Here’s the problem with praying: you often get what you pray for. When Katryna got pregnant (answered prayer #1), I finally saw on my calendar exactly that for which I had been fervently praying: four and a half months of unscheduled time! The time I needed to finish my novel The Big Idea.
“Wahoo!” I said. “I’m going to be a novelist! I’m going to get up at five am and drink coffee, and write all day long in my pajamas! My book will be finished by Christmas!”
Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. I love singing for a living, love writing the songs, love traveling around the country with my sister. It’s just that sometimes I have fantasies about having health insurance and weekends off. Sometimes I wish that I didn’t have to rely on my wits so much. I f I were someone with an honest trade, like a carpenter or a garbage collector, I’d always have work to do. If I run out of ideas, I have nada. This can make a person anxious.
True to form, almost immediately, I freak out. “If we stop gigging, I’ll have no money! How am I going to drink my Starbucks? Dear God,” I pray. “Please send me students so I can keep drinking coffee.”
“But how am I going to get students?” My crafty little brain wonders. “I know! I’ll put ads in local papers! That’ll get students. Soon I’ll have so many I can have a pantry full of coffee! The coffee will smell so strong I won’t even have to drink it!”
But no one, not ONE person signs up for my writing workshops because of local ads. They come by word of mouth and through my email list. So I call the Valley Advocate and say “Will you write a story about me so I can get students and not have to pay you for advertising?”
“No,” they say. “That’s not how it works.”
Even so, God sends me students in abundance, and I love them. I love reading their work and listening to them tell their stories. I love them so much that I decide I’m going to be a teacher. I am tired of being overexposed. Also, I am tired of staying thin and muscular. I want to be round and soft and have some padding to protect me from the glaring eyes of People Magazine and Those Who Judge, Singing is too hard. I will give it up.
“No!” says Tom, my sweet and smart fiance. “I love to hear you sing!”
“I’ll sing just for you, honey,” I say. “I’ll sing love songs and Bob Dylan.”
“No,” he says again. “You need to keep singing. It’s your gift and you love it.”
“I hate it,” I say. “I’m tired. My neck hurts. I have Stiff Neck Virus again.”
Stiff Neck Virus is my father’s term for what happens when suddenly your shoulders creep up to your ears and you have to turn your whole body in order to converse with the person sitting next to you in the car. I always get Stiff Neck Virus after a long weekend on the road or a plane trip where I have to lug my six thousand pound guitar.
“And that’s another thing,” I tell Tom.” I’m sick of carrying my guitar around airports. I refuse to tour anymore unless I get a personal valet who follows me around carrying my baggage.”
I pronounce “baggage” as though I’m French.
Tom rolls his eyes. “With what money are you hiring this personal valet?”
“With the money I’ll save from not spending it on my masseuse. Also with the Tax Relief credit George W. Bush is promising us.”
But Tom’s on to me. I give up singing for exactly one day. Then I’m back at my guitar, my delicious little 1930’s Martin and I write a new song called “Big Red.” And of course I want to play it right away.
But I have no gigs lined up after October 10 when Katryna goes on maternity leave. I freak out and call Patty.
“Patty! Get me some solo gigs! I need to play my new songs.”
“How about a tour of Europe?” she says. “You always wanted to tour Europe.”
“NO!” I wail. “Not without Katryna! I’ll be lonely!”
“OK,” says Tom.
But Tom also wants to do other things, like, I don’t know, his own WORK. He’s a writer too, writing a book in the morning, free lancing in the afternoon. Plus there’s Cody, our Australian shepherd with the loudest bark on the block. Cody’s a frustrated performer too. Someone needs to stay home and take him out for his Frisbee practice.
Plus, I remember why I needed the maternity leave in the first place.
“No Europe,” I tell Patty. “I have a wedding to plan. And a book to finish. And students to teach.”
“How about some house concerts then?”
Then I pray to God, “Please God let John Kerry win. And if you’re not concerned about the outcome of the US presidential election, and in the grand scheme of things, I’ve got to say, that wouldn’t really surprise or disappoint me if that were the case, then at least please God, let me feel like I am doing something inspiring and useful to make people more aware of their place in a democracy. Let us understand in a first hand and clear way how we all need to use our gifts to help the community, the nation. I am an American and I love this country. Show me how to be of service.”
The phone rings. It’s my old friend and former student Mark Oppenheimer. He’s just been made editor of the New Haven Advocate. “Hey,” he says. “Can you write a 3000 word essay about your transition from rock star to novelist? “
“Do I have to pay you to advertise?”
The thing is, as much as I want attention, as much as I want to write and have people like what I say and sing, I have an equal and powerful reaction against the exposure. It terrifies me and makes me want to hide in my room with a book about Buddhists or Catholics or Feng Shui. I realize this does not make me an easy person to please. Or to live with. I really love myself, but sometimes I drive me crazy.
So I go on a tour to the Midwest with Katryna and we stay with our great friend Jill Stratton. Two hours after I get home, Paul Shoul, the great Northampton photographer, is over at our house to snap my picture. And then my profile is on the cover of the free paper all over New Haven. I feel overexposed and as though my skin in being slowly peeled off my body and I want to hide and never be seen again after the paper comes out. At the same time, I want my picture on the cover of the Valley Advocate too. This is what it’s like to be published. Whiplash. No wonder I’m always getting Stiff Neck Virus.
The phone rings again. It’s Jill Stratton, the one who coined the term Folk the Vote which I stole for my first Blog post yea those many (two) days ago.
“Hey,” she says. “I know Katryna can’t fly because she’s too close to her due date. But will you be a part of my Folk the Vote show? It’s two concerts in swing states: St. Louis (MO) and Cincinnati (OH) with Carrie Newcomer and Lisa Loeb. Monday, Oct. 25 and Tuesday Oct. 26.”
And of course I say yes, because it’s my patriotic duty, but I am scared to travel alone, sing alone.
“God,” I say. “Is this your idea of a joke? Because I’m not laughing.”
Just to be clear, God doesn’t actually talk to me. I mean, not directly. But this is definitely a conversation we are having, me and the Forces of the Universe. And I am getting the impression that this Force has a sense of humor, even if (for the moment) I don’t.