Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sam Amidon

This video is not from last night's show at Club Passim, but it's close enough. This is one of my favorite songs that he does. Last night he messed up the lyrics and had to stop and start again, which made everyone laugh, and that was a good thing for me, 'cause I was starting to cry.

I first saw Sam a few years ago, in a performance at the MFA in Boston, along with Nico Muhly, Nadia Sirota, and Doveman. It was one of the most exciting concerts I had ever been to. Years and years ago, Nico was in choir with me, so it was really nice to see what great things he's been up to in the intervening years. To hear him play so beautifully, along with his very talented friends, was really a treat.

I found out, completely by chance, that Sam was coming to town, and I bought tickets and took Phoebe. Sam is every bit as good now as he was at the first concert. His voice is unusual, and so is his approach to the music. How does one manage to sound so coolly detached and intensely expressive at the same time?

Phoebe and I arrived way early for the show, and while we waited for our supper to come, of course I kept myself busy. I am now well on my way with the first sleeve of Grant's sweater. The sweater will have some lovely Sam Vibes stored up in it. Very appropos, as he and Grant are both magickal in their own unique ways.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Freak Out!

I guess I have been a little more anxious about hubby's cancer situation than I realized.

Today was the post-op follow-up, and he is now happily without catheter and pee bag, and feeling more like himself again. It's a clear night, and he's planning to stay up late with his telescopes. Two more weeks at home, and then most likely, he'll go back to work.

He had one of the best surgeons in the prostate business working on him and got excellent care, but for an office visit, you wait a long time past your scheduled appointment time. I knew this, and planned accordingly, and brought Grant's "Europa" sweater with me to work on. The appointment was scheduled for 11:45, and we didn't end up leaving until 2. Not a problem for me; I had my knitting.

It astounds me, how many people go to a doctor's appointment with nothing to do, as if that will somehow guarantee that they are whisked into an exam room instantly upon arrival. So, I got to hear a lot of spoiled brat grouchy people bitching their heads off. Here they are, in Boston, being treated by one of the best urologic surgeons in the business, and all they can do is bitch about how long they are having to wait. And of course, these folks are empty-handed. No books or magazines to read, or enjoyable craft to occupy mind and hands, just a bad attitude and a sense of entitlement: "How dare you keep me waiting???"

I was very, very glad I had my knitting. Gran't sweater kept me company through waiting for Keith's surgery to be over last week, and it kept me company the day after when we were waiting for Keith's release. It has kept me calm for a few precious minutes each day at work, on my breaks and at the end of lunch. And today it kept me content, despite my being surrounded by grumpy people who wanted to do nothing but complain.

There were a couple of bright spots in that waiting time, though. One lady, also a knitter, came over with her sock project and wanted to know about what I was working on, and asked for a couple of pointers on how she might improve her own knitting. It was so refreshing to talk with someone else who knew the "lingo." I.e. when I said I prefer using a long circular needle and the "magic loop" technique for sock knitting, she knew exactly what I meant. I even said "circs" instead of "circular needles" at one point, and did not have to explain myself. She was very sweet, and I hope she and her hubby got good news from the doctor today.

See, sitting there, I forgot that the doctor is a urologic oncologist. Everyone in that waiting room either had cancer, or was being touched by it through a loved one. So, maybe I can understand the grumpy people a little better, based on that. I just wish they could understand how comforting it would be to have something to distract them while they wait.

For some reason, all the nurses kept apologizing to me for the long wait. Maybe because I looked happy with my knitting, and unlikely to bite their heads off? And when one of them had a minute, she came by to feel up the sweater and ask me about it. I was wearing my "Fraternal Twin Europa," which was my first prototype for Grant's sweater and is knitted from the same yarn. I got a lot done, and felt very peaceful until hubby finally came out and said the nurse told him he could not drive home. OK, well, it was 2 o'clock, and I figured traffic wouldn't be too bad, and I could handle it.

First nerve-wracking thing was getting out of the parking garage. The one we use when we go to Mass General is confusing at best, and I loathe driving in it. Then, since hubby loathes my driving, he kept giving useless driving advice, loudly, then got mad when I barked back at him.

Then we got out of the garage and landed in three separate traffic jams on the way out of town, one of which was in one of the tunnels of the Southeast Expressway. Driving in tunnels frightens me at the best of times, so by the time we hit the exit for the Mass Pike, I was swearing like a sailor, and inviting everyone who tried to cut me off to s*ck my d*ck. (Funny notion, that, since I don't have one of those. But I guess imagining I did made me feel more up to the challenge? Who knows?)

But from the time we left the hospital until we were well west of the city, I was literally shaking all over, and couldn't explain why. I've driven in bad traffic before. Why did it rattle me so much this time?

And then it occurred to me that there was a great deal of momentum and energy behind that shaking. I'd been holding this whole cancer thing in since November, trying to be tough and a good sport, and pretending I really wasn't nervous about it, when of course I was.

Hubby got a clean bill of health today, but also the sobering news that it's a good thing he dealt with this as quickly as he did. The cancer turned out to be more aggressive than the doctor originally thought. Luckily, it was all contained, and excising the prostate fixed it. No radiation and/or chemo will be necessary. Life can go pretty much back to normal.

Hubby can drive short distances, so had no problem with driving us home after lunch at a local Mexican place. I rarely ever say I need a drink, but today I did, and when the waiter asked if I wanted a small margarita or a big one, I ordered the big blue one. It did a lot to reduce my tension, but considering its size, the effects didn't last too long. My daughter and I went out and did some grocery shopping, so she could make one of her vegan extravaganzas tomorrow night, and by the time we were through with our side trip to the "Whole Paycheck" market a few towns over, I was completely sober again, and able to drive home. (My daughter had done all the rest of the driving up to that point, and wanted to eat on the way home from the market, so she had her supper while I drove.)

Much as I hate how much extra time and money it takes to go to "Whole Paycheck," it was worth the trip. I just had a sample of the vegan pesto she's making to stuff into the "tofu steaks," and it was fabulous. A little heavier on the garlic than I would be inclined to make, but still very good.

I'm hoping that the sun is finally breaking over the horizon for real, and I can count on having a clear, trouble-free path for at least a little while, though the next headache -- applying for Ma's spot in a local nursing home -- is not going to be a picnic. We don't have a great relationship and never have, really, but I still hate the thought of putting her into one of those places. Perhaps it's wicked of me to say, but I wish she would just quietly pass in her sleep some night soon, and never have to go anywhere near the nursing home.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


It has been a long, long day, but it looks like everything has turned out fine for hubby. Doc says he found no unpleasant surprises, and is pretty sure he got everything that needed to go. Pathology report should confirm this for sure. Not sure how long it will take them fully analyze that pesky prostate, but maybe by the time we go in for the follow-up appointment next week?

Hubby is sore and tired, and me, I'm dead exhausted but still a little too wound up to sleep just yet.

I knitted like a fiend for hours today, and am nearly up to the underarms on Grant's "Europa" sweater. Funny thing, but I had hoped to camp out alone in a corner of the waiting room, eat my lunch, knit, and listen to music. After an hour or so, though, some ladies came and sat with me and asked all sorts of questions about what I was doing. They wanted to pass my finished sweater around and feel it and look it over. Then, while they were at it, I handed around my Quincy hat -- the one I made from the beautiful yarn Grant bought me in Serbia last year -- and I told the story about the yarn, and how I thought it was probably hand-spun, and what a wonderful surprise it was to find it in my mailbox last May.

Since I chopped my hair as short as I did last week, I have really been appreciating that hat! It pulls all the way down to cover my ears, which get very cold very fast, now that there's no hair to keep them warm. The hat is perfect for keeping them toasty until Spring is really in the air. (Last Monday's temps were a mere fake-out.)

O, I think I should try to get some sleep now...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

John Cale

I was reminded yesterday of yet another semi-obscure musician whose work I have always loved: John Cale, formerly of the Velvet Underground. I'm really not familiar with his entire oeuvre, just mainly the VU stuff, a couple of solo albums, and Songs for 'Drella, the tribute he did with Lou Reed, in honor of Andy Warhol. I'm not what anyone would call a big Warhol fan, beyond being very grateful that he gave us the Velvet Underground back in the day, but the tribute album is stunning, with Reed and Cale at the tops of their respective games, both musically and lyrically.

John Cale has an uncanny ability to write the simplest, prettiest songs with the most shimmering accompaniments, and I forget that if I haven't listened to him in awhile.

Back in October, on a Halloween show I recorded so I will never forget it, Malcolm Tent featured a song of Cale's called "Ghost." I had never heard it before: a sweet, baroque-sounding gem, telling, obviously, a ghost story. It utterly captivated me, and I went around humming it for days before I decided -- hey! Why not google around and see if I can find out what album it's on? Maybe the rest of the album is just as good, or better.

The album in question dates back to 1973, and is entitled "Paris 1919." Every song tells its own story, and the musical arrangements all have that sweet, pretty, chamber orchestra sort of feel to them. It is beautiful, charming, delightful, utterly captivating as the one song which was my introduction to the work.

Yesterday after lunch, I found myself filled with a longing to listen to the whole album, so I cued it up on my mp3 player and turned to the work at hand.

One song in particular spoke to me, so strongly I grabbed a post-it and a pen and wrote a note to myself so I wouldn't forget: find lyrics and tab for "Hanky Panky Nohow." The chord progression sounded simple, and so eloquent and lovely in its simplicity. But such an obscure piece! It would be a miracle if I could find it.

But I did find it, on my first search, and since the chords were not ones I knew off the top of my head, another quick google gave me all the information I needed. The chords are indeed simple, yet sound so sweet and elegant, and it's under my fingers already: so satisfying! Now, all I have to do is memorize it.

I wish I could do the song in the original key, as it sounds so rich that way, but my voice will not go that low, and if I sing it up an octave, it sounds too "girly" for my tastes. I want it to sound deeper, richer, huskier. I was afraid it would sound silly with a capo on the 6th fret, but it doesn't.

So, there is another gorgeous song I've been gifted with this week, along with "Dancing Barefoot" and "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You."

I have played so much this week, my calluses actually have grooves in them, and my forefinger is starting to blister from messing around with barre chords. I really never thought I'd see the day when I would even attempt barre chords, but now I am actually playing some. I feel like I have made a lot of progress in this past year.

And I love my new Ibanez so much, I'm thinking I have to give it a name soon....

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It Was Time...

I was thoroughly sick of my hair, and there was more than a foretaste of Spring in the air yesterday. Too many curls and weird hat hair as a result of letting my hair grow out since November.
"Between 1/2 and 1/4 inch," I told the stylist, "and I'm serious."
Usually, they don't listen, and I emerge from the salon with my hair much longer than I wanted.
Not today.
Not only had I been displeased with the way my hair was behaving, but I felt as if, symbolically, cutting away as much as possible would free me of a lot of the stresses I have been carrying in my head since mid-November. A lot of stresses and emotional trauma. I am more than ready to emerge re-born.

I am also more than ready to kick Ol' Man Winter out of my life for another year. (I realize that's a little unrealistic. But to be free of him until, oh, let's say, next December, would be awfully nice.)

Now, it would be nice to have a little supper, enjoy the rest of Malcolm's show, knit a bit, and then play guitar for awhile. Can't wait to sink my teeth into "Dancing Barefoot" again!

Monday, March 7, 2011

There Must Be Some Significance...

So, here I am, just turned 49, and entered into my fiftieth year.

As the result of an e-mail penned after work this afternoon, the Crone Goddess (and I mean that in a good way), Patti Smith, took up residence in my head with two poetical outro lines from her fabulous "Dancing Barefoot."

"Why must we pray screaming?"

"Why must not death be redefined?"

And after a bit I moseyed over to my You Tube account and watched my favorite rendition of this song ever, with just Patti herself, live, accompanied only by Oliver Ray on an acoustic guitar. This performance never fails to move me.

After quoting those two lines to my friend in that e-mail, and watching the video, in which Patti does not recite either of those lines, the simplest thought occurred to me. I could have followed this whim years ago, but didn't think of it.

The video does not show enough of Oliver's fretwork for me to be able to figure out the chord progression. It sounds maddeningly simple, yet it has eluded me since I first picked up my guitar seriously, ten or so years ago. (I was working on a novel about a guitarist. I thought I should have some notion of how to play so I could tell the story with somewhat accurate guitar references, so I picked one up and proceeded to refresh my attempts at self-teaching from my high school days. It sucked, and I don't know exactly why I kept going, but I did, and now I'm not half bad at accompanying myself. It is enough, and satisfies me.)

But from those days until now, I just could not for the life of me figure out exactly what the progression was, or where it should sit on the fretboard.

I've come to the conclusion that there is a good reason for this.

"Dancing Barefoot" is not a young woman's song, and I was a much younger woman when I first sought to play it. I had not been shaped and deepened enough. I needed to be older, perhaps on the brink of Goddess Cronedom myself.

Here I am.

Here is the internet.

Here is Google.

Tablature for "Dancing Barefoot" on the first hit.

As my friend Mal has been known to sing, "It rules to be Old."

Now that I am poised at the brink of Old, I may have this song and possess it, and make it somehow into an expression of my own as life marches on and the road slopes gently downward.

I will never even come close to being of Patti's calibre in any realm, but I will be forever grateful that she continues to uplift me in my later years as much as she did in my younger ones.

The song is Patti's, and can never really "belong" to anyone else, but for some reason, today, in this time, in this place, I have been granted permission to play with it, and to spin it in my own way.

O, I am happy...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Better Today

Actually, I've been feeling better since Friday, but did not haste to deliver the good news, lest it just be the Prednisone talking. I still have some rib pain, can't draw a full, deep breath, and am a bit shaky and weak, but compared to last Sunday?

Oh, yes, so much better! And a good thing, too, since I must return to work tomorrow, on my normal schedule. This would not trouble me in the least if I was not taking Prednisone, which does not allow me much in the way sleep.

Know that sound that high electrical tension wires make in the summer, and you happen to walk near or beneath them and hear? That hyper-charged hum? That is how my body feels when I have to take Prednisone. This is only day four of my treatment course. I have eight days left. However, once I get to the 30 mg per day dose and head seriously towards the final tapering off, I know I will settle into a more normal semblance of being. In the meantime?

Do not cross me. Not nobody, not no how. I breathe fire and all hapless victims are crunchy and taste good with malt vinegar. (I despise ketchup.)

I finally caved in and went with hubby to occupy a space in church this morning, and it turned out to be a good thing to do. He was not as jumpy as he sometimes is, so I was able to settle in for the most part, and stay settled in my own little zone. It had been awhile. I was surprised and rather pleased to note that it seems the final separation has occurred. Listening to the choir music, I no longer felt any pain at not being in the thick of it. My own music has made such a shift, I no longer feel a need to express myself in that old realm. Not to say that the old realm was never of any value to me. It certainly was. It helped shape me, to some degree, into the musician I am in the process of becoming.

But I need to balance my spirituality in a more healthy way, so the prime focus can be one or the other (music) when necessary, but easily shift back if one side is in danger of overwhelming/obliterating the other. To recognize the moment when that is about to happen -- ah, yes! That's the tricky part.

Here is a picture of the sweater I've been laboring over since mid-January: my own design, and prototype number one for a potential sweater for Mr. Hart. I have some suggestions from him now, in regard to his requirements for The Ultimate Sweater and will soon be heading into prototype number two. I am enjoying this. I have not unfurled my designer's sails in a long time, and they are a little bit creaky still, but it feels very good to stretch in this way again.

After the craziness of the last few months, I was in far too much danger of folding in on myself, and I believe the pneumonia had to happen, because anything less subtle would have escaped my notice.

A lot of less subtle things have escaped my notice in recent months.

As my wise friend has been known to sing: "Awake, arise, or be forever fallen."

My voice is returning after this illness. It won't be long before I am flying again.

"Awake, arise," indeed!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Feeling Very Cheated Right Now - RANT!

I keep telling myself it could be worse. I know it could be. But sometimes, no matter how optimistic I try to remain, life just seems an endless sh*tstorm. There is no escape from life, or the storm.

Ladies and gentlemen, I could not even have my modest little retreat to Maine, to relax, unwind, and enjoy.

The first massage I have allowed myself in years had to be canceled because the therapist fell and injured herself. Not her fault at all, and if I ever go to Maine again, I will book with her again.

The ride up was fairly pleasant and less stressful than usual, because I drove us as far as Freeport. Hubby was not pleased, but my response was to ensconce myself firmly behind the wheel, proclaiming: "It's my birthday, and I'll drive if I want to." And so I did, peacefully and uneventfully, straight to the parking lot of Gritty McDuff's in Freeport, just in time to beat the madding crowds. I had a nice pint of Scottish Ale, some perfectly divine fish and chips, and a lovely slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie. After that, I was content to let hubby take over the driving, and broke out my knitting.

Stopped at a couple of favorite shopping spots and found some bargains, moseyed on up to the grocery store in Rockland, bought smoked trout from the smoked fish guy on Route 1, and were then seriously on our way to Stonington, arriving before sunset -- sort of a first for us. We had time for a nice dinner and a nice evening, and in the morning we went off for a few more shopping runs.

Mind, I'm not a recreational shopper as a rule, and neither is hubby, but there are a couple of places we never miss. Reny's. The Big Chicken Barn. And some other antique place on the way to Acadia that we call The Red Barn, even though that is not its official name. Even had time to stop at the co-op in Blue Hill for a few things, including the Tofurky Bratwurst I now so heartily regret, and a brief stop at String Theory to confirm that they were indeed having a Saturday morning knit-in. I was really looking forward to that, and to making a few yarn purchases, since they had some gorgeous new colors I couldn't resist. "But no," I thought. "I'll be good. I won't leave hubby waiting now, I'll just shop on Saturday."

But after a lovely day on Thursday, I began to feel a heavy-duty chill seeping into my bones and joints, and in spite of blankets, extra clothes, and the heat cranked, the chill lasted five hours. Unconsciously, I tensed a lot of muscles good and tight and tried to generate more heat, which didn't work, then started having horrible, intense heartburn that lasted from around 4:30 PM to 6 AM the next morning. It resisted all attempts to be quelled by Tums, and the joint pains got worse, and I went through a couple bouts of what I thought were hot flashes, and basically did not sleep all night.

Friday morning, it began to snow. The heartburn was gone by then, at least, but the pain persisted, and finally worsened to a point where every movement hurt, and I would spend an hour convincing myself that maybe it really wouldn't be so horrible to get up and go pee, was. Every time.

Though I have never been a "not tonight, I have a headache" type of person, and one would think Mr. Sensitivity would know this after nearly twenty-six years, I -- well, I couldn't stand accused. It was more like, curled on my side in a groaning fetal ball accused.

He has cancer and is facing surgery soon. This was supposed to be a romantic weekend, probably one of the last for awhile. I could understand him being a little frustrated -- miffed, even. But could he really believe I'd rather be curled in a groaning fetal ball than playing hide the salami? I mean -- really!

I finally had enough strength to tell him just what I thought of that idea this morning, and he apologized, but what I want to know is, where are the flowers? Where is the chocolate? Oh, well, I guess one can't expect him to do something that has never come naturally to him. And I still don't feel like eating, anyway. I have consumed exactly 2 pieces of pizza (not on the same day), two yogurts, a couple of bites of muffins, a handful of cheez-its, a bunch of popsicles, and some ginger ale since Saturday. Oh, and water, so I can wash down the meds I have to take.

Hubby was all set to scrape me into the car Friday night and drive me home, which would have got us started well after 9 PM, but I refused to budge, hoping I'd be better by morning. I wasn't. So, we left a day early, and I had to eat the cost of the additional day that I was supposed to stay but didn't, and the ride home was the longest, most miserable 6-1/2 hours I have ever spent in an automobile. No knit-in, no yarn shopping, just a box of Nyquil tabs and a hope that the Nyquil would render me unconscious for most of the ride. This might have worked, if not for all the frost-heaves.

We got home at 6:30 on Saturday night, and excepting a visit to the doctor and a brief shower this afternoon (I could no longer stand the smell of myself), I have been in bed.

Nyquil, Tylenol 3/Codeine, and muscle relaxers do not begin to take the edge off the pain I was experiencing. Vicodin and a strong antibiotic are a more successful, if not perfect, combination. What we thought was intially a weird flu is actually pneumonia. It hurts to cough, so I've been avoiding doing so, but sometimes what must come up, must come up, whether we like it or not. Bloody lung mucus is really disconcerting.

I'm supposed to go back to work on Monday, but unless there is some miracle drug they haven't tried on me yet, I don't see how that's possible.

Ever had a charley-horse in the rib-cage? If you haven't, DON'T. If you have, I've felt your pain way more than I would have liked to today. Especially festive when it wakes one from a Vicodin-drenched sleep at 6 AM.

I hope there's some improvement tomorrow, 'cause if not -- well -- it's good thing I don't have an obliging friend with a shotgun...

End Rant. For Now.