Friday, November 20, 2009


Recently an old friend from high school read my blog, surprised that I so freely expressed my feelings. It made me realize how much I’d changed. Thankfully.

I’m reminded of that today, still reeling from the drive-by shooting in our neighborhood and the varied reactions, particularly when I hear things said such as “I can’t tell my children about this,” or “I hope the press doesn’t report this.”

It reminds me of my mother saying “What happens in this house stays in this house.” I’m sure I’m not the only child of an alcoholic that heard something similar on a daily basis.

As an adult I learned that secrets hurt, that healing comes with telling. Perhaps that’s why I keep no secrets, at least about myself. I’m a pro at keeping those of others because I began keeping my mother’s at such an early age.

Our writing group has pledged to work on short stories to submit by January 15th and I’ve been struggling with this. Not because I don’t like writing short stories; I’ve several under my belt. I just couldn’t think of anything new I wanted to write about. I brought nothing to our last meeting and have been beating myself up about it.

This morning I wrote a short story about the drive-by shooting. And I sent it to a couple of folks NOT in the writers group to critique because I thought I couldn’t take it to the group. Why? Well, one member of the group lives in the house next to where the shooting happened and basically wants to forget it happened and get on with her life (her choice and I respect that) and another member of the group belongs to a neighborhood association group that tends to look the other way when crime issues rear up. And I address that tendency in the story, not necessarily in a subtle manner. I did not wish to offend.

However, I’m having second thoughts now. It feels too much as though I’m protecting my alcoholic mother all over again by not telling what’s really happening. I need to stay an adult. I’ve worked too hard to become one.

So, I’m telling.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Ruin of The Day

Yesterday might have been the perfect day.

In between laundry, dog walking and sundry household chores, I enjoyed meeting hubby for lunch at Sugarpearl and being serenaded by Mark Zane who plays there every Wednesday from 11:00 – 2:00. (Joanne Perry plays on Thursdays, Brian Francis every Friday.) I encourage you to grab lunch and listen to them play for you. The food is great and you’ll wish you had a two-hour lunch break once you start listening to the music.

After dinner I enjoyed an evening with the ladies of song at Sparkytown: Melissa’s original “Here In Me” (it was BETTER than a Mary Chapin Carpenter tune); Jo’s delightful rendition of Loudon Wainwright’s “Hotel Blues”; Joanne’s original “From Here Ever After” (a song I can personally never hear enough of, it’s sooo good); Donna’s “Beautiful Mistake” I heard for the first time but will always remember and long to hear again and again; Judy’s cover of one of my favorite Richard Thompson’s songs, “Wall of Death”; and Wendy – who always pulls a surprise out of her bag – marvelously working her way through “Downtown” and getting Sparky to dance. It was the perfect way to end a day. I felt so peaceful and relaxed, ready to settle in with my book, Rupert and Chris, get a good night’s sleep.

“You might want to call Mary Ellen,” hubby said to me when I walked in the door.

I didn’t think this was so odd. My friend and fellow writer used to live a few houses down our street but recently bought the house that sits almost directly behind ours. I went into the kitchen to see if lights were still on in her kitchen, to see if she’d still be up, not really hearing what Chris said next, the words not really registering with me. Perhaps I didn’t want them to register.

“There was a drive by shooting. Someone tried to get Stephen. No one was hurt though.”

Stephen is the neighborhood bully. He lives in the house next to Mary Ellen. When she was first looking at the house, being neighborly she waved to him in his upstairs window; he exposed himself to her. I have kicked him out of our yard on several occasions and called the police twice, once resulting in his arrest. Less than a month ago the police staged a stake out in our driveway waiting for Stephen to return so they could arrest him on some outstanding warrants. The neighborhood breathes more easily when he is in jail; he never seems to stay in jail very long, though. We know he’s around when we hear firecrackers at midnight. In fact, Mary Ellen thought the four shots fired at Stephen sitting on his front porch last night were more firecrackers he was setting off. One of those bullets is lodged in the house, very close to Mary Ellen’s house, very close to the alley she and I walk down several times a week as we go back and forth to each other’s house for writing group or whatever.

I couldn’t sleep last night. And I really needed to, as I’ve been exhausting myself lately. When I’m exhausted, my words take longer to surface and other health concerns take center stage.

If my daughter was speaking to me, she’d begin one of her famous rants about how unsafe my neighborhood is and I’d have nothing to say in return this morning. Even my mother-in-law’s house that sits in what I’ve always considered a glorified “trailer park” housing development with no sidewalks looks good to me today. Rupert is still burrowed beneath the covers of the bed and hasn’t been out for his morning walk. Is he trying to tell me something?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Voices In My Head

I can't hear the voices that usually talk to me when I'm doing dishes or walking the dog or folding laundry. This isn't a good thing. The voices I hear are good voices -- not the kind that tell you to go out and shoot your neighbors. Mine are the voices of the characters in the piece I'm writing: Mariah, Kaylyn, Eliot, Nash, Louisa and Albert to name a few of them. And they are all silent at the moment.

I can't get Kaylyn and her boyfriend off the sofa in Mariah's apartment in Manhattan. They're stuck there. I don't know where they go next. They haven't "told" me. I can't seem to get them to tell me.

Maybe going to my writing group this morning will help. I'd really like to go to the bus station instead and buy a ticket to New York City, spend a day wandering around imagining all the things my characters might want to do, and then come home again. I'm certain I'd know what to write then. But....that's not going to happen anytime soon. Because there's dishes to do and a dog to walk and laundry to fold. And if those voices would just come back, it'd all be so much easier to handle.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What I'm Listening to This Week.....

White Winos…Loudon Wainwright III
Dear Mary….Linda Thompson
Hate It Here…Wilco
Watershed…Indigo Girls
Won’t Give In…The Finn Brothers
Killing the Blues….Allison Krause
Wayfaring Stranger…Peter, Paul and Mary
Up the Devil’s Pay….Old 97’s
Sailing to Philadelphia…Mark Knopfler/James Taylor
In China or a Woman’s Heart…Kate Wolf
Song for Adam…Jackson Browne
As Cool As I Am…Dar Williams
Goodbye Earl…Dixie Chicks
Galway to Graceland…Plainsong
After You’re Gone…Iris DeMent
Going Home…Mark Zane
The Coming of the Snow…Rod MacDonald
Half A Million Miles…The Kennedys
My City of Ruins…Bruce Springsteen
Family…Dar Williams
Some Days You Gotta Dance…Dixie Chicks
Our Town…Iris DeMent
Walk Away…Dust Poets
Girl With the Weight of the World in Her Hands…Indigo Girls
Under the Fallen Sky…Jackson Browne
Sound of Your Voice…Barenaked Ladies
Cowboy Man…Lyle Lovett
Grey Street…Dave Matthews Band
Play Some Skynryd…John Eddie
Invisible People…Peter, Paul, and Mary
Give Me Back My Country…The Kennedys
Anyway…The Roches
Stop the War…Rod MacDonald
Some Walls…Peter, Paul and Mary
Make A Wish…Mark Zane
Homeless…Loudon Wainwright III
Muddy Roads…Kate Wolf
Everybody Knows…Dixie Chicks

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Words and Music Songwriters Showcase at Jazz Central - 11/13/09

Ah, what a Friday the 13th! Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers hosting with Sean Patrick Taylor, Gavan Duffy and Mikey Powell.

I sat next to Mikey Powell’s grandmother and his mother sat beside her. We chatted quite a bit, about Mikey’s migraine and how pale he looked, about songwriting and poetry and the usual stuff folks talk about when they’re meeting for the first time. Grandma was a delight, so proud to be there to hear Mikey play. I was excited to hear him, too, having fallen in love with his song “Old Picture Frames” that gets some air play on Blue Moon CafĂ©, a local radio show I listen to on Sunday mornings. His lyrics are pure poetry. I was certain his performance would be magical, and I wasn’t disappointed. His songwriting style reminded me so much of John Prine, I was not at all surprised when he ended his show by singing a cover of Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery”. It was wonderful that this youngster is able to pay homage to Mr. Prine by writing songs equally as appealing. (Hubby and I will be going to see John Prine play at the State Theatre in Ithaca in February….my anniversary present….can’t wait.)

Sean Patrick Taylor, a musician I had not seen before, played some interesting tunes as part of the first set, sharing the stage with Jeffrey and Gavan. Jeffrey did many of his songs that I absolutely love….I’ll get the titles wrong and that’s not fair to him so I won’t attempt to name them...other than “Fly”. I love his song about humming his way back home, about being a dog for a day, and of course the one where he plays a wooden box and sings about that sycamore tree. Every time I see Jeffrey play I am reminded of what a fine musician he is in addition to writing amazing lyrics.

But I have to be honest here….and if you were in the audience, wouldn’t you agree with me? Gavan Duffy stole the show, folks. Even though he was nervous – he told us all about not having performed in front of a live audience for several decades – once he found his way into his first song, he had us all caught up in his words and rhythm. “Last Call for Alcohol” was a rip-roaring success….it was begging to become a sing-a-long, but I think the audience was too absorbed in listening to what the next verse was going to be about to sing along. I could have listened to Gavan play all night. I hope he’ll do more gigs like this in the future.

It was a grand time, a lot of musicians supporting other musicians, superb words and music in an inviting venue. Check it out sometime. You’ll leave humming a song you haven’t heard before that will stay with you long into the night.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Knocked Out

I should be writing about the delightful concert Dana "Short Order" Cooke and his friends -- Chris Weiss, Judy Stanton, Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers and Wendy Ramsay -- performed last Friday night at Onatavia Church just outside LaFayatte as part of their First Friday concert series.

Or telling you about the amazing lunchtime sessions Joanne Perry has been doing the last two Thursdays at Sugarpearl Espresso Bar and Lounge.

But I'm still recovering from nights of no sleep and obsessive worry about our sick dog. I know, he's only a dog, but you know, Rupert's like a child to us, the one that Chris and I really should have had.

Rupert is a survivor. He's actually named for my favorite participant on the television reality show "Survivor"...we met that Rupert in Central Park one day quite accidentally. Our Rupert was the sole surviving puppy from a litter of eleven; the rest had died of parvovirus. For the most part, Rupert has been a healthy, happy dog, suffering from mild asthma in the summer which limits his Frisbee catching on hot, humid days. He is eager to please, extremely intelligent and a loyal companion.

Last Saturday morning he began vomiting shortly after our morning walk. This is the only accident he ever has inside, and that's very rare. We thought he might have had a little bit of a cold, went about our day. And then around ten o'clock that evening the diarrhea began. Hubby slept through most of it. I walked up and down Green Street every hour or so with Rupert as he relieved himself, thankful that it wasn't snowing or raining or bone cold. This continued all day Sunday and again all through Sunday night.

By Monday morning I didn't know my name. Hubby came home from work early and made me go to bed and he took over the poop detail. Poor Rupert was at the point then where he was no longer squatting outside; he just sat down and let go. I was cooking rice and chicken to replace his usual dog food but Rupert had stopped eating and drinking completely. On Tuesday a repairman was here to do some work on our roof and Rupert did not even lift his head from the bed when this man was running around on the roof outside the bedroom window.

A trip to the vets led to Rupert having fluids pumped in via IV and a bunch of meds administered. Our vet at Shop City Animal Hospital, Heather Danboise, is the best I've ever seen, and she gave Rupert the usual tender loving care. He even kept his tail at a slow wag while she had the thermometer shoved up his butt. It's as if he knows she makes him feel better.

He's on the mend. His eyes are bright again, his fur soft to touch, his bark back when someone rings the doorbell. He's eating and brings me the ball to toss, and I'm happy to stop writing and toss it for him today.

Another time I'll write about some of the other stuff going on. But today, I'm glad that Rupert is doing well and that I have a cold nose butting against my elbow as I type this. I'm going to go play now.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Torch Songs and Porch Songs: November Songwriters Woodshed

Even though it was a smaller group than usual gathering for the November Songwriters Woodshed at Sparkytown on Tuesday night, the songs presented didn’t disappoint. If I didn’t know better, however, I’d have said there had been a theme for the evening, as four of the seven songs presented were about lost loves. And two of the songs took place on porches.

The first of what I’m calling “torch songs” was titled “A Thousand Times a Day” and the first lines about wanting to be just friends drew me in. After the relationship ends, the singer only thinks about the lost love “a thousand times a day”. It was nice to have Dana contribute a song. In my opinion, he needs to do this more often; it adds polish to his critique of others when he presents his own work to them in return.

“I’m On the Rebound” was a very nice change from mostly folk melodies and I long to see Wendy perform this one on stage; her energy can make this one special. Chris’s song (not my hubby, another Chris) about autumn and a photo on the wall reminding the singer of a lost love generated a bit of conversation regarding the meaning of “water under the bridge” and what that represented, although I felt several of us got it the first time. I don’t remember the title of this piece and do not have the lyrics to look back at today; however, the song has stayed with me.

Sometimes there is a division of the sexes in the room after a song is done that is vividly apparent; you can almost see it in the air. The men do not understand the lyrics written by a woman sometimes. It’s not a matter of intelligence, it’s more genetics, I believe. One such lyric last night that I found magical that had some of the guys shaking their head was from a song called “From Here Ever After” written by Joanne: Did I know my own skin? (I always love it when I turn to hubby and ask if he understood it and he paraphrases back my understanding of it; that’s why he’s my husband and I love him bunches.) Sometimes it’s not about the story; it’s about the emotion of the song.

A quirky song from Tom, a newcomer to the group, about lawn decorations, “Exterior Decorator”, made me chuckle but needed a little more work. It was easy to picture the yard he was describing.

Songs that seem transparent on the surface but may not be so simple appeal greatly to me, and I think we may have heard one in “Don’t Be No Fool”, written by Gavan, a musician that intimidates me by his memorable rhymes and guitar picking. I often ask myself “what’s he really saying?” It’s always a delight to hear his latest work, even if I can’t figure it out. Maybe we’re not supposed to.

And that leads me to my favorite of the night, one of the “porch” songs. This song, currently titled “Vacherie, Louisiana”, paints a portrait of a moment in time. For me, the song was a lonely man that life was passing by until someone stopped to take his picture and made him feel important for a minute. No one else saw it that way, and that’s ok. There were lots of other interpretations. And isn’t that the way a really good song should reach us? Shouldn’t it keep us thinking, keep us wondering, keep us rolling the words around in our heads, humming the tune? I loved it.

Thanks again, gang, for the tunes, for the way you inspire without even being aware of it. Sparky, I hope the music never truly dies at Sparkytown because it belongs there. See you all next month!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Woods, Writing and Politics

My writing group went on a retreat yesterday, meeting at the camp of one of our members, an hour’s drive away. It was a glorious fall day and we were all welcoming the break from our usual routine. We settled into comfy chairs around a wood stove, pulled out the pieces we’re currently working on and took our turns reading and offering critique. I swear our words sounded more elegant out there in the woods, our critique more concise, our ideas more sound….this environment suited us all just fine!

The “camp” is a spacious house, sprawling across grounds that include several other little buildings such as lean-tos and a gazebo. I could easily picture myself sitting in that gazebo and finishing a poem. There’s plenty of room – inside and out – to gather together OR to find that quiet time that writers need so much. We can’t wait to figure out a time when we can all go back there again, maybe for a longer stretch of time. We know our words will flow there.

As usual, we enjoyed lunch together, too….and talk turned to politics. We had a mayoral election yesterday. It was particularly painful for us, as someone we know was a candidate for the party many of us support. Some of us were finding it difficult to support this particular candidate, however, and had not voted for her in the primary. At lunch time none of us had yet voted; we were still conflicted on how we were going to vote and even IF we were going to vote. We had a rather spirited conversation, weighing the pros and cons of the other candidates. I was even considering casting a write-in vote for one of the members of our group! I loved our conversation; we've learned how to disagree agreeably. It was heavenly.

I did end up voting. I was more terrified of Grandma Priscilla’s rage from the grave haunting me if I did not exercise my right to vote – one she worked so hard to earn for women, as she once was unable to cast her vote herself – that I did not choose to ignore this election in protest as one member of my writing group did, and as I, too, was tempted to do. I did something else that even this morning I cannot believe I did, and those of you who know me well will laugh or cringe or think it may be time to do some kind of intervention when I tell you what I did indeed do in that voting booth: I pulled the lever and voted for a Conservative Republican candidate. (He lost.) I know. I almost can’t believe it myself. Still, I think he was the better candidate. It is the first time in my life I have strayed from the Democratic ticket. I hope it is the last. This guilt is almost too much to carry.

But at least I voted.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Family Affair...Arlo Guthrie Comes to Town

My brother Alan gave hubby and me an early Christmas gift last evening: tickets to see Arlo Guthrie and Family perform at the Center for the Arts in Homer, NY.

What a wonderful evening! Arlo, his son, three daughters, a son-in-law and several grandchildren sang songs various members of the Guthrie family had written, including several Woody Guthrie songs. What fun they had on stage! How proud Arlo was of his offspring singing a song they had written or playing a guitar -- there's no way the pride on his face could have been faked. In true folk style, this family was sharing tradition with the audience, in almost perfect harmony, sharing stories of how the songs came about and what it's like to live within the swirl of a family like the Guthries. What it was like was right there on all their faces, especially at the end when they sang "This Land is Your Land", certainly a song they've all heard a zillion and two times...yet they sang it for us as if it was fresh off the presses and they love singing it, you can tell. Their smiles sparkled and their voices entranced. We all left that lovely little church that's been converted into an art center with smiles on our faces, peace in our hearts.

I kept thinking that my brother, a talented writer and musician, should have been born into the Guthrie family.

Thanks, Alan. It was the perfect gift, one to be long remembered and cherished.