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....