A young boy at a concert this weekend asked me if I am rich. I laughed and answered “that depends on how you define rich!” Certainly by the world’s standards I am wealthy, even though, as a folk artist with a family to support, I live quite bare boned as defined within this country’s financial culture. But however you look at it, I am deeply and doubly blessed to have both work I love, that fills me spiritually, and the privilege of being mother to my three children.
This fall, this month of October, has been filled to overflowing with the demands of both halves of my life. My days are framed by a teenager’s schedule of music and sports activities – which, when you live in a rural area, involves hours of driving each week. Rising at 6 in the morning to help my daughter off to school brings its own pleasures, even to someone accustomed to the late night watch of the musician.
And within and around this neatly structured daily routine, there is my work. Some of it I do at home – the “business” end of things, publicity, tour management, a myriad of communications – and this month grappling with a recalcitrant computer. But the meat of my work, that which defines the rest of it, is of course the creative core. The writing, the practice, these also are done at home. The rest of my creative work, the performances and school programs, can’t so easily be scheduled into that routine, and of necessity take me away from home.
I am a person who responds to the law of inertia. I loved physics, took it in high school and in college – maybe you’ve never thought about how closely physics is related to music? But it’s been a long time, wonder what my dictionary would say? Ah, this is interesting. The first definition given is for “inert,” which we often associate with inertia, “without power to move or resist; inactive; dull; slow; with few or no active properties.” Ah, but then comes inertia, this is what I was looking for: “(physics) the tendency of matter to remain at rest (or continue in a fixed direction) unless acted on by an outside force.”
Okay, so you ask, how does this apply to me, to my life as a musician and mother? I’ve observed over the years – and am exceedingly aware this very month – of how this operates on me. When I am at home, I cannot imagine going out on the road. I love my home at the edge of the woods, and treasure my time here with my daughter. Right now I’m sitting in a rocking chair looking out over my neighbor’s sheep pasture, watching my daughter’s colorful assortment of chickens roaming the yard. The sun is streaming in the window, the wood stove is warm at my back. Who in their right mind would ever want to leave this? I have to drag myself away when it’s time to go on tour. But once I’m out there, I can’t imagine anything else. I love the road – even the long hours of driving alone – and I love meeting people and it is an incredible gift to be able to sing for them. I understand the saying “follow your bliss.” The challenge is when one’s bliss is in two separate places. If you ask me which I love better, my answer will depend on where I am at the moment. And this is where the inertia comes in. Lui at home wants to stay at home, Lui on tour is equally content.
Which is where “unless acted on by an outside force” comes in. I guess the outside force that gets me away from home is my agent, Pam – she books the gigs (good thing she knows I love my work!) that get me out of my house. And on the other end, the moment the structured tour is over, there’s that undeniable pull of my home and family calling me back.
October has been a particularly rich month, in both realms. I got the chicken coop and run built so the chickens could come home to roost – they’d been staying in our neighbor’s coop till I could finish that project – and since the first good freeze we’ve been letting them loose to scratch in the gardens, so they’re often right outside the big glass door that opens onto the back yard. I had chickens years ago – back in my earth mother days! – and I love having them around again. They all have names, and Maggie quizzed me on them until I learned all 14 of them. Sharing life with Maggie herself is an even greater pleasure. And I’ve had delightful time with my two older children this month as well, including a two-day trip to Baltimore with my son Tim to visit and interview at Loyola College, and a Sunday dinner with all three children at my older daughter Sylva’s in Storrs. Joy unbounded.
And my work this month has been a pleasure. At home, I’ve been learning a Patty Griffin song that I think is truly a work of art. The song is “Making Pies,” from her 1000 Kisses CD. I highly recommend the recording, the first track “Rain” is what drew me to buy it, and the whole CD gets played here – by both my daughter and myself – over and over and over. If you get to one of my concerts this fall, you’ll probably hear me sing “Making Pies.”
As to the road, I had two fun tours this month, one in the midwest early in the month, and this past weekend around New England.
I flew out to Chicago on the 9th, spent three days playing a variety of concerts, from a pre-school in Lisle, to a bistro in Peoria (if you can make it in Peoria…), to a library concert series in Barrington (with a hike down into the dells at Matthiessen State Park en route), and ending with a house concert in an idyllic cabin in southern Indiana. Flew back from Chicago the next day, whew. I had been feeling particularly resistant to leaving home for this tour. I enjoy flying, but not the logistics of getting two instruments onto the plane. And I much prefer driving my own car, where I can bring along anything I think I might possibly want and not worry about having to carry it all at once! Sometimes I feel like a pack mule in the airport, lugging my guitar, banjo, duffle, and bulging “briefcase.” And of course I worry about the guitar in the baggage compartment. But once I sat down in my seat in the plane, I felt the elation rise up in me. There’s an energy that comes with touring, the freedom of being out on the road – or in the air – with nothing to think about but the task at hand. Life becomes very straightforward on the road. Not that it isn’t demanding, it’s quite exhausting just keeping the basics together. But the focus is the music, getting from one concert to another, and then planting my feet on the stage and letting the music pour through me. I love it. Especially when I’m on a roll of back to back concerts. Bliss.
This past weekend epitomized the joy of my work, and was full of reminders to me of why I do what I do and why I love it. I began my weekend on Friday night at the New Song Folk Club in the Gallery Tea and Coffee Cafe in East Bridgewater, MA. Many of the audience were folks I’d sung for before in house and church concerts in the area – thanks, Kenny and Rosemary, for getting the word out so well! Just before the concert, Sue Cummings, a 3rd grade teacher at the H.B. Burkland School in Middleboro, gave me a spiral-bound book of my song “Bearline,” beautifully illustrated by her last year’s class. Apparently she teaches a section based on my song every year, has the students memorize and recite the poem, as well as making a picture book out of it. Here are some sample pages (requires Acrobat Reader)! Every time I sang the song, all weekend, I’d picture the story through her students’ eyes.
Saturday night I gave a concert at the Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington. Anita Kupriss, music director extraordinaire, had invited me to give the concert. She and Mary Pratt, as the duo SolQuest, played a beautiful set of songs to open the evening – beginning with Anita’s gorgeous trumpet introduction to her song “Sound the Trumpet.” The sanctuary was acoustically perfect, and Al Kennedy did a great job on sound, it was sheer pleasure singing. The next morning I returned to the church to sing with the multi-generational choir in the service. Anita had written choral arrangements for “Swimming to the Other Side” (an expansion of my descant arrangement), “Blessing,” and “Baptism of Fire.” And Patricia Collins led the children in sacred dance, with colorful scarves, to “Swimming to the Other Side.” Great fun, and a privilege to work with someone so gifted – thank you Anita!
After the service I hopped back in my car and drove to Burlington, Vermont. It was clear and sunny when I left Lexington, but I passed in and out of rain all along I-89. Just past South Royalton I was graced with the first of two glorious rainbows, this one spilling into a field in the valley below the highway. The second, half an hour later, hung in a huge arc just south of Barre, where I grew up. I was eagerly anticipating this culmination of my weekend, a surprise birthday party. And indeed, it turned out to be easily the most unique concert of my entire career, and possibly the most fulfilling. I often play grown-up birthday parties, but at this one I played for just two people, the hostess and the birthday guest, though now and then the hostess’s two children came in to listen, and another friend arrived to lend her voice to the last few songs. I was given a glimpse into one of the most inspiring and beautiful friendships I have ever seen, and into the life of one of the most remarkable women I have ever met. I sang songs, reaching way back to my earliest recordings, read poems, several I’d never felt moved to share with anyone else; we feasted, we talked about life, I sang some more. I was reluctant to leave – there’s that inertia again, had to drag myself away. And this, surely, is the saddest part of my work, the constant leaving behind of people with whom I have shared so intimately.
It’s funny to think of something that’s so pleasurable, such a part of the fabric of my life, being “work.” I do feel bountifully blessed to have found work that brings me such deep joy and satisfaction. Indeed, Matthew, I am rich in the purest sense of the word. And exceedingly grateful.
And this morning – oh well, it’s afternoon now – I sit in the sun, smiling and typing, and watching the chickens forage outside the window. I don’t think life could get any better.
I wish you joy and love and peace. And work you love.