Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Iron Horse October 16, 2010

ANNUAL NIELDS IRON HORSE SHOW!!! Saturday October 16th at 7pm.

ANNUAL NIELDS IRON HORSE SHOW!!! Saturday October 16th at 7pm.

Hello friends and Happy Fall.

I must say that this is the first year in a LONG time that I have not resented the hell out of the fall. I so love summer in New England that I am always sad about it. Maybe it's the fact that we had a really long summer this year thanks to a hot June; maybe it's the fact that I got to see a majestic Moose crossing the road this week; maybe it's the fact that Monarch butterflies chose OUR front yard to lay their eggs, live their caterpillar lives and spin their crysalides(I looked that up); or maybe it is the fact that my son, having started Kindergarten, is as cheerful as I have ever known him to be. No matter why, everyone's favorite season in New England is finally also mine. Though the leaves are different than usual owing to the drought, they are no less beautiful this year. I tell you this because I am attempting to lure you here. You really should come. It's gorgeous and better than that, Nerissa and I are planning our annual Iron Horse show.

Some of our very favorite musical memories happened at the Iron Horse. Three of our cds include material recorded live in this magical space. Two of them were recorded entirely in this our beloved hometown club. We moved to this Pioneer Valley in large part because of this club. People all over the country are always telling us that they dream of making it to Northampton for a show in that hallowed room. Well, folks, now is the time. But I am guessing you are wondering about those famed musical memories. Here are my top 5:

1. Our first headline show at the Iron Horse in June of 1992. We had only played the open mic. We were as green as anyone could ever be. We were given the amazing opportunity to play a free show on that stage by the founder of the club, Jordi Herold. Nerissa made us the best press kit out of our two measly pieces of press and wrote us a fabulous bio and included photos taken of us by one of our students at the time. She sent it to every newspaper in western Massachusetts and some of them chose to print it. We plastered the town with posters and told all of our fans in Connecticut to come. We expected about 25 people if we were VERY lucky. 165 came. I will never forget the sound of their feet above our heads as we sat in the dressing room, incredulous. We played the best show of our lives up to that point and danced around the dressing room afterwards, happy, oh so happy. And then we knew that we might actually be allowed to do this thing again. After that, Jordi let us open for Cheryl Wheeler and Vance Gilbert. And a beautiful relationship was formed between the Nields and the Iron Horse.

2. One snowy night in January, we were scheduled to play two sold out shows. The first show was exciting and joyful. But during the encore, the electricity went out. We did something off mic and expected that everything would be fine in a few minutes. The audience carefully left and Eric Suher came up to us and said, "there is a line all the way down the block for the second show and the power company has no idea when they'll be able to get the power back on. What should we do?" We were a 5 piece band. And only three of us had instruments that worked without amplification. So Dave drove to Hatfield to pick up acoustic guitars at Nerissa's house. We figured we do 3-4 songs and be done. But when we started to play, we realized that it could be better than amplified sound. The room was lit by a candle on every table and several candles on the stage itself. We sang without mics, Dave Hower played drums with brushes, Dave Chalfant, David Nields and Nerissa all played acoustic guitars. Without a sound system we were not even tied to the stage. We hung off the rafters; we swung from the metal balcony; we joined the audience on the floor as we sung our hearts out. When the electricity came on halfway through the show, the audience all shouted to leave it off. We did. The Iron Horse could handle it.

3. In March of 2001, when I was 32 weeks pregnant with my first child, we took over the Iron Horse for our second set of two shows that we were recording for Live From Northampton. Recording was wonderful, but I had not accounted for how difficult it was going to be to play guitar for "Snowman"! We worked it out, but I am guessing that the Dec version of "Snowman" was the one included on the live CD. The CD ("Live From Northampton") was the last recording the 5 piece Nields ever recorded. It remains our ode to our favorite club in the world, filled with the best fans on the planet.

4. On a terrible day in 1995, we did what we thought might be our last Iron Horse show. Jordi Herold had sold his beloved club to Jo and Craig, two very nice people who, that day, told us they could no longer afford to run it. Everyone said that whoever bought it would turn it into a run-of-the-mill rock club with nothing but cover bands. But then Eric Suher bought it and protected it and preserved the amazing musical treasure that it remains today. This is one of my favorite musical memories because I was so very grateful that night for what the club had given me- both as a performer and as a member of the audience. This club is a community center, and we are so lucky to have it in our Valley.

5. Then there are the times when we were in the audience: Michelle Shocked in 1993 from the third row, Fleming and John- one of the coolest bands EVER. Google them. You will not regret it, Moxy Fruvous so many times, but particularly one night when a couple got engaged. We saw The Story in 1992 playing on a stage crowded by the set for Daniel Lanois; Ollabelle in 2003--one of Nerissa and Tom's very first dates; Ben Demerath and Dave Chalfant and Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry- Dave sang! The Roches- from the balcony. I almost died when they did "Hammond Song;" Suzanne VEga when Nerissa was a couple of days away from giving birth to Johnny. Northern Lights when Katryna was a couple of hours away from giving birth to William... and so many more, too many to count. This place is like no other. Come sit in the audience and sing with us. It won't happen again for a WHOLE YEAR!

So there. Come to our show. We like you and we want you to be there!

Love, Katryna & Nerissa

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bhagavad Gita #1

Our editor has our book, and so I am sitting on my hands. To pass the time, I am reading the Bhagavad Gita. Just for fun. OK, also because it's part of my yoga teacher training, but details.

I love this text. I love the central idea, which seems to me to be stated perfectly in Chapter 2:

You have a right to your actions,
but never to your actions' fruits.
Act for the action's sake.
And do not be attached to inaction.

Self-possessed, resolute, act
without any thought of results
open to success or failure. (2.47-48 translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Such a wonderful ideal for writers and songwriters, performers, mothers, lovers–all of us. And how hard it is to live this way! Open to success or failure? Are you kidding me?

And yet, when one begins a novel, how else can one be? Who has been able to start any endeavor without the knowledge that failure is at least a possibility. I certainly felt this way when I tried to get pregnant, and I have felt this way every single time I sit down to write a song. Most of the work I do as a writer is in silencing the voices that tell me how doomed my nascent writing is.

The Bhagavad Gita is one of the central poems in the Mahabarata, a sacred Indian text written sometime between the 5th Century B.C.E and the first century CE. It may have been an independent poem inserted within the greater work; at any rate, its title means "Song of the Blessed One," and it takes place on the battlefield of Kuru at the beginning of a war between two clans, the Pandavas (good guys, led by Arjuna) and the Kauravas, evil cousins. But Arjuna pauses right before he is to enter the field, stricken with doubt and confusion. Why should he kill his relatives? He drops his weapons and his charioteer, Krishna, who happens to be god incarnate, begins a dialogue that turns into a meditation on the nature of life, death, duty, nonattachment, love, and yoga, which is defined here as "skill in action."

Renunciation of action is giving up, says Krisha; doing what Arjuna wants to do, which seems like humble peacemaking but is really unskillful inaction, shirking duty, fleeing his dharma. (I won't at this point go into why this is so––peacemakers, suspend your disbelief; stay with me!)

Renunciation of the fruits of our actions, on the other hand, is not only the path to enlightenment: it is nirvana itself, in the moments in which we let go. Gandhi says (referring to the Gita), that this kind of renunciation of our fruits "is the central sun around which devotion, knowledge, and the rest revolve like planets."

Better to do one’s own dharma badly than to do someone else’s perfectly (3.35)is another way the Gita states its theme. I can only be Nerissa. I can’t be my yoga teacher, or Joni Mitchell, or my grandmother. I can try to be someone other than me, and in some ways I might seem like I am succeeding, but ultimately I will be cheating myself and the world out of the particular image of God that is in me and only in me, not to mention passing on a lie. And that dharma, whatever it might be, might not please me all the time, just as Arjuna does not want to fight and is full of conflict. I might wish to practice asana like my teacher; to write songs that reach millions of people like Joni Mitchell; or be perfectly kind and never lose my temper like my grandmother, but this is not who I am. Or it might be, but for me to cling to the outcome of my actions and have in mind specific ideas of what the outcomes should look like is wrong thinking. However, I can take disciplined action to practice my asanas, practice my songwriting, practice kindness and compassion. This is yoga: skill in action. Or, put another way, practice.

Our Suzuki violin teacher Emily Greene said to Elle yesterday, "Elle, do you know why we practice?"
Elle: No.
Emily: To make it easier.

Douglas Brooks writes, “How we experience ourselves in the act determines our experience of bondage or freedom.” (p. 64 of Poised for Grace) And so when I practice asana, it’s about the moment that I come into the pose, working to align with the optimal blueprint of my own body—letting go of how “perfect” the final pose is. Was I aligned? That is what matters. Moreover, there are ALWAYS actions to take, even when the actions can seem completely fruitless. Today Jay drew with marker all over our hardwood hall floors. This was just after both he and Elle completely trashed the house right after I’d spent about an hour tidying it up. I got mad, thinking, “I do all this work for nothing! Like Sisyphus!” But life is about cleaning up messes. Life is messy. Generating new life is extra messy. We will always have messes, just as we will always have the Brahman and the untouchables. Jesus said, "The poor will always be with you," and I would argue that the yoga is in how we treat them; how we keep giving even when it feels fruitless. Besides, it is good for our souls to give. It helps me remember (as I am in the act of giving) that that poor person is me, just as the Brahman is me. When I clean the marker off the wood floor with a heart full of gratitude, seeing the situation for what it REALLY is (that I am so so blessed to have two creative, lovely kids, not to mention a house with gorgeous wood floors, arms to scrub with, sponges to scrub with, knees that bend) I am in heaven; I have reached nirvana.

Ch. 6 verse 2
Know that right action itself
Is renunciation, Arjuna;
In the yoga of action, you first
Renounce your own selfish will.

Abhinavagupta’s wonderful analogy about the gambler—that it is easy for a gambler while gambling to feel like a king, but this doesn’t make him one—is perfectly stated for this point. I have many desires that are not wholesome, and usually they fall into the category of wanting to do nothing when doing something would be preferable. I want to sleep a little longer instead of getting up to mediate. I want to keep reading the newspaper when the phone rings and I can see that it’s a friend who might need me. I want to keep eating when to do so would mean less food for others, and more than my body needs.

Renouncing my “own selfish will” is crucial for me to have a good day, fulfill my dharma, align with the divine, my optimal blueprint; be useful to others. To align myself with God’s will is my daily aim. In fact, I begin each day by asking for my thinking to be divorced from self-seeking motives. I begin each day by turning my will over to the care of the Self (God, for me, but the God who is in all of us) and not to my self. I can easily delude myself into thinking that some action I would like to take is a good one if I don’t take the time to center myself.

Over and over again, I find that when I let go of my own will and surrender to the greater will, what I know intuitively is God’s will for me, I grow, I have a great time, I feel of service, I feel useful, I feel like an arrow who is hitting its mark, AND I feel like the archer. I see much farther, the way one gets a much clearer lay of the land when one climbs to a higher vista on a mountain. Just to be clear, I don’t always know what the divine will is, but usually I can tell because it’s What Is rather than What I Wish It Would Be! It's my kids drawing on my floors with Sharpie rather than filling the empty recycled journals with clever drawings and wobbly letters that spell out their names.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Nerissa on Channel 22 Mass Appeal 9.1.10

Ashley: What do you do as a certified Martha Beck Life Coach?

Nerissa: I help people uncover their inborn joy and creativity, mostly through writing, but also through learning how to listen to their bodies, talking, and recognizing limiting beliefs.

Ashley: What is Writing it up in the garden?

Nerissa: Writing it Up in the Garden is the name of my weekly writing workshops and occasional weekend retreats. I take groups of up to six writers (twelve for retreats) and create a safe and comfortable environment in which to write. I start writers off with a prompt, and we write for about 50 minutes. Then we re-group and share what has been written with non-prescriptive, supportive feedback (we look to what is good in the piece. We save the "pruning" for a later date.)

Ashley: What are some ways we can create containers for time and space to do practices, such as writing?

-do it first thing in the morning, or some other time when you know you won't be distracted. Best to find a consistent time (or times) of day to write, and to do it daily.
-write with a timer
-write for a limited number of pages
-write with a buddy
-write in a group
-make dates with yourself and write in coffeeshops
-hire a coach!
-notice your biorhythms and write when you have energy

Ashley: How is writing a practice, just as yoga is a practice?

Nerissa: There is no end game in either, though we can be tricked into thinking otherwise. We can THINK the goal is publication (for writing) or enlightenment/fitness for yoga. But the real goods are in the practice itself. In both, we are present, in the moment, for our experience. While it's been wonderful to have my books published, my songs performed by others, checks in the mail for the books and CDs I sell, or even praise for my work, nothing can compare to the sweetness I have felt when I come up with THAT PHRASE, or THAT NOTE. Actually, nothing can compare to the relationship I have built with myself over time, in that sacred space I make and maintain for writing (or yoga). I show up for myself. And what I know now is that I am a trustworthy person because of that.

Ashley: What are some ways we can be at ease with what we have?

Nerissa: Practice gratitude! Enumerate the good things we have, especially when we want a particular something else. Notice how great the kitchen we do have is when we start fantasizing about someone else's. Notice how healthy and strong your own body is when you start to wish you had thinner thighs. Notice how well your car runs when you start complaining about how shabby it is. I have my clients do this in writing.

Also, it helps to clean up and declutter. Often we hate what we have because we're not really taking care of it, e.g. paying attention to it. Or we actually have too much stuff, and what we really want is empty space.

Ashley: Who can benefit from coaching?

Nerissa: People who are ready to tell the truth to themselves about themselves. People who want to grow.

7. How is life like a couch? AH! I love this. I believe the universe is ultimately waiting for us to cry "Uncle" and flop down on our bellies on a nice, soft couch. It's when we admit our weaknesses that we can start to get well. Also, it's been my experience that everything goes better when we take little breaks and rest. Couches are better than beds for resting (because in a bed you could fall asleep for TOO long.) And I think there's a kindness to the universe, to Reality, that is not unlike a couch. And a couch, unlike a chair, sits two. Coaching is all about keeping company.