Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Oversized Tinkerbell

Pregnant. The very word sounds pregnant with meaning. It is onomatopoetic in its juicy fullness, its plumply dignity.

Before I got pregnant, I imagined pregnancy would feel a lot like having a good idea for a story or a song: a sort of dizzying energy in my head that causes me to glow from within and move about my day with energy and purpose. I imagined myself, sort of like an oversized Tinkerbell, fluttering from room to room, straightening this, rearranging that, doing the marvelous nesting thing about which I’d heard tell. (Finally, I’d organize my CDs! Finally, I’d purchase window dressing!) I imagined I would be giving birth to the mother within, as I was literally giving birth to the sacred Other. God in my womb! I proclaimed, I am a sister of Mary!

Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Pregnancy instead began on the Falcon Ridge Fan Club Cruise last September, when I joined my sister, Katryna and her family, Patty our manager, Pete and Maura Kennedy and Susan Werner and about thirty-five folk music fans on an exciting adventure to Nova Scotia. I felt funky from the moment I set foot onboard, as my symptoms multiplied. I mistook morning sickness for sea sickness, fatigue for boredom, and a sudden aversion to fish to some kind of proximate sympathy. Also, I blamed my bloatedness on the excellent cuisine.

We got off the boat and the nausea remained. So did the bloatedness. I seem to be one of those women whose stomach pops out from the moment sperm and egg start flirting with each other. I began to wear loose fitting clothes. I wasn’t sad about this. I was happy. I have wanted to be a mother since I was six years old and my own mother was pregnant with our little sister, Abigail.
“Don’t you want a brother, now?” said Mrs. McSherry, our babysitter in her Irish brogue. “Sure and ya do. Nothin’ but girls here.”
“No way, “ Katryna and I said, folding our arms. “We’re going to have a sister.”

Fortunately for Abigail, we got our wish. Abigail was leagues beyond the Baby Alive doll I had wished for for Christmas. Unlike Baby Alive, who was purported to be able to eat and drink (where the food and drink WENT after the six year old parent spooned it into her perpetually open mouth, no scientist has yet been able to determine), Abigail was warm and squirmy and smelled like new apples and fresh cut grass. Even her poop smelled good, and Katryna and I fought over who got to change her diaper. I was responsible for helping to feed her, braid her hair, and I took it upon myself to educate her in all matters concerning music, movies, fashion and hand gestures. I would become very confused when my mother would take her away from me with plans of her own, like, for example, kindergarten. To me, Abigail was my baby. So to be participating in growing a baby of my own--finally, at the age of 38--is my fondest dream come true.

Another pregnancy myth that crashed and burned was the idea that I’d spend these nine months studying how to be a parent. I thought I’d be one of those mothers-to-be who blasts Baby Mozart CDs and walks endlessly around art galleries. (Did you hear the one about the pregnant woman who wanted her baby to be cultured, so she walked endlessly around art galleries? The baby was born with flat feet.) As soon as my pee test turned blue, I raced out and bought a book by Jon and Myra Kabat-Zinn, famed meditation teachers, about how to be spiritual, in-the-present-moment parents and how to raise conscious kids with raised consciences. That book has languished by my bed, and instead I seem to be inexplicably drawn to my tenth grade history text book. In the past three months, I have read about the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Aztecs and Incas, the birth of Hinduism, the spread of Buddhism and Islam, the empires of Rome and Persia and the Song dynasty, the miserable Middle Ages, the relief of the Renaissance, the Ages of Exploration, Exploitation and Enlightenment, the French and American Revolutions, and now I’m about up to World War I when it really gets kind of violent.

Perhaps I have some kind of pregnancy craving to revisit, understand and accept what kind of world my new child is coming into. Perhaps I have a craving to understand this miracle that is both so ordinary and extraordinary that people have been doing it since the dawn of people, and yet still, for each new couple experiencing this, it feels like the very first baby who ever got conceived in a night of passion.

About cravings. I don’t know what to think, except that it’s clear that I must obey them. Never have I operated so assiduously from a part of me that is somewhere between instinct and gut-level desire. Fortunately, my cravings have been for things like cucumbers, brown rice and Paul Newman’s salad dressing, reading my old history book and watching sappy romance movies. My aversions are just as powerful and bewildering-to sweet foods, to the smell of fish, to the new Capote movie, which I am dying to see in theory, but can’t stomach in practice.

And the most amazing facet of pregnancy so far is the way in which it makes me stop in my tracks. I go from being a pleasant, communicative, engaged woman with a slightly rounded belly to being completely speechless, brain dead and supine in the space of five minutes. When I need to nap, there are no negotiations. I am completely at the mercy of the five inch benevolent despot in my growing uterus. A friend recently commented, “It seems like you’ve signed up for a kind of advanced surrender.”

This is perhaps the most useful spiritual lesson so far. I seem to be able to do, in a given day, about forty percent of what I used to do. And yet, the house has not fallen down around me (although it is covered with dust bunnies and suspicious odors, and poor Tom has done all the house work for fourteen weeks now). I seem to be writing songs as a steady clip; I’ve been able to show up for my gigs, and last week I sent my agent the most recent draft of The Big Idea, the novel I’ve been working on since 2001. In between these gargantuan feats, I slink around the house, I meditate in the pathetic way I’ve always meditated, I chat on the phone, I “cook” meals (mostly with cucumbers), I watch chick flick movies like Little Women and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and hope that Tom doesn’t catch me sniffling at the especially tear-jerky parts. (Recently, ALL parts are tear jerky.)

Maybe I am giving birth to a mother. Maybe this nausea and lethargy are changing me, shaping and molding me, fashioning me into exactly what and whom I’m supposed to be to support this baby. Maybe it really is the baby who’s running the show-saying no to Baby Mozart and yes to Mesopotamia; no to sweet potatoes and yes to brown rice; no to vigorous walks around the park and yes to long languid naps. I am not quite myself, and the more I accept that I too am in a kind of cocoon-like state--in a womb of my own--the more I accept the reality of advanced surrender, the more pleasant my pregnancy becomes.

Now could someone pass the cucumbers?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Good Artists Borrow; Great Artists Steal

When I first started to write songs, my efforts not to copy, borrow or steal from any other artist, brought me to the point of despair over the fact that there were only eleven notes in a scale, not to mention that all the best songs had already been written using the same three chords. Nevertheless, I set out to be a total original--with pretty humorous results, writing songs with chord progressions that would make Schoenburg wince. Not only that, I tackled such subjects as Ireland's first female Prime Minister (Mary Robinson), ragweed allergies and the ever popular Ballad In Twenty Four Verses: Phyllum Schizomicrophaeda. I couldn't figure out why people weren't singing along right away.

And then I discovered Bob Dylan. At the age of 14, I wandered into the kitchen on a June evening to find my father playing the guitar. This was not unusual—my father plays the guitar at almost every opportunity, especially when he is running a bath or sitting alone in the kitchen. That night he played an impassioned, thrilling song, singing at the top of his tenor range with warmth and feeling, “ There ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe/ If you don’t know by now.”

“What’s that?” I said, not recently keen on my dad’s song choices (Waylon Jennings and The Clancy Brothers at that time).
“It’s a song by Bob Dylan,” he said. “’Don’t Think Twice; It’s Alright.’”
“Who’s Bob Dylan?”
“Oh, he wrote a million great songs. But he wasn’t much of a singer.”

I was on the case. A week later I went to tennis came in Sun Valley Idaho where I spent half my time mooning over a camp counselor named Tom Van Dyne who was an unimaginable seven years my senior, and the other half writing letters to my dad asking for more lyrics and chords to Bob Dylan songs. I had brought my little nylon string along and nightly regaled the other kids in my dorm with the five or ten Beatles songs I knew how to play. The letters came from my father bearing strange hieroglyphics which Tom Van Dyne, a Dylan fan and guitar player, helped me decode. By the end of my three weeks I won the camp talent contest singing the Beatles “All I Gotta Do,” and officially gave up my tennis racquet for the acoustic guitar. I saved my pennies and one by one bought Dylan LPs, pondering them and playing along.

Having gone to a grammar school infused with the English folk song tradition, I noticed that many of the songs Dylan claimed to have written sounded either vaguely or specifically familiar to my well trained ears. For example, “Girl from the North Country” was clearly a version of the old “Scarborough Fair.” In a biography I read, Dylan grumbled about the fact that Paul Simon had stolen the idea from him, when in fact, I knew that “Scarborough Fair” was written in medieval times. (Moreover, it’s more likely Simon stole the “idea” from Martin Carthy whom he met over in England.) Yet, Dylan’s song, “Girl from the North Country” evokes in this listener a new melancholy I hadn’t experienced either singing the song in school in its original form nor in Simon and Garfunkel’s prettified (and contemporized) anti-war version. Bob Dylan, through the grit of his performance, slightly unusual harmonization, and a few changed lines, really had made the song his own. I play it when I am home and lonely, reveling in the minor seventh chord he uses, enjoying the way he brings the tune from one octave down to another.

On the recommendation of my friends, Pete and Maura Kennedy I am reading Positively Fourth Street, a telling of the intersecting lives of Dylan, Joan Baez, and Richard and Mimi Farina. One theme that keeps popping up, over and over again is: Good artists borrow; Great artists steal. Joan basically stole her entire repertoire from those around her in Cambridge in 1959, and she unabashedly admits it. Dylan presented himself so much a Woody Guthrie clone that locals were offended when they detected Dylan even mimicking Guthrie’s ticks and shudders, brought on by the disease Huntington’s Chorea which was killing him. And yet, through their bold stealing, they each fashioned a completely unique and new presence in American folk and pop music, greedily garnering influences into a personal melting pot and producing something fresh and new.


As I grew older, writing about one song a month since 1987, I learned how to let go of the tyranny of originality. Once one becomes dedicated to a writing practice, it is actually very difficult to rip someone off; one’s voice becomes too distinct, which was the case with “Girl From the North Country,” a song which smacks so much of Dylan, I would know its author even without the singing voice. By the mid nineties, I was not so much interested in writing original songs as in writing classic, timeless songs, in trying to stamp them with a distinctive voice while at the same time hoping they would be or could be anonymous.



Last month, I succumbed to Starbuck’s marketing campaign and bought both Dylan offerings: Live at the Gaslight, a very early recording of his first year as a busker in Greenwich Village, and the soundtrack to No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese’s recent documentary. Even though I meticulously set my VCR to tape the thing, I watched the documentary the nights it was broadcast, so glued to the set I didn’t get up once to get a drink or go to the bathroom. After watching the Scorsese documentary, I hatched a new project. Katryna and I are scheduled to record our next CD this January, and so far two thirds of the songs are written. All the songs are based on an earlier song, but revamped so they can breath twenty first century air. For example, my new song “Moonlighter” sounds a bit like Dylan’s “Moonshiner”—again, not a song he wrote, but an old Irish drinking song. But “Moonlighter” is about a woman who pines for her beloved Albany, the lord of the land. Is it a throwback to the fifteenth century, or is it a modern allegory? And “Ain’t That Good News,” a pseudo gospel tune refashioned from a choral piece Katryna and I learned in high school, is a kind of doubter’s anthem, a vision of heaven for those weary of contemporary life.

This is not to say I am a great artist because I am unabashedly stealing. It’s just that I’ve come to believe that recycling is more than a good thing to do for the environment. It’s the way we humans pay tribute to each other, stay connected and perhaps even diffuse our egos, recognizing what Native Americans call the Great Soul or Jung calls the Collective Unconscious. My favorite professor at Yale, Fred Robinson, showed us the way poets talk to each other through the centuries: Aeneid spoke to Homer; Dante to Aeneid, Donne to Dante, Shakespeare to everyone (now there’s an artist who knows how to steal!), and TS Eliot to Shakespeare.

This is to say, I don’t call it stealing anymore. I call it friendly.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Floating Las Vegas and the Cajuns

Dave Chalfant calls the boat a “float-el.” A Dad joke. He has the right; sitting next to him at the dining table which overlooks the sunset (when we’re heading south) are his two children, William who is crowing like a pterodactyl while dispersing his little pile of cheerios, and Amelia who is twisting in her seat and refusing to eat more than one bite of her macaroni and cheese. She is more interested in watching to see if the orcas are going to blow.

We are spending five days at sea on a Fun Cruise. For a band who used to think of our van, Moby Juan Van Kanobe, as a boat taking us from one port of call to another, there is something surreal about this experience. We are here because of the Falcon Ridge Fan Cruise, which means people pay for the cruise and a little extra to see a couple of concerts by us, Susan Werner and the Kennedys. As a Bodhitsattva wannabe, I am having some issues and doubts that I will ever become enlightened; in fact it might be a miracle if I get off the boat next Saturday without causing myself or others bodily harm.

Cruise ship culture is alien to me. Start with the faux Greek décor; the purple walls and plastic marble columns in bas relief mixed up with the casinos in rooms named “Venezia” and “Fierenze.” There are the people half a generation older than my parents in ball gowns snapping their fingers awkwardly to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “Let’s Do The Time Warp Again” and other hits from the ‘80’s which are on continuous loop twenty four hours a day. There is something vaguely obscene about being on a luxury cruise when just seven days ago New Orleans drowned in waters not far from here. Everywhere, people are talking about it, blaming the government or the levees or the people who chose to make a below sea level washbowl their home. We talk about the flood and then we choose between the pork chop in the balsamic reduction and the grouper in Hollandaise sauce. And secretly, shamefully, I have this to confess: the vibe on this cruise ship reminds me more of that Crescent City than any other place I’ve played in my years on the road. There is the same high rolling spirit, the same gaudy giddiness, even some of the same fashions. But on this cruse ship, there is absolutely no sign at all of the blues.

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a little problem with my attitude, and the longer I am on the boat the more persistent the question pounds in my vaguely sea sick brain: what the hell is wrong with me? What makes me incapable of enjoying what so many others clearly see as a heavenly and economically reasonable pleasure trip? Why don’t I like shuffleboard or cards or drinking or ballroom dancing or sunbathing or swimming or sitting in a sauna? Why am I this bookish freak whose idea of a good time is burrowing in her puce colored cabin (or State Room, as the Fun Ship calls it) with my laptop and my novel on Microsoft word? Don’t I know how to have fun or even what fun is?

On Wednesday, we all disembarked to visit the town of Halifax, a new destination for me. I took my iPod and listened to new songs by Ben Folds, Dar Williams and M. Ward while I explored the town. I found out almost right away that Halifax was the seat of the largest community of Acadians in the 17th and 18th Century. In 1755, the Anglos from Nova Scotia began what is known as the Grand Degagement, which is a fancy French term meaning deportation. Families were split up as the Acadians were sent all over North America. One contingent was sent to Boston, but the colony of Massachusetts refused to take them, and the whole boatload arrived back in the Maritimes. A large group was sent to Louisiana and carry on today as Cajuns (Acadian/Cajun turn out to be the same thing.) With a jolt I remembered that just the other day Massachusetts had offered to take refugees from the Hurricane and house them on Cape Cod. Tom and I had begun to collect clothing to send out there. Sweaters, warm things for folk who might not be used to the Atlantic wind in mid September. What a strange unbroken circle if some of the Cajuns ended up back in the North Atlantic.

Grumpily, I wonder how much fossil fuel a boat roughly the size of the Empire State Building uses. When I come home, I will have to atone. I will start a club called Conservation Is Cool. I yearn for 1989, when my class was graduating from college, when Earth Day was a fresh, lovely April holiday, when the nation was becoming disenchanted with the first George Bush and his gulf war, when young people shamed their elders by resurrecting the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle rhetoric. It wasn’t hard to raise people’s consciousnesses just a little. And even a little goes a long way. I might consider forgiving George W. Bush his excesses and his exaggerations (and outright lies) if he would only sincerely call on the American people to conserve and put some fiscal muscle behind the appeal. I promise I won’t tease him for wearing a sweater like they teased Jimmy Carter.

Last week, Dick Cheney called conservation a “personal virtue.” That just about sinks my club, doesn’t it? Instead of doing something because we have to, we are being told, “It might make you a better person, but if you don’t do it, you can still be forgiven, my prodigal child.” I know a ninety-year old Republican who recycles because it’s her “patriotic duty.” She lived through World War II and she remembers the importance of sacrificing for the general good.

I doodle on the daily Fun Cruise itinerary: What are some ways I can atone for the amount of fossil fuel burned by this boat?
1. keep the thermostat at 67 all winter and gain five pounds of insulation, and/or wear a couple of wool sweaters
2. ride my bike to the Stop and Shop
3. Put change into a jar to save up for a biodiesel or hydroelectric car
4. eat whole foods and lower on the food chain, eat “locally” to discourage the transportation of produce. Remember how much fuel it took to get that mango from Mexico to my bowl. Eat apples and pears instead.
5. Buy recycled products or better yet, buy less, reuse what I have
6. use cloth napkins
7. Steal Katryna’s clothes

The problem with rabid environmentalists, I muse as I wander judgmentally through this floating Las Vegas, is that we tend to take the fun out of things. No one wants to be told to give up their SUV by a self –righteous Honda Civic driver with pursed lips. How do we make environmentalism fun? It’s sort of like trying to make dieting fun, isn’t it? We could do it a la Weight Watchers where we get Fun Points for doing good and have weekly weigh ins to see where we’ve slipped. We could email each other our progress. We could focus on the joy of giving our grandchildren a planet that is almost as green as ours is now. But that’s not so different from dieting in order to one day fit into that size four in the back of the closet.

The fact is, we’re all living on credit right now. We can’t afford the life we’re living; we can’t afford the country or government we’ve inherited. We’re not paying enough in taxes, and I say this after I practically had to take out a second mortgage to pay my last tax bill. Even if you subtracted the unbelievably expensive War on Iraq, we still aren’t taking in enough money to shift our energy policies toward better fuel efficiency or alternate sources. And as the hurricane proved, we don’t even have the necessary troops to deal with the unpredictable disasters that come from the sky or the ocean, let alone from our dangerously fractured and unequal society. I’m not even talking about health care or education, or social security or any of the liberal wish list. I’m talking about infrastructure and national defense. Given what’s come before, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bush and co. called for another tax cut to deal with the crisis; more supply side economics to raise the tide as it were. But we’ve seen what high tides can do.

I am on the deck of the ship, walking in circles to try to get my daily exercise. 11.3 loops equals one mile. When is it going to be time to sacrifice and surrender, just a little, I wonder, passing a couple who each have a copy of the new Harry Potter tented over their sunbathing faces. When is it going to be time to pull together as we did in the depression, as we did in World War II? Have we forgotten that sometimes sacrifice and surrender feels good because it’s the right thing to do?

I sound like the pursed-lipped Honda Civic driver, the introverted writer scowling at the blackjack players, the tee-totaller frowning at the Mai Tai drinkers at the Oxford bar. I stop mid stride, turn my back on my fellow passengers and lean out over the North Atlantic Ocean. Earlier this morning, I watched the sun rise from my cabin window at ten minutes to six. The sun was a gaudy orange pom pom through the haze, and it came like a flare over the eastern horizon just slightly to the north. The night before, I’d watched the sun set from my dining table, the light too strong to view head on, but from my eye corner, seeing it go “bloop” into the sea. I don’t want to be a pursed-lipped scowler anymore. Is there a way I can see the positive of this cruse AND make amends for the fossil fuel it burned when I get home?

Carnival, it turns out, sent seven of its fleet down to New Orleans to rescue the victims of the hurricane. I learned this at the hootenanny we had later that afternoon, the one where we sang “The Times They Are A Changin’” and brainstormed about ways we could help the relief effort. Four of us meditated for peace and healing. I noticed, with grudging admiration, that there were absolutely no paper products on board the ship. I also noticed that the passengers on our boat represented a breakdown of the demographics of our country pretty faithfully. At $500 a week, a Carnival Cruise is a way a family can afford to take a holiday in an era where gas prices and hotel prices and food prices continue to climb steadily.

I began to notice the water. Just the water. It was so beautiful, and I realized I could stare at it all day and not get bored. I was enjoying the gentle rocking of the boat. I appreciated the fact that in my time on board, I not only finished a draft of the Big Idea but also almost completed a proposal for Effelia, my new Young Adult book. Ships make excellent writing retreats. Apparently Aldous Huxley wrote all his books on ships.

The last night onboard, I returned to the deck and waited for the moon to rise. Flanked by Jupiter and Mars, it finally appeared: a proud crescent. New Orleans will rise again, I thought. And no one knows what it will look like, how it will rise, who will make up the population of the new New Orleans. But the spirit of the delta can’t possibly die. The spirit of the blues is here, as much as people may want to pretend it’s not. And alone on the deck, I sang a slow mournful version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” Aaron Neville style.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Thank You, Music

This summer, I have been trying my best to practice what I sometimes preach: talk less; listen more. And most of all SLOW DOWN, (you move too fast. Got to make the moment last.) It hasn’t been as hard or nasty as I thought it would be. As readers of this blog know, I got married in May, went on a glorious honeymoon to the west coast with my husband, Tom and have generally been living in that kind of marital bliss which doesn’t want to be distracted by the pokings and proddings of the outside world.

A few weeks ago, a pair of robins built a nest right outside our dining room window underneath the eaves of the porch and we watched transfixed as the nest grew, the mother sat still for days and eventually two little bald blind heads poked up, yellow beaks vertical. Those baby birds grew black feathers so quickly and it wasn’t more than ten days later that they flew away.

Like the robins, we’ve been nesting. We have been painting our old Victorian and growing blueberries in our garden. Tom built a kayak and I’m learning to cook Thai food. In short, it’s been a lovely time, but not one that lends itself to the kind of introspection one wants to share with a bunch of people one mostly doesn’t know.

That being said, all honeymoons must come to an end, and now with the cool breezes of September almost upon us, I feel like spreading my wings and checking out the big old world again. I feel like I have things to say again. First of all, and I hate to break it to you if you are just now rubbing your eyes Rip Van Winkle style coming off the Cape or back from the Hamptons (or just out of your air conditioned office), it has come to my attention that Bush is still in power. I was sure somehow that if I stopped paying attention, something would happen over the summer to end his hegemonous oligarchy, but no such luck. I was hoping the high gas prices would keep people off the roads or lead us to buy grease cars, investigate biodiesel and hybrids, but the SUVs are ruling the roads and traffic was at record highs this summer, according to AAA.

As a student of Buddhist psychology and Christian theology, I feel the need to point out (at every chance I get) that this over consumption of limited resources is a manifestation of greed and delusion; that violence begets violence, that Islam is a beautiful religion dedicated to peace, and that Al Qaeda and its allies are uneducated proponents of a rogue branch in much the same way that the Ku Klux Klan is nominally Christian but acts in every way but. Every time I see images from Abu Graib I practically lose my will to continue living in this country, which is why I spend so little time watching TV or listening to the radio or reading newspapers. But I also realized that I have all these nasty attributes myself. Did I turn off the air conditioner on the hottest weekend of the year? No. I cranked it and sat in my office and read the new Harry Potter book.

I am a notorious control freak, and a big part of my summer was spent working on my novels, The Big Idea and Effelia and in general keeping so busy I barely had time to listen to music, all my resolutions about slowing down notwithstanding. But music, as always, is the spirit that gets through the cracks in my armor, the armor that tries to protect me from having to feel that sadness about American atrocities, Rwandan atrocities, Al Qaeda atrocities. The armor of busyness is my preferred protection since it denotes respect and sometimes amazement from my friends and family. When people see how hard I work, I can hardly be faulted for tuning out the pain of the world, right? How could I work if I am always weeping, right? But then I hear a song, a silly song like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Punky’s Dilemma” and I lose it in the kitchen as I am chopping carrots. Who knows why? (It’s not like it’s “America” or “Bridge over Troubled Water.”) And here’s the blessing: I finally slow down enough to ask myself Why are you working so hard? Isn’t it more important to stand still and let yourself be moved by a song?

Thank you, music. Thank you, music. Thank you, music and musicians!

Music is wordless and irrational. I like to live in the top of my head when at all possible so as to avoid the pain of the body, the feelings and sensations that come up when I’m “down there.” But music wrecks all that. I’ve been listening to books on tapes on my iPod—wonderful books-Middlesex, Gilead, The Life Of Pi, The Kite Runner, The Brothers Karamazov, and of course, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince—that keep me up in the attic of my rational thoughts. But every now and then an Aimee Mann song sneaks into the narrative and I’m back in the world of feeling. I remember that I am a musician first and foremost and that this is my heritage, my brothers and sisters waking me up and saying, hello! You are alive.

So when I am at my most well, I pick up my guitar at these junctures and play along, even though it means singing through tears.
++++++++++++++++

I drove to Bennington Vermont this June to retrieve an ancient trunk full of old 16mm reels of film taken by my great grandfather, George Franklin, a man about whom I know this: he was a very successful and wealthy lawyer. He died in McLean Hospital from depression when my grandmother was only 19. I had the films turned into DVDs and have been watching them over the past few weeks. I listen to the Beatles as I watch them, because there is something unnerving about watching old movies and not hearing that familiar whirr that the projector makes. No whirr on a DVD. I also should say, I don’t know for certain whether or not my great grandfather was the movie maker, but I think he was. The footage is all of scenery. No shots of his wife or son or daughter. Somehow in my gender-biased way, I believe that if my great Grandmother Elsie had wielded the camera, she would have been more interested in the people than the landscape.
It’s eerie, watching the world of 1920 go by. My ancestors were in Italy (on vacation as tourists, no doubt) for much of this filming, and I wonder what it felt like then. I don’t know what year the films were taken exactly; was it before or after Mussolini took over?

Watching the films, I am reminded of a bit of wisdom I learned from the poet David Whyte. He says, "The language of poetry takes us outside of our small selves and calls us to look at ourselves and the world with open eyes." I would argue that the same is true for filmmaking, novel writing, songwriting, gardening; anything that brings you out of your Habitrail thoughts and into a fresh experience. These films were my great grandfather’s way of doing that. They are crude, and behave more like still photography than what we think of as motion pictures today. But what is interesting is the way in which he seems fascinated with what he is seeing. He holds the camera on an image for far longer than a cameraman would today. He holds it long and longingly, as if making love to it. Perhaps he was.


The grass is green for one more day.

The news will always be bad.

If you share what you have, you will never be hungry.

If you share what you have, you will never be alone.

-Nerissa Nields

Monday, July 04, 2005

Read Part I First

Part Two: Wherein I meet Anne Lamott

Did I mention I was sick during my honeymoon? Which was another thing about expectations. “How can a person be sick during her honeymoon?” I wailed to Tom, in the manner of George Costanza’s mother, Estelle Harris. Fortunately, I’d just had Handy Life Lesson #25 about expectations and letting things be exactly as they are, so I wasn’t too sad. To tell the whole truth, I was thrilled to be sick; I had exhausted myself in the weeks leading up to the wedding, working full throttle on life coaching, teaching writing workshops, writing Effelia, revising The Big Idea, and along with Tom, planning the wedding, overseeing the renovation on our house and frantically losing the battle to alphabetize our now merged CD and book collections. When I get busy like this, the kind of busy where I find myself listening to War and Peace on my iPod while simultaneously watching the movie version of it on the television while also folding the laundry and painting my toenails, some still small voice within whispers, “Nerissa, my love, perhaps you are overdoing it.” And a slightly louder voice says, “Wouldn’t it be great to get sick? Not terribly sick: just a mild cold. Yeah.”

This is frightening, because every time that louder-than-still-small-voice speaks this manner, I inevitably succumb to some illness or other. Take now, for example: I am sitting with my left leg up and an ice pack on it, because yesterday I twisted my knee after stubbornly attempting to move a large piece of furniture by myself. (Yes, I know. R.I.C.E). I seem to have a self-timer within me, an alarm clock that goes off to keep me from burning all my fuel and taking off into the stratosphere only to be marooned up there. (Since I lack an appestat--the internal mechanism which tells a person when she is hungry and when she is full—my theory is that this self timer is God’s consolation gift to me in its place.)

At any rate, being this kind of compulsive workaholic, I had made a deal with my darling Tom: we would have a honeymoon, yes we would! Only couldn’t I do just a teeny book tour while we were out on the west coast? Say up in Portland, Seattle? And, being wonderful, he agreed. We would have six divine blissful days of honeymoon nothingness and then the Saturday after the wedding, I would appear on both West Coast Live (an early morning live radio show; San Francisco’s answer to A Prairie Home Companion) and a solo show at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. On the same day.

I woke up that Saturday morning seriously regretting my wicked workaholic ways, cursing that part of me who looks at a blank calendar and rapidly fills it with activities, meetings, gigs, lunch, dinner and coffee dates, clients, workshops, retreats, boxing workouts, meditation sittings, professional trainings, astrology readings and the like. All I wanted to do was loll in bed with my new husband, maybe rising at eleven to saunter down 24th St. to the coffee shop to read our Russian novels.

Instead, we woke up early (by this time, our jet lag had worn off, and 7am California time now felt like, well, 7am.) We realized that the venue had moved from delightful Fisherman’s Wharf to less delightful downtown San Francisco. The venue was now in a red velvet cabaret room off the lobby of a hotel. It smelled like the fifties, and not in a good way. There was no dressing room; just the back hallway of the hotel, and I was advised to keep a close eye on my guitar and knapsack which was full of Emergen-Cee, Airbourne and various herbal teas. I clutched a box of Kleenex in my hand like some hypochondriacal security blanket.

Also, I was tired, which for me usually translates as “scared.” It was the first time I was to read my book on the air, the launching of my book tour, and on national radio no less. When I get scared, I get sleepy. Seems to me like a reasonable reaction. I gazed up at the Xerox the stage manager had posted on the door of the little backstage room that housed the coffee and crudités.

10:38-Nerissa Nields.
10:59-sponsor announcement/break
11:03 Anne Lamott.

Anne Lamott!! Anne Lamott, whom I had discovered in 1998 and who had ferried me (via her books and audio tapes) through the most difficult time in my life; who had taught me to be a woman of grace and dignity, and who was not too dignified to laugh at herself; who showed me how to be both writer and writing teacher.

I dropped my box of Kleenex.

“Don’t get excited,” I said to myself, shaking with excitement and nervousness and no longer the least bit sleepy, “She lives around here. She will waltz in at 11:01, do her thing and skiddaddle back to Marin County. I won’t even meet her. And she certainly won’t see me sing.”

Sedge Thomas is a gifted interviewer and a funny man, but his biggest talent is his uncanny ability to make the person he is speaking to seem far funnier and more clever than she actually is. I have benefited many times from his excellent interview style, and I always enjoy being on his show. This time was no exception. I sang “This Town Is Wrong,” and then he asked me a bunch of questions about the writing process, the singing life, my new marriage, the honeymoon…and at one point I gazed out in the audience. There, in a golden glow (really! The light made a halo around her blondish brown dredlocks) sat my literary hero, my wise writing teacher mentor, my favorite “spiritual” writer! AND SHE WAS BEAMING AT ME!!!!!


After my interview, the stage manager told me to go over to the table set up by the local independent bookstore. “Take a picture of that,” I whispered to Tom, pointing at the stacks of Annie’s books adjacent to my own little Plastic Angel. “I already did,” he whispered back. Annie was at the table signing frantically. I assumed she wanted to go home to her house in Marin, perhaps to Sam, her teen age son, perhaps just to lunch. Either way, I didn’t want to bother her, even to tell her how much she means to me. But she came to me, took my hands, looked me in the eye and said, “Bless you!” She hugged me and said, “Matzel Tov on your wedding!”

“I love you!” I blurted. “I think you are amazing! And we’re coming to your church tomorrow!” I immediately regretted saying that, lest she think, as Tom had suggested she might, that we were some kind of spiritual stalkers. But she just looked slightly nervous and said, “Good. I think I will be there.”

And Tom and I hugged each other. He beamed down at me and said, “Guess this wasn’t so bad after all?”
And then we drove off into the sunset…or rather, into the midday San Francisco Saturday traffic and onward to the ER.

Wedding, Honeymoon and Anne Lamott Part 1

I used to be afraid to fly, but it took too much energy, what with the adrenaline, the feverish praying, the re-visiting my entire past. These days I toss my bags under the seat in front of me and stick my nose into a novel. I have been reading voraciously recently; oddly, I have been obsessively reading the great Russian novels: Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov. Solzhenitsyn is next on my list. Ever since the last election, I find myself withdrawing further and further into this foreign world, this world of pre-Revolutionary Russia, where the upper classes spoke French and everyone had about five different names. Where an autocracy just came out and admitted it was an autocracy.

I am flying now, with Katryna, our first flight together since The Great Maternity Leave/Polyp Challenge—and the first flight since my honeymoon. Excuse me, I mean Honeymoon/book tour, because, being me, I couldn’t just go out to the west coast and be with my brand new husband, showing him the sites and enjoying his reaction to his first west coast visit. Nay. I had to piggyback a book tour—my first book tour—on top of all this. Oh, and also I caught my nephew, William’s cold which incubated during the wedding but manifested wickedly the first morning we woke up in California. As a result, there was a lot of Kleenex, Emercen-Cee, Airborne and Zicom, not to mention one visit to the San Francisco ER. But more of this anon.

Expectations are premeditated resentments. And resentments, I have learned, while fun to harbor, especially in small groups of people, late at night over a bottle of wine or package of Oreos, are fatal to OSA’s (Overly Sensitive Artists) like me. There’s nothing like spiritual growth to kick the air out of the tires of good old fashioned gripe sessions. It seems whenever I find someone else irritating the hell out of me, and I then complain about that person to another person, or group of people, I feel righteous and justified for a good hour or so and then I begin to feel the symptoms of emotional hangover: kind of queasy, sick to my stomach, increased irritation. Sort of like how coffee gives you energy but then you crash, or how sugar feeds your hunger for about twenty seconds before it makes you starving. Or if you have poison ivy how it feels good to scratch the itch, but eventually it just itches more and has turned bloody from the scratching.

All right, all right, so over time I’ve learned this. What I haven’t fully learned is that when I even expect someone—let’s take myself, so as not to offend anyone else—to behave a certain way, and then they don’t, I am frustrated, confused, irritable. Why is this person behaving so inappropriately?

Exhibit A: It’s my wedding day. My favorite people are gathered around me. I am marrying the man of my dreams, my soul mate for whom I’ve been waiting my whole life. My family is thrilled: they adore this man, and they love me too--I can see that. I am surrounded by love, flowers, good food, large wrapped packages. I am about to go to California on a two week honeymoon. So why am I in such a bad mood?

Well, there really was a good reason, theoretically. When in doubt, blame the weather (at least if you live in New England). During the week leading up to the big day I was mysteriously compelled to keep checking the weather forecast, like once an hour. When, last September, Tom and I chose May 14 as Le Grand Jour, we knew the weather could be iffy. Sometimes in New England, it’s 90 in May; other times it’s in the low fifties. I had no idea if I should buy a strapless dress or wear fake fur. Ten days out from the wedding, both AOL Weather and The Weather Channel predicted 62 and raining. We planned on an outdoor wedding, with tent, but with the knowledge and accompanying trepidation that we might really, deeply and muddily, regret it.

The morning of May 14 it was 58 and raining. To make matters worse, my head felt like it was being compressed in a vise, the familiar symptoms of a soon-to-be raging migraine. I was, to put it politely, in a mild passive aggressive fury at God as well as at myself for not being more spiritually evolved so as to rise above the unfortunate circumstances. I called some friends and met them in the morning, and as they sat with me and listened quietly and calmly, I raged, bawled and sobbed. Then I went up to Goshen to get my hair done. I thought I would feel better with my up-do, ringlets and all, but instead, looking in the mirror, I felt like the fat old duchess from Alice In Wonderland and not like the dainty wisp of a bride I wished to be. Next stop was the minister’s house where I was to meet my family for a final luncheon, my last meal as a single chick.

As I drove up, I cried some more. Why did I feel so bad? Why would I be cursed with a migraine on today of all days? And why did God hate me so much that He would make it be 58 and raining? And why, most of all, did I care about such trivialities on such a momentous spiritual day? It was going to be fine; I knew that somewhere. Why did I have to have such negative aversive feelings?

I put a tape into the tape player of my car: Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet. Martha trained me as a life coach, and I think she’s hilarious and brave. Somehow I had a sense that her wry sense of humor might lift me out of my current pit of despair.

“Laugh 30 times a day,” she admonished. Minimum. If you need external stimulation, fine: rent some Christopher Guest videos or hang around your funniest friends. But more importantly, learn to laugh

“without any discernable cause. During my Joy Diet research, I was startled to learn that there is a legitimate system of yoga (like Hatha or Kundalini) that focuses almost completely on laughter. It’s called-I swear on my grandmother this is true—the Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha method. According to the literature, practitioners start this yogi strategy by learning how to laugh for at least a minute with no provocation whatsoever.”

And so, having nothing to lose and being alone in the car, I let it rip. I laughed from the deepest part of my belly, with the same fervor with which I would have practiced ashtanga yoga. And wouldn’t you know it? It was infectious and addictive. I continued to giggle the rest of the way up to Cummington.

I’ll never know for certain whether it was Yoga Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha or the fact that the sun came out a half hour before the ceremony, and that for the rest of the day it was 69 degrees and lovely, but my migraine and bad mood went away. My niece Amelia dropped rose petals before me as I walked down the aisle. My mother was my maid of honor. My father escorted me while my Aunt Jenifer played Schubert’s Ave Maria, singing like an angel. My beautiful, heartful, soulful groom, Tom, stood waiting for me. Tears streaming down both our faces, we were carried—or so it seemed—by the gentle humor and wisdom of the “big hearted” Stephen Philbrick, our minister, and by an old Shaker song I sang with Penny Schultz and my father. My whole family joined together on “Wild Mountain Thyme”; Dar sang “You Rise and Meet the Day,” and Michael Biegner read a poem he wrote for the occasion.

After we exchanged our rings (Stephen punning on the last lines of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which happens to feature my name,) Tom and I exited the church to the congregation singing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

And then, Tom and I rung those church bells. I took hold of the rope and pulled with all my might. Dong! Went the bell. And the rope pulled me up, off my feet, high up above the ground, and there I hung, for just a second or two. Enough time for me to laugh and laugh.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Twelve Days to the Wedding

"There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” So says my friend Bill by way of Hamlet. Or, put even more elegantly by Bob Marley: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/none but ourselves can free our own mind.” So, I reason, change my thinking; free my mind. Soon and fast, please. Reading my thoughts the other day, a friend sent me a passage from some kind of life-coachy thing: a piece about how, as we grow into (it is to be hoped) wiser and kinder people (which is for me, the goal, at least occasionally, on good days), we begin to choose our friends and partners and intimates not so much on the basis of attraction but on some other factors as well. Like, can they pay the rent, or at least not punch a hole in your wall each month so that you’re adding construction costs onto your monthly mortgage? Or, are they enough aware of their own narcissism so that when your beloved fourteen-year-old cat has died after a protracted battle with her liver, they do not say, “Hey, cheer up—it’ll be fun to get a new kitten!”

For readers following this blog, you know that around Easter I became obsessed with finding a small animal, namely a bunny, to hold. Not to keep—just to hold for a while. Believing, as I do, that the Devil is in the grasping and God is in the letting go, I did not pursue this particular desire, to the relief of Tom and (I’m sure) the bunny and its mother. But life has a funny way of speaking to you.

“Hey, Nerissa,” Life said—or at least a voice of some kind woke me from my post lunch nap. “I’ve got something to show you.”

In this case, the Voice of Life was Tim, the insulation man, who had come to pump insulation into the new room in our house. I followed him out the door, barefoot and shivering, my hands crossed over my chest rubbing my upper arms. The tulips and daffodils we planted last fall shocked me with their reds and yellows as I squinted into the midday sun. Tim is older than me, with a fringe of grey hair that hangs well below his blue Red Sox cap. I followed him silently around the side of my house over to the fence, which separates my yard from our neighbor’s.

“Look,” Tim whispered, pointing to a mound of grey insulation fluff packed up against the fence. I tiptoed around the new hosta plants, poking their staffs up from the earth. I peered into the hole and saw a shiny black rabbit eye, winking up at me, surrounded by soft brown fur, the backs of his two siblings. Three baby rabbits snuggled in a rabbit hole.

“They really do make rabbit holes,” I whispered back. I don’t know what I had thought, in all my Alice in Wonderlandish contemplations, but I guess up until that point, I thought the proverbial rabbit hole was just that: proverbial.

I am preparing for my wedding. My second wedding, I should say. And as joyful as Tom and I are at having finally found each other, as much as we are looking forward to celebrating the big day, and the marriage for (happily) ever after, we are also looking back down the rabbit holes we emerged from, and a piece of that involves the last partners we sallied down the aisle with.

It’s a well known psychological saw that we tend to be attracted to people who will help us work through our problematic issues with our families of origin. Some say this is the very essence of what we like to think of as “chemistry” between two people: it is simply the stunning recognition of emotional attributes our parents or older siblings possessed that caused us pleasure and pain. There is nothing wrong or stupid in being attracted to these people; it’s just hard wired into us. The trick, say the smarty pants sociologists and psychologists, is for us to pick people who are emotionally healthy, loving and who don’t force us to sit with them and watch reruns of “Married…With Children.”

The passage (by Melody Beattie, I later discovered) said, “No matter who we find ourselves relating to, and what we discover happening in the relationship, the issue is still about us, and not about the other person.” That’s the good news and the bad news. No one out there is going to fix us, and we aren’t going to fix anyone else. No one out there is going to rescue us nor are we going to rescue the other guy. If I’m annoyed with my partner, it’s usually because he is behaving in a way that reminds me of my own annoying qualities. Or because he’s watching “Married…With Children.”

Martha Beck likes a little slogan called “You Spot It You Got It,” and I mutter it under my breath sometimes when my partner ruminates for the millionth time that week about what he wants to be when he grows up or changes his mind three times about where he wants to go for dinner. There’s another teacher I like named Byron Katie whose basic premise is that we all live by stories we create, stories that can keep us trapped and miserable. Stories like, “I am fat,” or “ I’m too old to go to graduate school” or “I could never afford to go to Spain,” or “my husband doesn’t really love me.” The Work she suggests we do is to continually ask ourselves, about these stories, “Is it true?” And then “what am I getting out of this story? How do I feel when I chose to believe it?” If you can see that the story is really serving to make you miserable and may not actually be 100% true anyway, you can see if a different story seems just as true or truer. She works with “turnarounds” which allow you to see how the story you’re beating yourself up with might be better told in a different way. So “Tom can never make up his mind about where to go for dinner” has a few different versions. One is, “Tom can make up his mind about where to go for dinner.” (Because he always eventually does.) Also, “I can’t make up my mind about where to go for dinner,” is actually just as true. I can’t, often. And if I could, I might tell Tom where I really wanted to go and then maybe he wouldn’t have a problem. Learning to work with these turnarounds helps me to forgive the other person for being, ahem, human, and more importantly, to forgive myself. The longer I go along here, the more I seem to get it that Life, God, Humanity, Goodness, all that we want and love (Love, for that matter) is about connection. Meanwhile, addiction, the Devil, disease, “Married…with Children” and all things Bad are about disconnection. For me this manifests in a myriad of ways: making little lists of numbers add up (or not) in columns in the margins of a notebook, counting calories or dollars or some other quantifiable metaphor for turning life into rungs on a ladder.

When I do my real work, which is connecting with myself, with a compassionate truth (like, “Nerissa, you are lovable”) rather than a conditional truth (like, “Nerissa, you were late again today”), I get a lot back. To wit: my ex-husband and I did the best we could. He is a good person and so am I. And: I think the whole point of this human life is to learn how to love and how to be loved. Lately, in the past few weeks, a number of people have talked about the love of worrying, as in “she loves to worry.” And I realize that’s true of me: I think I hate it, but if I really hated it, why would I make lists of numbers? Why would I worry about how many calories I ate or how much money I make? Doesn‘t Jesus say something about the lilies of the field and how we can’t add one cubit to our stature by worrying? And yet, when I think of a relaxing activity to do tonight, I think about making a budget for May to make sure I meet my expenses for June. And what I really need to do is page through Brides’ Magazine to choose a hairdo for my wedding in two weeks.

We have a hard time celebrating in this culture. If you don’t believe me, look around you the next time you’re at a wedding or a party. If it were so easy to celebrate, why is it that people overeat and get drunk? Real celebration is about real connection. Engagement. And sometimes life feels too complicated to show up and engage. Sometimes we’d rather check out. We go down our rabbit holes. We act out our early patterns with our current partners. We hang on to them and ask them to be other than who they are. We blame and we self-destruct. Why is it so hard sometimes to dance?

I don’t believe in wrong moves anymore. Or at any rate, I think we can always turn around.

In order to do this very difficult thing called loving and letting ourselves be loved, we need first to separate before we connect. We need to have a Self before we can surrender it. We need to be single and strong, our own best beloved, before we can become engaged.

So back to the bunnies. The day after we discovered the rabbit hole, we came back to check on the baby rabbits and found it empty. We had assiduously kept Cody, our Aussie Shepherd from nosing around there, and I find it hard to believe that some other predator could have gotten them. And besides, it’s my story. Maybe what we discovered was not really a rabbit hole but more like a rabbit birthing nest. I am hoping the bunnies have made a new hole, possibly in the loose earth beneath our barn. We see their mother hopping about at night, collecting food for them. We don’t need to hold them. We know they are with us, sharing the land. And I can say the same for David and Tom’s ex wife. When we walk down the aisle, they will be there in spirit, giving us away.

Friday, April 22, 2005

There is this question of ambition.


When I was in high school. Our wonderful headmaster, Charlie Saltzman, a grey haired character who read us the King James Version of the Bible and drove a bright red Harley motorcycle around campus, opened assembly one April with ee cummngs’ “In Just- Spring.” I was taken to a place I’d never visited before, and later that day in English class Mrs. Thomas read us the poem again, this time all of us following along on the page. I got to see the way the poem was laid out, how unusual the bettyandisobel, how delightful the wee baloonman. The language literally pulled at my heart and I understood in a three dimensional way what poetry actually is, what poetry can do. I felt it with my ears, I played with it with my mind, and it flooded me with memories of my own spring days and weeks, internal and external. I felt sad and happy and excited and wistful all at once. I felt.

At the time, I was divorced from my own poetry, the songs I’d been writing. I’d traded in my guitar for a set of color coordinated composition books, one for each subject. I stopped trusting poetry, or at least I stopped trusting that I could dare to believe that I was one. Poetry was hard. Poetry demanded a connection to something otherworldly, a muse outside of myself, and for the moment, I was in the process of fleeing all that. I was hungering for letters I could subjugate, sentences I could diagram and verbs I could congregate. I wanted numbers that added up, proofs I could brandish, equations that would balance. I wanted something outside of myself to tell me I was good, like a big red A on a paper, or an acceptance letter from an ivy league college. I didn’t have any faith in the murky, marshy world of music making, the topsy turvy world of fiction; unless of course, it involved my writing a five page essay describing the theme of livestock in As I Lay Dying or the color white in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

“I am not a very good artist, “ my friend Avery confided to my reflection one day as we were washing our hands at the girl’s room sink. “But I am a fantastic critic.”
“Lucky,” I thought. “I want to be a critic. Much safer.”

By the time I got through college, the role of student, theme chaser and critic had lost its appeal, and I once again felt confident enough to write my own material again. Either that, or my brief foray into the working world convinced me that I was not cut out either to wake up at 6am nor work for anyone else, and being somewhat unemployable anyway, I dove headfirst into a career in music, with the desire to do what ee cummings had done for me that day in April in the assembly meeting. I wanted to write something that would make someone think in three dimensions. So I started a rock band.

Fast forward four years to five musicians, one sound engineer and an enthusiastic tour manager driving around the belly of the United States in a sixteen passenger van. The enthusiastic tour manager, who basically sees this as one long extended post-college road trip, says the names of the signs out loud as she passes them, in that half-conscious childish way people do. “Akron,” she says dreamily. “Men at work.”
The rest of us allow her to be the cheerful enthusiastic one, just as we allow our guitar player to be the details man, AKA the designated worrier. I have since learned that every social group unconsciously hands out these two positions to whomever applies first for the job. It allows the rest of the group to be apathetic and detached as well as to take copiously long naps and sneer at anyone who gets her hopes up that we might actually be getting somewhere.

“Which would you rather be,” says the tour manager. “Rich or famous?”
“Rich,” say the guitar player and the drummer.
“Famous,” say the singer and the bass player.
“Neither,” I say without missing a beat. “I don’t care about money at all. And it’s not that I want to be famous. I want to have influence. I want to make a difference. I want people to know my work. I want Power,”

“Well, honey, that’s ambition,” says my friend Effelia today when I tell her this story.
“What do you mean?” I say. We are walking along the river in just spring. The ground is still brown and the forest floor is covered with leaves, and if I close my eyes and listen to the sound they make, I might be tricked into thinking it’s fall, except my sense of smell won’t let me. It is simply too rich right now to be anything other than the most potent, life giving of seasons. And strange plants whose names I may never know are poking up from the ground, strong stem green scrolls that look like they mean business.

Effelia points to the scrolls. “That,” she says. “Is ambition.”

This is what I learned from my years in the van, the years of trying to simultaneously play critic and artist. I learned that artists do not get paid for their work but for their effort, and even then they frequently don’t get paid. To be paid is nice--it’s gravy--but if that’s why you are doing what you are doing, you might want to think about another line of work. I also learned that some people make it and others don’t and if you line up the artists in terms of talent, it makes no sense at all. I learned that the very best part of the whole experience in the moment you get to put pen to paper, fingers to strings, voice to air, feet to stage. No one can put a price tag on that experience in either direction—what you paid, what you get paid-- and we certainly ended up paying more than we were paid.

And I’d pay it again.

At one point in our career, we hit a wall, a critical junction where it looked for a time that we would lose our record company, lose our van, lose our booking agent, lose in short all the trappings that made us feel successful—lose the big red A on the paper, the letter of acceptance from the Ivy League college. And on that day, I turned to the bass player and said, “We can still play. We can always still play.” And from that point on, I was free, or so I thought.



I have a book coming out in a month. My first novel. It was exhilarating to write and very very hard work. I just heard from my publicist that the publisher is dragging its feet about getting galleys to magazines for reviews and to book stores for readings.
“Oh, no,” I thought. “This is terrible! My one chance at immortality! My book is going to perish! It will languish in a warehouse somewhere and no one will read it! And I will be laughed at and criticized and hung up to dry.” My stomach roiled, my brow furrowed, and answering my email stopped being fun. I went to bed and wrote in my journal, angry letters I will never send. Then I began to laugh and pretty soon I’d stopped caring about the publisher. I picked up War and Peace, which I shall be reading possibly for the next year and a half at the rate I am going, and soon I was back in the world of the war of 1812 and sleigh rides and wolf hunts and Pierre and Natasha. I felt so grateful that such a man as Tolstoy had taken all that time to write such an amazingly vital story, and had no interest in either criticizing it nor trying to write a better book myself. I just felt happy.

“What if I stopped caring about being published?” I said aloud. “What does it matter?
And then I thought of those plants by the river, those scroll-like bottom feeders poking up like river crocuses, intrepid and resilient. I always thought I was like a crocus, and I thought that meant I had to assert myself somehow onto the world, let them know I’m here, damnit! I am me! I am important! I have something to say! Listen!

But maybe I’ve been looking at it the wrong way. Maybe I did, maybe I do, who knows. Maybe the point is not the statement, nor is it the product. Maybe the point is just the action, the beautiful action, the poking up, the assertion, the first one to celebrate spring. And once that message is delivered, to relax and unfurl and watch the rest of the parade go by.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Enlightenment Blues #2: Easter

Here’s how I know I’m not enlightened yet. Right this moment, I believe the only thing that will make me happy is if someone would bring me a little tiny baby rabbit to hold in my hands. Either that or a pet kitten. Or maybe a baby goat. I can practically smell the soft fur, and even though I’ve gone down this road before, this time I am sure it will be different.

I’ve had four kittens in my life, and each time, for some bizarre reason, they have morphed from delightfully humorous cuddlemuffins into cantankerous, malodorous proprietors of cat boxes. We all know the cat box to be the scourge of the planet Earth, the most vile of sand traps, creator of stench and small pellets which wedge in your bare feet when you descend to the basement to do laundry. (Please do not send me your recommendations for high quality cat litter, state of the art magic cat boxes or training manuals in getting your cat to poop in the human toilet.) Why I think rabbits (who eat their poop the first time around and then let it sit in their cage the second time) would be any better than a kitten is beyond me at the moment. But that’s the point. Even though last week, I definitely thought Nirvana was at hand, I have since descended to the netherworld of wanting, aversion and delusion. I am not enlightened; to wit, I am what Brother Buddha would call A Hungry Ghost. Hungry for a soft kitten. Or bunny. Or miniature baby goat. And I don’t want it to grow up.

Saturday night I watched What the Bleep Do We Know? with my fiancé Tom. I’ve had the movie out for a week, and I’ve watched it four and a half times. It’s a heady, groovy movie about quantum physics and enlightenment, complete with state of the arts graphics and Ramtha, a 10,000 year old sage as channeled by a blond woman named JZ Knight who resembles Zsa Zsa Gabor. The movie is all about creating your own reality, addiction to emotions and how we miss the point—getting to be alive—on a daily basis.

“Wow,” said Tom.

“I know,” I said. We were profoundly moved and forever changed from the experience.

Then we got up from the couch to do the dinner dishes. I ran the water over a dirty bowl where the tuna steaks had been marinating. While I was letting the tap water rinse the bowl, I crossed the room to get the flatware from the table. Tom came over to the sink and turned the water off, a familiar dynamic in our clean up rituals.
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck go up, like a pissed-off cat.

“Hey,” I said. “I had that on for a reason!”

“I know,” he said, in his special tone which I did not like one jot. “But we really don’t need to waste water.”

I fumed. Mr. Spotless Environik was right again, and I hated that. I also hated being bossed around in the kitchen, having my little system of bowl cleaning disrupted, and most of all, hated the fact that I was still so childish and petty to even care. What would Jesus/Buddha/Muhammad/Gandhi/Mother Teresa/Ramtha do? Surely they would not have bristled at the gentle correction of their partner’s turning off of the wasted water.

This is the problem with WW fill in the blank D. Immediately we think we need to be fill in the blank. What if Jesus was occasionally wrong?

I went upstairs and filled the bathtub with warm water, lit some candles, sat in the tub and thought about anger. Tom and I never used to fight like this. I thought of the Righteous Brothers Song “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” and started to cry. I toweled myself off, put on my most comforting polarfleece, and got into bed.

Tom came up and joined me.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you,” I said.
He shrugged. “No big deal,” he said. “We’re both tense. In six weeks, we’ll be getting married for the second time. It’s kind of scary. It’s a miracle we aren’t screaming at each other night and day.”

This made me sadder and angrier. The story I like to believe is that Tom and I were married before TO THE WRONG PEOPLE! And that even though it was sad and painful to break up with those people, ALL IS WELL NOW BECAUSE WE FOUND EACH OTHER! So when Tom says something like what he said next: “There’s a lot of grief we still have, sweetie, about our exes”—I get angry again. I don't like to be told I have more grieving to do. I want to be done, finito, on to the next wedding cake.

But before I snapped for the second time that evening, I paused. I felt the snap inside. Snap! And it felt like a tiny ampule of medicine, pouring a hot Tabasco sauce-like liquid through my veins. Usually when I get this feeling, I NEED to say something out loud, to let the person who made me snap--the snapper, if you will—know that his behavior is less than acceptable. I think I will DIE if I don't assert my rights! But what if I don't?

“I don’t really need to react,” I said. “I don’t need to snap at you! I can choose instead to feel that burn of anger of keeping my mouth shut. And later on, I will forget about it and not feel as though I abandoned the Equal Rights Amendment.”

As soon as I said this, I felt liberated. I felt the sky open and a dove settle on my shoulders. Well, not really, but it was a nice feeling. Tom looked at me and smiled.
“You can snap all you want, he said and kissed me on the top of my head.

The top of my head kept spinning. What if being angry was exactly what I was supposed to be feeling? What if it were as natural for me to feel anger in this moment in my life as it was for a kitten to chase a ball of yarn?

And that’s when I first got this incredibly strong urge to get an Easter bunny.
“Can we get an Easter bunny?” I asked Tom.
“What?” he said.
“You know. Tomorrow’s Easter. People sell little tiny bunnies right about now.”
“Yeah, in Flint, Michigan,” said Tom, looking at me like I’d cracked.
“I know, I know. It’s weird. It’s completely against everything I stand for. But all of a sudden I want a little teeny Easter bunny. Or maybe a chick. Or a kitten.”
Tom looked very alarmed.


On Easter Sunday at my little renegade Congregational church in West Cummington, Stephen (shepherd poet minister) preached a sermon about Jesus’ last days. He said, “That story about Jesus riding in to Jerusalem and overturning the money changers? Let’s look at that closely.”

And he proceeded to give us a radical reading of a scene which has always perplexed me. In the scene, Jesus basically throws a first class temper tantrum, overturning the money changers’ tables and whipping them with a whip—a very mean thing to do. And one that was rife with symbolism for Jews who were about to celebrate Passover, which commemorated the end of their slavery in Egypt.

“It seems obvious to me,” suggested Stephen, “That one of the main reasons why the Jews were so angry with Jesus was this very public, violent action. What if Jesus’ crucifixion were looked at as a kind of instant karma? He loses his temper; he gets killed.”

I looked around the church, waiting to see if someone would jump down Stephen’s throat for suggesting, on Easter Sunday of all days, that Jesus Christ might have been responsible for his own death. That it wasn’t some kind of divine plan. That he didn’t die for our sins, in that equation way explained to me by my Campus Crusade for Christ friends back in my college days. Adam=First Man (who through sin) subtract God. Jesus steps in, takes Adams’ place; now Man is +God.

No one jumped the pulpit. Some people nodded.
“Because you see,” said Stephen. “Jesus was human. This is human. And humans get angry.”

And I felt the dove descend once again, the top of my head spin. Anger. Even Jesus got angry. Thank God! But anger has its consequences. And its greatest consequences are always leveled at the person who is, him or herself, angry. My anger is there. It’s wonderful! It’s a fire that wakes me up, points something out. Pay attention! But when I react to it, or act out of it—when I snap at Tom for commandeering my dishwashing program—there will be consequences. There will be burning.

We had a pancake breakfast after church. We laughed and joked with the members of the congregation. One of our fellow congregants raises the cutest Aussie puppies you’ve ever seen.

“Let’s register for one!” I said to Tom. “Cody would love a playmate!” Poor Tom smiled and restrained himself from mentioning that it is he, not I, who mostly walks our current Australian Shepherd. But, I would have said if I weren’t practicing my own form of blessed self control, Cody is no longer a cuddlemuffin.

For the entire drive down, the hill, I kept my eyes peeled for a sign for baby bunnies.

“There has to be someone selling them,” I said. “On today of all days.”
Tom looked at me again, started to open his mouth. He looked longsuffering. I could tell he was practicing what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “cooking your potatoes.” This is when, recognizing that anger is a fire, you put anger to good use: without fire, you would not be able to cook your potatoes. The goal is to concentrate that fire into boiling water rather than setting the house ablaze. Tom did admirably, and you will be glad to know we made it down the hill with no baby animals in the car.

I still want to believe my own myths. I want to believe that marriage is a mystical process of finding my soul mate and having him save me all the while saving him. But I know it doesn't quite work like that. Relationships grow and change; they have a kittenhood and a cathood of their own.

“A woman completes a man,” a friend of mine (a man) said to me today.

“No, “ I said. “You complete you. I complete me. But if I can find someone to share the joke with, I will have a more interesting time in this go-round.”

When we got back down from West Cummington, we took nine year old Cody for a long walk in the park. Then we came home and I picked up my guitar and played Bob Dylan’s “Someone’s Got A Hold Of My Heart” while Tom played the drums. And for the span of that song, looking across the music room at my intended, his eyes closed, his whole body engaged in music making, I thought, “This is Nirvana. This is heaven. This is better than holding a baby bunny.

“This is Easter.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Enlightenment Blues, Part One

Above my desk is a list of my goals. They are:
1. Write great, classic songs that will endure beyond my death
2. Have a great family which I sustain and which sustains me
3. Be a part of a vital, creative community
4. Meet Paul McCartney
5. Become enlightened.


To wit, I do a number of things every day to advance my goals: I write. I make sure to at least say hi to my fiancé, Tom, with whom I live; I call my sisters and my parents, play with my nieces and nephews. I get out of the house, answer emails, talk on the phone with old friends, try to make new ones. The Paul McCartney thing, I admit, I’m not doing that much towards advancing, but I will have you know that at one point, I asked our record company to send him our CD to see if he wanted to produce us. He declined, but I’m pretty sure that was only because he was dealing with slightly more urgent matters, like the death of his wife.

As for becoming enlightened, it’s not going so well. I’m a dutiful little Bodhisatva in training. I meditate daily—well, I suppose that continues to be debatable, as I have the world’s most blabbering monkey mind. But I do assume the position--after twenty years, my legs twist into a marvelous lotus, almost without any help from my hands. I go to a tiny congregational church in the hill town of Cummington where the pastor, a shepherd and a poet, has never set foot in divinity school.

And I read spiritual books like some people eat potato chips. I can’t get enough, Whoever is the guru du jour, you can bet I’m reading him or her. And for the span of time that I’m reading this guru, I see the world completely through his/her eyes. Byron Katie? Everything is “your story, sweetheart!” Eckhardt Tolle? “Be still. Listen…….to ze ………spaces……..as much …….ass…..ze verds. “

I read about how to be in the present moment and how to be so deeply committed to a partner that the idea that you are two separate beings will never thereafter enter your mind. Of course, I am reading so fanatically, that when Tom leans over to kiss me and tell me about his day, I nod and go, “Uh huh,” without looking up from my newest book, “How To Be Completely Present For The One You Love.”

My biggest problem with some of these gurus is they’re not that funny. They can’t be—because to be really funny, you have to make fun of yourself, at least a little. To be funny you have to be human and fallible. But here’s where the guru is stuck in a bind. If she makes fun of herself, she is pointing out that she is sliding, perhaps, from that rarified spot on top of the mountain. She is admitting that even though she’s enlightened, she’s not always so. And if she is selling that product: My Brand Of Enlightenment (let’s call is “EnlightenMee” just for kicks) which promises freedom from ego-ic thoughts and emotions, the ability to let Whatever Is Be So, but has to add this disclaimer: “Usually works, but sometimes I hurl my computer on the floor when AOL Crashes and I lose an important email--” well, you can see how this might undermine her credibility just a little.

Oftentimes, the guru’s story goes like this: Down and Out man/woman is either depressed or addicted or just plain mean as hell. Down and Out person goes to bed gnashing his/her teeth in despair, wondering what is the point of even waking up the next morning. Then, Down and Outer has a huge epiphany complete with thunder and lightening, Beethovenesque crescendos and a severe ringing in the ear. During this epiphany, Down and Outer realizes that our thoughts are our only problem, that we are all One, that God is a Great Light which loves us all, and that we are each, in fact, God.

That’s all fine. I have no problem with that. My problem comes with what happens next. Former Down and Outer stands up from the epiphany, shakes him or herself off, spends a few years sitting on a park bench just smiling benevolently at passers by, or, alternatively at a kitchen sink washing dishes (and by that I mean, really washing dishes. Dong nothing but washing dishes but being so in the NOW with the dishes that the dishes become part of God, part of nature, part of the down and outer, and no one notices dishpan hands or needs Palmolive…) Anyway, Post Epiphanal Down and Outer emerges some years after the epiphany on the self help circuit, pawning a book with his or her face smiling smugly and deeply, and the book has words like “groundbreaking” and “revolutionary” on the cover. Soon, the guru is being featured in People Magazine, Oprah and the Today Show. Here Post Epiphanal Down and Outer smiles calmly and the interviewer actually wonders, “Has this person had a stroke?” But instead merely asks, “Don’t you ever worry about anything?”

“No,” is the answer, given with calm assurance but no humor. “Why should I worry? The universe provides for my every need. I have but to be with whatever is and know that this is the way it should be.”

I can’t argue with this. And I know my contrariness, if it were to be analyzed by one of these gurus, comes from my ego resisting the notion that it is not a singular, unique self. I know that these gurus would say I am addicted to my thinking, I am addicted to my emotions and I am addicted to my sense of self. And I would have to admit this is true.

But, guru, what about grief? Aren’t we supposed to grieve our losses? In the last few years, if I have learned one lesson, it’s been that. In the actual grief, in the very center of that feeling of loss and nothingness, I have found the sweetness. I have found the comforting presence of Other, of Being, of God or whatever you want to call that feeling that we are, that I am, not alone. And I don’t believe I would have found it without falling all the way to the bottom. When you’re on the ground there is nowhere to fall.

*******

My sister has a polyp on her vocal chord. Its timing is extraordinarily bad, materializing right at this moment, at what was supposed to be the beginning of the resumption of our music career after a six month maternity leave. We are supposed to go back out on the road supporting a novel, a book based on one of my songs. We recorded a soundtrack to go with the book, and the soundtrack came out over a year ago. We had a whole plan to tour behind the CD and the book, to bring our message of freedom and self-fulfillment to young women everywhere, to liberate all with the power of the word and the guitar. Now, we don’t know when she’ll be able to sing again.

When I sing with my sister, I have a physical reaction. My throat aches with pleasure when my voice joins hers. It’s the easiest thing I do, and that for which I get the most credit. Sometimes I resent this; it reminds me of what my friend Priscilla said about her red hair. “People are always admiring my red hair,” says Priscilla. “But I do nothing to have red hair. Why can’t they admire my abs or my sense of style? Those things I’m responsible for.”

I want people to admire me for those things I sweat and slave over. Why can’t people admire my songs? That’s what I want. I want people to admire my songs, to love my songs, to sing them without me present (especially if they are Bette Midler or Garth Brooks and want to put them on an album. The royalties for that would surely pay for my transatlantic flight to London where I could stalk Paul McCartney. Or at least pay for my dream kitchen.)

I climb to the top of the mountain where the guru sits, all in white, naturally. This guru is a blond Germanic woman with one of those odd European voices—a voice that speaks English with so little trace of an accent you kind of get the creeps, as I used to when I watched Soviet Spy Joe Adamov being interviewed on the Today Show in the 70’s.

“Ah,” says the guru. “Turn it around. Why can’t you change your thinking? Why can’t you put ‘Sing with my sister’ at the top of your Goals list? Then you will have already achieved your goal.”


That’s the other problem with these gurus. They leave you no wiggle room when they prove you wrong, and you end up slinking away like a shamed dog. But as I start to slink, the guru says, “Wait. You’re Nerissa Nields, right?”

I am surprised. I really didn’t think the guru liked folk music. But I’ve learned over the years that the strangest people have heard of me, and it’s never the ones I expect. I’ve been so often embarrassed at parties when I introduce myself as a folk singer and the stranger I’m talking to says, “Really? I love folk music! What’s the name of your band?”
When I tell her, she wrinkles her face, and begins to look frighteningly apologetic, as if she’s about to break my heart.
“God!” she’ll say. “I’m really sorry. I know EVERY band that’s up and coming, especially folk bands. But I’ve never heard of you!”

But then there are random people at airports all over the country who recognize me on sight. There are corporate types from my new career as a life coach who say they heard one of my songs on the radio and ordered all our CDs online. You never know where the little seed takes root.

Slowly I turn and face the guru. “Yes,” I say warily.

The guru smiles. “You’ve created quite a fix for yourself, sister,” she says.

“What do you mean?” This guru, while perfect looking at first, I now notice, has love handles and crows feet and is more the beautiful for them.

“Well,” she says. “You believe you’ve made a living off your ego. How are you going to shed it now?”

“Plastic surgery?” I joke. Predictably, she is not amused.

“Service,” I say, guessing. That seems to be the right answer to all spiritual questions in the same way that “performance” is the right answer for corporate life coaches.

The guru looks at me as though she knows I know better.

“I know!” I say. “Be in the NOW!”

Now she’s angry. “Well, of course, be in the now.” And she turns her back on me! I’m dismissed! I can’t believe I climbed all the way up here for this!

“Wait a second,” I say. “I have a question!”

She sighs and turns back.

“Now that you’re all enlightened and everything, I want to know, do you ever get irritated?”

Aha! I’ve trapped her, Since it’s pretty obvious that she’s irritated at this very moment. This present moment. This now.

She whirls around. “You’re goddamned right I do! When I’m angry, I’m angry! And you are pissing me off! Go down the mountain and climb up again tomorrow.”

This is too much. I’ve had a really hard week. I miss my sister. I am angry that she has to suffer. I want to sing with her, and I’m trying to find a way out of my stupid suffering and I’m trying to be brave and honest and ask the right questions, and I really don’t fancy climbing a mountain this tall twice in two days. I do the thing I swore I wouldn’t do in front of the guru: I sit down on a rock and cry.

The rock is pink and grey like a lung. I weep kind of softly and as I weep, I feel a little better. I’ve been singing with my sister, writing songs, trying to get more people to recognize me in airports, for my whole adult life. I’m tired of things changing without my permission.

The guru has come over and is sitting next to me. I don’t look at her. It sounds like she might be chewing gum, which shocks me, just a tad.

“So why Paul McCartney? Why not Bob Dylan?” she says finally. “Bob Dylan’s a much better songwriter.”

“I know,” I say, wiping my nose on my sleeve. “But Bob Dylan’s mean. He hates fans. If he met me, he’d be mean to me and ignore me. Paul McCartney on the other hand, loves to talk to fans. He goes out of his way to talk to fans.”

“So which goal is easier to attain? Meeting Paul McCartney or meeting Bob Dylan?”

“Huh?” I say, fearing I’m about to be tricked again. “Meeting Paul. I mean, if I happened to be in London. I’ve heard he walks the same way to his office everyday, always hoping to be stopped by fans who want to ask him Beatles minutia like what kind of reverb did he use on the drums at the end of ‘Hello Goodbye. ‘ They say if he doesn’t get recognized he practically bumps into people. He really likes to talk.”

“So, is it fair to say that you like doing things the easy way?”

I nod vigorously. “Of course! I don’t want to have to bang my head against the wall! Who does?”

“Um,” she says, “You do. Sometimes. You struggle against the flow of the river. You said you want credit for the things you work so hard at, the things you strive to accomplish. You don’t want credit for the easy things like being able to harmonize with your sister. But don’t you get it? The easy thing is a gift. Paul McCartney’s accessibility to his fans is a gift. Your harmonizing with your sister is a gift. Why not go with the flow? The river’s heading south, sister, and instead of going along with it, you suddenly decide to swim north.”

My blood boils. This woman is an unfeeling jerk!

“It’s good to go against the flow sometimes! It keeps you exercising! It makes you strong! It’s good to resist! If we all went with the flow, we’d be allowing atrocities to take place! What if Gandhi went with the flow? What if Martin Luther King went with the flow?”

She is smiling at me in the most annoying way. “They did. How do you know that the Flow wasn’t moving towards freedom and liberation and they weren’t just riding the wave?”

“Because they got shot!” I shout. The wind is picking up a little and I see the trees on the peak across the range from us blow sideways. Yet somehow, not a hair on this woman’s head moves.

“And what’s so bad about that?”

“They DIED!!” I scream. “What is wrong with you?”

“And dying is bad?”

I get up. I hate this woman. “My sister can’t sing right now,” I say, squinting at her, as if by looking at her with less of my vision she will shrink. “How am I supposed to go with the flow when the river’s dried up?”

I turn and walk down the mountain and I will not climb it again.

But as I pass the crest, I look back. She is sitting on the lung rock with that annoying Mona Lisa smile on her lips, gazing across the valley. Suddenly my anger is gone. I don‘t know about Katryna, about her voice, about when the next time will be when we get to sing together. But I do, suddenly, inexplicably, know what it feels like to get angry, to cry, to shout, to breathe the way you breathe when you’ve just climbed a mountain. My lungs burn a little, saying, “We’re here. Exercise us.” My legs feel strong and ready for another climb. I turn and continue down the mountain. Tom is making pesto chicken for dinner. And even though I said I wouldn’t climb again, I think maybe I will come back tomorrow after all. The view is pretty spectacular, and you only get to see if you take the time to get to the top.

And really, it’s not that hard. It just takes a little time and attention.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Hello, my friends

Hello, my friends,
I need to let you all know that after careful consideration we are cancelling our shows this April.
Ever since I went to the doctor on Friday, every friend and family member who knew about my appointment has called me and asked. I've told the story so many times. Maybe that's why I feel accepting or at least resigned to the less than great news I received. But something kept me from writing to you all right away. I guess that was partly the fact that I was carrying around my sweet William while simultaneously playing ballerina cards with Amelia. Not much room for a computer keyboard in my weekend.
So here I sit. William is still asleep with his Daddy who was up til at least 3am mixing a record. Amelia is watching a new version of Peter Pan starring Cathy Rigby that we got out of Blockbuster yesterday. I don't think it is quite as good as the Mary Martin version and I am quite sure that Cathy Rigby is lip-synching. She doesn't sound ANY different when she is walking around on her hands, upside down. hmmm... Maybe I could try that.
Am I stalling? Well, my doctor had put me on a 6 day dose of steroids during which time I had been silent (see blog for further details.) The polyp shrank a little and the nodule-like reaction on the healthy cord seemed to have disappeared, but the polyp is still quite large and I am still hoarse. I asked the doctor if the hoarseness could be primarily attributable to the acid reflux. She said the reflux could only partially explain the hoarseness and that she thinks the polyp is the primary culprit. We talked about whether I should do the shows in April. As you may have noticed, we don't have shows in May because Nerissa is getting married and going on her honeymoon and doing a book tour on the west coast. My doctor felt that the next two months could be just what I need to shrink the polyp back to where it doesn't bother me. She said that she cannot guarantee a full recovery in that time. She said that surgery was still a possibility, but she was encouraged by the fact that my body has a history of absorbing the polyp enough so that I am not bothered by it. She also said that my throat would be recovered from the acid reflux damage by then.
I am going to be doing some vocal therapy with a speech pathologist in Northampton. My doctor said that if I were to have surgery that the work I do now will cut down the recovery time post surgery. So this is not wasted time. I am also going to try cranio-sacral therapy which many of you recommended. I went for my first session last week and I seemed to feel less hoarse- at least that day.
I miss singing more than you can imagine. A few months ago, inspired by a songbasket at Amelia's school, we made a song suitcase. It is filled with little toys each of which represents a different song. There is a plastic carrot for the Garden Song, a little horse for All the Pretty Little Horses, an angel pin for Amelia's favorite Christmas carol- Angels We Have Heard On High, and lots of others. She asks me all the time to sing her one of the songs. I can't wait to sing for her. I can't wait to sing for you all too. I am feeling patient about it, and also quite hopeful. I have pictures of my vocal cords from the nineties when this first happened. It really did go away. I really could sing once it had shrunk.
I will be doing everything I can to heal including trying to not worry too much. Anxiety can't be good for me.

I am so grateful to all of you for your kind wishes and for YOUR patience. I will continue to keep posting blogs.
I am sorry for this hiatus. Thank you all for your understanding.
Katryna

Monday, March 14, 2005

She Speaks!

I am joyfully chatting away. I actuallly think I might have overdone it a little. I will return to the doctor on Friday so I will let you know what she sees when she sticks a camera down my throat. I definitely feel better than before the 'roids, but I also definitely have some hoarseness. So, we will see...

Tonight we had chinese food. Super mild version due to my reflux. After supper I opened Amelia's fortune cookie and read it to her. It said, "Try to channel excess energies into rejuvenation." Amelia's response was, "But How do you do THAT?" Then she asked me to read it again. This time she said, "That's hard."

I guess when you have as much excess energy as she has, you can't use ALL of it for rejuvenation. Especially when you're alrady pretty juve.

I am so grateful for my voice. My first instinct all the time is to look for a piece of paper and pen to express myself. Then I remember that I am allowed to talk. It is the best feeling, like when you wake up from that dream and you aren't actually in French class anymore so it doesn't matter that you haven't done any of the reading. Actually, my version of that dream is always that I am in a play and I have not memorized my lines AND I have forgotten to bring the script.

Thanks for all your bloggy comments.
Katryna

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Voice Rest Day 6

So I spoke again today. Patty drove up through the snow to play with Amelia. Since I couldn't talk, I couldn't tell Amelia. She was giddy when Patty's car pulled up into the driveway. We were watching Mary Martin's Peter Pan and playing with blocks and puzzles. Patty arrived with a Unicorn paint kit, a book about Sue Bird and a gummy candy making kit. She's a travelling amusement park.

Well after an hour or so of playing inside, Patty managed to convince Amelia to go out and play in the snow. I attempted to get Amelia dressed. This was a challenge because Amelia wanted to wear a dress. It's a bit chilly out today. The silent fighting was a sight to behold. Patty was most amused.
Eventually they went out intent on returning to steaming cups of hot cocoa and marshmallows.

There is an impressive snowman in our driveway (who might get plowed away...) and there were some thuds on the walls and roof from Amelia and Patty throwing snowballs at the house. Lots of giggling and delight ensued outside. When they came in, as they were delayering, I got two cups of hot water and put them on the counter. One of them was Amelia's Peter Rabbit cup. Well I was holding a crying William and Amelia came up behind me and grabbed the cup off the counter. Patty saw the whole thing and had Amelia under the sink in the cold water practically before she had even started to cry. Needless to say, I spoke again. Amelia is fine. She had a few pink areas on her wrists, but I think those are even gone now. Still, it's see
ms like we have had more than the usual trauma this week. We have certainly had more nightmares, but that seems like it might be connected. I would think that having your mother go from a chatterbox to a mute could be unsettling.
Last night she told me that she had had a dream about William falling out of the car in his carseat. Dave said that means that even her subconscious actually loves William.
Well, it is my last day. I am so excited about talking again. I am even excited about not having to take those pills all day. Today I only had one. Yet, as I write, I can hear, emanating from the living room, the sounds of a spring training game. It reminds me of the dream.. the unfulfilled dream, that will remain unfulfilled all because I chose to get juiced.
I can't wait for tomorrow.
Hope you all are having a great weekend!
Katryna

Friday, March 11, 2005

Voice Rest Friday

So yesterday I was cut off from my lifeline. I could not get online all day. argh. The most significant event of the day before was that I had enlisted the help of a babysitter in putting Amelia to bed. Dave was working and I could do most things, but not the bedtime story... Well, Amelia is accustomed to a "counting story." This means that I tell her a story that ends with me counting. It used to be that I would count to 100. Now I have it down to 30 or 40. A story might be about Amelia and I camping in the Adirondacks in the summertime. We decide to lie out on the grass and count the stars. Then I count. Well, her sitter came downstairs after reading her a couple of books. Amelia had requested that I tell her a counting story in sign language. I went up to her room and lay down next to her. She instantly found my belly button and put her finger in it. Then she said, " Mama, you're my favorite person in the whole world." I signed to her that I loved her. Then she said, "William is too little to tell a counting story and Daddy doesn't like it when I put my finger in his belly button, but you can do both!" I was most honored. Then I tried to tell her a counting story in sign language. I really tried. Finally she said, " Mama, I don't understand what you are saying."
gave up and kissed her goodnight. The sitter returned and Amelia fell asleep to her counting.

I have been a little cranky. I am looking forward to this silence thing being over. I get to talk again on Sunday.
Also I ready for winter to be over. I think I might be more hostile to the snow now that it made me crash. But, really. This is ridiculous. I just heard that Worcerster has had 99" of snow so far this season. What is with that? I made the mistake of watching The Day After Tomorrow- is that the global warming movie?- during a particularly big storm this winter. Now I am scared that spring will never come to New England.

I miss singing. Even in all my crankiness I am quite hopeful. I truly believe that I will be able to sing in April. I sure hope so.

I will try to revel in the beauty of what I am sure will be our last big storm of the season.
Katryna