Thursday, September 28, 2006

Feelin' Lucky? I Am

Over the last few weeks, I’ve come to appreciate how lucky I am. Lots of people wander in the wilderness for years, trying to figure out who they are and what they’re about. To feel such a strong connection with something the way I feel about music is really a gift.

This weekend my son and I will head to Nashville for just about the biggest and best Bluegrass industry event of the year, the International Bluegrass Music Association FanFest, trailing a week of seminars and workshops about the industry. It’s not so much a festival as a professional gathering. Geeky to some, perhaps, but hey, it’s not as geeky, and probably serves more of a purpose, than those Star Trek trade shows. ;-)

I love being at this event because I’m surrounded by a few thousand people who all love the same stuff. Having a sense of community is really important, even for those of us who are seriously introverted or just don’t like hanging around people. Being with other individuals who share your love of something creates a sense of belonging, a kind of safe place. The sense I enjoy from being part of IBMA has supplanted the feeling I had while I was part of La Leche League – surrounded by families who held the same values and did some of the same things in bringing up their babies that I felt compelled to do.

It’s about feeling compelled, too. I’m lucky I feel compelled toward not just a goal, but a dream.

I’m lucky that the work I do to put food on the table helps me to frame and expand what that dream looks like, because of the people and organizations I’m in touch with. Right now, I’m working for four different orchestras and in constant touch with wonderful talented people on three continents, all of whom speak the language of music and how important it is. This informs my thought process and helps me to navigate the waters with new information, different perspectives, and an eye toward the practices and people who someday may help me achieve the best possible outcome – for whatever it is I’m supposed to do.

That’s the hard part – not knowing precisely what that is. But it’s the exciting part, too. All the possibilities lay ahead, along with the opportunity to excite and inspire potential leaders and message bearers. And a lot of those folks will be at IBMA this weekend.

Yeah, I’m very, very, lucky.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Who is this Liberty?

With almost perfect synchronicity the folks in my office started talking about this article and it was sent to me by more than a couple of sources:

It was spawned by events described here:
All I can say is, sometimes stuff don’t always come out in a good way, and people get hurt and angry and take things all personal like and are too above everybody to accept an apology, you know, like Republicans, or the way the Muslims and the Pope got all outta whack with one another (although personally I’d like to see both sides drift a little too far from my shore, if you know what I mean).

What is this all about? I think at the core it's about what in the hell we're fighting for. We're told it has something to do with our "freedom" but it seems to me the truth is our freedom is more in danger than ever. Then again, the truth is really tricky, and NObody likes to hear the truth about almost anything, personal, political, professional. Truth causes problems.

But, sometimes, a smart person like former President Bill Clinton here, takes so much crap up to a certain LIMIT, letting the coyotes have their day with the truth and all, and then all a sudden-like, WHHHAM.

Truth to power -- or in this case, so-called power.

I find it fascinatin’ that the Clintons are trying to conduct a “charm campaign” – you kind of place yourself in a funny position when you open the door to relating with people you know don’t care for you – or who might even kind of hate you. I’ve tried that -- as a good friend reminds me, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That seems to be kind of what a number of Americans are experiencing when they suggest that the bush administration is a vapid crew steering a rudderless vessel o our nation right into the shoals of calamity.

But face it, that's what's happening. Nobody in that shop knows what the hell to say next, and the minute they say it, somebody is right behind them with a piece of evidence proving that what they said is, well, wrong. You'd think that would get old after a while and that it would just be easier to admit being wrong. But that might be even harder than hearing the truth, if my experience is any indicator.

Long ago, but not too long ago, our country was fighting over what to do to survive. We were struggling with whether to attain our liberty. Even then, it was not easy to say or do the right thing. But now it's even harder, even for well-paid and popular news figures like Keith Olberman, who rightly handed Shrub and the rest of a sleeping America a good solid piece of his mind. I hope we don't find him floating in the river, or Walden pond.

Here's an unbelievably beautiful song from that incredible duo of Rice/Rowan, from their first full-length release together, You Were There For Me.

"Miss Liberty" (Lay My Lonesome Down)

I stood on the banks of the waters
Where the Concord River swirls
Alng the shores of Walden Pond
The shot heard round the world

From the cradle of revolution
Unto the cradle of Liberty
Politicians and dictators
Gamble lives for her virginity

I'm a roving gambler, I gamble round and round
And I'm gonna win my liberty
And lay my lonesome, lay my lonesome down

Hey, Mister, have you seen her?
I won't give up the chase
She's the one I'm searchin' for
A name to fit the face

With a glancing eye she beckons to me
From the auction block, in chains
Pleading for her reckoning
I just roll the dice again

I'm a drunken sailor, on a spree, on the town
I'm gonna take my liberty
And lay my lonesome, lay my lonesome down

(guitar duet)

Oh those lies I told you
I was talkin' out of my head
Come on home, baby, it's cold outside
And warm here in my bed

There's an angel at your window
There's a beggar at your door
When you've given all you can take
You must give a little more

Like a thief in the night
When the sun goes down
I will steal away with Liberty
And lay my lonesome, lay my lonesome down

Lay my lonesome, lay my lonesome down

Monday, September 25, 2006

Temporarily Unavailable

Yesterday I did something I almost never do.

I left my house and took my kids and did not take my cell phone.

Last week, my friend Boring Best wrote a post about cell phone use that really kind of hit home with me. Now, I have a cell phone mainly for three reasons: two kids, and the fact that I’m part of a family business. And although I have a land line, I find that I use my mobile more often to contact and be contacted. The difference is when we have a mobile phone we can always be found.

I know other people who don’t have cell phones. There’s probably something really smart about that. Like, occasionally being unavailable, which I almost never am.

Part of that is the way I am designed. I want the people I care about to be able to reach me, but I’ve become uber-available, kind of at the beck and call of the unknown, the whimsical, and the work related. At the same time, as Jim says in his rant, I know for certain that there are times I call people and they look at the phone with a dismissive “Oh.” Some people also are fond of the dramatic gesture of pulling out their phones to look at them, usually when someone is in the middle of a sentence. I don’t know what the point of this is. Maybe they don’t own a watch. Or, their phones are really pretty. Or they expect the winning lottery numbers to scroll across their caller ID screen just at that moment.

So yesterday was an experiment in making myself just a teensy bit unavailable, leaving a piece of technology behind because there really are times when being found is unnecessary. I’ll admit it is outside of my comfort zone. We all want to feel more needed than we really are, and at the heat of a search much of what happens, happens on the weekend, especially if you’re dealing with confidentiality or volunteer search committees. But since both of the most important people in my life were with me the whole time, what is a cell phone going to do for me? Do I need it in case one of us gets hurt? Bitten by a coyote? Kidnapped by aliens? Set on fire by bad boy scouts? With all the other people on the bike path with cell phones, and our resourcefulness as a family, I doubt we’d have any trouble finding help.

And what might I miss? With both kids with me, not very much. I’ll admit I worry more about the rest of my family than I used to, but if something is important, smart people will leave a message, unless it’s really bad news, and then they leave part of a message.

It really was a nice walk. I didn’t miss anything that wasn’t still there when I got back. I missed one call from a good friend who wholeheartedly supported my temporary liberation.

So if you’re under the spell of your cell, try taking a sabbatical every once in a while. Find ways to be out of touch, out of pocket, out of range.

Take it away, Roy.

Don't Fence Me In

Wildcat Kelly was lookin' mighty pale
Standin by the sheriff's side
When that sheriff said I'm taking you to jail
Wildcat raised his head and cried

Oh give me land lots of land under starry skies above
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open spaces that I love
Don't fence me in

I want to be by myself in the evening breeze
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don't fence me in.

Just turn me loose and let me wander
over yonder where the purple mountains rise
On my kayoose let me straddle my old saddle
underneath the western skies

I want to ride to the range when the west commences
Howl at the moon 'til I lose my senses
I won't look at hobbles and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in

Friday, September 22, 2006

Inner Housework

Yesterday I opened my browser, and these six jolly headlines, all right there, right in the top third of the MSNBC page:

Woman slain, fetus taken
Toys recalled after two tots choke to death
New deadly TB strain gaining ground
25 die in German train crash
Two more possible spinach deaths
Astronaut collapses during welcome-home ceremony

For crying out loud. I’m waiting for someone to come around the corner of my house with a big cart, yelling, “Bring out yer deaaaad…”

Then again, there’s the rub. There was a time five or six hundred years ago when life was kind of a big pile of death and disease and killin’ and mean and nasty kings -- like, all the time. Kind of like, now.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of beauty and joy and good stuff in my life. Some of it is downright miraculous. But more and more, I wonder whether I don’t just have my finger in the dam. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I’m guessing it’s a size 20.5, filled with lead.

I imagine that there are lots of reasons I feel this way, and I am guessing I’m not really alone, given headlines like those all day, every day. Still, there’s something kind of sad in feeling that, when your garage door stops working, you’re relieved that at least it’s good weather and the car was outside. Like it’s a bonus.

This was the kind of week that left me feeling like my life is nothing but a series of small catastrophes avoided. Some of it was externally driven, some internally driven. Some is being churned up by the work I’m undertaking to make a few permanent changes. It’s like moving the couch when you vacuum. You know it will make you feel better, but it sure looks nasty.

Inner housekeeping is hard for most of us. It's a lot easier to avoid it and all the stuff it brings out. Much easier to keep it all swept under the rug. But how long before that big bump trips you on your ass?

I realized I had neglected my inner housekeeping when I was treated to some unexpected company. The experience made me realize that it's not how tidy my table is, but how ready I am to open the door to my world and welcome in experiences and people worthy of my respect and love.

Let me be clear: this has been coming a long time. This week probably was just more difficult because I have been pulling up a few rugs, looking into the dark corners and in the places my foundation was damaged, and so I'm more keenly aware of the imperfections. But as one dear friend likes to say, perfection is boring.

This is a great old tune, which I first heard on a live Hot Rize album. My favorite iteration is when Tim O'Brien sings it as he accompanies himself on the fiddle in such tight harmony with his own voice that it puts people who can pat their heads and rub their bellies right to shame. It really is about working on that inner building, maintaining and improving the infrastructure that supports how you act in the world, whether you extend your best to yourself and to the people around you, and if it matters to you, to God. So don't forget to check your gutters and clean your filters.

Working On A BuildingFrom So Long Of A Journey(Trad., Arr. Tim O'Brien (Howdy Skies Music/Forerunner Music, ASCAP))

Working On A Buliding

Well if I was a sinner I tell you what I would do
I'd quit my sinning and work on a building too

I'm working on a building
I'm working on a building
I'm working on a building
For my Lord for my Lord
It's a holy ghost building
It's a holy ghost building (hallelu)
It's a holy ghost building For my Lord for my Lord

Well if I was a gambler I'll tell you what I would do
I'd quit my gambling and work on a building too


Well if I was a drunkard I'll tell you what I would do
I'd quit my drinking and work on a building too

Well, if I was a preacher I'll tell you what I would do
I would go on preaching
And work on a building too.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Girl Friday: Big Day for the Little House

When I was a girl, I Little Womened when I should have Little Housed.

The highlight of my week took me back to the days when a good book led me to imagine what life for girls in other times must have been like. The other day I received a note from a Nashville PR outfit about how a new series of recordings organized by a couple of Vanderbilt professors , Dale Cockrell and Butch Baldassari, who was mentioned in a previous post, will be the first recordings to be included on the National Endowment for the Humanities’ We the People bookshelf, a project intended to strengthen students’ understanding of American culture and history.

The two recordings, one yet to be released, are part of a project called Pa’s Fiddle. The releases celebrate the near-concurrent anniversaries of the birth (140th) and death (50th) of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and first publishing of Little House in the Big Woods (1932), Ingalls Wilder’s first in her series of eight Little House stories.

The first cd, Happy Land: Musical Tributes to Laura Ingalls Wilder, is packed with string band music that runs through all eight of the Little House books. Stephen Foster tunes, gospel, sacred hymns, and even a few mountain ballads track the songs woven through Ingalls Wilders’ stories.

The second installment in Pa's Fiddle Project, Arkansas Traveler: Music from Little House on the Prairie, hits shelves Nov. 14th. Riders in the Sky will help launch the release by hosting a one-hour NPR Holiday Special program with interviews, excerpts from the books, commentary, and about ten songs from the album.

This was a real happy moment in my week. First, the idea that this is the music that is first selected to participate in this NEH program gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling that I’m not as crazy as I thought I was. If the 10 million copies of “O! Brother” weren’t enough evidence, this event is a smack upside the head of doubters that traditional musical idioms are “trending” and making a meaningful return to life, to the classroom, to the American consciousness. It’s also a smack upside the head of yours truly, who is hoping she isn’t so far behind the curve of initiatives like this that the opportunity to make an impact has passed.

Second, it gives me great pleasure to help celebrate a woman whose literary contribution had an enormous impact on our consciousness, and to learn that it was her father’s fiddle playing that carried the day throughout the stories of her family’s joys and tribulations.

This news gives me real happiness. There are people out there with good ideas – what a great idea to take the concurrent anniversaries connected to Laura Ingalls Wilder and come up with a couple recordings to celebrate the music that abounded in her life’s work. Those are the kind of people that make me want to think and work harder about this stuff I love.

I want to share an excerpt from the Pa’s Fiddle website by Dale Cockrell, Professor of Musicology and American and Southern Studies at Vanderbilt University:

Throughout [the Little House series], the guiding musical spirit is Laura’s father, Charles “Pa” Ingalls (1835-1902), who missed few opportunities to sing and play his fiddle. And it’s “Pa’s fiddle,” carefully wrapped, stowed in its fiddle-box, and cushioned by pillows, that accompanies the Ingalls family through all its adventures and comes to symbolize the endurance of the family unit in an often wild and threatening frontier world. Indeed, Wilder wrote to her publisher that “(t)here is one thing that will always remain the same to remind people of little Laura’s days on the prairie, and that is Pa’s fiddle.”2There may be no books in American literature of comparable standing and popularity where America’s music is so central to the themes, assumes such a major narrative role, and is found in such rich abundance. If Laura Ingalls Wilder penned what have become the books that best express “The Great American Family,” then the music she referred to in those books has become an important part of that mythology too. These recordings are an effort to give new voice and sound to music that has lain silent on the page for far too long. For as Wilder herself wrote, “if you want the spirit of these times, you should [hear] these old songs."3

In college, one of my friends – I don’t remember who – decided I looked a lot like Melissa Gilbert. I was dubbed Jennie Laura Ingalls Dawes by some, and at the time, of course it was mildly annoying. But I was never really insulted. Now that my paths are old and grey as the song goes, I wish I had approached those quirky games with just a teensy bit more pride. This winter maybe my children and I will sit by the fire and read through the books and listen to the music, maybe some played by my son, in our own little house. I reckon you’re more than welcome to stop by and pay a call if you care to listen.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Modern Tunes for Modern Times

There was an interesting bit of quasi-scholarship published in the New York Times last week. Apparently, Bob Dylan’s new release, “Modern Times,” contains a few lines that—gasp!--may not have been entirely original.

According to the article written by Motoko Rich, Dylan may have lifted a few images from a Civil-War era poet named Henry Timrod, who was by some considered to be the Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.

I think in general I have more trouble with the fact that Dylan would turn to the Confederacy for inspiration than borrowing lines from anyone else. After all, in the world of traditional song, it’s all about borrowing, remaking something your own. In all the centuries that ballads were handed down, lines and stanzas and characters have constantly made appearances outside of their primary song, and no one complained or raised a fuss or felt that credit was not given where credit was due. The song is the purview of all.

It’s true that Dylan does not merely record or re-record old songs, although he has remade many of them, as is their purpose, in his own way. Mostly we know him by his own songwriting, making him the troubadour of our times, the singer-poet folk hero giving voice to the voiceless of our generation and the one gone before. Like Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan is a tradition bearer of a different kind: he puts on record the injustices of the present day, and pays homage to those American experiences that you won’t run across much in Newsweek or on MSNBC. His own songs have themselves been remade countless times in countless ways by countless singers and singer songwriters. (Fans who would like to know what some of the words are should check out Tim O'Brien's Red on Blonde. The version of Farewell Angelina with sister Molly is primo, and you might actually be able to learn Subterranean Homesick Blues.)

So I find it interesting that anyone would make a fuss, really. A song is a story. A good song is a story that has become a legend. John Henry, Casey, Little Omie, Darlin’ Corey, Cotton-Eyed Joe. Like the poems of Timrod, most of these lines are in the public domain now after so many years. Even if they were held in some kind of legal stasis, should that keep them from being shared?

And what folk or trad or bluegrass junkie isn’t addicted to the mystery and horror of the War Between the States? It was like this blown-out chess game in which tens of thousands of live pawns were slain, and yet there was this freakishly gentlemanly invisible fence within which this conflict was conducted. In his autobiography, Dylan himself claimed to have crammed his skull full of Civil War data and then “left it alone.”

I understand Dylan didn’t give credit to some lines that were too close to have been accidental. So maybe he did borrow them without asking permission, or maybe he could have really made more of a point by elucidating for us this little known poet of the war-torn South. But Timrod was not a great poet, not the Homer of his beloved Confederacy, merely another gentleman reb who wrote poetry, most of which had nothing to do with the War. There would have been in the present day an understanding of sorts between the two men, almost a collaboration in the sharing and combining of raw materials.

I don’t have a handle on this recording, but in wandering through the lyrics, this one jumped out at me. There’s a sort of passionate determination in the face of wild times, a very touching view of the bright and shadow side of living in full light as it were. If you have a favorite song from the new recording, let us all know. Were you always a Dylan fan, and what draws you to him?

Thunder On The Mountain by Bob Dylan

Thunder on the mountain, and there's fires on the moon
A ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon
Today's the day, gonna grab my trombone and blow
Well, there's hot stuff here and it's everywhere I go

I was thinkin' 'bout Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying
When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line
I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be
I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee

Feel like my soul is beginning to expand
Look into my heart and you will sort of understand
You brought me here, now you're trying to run me away
The writing on the wall, come read it, come see what it say

Thunder on the mountain, rollin' like a drum
Gonna sleep over there, that's where the music coming from
I don't need any guide, I already know the way
Remember this, I'm your servant both night and day

The pistols are poppin' and the power is down
I'd like to try somethin' but I'm so far from town
The sun keeps shinin' and the North Wind keeps picking up speed
Gonna forget about myself for a while, gonna go out and see what others need

I've been sittin' down studyin' the art of love
I think it will fit me like a glove
I want some real good woman to do just what I say
Everybody got to wonder what's the matter with this cruel world today

Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king
I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of b*tches
I'll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman's church, said my religious vows
I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows
I got the porkchops, she got the pie
She ain't no angel and neither am I
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams

Thunder on the mountain heavy as can be
Mean old twister bearing down on me
All the ladies in Washington scrambling to get out of town
Looks like something bad gonna happen, better roll your airplane down

Everybody going and I want to go too
Don't wanna take a chance with somebody new
I did all I could, I did it right there and then
I've already confessed - no need to confess again

Gonna make a lot of money, gonna go up north
I'll plant and I'll harvest what the earth brings forth
The hammer's on the table, the pitchfork's on the shelf
For the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself

Friday, September 15, 2006

Girl Friday: The Most Inconvenient of Times

The last couple of weeks I’ve been mixing it up a bit in terms of what I have been listening to. Last Friday I talked about a singer I used to listen to constantly, Mary-Chapin Carpenter. This Girl Friday is dedicated to another woman with whom I credit a substantial part of my musical shift – and for helping me make some sense of a nutty time in my life. Ok, again, not a bluegrass or trad person, but if you don’t know the work of Nanci Griffith you just aren’t dialed in to the roots scene. And besides, it’s my blog, garshdarnit, so I’m gonna write about what I want, got it? Ok.

Griffith is a Texan, born and raised near Austin. She’s a gifted songwriter as well as one of my favorite singers. Her first professional gig was at the age of 14, and she kept right on singing and writing songs even through her early career as an elementary school teacher. Today, she has recorded 25 albums, performed all over the world, served as a leader in antiwar and pro-Veteran causes, and continues to write and record songs of great depth, honesty, and simple beauty.

This song, from her album, Flyer, captures a lot of what I and my friends are feeling these days. These are hard days. It’s nearly impossible to explain anything to my kids about the world. More and more, I just draw them closer to me and hope they have the inner resources to survive when they go out in the world.

And on that note, you know, it’s been a big year of change so far in my family. My kids, and probably yours too, are growing more independent. But earlier this week while driving at 5:30 in the morning to Pittsburgh with one of my bosses, we were listening to the BBC. There was a report about the alarming rise in cases of depression among children. The likely culprits? Isolation – increasingly brought on my so much time spent in front of the tv, or with handheld games, or simply spent alone without much interaction with others.

This is not surprising news. We have delegated child rearing to our children. We want them up and out the door so that we can get on with the important business of our own self-serving initiatives. Our interactions with them are relegated to managing their homework, transporting them to and from after school activities, and overseeing their meals. Some parents don’t even bother to get up to send their kids out the door with a pat on the back and a wish for a good day – and yet, they expect the world of them.

That just stinks.

The fact that even on the darkest days and in the toughest times my mom was there starting the day with us was so important. And she was there when the day was over. I’m certain it wasn’t always convenient. But kids these days aren’t as lucky as I was. This is a time of inconvenience, in which too many parents are just young people inside who never were able to satisfy their need for instant gratification. Couple that with the confusing and frightening messages kids constantly receive through their increasing exposure to all forms of media, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the legacy can’t be good. Take it from Nanci Griffith, a former school teacher and today’s Girl Friday.


We're living in a time of inconvenience
Compassion fails me with this meanness in the air
Our city streets are filled with violence
So we close our doors to the city
And pretend that it's not there
Here I go again
Back out on these mean streets
The evil seems to cling to the soles of my feet
Cuz' I'm living in a time of inconvenience
At an inconvenient time

We're living in the age of communication
Where the only voices heard have money in their hands
Where greed has become a sophisticationA
nd if you ain't got money
You ain't got nothin' in this land
An' here I am one lonely woman
On these mean streets
Where the right to life man has become my enemy
Cuz' I'm living in his time of inconvenience
At an inconvenient time(bridge)

I've turned my cheek
As my history fades
While the clock ticks away
Any progress we've made
I never thought
I'd be ashamed to be human
Afraid to say
My time has seen it's day
Cuz' I'm living in a time of inconvenience, living in a time of inconvenience living in a time of inconvenience
It's an inconvenient time

This is the time of greed and power
Where everyone needs to have someone to shove around
Our children come to us for answers
Listening for freedom but they don't know the sound
And there they are, our children
Dumped out in these mean streets
The evil sweeps them up
And brings them to their knees
Cuz' they're living in our time of inconvenience
They're living in the age of communication
This is the time of greed and power
This is the time that I wish was not mine
Cuz' it's an inconvenient time

Monday, September 11, 2006

If There's A Heaven I Hope It's This

So today it's been five years since a group of previously unknown religious terrorists ripped a gigantic hole in America's psychic landscape.

I mourn today like everyone else, but I have to say, I think most of the emphasis is all on the wrong things by and large. Leading up to today was what seemed to me a frenzy-whippin-uppin 9/11 revival. My inbox has been filled with “NEVER FORGET” messages from everybody from cousins around the country to Nancy Pelosi. The media has been clawing its way to the anniversary with increasing intensity. Even The Plain Dealer ran a front-page story last Friday: “9/11: Is N.E. Ohio Ready?”

Yet thanks to the continuous hype and banter about the past, little time is left for thinking about future.

Look. Don’t get me wrong. That was a horrible, horrible day. Almost unbelievable, really. But what a lesson, and you’d think that the richest nation in the world with a history like the one we have would have better ideas for follow-up.

I really debated about whether to mention it on this blog. But when I saw that cheesy PD headline, something in my head cracked.

Too bad, I had actually been thinking about those events a little over the past few days. I remember exactly where I was. I had just put my then first-grader on the bus, and was getting ready to settle in to nurse my one-year-old daughter. All of a sudden, while getting my Today show dose, events began to unfold before my eyes as I watched the second tower get struck in real time. Positively surreal. I called my mother and told her to get upstairs and turn on her television, because something crazy was happening. I called my then-husband, his sister Diana – who was evacuated from her office in downtown Cleveland’s tallest building -- and my friend Lynne, who lives and works a stone’s throw from Hopkins International. I went through the rest of the day in a mental haze, strolling through the grocery store and running into friends and neighbors whose reactions ranged everywhere from complete terror to a sort of numb frustration. I remember that afternoon, waiting to get my son off the bus, as people started to finally come home to their families. My friend Kate and I stood on the lawn in front of our firefighter friend’s house, and remarked just how frustrating it was to get all whipped up and have no idea where to direct all the anger. Al-Qaida was yet a mystery.

Sure, 9/11 bothers me. Such an enormous loss of life in little more than one fell swoop and with such ferocious violence is stupefying. It bothers me that Flight 93 passed right over my home. It bothers me that Rich Madden, a jovial classmate who was a familiar face about the Denison campus, was one of the people incinerated in the Towers. It bothers me the way the crews aboard those planes must have died. It bothers me most of all how many firefighters, police officers, and paramedics were killed in one fell swoop in the line of duty.

But what bothers me more than any of that is the fact that life hasn't changed that much for the rest of us. We're not unlike those people who got on planes or went to work that day and didn't come home. In an instant, it could be over for any of us. Do we live any differently? Do we work harder, love more fiercely, tend to our passions more devotedly?

I suspect the answer is no for many of us, yours truly included on a lot of days.

What would the 3,000 people who died five years ago think about that? Imagine if they had one more chance.

This is another favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter song of mine from the 2004 release mentioned on Friday. It's about an ideal place called heaven, but most of us would probably say it would be pretty nice to live in a place like this right here on earth. A lot of it has to do with living in the moment and treating each other a lot better. No harm trying.

In My Heaven
Nothing shatters nothing breaks
Nothing hurts and nothing aches
We've got ourselves one helluva place in my heaven
Looking down at the world below
A bunch of whining, fighting schmo's
Up here we've got none of those, in my heaven

There's pools and lakes and hills and mountains
Music, art, and lighted fountains
Who needs bucks here, no one's counting
In my heaven
No one works, we all just play
We pick the weather everyday
If you change your mind, that's ok, in my heaven

Grandma's up here, Grandpa too
In a condo with to-die-for views
There's presidents and movie stars
You just come as you are

No one's lost and no one's missing
No more parting just hugs and kissing
And all these stars are just for wishing
In my heaven

There's little white lights everywhere
Your childhood dog in Dad's old chair
And more memories than my heart can hold
When Eva's singing "Fields of Gold"

There's neighbors, thieves and long lost lovers
Villains, poets, kings and mothers
Up here we forgive each other, in my heaven

For every soul that's down there waiting,
Holding on, still hesitating
We say a prayer of levitating, in my heaven

You can look back at your life and lot
But it can't matter what you're not
By the time you're here, we're all we've got
In my heaven

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Lord Have Mercy on the Crocodile Man

Too bad, really, about Steve Irwin. As Don said, at least he died doing what he loved. I didn't watch the show very often, and sometimes secretely imagined Irwin would meet his fate wrestling some creature. This, however, I never imagined. As much as I love the sea and all things in it, taking a poisonous sting ray barb in the chest would not be my preferred check-out method.

I had forgotten about this song, which I listened to on my walk yesterday morning. It's been recorded by a couple of other folks, but it's fun to listen to Tracy Grammer "rap" this bluesy tune. I thought of Irwin and his tireless love of critters, and how Dave Carter wrote a whole lot of critter songs before he likewise crossed over at an all too early age. I would really enjoy performing it sometime, just to see the look on people's faces.

Crocodile Man
©2000, Dave Carter/Dave Carter Music (BMI)

mama she raised me on riddles and trances
fatback, channel-cat, lily-white lies
rocked my cradle in a jimmy-crack fancy
never knew papa and i never asked why

well, now, people say papa wasn't no-account anyway
people say papa was rollin' stone
well i turned twenty on the waccamaw throughway
hitching up river in the dark alone

sleepin' with a stranger in a no-name town
thanksgiving dinner at the top hat lounge
christmas eve at the fantasy tan
lord have mercy on the crocodile man
lord have mercy on the crocodile man

well I hooked up with a carny little outta memphis
slavin' in a sideshow, pennies in a jar
beetle-eyed jokers and hicktown princes
rhinestone rubies and rubber cigars

wrassled me a gator up in omaha city
did me another down in new orleans
tangled with the barker, run off with the kitty
crawled the mississippi and i got away clean

sleepin' with a stranger in a no-name town
thanksgiving dinner at the top hat lounge
christmas eve at the fantasy tan
lord have mercy on the crocodile man
lord have mercy on the crocodile man

underneath the levee in a cat-tail thicket
hidden in the shadow of a shady grove
there's a thatched roof risin' from a poke fence picket
white smoke billows from a kettle-black stove

inside the house is the hall of mirrors
inside the mirror is the temple of sin
and inside the mirror is the face of mama
and mama she know just where i been
yeah, mama know exactly where her bad boy been

sleepin' with a stranger in a no-name town
thanksgiving dinner at the top hat lounge
christmas eve at the fantasy tan
lord have mercy on the crocodile man
lord have mercy on the crocodile man

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I've Been Tagged--or is that, Bookmarked?!

Off topic? Who cares. The Atheist Mama tagged me so here goes:

A book that changed my life:
Unweaving the Rainbow, by Richard Dawkins, gifted to me by My Boring Best. It really upended my perspective on almost every assumption I was clinging to. It forced me to make some really tough choices.

A book I’ve read more than once:
Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert Johnson. If it weren’t for this book, I’d have been put quietly away by now, and I’m not kidding.

A book I would take with me if I were stuck on a desert island:
Anything by Robert Johnson or Pema Chodron

A book that made me laugh:
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron.

A book that made me cry:
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Hauntingly beautiful. It made me realize I really do NOT want to hang around after I’m gone.

A book that I wish had been written [sic: or maybe will be]:
My Days as A Rainbow Community Humanitarian Cuddle-Puddle Hippie Mama, by Ann Coulter.
Gosh Darn It, I WAS Wrong, and I'm Really Sorry by Donald Rumsfeld

A book that I wish had never been written:
Anything by Ann Coulter. I really hate that bitch. (Ok, then again, if she didn't get her whiny conservative tripe published, we'd never know just how effing crazy she really is.)

A book I’ve been meaning to read:
There are always about a dozen on my list, but I just added Conservatives Without Conscience by John W. Dean. If Dean can make the Common Dreams web site as a contributor, there's hope.

I’m currently reading:
The EarthSea Quartet, by Ursula K. LeGuin. Me and my Catholic writer fetish. And, time to get back to myth for this old crone.
Bluegrass Breakdown by Robert Cantwell. How to make bluegrass excruciatingly pedantic.
End of Faith by Sam Harris. Truly brilliant. I started to read it and turned it in at the library…so my lesson has been suspended. Time for my own copy. Borders, anyone?

Blogs I’m Tagging:
Grand Unification Theory
The Shameless Agitator

Assault on Reason (Don, I know you love your book lists!)
Little Black Cube (Cube's book lists rock.)

One thing I must say: I cannot listen to Bluegrass and read. I've tried, and I just can't do it. Either I want to play along or move around, so if I have music along when I read, which anymore is rare, it's usually classical, the earlier the period the better. Just sayin'.

So what's your good read?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Girl Friday: Between Here and Gone

For as long as I can remember, I've drawn strength from music. Listening to and learning great songs written and performed by other women has been especially restorative. Going back a really long way for me is the songwriting and singing of Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Now, she’s not really Bluegrass, but her songs have always captured me, and reflected back to me my own perspective on many things.

I find myself turning to her work and her recordings now the way I used to turn to other things for “answers.” Now that I know the only place to find those answers is within, I find her music and her singing brings me to a point where I can reflect, wait for guidance, and move forward in a conscious way.

Her songwriting is thoughtful, poetic yet direct, delightfully self-effacing. Her tunes possess a touch of humor and sadness, deep honesty, and a boldness that makes me feel at home in my own skin, for once.

When I find myself going through a confusing time, often tinged with grief and hope at once, I often catch myself deploying self-effacing humor and sarcasm. I prefer to think of this state as "good grief" -- sort of a realization that each thing in life, every experience has a shadow side, a darkness to the beauty, and vice versa. Mary Chapin Carpenter's songs are chock full of this at varying depths.

I used to be terrified of uncertainty, and tried to fill the void by planning, anticipating, guessing, dreaming about things that might come to pass. At my worst, I dreamed about things that might not come to pass, and was desperate, absolutely desperate, to know my purpose in the world. My days and nights were sometimes filled with this senseless sort of anxious wondering. I wasn't living. I was just waiting, clinging to visions or desires, while my life in the present, in the moment, barely got my attention.

I still sometimes catch myself pondering things a little too much, but now I'm conscious of it in a way that keeps me from lingering in a dream state. I'm learning to accept the difference between real love, and attachment. I'm discerning the difference between Jung's Self and the Eastern lack of self. I'm pretty clear with myself about the nature of being and the fact that it could all be over in an instant, even while I'm sitting here typing and my daughter is reading to me. But I will always be stuck on finding my little place in the world, making my life meaningful somehow, leaving things in better shape than when I got here, and knowing a sense of belonging before it's over.

I love this song. It's the title track from Chapin Carpenter's 2004 release, Between Here and Gone. It was written for Dave Carter, that beautiful, gentle soul who all too briefly gave us songs of such wit, insight, and poetry that it's really hard not to wish he hadn't thought his own death so beautiful and that he would have found a way to stick around a while longer.

Wishing, even good natured wishing, is attachment. There's nothing wrong with making a wish or two, but it's no longer the way I live. Most of the time wishes are an anxious expression of Self, a desire to make some transition easier or better for someone else or myself rather than accept and face the fact that what's real is often challenging and laborious and not what we really hoped. We find ourselves between here and gone, between this place and the next, between this life, and no life.

Last night, in my tired confused state, I walked outside, where it was quiet, and looked up at a beautiful nearly-full, low-hanging moon. The fullness of my life welled up, all the good, bad, and uncertain, and I took the moment in like a perfect kiss. Life is lived in the middle of here and gone, made up of the moments that are rich, sweaty, tearful, abundantly tiring, full of the music of our too-human hearts.

Between Here and Gone

Tonight, the moon came out, it was nearly full.
Way down here on earth, I could feel it's pull.
The weight of gravity or just the lure of life,
Made me want to leave my only home tonight.

Now I'm just wonderin' how we know where we belong.
Is it in a photograph, or a dashboard poet's song?
Will I have missed my chance to right some ancient wrong,
Should I find myself between here and gone?

Now I could grab my keys, clear out in my truck,
With every cent on board bringing me their luck.
An' I could drive too fast, like a midnight sleeve,
As if there was a way to outrun the grief.

Now I'm just wonderin' how we know where we belong.
In a song that's left behind in the dream I couldn't wake from.
Could I have felt the brush of a soul that's passing on,
Somewhere in between here and gone?

Up above me,
Wayward angels,
A blur of wings and grace.
One for courage,
One for safety,
One for "just in case".

I thought a light went out, but now the candle shines.
I thought my tears wouldn't stop, then I dried my eyes.
And after all of this, the truth that holds me here,
Is that this emptiness is something not to fear.

Yeah, I'll keep wondering how we know where we belong,
After all the journeys made, and the journeys yet to come.
When I feel like giving up instead of going on,
Somewhere in between.

Yeah, I'm just wondering how we know where we belong.I
s it in the arc of the moon, leaving shadows on the lawn?
In the path of fireflies and a single bird at dawn,
Singing in between here and gone.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Welcome Mando Kitty!

We've been remiss in not introducing you to the newest member of our little mando family.

Meet Miss Hermione Daisy.

HD came into our lives going on a month ago. Just about the time I had decided our home needed someone else to love, she showed up on the doorstep of Shameless Agitator. Knowing that they could never keep her for long because of ferocious kitty allergies in their family, Shameless called to inquire whether we might have room. What timing! Not only did "Sweetie Pie" have the Shameless Agitator Stamp of Approval, but she was declawed, spayed, highly domesticated, and friendly.

The kids named her Hermione after the bright little witch of Harry Potter fame. Daughter of Mando contributed the middle name, "Daisy". We love having her as part of our family. I love having her around to serve as a "grounding" element when my babies aren't home.

A good friend told me recently that dogs remind us how wonderful we are; cats remind us how little we matter. While that was my assumption going in, I'm happy to say so far that's not how it's been. She has learned she can't sit on my lap when I practice, and she likes a good trad tune now and then. Here's one just for her, performed on an old recording by Doc Watson.

Sing Song Kitty

Way down yonder and not far off

Sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh
Jaybird died with a whoopin' cough
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh

He mo heimo beetlebug jingo
Mehe my ho pretty petimingo
Ram tom a doodlesnake rang tang a rattlebug
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh

Way down yonder on beaver creek
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh
The gals all grow to be six feet
sing song kitty kitchree cry me oh

Hemo high mo beetlebug jingo
Me he my ho pretty penimingo
Ram tom a doodlesnake rang tang a rattlebug
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh

Now our cow won't give milk in the summer
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh
So we got to take it from her
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh

Hemo highmo beetlebug jingo
Me he my ho pretty penimingorib tap a prettypat a blue eyed pussycat
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh

Mama's in the garden sifting sand
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh
Sally's in love with a hog eyed man
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh

Hemo highmo beetlebug jingo
Me he my ho pretty penimingorib tap a prettypat a blue eyed pussycat
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh

Cabbage in the garden peas in the gump
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh
Sally won't you come and smooch me some
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh

Hemo highmo beetlebug jingo
Me he my ho pretty penimingorib tap a prettypat a blue eyed pussycat
sing song kitty kitchee cry me oh

Friday, September 01, 2006

Girl Friday: Not Your Daddy's Bluegrass

Ah, fall. Crisp weather. A change in the skies and the colors of leaves. High school marching bands. Homework. And the IBMA Awards.

One of the perks of being a voting IBMA member is that every year about this time I find little extra goodies in my mailbox from nominees. One day last week I came home to find a copy of the cd, Back to the Well, by the Daughters of Bluegrass and nominated in the category of Recorded Event of the Year.

This is quite a compilation of some of Bluegrass music’s most serious and talented women. Dale Ann Bradley, Michelle Nixon, Valerie Smith and many other pickers and singers present new songs representing a very different perspective. Some of the tunes are just tunes, and some are about the experience of being a woman in an industry that like many others are dominated by male talent.

This Girl Friday, I encourage you to explore these performers both as a group and as individual contributors to the world of bluegrass. If you’re in Nashville for World of Bluegrass, they’ll showcase Wednesday night.

Congratulations to the Daughters of Bluegrass project for its second nomination in a row.