his whole life story. Stayed available to every eager question.  Played us his songs. The following night, Stacie Huckaba and her assistant Lauren came and shared Stacie's story and made everyone laugh until we all cried, including Stacie, and then, in that transformative vulnerability, she took photos of each songwriter. And I would put money on the fact that those are the best photos of each of these gorgeous people they've ever seen. Stacie brought out their natural beauty. That's what she does. I learned that I can do this. And that I LOVE doing this. And I'm doing it again in June. And hopefully in October again, too. I want to teach more.

4. Songwriting with Soldiers I can barely even process that 3 days with a handful of men and one woman who have served our country shared their stories with me and we made those stories into songs. I have never encountered such bravery. I'm still reeling and it's been months. Darden Smith has created a very important program, Mary Gauthier encouraged him to bring me into the family and through this, I met Monte Warden, who may be my favorite living Republican (besides my Dad). He is an extraordinary songwriter, a deeply intentional human being, and one of the raunchiest, funniest dudes I've ever met. And his wife is hot and awesome. And his kid is amazing. They paid me to do this, but I'd do it for free.

5. Friends. I gained new ones. I deepened old ones. I didn't lose any. That's a good year. 

6. Family. Everyone's healthy and thriving. There are no feuds.  No one owes anyone any money and is grumbling about it. My parents are very healthy, fun to hang out with, curious about the world around them. My siblings are my friends, as are their spouses. My nieces and nephews are gorgeous and fun and silly and I love all of them so much and don't see them often enough.

7. Money. Whatever. I made enough to keep a roof over my head, buy some nice boots, save a bit, buy a new used Prius and make sure Flo eats the super high priced grain-free food she demands. I have all that I need. 

8 Career.  From writing to touring to teaching, I've cobbled together an extraordinary life, even if it's just me who knows about it. I don't want and never wanted fame. I am lucky. I worked hard, but I know that I am blessed and I'd be really bad at a 9-5 job anyway.  However, I'd like to figure out a way to make enough money and NOT be away from home all the time. My US agent, Craig Grossman of Green Room Music Source has been really great about keeping me on the road working and understanding when I don't want to be out there.  Things are shifting for me. My friends say I'm in a kind of "shivasana", that meditative nap you take after a hard yoga class, where the teacher encourages you to stay prone on the mat resting for at least a few minutes and tells you that this is where the work settles in. That the nap is as important as the sweat work. So I'm in shivasana right now, letting the work settle into my bones while I allow change to come, however it will manifest.  In the meantime, I've got a new record coming out in 2016 with my side project Applewood Road, and dates in Europe and the UK and this country. And some extraordinary opportunities to do workshops with Mary Gauthier and Bessel Van Der Kolk (a leading psychiatrist in Trauma work) to explore how writing and performing can elide with trauma therapy.  The doors are swinging open right now. I just can't see to the other side, so wish me luck as I walk right on through, trusting.

8. Clarity.  Yoga. Meditation. Running. No intoxicants of any kind unless you count chocolate. I stopped drinking booze 3 years ago. I got sober 2 years ago. It was about more than just not putting things into my system that numbed out the pain. It's a day-to-day thing. And it's changed how I live and how I feel about myself. None of the rest of this list would be possible without that kind of holistic sobriety.

9. Love. Fell in love. Got engaged. I moved in. I sit in my new home I now share with this man I will marry, a skittish dog I rescued and the man's German Shepherd who sits right now as close as he can get, guarding me as if I was his one true love. Our home is small. We had to compromise. His couch went. Mine stayed. His desk stayed. Mine was sold.  A new TV was bought. A new bed. We combined books and records. Ditched the CD's. All of this was not something on my radar 2 years ago. 18 months ago. This is the number one thing I am grateful for today, on the last day of 2015. This home feeling -  finally. Love. I'm not bragging. Or even humble bragging. This took work. Took a combination of hard work on my own (and on his own) and a little bit of luck and then hard work together.

Let me tell you a little story about serendipity.

Last year this man walked into a room that I was in and I noticed him and he noticed me. He was there because of a guy named Bob. Bob is a man who drove us crazy. Talked too much. Rambled and rambled. Was a bit dirty (he was a mechanic), oil and grease stains under his nails. His stories sometimes wound around to make a profound spiritual point. Most times they didn't and he just took up everyone's time. Bob had told Jamey about this room and that's why Jamey walked into this room. I liked Jamey the first time he said hi to me, thought he was cute and funny and smart and tall and had a kindness in his eyes that I trusted, and I probably wanted to kiss him right there, but I didn't want to screw up yet another relationship and I still felt a bit unsure of myself, whether I was truly over the last one, ready for something new. I wanted to make sure that if I were going to date, I was going to go in with a wide open heart, not mistrusting from the start, not looking for doom around every corner.  So I waited a long time. And I didn't make any move or even flirt. I just allowed our friendship to blossom naturally. Looking back, it's clear. He was definitely the one. Not that there's just ONE, but in the pantheon of potential "one's", this guy had a light over his head from above directed toward me in retro funky neon bulbs like a vintage gas station sign, blinking.  So, fast forward, months later and we go vinyl shopping on a Sunday early afternoon and my hands are full of Sarah Vaughn and Willie Nelson and Debussy and he kisses me on my front stoop and then says "see you tomorrow" and leaves me there speechless. And hopeful. 

We don't see Bob anymore in that room and we wonder what happened to Bob. Over the year, Jamey and I become a real thing, a couple, and then we're serious and in love and then one night we find out sad news that Bob had had enough of this world and made an awful decision and was gone. Just like that. And we go to his funeral and cry and hold hands.  That room now has a gaping hole left by Bob who used to fill it with his long and winding stories. I wanted to thank Bob for somehow being the strange angel that brought me and my love together. And that I'm sorry he checked out. And although suicide can make people angry, I just choose to think Bob had done his work and punched the clock. I'm sad he's gone and I'm really sad for his family he abruptly left behind. But I'm really glad that part of his work here on earth was pointing Jamey to me. Even if he didn't even know it.

So on this last day of 2015, as the clouds darken the sky and my dogs bark very loudly at every sound outside despite our having a Dog Whisperer try to teach us to teach them to NOT do this, and the local classical station frustrates me by playing the same music over and over and the NPR station talks of yet another gun death and the world can seem like such a terrifying place with mass shootings and terrorism and cancer and depression and homelessness and poverty and addiction and refugees looking for a home and monsters like Donald Trump out from under the bed there is beauty everywhere and there is hope everywhere and there is love all around.  And this is something I might not have written on December 31, 2013. Or maybe even 2014.  So bring it, 2016. 2015 will be a hard one to beat but I bet you can.  I'm ready....

Love,

Amy

Obituary For A Fan (October 2015)

I don't remember the first time I met Bill Vordenbaum, but I know it was Texas. It may have been a Folk Alliance show in Austin. He wrote a blog, a music blog, reviewing live shows, critiquing albums. He introduced himself to me as a music journalist. He didn't write for The New York Times or for a music magazine that I knew of. And I'm fairly sure if he was paid for his writing it wasn't that much. I'm fairly sure he did it for the love of music. He interviewed me for a few minutes that day in Austin. He was awkward and big, he stood a bit too close, but he was kind and he knew a lot about my songs, could quote them to me, was a real fan and I appreciated his generosity and attention. He wrote about me when I released "Fable", my first self-released record in 2001, a rough record of some of my first songs. If you heard that record now you wouldn't recognize me and I don't suggest going to find it. Bill Vordenbaum, super fan, sometime music critic, liked that record and started following my music from Day One. He was at almost every show I have played in Austin from that day forward. When he wasn't there, I noticed and wondered how he was doing. He wrote a review of almost every album I've made. He would send me questions via email for interviews that I'd email back, questions that went a bit deeper than "who are your influences" or "music or lyrics first". Our longest conversation was that first one. Since that day, I'd say hello to him after the show, thank him for coming, put him on the guest list. I knew nothing about him. Nothing about his life. His friends. Where he came from. Where he lived. There are people who come to shows in different parts of the country where I recognize their faces but have to work my memory to find their names. Bill was not one of them. Bill Vordenbaum. I knew his name and right now, even writing that name, I see the balding round face, the round eyes, the crooked smile. He carried one of those top spiral medium sized notebooks and a pencil. He wore white t shirts, jeans a few sizes too big and a few seasons off style. White sneakers. He was not a friend. I didn't know him. But I did - he was more than a face in the crowd. He was that man who comes to every show I have played in the 15 years I have been touring. He was that man who sits alone in the front row, or stands off to the side by himself, smiling, swaying a bit with the music. He was that man who knows the door people, the sound people, the other musicians in town, who says hi to them, who has their records, who can't afford to Kickstart but does anyway. He was that man who comes early to the show to get a good seat who says hello who I hug hello, awkwardly, that kind of body parted double pat on the back acquaintance hug. Something a bit more than 'thanks for coming, Bill'. You see, it's people like Bill Vordenbaum that make up my audience, that make up the audience for people like me, under the major label radar artists that make a living playing places across the country, across the world. One night playing to 300 people and feeling like something is happening, something caught on, feeling like "if only every night could be like this, maybe just maybe..." and then the next ego-deflating night playing to 3 people including the bartender and the sound guy. That 3rd guy? That would be Bill Vordenbaum. And while we are kicking ourselves that we never had a Plan B while people who buy our CD's are saying "how come I've never heard of you?" or "good luck with this" and you bite your tongue, smile, and say thank you, while really wanting to shout your resume of stages you've played, reviews and quotes and the cool things that have happened in your career, Bill Vordenbaum stands there to the side of the stage, knowing all the lyrics to your songs, interviewing you with the fervor as if you were the Next Big Thing. 

I just read that Bill died on Christmas. I can't say that I knew him. I can't say anything. But I read it and my heart flipped and my throat closed up as if I'd heard of an old friend from high school dying suddenly. And I wanted to say to him, I didn't know you, Bill, but you mattered and you were noticed. Isn't that what we all want? Just to leave some mark on the people we meet. It's why I write. I'm sure that's why Bill wrote. I'm sure, too, that there are many of us, musicians who have met Bill Vordenbaum, who had a moment thinking, oh man, THAT guy? That guy...so sad.... I'm writing to somehow say to Bill, safe passage, man. You will be missed. Thank you for gracing my life for a short time. Travel well....