Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SNOMG! And Our Traumatic Ecstatic Day

I discovered yesterday that Patty, our longtime manager, doesn’t believe in indoor heating. I figure this has something to do with her obsession with women's basketball and subsequent wardrobe of extremely thick Connecticut Sun sweatsuits. Or maybe it's because she drinks so much hot coffee that she is inured to the cold. This was the only explanation I could come up with yesterday, as I sat on her living room floor with my fingerless gloves and my polar fleece balaklava and my filthy yellow parka, addressing envelopes, stamping envelopes with Katryna’s super cool woodblock stamp that says “XVII”, signing copies of the new CD in one of the mirrors of the mirror barn that lays out on the booklet as one opens it.

I put a CD into an envelope, sealed it, and looked at the address. Fans from Missouri. Fans from Texas. Fans from Florida. Several from Seattle. One from Wisconsin. Many from CT, NY, MD, VA. Too many to count from MA. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for these fans, some whose names I knew well; some whose names I’d never heard, though perhaps if I saw their faces I would recognize them. I saw names of friends, and names of cousins I rarely see. All four of my aunts pledged, and to see each of their names on our packages warmed me to the point where I almost felt like I could take off my balaklava. And in that cold living room, with Patty’s daughter and granddaughter (one helping, one charming) and Katryna, my kids (also helping, charming) I felt a solid completion, even though we didn’t get every label onto every envelope, and there are still boxes of CDs, a few books and bags scattered around.
It had already been A Day. Jay’s first cavity filling that morning had gone from bad to worse. He has a gag reflex, and is not such a fan of dentist in the best of times, but having been assured by Elle and me that fillings were no big deal, he was not prepared for the horror he encountered. “They are actually DWILLING MY TOOTH!” he wailed, putting his hand up to stop them, to take the horrible beige laughing gas mask off his sweet little tear-stained face. “Don’t cry!” the dental assistant kept saying. “The gas can’t work if you get all stuffed up and breathe through your mouth instead of your nose!”

I wanted to hit her. Instead, I held his two hands and kept murmuring, “Mama’s here. Mama loves you,” as he became incrementally traumatized. Having read Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger, I suggested he shake himself off like a dog when he finally got up, trembling, from the dentist’s chair, but all he wanted to do was be held. So I held him.

When we arrived at Patty’s, I was starving, having had to take my kids to both Berkshire Yogurt (closed) AND GoBerri, because of the dentist (naturally, if one has cavities, and then fillings, one needs more sugar to get over the affront). But just as I heated up my meal and was sitting down to eat it, both Katryna and Patty’s daughter Ashley took one look at Jay and shouted, “He’s having an allergic reaction to novocaine! Go get him some Benedryl!” I hesitated, fork halfway to mouth. But these two Supermoms had no mercy. “NOW! Get him Benedryl NOW!” So, I gave one more reluctant glance at my warm food and made Jay put his coat back on (well, actually, given Patty’s no heat rule, he’d never taken it off) and we set back out to the van.

Couldn't there just be one less thing to worry about? Here we are in the midst of Blizzageddon, trying both to get our Pledge packages out AND prepare for possible power outages. We have no fireplace, wood stove or any other way to stay warm should we lose power. I was planning to get my van filled up with gas and make it to Radio Shack in between the PO and Elle’s violin lesson, plus the requisite trip to the grocery store for extra bananas. So in the van, out of sight of the Supermoms, I decided to call the dentist before driving to the Rite Aid.

“Is it just on one side of his mouth, “the receptionist asked immediately. “Take a picture and email it to me.” I did so, while still on the phone with her.
AH! The joys of a smart phone!

“No worries. He’s bitten his lip because he’s numb. Tell him to stop.” She said, and I brought my traumatized son back into Patty's cold house.

Even with all of us signing, stamping, stuffing, we had to dash to fill Patty’s Prius with the boxes of envelopes to make it to Patty's appointment with the Easthampton PO for 3-5pm. As we were loading up her car with boxes full of stuffed envelopes, she discovered that her Prius's latch was broken, so she called AAA. Finally, latched fixed, Elle and Jay and I helped Patty get the boxes into the small car. We got to the PO at five of, only to find that they were closing because of Snowcapolyse. The four of us stood there with huge boxes of stuffed envelopes in our arms, Jay holding the “special” ones as Patty had instructed him to do. The employees were all refusing to make eye contact with Patty, who was fuming. But we prevailed. I'm sure the kids' cuteness didn't hurt. Who can resist a couple of kids in snow parkas being helpers? So finally, the Postmaster General of Easthampton had no choice but to accept our many (like 500) packages. They might sit there until Snowgas Khan has retreated, but at least they are out of Patty’s Prius.

Snowgas Khan, or SNOMG! turned out to be a bust. Just as well. I am going to close this almost pointless post with a couple of observations.
#1.Patty totally rocks, and we won the jackpot in tricking her to be our manager lo these 20 odd years ago.
#2.My dear friend Anne emailed me this picture to prove that we were smart in our choice of album cover. Cool People, a piano, a tree. Nuff said.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

New Year's Fire Pit and The Basement Tapes

Last night, we lit a fire in our backyard fire pit and huddled around it, jostling each other to find the back end of the breeze. It was a crisp 19 degrees with a waxing moon, clear and solemn in the star speckled sky. We don't have a fireplace or a wood stove, but this backyard pit has its advantages (though one can't hang stockings around it.) Jay and Elle found sticks and persuaded us to haul out the marshmallows. So on January first, we inaugurated a new tradition: the New Year's Fire Pit Intentions Ceremony.

Sitting in the cold, taking much solace in the warmth from the flames, I couldn't help but think of how these evening fires created our civilization. "Mom, who invented fire?" Jay asked. "Or, who discovered it," Tom wondered. "Prometheus," I offered, and told them the story of the demi-god sacrificing his liver (daily) in recompense for sharing this element with humankind. "Gross," said Elle. "Yes,"I agreed. And then I commenced to stare into the fire. How exactly has the TV improved on this practice of gathering in the evening and spacing out, transfixed, on this vision of flames dancing, receding, expanding to frightening levels that threaten to lash out of their container, and then finally diminishing again into brilliant red edges along blackened bits of wood? This is where story telling began: around a fire. Same with songs, I am sure. (Probably the first stories were songs, and/or vice versa). How did the expanding and contracting of the flames influence the storyteller as she spun her tale to her fire-bound audience? Did the leaping flames have an effect on the character's actions? Did dying embers offer an alternate plot twist?

Perhaps my favorite Christmas present this year was a copy of the revised Bob Dylan/The Band Basement Tapes (the "raw" version which is substantially shorter than the deluxe version.) Huge Dylan fan that I am, and Band fan too*, I never cared for the Basement Tapes, at least not the version that came out in 1975. It struck me as a bunch of pot-influenced drunken music. I am embarrassed now by that assessment, as I am completely obsessed with the tenor of this new release. It's like being in the living room with these guys as they surround us with the sounds of carnival. (How I love Richard Manuel's piano! And voice!) I can't stop listening to this record. I feel as though I have discovered gold. How could I not have known all of these songs before? Well, many I did, and many I sang ("You Ain't Going Nowhere," "I Shall Be Released,") but others I am just discovering ("Open the Door, Homer," "900 Miles from Home," "Apple Suckling Tree.") They seem already like old friends, and I am looking forward to delving into the layers of lyric Dylan always provides.

A couple of days ago, someone flamed me on Facebook. I won't get into why; suffice it to say that it was unexpected and strange, and while I took in the criticism and tried to see my part in it and how I could make amends to this person, I also just felt burned. When it happened, I sat, powerbook on my lap, and felt the heat infuse my body. This is what shame feels like to me: hot, consuming, total. Because of years of therapy, I was able to do this: to just feel the feelings apart from the story of who said what. I concentrated on the raw feeling. As Thich Naht Hahn says, "When your house is burning down, put the fire out. Don't go looking for who lit it." After a few minutes, I noticed the heat abating in my body. I pictured the person who flamed me; fortunately I had known her when she was a young girl, so I pictured her sweet adolescent face. I thought about the pain she must be in today to do something like what she did. I lifted a prayer to her. Then I got up and told my husband about it. "Why do you even go online?" he asked. "People are insane."

Maybe. But they're also wonderful.

Back at the intentions ceremony, Elle announced that hers was to help her cousin William get a dog. Tom's was to accept more the daily things he has to do. Jay's was a long speech about how he hoped people would be less greedy and recycle more. Also that they would be "mostly happy." Mine was about commencing to outgrow fear. I know I will never be successful, but I'm digging in my heels this year and trying a little harder. I am tired of being afraid of what others think of me. I am tired of my greedy little inner bean-counter who thinks perpetually she's getting the raw end of the deal. I am tired of that cold metallic pinchy feeling I get when I sense I am losing control of my kids. (Which happens hourly.) I am going to experiment with faith. I am going to play with trusting and relying on a much more generous spirit than the one I possess on my own, cut off from the rest of you. I'm going to embrace my age--47 at this moment--and try to act like a wise, confident grown up, and also let loose more often and play like a kid. Or my dog. I want to channel some of that joyous non-sensical spirit of those Basement Tapes and make some fun music with my friends. I am going to practice my piano, and use that growth mindset everyone's talking about to stick with it when it gets hard.

*We opened for the Band in 1995 at Mass MoCA. Though we did not get an encore and we sold a pathetic 1 (one) CD that night, more folks than I can count have come up to us since and told us they discovered us at that show. "The Weight" was one of the first songs we covered as a band.