Making Music

It’s come to pass now. I’ve just been to New York City for a rehearsal. It was my first time playing with other musicians in almost two decades. And it was fun.

But it was also work. I had learned my parts, yet I’d still missed a few details. The music director and the leader were kind about it though and helped coach me as best they could. But in the end, there were a few nuances I couldn’t get in the moment, and which I promised to make good on by the time we met in Chicago for our first show.

I know I talked too much. I’m accustomed to being the funny one, the one in charge, the most colorful character in the room – but it wasn’t so in this situation (nor was it really appropriate for me to add my unnecessary commentaries). For as many times as I scolded myself during the rehearsal to please stop talking, I failed at that effort. It had been so long since I’d been in the company of professionals that I felt downright provincial, and it threw me off. I felt like the chicken farmer from upstate who couldn’t stop chittering about how exciting it was to be in a big city and playing with a real band. Sheesh.

But all in all, it went well. And it’s going to feel like heaven when we’re all assembled on stage and playing (we have some guests for the upcoming date in Chicago who are joining us – it promises to be a night of gorgeous sounds). How perfect is it that our first show will be in my hometown? It seems like something from a dream. And yet it’s real. Very real. When it’s all said and done, I will have driven a few thousand miles and moved a whole lotta gear. I will have spent hours upon hours learning and practicing. Man, it’s just such a lot of work. But strangely, that seldom enters my mind. It’s just what one does in order to play music. It’s a challenge, but it’s also a joy. And not everyone can do it, so I’d be foolish to waste such a gift.

It does make one wonder, though, why in hell would anyone go to all this trouble and invest all this time and money only to end up barely breaking even? Any sane person would question the whole thing. But musicians, we don’t tend to focus on the effort or expense. If we did, I can promise you there would be no live music! So why do we do it? For me, honestly, it feels like I’ve never had a choice. And look, I know, no one made me do this. But I’ve always felt that playing music was so naturally a part of my life that there were no other options. I did go to college and I tried to do things the “right” way, but it simply wasn’t my path. Learning, rehearsing, loading in and loading out, it’s been part of my life ever since I was sixteen and my mom drove me and my suitcase Rhodes to rehearsal in our powder blue ’65 Valiant.

This new situation is more than just about the opportunity to play music, it’s about the opportunity to work with people who are very good at what they do. Over the past fourteen years I’ve been so musically lonely. When I lived in Chicago there were so many excellent and talented musicians with whom to work that I never experienced a shortage of projects, and I was always challenged. But here in my country life I haven’t had any musical relationships at all. Of course I’ve been busy raising a child, but still….

So this is why I bought a new keyboard, spent hours learning material and just drove four hundred miles for a rehearsal.

So I could get back to making music.

Dear Diary

Tenses change. Plans change. This is uncensored and unedited. Raw diary stuff. These are my journal entries from my recent trip. Girly stuff, but maybe it’s of interest to some. Had to get it off my chest and out the door. Thanks in advance for the witness.

February 8th, 2022

It has been a very long time since I’ve been away.

Perhaps paying twelve dollars for a grilled cheese sandwich wouldn’t phase a lot of folks, but I’m fresh off the farm. It was stunning at first, but then my road-reality meter kicked in and I realized this was gonna be one expensive, albeit modest getaway.

It’s been years since I’ve gone “back home” to Chicago and wouldn’t ya know that when I had my hair done today in hopes of presenting my best self, I acquiesced and had my eyebrows colored too. I knew it had been too much, but my gal insisted I always get dramatic and overly concerned about making them too dark. “Worry more about the dye on your fingers,” she’d said. Yeah, well you can be sure I’m worrying about that, too.

When I flipped on the Motel 6 light and had my first fluorescently-lit sighting of them, I recoiled. Then my heart broke. I would be returning home a female Groucho Marx. Why now? And things had been going better than well up until that moment in the chair. Ah well. First-world problems, I reminded myself (as I made a note to immediately find a salon when I got to Chicago which could reverse the travesty).

I’m resting for a few hours in Erie, PA, and have made only half the drive. It’s the first time I’ve ever decided to break the trip up with an overnight stay. It’s also the first time I passed most of the drive in thought. Because there’s a lot to think about right now. I’m embarking on a whole new life, and this is not an exaggeration. The way in which events have built up, one upon each other, is remarkable as I examine them in hindsight. I was shaking my head in disbelief for much of the drive, marveling over the last fifteen years, over the past fifteen months, over the past fifteen days.

Without an internet connection for my laptop nor a charger for my phone here in the room I need to conserve power and so shall sign off shortly. I am endeavoring to document my adventures in bite-sized pieces as I go along.

Day one: pack and drive. Night one: lay in a bed in a non-smoking room which nonetheless smells queasily of smoke, while trying so hard to remember just how exhausted I’d thought I was just moments ago.

Post note: I experienced a “Cheryl Strayed” moment at the motel. I couldn’t put my hands on a few items, so I broke down and unpacked both bags. I spread the contents onto the bed, and only then could I sleep. I repacked in the morning. Packing an under-seat bag for Vegas has proved a huge challenge. Trying to be casual (my companion travels a bit like a homeless person) and yet prepare for any number of situations is no easy feat! I hate to say being a woman ups the ante, but it does. My uber-thin hair requires products, I gotta have day looks and night looks plus workout wear, swim crap and makeup, too. Oy. It ain’t easy.

February 9th, 2022

To see an old friend – who knew you way before – and to find yourself squarely in a safe and familiar place, and then to find yourself laughing effortlessly to the point of tears – all this, mind you, after decades apart – is a holy thing.

Last night we had our first visit. So easy, so good. My girlfriend is going through a time of compromised health, so I’ve been afraid that my balls-to-the-walls energy might really zap her of her reserves, but so far it hasn’t been the case. This is why I like to keep interpersonal visits somewhat brief. Short and perfectly sweet. You know – kinda like that quote ascribed to Ben Franklin about fish and house guests having a similar shelf life. So, on I’ll move before long. But how lovely this is, right now.

I’ve awoken and there’s no going back to sleep. It’s the second night on the road, the very start of what may turn out to be a three-week excursion. My mind is swimming now. For some reason Rainbow’s “Stone Cold” has become this early morning’s ear worm. It pulses behind my thoughts. Where shall I hold court and meet everyone? I want to make sure no one gets slighted. I want to make sure I don’t lose my voice. Cuz that often happens. And mostly, I don’t want to get sick. At every last recreational trip I’ve ever taken I’ve gotten sick. Usually very sick. It’s almost as if my body didn’t feel like I deserved it. This time, I’m gonna assert that I do deserve this holiday. So please, universe, not this time. Really.

I’m staying with my high school bestie, and I’m the most comfortable I can remember being in a long time. With her as host, I’ve come to understand the experience of sleeping atop a good futon (my weak back would have the floor if it weren’t quite so hard) and underneath a weighted blanket. Heaven for now.

I’m in a suburb just west of Chicago, and it feels like home. The houses, the very way in which the trees bend over the street, the brick two-story shops along the main drag, the diffused light of the cloudy nighttime sky, all of it is deeply familiar to me. And the winter light of a cloudy sky evokes a certain mood… I peered thru the blinds just now and it looks the same outside this morning as it did when I went to bed last night. Mercury vapor lighting fills the block making it look like a movie set. Yeah. I remember this. There’s that certain feeling. It brings me back.

We are directly under the flight path for planes departing O’Hare, and it was exciting to see the belly of a plane overhead as I arrived last night, its whining engines audible. What’s fun about my experience here and now is that while it’s like being back, it’s also like being a tourist and thrilling to things for the very first time.

I fully admit to leaving short and cryptic posts on Facebook. Although it gives me a tiny thrill to see the conjecture among my friends as to where I am and what my plans are, I really don’t mean to tease. I just don’t wish to over explain. And I shall endeavor not to inform folks of my next location, nor share too many details of that portion of the trip as I wish to honor the privacy of my travel companion, and also I’d like to keep that tiny pocket of experience as my own. Honestly, it’s the reason for this whole trip, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Two more days here before the adventure begins in earnest. Another Midwestern city, and then a flight to a destination at the other end of the country. It still does not feel real. I’ve been alternately giddy and apprehensive about it since I said “yeah, I’ll go” several months back. It’s been the fuel for my forward-moving engine, it’s been the light at the end of the tunnel. And as exotic as the location may be, that’s really just an extra. What’s lifting my heart is the thought of spending some time with my friend. I’d thought we’d pass the time just hanging at his place with the dog, but then this appeared. And these days – being closer to 60 and understanding in a much deeper way the finality of it all – there’s very little room for “no”.

So “yes” to Vegas it is.

February 10th, 2022

A magic day. Truly. Effortless and serendipitous, a day filled with new experiences, a dozen stranger’s stories, tears even, and hugs, too – parking spaces that appeared at the right time, an ancient lady who shared stories of her medical practice and of hearing Julie London sing, a day of beauty salons and gyms, Mexican food and long post-meal conversations with my high school bestie.

I’m straight-up legit tired right now. Not much to add, only that I’m really grateful for this little window of respite. I’ve been on the hook for so long now that I feel almost delirious with freedom and possibility. I even feel a little guilty; it still feels like I should be doing something productive,

And right now, sleeping seems the most responsible thing to do. Adieu, dear friends. See you tomorrow.

February 11th, 2022

Today was a quiet day spent at home. My friend is coping with health issues and so moves slowly through her day. I admit I haven’t been doing all I can to temper my own cyclonic energy, and I do think we’ve reached the natural conclusion to our three-day cohabitation. We certainly learned a lot about each other after some twenty years apart, but yesterday I could tell that I was taxing her patience as I repeated questions and forgot conversations. Not gonna lie, I do worry about my memory. But I also know that I process things differently (I don’t tend to remember details but rather emotional impressions), and I communicate differently, too. I tend to speak in a gestural way – lots of movement, sounds, impressions… lots of schtick. Much of it did in fact have her laughing to the point of tears, of peeing her pants even, but it took energy to witness, to react to it. Or, as I learned last night, it required “some spoon”. (A spoon being a unit of energy.) Spoons she didn’t have left. And I get it. I felt the energy in the room shifting. It was time.

We love each other and nothing changes that, but it really is true that we are very different people. I can elaborate on our short but rich visit later… For now it’s enough to say that two late middle-aged women have had a lovely visit, bathed in the silence of an old house and kept company by the chittering birds outside the kitchen and an ancient, blind cat named Marilyn.

I’m snuggled under a weighted blanket on a deliciously just firm-enough futon, comfy as can be, enjoying the rare nether time of early morning with the shades closed. It’s my last morning in my friend’s home. No idea what the light is outside, and I have no clear idea where I am. I am just HERE. And soon, I won’t be.

The gentleman friend with whom I am going to Vegas called yesterday and told me that his mother was just put on hospice. It took me a minute to take it in. Life had entered into my little fantasy. I shifted inside. My relationship with him had just gotten more human. He was going to need a friend, and some support, even if he didn’t realize it. And I knew I was the perfect gal for the job.

This morning I’ll pack up, recount the takeaways from our visits, I’ll apologize for being such an energy Godzilla, there will be hugs, and then I will hit the highway in my tightly packed car and head out for Milwaukee. From my comfortable, reclining post here in my darkened room, a building excitement begins to grow in my chest. I’ve been on the farm for a long, long time. And I am here, now, precisely to reward myself for all those years of toil. Now it is here. This next leg is going to be unforgettable. I am on the front side of what will become a treasured life memory. Crazy.

February 12th, 2022

Ok. Here I go…

It is that rare “time of the beginning”; waves of excitement push at my chest, a pulsing begins in that certain place with no encouragement… I feel like a girl with a crush… How glad I am that I was never in a serious relationship with this man; he is an unpredictable guy, and I don’t think it would’ve been enjoyable. His ex-wife must’ve had a time of it, I’m sure. But now it doesn’t matter. This is our window. It will be brief; it will be lovely. I’m going to savor every moment. When I’m an old crone it will be memories like these – which I’ve yet to make, how thrilling is that?! – which will fill my thoughts as I sit and rock, waiting for my time to be up….

Gosh how things can turn. I’ve approached this whole trip having as few expectations as possible, knowing full well that things would change; the very nature of this excursion was about welcoming serendipity. I was going to give myself a basic structure and things would happen of their own accord in the spaces. It was wise of me to remain open; within the first two hours of my arrival in Milwaukee I’ve been to a funeral and will soon head to the hospital to visit my host’s mother. As I waited outside for my friend, I walked his big black dog through a sidewalk-less suburb in the snowless cold, reflecting on the last few days, and musing at the days to come.

I have now left the dog in the car and come into the Irish pub to join the gathering, albeit from a distance. I took an ale from the open bar and passed on the wake’s buffet of cabbage and meatballs. Hungry though I am, I’ll wait to share a meal with my friend. A man in a red-letter jacket passes me. UW Madison. (Go Badgers.) I’m definitely in Wisconsin, and that makes me happy.

We’ll be off to the hospital shortly, and likely Sabbath, the dog, will come with us too. And then…? Somehow we will be on a plane tomorrow afternoon. What happens between now and then is anyone’s guess.


February 14th, 2022

You know the way they say that Vegas never sleeps? Well, I’m here to tell you otherwise.

We’re staying in a fine hotel, and the details are elegant. The lobby is beautiful. The grounds are generously planted with mature palm trees, and a water feature stands in front of the enormous portico where limos and cars wait for their passengers– and we’re even on Las Vegas Boulevard. This is one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in. The down comforter and pillows feel grand. But that’s where meaningful luxury ends. There is no hotel restaurant, and the bar is shut tightly by eleven. It’s 3 am and I just returned from a walk outdoors. Two teenaged doormen greeted me on my way back in, and aside from one fellow standing behind the massive granite slab of a reception desk, I saw no one, not even a homeless guy.

My companion (in futuro to be known as “minor rock god”, aka “MRG”) is here to bet, and to lay about in bed. He’s about sports as much as he is about music, and while I can’t ever recall having as much fun singing to tracks and playing air parts with anyone, I can’t match his enthusiasm for the games. Even after I’d won one of my bets, I’d shortly thereafter forgotten the details. I was sorry not to have been more invested in it, as my attention to the games was a kindness I certainly owed him.

I don’t mind the low-key stay we’re having. I pretty much knew what to expect, in that both of us are poor as paupers, but I guess I kinda thought a hot cooked meal here and there would’ve been part of the deal. Thus far on our trip we’ve subsisted on bags of snacks from a Walgreens down the street and a pizza from downstairs (barring the first night when, absolutely ravenous, I foolishly spent nearly $100 on wine, cheese and fruit from the hotel store). I can live like a college student better than any 58-year-old woman I know, but at day three of our adventure I’m weary of gleaning sustenance from Ziplock pouches of nuts. And I’m so fucking hungry.

As with everything else in my life, I shall have to remedy this situation on my own. As my companion sleeps, I am hatching a plan to strike out on my own tomorrow. I’ll take the monorail into town and see the strip. I’ll watch the dancing waters of the Bellagio and have myself a goddam proper sit-down meal. Yeah, I’m a pretty chill gal these days, but this current low-rent situation is a bit of a drag. I can’t imagine I’ll ever get to Vegas again, so I’d better step up.

Absent too is any meaningful, simple physical kindness. It’s really no more forthcoming from this fellow than it was with the hostile, misogynistic guy I became entangled with a year back. MRG is a kind man with a warm heart. He is observant and intelligent, and I think he’s one of the most creative and naturally talented musicians I’ve ever known. But he’s also got his own issues. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who knows what it is to live with such a deep and immutable depression – and that ticky, nervous energy which manifests as a chronic swaying of the body or tapping of the foot. This can’t help but endear him to me, because in some small way, I get it. And I do count him as a good friend. Plus I’ve known him for over twenty years now.

But sadly, I can’t count him as a lover. And I’m the easiest prospect! I’m not interested in a relationship, I’m ready and willing, and tho I may be looking older, and although I realize I’m not thin nor in top shape, I still assert I’m not a bad catch. But he’s not into it. He’s really not present – something I feared would be the case, and so early on – as in months ago – I had asked him specifically only for his presence. Can’t ask for something someone can’t give, I suppose. Kinda breaks my heart. All I want to do is take his hand, to feel his arm around me. For him simply to kiss me. But none of this is happening. Ironic, isn’t it, that there are men who’d have me in a hot minute, yet the one I’ve got a jones for could take me or leave me? And he’s the one who invited me… but for what, exactly? There was a time in my life when all of this would’ve made me weep. Now I just take it as a soft punch to the gut and keep moving. (Who am I kidding? I still might weep.)

Gotta get some sleep. It’s 4 am on Valentine’s Day and I’m still wide awake. I can’t cry. I just gotta take another Ambien and hope that it takes me away for a minute. I’ll need my rest because tomorrow I have a date. With myself.

Post note: MRG and I had a conversation about the situation, and we ended up going downtown together, and then sharing a meal. He knew I’d been to Vegas before, so he thought I’d already seen the strip. (No, I worked here before: plane, venue, plane, I explained.) He told me that food wasn’t even on his radar (he’s one of those power bar/protein powder in a blender guys), and he apologized for not being aware of my desire for a meal. I felt better that we’d talked about it, but I still can’t say I wasn’t a bit let down. But I’ll always enjoy his company, and I appreciate his understanding. And I really did want his witness, cuz this was not exactly what a girl had in mind, ya know?

And btw, check out this unplanned coincidence….


February 18th, 2022

These aren’t the best circumstances. MRG’s mom has been moved to hospice care, and his long-deceased bestie from high school’s brother-in-law just died of an overdose (just what the fuck is up with heroin and boys from Waukesha?). This is heavy stuff. Easy for me to downplay tho, when my expectations have been dashed and I’m in my own personal vortex of experience. I wish it weren’t so, but selfishly I am bereft, as things really turned out so much differently than I’d hoped. I do know enough about MRG, however – and about life – to know that shit changes on a fucking dime and you just gotta go with it. But still….

Today I’ve been given a second ‘bonus’ day with MRG. I’m really happy about this, yet if I were to be truly honest about my deepest feelings, I still wanna cry. We’ve learned a lot about each other over the past week, one such thing is that he admits to a reduced sex drive (due, I believe, to the several meds he’s on), and he has a compartmentalized way of dealing with it. I’m guessing it’s kinda like those men who screw prostitutes without kissing them. MRG finds kissing an awkward annoyance. Might be just his response to me. I can’t really know. But in that I’ve been waiting a long time for some real connection with the man, my heart has been processing some bitter disappointment over the past few days. There will be no such connection.

This bright, cold morning in Milwaukee I am in a waking dream. I cannot step outside the feeling of deja vu. I have been through this before, I’m absolutely sure of it – is this merely for the fact that I myself have broken many mens’ hearts and now it’s my turn to feel the same? Nah – it’s more than that. I feel a strange familiarity here. Crap. I want just to be near him… Honestly, it’s not about sex in this moment – I just don’t want to leave. I like being in proximity to him. And when my stay had twice been extended, each time he smiled. We’re friends, this I know.

I’ll be leaving shortly. That makes me apprehensive in a tiny, nagging way. I have many times watched the ‘other’ party suck it up and face the rejection put upon them when I myself had to leave or break things off. When I felt a mere kindness and little more for my short-term bed partner. Now I am the one suffering the mild rejection. There is nothing really personal going on here – at least I don’t think so – but I can’t help but wonder. Is it me? He’s told me it’s just something he’s not into. Hell. (Again, I wonder, why did he bring me here?) Having sex (never mind even broaching the term “making love”) has been off the table for most of this trip, but man. Just once before I leave? No?! How sad it this? Months and months of waiting, with no happy ending. Sad, sad, sad. But I’m a big girl, so I’ll deal with it.

For me, this is a dramatic and disappointing conclusion. Even still, none of this visit was a mistake, nothing was truly unpleasant – to the contrary; we became better friends… And man, I laughed. Can’t remember when a person – aside from my son – has ever made me laugh like that. So. Gotta work with what ya got. (Says the grown woman with tears streaming down her cheeks at the coffee shop.)

February 20th, 2022

So what is a girl to do once she’s had it all?

There are far worse problems I know, but still, this feels like something of a quandary. I have dropped two dress sizes these past four months, hooked up with an old crush, sat in with a musician I’ve admired for years, met with a number of old friends, and…. And? At the end of the day, what the fuck does it matter? Who cares? I’m still feeling the loss in my gut. I hate this.

Time to try again, I guess. Gonna visit with another fellow tonite. He’s not a reader or a thinker like MRG; he seems like a simple guy. But he’s kind, and he’s a hell of a great musician. Those things mean a lot in my book. I think it’s a date, but not sure. I’ve assumed before, so I gotta be cautious, aware. I’m going out with Southern Blues Rock Guy tonite! (Just please don’t tell EC – a bassist we’ve both previously worked with – as I don’t think he’d be too thrilled. SBRG mighta been a player back in the day. Who cares?) It’s nighttime, it’s snowing right now, and the neighborhood looks heavenly. I’m waiting outside the door of the house in Skokie where I’m staying, waiting for my new friend to arrive. Got my hooker boots on and I’m having a relatively good hair day. Feeling put together. I’m actually excited. This feels crazy. I’m not quite sure what’s happening….

Post note: I couldn’t have seen this one coming, either. SBRG took me to his father’s home for pot roast – and I met his lovely sister and his dad’s girlfriend. Surprisingly, it turned out to be one of my very favorite moments of the trip so far! Afterward we went to his apartment and – jammed. Ha! A cop even came to the door to shut us down. But no vibe, nothing else. And when my Uber never showed, he was a true gentleman and drove me home in the falling snow. A lovely night but can’t say I wasn’t once again just a little sad at the end of it all. I suppose he was just being respectful and professional. Who knows? (Seriously, is it me?)

February 25th, 2022

The second to final night of my trip. Staying in a luxurious bed of down in a beautiful home in Evanston… I’m the guest of a family whom I love and who loves me too… A couple with whom I have history, and so I’m totally comfortable here. Host Randy and I enjoyed some whiskey, a light snack and some good conversation before I tucked in. And earlier, I enjoyed a dinner with old friend Lisa. As I settle down for a moment of pause before I turn off the media, I realize that I couldn’t feel more perfect, satisfied and resolved as I do right now. Can’t begin to convey what I’ve experienced during this trip. So much that I’m confident I shall never be able to remember it all. The numerous personal interactions I’ve had are the huge gift that I take away from it all. And I’ve learned so much more from in-person visits with old friends than I ever could’ve gleaned from online exchanges. Can’t being to express the depth of insight I’ve been given. This trip has exceeded my expectations, in spite of its disappointments. It’s been a tiny miracle. A real joy.

A true adventure.


Anecdotes and Takeaways (A post-Post digest):

Where to start? Firstly, I feel a bit naked. This post might be a case of TMI, but hell. I ain’t gettin any younger, and I’m beginning to feel like I have nothing to lose, and perhaps some insight or closure to gain. Nothing I’m saying here is all that shocking. And I’ve tried to provide a certain level of privacy to those I mention (save for a few links which the more tenacious among you may follow if you choose).

I’ve just about lost the timeline now, but I can say that among the many stops I made, one stands out: I went to the annual event called “My Sweet George” in honor of George Harrison’s birthday. It was at Martyrs’, a club I’ve played many times, and something of a landmark in Chicago culture. It was there that I met many old and dear friends, I heard wonderful music and even threw out a little flirty energy. Why the hell not? I had to feel a little emotional traction after all that rejection… It was a magical night, and now it exists as a treasured memory.

I fit a lot in on this trip. In thinking back, I’m overwhelmed, really. I sang on a friend’s song at his home studio, sat in with a rock band, sang on stage with a well-loved Chicago songwriter, enjoyed several wonderful home-cooked dinners, saw my old neighbors (and my old apartment!) – even saw my childhood home. I visited with a dozen or so friends and attended a few really fun nights of live music.

I can’t begin to express how restorative this trip was. I learned a lot about interpersonal relationships, too. Yeah, some of this experience was a letdown, but at the end of the day, the whole thing has helped me to usher in a new chapter. I’m no longer nervous about driving across country, nor about airplanes (panic attacks seem to have subsided for now). Hell, I even took a zipline over the rooftops of old Las Vegas. I was superwoman for a few weeks, and it was just what I needed.

Thanks for the witness, friends. There’s going to be an exciting new chapter before too long… Furreal. There’s some real-life shit gonna be happenin in my life pretty soon. And you can be sure I’ll share it all.

_____________________________________________________________

These are a few of the folks I visited on my trip:

Martyrs’ “My Sweet George” / oh my god / Lisa Lauren / Kick The Cat / Ralph Covert

The Claudettes / Louie Zagoras / Conscripted

Lean to Green

Apparently, I didn’t think this through. Many of the things that I’d wished for over the past several years are becoming a reality now, but it seems there’s a catch to it all. Really? Must there always be a catch? I suppose that’s the way this earth is designed. Two steps forward, one step back. But I remind myself yet again, it’s still progress..

A couple of years ago, when my son still needed me at every turn, when dinner had to be made and chickens had to be tended, I was desperate to leave the years of unending servitude and mundane chores. Although he was old enough then to take some things on, I didn’t ask much of him, but rather encouraged Elihu to live as idyllic a childhood as was possible. Sure he’s always helped when I’ve asked, and he’s always been upbeat and compliant, but still, I have never wished to ask too much of him because I knew his time would come soon enough. Before long the world would ask of him the same repetitive and thankless tasks, and I wished to protect him from the inevitable drudgery for as long as possible. Until now. Elihu has told me that he feels good when he can help out, and now with him being taller than me and having core strength that is fast superseding mine, he is more than capable of carrying 50 pound bags of chicken feed from the car to the coop, relieving me of one task that is becoming just a tiny bit more challenging as the years pass. So I now delegate this and other chores, something for which I am deeply grateful. No longer must I feed and water the chicks in the barn, stooping under the poultry netting, threatening a back injury. No longer must I interrupt my work to get my feet wet in the evening’s dewy grass closing in the flock and collecting eggs in the dark. Now I am freed up to spend more time at the piano, more time getting the kitchen tidy after supper, more time to go through the endless inbox, culling the cream from the crap.

Two years ago at this time, I had yet to play a piano single job here. It had been 13 years since I’d sat at a piano in a hotel lobby. And even back then, when I had piano singles, I hadn’t sung. I hadn’t combined the two. Plus I’d always used real pianos – the technology of a good-sounding, portable piano with ‘real’ action no less – that didn’t exist yet, nor did lightweight, good-sounding PAs. So in May of 2016 I had only just acquired a new keyboard and PA with which to get jobs. I gotta be honest – for as many years as I’d played, for all the experience I had under my belt, and for as eager as I was to get going – I was nervous. Back in the day I’m fairly sure that getting work was influenced by my youth and looks. And maybe even my famous then-husband. The latter idea always bugged me. I tried to silence the concern, but it always followed me; I hated the idea that I hadn’t gotten work on my own merits, but rather my association with someone whose ass many people strove to kiss. But now, all these years later, I was finding that my lack of anyone to vouch for me – starting over, absolutely on my own merits, and with completely new gear – all of it was much more daunting than I’d expected. But I was tenacious, and in the face of full on panic attacks, old fashioned nerves and the challenged sense of vanity of a fifty-something woman, I muscled on. I put in time at the piano, I got a couple hundred tunes in my book, I had new promo shots taken and business cards printed. Starting slow and easy, I got a couple gigs at the Greenfield Farmers Market. And then I was off…

The Studio too was something I’d pushed to the back of my mind over the past several years. There has always been forward movement, but the destination was fuzzy. I’d scolded myself in years past, thinking I needed to simply set aside ten minutes a day to envision the future, to help clarify the picture. But I seldom did. The whole prospect just scared me. I knew what I wanted the big picture to look like – that was easy – but the shit between here and there was beyond me. And in some ways, it still is. But it’s getting clearer now. Kinda crazy the way in which The Studio adventure has panned out. It’s been forward progress in fits and starts. Things look really good, then a pipe breaks. An event feels like a great new era, then a patron sues us (me) for falling on the ice. Deep down, I don’t sweat any of it too much, even when it looks bleak (as it still does from this moment!) because I have a hunch – I call hunches the “God voice” – that things will work out in a surprising fashion. That’s pure faith, I tell you, because at present there’s little evidence to support that reality. But if I were to listen to some of my friends (one more strongly than the others, and yes, G, that’s you!) who give the Universe/God/Creator all the power, and see us as merely passive vehicles to such a power, then I have no reason to fret. But I’m human, so fret I do. But thankfully events are coming to me that shine some light and offer some hope. Some tiny turns of fate are beginning to illuminate new possibility down the line. In a way this too scares me, cuz I’ve never thought this far ahead. It feels strange to see the future that I’ve talked about so much over the years slowly becoming the present.

All this is good, right? I’m working steady piano singles, the kid is able to make himself dinner and take care of the birds, and The Studio is still with us, in spite of lightning strikes and law suits. So what’s the problem? Well, here’s the catch… I’ve got jobs, but they’re all on the weekends. I’ve got events booked at The Studio, but they’re mostly on the weekends. I’m not making money from the place yet (mom’s still spending down her life savings on its monthly operating costs) so it’s not like I can hire someone to run or manage the place, so I find myself in a new, completely unforeseen quandary. So far folks have let themselves in and ‘self-hosted’, but that can’t last much longer with the events coming down the pike. Man. Who knew? I’m kinda surprised with myself that I didn’t see this coming. And I’m hoping that a solution emerges. I’m fairly confident that one will, but from here, in this moment, I don’t see it.

Funny that sometimes we get what we asked for, but when we do, it’s not exactly what we’d thought it would be. It’s a good problem to have in my case, but it’s still a problem. And although I’m making more money, I stand to lose my food stamps and heating oil assistance, and likely my health insurance too. So then I’ll need to make a good chunk more just to come out even again. I call it the ‘dreaded wedge’. That piece of the pie one needs to traverse from poverty to just above poverty. It’s kinda crazy that when one finally makes money, it becomes even harder to make a living. This too is a new situation I never anticipated. I’m earning more, but as a result it’ll be tougher to get by. Talk about irony! I just never thought things through I guess. I still have to fight the desire to cry into my hands sometimes. I’m tired, I’m getting older, my body is changing faster than I’d thought it would, my arthritis makes playing the piano painful, and there’s no reversing any of this. But I can’t stop. There is no option. No other choice but to continue along the path I prepared for myself.

On Saturday night, after a tip-less and quiet night at the restaurant, a complete stranger talked me into coming out and dancing to a local band. In spite of my inner grumblings and initial reservations, I had a fabulous night. A couple in their late 80s danced along side us, as did 20-something couples. All of us laughed and sang out loud together as we danced. We enjoyed an oasis of joy in this relentless, physical world. And when this new friend and I parted at the end of the night, he thanked me for taking a chance on a stranger and coming out. He left me with these words: “Behold the turtle; he makes no forward progress until he sticks his neck out”. Indeed.

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Post Script: My deepest and most heartfelt thanks to all who donated to the recent GoFundMe campaign to replace the broken power line at The Studio. It’s a trial not included in the above post, but a milestone I did not want to let go unmentioned. The success of the drive was due entirely to your love, support and belief in me and in this vision of a community gathering place. The Studio would be dark today and completely stopped if it weren’t for all the donations. So again, thank you, dear friends, thank you so very much. xoxo

Charley My Boy

Although I got off to a late start last night, I did finally go out. There was a fundraiser for the New York City Ballet at which the bassist for the orchestra was leading a small band, and a local fellow was to be playing with him too – enough of a reason to find a dress that I could still fit into and put something other than work boots on my feet. My evening started off quite Cinderella-like, as I had to scoop the last errant members of the flock into the coop before I could be on my way, and by then the event itself was half over and the sun was already down. Half was better than none, I told myself as I waffled once more on whether or not to even go. My windshield was sticky with sap from the trees (the windshield spritzer motor long gone) and my skin was beginning to dampen in the warm, humid air (the AC was on its way out, too). My glasses were smudged, and I’d forgotten to don any jewelry of merit.  I hesitated another moment in the dark car, pondering. “Fuck it” I finally said out loud, turned on the ancient Marshall Crenshaw CD I had in the player, and started down the long, potholed driveway.

I had indeed missed the height of the evening, which was just as well. Before entering, I hung back and assessed the crowd from behind the glass doors. The fundraisers I see in the locally-published glossy magazines wouldn’t be affairs at which I’d be very comfortable. High fashion, low body fat with a smattering of trout pouts, those scenes were simply not me. But if that population had indeed attended tonight’s fundraiser, they had by this time satisfied their social duties, and had returned home on a Sunday night, retiring to bed at a healthy hour. No, this crowd did not look intimidating. I entered the party and filtered through the thinning – and aging – ranks of the guests, and shortly after I arrived found the leader of the band, whom I’d known pretty much only through Facebook. He was kind to introduce me to someone, and I was off.

My father’s 52-year long early music festival still lives in the memory of many here in town, and although that population is aging, there are still many of them about. I’m always grateful to hear my name received with such warmth and recognition; the Festival of Baroque Music was an important part of the arts scene in Saratoga for half a century, and its leader was not only one of the world’s foremost harpsichordists, but he was a gentleman of great heart and good humor – and it seems everyone who’d ever attended the Festival knew it well. Even shopkeepers to whom my father sold ads for the concert programs (yes he did the work himself!) remember dad with a great fondness. My father was an ambassador for goodness and integrity, and I’m always filled with gratitude when I see the impression he made on people has been so memorable and lasting. Last night his good reputation preceded me on several occasions. I met a handful of folks who’d known about the Studio through dad’s music, so I handed out cards and expressed my hopes that we’d stay in touch.

The charts were fun; the band was doing old-timey jazz, the likes of which I’d performed for years with my much-missed Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago (my God you never know what you got til it’s gone!) and in fact, I almost teared up when I heard Black and Tan Fantasy – and it’s not a tune to make one cry, but it immediately brought back vivid memories of a cherished time in my life that was now long over. My nostalgic jag didn’t last though, I was smiling by the time I heard that familiar final minor cadence. The sax player had a delightfully old-timey sound which was a relief to hear. So often when you bands play old-style charts, the players execute them with a modern sound, which to me, kinda spoils the whole thing. If you’re going for the historic tunes – and historically accurate arrangements – play em the way they did back in the day. Just sayin.

I walked the room, looking at programs, posters and articles from the NYCB of my youth. I recognized images of Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins, Gelsey Kirkland and Jacques D’Amboise – rockstars of my early teen years whom I’d sometimes followed through town when they made extremely rare appearances at the pedestrian joints on Broadway alongside the commoners. Peter Martins even put a cigarette out on my foot at the Adelphi Hotel once. Or almost.

We were standing in the lobby, enjoying a solo harpsichord performance when Peter took a final drag off his butt, then flicked it to the ground. It landed on my foot, which I retracted at the unexpected sensation of heat, and when I leaned in to assess the damage, I watched as the dancer’s foot slid towards mine in a motion meant to squash the ember on the floor. I withdrew my own foot and watched as Peter Martins finished the task, his eyes never once leaving the musician. He didn’t realize he’d hit my foot with a hot cigarette, and furthermore he had no idea he’d meant to step on my foot, too. Instantly I felt a mixture of horror, indignation – and awe. Because I was, after all, a thirteen year old girl standing two feet from one of the most exquisitely formed men on the planet. I wanted to be miffed, I’d wanted at the very least an apology. But knowing none was coming, the moment had passed and the point was moot, I decided instead to take the little event simply for what it was: a brush with ballet greatness, and an interesting little anecdote for the archives.

After the band finished, I greeted them and proceeded to pester them with a few questions, which I likely posed with too much enthusiasm. It was easy to get excited – this used to be my world after all, and I still miss it dearly, even a decade hence. The poor fellow who played clarinet, I caught him with cases under his arm and eyes on the door when I stopped to grill him a bit longer than I probably should have for some insight into the working music scene. We’ve met before, so thankfully he was patient with my inquiry. I appreciated what he had to tell me, which, as I might’ve guessed, wasn’t too terribly inspiring. There’s work to be had, but getting in seems the trick. And the money that these dates pay really isn’t much better than it was twenty years ago. Nothing terribly new or insightful, but I came away with some sense of possibility, and my mood was good enough to propel me to downtown Saratoga, where I thought I’d see for myself what a Sunday night looked like during racing season.

It was fairly quiet on the street, but to my surprise there was live music in three separate bars. I saw a fellow a little older than me sitting in the window at one place, playing guitar and singing. Good start. I found a place at the bar and began to jot down the tunes he was playing in my tiny notebook. I always do this when I hear musicians doing the cover thing, because I haven’t still quite gotten a handle on the repertoire. I’m convinced that the soft-rock hits of the 70s and 80s should do just fine in a town that caters mostly to a demographic my age or older – but I’ve come to see that there is a wide mix of ages partying side-by-side, and that a working musician pretty much needs a U2 tune or two in her bag of tricks, and much as it might make me want to weep, it seems that “Moondance” cannot be omitted from a night’s entertainment, no matter how many thousands of times it’s been played.

Soon after I sat down, I was joined by a large, well-toned man. He had a trim, slightly red beard, and wore a cap, which I suspected was used to cover a balding pate. He wasn’t a bad looking fellow, and in fact, had he not been so many drinks in, I might’ve given him a bit more consideration. What I did like about this chap was that he possessed a sense of humor. A construction worker and hunter, he had practical life skills. But surpassing any of his merits on paper, he had a certain twinkle in his eye – that lively, animated sort of presence that I don’t come across all that often. I could tell he was clearly a decade younger than me, but owing to his mild inebriation and my low-cut decolletage, this wouldn’t have mattered at all to him, even if he’d known the truth. I stuck around for a few minutes because I found myself getting a kick out of him.

I’ve had a handful of men show interest in me since I’ve lived here, but I simply haven’t felt a similar interest in them. I wouldn’t say that this chap was all that different – only that his humor and that certain spunk he showed held my interest even after my beer was almost gone. In spite of the beers he’d himself already put away, I could still sense the goodness in him – regardless of his ultimate agenda. (With men – and especially the drunk ones – I assume that’s always where they’re hoping it goes…) Before I realized what was happening, he wrapped his enormous arm around my waist and said “Kiss me”. I suppose I coulda ended it right there with a slap or a shove, but he seemed like a big kitten, really, and there was no time to think before Charlie had pulled me in for a smooch. It wasn’t a lingering kiss, nor a romantic one. It was, in fact, more like the generic kiss I offer all those in my life for whom our parting warrants a quick peck. But the point remains, it was a kiss. By a man. And truth be told, dear readers, this is the first man from whom I’ve received a kiss since my husband kissed me goodbye nearly nine years ago. I paused for a moment to drink in the irony: Charlie was the baby that my husband conceived with his then-girlfriend which propelled us into our life here in New York. Charlie is the person responsible for our life in Greenfield. If my ex had asked for a divorce before Charlie’d come around, things might have gone very differently. Many times through the years I’ve whispered to myself “Thank you, Charlie” in a quiet acknowledgement of the critical role he’s played in our new life. And now look, here was a Charlie of my own to keep things moving along! “Charley, my boy” I said under my breath after the kiss, referencing a song I’d sung in that old timey jazz orchestra so long ago. My drunk friend, oblivious to the quote, just winked and smiled.

My relationship with Charlie did in fact end when the drink was over, because as that same time the guitar player was packing up, and I was on a mission. I gave Charlie another quick kiss of my own, before saying goodbye and leaving him no choice but to return to his drink alone. I introduced myself to the musician, and when I gave him my card, he stopped. “Is Robert your father?” he asked, with a tone of great surprise. I told him that he was, and before I could add anything, Jeff went on to tell me how much he’d thought of my father, how he’d sold him a couple of minivans (the Conants always needed extra long vehicles to schlep around harpsichords) and furthermore he went on to say that my dad was the only customer he ever hugged – and more than once! My father, my father. I know what a loving and kind man he was, I do, but I certainly never realized just how much he’d shone that love and kindness into the world. The night had been such a revelation to me, and a comfort, too. My beloved father was still preparing my path, even now.

My new friend and I enjoyed a chat as he wrapped cables and tucked things away, but the information I ultimately sought couldn’t be proffered in the minutes we had left; it was late, after all, and he wanted to get home. Thankfully he offered to get together sometime by the light of day, so we could compare set lists and talk gear (I’m an unintentional Luddite who, over these past 13 years of child-rearing, has become ultimately lost to the culture of Ipads and modern PA systems). My heart was happy and hopeful as I hugged Jeff goodbye. Finally it felt as if there might be a new chapter ahead. Getting up and running as a musician had proved to be a much bigger undertaking than I’d first thought it would be, but at least now I might have a little help.

I moved across the street to a joint that’s known for its live music all year ’round. I saw an act I’d seen before, but this time I stopped to check them out more carefully. They are a duo; the woman plays drums, standing up, and sings too, and the man in his shabby, indie-hip garb and road-worn guitar provides the harmonic component. I couldn’t see bass pedals, and it didn’t seem they were playing with a track, so the source of the bass was a mystery until afterward when I went up to say hi, I learned that the drummer was hitting a pad that triggered the notes. They had a sweet and tidy setup. The merch table was filled with stuff, and to my surprise (for they are primarily a cover band as are all the bands in this town) there was a small line of folks wanting to buy stuff after the show. I watched the woman as she graciously allowed pudgy, drunk tourists to take selfies with her, and I noted how ‘on’ she was; that professional thing that my ex turns on whenever in the presence of another person, that thing that I personally find a major pain in the ass to cultivate. I was never good at schmoozing. Me, I play – and I want to leave. Go have a burrito. Hang with friends, musicians. Not hang with drunk, idiotic bar patrons who wouldn’t turn down a Jimmy Buffet cover. But I watched as this woman did just that. And I thought to myself, ‘man, you are so good at what you do, sister’. It’s one thing to hold together – and front – a two hour show. But it’s entirely another thing to have the post-show hang down. Good for them. I learned a lot, but mostly I learned that this really was not my world.

Drunk Charlie had also made his way across the street to hear the power duo, and I’d seen him in the audience singing along and offering his thumbs up of approval. Now he was by the door, and he had spotted me. He grabbed my hands and started to dance, and damn if this drunk behemoth wasn’t light of foot! He lead me around – the hand on the small of the back, the whole shebang – he turned me, dipped me, pulled me in, rolled me away – he had it. One of the things I’d so enjoyed about my ex husband was that he could dance. I’d made my seventh grade son take social and Latin dancing this past year because I insisted it was one of the reasons I had married his father. That got his attention. “Really?” he had asked me, with an open-jawed look on his face. “Really.” I’d answered. Yeah, I’ll go to weddings just to dance with a guy who knows how – or isn’t afraid to try to appear that he does. If the situation had been a little different, the drinks fewer and the night younger, dancing with Charlie might have held more appeal. I thanked him for the dance, made a slight bow, then dashed for the door before he could insist on anything more….

I grabbed two slices of pepperoni pizza and drove home to enjoy them with my last bottle of Fat Tire. Afterward, I tried a couple of songs on the piano, but it was beginning to sour in the midsummer humidity, and my results were less and less pleasant as a result. My night had come to an end, but what a sweet, enjoyable evening out it had been. And I laughed to myself to think that after all these years, I’d finally been kissed. Ha! Thanks, Charley, my boy.