Thursday, August 28, 2008

Point of reference

Sometimes it gets lonely when no one around you shares any of your points of reference. For most of my adult life, the people I worked and socialized with happily shared at least one point of reference. Even though we were all different ages, races and economic backgrounds, music brought us together in a common thread. With that music came a certain view of history and pop culture, touchstones one and all.

For example, my husband and I caught part of the Democratic National Convention and the governor of Montana had just given a speech. Commentators were reviewing it, talking about how Montana will matter this year. My husband quipped, "Of course it will matter, where else will we get dental floss?" Without even a pause, I added, "Or pygmy ponies." Anyone at all even vaguely familiar with Frank Zappa would have said something similar and laughed just like we did. That same comment where I now work would have branded me even stranger than they already think I am. Beware, crazy musician in cube C674.

Beware: crazy, lonely, misunderstood musician with a wry wit trapped in cube C674.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What if?

Yesterday a friend said to me, "What if we all did whatever we loved to do and got paid for it?" Indeed. But who loves to clean the sewer? And get paid what? Enough? Even more perplexing, what do I love to do? Or rather, which of the things that I love to do? Seems so simple a plan, yet sadly, destined to fail. Actually, I do know people who like to do jobs others detest. One friend likes to iron. Really. I know, I don't get it either. Another enjoys cleaning. Unfortunately, there's not enough money or benefits to be made, so it's on to the cube farm. Very complicated. And once your passion becomes your meal ticket, will it continue to hold the same fascination? Do you pick something to grow into? Or something you may grow out of? Would you be allowed to change? I do have this ideal world, rural communal living sort of fantasy that rolls around in the back of my head whenever my job gets to be too much. Even there, someone would have to do the septic tank clean out. After all, how many musicians does one commune need?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Promises made, promises broken

Most of the promises I make to other people are kept. Most of the promises made to myself are promises broken. As a girl child raised Catholic, it is ingrained in your being that your concerns come last. Not that the nuns ever really said as much, they didn't have to. The system was geared toward the old ways. Years of that upbringing do not fall away easily, even after pop psychology, logic, rebellion and soul searching. There is a line somewhere between service and subservient. Giving of yourself to others is admirable, but there has to be something left there to give. Sometimes I feel all given out. So I'm making a renewed effort to keep some promises to myself. Quand je parle français comme j'ai fait dans l'université, je vous ferai savoir.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Today I prayed for courage. defines courage as:
1. the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
2. Obsolete. the heart as the source of emotion. c.1300, from O.Fr. corage, from V.L. *coraticum, from L. cor "heart," which remains a common metaphor for inner strength. In M.E., used broadly for "what is in one's mind or thoughts," hence "bravery," but also "wrath, pride, confidence, lustiness," or any sort of inclination. Replaced O.E. ellen, which also meant "zeal, strength."
3. have the courage of one's convictions, to act in accordance with one's beliefs, esp. in spite of criticism.

Usually, I do not pray for myself. So many other people in the world need prayers, good karma and positive energy sent their way. Struggling friends, ill family, war-torn countries, oppressed nations, the list is endless. Most often, I pray for peace and for the environment, figuring that if those two most global of problems were solved, everything else would just follow suit. Today was different. In a fit of desperate frustration, my mind silently cried out, “God, give me courage!” Courage to be who I am. Courage to follow my heart. Courage to say no. Courage to ask for help. Courage to forgive myself. Courage to pursue dreams.

Why courage? Because everything starts with one step, a hard step. The step that someone carved the words “Shoulda Coulda Woulda” into before the concrete dried. The step shrouded in fear. The step that’s wobbly, but the only way to cross the path. Courage moves feet, both physically and metaphorically. When faith and love need a push, courage does it.
So today, yes, today I prayed for courage.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Train, train

Through the drizzle, under the moody sky, here comes my train. It was early this day. Usually if I'm coming home around 8:45, it's scuttling back and forth across the road, moving cars from track to track in and out of the chemical plant. The gates come down, I stop, I stare. Over the years here, I've see it so often that I've claimed it as my own.

Trains are another of the many fascinations haunting the recesses of my mind. As a child in bed I could hear the train's whistle through the darkness as it crossed the county trestle, making its way from Edwardsville and Winchester to East St. Louis. In the spring and fall when my windows are open to the night, that same whistle blows down by the river. Besides the lonely sound epitomized in song after song, trains are a history. The old cars and engines are gigantic antiques, telling stories of hard work, pain and romance. In the blink of an eye, I can while away hours at the Museum of Transport in St. Louis County. Climbing on old steam and diesel engines like the child I am in my heart, I take pictures and daydream about a time when life was both harder and simpler. As with many other romanticized views of the past, it is most likely inaccurate, but then it wouldn't be a dream, would it? So go away, leave my train alone; let us have our fun.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Does it play in Peroia?

Wednesday, Dan Fogelberg's birthday, dawned a beautiful midwestern summer day. An uncommon day for August, the morning was cool, the breeze was gentle, and I was filled with the freedom that a weekday off work on a such brilliant morning provides. Guitar, CD's and coffee in hand, I headed North to Peoria. Why? Who knows. It seemed fitting. Decades had passed since I last saw Peoria in 1982. While everything around it has changed, the Illinois River remains a constant, just like the Mississippi of my childhood.

Having had enough of tall buildings and concrete, I escaped to a park outside of town, spread my blanket under a comfy tree, played to the river and did some thinking. What do I value? What makes me whole? What is it I am waiting for? Why? Why...... The answers held more truth than I was accustomed to hearing from myself, but in its very speaking, part of the weight I'd been carrying for so long was lifted from my shoulders. I needed to believe.

With that moment of catharsis, I headed off to a local winery for a late lunch. Red wine, cheese and bread, then playing more music on the patio. No one minded, no one knew or cared that I had not really played out in years. They hummed along, some sang with the older tunes. We did indeed drink a toast to innocence, to Dan, to time. Then at 5:30 (6:30 EST) I played the song I'd been saving all day, "The Reach". Someone whispered, "I love this song." Harmony ascended and as if on que, the golden late afternoon sun kissed the arbor, setting everything aglow. It was magic.

Back on the road, I took the long way home. It was a sunset to savor, a day to relish. Unbeknownst to him, Dan gave me a lot of gifts in his lifetime. Now even from beyond, he gave me one more. Thank you, Dan. Happy Birthday.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Recipe or Song?

As I stood peering into the fridge pondering dinner, I was hit with the realization that cooking and songwriting are familial beasts. Besides both being a creative outlet, the process can be surprisingly similar. Indulge me.

First, possession of some basic knowledge is necessary. You've learned other people's songs, you've cooked recipes from a cookbook. Then you have an idea, something inspires you. Nature, heartbreak, leftover roast beef. A lyric or melody rolls around in your head; you play it, repeat it, tweak it, refine it. You dig through the pantry, tasting and adding layers of flavor as one ingredient is transformed into a meal. The more you play your song, the better it becomes. If you're lucky, when you sing it for someone, they'll beam and want to hear more. Each time you cook the new dish, hopefully, it is received with praise and satisfaction. People ask you to cook it again. Comes a time when someone wants to learn your song. Perhaps you write it down, maybe they jam with you until they've got it down. When asked for the recipe of your new culinary creation, you have to measure out the ingredients and write instructions or have them join you in the kitchen to learn by your side. Next time, in someone else's hands, your song or recipe is never quite the same. It could be better, it may pale in comparison, but it is an honor that someone enjoyed it enough to make it their own.

So while I sing Guy Clark's "Homegrown Tomatoes", I'll be pickling them, too.

Pickled Green Tomatoes
5 - 6 lbs of hard green tomatoes
3 heads of garlic
12 fronds or sprigs of fresh dill
1 carton of pickling lime
12 pint canning jars w/ lids and rings
For Brine
2 quarts water
1 quart vinegar (at least 5% acidity)
1 cup pickling or kosher salt (must not contain iodine)
6 tbs picking spice

-Wash and halve or quarter tomatoes. Use only ones not beginning to turn.
-Follow instruction on picking lime carton and soak tomatoes overnight in lime solution. (This is how they keep their crunch.) Thoroughly rinse at least 3 times. Lime is caustic, so take care not to splash and wash up afterwards.
-Put brine ingredients in a non-reactive pot and bring to boil.
-Pack tomatoes, garlic and dill into sterilized jars. Want hot? Add a hot pepper to the jar.
-Using a canning funnel, fill jars with brine to within a 1/4 inch of top.
-Release any bubbles in the jar with a knife or chopstick and wipe rim w/ damp towel.
-Put on lids and screw on rings until finger-tight.
-Process in a waterbath open kettle canner for 10 - 15 minutes. Remove with canning tongs.
-Set on counter to cool, when you hear them "ping" they are sealed.
-When cool, store for 6 weeks for full pickling, then enjoy!

If you are new to canning, pick up a Ball Blue Book. It is the best guide to home canning and freezing that's out there. Even if you learned at mom's side, give it a read.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Yet another tribute to Dan Fogelberg

Wednesday Aug. 13 would have been Dan Fogelberg's 57th birthday. No doubt he would have spent it sailing the Reach and points beyond. In concert, he often introduced his song "The Reach" by saying "this one here, folks, is one of my very favorites."

As written here before, Dan's music was often the soundtrack to my life. Wednesday will be no different. I'll pass it with friends, we'll sing his songs and our songs. Stories will be told, memories will be shared. This will be one of them:

A few days after Dan’s passing, Mike Marone did a special tribute show on “The Loft” on XM Radio. Dan’s songs, remembrances, interview clips, it was very poignant; you could tell he was a fan. It was dark, about 7pm, the snow was falling, I was driving somewhere. I never made it. I was crying so hard that I had to pull over in a grocery parking lot and sit there listening. After the show, I still could not move. The snow was coming heavy. Big, fluffy, beautiful snow, the kind that blankets everything in silence, the kind I love to walk in. So out I walked. It was calming, the Christmas lights twinkled, I bought a coffee and headed back to my truck. This is what I wrote, sitting there, watching the world turn white.

Songs On The Radio

There was a time when I gave my heart
With the innocence of a child
Thought it had been set aside
But I was wrong
So I grieve and cry as snow falls
Emptiness so hard to bear
Surrounded by the quiet
And his songs

Songs on the radio
Memories in my head
Tears fall on the steering wheel
Pulling over again
This man was not my lover
My family or my friend
Yet somehow he was all of these
How can this be the end?

Now the dreams I have are haunted
By an angel or a ghost
And the pain is there still heavy
In my chest
So I sing his songs in darkness
While I cradle my guitar
It will be dawn before I stop
And finally rest

Songs on the radio
Memories in my head
Tears fall on the steering wheel
Pulling over again
This man was not my lover
My family or my friend
But somehow he was all of these
How can this be the end?
Please don’t let this be the end.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

She's back, but where is home?

My best friend called to tell me she was back; carefully or unconsciously she avoided the word "home". After a stint down South, her plans for the West coast were foiled, so back to the Midwest she came. It's where her family is, it's where some friends are, but as to being her home? If in her heart she can name her home, it would find me surprised.

Though she speaks fondly of many places she's lived, she has moved on. Some of those points North were home after a while, now they do not have that draw. At one point she expressed envy of my staid existence, the husband, the house, the mortgage, the steady job. At the same time my disquietude rose to the surface. Classic case of other side of the fence? Probably not. We've both been restless spirits, but forces of circumstance and emotion forged different paths. Still, we both wrestle with our demons. Still we console ourselves with art. Still we search. From the deepest corners of our souls, the question escapes: where is home?

Friday, August 01, 2008

Summer, slow down!

The dog days of August have barely just begun and I am already lamenting the passing of summer. There is a solid month left, plus most of September is nearly fit for swimming these days. Still, between work and other obligations, precious little time remains for weekend get-aways along a pristine river or hiding in deep forest shade. I desperately crave the water; my body aches to feel its calming caress, to hear its ageless song. A niche has to be carved out of time; requests for presence denied, everything else set aside. Damn it all. Damn it all and go down to the river. Somehow, some way, my soul will be restored.