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Painting With Prine

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

After week of rain, another rainy, dreary, gray morning. I spend it in the basement, painting. I’ve got a drop cloth down, nice shade of left over paint, and John Prine in my ears. I am happy as a clam. I like the solitude of the basement, surrounded by tools and organized clutter. I also enjoy painting, simple but consuming, it is good for my brain. I am painting storage bins that will make the house neater and prettier. That makes me extra joyful. And of course, the fore mentioned Mr. Prine. Yes, aside from the occasional wondering about whether clams are really happy or if they indeed feel any emotion at all, it is about as perfect as a morning can get.

I am working diligently, making good progress for more than an hour. As I step back to assess the first coat it occurs to me that I have been gone for most of that hour. Gone. Transported. Taken for a ride. That is not something I do easily or willingly. But I had followed the songs where they took me, invested in their characters, saw every scene, felt all the things. The man can write. No extra words or ones chosen just to be clever, no rhymes forcing their way in. The sounds said something. Lots of musical and melodic interest but never musical glitter to make up for lack of substance. Room to breathe, room to think. It all sounded so easy.

The irony of the moment was not at all lost on me. I had sanded those boxes, filled each nail hole, making sure there was a good surface on which to paint, knowing no amount of paint will fix bad construction. The color was a nice bright bit of color that will make those boxes stand out just the right amount without screaming their presence. They looked good, but definitely, absolutely needed another coat. Standing there, in the basement, looking at my first coat of paint I realized I need to edit all of the new songs.

We have a batch of new songs. I’ve pushed a little make some of them happen, to keep the creativity flowing, and that is a good thing. I find that initial part of songwriting relatively easy, perhaps because it is exciting. The first flush of inspiration is exhilarating. Fleshing out a bit of a path and taking the first steps makes me feel powerful. But the craft of writing is an entirely different animal. I don’t enjoy that quite as much, so I know I don’t work on it quite as much. It is more difficult than the early stage, frustrating at times. Good songs are hard, but there is no reason to play a mediocre song. I don’t want to be “out there running just to be on the run”.

And now it is evening. The paint is dry. The boxes are holding the stuff and looking good doing it. My back is a little sore from the hours of painting and probably from caring those boxes upstairs. This evening I know, deep in my bones, things I didn’t know this morning. Build something useful. You might need paint it to make it look beautiful, but sometimes you might be better off with stain so some of the grain can show through. Repairs are worthwhile because paint won’t fix anything and truth be told it doesn’t do a good job hiding anything. Clams definitely feel happy. You should spend a morning painting with John Prine.


Peace, Love, and Music (sometimes best accomplished in reverse order)

Happy Valentine’s/You Don’t Have the Plague Day

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Happy Valentine’s/You Don’t Have The Plague Day! It’s the traditional greeting, right.

There are concepts permanently etched into my memory. Most of the are from my childhood. Some were useful like my first phone number. Some were and are wonderful like the smell of my grandmother’s gingerbread just out of the oven. Some, actually most, are useless bits of nonsense. I don’t have enough room in there and wonder why my brain clings to this junk as if it will have value some day.

When I was a young catholic girl I learned about saints and one February at CCD I asked for more detail about St. Valentine. For the uninitiated, CCD stands for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, it is essentially religious education. It took place on Saturday mornings and I had several alternate names for it such as crushing coyote dreams and cartoon cheating day. Although I don’t really remember watching cartoons on Saturday mornings, I remember thinking I was cheated out of it and that I would rather watch the roadrunner meep-meep his way into a painted tunnel than go to church school. But off I went, with a mouthful of questions. It was a short-lived relationship.

So back to Bishop Valentine. I was told that he was the patron saint of the betrothed and protector against the plague. This was fascinating to me because I didn’t know what either of those things were. Ah the joy of learning two new things, and the danger of forever associating them together. My instinctive first thought about valentine’s day each year: engaged couples trying not to get the plague. Actually that seems about right.

This year that mixed sentiment seems more appropriate than ever. This year, so many young people face a valentine’s day with long term grief and trauma, shock and anger. How have their tender hearts survived the year? I remain hopeful for them. Those young determined faces that met our eyes through their fear and anguish, the clear, steady voices that spoke their truth, surely they would be strong enough and determined enough to thrive. Yes, young folks are resilient. I remain hopeful that they still seek love, friendship, and trust. I remain selfishly hopefully that they still seek change and have some fight in their bones.

What about the rest of us? How can those of us with older, wiser hearts face them? It seems like we’ve done nothing. There are no sweeping new laws, no statistical evidence of change, there aren’t even new conversations. Don’t worry, dear ones. We have changed. I promise you we have changed. You have rekindled hope and strengthened resolve in so many of us. Thank you for that. But now what? I wish I knew. Effecting even the smallest change has been harder than I imagined. And so again I promise you, we are not done yet.

Happy Valentine’s Day. No, not the one of glittery paper hearts and dusty candies with glib words on them. The real one. The one that knows we are betrothed, old and young, engaged in each other’s well being, bound to each other in community, and trying to save each other from this plague.

We Survived Snowmagedon

Thursday, 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

Thursday, 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


inside forevertron


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

Doodling and Noise Making

Tuesday, 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.

Friday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Sunday, 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.

The Making Of Round Shiny Things

Sunday, 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. (more…)

Can an instrument change your life?

Monday, 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.