Oct. 11, 2020
A beautiful summer with many trips to the trees and river is over, the weeks of smoke have passed, Covid-19 hasn’t gone anywhere, the political landscape in the US has us all on edge. The now-to-now seems to be moving so much more rapidly, as we continue to mostly shelter in place. How could it be that I already need to trim my toenails again? Didn’t I just sweep the floor? That broccoli can’t be bad already! The ordinary tasks of maintaining health and hearth and home bloom into spaces that I had never noticed so vividly before.
I find myself often singing this rather black-humored folk song called “Housewife’s Lament,” taught to me by Gary, one of my favorite elders:
Life is a toil and love is a trouble
Beauty will fade and riches will flee
Pleasures they dwindle and prices they double
And nothing is what I would wish it to be!
Peggy Seeger does a nice version of this song.
I’ve begun a “song excavation” process, going through decades of music stored in boxes in the basement. CDs of radio interviews, work tapes, random studio recordings from all over the place, live shows. Reel-to-reels, four tracks, ADats, DATs, mini-discs and micro-cassettes. If anyone remembers what that is. The basic idea is to put the good stuff out there before I die. In some of these years I was writing several new songs every week, so some of the good ones got left by the wayside as new ones crowded in through the song portal. I often wrote songs and then performed them the same day because I tend to want to share the songs I am working on. But in some cases, they weren’t really quite baked, so I have been re-tooling lyrics and melodies if I think a forgotten song has merit.
In some cases, it means recording the songs anew, with Brian engineering. Especially with the “production numbers” as we call them, the ones that really need other players and production magic to best bring them to light. So that has been really fun. I have been working with three of the musicians from my first 1995 CD, The Cauldron: Jon Green (bass, Seattle Symphony), Peter Pendras (guitar, Red Dress and many other NW groups) and Morgan Doctor (drums, now does her own solo work and tours full time in non- covid times). All of them except Jon have been remote sessions–we brought him here and recorded socially distanced with the windows open in August. I’ve also been working with Peter’s immensely talented son Trevor Pendras (Seattle band the Country Lips), and greatly anticipating some cello tracks from Tyrrell Sweetman who played on my first cassette tape released n 1991. Probably will be working with other musicians as we see the need. We have about a dozen songs in process now, some recently written, some 25 years old.
It is an emotional excavation as well as an artistic one. It is like reading old journals, seeing myself and the people in my life in a new light. Sometimes that feels joyful, sometimes painful, often both. Much forgiveness of self and others going on.
I found one a Capella song recorded in a home studio from 1994 called “A Blade of Memory.” I had written it as a gift, and only performed it for the recipients, who didn’t really seem to dig it. Which made me sad at the time. It never even made it onto any set lists. I had completely forgotten it. I even found another version of it, written in a totally different melody, probably because this one seemed to fall flat with the only ears to ever hear it. But the original was so obviously better. Since my process in 2020 is about doing the worthy songs justice for their own sake, the song doesn’t need to be connected to the original “reason” for writing it. I think the good ones never are, they exist outside the particular sparks of inspiration. At first, I thought I would totally re-do the song because it was not in standard pitch and because my voice has changed so much. But then realized that I liked the way I sang it back then just fine. So I added a 2020 harmony and we finished it! Finishing the emotional incompletes too. It was fun to sing with that young woman who used to be “me”! Here is that song:
Another one that we have completed recently is called “Wisdom and Devotion.” The words are from the wedding ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer, and I composed the music for my sister’s wedding…finished the recording in time for her tenth wedding anniversary last month!
And one new song has been completed, written for my dear friend Kaili whose sister Chelsea died unexpectedly a few months ago:
Since June, I have kept up my Vipassana meditation practice with the help of my “Dhamma Sis” Shavonne. Almost exactly a year ago, I spent a ten-day silent meditation retreat with Shavonne and dozens of other strangers. On the final day when we could talk, Shavonne and I connected. It was just a few minutes of conversation in our blissed-out post-retreat mood. Shavonne wrote an email to me right after the retreat with the subject line “Hey Dhamma Sis!” I wrote back, and then we both got swept into the currents of our lives.
In June I realized I really needed to keep meditating to maintain sanity, but I needed more support. So I reached out to Shavonne again. We created a simple system of sending an emoji text every day to the other when we mediated. We have experimented with the process, trying to do it at the same time (that didn’t last), trying to do it a certain agreed upon amount of time (nope, didn’t last either) sending the number of minutes sat with the emoji (that’s been good). The emojis are fun, sweet, silly, earnest, inspirational, connecting us daily. Once she sent me a tooth and once I sent her a nose! We email and talk on the phone at times. Sometimes we only can manage a few minutes of sitting, but we have both kept it up almost every day. It has been a powerful support to keep reminding myself to be present, and to live the ideals of peace, love, and compassion. AND I have a new friend, which is also precious.
I continue to have work, singing to elders on my tablet. I also continue to work on my book about this work. And I am writing new songs and poetry too.
And Jordan (who is in my family, in our “covid bubble” and lives very close by) got a kitten named Harley, short for Harlequin. We all adore him. Harley and an Australian TV show called “Offspring” got us through the first Covid summer!
Like most people I know, I have been living history in America, watching our democratic institutions being shaken to the core, experiencing first-hand the results of climate change and a seismic reckoning around race. Violence comes closer and closer to home. I am intensely interested in this, sometimes frightened, sometimes hopeful. The tribal divides seem to be tearing us apart. But I am glad to see people believing in democracy, believing in voting again. While I believe that Donald Trump and the Republicans enabling him have become an existential threat to our country and planet, I am also committed to maintaining loving relationships with family members who have very different beliefs, based on the sources of information they trust. It will be up to American families to heal these divides, more than any leader of any party.
Thank you for being in my life. Keep loving each other, keep singing, keep finding beauty!