Monday, October 25, 2010

Who's Your Farmer? Who's Your Friend?

We know who that is! Our great friends Dave and Sasha Purpura, the farmer and his wife. (His wife? She said it, not me.) It's the end of the vegetable season and Plato's Harvest is in hibernation 'til spring. We can't wait for our Thanksgiving turkey (pictured here, bottom photo, third bird from the left), then we'll spend the winter eating Spaghetti-O's from a can and dreaming up crazy ideas for next spring's garlic scapes. Hooray for Sasha and Dave. Thanks for a great year, but more importantly, thanks for having the courage to follow your convictions!

Friday, October 22, 2010

View from the Corner Office

I swear: People kvetching about the price of a quarter of "Purple Haze" in America's Hometown is far more interesting to me than a discussion about the golf course in Palm Beach.

And that's why I picked the place I did last week, when I searched all over town for office space. See, my writing and editing business is growing, and it was time to move the biz outside of the house, in an effort to separate work and life. I looked at four places, and ultimately it was a choice of a cubby in a fancy office building with posh, fleur-de-lis embossed carpet, or a corner office with this view. The choice was obvious. Check out the view, left.

I had an inkling that some of the town's traveling people might hang out near the office building (the giant NO LOITERING sign on the window was the hint) but just didn't realize how juicy the conversation was going to get. The vocabulary: stunning! The stories: racy!

Then the rain came. The skies opened up, the thunder boomed, and the guys continued to sit there under the very small overhang, and jokingly shout to God, "You don't scare me!" I added, "Actually, could you send them a raincoat?"

While I'm warm, dry, and worried about how to pay for an office safe from the elements, there are some people who are actually paying attention to the elements. They're getting rained on, they're getting pounded by them, and not even scared--or so they say.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Really? It's been two weeks?

Oy, sorry. Two weeks? It's been two weeks? I have written a number of posts in my mind, but alas...

Mostly I wanted to tell you about how the most memorable day of the fall was spent not apple picking, not wandering in a pumpkin patch (we did both of those things) but lying by a river with my daughter, staring at the clouds.

So gorgeous... the sky...the autumn sun baking our skin, the crisp breeze ruffling our hair...

"Mommy I want to lie on a sweatshirt. Can I have your sweatshirt?"

The clouds.... the way they float so majestically and disappear behind the mountains...

"But I can't get the sweatshirt RIGHT! FIX the HOOD!"

The painted trees: forest, gold, amber, rust...


The cerulean sky, the distant sound of the Connecticut River rolling daughter and I, lying on the grass in Vermont.

"MOMMY, can we go HOME NOW?"

And still, I tell you, it was the most memorable day of fall.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mud-Scrubbing in a Princess Dress (Key of A Major)

Yesterday, it poured for hours, day 3 of an early autumn nor'easter. It was the kind of storm that chills you to the bone and lingers 'til your brain is raw.

Soul Fry had a mid-afternoon fiddle lesson on Cape Cod, 45 minutes away. We had spent the whole day indoors, rearranging closets, going through old clothes, pretending we were princesses and queens, reading books, rearranging the princess's chambers. It was hard to get out of the house. And the rain came pouring down, filling the gutters, driving rivers under the swingset, pooling in massive ponds at the bottom of the hollow. Until the very last moment we had to leave, I considered canceling, but with great restraint, finally forced us out the door to much tantrum hubbub (myself included).

The whole drive to Falmouth, I cursed the distance and rehearsed how I'd tell the fiddle teacher, my great friend Nikki Engstrom, that we just can't do it anymore. Too busy. Too far. Too young. Too broke.

But when we got there, seeing my music buddy lifted my spirits immediately. Soul Fry began her lesson at rest and statue position, effected the perfect bow hold, and then proceeded to exhibit her one-ee-and-ah stop-stops on the A and E strings. Then, she learned to sing and play a seven-note scale in the key of A. My heart soared.

Sure, we could find a Suzuki teacher nearby, but Nikki's our buddy, and she plays FIDDLE, not violin. A terrific teacher who'll teach Soul Fry to play Twinkle Twinkle, the Hundred Pipers, and the Kesh Jig. Who ELSE would we have teach our girl but Nikki? Okay, distance bedamned, we're in.

The joy was shortlived, for next up, it was off to Plato's Harvest to pick up our weekly farm share. Grumbling the whole way, again. Who wants to do all this driving, just to get a bag of veggies? Too far. Too broke. Too fussy. Too much. Next year, I said, I'm going to have to tell Farmer Dave we can't do this anymore.

Then, we got there. Dave was his usual bouyant self and the rain kept pouring down. While I filled my farm bag with greens and potatoes, Soul Fry refused her raincoat and ran along the fence with the turkeys, sheep, and goats, getting completely soaked but insisting it wasn't time to leave yet. Her sneakers were caked with mud, yet not a whine was heard.

Farmer Dave said Farmer's Wife Sasha was in Boston, listening to a slow food guru speak at Harvard University. We joked about self-satisfied organiques in Cambridge who'd go listen to someone speak about slow food, but none of whom had shown up at the Harvard Square Farmer's Market in the rain the day before. It had been a long day, Dave said. Too rainy. Too long. Too slow. Too many teens in rubber boots and microminis.

A few years ago, Dave and Sasha gave up their lucrative day jobs to start this farm, and while it's been very successful, you can be sure they're not eating bonbons all winter in the offseason. No, they're eating squash--three meals a day, every day. Because that's what they grew, dammit. And here he was, a successful farmer, standing in the rain, looking miraculously happy, joking lightheartedly about the people who were warm and dry at Harvard.

Good things don't come without bad things. Most definitely, in order to appreciate when life is just too too--too good, too thrilling, too cozy--we really need to experience the in-, ir- and un-. Inconvenient. Inelegant. Inefficient. Irrational. Irregular. Unprofitable.

The best part is that somewhere in that in-ir-un world, life can at times be just too much fun.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Insomnia Cure #467: Pick Up the Phone.

I spent the week of Sept. 17-26 awake. Sleepless.

On Friday, the 17th, we were waiting for final mixes of our upcoming CD from Rob, our engineer. Previously, we'd heard the first pass at final mixes, made a few suggestions and requests ("More bass on the drum in 'One Last Cold Kiss,'" "A little more flute on 'The Dancer,' "A little more punchy on 'Sixteen Jolly Ravers' and a tad less trumpet," etc.) Our engineer extraordinaire Rob had done it all that week, and was preparing new mixes for the next pass. That night, Rob texted me at 10:00 pm to say, "Come on by and pick up the new mixes."

I was on the way home from a rehearsal with my buddy Salil when he called, and just passing by the highway exit that would lead me to the horse farm/studio. So, I begged Salil to take a left, and off we went through the wilds of Middleboro to get the new trunk of myrrh and frankincense.

Of course we couldn't wait til I got home, so we popped it into the car player immediately and began to listen. My excitement quickly changed, the open happy brow became furrowed, the good posture curled to fetal. The bass was too big and muddy, the drums too prominent. I could barely hear Steve's voice on the first song. I frantically toyed with the bass and treble controls on the stereo. Not much changed. Neither Salil nor I said anything for awhile, then Salil turned it down and looked at me with concern, and in his best Happy Buddha voice, he said,

"Sue... as your friend... I ... I feel I have to tell you... those drums... I ... I don't know if they work for this piece..."

The world came crashing down. We were supposed to be done. And now it all sounded like crap. What do to? I'd ask Steve. I brought the CD home, gave Steve his copy. The next day, he drove to Boston with the CD playing and said that when he got there, his ears hurt. The drums and bass had come way up, and the delicacy of the CD was gone.

I spent the week panicking. Everything sounded terrible and in-your-face. How was I going to tell the engineer this? He'd been working with us for a year, and had been so meticulous all along to make everything just perfect, and now at the end... how could it have turned to crap? We'd have to ask him to look at every track again, start fresh in the mixing. It seemed too much to ask of someone who'd been so generous with his time and so consistently attentive to the most minute detail. I felt terrible questioning him on his judgment, as he's been an engineer for more than twenty years. He was going to get so frustrated, we thought, and this project was already taking too long. He had just bought another large professional audio business, and working around the clock and on weekends to finish up his studio projects so he could focus on the new business. He had already told us in July that he needed the whole thing done by August... and here it was, the end of September, and we're still asking for changes?

"Oh God. Will this be the end of a friendship?" I asked myself every night as I started into the 3 am darkness. For ten days. What are we going to do? I had anxiety. Who would think that something so small as an artistic creation could cause anxiety like this? Well, it does, for those who have nothing else to worry about, because the rest of life was going just fine. (Well, that is, if you aren't simultaneously looking for health insurance that will cost almost as much as the mortgage, and also making a decision about whether or not to go back to work full time. But those things are beside the point.)

So... Rob had said give it a week, and call me on Monday. The Saturday and Sunday leading up to it, Steve and I had long conversations about how we'd approach this sticky problem. How would we tell Rob that his new work was, well, not what we were looking for? I even got defensive in my kitchen play-acting. Over our morning tea, I'd say, "I mean, he made changes we didn't even ASK for. It's not OUR fault." Of course, I'd never be like that to him directly, and I wasn't even angry, but one's kitchen table does offer a certain safe haven for haughty fantasy conversations. Plus, we love Rob and I can't imagine being angry with him--though I'm very good at imagining everyone else being angry with me. (No, Ellen and the Great Rudini, I'm not Jewish. No, Brett, I'm not Catholic. I'm not even Irish!)

We finally got a plan together, and at 8 am on Monday, I went to the computer to set up a meeting with Rob. This was too delicate for a phone call, or for email. First checking my email, I immediately found a message from Rob with subject line, "OOOOOPS." I opened it and found this message:

"I had a chance to listen to the mixes last night, and I realized there was a small problem. A compressor I was using on my last session was somehow still inserted when I bounced the mixes... If things sounded didn't sound right, that is the reason... sorry. I'm going to the studio tonight, and will start bouncing the mixes, correctly this time! "

He had just finished a monster pop/hiphop style record that was destined for the hit circuit. You know, big, punchy drums, lots of bass, a vocal that's slightly buried under the more danceable parts. He had mistakenly used a compressor from that mix on our CD. Easy to remove.

The brow reopened. The round, hardened object that had once been my solar plexus began to slowly expand like a dry, hard sponge encountering water.

Imagine. There had been a mistake. Our genius friend Rob had make a mistake? That had never seemed a possibility.

And all that worrying for naught.

The lesson was momentous: All of it this could have been solved ten days earlier if I'd just picked up the phone and asked.

This is a lesson that I may never need to learn again: If it's bugging you that much, then pick up the phone and solve it.

Thank you, Misfortune, for your unexpected bounties.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sundays on Patuxo-Hibernia Cruise Lines

Last night, at high tide, the waves crashed over the back deck of Pilgrim Sands Motel and soaked the windows we were seated against as we did our now-weekly-forever Sunday gig.

We didn't mind; we all sat in the comfy chairs and stared at the crackling fire, drinks in hand. A new friend, Karen, said to me, "The ocean, a fire, a drink, and Irish music on a Sunday night? WHERE ELSE would I want to be?"

I had to agree. Sunday nights have been terrific. This is the first regular and local gig we've done in a long time, and I must say, it has been really fun. We've seen old friends, met new ones, welcomed our family, including some we haven't seen in years, and talked at length to travelers staying at the motel, who can't believe they're hearing Irish music and sitting so close to the ocean that they might as well be on a cruise ship.

After the performance, four of us went outside and stood on the deck to watch the crashing waves. The tide had receded by an hour, so the deck was no longer submerged, but the wind was whipping and we had to push hard to get the glass door to open against it. Once outside, we stood not far from the door-- just in case--and waited for the big wave whose spray would fly fifteen feet in the air and create a "wow!"

It came. We got showered.

Driving home with the Folkmobile packed to the gills with instruments and gear, I could still smell the salty sea on my clothes, my skin.

This, I thought, is what I do this for.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

This is not the time to write, but...

I just want you to know: I'm not mad at you. Seriously. It's just that I haven't been writing. Don't we all get out of the habit?

It's not you. It's me.

Here's the thing. Next time you're wondering what the heck is up, do this for me: Pick up the phone. But don't do it for me. Do it for you.

Why? Because sometimes we forget that things happen to other people when we aren't looking.

In the silence, things have happened. Old grudges have subsided. Persistent neuroses have abated. CDs have been finished. Innumerable witty e-mails have been penned. (Just not to you--but it's not you, I promise. It's me.) Midlife crises have been resolved. Books have been finished. (Not mine.) Self-denigrating apologies have been ceased. New shoes have been procured. (Not mine originally, but mine now. Oh God. I have Prada. Something is rotten in Denmark.)

In short, a whole new unapologetic world has opened, and why?

I have absolutely no idea. Which is really the best idea of all.

Stay tuned. Something interesting may happen if you do.