Monday, December 14, 2015


I heard this line on a sitcom tonight:  "There is no justice. There's only mercy. That's what we can give each other."  That's downright profound for a sitcom.

For the last two weeks I've been sick as a dog. I rarely get sick and am not a good invalid; it makes me cranky, whiny and pathetic.  Last Friday I finally collapsed in the middle of the afternoon and slept for three hours.  It was the deepest sleep I've had in a long time, filled with a peaceful, pleasant dream. Sequoia and I were touring a beautiful old house near downtown Ashland. It was a rambling space, old but well maintained, neat, tidy and attractive. It was completely empty.  The walls were painted white with a vibrant orange trim. It's not a color I would choose in my waking life, but in the dream I found it very appealing.  There was trap door in the floor of the main room, actually two doors that opened in the middle like a french door. It led down into a secret space that was clean, well-lit, white and empty. I really liked the house. Given its location, I knew it was expensive, more than we could afford, but I had this sense that we could buy it if we wanted to and make it over into a really beautiful home. It was a good dream and I woke up happy and hopeful, something that rarely happens.

In dreams, houses  supposedly symbolize the self and rooms in houses relate to the subconscious. I have no idea what any of that means, but it was a good feeling.

What I do know is, after sleeping for three hours on Friday afternoon, I could not sleep for shit on Friday night. My band was booked for a show on Saturday night and I knew I was going to be toast if I didn't get some sleep, but it wasn't happening. I was obsessing about everything I had to do the next day.  I knew the venue had main speakers we could play through, but I thought I had to bring everything else - monitors, a mixer, mics and cords - and set it all up.  I was thinking about all of the schlepping, the setting up, dealing with things that I don't really understand and don't have a talent for. Thinking about it kept me awake for hours and I tossed and turned. When I finally dozed off, I had a nightmare. In my dream, I drove to the Plaza in Ashland with my PA and all my gear and parked near the nightclub. When I got out of my car, I was swept up by a horde of people parading through the streets in costume; it was Halloween in Ashland. I got swept away by the crowd and when I made it back to the Plaza, it had been cleared of cars.  My car had been towed with my instruments and all my gear still in it.  I awoke in a cold sweat and had to remind myself that I had not gone to town yet, my gear and instruments were still downstairs.  I rolled out of bed with the beginnings of a panic attack brewing.

I'm so tired of my tiresome anxieties, tired of my insatiable need to be in control, tired of feeling responsible for every goddammed thing, tired of being everybody's mama.  I just want to show up and play, I don't want to have to do anything else. I just want to focus on the music. Sleep deprivation makes me over-emotional and, as the exhaustion rolled over me, I broke down and cried. I told Sequoia, I can't do this any more, I can't keep performing if it's going to make me crazy and depressed. This has to be my last show.

About an hour later, the sound engineer finally called and told me that I didn't have to bring anything, he had monitors, mics, cords, everything. (Of course I brought extra mics and cords because, hey, I'm a control junkie.) Sound check was late of course, and sitting around makes me nervous, but I was able to sit quietly, breathe, let it be what it was going to be. It was raining buckets with snow in the forecast and one of my bandmates kept saying that the weather would probably keep people away, but I just nodded, smiled and said, "oh well, we can't control the weather."  Then another band mate told me that the bass player was not feeling well and might not show up. It wouldn't have been the first time he pulled something like that and I could feel a panic attack rising in my throat, but I went back to Oak Street, got dressed, put my make up on and repeated my mantra: Let it go. There's nothing you can do. It's out of your control. Besides, if we put on a bad show, what's the worst thing that can happen?  I'll be embarrassed and the bar won't ask us back. No-one will die.

I was going stir crazy in my room on Oak Street so I drove downtown early. It was pouring rain, but there were a lot of people out on the streets and a lot of cars circling the Plaza. With snow in the forecast, I was driving Sequoia's huge 4-wheel drive truck and it's a bitch to park.  I figured I would end up parking several blocks away from the venue but, lo and behold, there was an open space right in front of the bar. It was almost the exact same space I had parked at in my dream.  I sat in the cab of the truck drilling myself on the words to a Bessie Smith song, Wild About That Thing:  "Honey baby won't you cuddle near, let sweet mama whisper in your ear. I'm wild about that thing. Makes me laugh and sing. Give it to me papa, I'm wild about that thing..."

As I sat there, I saw my friends Pete and Sasha and their tow-headed two year old Danny walking down the sidewalk.  They couldn't see me in the dark cab of my truck. I watched as they played with Danny.  He ran up the sidewalk in the pouring rain and they chased after him, then he ran the other direction and they chased him again, all of them laughing big belly laughs. They played hide and seek in a covered alcove, Pete popping out and making Danny scream with laughter. They played in the rain for at least 15 minutes.  It was an expression of pure joy, sweet and completely spontaneous. I thought about saying hi, but I didn't want to break the magic.

After they left, I got out of the truck, and climbed the stairs to the bar. It was packed. People had dressed up and the air was buzzing with anticipation. The bass player showed up. I took a few turns around the room, greeted the people I knew, welcomed those I didn't.  Then, I took a breath, stepped onstage, opened my mouth and sang.

We  burned that motherfucker right down to the ground. It was the best show I ever played. The audience went crazy for us, and we fed off their energy. The dance floor was packed, dancers overflowed into the aisles, and they stomped and whistled after every song. We were on. We weren't flawless by any stretch of the imagination, I made plenty of mistakes, but it didn't matter.  The solos were hot, the harmonies were tight and I was flying. The audience called us back for two encores and wanted a third.  We could have played all night long.

Go figure, right? Strange night.

Needless to say, I changed my mind about quitting. I'm not ready for the rocking chair just yet.  Just gotta remember to have a little mercy on myself.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


The number 57 has few, if any, mystical properties.  Numerologically it is a 3.  5+7 = 12. 1+2 = 3.  As Schoolhouse Rock taught, 3 is a magic number.  Wikipedia tells us 57 is a "semi-prime" number, a designation so obscure that I'm not going to try to explain it.  Heinz made 57 varieties of pure food products.  But, generally speaking, 57 is an insignificant number.   However, 57 has significance for me because it was a deeply significant number for my dad. He sincerely believed that he would die at age 57, based on the fact that his father, my grandfather, died at age 57.

I never met my grandfather, but my dad worshiped him.  His mother, my grandma, was an angry, abusive woman, but my grandfather was a sweet and funny man by all accounts.  I only know a few stories about him.  He had a horse named Mike. He loved that horse and the horse loved him back; they had a bond. When grandpa left for the Spanish-American war, no-one could touch Mike.  For two years, he bucked off anyone who tried to ride him. When grandpa came back from the war the first thing he did was to walk out to the field and whistle for Mike. Mike came running. It was like grandpa never left.

Grandpa was a machinist by trade. He usually worked in the cotton mill that was right down the hill. During the Depression when there was no work at the mill, he tried farming for a year.  He leased some land and brought in a cotton crop. My dad remembered riding to the gin with a load of cotton. When granpa pulled the wagon up, the gin foreman turned him away. Said no-one was buying cotton because the price was too low.  It made a huge impression on my dad; he told that story many times.

My grandpa raised the best hound dogs in Calhoun County. The best of the best was a dog named Buck, a legendary coon hound. Grandpa used to take rich fellers out hunting sometimes, I guess kind of like a guide. One time a rich Yankee offered him $100 for Buck. $100 was a huge amount of money in the middle of the Depression, especially for a man with seven kids to feed, but grandpa turned him down. When grandma found out, she almost lost her mind. Not long after, Buck got bit by a snake and died.

My dad joined the Navy in 1944 and shipped out to the South Pacific from Treasure Island. After dad left, grandpa caught pneumonia and was hospitalized.  He died because some nurse failed to turn him when she was supposed to.  He choked to death on his own fluids. My dad's sister Idelle managed to get word to the ship; I guess she sent a telegram. The message came to the captain who called dad in and broke the news. Grandpa was 57 years old, my dad was 17.

My father always said that he would die at age 57 because that's what happened to his father. He told me that often when I was growing up. My dad was a superstitious soul, and he had a strong feeling about that number. As it turns out, he did not die when he was 57, he died when he was 77.  But, when he was 57. he had a major health crisis. He was suffering from horrible pain in his feet and had other symptoms that were tell-tale signs of diabetes. It should have been an easy diagnosis, but the quack doctor that he and my mother patronized in Centralia didn't even bother testing him for diabetes. My dad was on the point of having part of his foot amputated before this idiot doctor finally figured out that, duh, maybe he should check my dad's blood sugar. He had to go on insulin immediately and spent the last 20 years of his life in terrible health.  His only concessions to his disease were insulin shots and Sweet 'n Low.  He didn't exercise, he didn't change his diet, he kept sneaking his cigarettes and, as a result, he suffered terribly. The diabetes spawned heart disease and other debilitating problems. He was in pain, depressed and basically gave up. He became completely dependent on my mom, and she did everything for him: monitored his blood sugar, gave him his shots, took him to the doctor, fixed his meals, sat up with when he had neuropathy pain, jollied him out of his depressions. She even drew his baths and washed his back.  She was his 24/7 caregiver. It wore her down.

I turn 57 next month and I have no intention of dying.  I know full well that shit happens and a lot of it is out of our control. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, I could receive some terrifying diagnosis. But I'll tell you this much: I ain't going down without a fight.  Fuck you 57.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Good Night at the Studio

The beautiful Neza got this video of one of my favorite nights ever at the Hamfist studio. We were just sitting around jamming, but with unusual assortment of people.  It was the only time I ever got to play with the extraordinary Ramiz. God, was it really four years ago?  Time doesn't fly, it fucking transponds like on Star Trek. One second you're in one place and the next second it's four years later.  

I'm grateful for the many, many good nights I've had in that space. I hope there will be many more.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Another song to play at my funeral

The Sisters of Mercy by Leonard Cohen

It's been a long couple of weeks.  The light fades and so does my energy.  We have to do these stupid "ice breaker" questions during staff meetings at work. They're usually dumb, but occasionally amusing, like when they asked what my favorite Halloween costume was and I remembered the time I went as a flapper when I was in the third grade. My mom made a simple sheath-type dress and sewed layers of fringe on it because she had those kind of mad skills.  Everything moved when I walked.  She found me a long cigarette holder and put a candy cigarette in it because, hey, it was the 60s.  It was super cool.  I sashayed around the school carnival for hours, pretending I was smoking and shaking my fringe.

She used to cuss like a sailor when she sewed.  You wanted to steer clear of her when she was sewing.

Anyway, the ice breaker at the last staff meeting was, "What are you looking forward to?"

I had no answer.

Sequoia and I may go on vacation next year, we may visit Arly, so I'm looking forward to those things.  But there's something about these darkening November days that stunt my imagination.  I'm usually all about imagining/anticipating/dreading the future but lately I've been spiraling in an endless slog of now.

I am grateful for the now.  I treasure the now. But, I wouldn't mind a little sweet anticipation.  

I'd like to run into the Sisters of Mercy right about now. I could use some love that is graceful and green as a stem.

Friday, October 30, 2015


It was such a long, hot, dry, smoky summer, I wasn't sure it would ever get cold again.  It felt like the earth had tipped on it's axis and left winters behind. But the light fades and the frost returns. I don't know if we will get rain this year, but the cold has definitely returned. Time to make a fire and dig out the sweaters. Time for chili and wrapping up in a blanket to read a book.

Sequoia and I celebrate 33 years of wedded bliss tomorrow.  Our marriage is entering it's "Jesus year." Scholars speculate that Jesus was 33 in that last year of his life.  It was a busy year, full of prophecies, miracles, betrayals and, finally, an ugly death. Here's hoping our Jesus year is more about water into wine, less about brutal crucifixion.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Nick of Time

The weather report called for rain but I didn't believe it. It has been brutally,  punishingly dry with only rumors of moisture.  But, it's time to start putting the meadow to bed any way so we rolled up the carpets on the deck and put them in the cat shack.  Two hours later, rain, the first in months. Lucky lucky. Bring on the El Nino says I. Let it rain.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Back in the Studio Again

It's hard work, very precise and focused, but it gets a little easier each time I do it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Be impeccable with your word.  I'm pretty good with that, most of the time.  The occasional impetuous curse, complaint or judgement slips out, but I've gotten better about guarding my mouth.  I have had no luck in guarding my thoughts; if the command was to be impeccable with your thoughts, I'd be sunk. My brain is like an anthill that some bully boy has kicked open. It writhes with random, uncontrollable thoughts. I'm working toward  a sense order, peace, impeccability in my thoughts, but I won't achieve that in this lifetime. Right now, I'm just trying to acknowledge the chaos, recognize the negative, damaging thoughts when they pop up and learn to gently let them go. Today, for instance, I walked into the office to find scattered messes everywhere. Some of my colleagues spread a project out across the office and didn't clean it up at the end of the day. My irritation was followed by judgement; if I left out a mess like that, believe me I would hear about it from the bosses. But I recognized those thoughts as ungenerous and counterproductive and let them go.  What do I care? I hid in my little corner and turned my back on their crap.   

These guardian thoughts adds yet another layer of thought to the already crowded field in my brain.  It's getting pretty tight up in there; something is bound to blow.

As for guarding my heart? Not in this lifetime. The best I can hope for is to learn how to better control the outward manifestation of the inner chaos.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Four Agreements

Another season passes and the center shifts.  People come and go, people who were important to me, people I loved and trusted, up and gone before my eyes.  It hurts. It leaves a hole.

I recently came across New Age author Don Miquel Ruiz's Four Agreements: Be impeccable with your word. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t take anything personally. Do your best.

Or, with my editorial emphasis added - 

*Be impeccable with my word. Don't talk shit.
*Don’t make assumptions. Question reality.
*Don't take things personally.  It ain't about me. 
*Do your best, whatever the fuck that is. 

I like that they are perfectly balanced between prescriptions and proscriptions, two things that you should do, two things that you should not do. Most of the Ten Commandments are proscriptions: Do not worship other gods, do not take God's name in vain, do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not lie, do not covet you neighbor's wife or your neighbors good's.  So many thou shalt nots!  The only two commandments that are prescriptions are a) keep the Sabbath holy and b) honor your mother and father. No hints on how one should honor one's parents, nor are there any suggestions for how one refrains from coveting. The heart wants what it wants, right? As long as I don't act on it, why should God care?

I like the Four Agreements if for no other reason than there are significantly fewer of them. You would think that would make them easier to follow, but not necessarily. I struggle with the proscription against taking things personally.  When someone I love cuts me out of his or her life, it's hard not to take that personally. I'm not talking about casual friendships fading away, I'm talking about people I trusted completely dropping me like a used tissue.  If you've ever had a lover leave you with no warning and no explanation, you know the feeling I'm talking about.  My brain whips wildly from one hypothesis to another, trying to make sense, trying to figure out what I did or didn't do.  I am not what you would call a "process person," I'm a solutions-oriented gal. I want to figure out what I did wrong and fix it so things can go back to the way they were.  But, of course, they can't; nothing is ever as it was.  You can never cross the same river twice.

I have to keep reminding myself that I cannot fix something that is not about me. It is just that person's particular fucked up scene, his or her own private Idaho.

I can't make you love me and I shouldn't take that personally, but I do. That desperate desire to love and be loved back is my particular fucked up scene, my own private Idaho.

I opened my heart to you and you broke it asunder.  It will not heal until I close the door. And so my friend, I close my heart to you.   

I gotta quit making friends with people who have personality disorders.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


If the success of a marriage was contingent on a shared, or at least similar, taste in movies, Sequoia and I would have broken up a long time ago. The boy loves horror and monsters. If it has some kind of alien creature or genetic mutation that racks up a significant body count, he’s in.  Extra points if there’s a screaming loud vehicle chase, be it car or space ship.  And of course, explosions; there must be explosions.  Examples of the genre: Alien, Predator, Alien Vs. Predator. You get the drift.

As you can guess, I’m not a fan. I’m more of a costume drama kind of gal. That said, I do love sci-fi, especially the end-of-the-world, post-apocalyptic variety.  Sequoia also enjoys the apocalypse, particularly if it includes flesh eating zombies. I don't mind the occasional zombie, but I'm more interested in doomsday scenarios. What happens when the world falls apart? How does it all break down? Then what?  

Religion developed in response to death, the great unknowable. A woman is alive, now she’s dead. How does that happen? Where did she go? What lies on the other side of that divide?  Each religion has its answer. Not only do they have an answer for how we die individually, each religion proselytizes a vision for how the world dies collectively.

The end of the world scenarios that I find so compelling, be they sci-fi or sacred, are just metaphors for my own death.  They help me to cope with reality; "Yeah, maybe I'm gonna die, but the whole world is gonna die, so..."  Death is the inevitable end of the world for each individual, unless something lies beyond. Each major religion each claims to “know” the “truth” of what lies beyond. Whether it’s the Day of Judgment, the Second Coming or an endless cycle of death and rebirth, they claim it as a knowable truth. A fanatic is someone who is so sure he knows what will happen after he dies that he is willing to die for that belief. Ironic, no?

Dunno why I’m thinking such thoughts tonight. Maybe because it has been a good summer but, like all summers, it is coming to an end. Autumn is coming on and I'm glad. The wheel of the year is turning, as it did before I was here, as it will after I am gone.  The end of the world comes for all of us, sooner or later.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

You're Welcome!

I've received so many cards and messages of thanks for the camp out. You are all most welcome; it is I who should be thanking you. For someone who appears to be an extrovert, I constantly fight the urge to hole up at home and hide from the world. The camp out gives me the opportunity to break out of my bubble. I get to spend time with people I actually enjoy.  I thank you.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Colestine Camp Out 2015

Colestine Camp Out 2015 was one for books, campers. The weather was absolutely perfect, high 80s,  nice breezes, blue skies, we couldn't have asked for better. One week after the Camp Out, the temperature topped 105 degrees and the air was thick with smoke from the nearby fires, so we were lucky and blessed. The food was amazing and ridiculously abundant as always. Many instruments were played, many voices raised in song, and the boys tore up that slip n' slide.  The weekend was right near perfect in my humble opinion.

The new cover photo for this blog comes from Lauren Smith. That girl has quite the artistic eye.  My thanks to many of you for the photos posted below. I rarely remember to take photos and am grateful to those who do. As always, there were many more people at the party than are represented here. How is it possible that I didn't get a photo of Cheryl, my oldest friend in Ashland? How did I miss getting a photo of her daughter Shana, whom I've known since she was five years old? I didn't get a photo of Jenny and her beautiful baby boy Makai, nor Virginia Carol, Phil, Matt, Jeff and many others. How is that possible?  

C'est la vie; the photos are in my head. 

Twenty years ago, Jimmy, Konnie, Sequoia and I bought this piece of property in the Colestin. A lot has changed, hasn't it? I ain't gonna lie, it has been hard. It's still hard. There are a lot of unfinished projects, unresolved issues, uncertainty; there is damage that won't heal. But, after all these years, I'm deeply rooted here. I can't imagine coming home to anywhere else.

Every year for the last twenty years, I have gathered my intentional, chosen family together on this beautiful piece of paradise for feasts, music, games, dancing, drinking, smoking, wild costumes, long walks, late night campfires, wretched excess and reckless abandon. Every summer for the last twenty years, my chosen family has gathered in this meadow to play. So many memories, so many friends, so much family. And so many kids! Cranky kids, clingy kids, wild, free and fearless kids, all loving, all desiring love (although some struggled for appropriate ways to express that desire.)  I rocked the babies, held the toddlers' hands, respected the older kids' burgeoning autonomy while remaining present, available and interested in what they had to say. You know me, I love being around kids (well, most kids, anyway.) They have so little guile, one always knows where one stands. Once won, their affection is genuine and their loyalty absolute.  People say kids are needy, but in my experience, adults are much needier than children. Most often with kids, you get back a lot more than you put in. 

Maybe that's why Sequoia and I work so hard to pull this gathering together every year: so we can all be as little children again, if only briefly.

The Camp Out is hard work. It takes weeks to set up, deliver, break down and clean up. I am so deeply grateful for all the help and support I have received from this community over the years. So many of you have done so much: cooked, cleaned, played music, mixed drinks, rolled joints, hauled trash, led hikes, tended fires, watched kids, broken up dog fights, created art, erected statues, built decks, tuned pianos, set up and maintained a frickin' disc golf course for cryin' out loud and prevented beloved inebriates from falling into the fire (I'm looking at you, Phil.) 

Occasionally over the years I've wondered, what does it all mean? Does any of it make a difference?  All this work to create community; have I achieved what I was seeking? And then I receive a message from Lauren Smith, a beautiful and powerful young woman who has been coming to the camp out since she was in the womb:

Well this weekend marked the 20th anniversary of the Colestin Camp Out. To have been a part of this gathering for twenty years has been such an amazing experience. I was at the first, and I just returned home from the twentieth. I'm so grateful to have had the privilege of growing up in such an beautiful place with so many beautiful people. We have made and will continue to make friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. And, to Stephany and Sequoia, I thank you for everything you have done to make this camp out possible for the last twenty years. You are truly amazing 

And that, campers, is why I do this year after year: to make memories that will outlive me; to create community; to connect. 

Thank you campers.  Maybe we'll see you next year; maybe not.  There's no telling what the future holds. I'm just so damn glad we all got to be here now, one more time.

When the party is over,
and I'm the last one left to survey the scene,
The meadow is exactly as it was
but empty. 
The chairs are still circled on the platform,
drink cups beside them.
A sweet breeze rustles the pages of an abandoned magazine.
I can still see you here.
It's as if your spirits linger,
As if you never left,
As if you never leave.
So mote it be, campers,
So mote it be.