We Survived Snowmagedon

December 13th, 2018

We survived, but are irrevocably changed.
I know that some reading this are from the north, the mid-west or higher altitudes. Have a good laugh at our 6” of snow that will be gone in a few days. But our weather can be a challenge. We often have rain mixed in with our snow so there may be layers of ice. And our road will never be plowed.

Storm prep here is a little different. We don’t stock up on milk, bread and eggs. Although I did bake some bread. We fill jugs with water because we have a well and if the power goes out there is no water. We grind coffee in case the power goes out. We load firewood onto the porch where it will stay dry and in easy reach. We bring wine upstairs and birdseed too. We harvest anything we don’t think will survive, charge our phones, and make a list of things to do while stranded.

We ( actually just one of we) made some rookie mistakes.
My boots are in the basement. The basement is only accessible by going outside and around the house. We should have put some of the water into the refrigerator to help maintain the temperature in there. Though I enjoy cooking on the wood stove, prep by candle light is not fun. We had rain, frozen rain and finally snow – none of my winter greens will survive that. My list of things to do included too many that require electricity.

That last item was disappointing. I thought it would be great to really, really clean the house. No power means no vacuuming, no running water. I dusted and swept thoroughly but it was not satisfying. I thought we could learn some songs, but without power we couldn’t listen to CDs. The sad list goes on. We have books, and scrabble, and instruments. When the threat of falling branches seems clear we can wander in the wood. I typically crave those activities, but now they seem like unproductive punishment compared to my fabulous list. I also began to wonder what you were doing. Yes, you. All of you. Was it snowing where you were? Were your dogs running about in it? What were you reading? What were you eating?

It turns out that I can withstand physical longings and moderate discomforts or inconveniences quite well. I am a wimp at the emotional ones and I’m kind of needy. When, exactly, did that happen? I haven’t had a TV in over a decade. I loved being alone, could spend a day reading, forget to eat, realize I hadn’t left the house in days. But this year, even more than previous years, I have spent a lot of time with you. I have become accustom to having dinner with you before a show and to having conversations over breakfast. You check in on email and other e-things. We meet sometimes on the road just to say hello. And sure, I have always like those things. In moderation. But something strange is happening.

I’ll be vacuuming if anyone needs me.

The Side Trips

July 5th, 2018

Some of you have been patently waiting to see the side trip adventures from our June tour.  Without further ado:

AQ prevents forest fires

different countries

Forevertron

inside forevertron

wetlands

the big lake

water dissolving and water removing

coastline of superior

love this

a fish in a building

library made of glass

totem-like thing

fun with shovels

windmills of wisconsin

yes, we also worked

He’s home

The Kids Are Alright

June 23rd, 2018

The Kids Are Alright

We are just home from our summer reading kick-off tour. After the first couple of shows I found myself singing that song from The Who. I’ve never really known the lyrics other than ‘the kids are alright’ so I looked them up. They are weird. It’s not at all what I thought it was about, if I even gave it any thought. Forget all that, just focus on that one line.

This was our first tour with the kids songs, playing to young readers mostly aged 6-9. We were more than worried. We were terrified. First, we were fearful for our own well being. Kids are honest. Brutally honest. What if they didn’t like us? What if they didn’t like the songs? What if they weren’t interested in the books we chose? Second, but way more important, we were fearful for their well being. What if they didn’t like us or the songs and we turned them off reading.

If our Read, Love Grow project is new to you here’s the short version of the back story: One lovely morning over coffee Aidan read that the for-profit prison industry uses the illiteracy of eleven year olds to determine the number of prison beds they will need in fifteen years. We clean up coffee. We cursed evil businesses. We cried. And then, we set aside our anger, our disgust, our heartbreak and got to work. If that research is what an industry bases its profit on, it’s probably accurate data. If they can use it, so can we. And we didn’t have to pay for it. There are a dozen other statistics that link reading at grade level by grade five to long term improvement in life. So we wrote songs inspired by ten amazing children’s books. Some of our generous, supportive friends and fans helped us pay for the recording, mixing and production of a CD called “Tell Me A Story” We developed a program to present these songs to kids as a way of encouraging them to read. We leave a CD or two with each library or location we visit.

In June we played for hundreds of kids across four states. We will continue to visit libraries, camps, schools, and after school programs talking to young readers about books that we enjoyed and sharing with them the process of using a book as inspiration for songs. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that is very similar to shows we do for grown-ups. But with the kids we also read a bit of a few of the books aloud. We ask them how they feel about the situations and characters in the books or what they think might happen. They sing. They dance. They ask a lot of questions.

A shout out to the librarians and library staff. They put out the books and authors that we referenced. They create comfortable spaces for the kids to listen and move around. They have programs like reading aloud to a dog to build reader confidence. One librarian told me that on rainy summer days they create “reading caves” from chairs and tables and blankets. The summer reading programs offer prizes (but of course the real prize is reading).

The accompanying adults were also pretty terrific; counselors who made up dance moves and a bus driver that helped us get the kids talking. And then there was the grandfather, who held the hand of the only brown child in the room and listened carefully as I talked about Marion Anderson. He smiled and nodded approvingly when I simply said she wasn’t allowed to sing at certain places because of the way she looked.

Much to our joy and relief the kids seemed to like us and the songs. They expressed an interest in reading. The young folks we met were incredibly smart, very engaged and willing to participate. They know that insects have six legs and spiders have eight. Not only did they ask about the harmonica and the capos and the tuner, they also listened intently to the explanations (even the Aidan-style lengthy detailed answers). They spoke in turn (mostly), listened to each other (mostly) and shared interesting comments and observations.

At the very first show a young girl told me that if I like “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus” there were a whole lot of other pigeon books I should read. Later someone suggested a Peter Seeger song. There were white-skinned, blue-eyed boys who were happy we sang in Spanish because they are learning Spanish. An avid reader with dyslexia told us that there are great audio books available for young readers. A group of kids serenaded us with “You Are My Sunshine” – it was adorable, but grown ups, please please teach your kids a happier song. And at the last show the last of a hundred questions was “why are CDs round?” Aidan offered a detailed, technical answer. They listened, asking some follow-up questions. One young boy laughed and asked me “what if CDs were square. I laughed and said it would be weird. But once the giggling stopped one young girl raised a hand. “Maybe a square CD only seems weird because we are used to them being round. If they had been square that would seem normal.” It silenced us. All of us. Aidan explained disruptive thinking to this group of 6-9 year olds. He told them how bold thinking led to inventions and big changes in the way the world worked.

Yeah, the kids are alright. Really alright. I hope they stay that way.

Doodling and Noise Making

January 23rd, 2018

Good afternoon, from my office with a sunny view of the blue ridge mountains and a bird feeder that has been half emptied in less than a day. I sit in appreciative awe of all that is in front of me.

We have spent this month mostly writing, recording, listening, and doing some paper work and business tasks. I dwelled upon the latter too much, perhaps because there is a certain shame in admitting that my work is mostly made up of doodling, noise making and listening to music.

I read this morning that Hugh Masekela had died. I spent a short while listening to his jazz-infused trumpet playing mesh with his unaffected voice of protest. He said that music was the language of South Africa and that a protest never occurred there that did not have music at its center. I recall an interview with him about ten years ago in which he expressed some guilt about leaving South Africa during apartheid. The interviewer kindly pointed out that Mr. Masekela could do and say things outside of the country to bring attention to their cause, that those who stayed and those who left had different roles and different things to contribute.

On Saturday we were at the women’s rally in our small conservative southern city. As people led songs, we lent our voices to the back of the crowd singing loudly to offer some cover to those less accustom to singing out in public. It has been a while since I sang not in the front of a crowd. I stood in appreciative awe of all that was in front of me.

Earlier in the week I read about the first swing concert at Carnegie Hall decades ago. The New York Times reviewed the show noting the obvious physical reaction of an audience unable to remain still. The writer observed “If the individual has his unhampered say in music, he may have it in other fields. Dictators should be suspicious of swing.”

There was a story back in the 80’s about a Vietnam war vet, Anthony Herbert. He was a major in 1968 listening to a Joan Baez album in his bachelors officers quarters. She was singing Dylan’s “With God On Our Side”A superior officer leaned in and told him, after some conversation, to get rid of the record or leave the building. Major Herbert was shocked and asked if he couldn’t listen to the music that he wanted that was made in the USA. His superior felt the music was anti-military. Again Major Herbert protested saying that he was not anti military and he agreed with the lyrics. Again he was told to get rid of the music or leave the building. He left, got a transfer, remained in the military, remained a fan of Ms. Baez.

In a couple of weeks we will hit the road armed with songs and voices loud enough and strong enough to make them heard. We will do our best to open our arms to an audience of varied listeners, rally their hopes into actions and encourage them to be unhampered in their music. Dictators should be suspicious of folk music.

Let’s Talk About It.

November 3rd, 2017

Let’s Talk About It

In the wake of the many #metoo posts it is obviously time we started to talk about it. While I am not at all surprised at how many women have experienced sexual harassment, I am a bit surprised at their reluctance to talk about it. (Go ahead, take a moment and wonder what is wrong with me and how I can be so stupid or naïve. I’m ready for it.) Certainly I understand that in the moment, at the time, many women were unprepared and unable to verbalize what happened. But later, much later, without naming names, many women never told their sons or daughters about some their personal experiences at least as a word of warning. That surprised me. I don’t have kids. I talk a lot.

The more I thought about it the more I remembered small incidents when I was much younger. When I was sixteen and working as a waitress a customer moved beyond rude and annoying into sexual harassment. “Hold that thought” I said with my well practiced waitress smile. I came back with a full pot of coffee and held it over his lap. “Now, what was that you were saying?” That may sound sort of gutsy now. But I worked with great people. It was just a summer job, not a career, and I knew I wouldn’t be back next year. I was fearless, because I had little at risk. I don’t remember what the guy had said that angered me. I don’t remember what he looked like. I only remember that he mumbled “nothing” and I replied with a smug “that’s what I thought”. I remember that he left without tipping me. While we chatted a bit about it that day at work, I don’t think I shared that story with friends. I know I never shared it with my nieces or nephews as they went off to their first jobs.

Why didn’t I share that story widely, back when I remembered all the details? For me, speaking up and fighting back was always my instinct. Sure it was exhausting and annoying, but just something women faced. Early on, I assumed everyone dealt with things the same way I did. I talked about the big things, but I dealt with the little things on my own and kept them to myself. Of course there are women who can’t risk being fired from a job, held back in a career, given a lower grade, being ostracized from a community. But there are women in my position as well, who could take smaller risks, or who, years after the fact, could speak without any risk.

Why don’t they talk about it? Sadly, their reasons are a lot different from mine. Shame – as if somehow someone else’s actions bring shame upon them. Guilt – as if they did something to deserve or attract this behavior. Fear – that they wouldn’t be believed. Really? Really. Still? Still.

So please consider this. If a woman told you that she went to a job interview and a man kicked her in the shins, what would you say to her? If a woman told you that her boss routinely slapped her across the face when they crossed paths in the hallway, what would think? If a woman told you her teacher called her stupid every time she stayed behind in class to ask a question, what would you do?

Take a moment. Think about it. Those scenarios are exactly the same as sexual harassment and assault. But because those examples didn’t have any sexual overtone we don’t have any discomfort or uncertainty. We didn’t need to ask the woman what she was wearing to the interview. We didn’t ask the woman what she did to warrant being slapped. We didn’t ask the woman if she was flirting with the teacher.

We need to talk about this. Nothing will change until we do. But if we expect women to talk, we have to be prepared to listen.

Post Stormageddon Thoughts

September 13th, 2017

Oh Harvey. Oh Irma. My curious, sciencey side marvels at you. But couldn’t you have just been wonders of nature out at sea?

We lived in Florida for many years. Early on we were spared the actual storms. We learned that storm season is six months long… except for that year it went on through January. We went through years of warnings that made me associate an impending storm with time wasting preparation and boredom. And just as I began to wonder if some weather pattern may have permanently changed, we had one, two, three, four hurricanes in one season. Direct hits, right over our house. Once we were already away from home. Once we evacuated. Twice we stayed. This is what I know.

The first big storm to hit happened while we were away. We failed to put up our shutters up before we left and so had to call a neighbor and ask if he could hire someone to put up our shutters. Of course we would repay him when we got home, and he was welcome to our hurricane supplies. “Your shutters are already up” he replied. He had gotten together with a couple of other neighbors and helped each other put up storm shutters. Knowing we were not home, they did ours too. Everyone has a lot to do before a storm. But they are happy to be cooperative and it makes the job so much easier. We got to be part of the team when we returned.

The next one was looking pretty big. We lived between the intracoastal waterway and the ocean, accessible by bridge, always an evacuation zone. It is an extraordinarily hard decision to go. I don’t blame anyone who makes a different choice. It takes planning, and resources – physical, emotional, and financial. You may not be able to leave a job, and delaying the evacuation time means traffic, fuel shortages and accidents. And of course, the storm tracks change and you might evacuate to an area that gets hit hard. Choosing what to bring was easier that I thought. You should try it. Pick one or two things that are precious to you that you really want to have when every thing else is gone. No thing ever looked the same to me after that day.

Seeing the weather channel in your neighborhood is a special kind of horror. I hoped that our home would be untouched or completely gone. I know I couldn’t handle the in-between, sifting through, salvaging, repairing. We drove home to find a home with no fences, no water, no electricity and a tree on our roof. Unbelievably the roof held. No structural damage. I remember calling my neighbor to say her house was okay, a couple of trees down but no damage. She laughed. She had already heard that her tree was on our roof. But she didn’t hear it from me.

We remained in our shuttered, well stocked house for the next two storms. After pummeling wind and rain the eye is a welcome relief. We rushed out side for a few minutes of clear sky and gentle breeze. Neighbors checked on each other. And then, one big gust ushered us all back into our caves.

After the storm the first rays of natural light are the best. We had no running water, no electricity and big messes to deal with. And it was okay. We shared tools, helped each other, played some music. I remember the guy across the street, a scuba diver, came over to say he was out of ice and he had lobster that wouldn’t last. We could offer nothing so luxurious, but had cheap wine, butter and lemon. We feasted. We swore it would never again take a storm to get us together for dinner, and it didn’t. For a few months at least we got together. After the next storm we had a small generator. Finally, we were the prepared ones! We shared it with other neighbors to keep their phones charged and their refrigerators cool. There was one neighbor with a big generator running their A/C and TV. We never saw them. I truly felt the saddest for them.

I did a little post-storm volunteering and saw how much people need the chance to tell their story. I learned to never minimize their loss, stress or trauma. Even those who had no appreciable losses still had unimaginable strain. I also learned that the effects linger. Months after the last storm passed through we drove through the farm lands and saw the mobile homes of farm workers still covered in tarps. They would never be repaired. The ground had not recovered and there was little work. Some businesses never reopen, some people never return home. For some there was no recovery, just a new way of life they somehow managed to live.

These storms have a way of focusing an eye on our strengths and our shortcomings. There is no extra time or energy to be wasted judging how we came to have those strengths or shortcomings, we just use one to overcome the other.

Life on the (friction) farm

June 11th, 2017

June is a wonderful time of year here. The oak trees are full and our view of the Blue Ridge mountains is mostly obscured. We don’t miss it. They will return to us. And in the meantime we have a cast of characters to keep us entertained and a lots of gardening chores to do.

Meet the critters

We name things. If they are around long enough to be recognized they get a name. Thus far only four birds have been christened. Burt and Lulu the bluebirds. They flew in the chimney, were rescued and released. Aidan built them a house which they moved into, laid eggs, had the eggs eaten but a flying squirrel, but came back again. They deserve names. Phoebe and George are eastern phoebes who have built a nest in the carport. They sit on a post in the garden and catch bugs. Welcome to the farm kids.

There are eight deer, but only two have names. Orbison and Pajamas. The one and only bear is Howard, but we call him Walter. (Its a long story). The large black snake is Freddy. There are turkeys and raccoons, but none has distinguished themselves so far. I’ll keep you posted if that changes.

Here’s what’s growing (or not)

Our little orchard has a half-dozen fruit trees, apple, peach and plum. But there are a couple of pear trees nearer to the house. Plus a few fig trees scattered about. And a few cold-hearty citrus up against the south wall. I know we are not done yet. We were hit by a late frost and lost all the blossoms. One lone peach survives. The local farmers tell me its a good thing for young trees. Their energy will go into roots and branches and they will be bigger and stronger next year. I’d rather have fruit now.

There are blueberry bushes everywhere. The early season varieties were large and sweet. The mid-season are just starting to ripen they are smaller have a hint of tart beneath the sweet. Late season types are new and won’t bear fruit until next year. The blackberries are huge, but still red.

Asparagus has gone to fronds. I love the way they look, guarding the back of the beds. The peas are done but winter squash and melons have moved in to take their place. Summer squashes are blooming, tomatoes ripening, beans growing but struggling. We’ve had pak choi and mustard greens but they are ready to wilt in the heat and day now. Artichokes have just stalled. We won’t have any this year. I haven’t got enough in the ground yet – and I’m running out of time. But June is a wonderful time of year here and we have to make time for a glass of wine on the deck. We do what we have to do.

Traveling Mercies

April 24th, 2017

I am in the dining room, looking out the window at the rain. It is pounding heavy on the roof and pooling up on the ground. More than three inches yesterday, and expected to continue until tomorrow morning. But I am in the dining room, and it is outside. I am thinking back a couple of weeks to the last rain of this caliber. We were in the car.

Driving in  the pounding rain is surely stressful for everyone. We do it so frequently it sometimes loses its impact. Other times we are reminded how quickly conditions can change and how fragile a car can be. So as usual, we are in the car heading to a show. We had agreed to play a brand new festival, agreed knowing all the perils of a new festival. Of course there would be issues, of course there might not be a good crowd, but of course we would contribute what we could to grow the audience for live music. We would book a show on either side of the festival and all would be well. Except that another commitment prevented us from booking something after the fest. No worries. As we approached the date, the other surrounding show cancelled. Unavoidable. So now we were driving to one date, several hours away, knowing that it will not be financially worthwhile, perhaps not spiritually worthwhile.

And it starts to rain. A little at first. Then a downpour. Hour after hour. We see the remnants of accidents on the road… a car buried up to its axles in the median, another two crumpled together off the side of the road. We begin to wonder what we are doing out here. Really isn’t this some cosmic sign that we have taken a wrong turn in our business lives? It’s not bad enough that we make a pretty meager living, now we should risk our safety for it? Is that what the universe is saying?

Up ahead it is a little lighter and brighter. The sky begins to glow just a bit, and then there is a rainbow. And then another. A double rainbow. It lasts a good long time. Aidan takes a ton of pictures through the rainy windshield of a moving car. To you it would look like wet blurry color smears. To us it looks like hope. As we approach Richmond, at rush hour, the rain stops completely. We sail uneventfully past the city. On the other side the rain starts again.

I don’t know what the universe is saying. Perhaps it’s a language I don’t speak. But I know what I am hearing. I am thankful for traveling mercies, and we keep driving.

The Making Of Round Shiny Things

March 26th, 2017

The songs were recorded and we sat and listened. We chose. We put them in order. We rearranged (a process that will be repeated often).

I feel like an outsider in our own songs.

When I write I usually have some sort of an idea or inspiration, something I observed that I want to share or, in true Friction Farm fashion, something that annoys me and I need to work out. Beyond that I don’t give it much thought. I start with so much intent and then give in to the pull and flow. Does the music fit how we are feeling? Do the words convey the story? All the while the feelings and the story are changing and developing, but I am not conscious of it. Suddenly it is a song. A done thing.

Once we finish writing we busy ourselves learning the song. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. Over a bit of time the sounds morph a bit, a few words change.

And so, we are listening, again; hearing changes we didn’t consciously make; hearing the contributions of other musicians who heard and felt what they did and let their reactions seep out of them and into our songs (they confirm us, inform us, please us); hearring the threads that weave through all of the songs, some expected and familiar, others a complete surprise. Oh, really? Is that what we have been thinking and feeling and reaching for across these several months.

So now, we think and hope, it is suddenly a collection. In a couple of months it will be a physical thing we can hold in our hands and you can hold in yours. Read the rest of this entry »

Can an instrument change your life?

January 16th, 2017

We played a show in Ashland VA just outside of Richmond. Beautiful, big room, nice stage, good sound. Our first time playing there. The forecast called for snow and an hour before the concert started there were heavy flurries swirling in the wind.

We resigned ourselves to playing to an empty room. It happens.

But a few people came in, and then a few more, and by eight o’clock there was a small, but respectable crowd. We were relieved and incredibly appreciative of every single body in the audience. Bob Grammann and his wife Lou made the drive down. Bob is the luthier who created my amazing fretless bass. As I thanked everyone for braving the weather to be there, I pointed out and introduced Bob. “He made this beautiful bass that changed my life” I told them.

Looking at their smiling expressions I thought perhaps they believed I was being a little dramatic. It happens.

I had never planned to say that. It just came spilling out of my mouth. Was it really true? Not exaggerated nor dramatic?  I’ve been thinking about it.
Since the bass is the nicest instrument I have ever owned, I felt I needed to be worthy of it. So I needed to practice playing. And since it was fretless, a new animal for me, I really needed to practice. That’s a good thing, worthwhile, but not life changing.

The tonal qualities made me want to listen more. The ‘in between note’ possibilities made me want and need to listen more. I played quietly for the first time ever. I listened to the sound my fingers made on the strings. I listened to the small changes that were possible; pitch, tone, sustain, staccato. I rested where once I might have made sound.

I listened to Aidan’s playing more. It happens. Occasionally.

Having thought about it, my playing has definitely changed. My sense of music and musicality has definitely changed. Those changes have impacted my writing. I have gained a sense of calm about performing. And of course, those things have seeped into the rest of my life.

For me it took a new instrument to make me listen more carefully. So maybe you need a new bass. Or maybe you don’t. But it could change your life. It happens.