Friday, June 14, 2013

From How to Be an Adult: On Friendships Post-College

There’s a great Bob Dylan song called “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” It’s on his second LP, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and it’s about that early group of friends so many of us had, in our late teens or early 20s.

. . . With half-damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon,
Where we together weathered many a storm
Laughin’ and singin’till the early hours of the morn.

By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words were told our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were satisfied
Talking and a-jokin’ about the world outside . . .

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain,
That we could sit simply in that room again,
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.

When I first heard this song, I was too young to have experienced this kind of deep, communal friendship, though eager to. In college I had just such a group of friends, and listened to this song as an ominous warning. We sang together in a folk band called Tangled Up in Blue (twenty singers and two acoustic guitar players: we were a sort of super-sized Peter, Paul & Mary who were unusually gifted at cracking codes). We met up at coffee shops and the campus vegetarian joint, plotted revolution, vowed to recycle and fight the bourgeois oppressors. We also vowed to keep in touch, and though we see each other at the occasional wedding, we have mostly scattered all over the world: as Bob said, “ . . . the thought never hit/ That the one road we traveled would ever shatter or split.” After I left college, this song reduced me to tears so regularly that I had to skip over it when I played the LP.

Dylan is tapping into what many of us experience when we move from our late teens to our early twenties. The adults over 25 whom I interviewed say they have stayed in touch with at most two or three friends from the first 20 years of life. What’s different about relationships in adulthood is that we are expected to maintain them for longer than a year or two. As children, it’s normal to have a different best friend every year. I maintain that as adults, it’s normal to have a rotating stable of friends too; friendships are often based on your environment, your workplace, your social activities, your common interests. As you grow and evolve and mature, these interests change. So do your friends. That doesn’t mean you don’t work to maintain those friendships that matter to you; but I have also seen many young people suffer from frustration because their college friends aren’t corresponding as consistently as they’d like. They feel let down. They feel they’re the ones who seem to be doing all the communicating. On the other hand, they might find their friend awfully clingy and needy and thus feel guilty if they spend too little time with her; resentful if they spend too much. Sometimes it takes years to figure out a good balance between good friends; to trust that the ebb and flow will just be a part of friendship, and to not freak out if months or even years go by with no communication. Look around and notice all the other friends you have made.

One of the most important things to me, especially in my post-college life, has been maintaining, strengthening, and just enjoying my friendships with the people I love, both near and far. I’m not always very good at it, but when I do make the effort, it almost invariably cheers me up. My friends know who I am (and, as the saying goes, like me anyway); in many cases, they’ve made me who I am. We’ve got history, a shared language of references, jokes, and memories. They are brilliant, funny, kind, and loving, and my time on this earth would be much poorer without them. So I try not to let them go easily. This means that I write to them, call them, send them emails with links to funny websites, but it also means that I don’t get upset when they don’t write back right away, or even for years. I don’t dismiss them or declare the friendship over. I know high tide is going to come again. ––Kate, age 26

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Day the Music Thrived and Why Music Education

It was one of the great pleasures of my life to see our dream of creating a pan-Northampton Public School concert/celebrations/fundraiser for become a reality last Sunday. On June 9, musical and theatrical groups from Jackson Street, JFK and NHS along with my band, The Nields, came together at First Churches of Northampton to create a neat 90 minute (to the second!) show called The Day The Music Thrived. The amazing Expandable Brass Band did an incredible flash mob lead-up to the event, rocking the sidewalk outside the church with a “Vote Yes” song. Everyone volunteered their time and services. The event went so seamlessly because everyone gave 110%. It was Northampton at its best.

As a mother and musician, I am deeply disturbed by the proposed budget cuts, especially the ones that put the jobs of several music teachers on the chopping block. Before the concert, my outrage was purely theoretical. Though I’d witnessed my kids’ own wonderful music teacher Kim O’Connell in action, I had only heard about the legendary Claire-anne Williams, band and all-around music teacher for JFK, whose award winning Jazz band blew everyone away with a cover of “Birdland” on Sunday. I had only heard tell of the Northamptones, NHS’s signature a cappella group led by the fantastic Beau Flahive. I'd only assumed that the theatre program was fantastic. Now that I have seen these wonderful teachers in action, I feel more strongly than ever the particular potential loss rather than the theoretical. Time to remind ourselves why kids need music in the schools.

1. Music education correlates with better attention and self-control—great for kids with ADHD, Asperger’s, but also great for neurotypical kids–– to foster focus and attention, two attributes which are the bedrock for all other learning.
2. Learning music is akin to learning a language—kids who know music are essentially bilingual and can “converse” with people all over the globe.
3. It’s the one academic discipline that works both the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere of the brain equally.
4. Playing an instrument increases fine motor skills.
5. Performing in front of others is a basic executive skill not generally taught.
6. Band and Chorus kids are less likely to do drugs, abuse alcohol, and become teen parents.
7. Kids who take music lessons have better spatial relations abilities
8. Kids who take music lessons have, on average, a 50 point higher SAT score.
9. Kids involved in music are less lonely. Middle school and high school years can be anxiety provoking to say the least. Putting socially anxious kids in a band or chorus where there are definite tasks, roles, goals, alleviates the anxiety and facilitates cohesion, camaraderie—all without drugs or alcohol or inappropriate sexual behavior.
10. It’s what they’ll remember, years from now, when they look back on their school experience.
So I’d ask this: rather than talking about cutting music teachers, why don’t we have more music teachers? My sister Katryna’s kids go to public school in Conway. They have music five days a week. Why shouldn’t we?
Vote YES on June 25 to preserve what we have. And then let’s roll up our sleeves to change what’s wrong systemically in Massachusetts and in the federal government; let’s rethink our whole attitude towards the arts. Let’s give our kids what they need to be the responsible, creative thinkers the 21st Century needs.

And finally--NPR covered our event! Listen:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wild Mountain Thyme

Now that summer really is coming, here's how to play the guitar part for Wild Mountain Thyme.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Theory of Happiness #1

"Play till you feel like resting, then rest till you feel like playing. Never do anything else."-Martha Beck

I started to feel that tell-tale tickle in the back of my throat last Saturday afternoon, en route to the beach. By evening it was a full-blown sore throat; by Monday, I was intimate with the netti pot; Tuesday a cough, and today laryngitis and the beginnings of bronchitis. Up until recently, I told a certain story that went like this: I'd get every cold that came down the pike and into my house on the fingertips and lips of my two young children. I'd spend the duration (usually 2 weeks) berating myself and my immune system. The latter for being so wimpy, and the former for the usual crime: DOING TOO MUCH. (I once had a life coach who, when I complained to her about my chronic state of DOING TOO MUCH and my inability to change anything so that I could do less and be sane, suggested that I did just the right amount, and that I needed to change my attitude about what was too much. I promptly fired her.)

But I have retired from the career of beating myself up. I'm 46 now, and in some eras and cultures, that ripe age was considered elderly. Well, I won't stoop to elder abuse. Besides it's not really verifiably true that A. my usual velocity leads to B. getting run down/susceptible to viruses. Here's a kinder story: my parents both get sick with colds with great frequency, yet they are healthy, vital 70-year-olds who live life at full throttle and pack more into one day than most people pack into a year. (Well, a week.) My four aunts are the same way. Maybe it's just what happens in our particular gene pool. And really, if I can surrender to the reality of a cold and take appropriate action, it's not so bad: I cancel any activity I can cancel, and take to my bed. What's so terrible about that?

Martha Beck, whom I love, and who trained me to be a life coach, says, "Play till you feel like resting, then rest till you feel like playing. Never do anything else." It's such simple, brilliant advice. It should be noted that she uses the word "play" as someone else might use "work"––but only if one's work is the work one choses to do, the kind of work that makes one jump out of bed in the morning just because one can't wait to get to it. I am fortunate to have such work. I am always eager to get to it, even when I am sick.

It occurs to me that rather than get all mad at myself for "letting myself get sick" through my misbehaving ways of overdoing, of over working/overplaying, I should just relax and seize these little viral tornados as opportunities for rest. And that just as "play" and "rest" in her equation are clearly equal partners, so "well" and "sick" could be in my own personal lexicon. Nerissa gets sick sometimes and has to go low. Big deal. I think I am ready to let the shame that seems to go with the illness go. The shame, when I shine the light on it, seems to be a kind of Icarus shame: I was sailing too high, and the sun melted my feathers. How dare I?

So when the tickle arrived last Saturday, I just laughed, checked my watch and nodded. Yup. About due for a rest. Bring it on.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Rehearsing for The Day the Music Thrived

Beautiful banner created by Alison Wood.

Tonight we met in Conway to rehearse for Sunday's concert. Here is a portion of a video of us practicing "Georgia O."

Once again, details of the show:
Sunday June 9
First Churches of Northampton
corner of Main and Center Streets

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Day the Music Thrived

Nerissa, Emma and Sophie on Bill Newman's radio show WHMP to promote The Day the Music Thrived

This concert is happening.




On March 20, nearly 200 Northampton High School students left classes and marched to downtown Northampton to protest proposed budget cuts to arts and elective courses set to take effect in September. The energy was positive, the message was clear: arts are a vital part of the Northampton public school education and cuts to the programs will negatively impact many students.

On Sunday, June 9, students from Northampton’s public elementary, middle and high schools, alongside NPS staff and faculty and parent performers, will “Sing Out!” to showcase the wealth of music, art, and theater talents at the schools, at “The Day The Music Thrived” concert and celebration. This all-ages, family friendly event at The First Churches on Main Street, from 3:00-4:30 pm, will feature performances by The Nields full band, the JFK Jazz Band, The Northamptones, NHS cast of “Alice In Wonderland,” Jackson Street Staff Ukulele Band, and an Kids & Parents all-sing of “If You Want to Sing.” Families are welcome to come early at 1:45 for the Warm-Up Jam with the Expandable Brass Band, just bring an instrument and join the fun. The event will also remind people to vote Yes on the Override, to reverse the cuts that would affect arts and other staffing and services across the Northampton Public Schools. Suggested family donation is $10-$20 at the door. For more information, visit

Event listing:

A celebration of art, music, theater and song in the Northampton Public Schools.
Vote YES ON THE OVERRIDE to preserve it all!
Sunday, June 9
3 – 4:30 pm
The First Churches (129 Main St., Northampton, MA)
Performances by:
The Nields – full band!
JFK Jazz Band
The Northamptones
NHS cast of “Alice In Wonderland”
Jackson Street Staff Ukulele Band
Kids & Parents all-sing “If You Want to Sing”
and more!
1:45 Warm up family jam with The Expandable Brass Band – bring your instrument!
All Ages ~ Families Welcome
$10-$20 suggested donation
Proceeds to benefit Yes! Northampton’s campaign in support of the June 25 Override. A yes vote on the Override ballot will keep art, music, theater, song, and so much more strong in the Northampton Public Schools, and will preserve city services across Northampton.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Uncle Henry

On June 1st I got this crazy Idea that I should blog every day for the month. Why? Because it's the second month of my Happiness Project, and my theme is Lean In. Because I'm going to re-release How to Be an Adult as an ebook later this month. And because the last time I blogged daily (March 2009) I felt alive and connected to both my writing and my audience in a way that made me feel vital.

Why not? Because now it's June 3 and I'm only now getting to the task at hand. It's June, which I now know is tantamount to December for public school families, who don't get out of school till the end of the month (if they're lucky.) I am tired of apologizing for how busy I am. I don't want to be compulsive about good things anymore. My birthday gift to myself is to accept myself with a generous dash of humor. It's much sexier to say "I will blog every day" than to say "I will try to blog a lot." But I just turned 46, and sustainability is the new sexy.

As usual, the rules for this kind of endeavor are: process over product, progress over perfection.

As I turn 46, I am at a beach in Gloucester, MA, watching my children wade into frigid water on a sultry day--a surprise late-spring heat wave that is all too common these days. I am a beach curmudgeon, and this outing is a complete surprise to me too.

About my birthday. I have to treat myself like a princess on my birthday, for better or for worse. I try to construct the perfect day for myself: I feed myself raspberries for breakfast, I get a facial or massage, I go to my favorite restaurant for dinner; I throw a party––all this to avoid the inevitable birthday blues. But this year I got asked to sing at a friend's wedding in Boston. No problem, I thought. I'd have the party June 1. But when I broached the subject with Tom, he said, "No way are we throwing a party Saturday night and then skipping town Sunday morning. I hate leaving the house a mess to clean up later." So I sulked and pouted, then I did my Daily Mental Hygiene (DMH) and my turnarounds and came to the conclusion that he was right, and that, as usual, I can't really know what's best for me. Especially if given a choice to do more rather than less. Besides, when I let go of my great ideas about what should happen and let God/The Universe/Serendipity take over, cool things happen, as in: I end up happy at the beach. Here's how we got here:

Tuesday morning Jay asked, apropos of nothing, "Mama, where's Uncle Henry?"
Uncle Henry is my great-uncle, the last of the generation. We last saw him at Thanksgiving, 2010. So I said, "How do you know about Uncle Henry? You haven't seen him since you were two."
"You talk about him. Well, where is he?"
"Is he dead?"
"How old is he?"
"I think he's 88," I said, doing the math. He was ten years younger than my grandfather.
"Wow! That's old. We should visit him."

Thursday I called my parents to find out that they'd be coming up this Saturday for Uncle Henry's funeral. He'd died Tuesday morning, they told me.

So we had a party Friday night, left a mess to clean up later, jumped in the car, met my family at the church and bid goodbye to my wonderful Uncle Henry, a cello-playing, music-loving lawyer, US Naval officer in WWII, father of Henner and Nancy, grandfather of Peter and David. During the service, Henner played a recording of one of Bach's unaccompanied cello suites: #6––Prelude. We all sat and listened, wordless, tearful. Later, at the committal, we watched as a young female navy cadet played taps. She and another female cadet respectfully folded the flag that blanketed his coffin and gave it to Nancy. I was struck by the power of the visual, the silence, the deep respect.

We hung out with my amazing family, each one of whom I wanted to talk with for hours. What a perfect birthday gift to be able to see them for this mini-reunion at the last minute.

And then we went to the beach. My curmudgeonliness melted in the sun. I even ventured into the early June waters. I lay on my back in my little beach lean-to and read. We made new friends at the Blue Shutters Inn, a gem of a place where I felt the desire to host a writing retreat.

The next morning I learned "The Wedding Song" by Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary, and at 12:30 I sang it for my friends as they lit the unity candle at their wedding. We came home Sunday evening, exhausted, to a messy house. But today it's clean.

Uncle Henry was quiet, focused, kind, with a smile that lit up a room. On our way home from the beach, we listened to the cello suite again, and I tried to think what he would think. How did my son know he'd died? Did he visit us, as the dead sometimes do as they are leaving the earth? Why us? Why not us?