I want to write a book.

December 5, 2011 at 11:37 am | Posted in Very Long Blogs | 2 Comments
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I want to write a book.  This is nothing new, actually.  One of the reasons I started this blog was to practice writing – not only the process of writing regularly, which I have been doing for decades in a journal, but to practice writing to a real (as opposed to imagined) “audience”.  And let me take this opportunity to extend my thanks to all of you faithful readers out there for serving as listeners!  Another way this blog has been helpful is in teaching me that I can write about almost anything.  As you know, I have often begun with what is immediately in front of my face, and then out comes an essay of sorts.  I am fairly certain that the general fellowship of English teachers in my junior high, high school, and college years could have told me that – in fact, some probably did try to communicate it to us in patience-lacquered exasperation – but, like Dorothy, it turns out I had to discover it myself.  (Chloe used to say “All BY self!” with all of the monumental, exuberant emphasis that only a two-year-old can muster, placed heartily on the middle syllable.)  Unlike lucky youthful Dorothy, I had to wait until the sixth decade of my life, but as we all know, it takes what it takes!

So now I come face to face with the inevitable and obvious quandary.  If I can write about anything, which you have to admit opens the gates stunningly, even alarmingly wiiiiiiiiiide open, how on earth do I go about the process of narrowing down the focus?  I am pretty sure that the book of collected essays about any random thing comes later in an author’s career, probably not first.  So, even though I have now trudged this little line of hopes, desires, requirements, and questions several times in the past weeks, I will walk it again below, for you, but also potentially for my own benefit.  If it goes as it has lately, I might end up even a few inches beyond the boundaries of my last attempt by doing so.  (Not to set myself by having lofty expectations.  I am only going with my own observations.  Just saying.)

One of the big questions that continues to come up whenever I run into any friend I have not seen in awhile, is whether I am still “doing music.”  Yesterday I was at an annual school event that always brings people out of the woodwork.  (Haha – funny phrase to use at a Waldorf school, where everything is organic and all the students from grades 5 and up take woodworking class.)  So Dan and I stopped to chat with this couple and that, all parents of students who have graduated from our school, catching up on how everyone – first the now-college students or graduates, and then parents (don’t we always talk about our kids first?) – is doing.  Inevitably I was asked the key question by almost everyone.  Being the somewhat literal interpreter that I am, my head spins every time I hear it.  “Are you still doing music?”

First of all, I will ask you, how could I NOT do music?  Even during the two times in my life when I have completely quit, never to play again, I would often sit down at the piano or pull out my guitar and play for my own pleasure.  Does that count as “doing” music?  There’s the time I stumbled into a Romanian fiddle class which led to a Scandinavian fiddle week which led to an entire new repertoire on my “retired” violin.  And then there’s the time I was just going to focus on raising my kids and nobody in my new neighborhood knew me or my previous vocation.  One day a woman came to my door and said, “I hear you teach piano lessons.  My twin daughters would like to study with you.”  No matter how I tried to argue that, no, actually I definitely do not teach piano lessons, eventually I found myself setting up a lesson schedule for her twins and then their neighbor, and then some more kids down the street, until I was teaching three or four afternoons each week, a steady stream of neighborhood children letting themselves in the door up our driveway, an instant gang of playmates for Chloe and Rachel, as they would come early or stay after their lessons to hang out.  And then there’s the time I took Chloe to the Aspen Music Festival to fill her ears and her heart, and I ended up sitting in a piano master class, stifling my own gut-wrenching sobs as I realized I had left this world decades ago and now needed to return to it.

Yes, I am still doing music.  I list my present inventory:  playing baroque violin in my chamber orchestra, teaching private lessons on violin, piano and recorder, directing two early music ensembles at school, taking private lessons myself on baroque and modern violin, playing music for services at my synagogue, singing for the healing services at a local hospital, and whatever pick-up performance or recording jobs I get along the way.  Is that “doing” music?

Okay, yes, I’m “doing” music.  But what some – not all, but some – people mean by their question is whether I am still performing as a folk musician.  And herein lies my true stuck and quandarous (I know it’s not in the dictionary, but it is truly perfect in this instance so I am using it) circumstance.  I left the folk circuit behind and do not intend to return to it.  I can honestly say that it was a right and healthy decision, and though I do not regret it, I have to admit that I now feel called to somehow share my music again.  I have felt this pull for two years or longer.

In previous decades I wrote songs about miscarriage, depression, insomnia, war, love, sexual abuse, loss, motherhood, the catch-22 of the women’s movement, and more.  I have performed traditional ballads on the subjects of traitors, love triangles, murder, loss to individuals during the Civil War, the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, World War I, and other historical times; on the challenges of love – between people of two classes, forbidden love, the desperation of unwedded mothers, unrequited love, and becoming widowed.  I have performed songs by other contemporary songwriters on poverty, hope, transgender love, love lost and won, ancestors…Obviously the list could go on forever.  There are so many stories to tell, so many new ones to add to my repertoire, so many messages to offer, so many questions to pose and explore with my audiences.

But where is my audience?  If I do not care to return to the folk world, for whom do I sing, and where?

To find an answer to this question, I have had little brainstorming sessions with friends and colleagues.  I have pondered the salon setting, which I find appealing for many reasons, but have, at least up until now, come up short in the area of energy.  So far I have not mustered the vitality necessary to start my own salon series, nor have I had the wherewithal, not to mention the patience, to go through all the steps to make it happen.  Writing that helps me see that the synchronicity of details falling into place has not availed itself to me yet.  For three years or so I worked in a trio with two musician friends, hoping that together we could rally the forces necessary to brave those elements, but we found that it provided too little income, too seldom, to justify the amount of work required at the time.  I deeply miss the beauty of the music that we made together, as well as the camaraderie, and hope that someday we will be called to perform together again.  And I have kept my antennae up for other possibilities to present themselves.  Perhaps said antennae missed some signals, but I don’t think the universe has been streaming anything approaching an abundance of solo folk-music but non-folk-venue opportunities in my direction.  So far.

So now a new thought is beginning to form.  I talked it through with Dan a few days ago, and it made some sense, so I’ll try it on for size here.  Thirty years ago I knew that I wanted to go out into the folk circuit, and understood that to do so I would need to make a recording – in the form of a record album, which in that era was no small venture.  I was already performing locally and was developing a nice following.  I had enough savvy to realize that the only way to extend it to a national level was to be heard on the radio.  So I bought the wonderful book, How to Make and Sell Your Own Recording, by Diane Sward Rapaport.  (Incidentally, back then it was …Your Own Record.)  I studied it in minute detail for several months, and then went into action, following her protocol.  In the fall of 1982, my first LP, To Meet You, was released on my own label, Propinquity Records.  My first California tour was in 1983, followed by a second and third on the west coast, and then I branched out to the Midwest, New England, and the Middle Atlantic states in 1985.  My second LP came out that same year, followed by a children’s tape, and a third record, and then finally I accepted a contract with an “established” label and simultaneously moved into the world of CDs.  My solo career was moderately successful on a national level until I stopped touring in 1995.  Perhaps someday I will write about reaching that difficult decision, but that is not part of today’s entry.

The more important piece is this:  if releasing my first album enabled me to jump-start and support a thirteen-year career on the road, it makes sense that releasing a written publication could help me do the same thing in the next arena (whatever that is).  The difference is that this time I feel the need to allow the journey to evolve, instead of starting, as I did thirty years ago, with a clear picture of what I want and trying to make it happen.  I know that may sound backwards to some of you.  So why would I say it?  The picture I had back then was too narrow and I ended up never really reaching it.  The biggest mistake I made in that era of my career was that I kept aiming for my original image.  I now know that in any venture you have to occasionally make the time to take stock, doing an inventory of what’s working and what isn’t, asking questions like How has my life changed since I began this journey?  What is the present status of the industry I chose?  What changes might I consider – in my vision, my goals, my definition(s) of success, my boundaries, etc.?  I now know that back then I remained too stubborn and short-sighted about what I wanted, until the only thing that could crack was myself.  Which is basically what happened.

So this time I am starting from what feels to me to be a very different place:  I feel called to share the gifts I have been given in my life, which include more than a guitar, lyrics, melodies, and chords.  I want my music and my life experiences, together with the higher-self wisdom that has always guided my writing process, to serve a purpose, to help people.  Thirty years ago I knew I wanted to establish enough of a reputation that I could more easily book gigs and expect a decent-sized audience, so I could make a living and put aside enough to pay for my next recording.  In addition, whether I could have admitted it at the time or not, I had another agenda.  One or two layers below the aforementioned goals, I wanted to prove my own self worth, scrambling to compensate for a great lack on the inside.  I thrived for many years on the so-called “waves of love” that wafted up from the audience at my feet, and the bigger the crowd, the more I craved it the next time.  By the time I left that career behind, I only knew that it wasn’t working, but I didn’t understand exactly what was wrong with it.  Lessons learned through a long mid-life reassessment taught me that self worth has nothing to do with ego.

In my younger years, I thought you had to become an expert before you could do your thing in front of people, and I considered myself an expert.  Again, I have no regrets.  I am grateful for all the years that I worked in the music industry, and for all that I learned about music and the biz, not to mention all the friendships – and the music!! – that came from that part of my life.  Certainly, I know that I am a good performer and that the songs I perform, some of my own and some from a broader repertoire, reach people.  I am not saying that it’s a bad thing to aim toward expertise and excellence.  What I am saying is that the term “expert” is never an absolute thing, being difficult to qualify and to measure, and it may not always be the most important attribute.  I want to give myself permission to be an unabashed explorer, fraught with uncertainty and far from an authority, on another front – the amorphous part that I have yet to bring into focus.  Can I stand before an audience of wanderers as a searcher myself?  I believe I can.  Sixteen years after leaving my folk career behind, I long to connect all the disjointed and compartmentalized pieces of my life.  It is so typical of our American culture.  In college you can study biology, chemistry, math, creative writing, music, etc.  But where can you study – and experience – the coming together of all these?  Music provides much-needed nourishment for our very cells, for our minds, for our hearts and souls.  It goes beyond the words that come from our mouths, beyond the notes on the page, beyond even the notes in the air.

When I wrote about my struggles with depression, I was afraid to say the word “depression” on stage because it might seem too heavy for someone who came to the show for a night of entertainment.  Now I know better.  There might be someone sitting out there who needs to know that writing that song was the beginning of my turnaround.  How?  Because to write the song I had to put a claim on depression.  I spoke from exactly where I stood, which ironically enabled me to begin to move.  In an earlier blog, I wrote about being so touched by the writings of Jon Katz, who minced no words in Izzie and Lenore, his account of his own plummet into the depths (see “A question about depression, and a song,” my post of May 2, 2011.)

When I wrote about my miscarriage, I vowed to wait until I had given birth to my first child before I would perform it.  Miscarriage is an experience that puts us face to face with our complete and utter lack of control, and to make up for that terrible and frightening realization, we often paint over and around it with superstition in an effort to regain some semblance of a foothold.  I was afraid of another miscarriage, of my inadequacy as a woman and as a mother.  Out of that fear, I refused to buy anything to prepare for Chloe’s arrival until a month before she was born, just in case I might jinx it.  I finally performed the song when she was almost eight months old, in a concert with Rosalie Sorrels and Claudia Schmidt.  And once I began to bring it to audiences, women began to come up after the show to share their own miscarriage stories with me.  I was so moved by their accounts, and equally moved by their desire to tell someone.  But once I left my career behind, I had two additional thoughts about this.

One thing that came to me was that now there were some women out there who were not sharing their stories, since I was no longer out there performing the song.  The other was even more sobering.  The women that came up to the stage to talk with me were only talking with me, even though they had all sat in the audience together.  I began to imagine what could happen if the song served as only a jumping off place – what if I could have sung the song and then we could have had an evening of sharing our stories?  We could have all served as witnesses for each other.  We could have cried together and laughed together – such a greater good!  We could have had a one-night fellowship of women who suffered a loss and then moved forward in our lives, experiencing the richness of the joys and sorrows that followed.

Okay, so earlier I told you that I would want to enter this new chapter of my journey without a specific picture in mind.  Clearly, I lied!  I do have some specific pictures.  And I openly admit that I have no idea how to make them come into being!  There you go – two true confessions for today’s writing.  Perhaps I am being idealistic, but I do believe there is a way that I can bring my music to people in a way that brings them together, in that evening, in that very room.  That is my hope.  And since I cannot reach everyone in person, I am hoping that writing a book can reach out into other circles and communities, and perhaps I can later go out to them too.  I would like to not only write the book but also record the songs and have the recording and the book come as a package.  And the part I cannot yet envision?  I am hoping that it will simply come to me as the next step, evolving naturally from the actions I take up to that point.

This feels to me like a lot of hope.  The work feels daunting, but doable.  I love writing.  I love singing.  I love performing for people, sharing the stories that go with the songs.  Above all, I love feeling that connection that happens between me and my audience, through and beyond the music, and I want to find a way to extend that sense of connectedness, to weave it like a thread from each member of the audience to the others.  People crave it, but they also fear it.  I believe it to be a healing force, and that the world needs that kind of healing.

There was a speech given in September of 2004 by Karl Paulnack, pianist and music division director at Boston Conservatory, the welcome address given to the incoming freshman class and their parents.  It has been posted in countless blogs ever since, published in several languages, and I would strongly encourage you to read it.  Here are two links:

http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/centers/boisi/pdf/s091/Welcome_address_to_freshman_at_Boston_Conservatory.pdf

http://www.bostonconservatory.edu/music/karl-paulnack-welcome-address

Music is not just a form of entertainment.  As Professor Paulnack suggested to his audience of eager and terrified pioneers and their parents who were no doubt (based on my own experience) swirling with mixed emotions, “If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness…If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do.”  I want to join that fellowship and serve that higher good.  I hope with all my heart that I find a way to do it.

And the subject for the book?  The starting place?  The direction?  I know I just need to start writing some each day to see what comes.  I know I will be guided, as I always have been, through the process.  I’ll let you know how it’s going.  Thank you again for “listening.”

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A question about depression, and a song

May 2, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Very Long Blogs | 5 Comments
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A question came up in conversation this week, and I have been pondering it ever since. It is around a subject that has been synchronistically (is that a word yet?) showing up on several fronts lately, so I decided to explore it here. I have found writing to be so helpful these last few months! So thank you in advance for “listening”.

First, a little history.

On August 8, 1989, out of what seemed like nowhere, I plummeted into a depression. Dan and I had recently moved and had been in our new house for just over a month. It was a beautiful place, our dream home, on a few acres outside of town. I had come into the city that morning for a haircut. To stretch the self-indulgence out a little longer, I bought myself a picnic lunch to eat in contemplative solitude near the gardens in the park, next to the lake where the ducks and geese hang out. I spread a blanket in the shade of a tree, laid my delicacies on it and invited myself to sit down and allow all my senses to enjoy the feast.

As my freshly coiffed self sat on the blanket under the tree and ate the lunch, admiring the flowers, set to a soundtrack of children in the nearby playground and other such summer music, I felt it begin to descend upon me. It was a little like darkness, though duller. Like a coverlet, but one devoid of comfort. Heavy and grey. I could sense myself going down, though it is probably more accurate to say that I was being dragged inward. There seemed to be a growing distance between me and the rest of the world, one that seemed too hard to reach across. And it was accelerating, a train carrying one sole passenger.

That night I had a date with a friend and her two kids to attend an outdoor concert. I was sinking lower by the hour, but I went anyway. I didn’t tell my friend what was happening to me until later. This was a fellow musician whose husband had left her a few months earlier, just weeks before she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She spent most of the summer in chemo and all of us did the best we could to support her through the hell of side effects as well as the hell of sudden loneliness and abandonment. The concert was probably wonderful – the performers we went to see ARE wonderful, but I couldn’t take much of it in. (Years later I found out that a member of the band has suffered for decades with depression himself, which in retrospect added a strange irony to the evening.)

I won’t go into detail here, though I intend to write more about it in the future. To bring myself (and you) back to the intended topic, suffice it to say that I suffered through a few months and then began to find my way back into the world again. I was helped by the lovingkindness of friends and my kind and patient husband, by a smart therapist, by a massage therapist who not only helped me come back into my body but also served as a model to me in how to tell myself the truth, and others as well. Once walking on higher ground, I navigated my way through a miscarriage, a pregnancy and the resulting Chloe, carrying on the doings of a music career throughout. (Actually, the music career had never stopped – it was a constant even through the depths.) And then we had Rachel and we moved back into town and I sank again, not as deep perhaps, but with a greater edge of desperation. By this time I had left my career (permanently, or so I believed) and had some newly-found friends to hold my hands, as all my music comrades were busy in the world from which I had divorced myself. Also I had not only Dan but my two wonderful kids in my corner. Once more I rose, even higher this time. It has now been several years since that last dip, and I am hopeful that I will not have to walk that lowland ground again.

Hence, (finally), the question: what brought me out of it? And the corollary: why was I able to come out of it while some people struggle with it for most of their lives?

Rachel and I just finished listening to a book on CD called Izzy and Lenore by Jon Katz. It is a beautifully told memoire of Katz’ decline into a very dark time and how his beloved and amazing dogs helped him to find his way back out (hence the title). As we listened, I found myself nodding my head in agreement with many of the steps he took to provide himself with what he needed. Rachel, who has only a ghost of a memory of my low times, commented meaningfully as we were driving and listening, “He’s doing a good job.” It is both a tender and affirming testimony of finding one’s inner softness and strength, and we both recommend it.

Today I looked up “depression” in Louise Hay’s book Heal Your Body. From page 28:

Problem: Depression. Probable Cause: Anger you feel you do not have a right to have. Hopelessness. New Thought Pattern: I now go beyond other people’s fears and limitations. I create my life.”

If someone had shown this to me when I was in the depths of it, I would probably have gotten defensive. I felt myself to be a victim of depression. How could my own feelings and thoughts have caused it? Yet now, with the wisdom of hindsight, I can see it is an apt directive. I felt hopeless, all right. And I was carrying around a truckload of anger and then making sure I hid it, even from myself. On those occasions when I was able to admit to being upset with someone, while sitting in a therapy session, or when my massage therapist helped me feel it in my body, I was so frightened by it – scared that it made me seem like a bad person and repelled by the power of it – I would shut down, just adding more layers to my own muck. The fear of looking bad and/or causing “badness” kept me sick even longer than the original offenses.

So many things have changed for me since those years, I look back on that time almost like it was a past life, rather than merely an earlier chapter in my adulthood. I could go through a litany of befores and afters, but that’s not where I want to go right now. (I will undoubtedly dwell on said litany in detail when I am ready to really write the whole “book”.)

Excuse me while I take the time for this teeny little conversation with myself, set aside in parentheses: (Okay, yes, a “book”. But since it’s mildly terrifying to contemplate the magnitude of that, I’ll qualify it by putting the word in quotes for now. It’s pretty much the same as saying, “I’m planning to, like, write a, like, book?”)

Thanks for indulging me. Now, back to the original stream:

…But – or maybe I should say “and” – maybe that (in case you’re lost, “that” = “the before and afters”) is the point. I had to change. A lot.

And the gritty truth is people don’t like to change. People? Hey, even Bella the dog doesn’t want to change. She likes to check out your crotch, and she’s the right height to do it, too. And you and I have plenty that we like, too. (Which is hopefully less obnoxious and more socially appropriate than the canine version.) But back in the day, a lot of what I liked, or at least what I was used to doing and thinking and believing, wasn’t working for me. So I had to drag it all out on the table and take an honest look at it. Then, with a lot of loving guidance, I began the process of choosing what to throw out, what to put aside to look at later, and what was worth keeping. It was a long and arduous task (not done yet, by the way), though ultimately it not only saved my life, it gave me a life. And I can assure you it’s a life I couldn’t have pictured when I first began that rough part of the journey, nor before it.

Dan and I celebrated our 27th anniversary a few days ago. (William and Kate missed our special day by just a few hours.) Two years ago, on the morning of our 25th, I remember how we lay in bed and listed out loud to each other all the things we could think of about our present day lives that are miles, seeming chasms, apart from where we started. We still shake our heads in wonder sometimes and try to imagine where we would be, what we would be doing, and how it would all feel, had we not made each individual choice along the way that lead us up to the here and now. As I look back on that routing with the perspective of hindsight, I can see how it is all lit up with miracles and billboards, but at the time I felt like we were groping through the dark.

And after all is said and done, isn’t it the hard-won milestones that we value the most? The things that come so easily that you hardly notice what it took – those can feel good, but they do not shine as radiantly as the ones that make you sweat and toil. It must the extra perspiration that gives them the added luster. Or maybe the tears. Or some combination of the two.

In January of 1992, three months before Chloe was born, I wrote the following song about my journey up to that point. In truth, it went well beyond that point. As is typical of many of the songs that have been birthed by channeling themselves through me, I continue to learn its meaning even now. In less than three weeks, I will be performing it again – for the first time in God-knows-how-many years – with some of the afore-mentioned musician friends who helped me through that first storm. I am so grateful to them and to my other guides, along with whatever grace delivered me to this place along my path. May you see – and feel – the evidence of your angels too.

(Listen to the song here. It will take a few seconds.)

Awakening (copyright 1994 Salonica Publishing Company/BMI)

I feel a shifting in my soul, I have no strength to defy it
A river out of control and I tumble inside it
It’s like an earthquake within
The earth tilts as it spins
I curse as I swim
This shifting in my soul, it’s called awakening

I had been walking in my sleep although I did not know it
For denial ran deep while the cannons were loaded
The battle stole away my rest
Depression held me to her breast
Oh what a bitter caress!
No more walking in my sleep, I was awakening

I cannot say that I am glad for all the pain and the anguish
But I am grateful for the path that gave my heart a new language
I learned the power of friends
And in a chain of many hands
I can dance my own dance
As I follow this path of awakening

I used to live life in my head, proud of intellect and judgment
But now I turn my trust instead to my heart and my conscience
Oh change is frightening!
But as I raise my voice to sing
I feel a marvelous thing:
I am joining humankind, I am awakening

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