Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weeds and Wheat and Suzuki Camp

My sermon today at West Cummington Church

Elle and Jay and I spent the week at Suzuki Camp, lugging our violins, soccer ball and a gigantic cooler full of snacks into the air-conditioned sanctuary of Easthampton High School. Shinichi Suzuki’s breakthrough was the realization that music is a language, and like any language acquisition, can best be learned from a very early age. As we learn to talk before we learn to read, so young musicians can learn to make music well before they learn how to read music; hence the stereotype of Suzuki kids playing Bach before they enter kindergarten. But Suzuki’s most appealing legacy is his insistence that music creates a beautiful heart, and that “tone is the living soul.” We parents support the kids in their practice primarily by ensuring that they create a space for these qualities. And we teach the children—or more accurately, they teach us—that music is the most direct and clear language of feelings there is. Children from every country in the world can gather together and play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" or "O Come Little Children" and perfectly understand each other. We can play with joy, with sorrow, with anger, with humor, and (more often) with a mix that cannot be named by words.

It’s been my experience of reading the gospels that Jesus’s parables operate in a similar post-verbal way, that the language of the parables, as with Zen koans, is designed to override our logical brains and hit us in the same emotional solar plexus that music hits us in. As Steve said a few weeks ago, Jesus was a shock jock. The stories he tells are intended to jolt us out of our regular patterns and think in a new way, away from dualism good/bad, black/white, to seeing things in a third way, having to do with inner experience rather than a set of rules and regulations. Like all his “Kingdom of Heaven” passages, we need to start with the present moment. And that means we need to include the body.
But what happens when we’ve heard a passage so many times that it just seems like wallpaper? What if we think we know what it’s about? Love your neighbor as yourself. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just as with music, some great song might lose its appeal when played 24/7 on the radio station (or Pandora, or Spotify, or every single day in Suzuki practice.)

Last week, Steve read us Jesus’s parable of the sower who sowed his seed in four different places: rocky ground where it could not take, shallow soil where it started to grow but couldn’t make it through the periods of hot sun, among the weeds and brambles where it was choked, and finally in the good soil, where it grew and yielded a hundredfold. When the disciples ask why he speaks in parables, Jesus quotes Isaiah, saying
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

And then he emphasizes that if they can hear, see and understand, they can be healed.

So, when I first heard this passage, at age 14 years old, playing Judas Iscariot in a production of Godspell (Godspell is basically the gospel of Matthew, with a lot of 70s music and dance numbers,) I was filled with remorse. I was the seed on the rock! I was the seed in the shallow soil! I was the seed who got strangled by the weeds! It never occurred to me that I was also the seed that fell into good soil. And it never occurred to me that––as Steve said last week––Jesus would often respond as an observer rather than an authority figure. So that when Jesus says “Those who have ears hear. Those who have nothing will have less. Those with an abundance will have more,” he was not endorsing this; just articulating a truth.

I want to approach this weed and wheat parable through a similar lens. I think a lot of us come to these parables with the attitude of, “OK, I am going to figure this out. I am going to listen and get it right! I am going to be good soil, damn it! I am going to pull out all the weeds. I will be vigilant.” And so we meditate, we pray, we do good deeds, we cook meals for friends in the hospital, we practice our listening skills, we compost, we use organic fertilizers, we drive Priuses. And then our friend gets cancer. Our partner leaves us. We get bitten by a tick and our brains don’t work any more. We lose a child. We lose our faith. Our soil turns rocky, or scorched or weedy. Why? Is it our fault?

No way. We are powerless over all these things. I know this when I witness other people in their tragedies, but when the seed falls in the wrong places in me, I still think “It’s my fault. I should have had softer, deeper, weed-free soil." But I am the soil. God made this soil! I cannot weed myself! The conditions aren’t always up to me.

I know and work with a lot of addicts, in recovery as well as addicts who are out there, dying, making their loved ones miserable, and these parables remind me how hard we are on our addicts. We try to control them, rope them in, force them to listen. If only you would listen! If only you would be like that recovered person over there, who followed directions. Just Said No! We put chains on their feet, we do urine tests, we make the conditions of their freedom so narrow in the hopes that we can keep the weeds out. Because our hearts break every time they use, and we think the solution is ever more control. But this last parable, the wheat and the weeds, gives the lie to this. We’re not the ones who get to rip the weeds out. That’s God’s work, and much of the time, it doesn’t get to happen in this lifetime. Those parts of ourselves that are weedy are often so entwined with the parts of ourselves that are big, wonderful, heartful, hilarious, loving people that we would destroy ourselves if we were able to uproot our weeds. And sometimes those aspects of ourselves that we find weedy are really useful to other people. I have a friend who is extremely organized, and she always sees the way to get the task done. Alongside of that gift, she can be kind of bossy and controlling––a trait she sees in herself and hates. She wants so much to be serene and mellow. But when she’s serene and mellow, nothing gets done. We all like it much better when she’s bossy and controlling, even though it makes her unhappy.

It’s also dangerous to try to do the weeding for someone else. How do you really know that weed isn’t wheat in disguise? (The word in the Bible is “darnel” which is a kind of weed that closely resembles wheat, by the way.) In another case of “Everything Nerissa Knows She Learned from The Beatles,” I’d like to point out that John Lennon’s aunt Mimi hated John’s guitar so much that when he finally got rich and famous, he made her a plaque that read, “The guitar’s all right, John, but you’ll never make your living with it.” Now, what if she’d succeeded in weeding out his bad guitar habit?

We’re all this way; a glorious mixture of weeds and wheat. If I weren’t so spaced out and unfocused, I’d never write songs, let alone get up and sing and play guitar. If Bill Clinton weren’t such a womanizing swine, he probably never would have gotten elected. If my kids weren’t so opinionated and obstinate, they would not be the strong, healthy, passionate people they are growing to be. And if Suzuki practice weren’t hard, boring, repetitive, frought with discord, my kids wouldn’t be able to stand up with fifty other kids and play “O Come Little Children,” let alone the Bach BourrĂ©e.

In the Tantric tradition, there is a story about a demon named Rakta bija, whose name means Blood Seed. He is really bad. But every time one of the gods tries to chop his head off, every drop of his blood creates a new Raktabija—kind of like a dandelion. Pretty soon, the world is overrun with Raktabiji—terrifying demons! Finally, the gods call Kali, who is the most fearsome goddess of all. She wears a necklace of skulls and has big vampire teeth, and she comes into town riding on the back of a lioness. She lifts her sword and chops Raktabija’s head off—and then she sticks out her enormously long tongue and drinks up all the blood drops before they can hit the ground.
It is in turning toward our demons, our weeds, our addictions, our most shameful places, taking them in to our core selves, that we begin to heal. Remember, Jesus was all about healing, getting us to see with our eyes, hear with our ears, understand with our hearts––oh, yeah! It’s a body thing!––so he might heal us. We can’t heal the body without the body. And we can’t just cut off the offending body part.

So what about the fiery furnace? Is this hell? Is this damnation? Again, in the yogic tradition that I study, fire—agni—is an internal feature (often having implications of digestion). When we take our weeds and wheat in at harvest time—when we get to that place where we can look back at our experience with our seeing eyes and hearing ears and understanding hearts, with honesty and compassion—and I’d add, when the conditions are right (bonfire season=wet, not when we’re in California in forest fire season) we really can burn up the weeds and feast on the wheat. When we look back on our lives this way, everything gets used. We make amends for the harms done. We learn from our mistakes. Yes, we all want to be light and bright, positive and happy all the time. It doesn’t work that way, at least it doesn’t for me. My work is not to reject myself when I’m less than light and bright, but to take those parts in, with love and compassion, learn from them, digest them, use them as compost, and then use what I’ve learned to heal others, if I have experienced some healing.

And boy, do I need healing. I have to say, this passage speaks directly to me as a Suzuki mom, where my role is to go with the kids to their lessons and group classes and play ins, and most significantly, be their practice coach every single day while they practice the long list of tasks their teacher gives them. This means I am sitting for an hour and half a day with my two kids, asking them to do what is occasionally boring, repetitive work, certainly as boring as weeding a garden. Play "Twinkle" again. Ok, now with your pinky like this. That was great! Now do it with a tall head. The practice goes well when I can be playful and creative. Pinky! Jay is working so hard! Help him out here! Sometimes they come to practice with joy and enthusiasm and we laugh and I dance the minuet like Martha Washington, or Elle just plays something so well the hairs on my arms raise up, or Jay suddenly gets that he can play “Long Long Ago" as if he’s Idina Menzel from the Frozen soundtrack. And sometimes all of us cry in frustration, someone throws their bow on the floor, Elle stomps out of the room, Jay falls into his wet noodle position, I storm out of the room and resolve to quit this idiotic practice that will certainly, definitely kill their love for music.

But I hear over and over an over again, from grown up musicians, “I am so glad my parents made me practice.” Or “I wish my parents had made me practice.” There are some musicians who are completely internally motivated, but just as many are not, or are not so at first. I have no real faith, most days, that what I am doing with and for my kids is the ultimate best. I don’t know if they’re going to go in to psychotherapy when they’re adults to deal with their PTSD from having to play Bach Minuets till their heads exploded. That will have to be dealt with at harvest time, whenever that is.

Whenever that is. It might come sooner, it might come later. I started the week resolved to quit because Jay was so impossible and said he hated violin. The week ended with Jay declaring Suzuki Camp an “infinity” on a scale of 1-10, and telling me he wanted to play every piece through Book 8 (he’s on Book One.) Elle said she wished Suzuki Camp went for four weeks instead of one. And I got to see that the biggest problems with our practice had to do with me and my insistence that we do things the “right” way. I think my job is to help them weed out their bad alignment and wrong notes, when it’s really just to create the space for them to explore what their teacher has given them.

And The Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. It’s not “when the kids get into Harvard on a music scholarship.” It’s certainly not “when the kids play the Bach Double.” As Jesus says at the beginning of our text, "This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like: weeds mixed with wheat. We sort them out later.” It’s this moment: Elle concentrating so hard on her orchestra part. Learning how to deliver a punch line she learned from a joke told to her by two older kids. Jay running in his soccer cleats down the long corridors of Easthampton High School because he’s figured out his schedule and knows where to go to get to his next class. Elle handing out notes of appreciation to her friends, saying good job on your piece at the recital. Jay handing out flowers to his teachers, and kissing his fiddle goodnight. This, to me, is our weedy, wonderful Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 13:12 “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]

Matt 13: 24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fiery furnace, so it will be at the end of the age.41
Mulla Nasrudin decided to start a flower garden. He prepared the soil and planted the seeds of many beautiful flowers. But when they came up, his garden was filled not just with his chosen flowers but was also overrun by dandelions.
He sought advice from gardeners all over and tried every method known to get rid of them but to no avail. Finally, he walked all the way to the capital to speak to the royal gardener at the sheik’s palace. The wise old man had counseled many gardeners before and suggested a variety of remedies to expel the dandelions but Mulla had tried them all.
They sat together in silence for some time and finally the gardener looked over at Nasrudin and said slowly, “Well, then I suggest you learn to love them… I suggest you learn to love them.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Writing Retreat Day 4

It's Day Four of the retreat, and already I am telling myself the lie that there isn't enough time. This is my favorite lie, and I beat myself up with it regularly. A week isn't nearly long enough to write everything that I want to write (my novel, a blog post a day, one more song, a sermon...) To get to write the way I want to write, I'll need weeks! Eternity! How can I get more? I have many varieties of greed, but this lust for more time is unparalleled.

And the truth is, my poor kids are at their wits ends because when I am not writing, I am madly cleaning the house, doing the laundry (cloth napkins!!!) and weeding the labyrinth, trying to get them to practice their violins, cooking tomorrow's meal for the writers and not letting them have as much of it as they want.

I have two friends here whom I have known since before we were ten years old.

In the mornings, we all gather in what most people would call the living room, but what my kids call the writing room. I give them a prompt, and then we all do 20 minutes or so of Brain Drain longhand. This exercise (Natalie Goldberg calls it Writing Practice and Julia Cameron calls it Morning Pages) creates a hive-like effect in the room, all of us scratching and humming away before we each get up and find a new spot to settle in for the morning's work. All of us are working on our own projects. There's a memoirist (or five), several poets, a phD dissertation writer. Some are beginning projects, some finishing. I feed off the energy of this hive, and I've made good progress on the Big Idea, my novel, though it feels hopeless and impossible, as impossible as trying to keep the weeds out of my labyrinth. The root systems are invincible. ("Salt water and vinegar," says Sierra, whose grandmother is one of those wise women who knows everything, and who has a labyrinth and also raises bees.)

I'm working on my sermon. Katryna is finally home from England, and I got to talk to her today. My eyes welled up as I heard that voice on the other end of the phone, and I wondered how I had managed to live without her for the past 10 days? The answer: barely. But I did.

It's beautiful weather. We get to sing a show on Saturday at my church. We are the luckiest.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Summer Writing Camp, The Fiery Furnace and Sugar Snaps

It's Day Two of my Summer Writing Camp. The writers are just finishing their 3 pages of brain drain and are moving around the house, finding the perfect place to settle in for the morning. I just read them a passage from Dani Shapiro's wonderful book, Still Writing. In it, she reminds us that many fiction writers have no idea where their novel is going when they sit down to write. Part of the fun is in watching the characters lead on.

This is exactly what I need to hear. In my revision of The Big Idea, I still don't know what happens to my characters by the end of the book. I have ideas, but I know from bitter experience that when I tried to boss them around, the results rang false. I am still excavating the first half of the book, trying to get the voices just right. One of my main characters recently underwent a name change. Somehow, this changes everything about her--the color of her skin, her diction, her whole sense of self.

Writing this novel is hard.

And so I am distracting myself by thinking of the sermon I am to give later this month. I looked up the passage from the lectionary: Matthew 13. It's a tough one, full of images of sinners being cast into the fiery furnace where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Did Jesus really say this? Fire and brimstone! Yikes! I don't want to preach on this, and I don't have to--West Cummington is not exactly a lectionary following church. Yet something in the passage speaks to me. I want to explore it a bit before I give up. Jesus, as Steve points out, was something of a shock jock in his time. I want to sit with the shock. More tomorrow.

The last of the sugar snap peas, visible from the kitchen window. The vines are yellowed. Last night, the rain came gentle at first, then forceful. I ran outside with my kids and we whooped and danced. Jay stripped off his clothes and followed me over to the garden, where I gathered what was left--the still-green peas, and the shriveled yellowing ones. Violin practice is a struggle right now. Not enough time. No one--especially me--is behaving well. It's OK. We are learning. We are showing up, very imperfectly. I think that's our main job.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Nike and Rainbow Flags

Though I'd intended to blog daily in the weeks leading up to the making of our 17th CD, June found me in a whirl of end-of-the-year parties, potlucks, celebrations, graduations, baby showers, the World Cup, birthdays and most germanely, songwriting. I wrote three new songs for the CD; songs which may have effectively changed the nature of the album. We are now unsure what the title will be. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, here are some of my musings.

It’s Sunday evening at La Veracruzana, a Salvadorian restaurant in downtown Northampton. My family dragged me here (on a school night!) to watch the US play Portugal in the second round of the World Cup. The restaurant's main TV is broken, so everyone has pulled tables and chairs toward the west side of the room to see the TV on the eastern wall, craning their necks and jockeying for position in order to watch. My back is to the screen. I am watching the watchers.
I did slip around at one point to get our dinners from the counter, and this afforded me a good look at the screen. It was still pre-game, and there was a lovely shot from the stadium of the Rio sky, almost violet, with wisps of clouds floating through in the shape of the Nike logo.

“What a sky,” I murmured to no one.

“Ehhn, it’s OK,” said the young man standing next to me. He was wearing a black tee shirt and looked a little like Jian Ghomeshi. “Better than Massachusetts. New England skies don’t impress me.”

I pulled down the corners of my mouth. “I like them.”

“I’m from Colorado,” he shook his head. “No contest.”

I nodded. “I’ll give you that.”

But, he conceded. “I will say that yesterday I drove back here from Boston. Right into the sunset. Now that was a sky.”

Today in church, Steve preached on two different texts. The first was a parable of the Buddha’s, the one about the guy who comes to a river and builds a raft to cross it. He is so thrilled to have crossed safely that he carries the raft with him wherever he goes. “This is not a skillful use of the raft,” says the Buddha.

Then he preached on the end of Luke 9. Jesus tells a guy to follow him. The guy says, “First let me go and bury my father.”

“Let the dead bury their dead,” says Jesus. “But you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Harsh. But effective. Jesus and the Buddha are essentially saying the same thing: let it go. Move on. Don’t cling. In the Jesus passage, the message is even more direct: get over your parents. Whether they were “good” parents or “bad” parents, get over them. Move on. Live your life.

Jay is obsessed with all things soccer, not necessarily in this order: playing it; watching the World Cup; Messi; and anything that has the Nike logo on it. For those who know my son, it’s just one in a long line of obsessions: The Beatles, cars, birds of prey, guitars, Thomas trains, Ninjago, cheetahs, this band from the 90s called The Nields, Colossal Squid.

The Nike thing started a few weeks ago when we went to Famous Footwear to get Elle some shoes. Jay felt deprived, so I threw him a bone; a pack of socks. I might have noticed they were Nikes, and I might have rolled my eyes and shrugged at my unfortunate choice; the latest in my own long line of eco-transgressions. For many years, Nike has been a target for activists wanting to put an end to sweat shop conditions. Here’s more on why Nike is Bad. I used to do pretty well with my consumer boycotts, but eight long years of motherhood has worn me down.

Besides, the more I oppose him about Nike, the more appealing it surely would be to him. I started on about the sweat shops, but somehow he could not draw a connection between the logo that all his favorite kindergarten pals have on their sneakers and the stories I was telling him about unfairness on the other side of the globe.

And why should I? Recently, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that I don’t get to boss everyone around. I’ve been noticing that without my excellent advice and bits of wisdom, other people do just fine. Especially my family members. Sometime in the last month, the mild voice of my beloved uncle Brian keeps popping into my head. “They’ll figure it out.” That’s my new motto. He'll find out about bad Nike on his own. We live in Northampton.

My other new motto is, “Everyone is doing the absolute best they can at any given moment.” Even though I might be mightily disappointed with their behavior (or my own), we really are, most of us, doing the best we can with the resources we have. I don’t know if I am right about this, but I do know that when I adopt this attitude, I relax and stop being a pain in other people’s necks.

On the last day of school, Jay announced, “I am going to wear all things that have Nike on them.” He showed up dressed completely in Nike garb, which meant, on a hot June day, he wore a shiny red nylon swim suit top, a pair of navy blue and orange fleecy sweatpants, his royal blue socks, and his sister’s pink and black sports sandals. He could not have been more pleased with himself. Indeed, all items were branded. I looked at him solemnly and nodded. “You are all in Nike.”

He turned on his heel and started out the door; realized it was too hot for the fleecy pants. He ran upstairs and traded them for his favorite pair of Nike shorts, which happen to be hot pink. Satisfied, he left for the day, racing off in his too-big sandals. His last day of Kindergarten. The day before, his class spent all day painting rainbow pride flags. Someone had stolen the school’s Pride flag earlier that week, ripping it down from where it flew underneath the stars and stripes. No problem. The teachers and students of Jackson Street covered the front of the school with rainbows. In the last issue of the JSS Gazette, and 8 year old wrote an editorial about how she thought it was wrong how some people said men couldn’t marry men, or women couldn’t marry women. “Adults should be able to marry anyone they want,” she opined.

So I let my son go to school in his un-PC Nike wear, not worried about what my friends would say about my logo-worshipping son, nor worried that anyone would tease him for wearing pink sandals. He lives in Northampton. These are some of the blessings. Later in the morning, I joined him and his classmates and some of their parents for a last lunch next to the playground. He was racing around the jungle gym. He saw me, and approached the fence, all big eyes and dirty knees. “Can I keep playing, Mama?”

“Of course,” I said and kissed him before he could get away completely. Kindergarten. Over in a flash. His birthday is at the end of August and he wants to invite Messi. “I know he will come,” he says. “He loves soccer, and I am having a soccer party.” I just nod. Why disappoint him now? That would be just trying to protect him from a later disappointment. If disappointment is inevitable (and it always is, isn’t it?) it’s better to let him have the joy now and the disappointment later. I'm thinking that's the proper use of the raft.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Lean In

I am reading Sheryl Sandberg's excellent book Lean In. I understand that she makes some people mad. I am not one of those people, even though, at times as I am reading it, I feel inadequate because I am certainly guilty (again, at times) of NOT leaning in. But usually I feel that I lean in too much, so it's nice to have a breather from that particular Jiminy Cricket.

Patty came across this list of our tour dates circa 2002, when Love and China came out. Katryna's daughter was seven months old at the beginning of 2002, and by the end she was 19 months old. Katryna was most certainly leaning in.

January 5, 2002 Circle of Friends Coffeehouse - Franklin, MA
January 12, 2002 Barns of Wolftrap - Vienna, VA
January 24, 2002 Club Helsinki - Great Barrington, MA
January 25, 2002 Sanders Theater - Cambridge, MA
January 26, 2002 Woodland Coffeehouse
January 27, 2002 House Party- Holyoke, MA (tent)
February 2, 2002 Mass College of Liberal Arts - North Adams, MA
February 4, 2002 Taft Theater - Cincinnati, OH (o/f CAKE)
February 5, 2002 Palace Theater - Louisville,KY (o/f CAKE)
February 8, 2002 University of Rochester - Rochester, NY
February 9, 2002 Cornel Folk Music Society - Ithaca, NY
February 13, 2002 The Mint (Nerissa & Pam) - Los Angeles, CA
February 21, 2002 Makor, NYC
February 22, 2002 Wilde Auditorium - Hartford, CT
February 23, 2002 Owings Mills, MD (o/f Cheryl Wheeler)
February 24, 2002 Cherry Tree, Philly
March 4, 2002 Homegrown - TV in Greenfield, MA
March 5, 2002 CD Release Date
March 5, 2002 3:30pm For the Record - Amherst, MA
March 5, 2002 6:00pm B-Side Records - Northampton, MA
March 6, 2002 3:00pm Cutlers - New Haven
March 8, 2002 College- Gardner, MA
March 20, 2002 All Ground Up- Elyria, OH
March 22, 2002 12:30 WYSO Phone Interview
March 22, 2002 3:00pm WFPK - Radio Interview
March 22, 2002 5:30pm Ear Ecstasy - Louisville, KY
March 23, 2002 Canal Street - Dayton, OH
March 24, 2002 York Street - Cincinnati, OH
March 24, 2002 2:30pm WNKU -KY Radio (arrive by 2:15pm)
March 27, 2002 One Trick Pony - Grand Rapids, MI
March 27, 2002 3:45 pm WYCE (arrive at 3:15pm)
March 28, 2002 4:00pm Acoustic Cafe Radio - Ann Arbor, MI
March 28, 2002 The Ark - Ann Arbor, MI
March 29, 2002 Earlham College, Richmond, IN
March 30, 2002 Club Cafe - Pittsburg, PA
April 5, 2002 Pres House - Madison, WI
April 6, 2002 Washington Univ. - St Louis, MO
April 10, 2002 9:00am WFUV - New York City (arrive at 8:30am)
April 11, 2002 5:00pm WRSI, Northampton (arrive 4:45pm)
April 12, 2002 Valley Players Theater - Waitsfield, VT
April 13, 2002 Iron Horse - Northampton, MA
April 17, 2002 The Fez - NYC
April 19, 2002 The Fez - NYC
April 20, 2002 Towne Crier Cafe - Pawling, NY
April 21, 2002 United Church on the Green - New Haven, CT
April 24, 2002 12:00 (noon) WUMB - Dorchester, MA
April 26, 2002 Emerson Umbrella - Concord, MA
April 27, 2002 Wells College - Aurora, NY
April 28, 2002 Daffodil Festival - Meriden, CT
April 30, 2002 Rehearsal with the Kennedys in NYC
May 2, 2002 Cats Cradle - Carborro, NC
May 3, 2002 Birchmere - Alexandria, VA
May 4, 2002 Dar's Wedding
May 7, 2002 Reich Benefit Show
May 8, 2002 Brandies University - Waltham, MA
May 11, 2002 Sedgwick, Philadelphia, PA
May 15, 2002 2pm - Scholastic Book Meeting 557 Broadway (between prince & spring)
May 16, 2002 3:00pm WDIY
May 16, 2002 Godfrey Daniels - Bethlehem, PA
May 18, 2002 Unity Centre for the Perf Arts - Unity, ME
May 19, 2002 Iron Horse/Dylan Event
May 20, 2002 Amelia's Birthday
May 28, 2002 9:00am Meeting with Brian
May 28, 2002 6:00pm - Dinner with Philip
May 31, 2002 Democratic State Convention
June 1, 2002 Appel Farm - Elmer, NJ
June 3, 2002 LORI'S BIRTHDAY
June 7, 2002 Uptown Concerts - Baltimore, MD
June 15, 2002 Clearwater Festival
June 16, 2002 King of Prussia
June 20, 2002 Club Helsinki - Great Barrington, MA
June 22, 2002 Ruth Eckard Hall- Clearwater, FL
June 29, 2002 Forksville Folk Festival, Forksville, PA
July 3, 2002 Kennedy Center- Washington, DC
July 5, 2002 The Garage - Winston Salem
July 6, 2002 ENO - Festival
July 18, 2002 The Palms- Davis, CA
July 19, 2002 Freight and Salvage - Berkeley, CA
July 20, 2002 California World Music Festival - first show at 1:30pm
July 21, 2002 California World Music Festival 11:30am
July 27, 2002 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival
July 28, 2002 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival
August 2, 2002 IMAC - Huntington, NY opening for Dar ($200)
August 7, 2002 Red Sox vs. Oakland A's
August 17, 2002 Levitt Pavillion- Westport, CT
August 18, 2002 House Concert- Falls River, MA
August 23, 2002 Ottawa Folk Festival
August 24, 2002 Ottawa Folk Festival
August 25, 2002 Ottawa Folk Festival
August 27, 2002 Transperformance - CANADA
September 2, 2002 LABOR DAY
September 6, 2002 Acoustic Cafe - Bridgeport, CT
September 7, 2002 Alfred University - Alfred, NY
September 13, 2002 Long Island House Concert
September 14, 2002 Harvest Moon Festival - Warwick, NY
September 24, 2002 Towsen University - Towsen, MD $1900
September 27, 2002 FEZ - NYC
September 28, 2002 Stone Soup - Providence, RI
October 4, 2002 South Shore Folk Music Club - Kingston, MA
October 5, 2002 Iron Horse - Northampton, MA
October 9, 2002 Paul Smiths College
October 12, 2002 Somerville Theater - Somerville, MA
October 13, 2002 Grey Goose
October 18, 2002 WAMC - Albany, NY
October 19, 2002 Towne Crier-Pawling, NY
October 20, 2002 Night Eagle - Oxford, NY
October 25, 2002 Me and Thee - Marblehead, MA
November 1, 2002 Tin Angel - Philadelphia, PA
November 2, 2002 Roaring Brook Concerts - Canton, CT
November 14, 2002 Penn State Dubios
November 15, 2002 Club Cafe - Pittsburgh
November 16, 2002 12 corners coffeehouse Rochester
November 22, 2002 McCabe - Los Angles
November 23, 2002 Tracktor- Seattle
November 28, 2002 THANKSGIVING
December 6, 2002 Birchmere-Alexandria VA
December 7, 2002 Titusville, NJ
December 13, 2002 Opera House - Newport, HN
December 14, 2002 Joyful Noise Coffeehouse-Lexington, MA
December 31, 2002 First Night Northampton

Now, when I was having my first baby, this is what we sent out to fans:

A picture (or touring schedule) is worth a thousand words. I can't believe how hard we worked twelve years ago when our first duo CD came out. And at the time, it seemed we were slacking, since it was way fewer dates than we'd played as a band. I saw my bed (and my dog) a lot more in 2002 than I had in 2000, or 1998. But today, just looking at this list makes me exhausted.

I will (I hope) say something more intelligent about Lean In when I finish it, but right now I have to get our Nields News out to you. (If you don't get Nields News, go to our web page and subscribe!) For now I will leave you with this, from Sheryl Sandberg (though not original with her):

Done is better than perfect.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Last Word on Yale Reunion

About Spotify. I get why musicians who hope the CD will somehow make a comeback are doomed to disappointment. As a consumer, I cannot believe how great Spotify is. And yet...

Amelia, Elle and I left for my Yale reunion on Friday afternoon, and as we made our way onto 91 South, I handed my iPhone to my 13 year old niece and asked her to play my new mix, 1989. She did so, and for a few songs, we rocked along to the melange of tunes. But pretty soon, someone told a story which led me to mention Jay's obsession with "Brave," at which point Elle insisted we listen to it right away. Since we could, we did. And then Amelia wanted to play us something from HER iPod touch, and then we were basically playing DJ. Which is cool. But I realized that we are now in a world where the music is completely in the hands of the consumer. Even the "artist" who does nothing more than create a playlist gets compromised by the handler of the device. It's all singles, all the time.

So what of the writer who conceives of a full-length CD? Are there any listeners out there generous enough with their time to actually listen through it? I am not sure I am that generous. I just want to hear my favorite songs. Maybe when I was 15 I was willing to listen to all of Paul Simon's pre-Graceland Hearts & Bones, which is wonderful but requires some patience, but not today. Today, I want that one song ("René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War"), and I am totally going to buy it on iTunes. I might pay for it five times before I'd buy the entire album's worth of songs.

I had hoped to blog daily about my reunion, a sort of on-the-scene reporting. As I clambered up the five flights of Lawrence Hall to get to our dorm suite, I was composing the blog. As I found out for the second or third time that two friends of mine had married each other (that's the great thing about losing your memory--you get to be happily surprised over and over again), I was writing the blog. As I recognized my suite mates, and as we made a wonderful connection around being Suzuki violin parents, I was writing this blog (and taking pictures--see below.) As I took the girls to the Drama School's fantastic workshop in which two freshly graduated drama students were working a scene from Henry VI Part 1, I was composing in my head.

As we studied Maya Lin's Table, as I was thinking about how hard it was to be a woman at Yale only 20 years after co-education, as I revisited the beautiful Sterling Library where I spent so many hours studying Shakespeare and old microfiche for my theatre classes, all this time I was writing to you. But I had not brought my computer, and even if I had, I would have been too busy talking to old friends (and too tired when I wasn't talking) to write. In fact, I was so completely exhausted by the reunion that I left early and went home with Tom and Jay, who came down to watch my panel on Saturday afternoon.

The panel was the reason I was there. I love seeing old friends, and I love nothing more than sitting around and talking, but I probably wouldn't have gone if the reunion committee hadn't asked me to participate on a panel. The one in question,“Making Music: An Inside Look at the Music Business/ Creative Process," consisted of an amazing clarinetist/composer named Derek Bermel who is currently Artistic Director of the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and the beloved musical hero of my class, Mark Miller, Minister of Music at Christ Church in Summit, New Jersey and teacher of sacred music at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, who also serves on the faculty of Drew Theological School. We knew him as Bubba, the guy who could make Woolsey Hall shake on Halloween when he played the organ. And then me. I brought Katryna for reinforcements. Jen Jacobsen, one of the best singers and people I know, was the moderator for our group, and she did a fabulous job interviewing us, creating a sense of cohesion to our panel, and keeping us on time--an incredible feat, considering we talked and each performed several songs or pieces. Jen is a lawyer for Sony Music who is currently working on legislation to make the Spotifys of the world pay artists and labels a fare percent. So there is hope for us musicians, and I don't have to feel guilty using Spotify.

How awesome is this? And what is better than musical collaboration?

Eric Rosin, one of my classmates, said, "At Harvard, everyone who shows up Freshman year looks around and goes, 'Why are all these people here at my school?' whereas at Yale, the incoming freshman looks around says, 'How the hell did I get in here?'" I can't speak to the Harvard experience––and I suspect they actually feel the same––but certainly I and everyone I knew at Yale lived in fear of being discovered as the admissions committee mistake. (I have heard Yale admission folks say that if they took the entire admitted group of 1400 and replaced them with the next 1400 on the list, they'd have just as strong a class.) On our panel, we each shared experiences of being rejected from groups, crushed by reactions of faculty to our work, or--in my case--refusing to try out for any singing groups at all, because I was positive I would not get in. "Yale did kind of try to crush us," Derek said. "But the other side of the story is that I was tremendously lifted up by my classmates. In the end, that's what I took from the place."

Yes. That was my experience too. It was a highly competitive world at Yale, but it was also highly collegial, and everyone (mostly) had tremendous respect for the talents of their colleagues and peers. When I had the notion to start a singing group to be accompanied by my acoustic guitar and sing folk songs, I was absolutely astounded by the enthusiasm my crazy idea drew. On the first day of rehearsal, the Calhoun Common Room was crowded with my friend Trex Proffitt's entire Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trip contingent. For the next three years, I'd like to say that I put my head down and worked to make Tangled Up in Blue a singing group that people would want to join. But the truth is, I was just having fun, and doing the thing the admissions people had hoped I would do with my little basket of talents. All around me, sophomores were lifting up their heads too, after the Big Crush of freshman year, and discovering their own talents––that gift only they could give––and finding ways to express themselves.

I found my old year book, and next to my photo I'd used as my quotation Dylan's line from "Tangled Up In Blue," "All of these people we used to know/They're an illusion to me now." And I'd thought of that line again, in the week leading up to the reunion. Who were those people? Did they matter to me?

Yes, it turns out. They did. Even the ones I barely knew--even the ones I never knew. They were the school I went to, far more so than the buildings or the classes or the professors. My peers educated me, through their courage--for every one of them, I am sure, had the experience of being crushed by Yale at some point in their four year career--through their ambition, world view, passion and commitment. I would not be who I am today if I hadn't been lucky enough to go there. All those people I used to know--they are amazing.

And--Yale is not the be-all and end-all. Being at Yale even for 24 hours re-infected me briefly with the idea that Yale was it, that probably no one else had ever had a good idea. But of course I have met thousands of people in the past 25 years who have proved to me that you don't need an ivy education to be inspiring, funny, brilliant, insightful, big-hearted, courageous, talented and charismatic. In fact, what I was struck by at the reunion was not so much the dazzling achievements but the quiet contentment, that feeling that I was having of contributing appropriately to the world, based on one's true talents.

And when the panel was over, I knew I was ready to go home. I was full to the brim. I got to see my dear friend Leon Dewan. I spent a lovely twenty minutes hanging out with Trex and his wife Beth and their fantastic kids. I jumped on stage at Woolsey Hall and sang with the Glee Club. We let Jay kick the soccer ball around Old Campus with some other kids who had, in a few hours, become his new best friends. But instead of dressing up and eating the fancy dinner at Commons, we dragged our stuff over to Claire's Corner Copia, a vegetarian deli where I had practically lived senior year. It was at Claire's, back in 1989, over my usual meal of soup, salad and bread–– plus the occasional Lithuanian coffeecake and hazelnut coffee––that I first conceived of moving to Western Mass. As I have said previously, I don't know where I got the idea, but it was probably from Alice's Restaurant.

I had this vague notion that Western Ma (I didn't even know there was a town called Northampton, except as it was home to Smith) was hip and full of artists and musicians and intellectuals and liberal do-gooders. So I set my sites on one day living there.

And I am here to say...Susan Chua was right. The food at Claire's is really not good. But I didn't care. I wanted to sit one more time in that red bricked room, eat my expensive salad with its meager portion of tofu and elderly cooked vegetables, bus my dish and then hit the road back home, ready to dive back into my life. Goodbye, 1989. And thank you.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Yale Reunion and Spotify 1989

This is a bad formula: rainy day, PMS, and a nostalgia mix from 1989. I upgraded to Spotify Premium (though I am not sure what I gain, since I don't listen to Spotify that much. I did it mostly to support those musicians, like me, who want those Spotify royalties.) "Luka" is on, and whoa, does it bring me back. Magic, music is, and more evocative even than the sense of smell, which is what usually slams me back in time. Right now, I am back in 1987, home from college, late May, a rare Virginia rain. Hopes in my heart to have a career like Suzanne Vega's, though I couldn't even have articulated that then. Waiting to hear what my Words & Music College Seminar professor thought of my 50 page paper on the apocalyptic imagery in Dylan's "Desolation Row." Going to the mailbox every day with baited breath, the way we all approach our inboxes today. What on earth is it like to be a college student today, what with FaceBook and texting? Do people even miss their pals when they go home for the summer? Back in '87, we had the telephone, and the newly invented...what were they called? Oh, yeah, answering machines.

Today, I don't want to do anything. Gmail changed its inbox, and I just spent ten fruitless minutes trying to restore it to the old system. My new crown hurts, and I chickened out in the dentist's chair when she asked me if she thought it needed to be adjusted yet again. I said I was fine. I wasn't. What is it in me that makes me want everyone to think I am more OK than I really am? I have totally unsexy things to do on my list: edit a scene from The Big Idea, practice piano, and beyond that, tidy my office. I don't want to do anything. So I should probably do just nothing. Or, perhaps, there is some big feeling I need to feel that I don't want to. The gloomies have got me. I lie back on the couch and do some nothing for awhile.

Then I go back to focusing on my Spotify mix. I put on Tracy Chapman, and I remember John at Record Works, my supplier in Virginia who shared my love of the Beatles and insisted I buy Tracy's debut album, produced by Joni Mitchell's then-husband Larry Klein (who also produced Shawn Colvin's Fat City, my favorite of her albums, but I am getting ahead of myself.) Shivers up my spine, thinking of how that CD changed my life, how I played it over and over on my elaborate multi-unit stereo which I lugged back and forth from Virginia to New Haven, up and down the Jersey TPKE, up and down four flights of stairs to my dorm room. I hear Bonnie Raitt's "Something To Talk About," and think about our first summer as a band, playing at Williamstown Theatre Festival, discovering the fabulousness of Bonnie Raitt and loving her guitar playing. I put on "Bohemian Rhapsody" and am in the audience of a Trinity Pipes show, watching my amazing sister sing with some of the best singers I've ever heard, with this incredible guitarist they all call "Guitar Dave" playing along. Neil Young's "Ohio" was a song we covered in Tangled Up in Blue, and here I am, next to Leon Dewan, proudly flatpicking that riff, while my crazygreat tenor friend Joe Shieber sings the shit out of "Tin soldier's and Nixon coming..."

There is no better track in the history of the world than the original "Knocking on Heaven's Door." TUIB also covered this, and when we sang it at my aunt Elizabeth's house in upstate NY on our 1989 cross-country tour, five year old John Colonna, her son stood up after the applause and shouted, "But heaven doesn't HAVE a door!"

"Cactus Tree" by Joni Mitchell felt to me, in the fall of '88, as though Joni had crawled inside my head and had catalogued every boy I was dating. I had a Sony Walkman, and my job in the afternoon's was in the Dean's office, often delivering mail. I'd make my rounds in the New Haven rain, with this song playing in my ears. It took me years to figure out how Joni had tuned her guitar for that song.

When I first heard of Suzanne Vega, I was jealous. She had done what I wanted to do, and so my first reaction was to pretend she didn't exist. Then I heard "Luka" and immediately wrote my own song ("Tripping the Light Fantastic"--better left unheard, folks.) Same with the Indigo Girls. I was so jealous that they had stolen my idea of being two women singers that I refused to like them for several years, even though I bought and listened to all their CDs. Now, I kiss the ground they trod upon.

I stuck on Sinead O'Connor's "Mandinka" just because it was produced by our Greta producer Kevin Moloney, whose picture I will put here to freak out Katryna:

And then I stuck on a bunch of random 80s songs, some of which I hated at the time (Tears for Fears) but have now been around so long they have worn me down from sheer exposure and corporate nostalgia. In fact, I am so old now that I am not sure some of my memories are truly my memories; I might have borrowed some of them from the movies or have them confused with the memories of some of my contemporaries who drank too much at the time. Either way, I now like the song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." So shoot me.

This is a work in progress. I am hoping some of my classmates will help me remember what else needs to be on this mix. Oh! Like ALL of Graceland! And the Neville Brothers' Yellow Moon. And the Folkways Woody Guthrie/Ledbelly tribute. And Sweet Honey and the Rock. And Vladimir Horowitz Plays Mozart. But this is just my slice of the late 80s.

After I make the mix, I call a friend and cry. I pick up Johnny for violin, and on the way, I see a woman who looks like my best friend from 20 years ago, in my Loomis Chaffee days. And there on the streets of Florence, it IS my best friend, Gwendolyn. I pull the car over and screech her name. I jump out of my car and she grabs me by the shoulders and we both jump up and down like little kids. We make plans to see each other when I get back from reunions; I jump back in my car and continue to violin. At dinner, we listen to the mix and let the music rock us back to the past and forward to the present. It works on me like water, gently washing me clean again, massaging my heart, preparing me for whatever is next.

To hear the mix, you'll have to follow me on Spotify, apparently, though I have no earthly idea how to do that. But you probably do. The mix is called "1989."