Sunday, October 4, 2015

A guy at the bar stared dead-eyed at me setting up my acoustic guitar for a few minutes before finally asking which Ozzy songs we'd be playing. I waited for a smirk. The smirk never came. We opened with a country song and never saw him again.

You can bet your ass that we played the "Crazy Train" riff many hours later, though.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thanks to everyone who came out to A Few Moments With Marcella! Your purchases helped to facilitate a $500 donation to Fanconi Anemia Research Fund on behalf of Chellie's Challenge






Thursday, August 27, 2015

I wanted to see something new today, so I drove up Mount Mitchill. I heard rumors of an impressive overlook that turned out to be true. I pushed my zoom lens to its max and took a picture of Manhattan with Sandy Hook, New Jersey underneath it. Then I checked the boaters in Sandy Hook to make sure they all had their clothes on. (They did.) Before I left, I gave a gallon of water to a hiker I met in the woods.

The energy I put into spontaneous exploration today tells me that I am on my way back to good health. I’d been sharing a cold with my girlfriend for weeks, often finding that our symptoms and their severity were oscillating at exactly the same pace. Romantic, eh? It was so long-lasting that we got into a habit of just asking for a percentage.

“I’m 90% today. You?”

“73% and rising.”

After a few weeks of prepping, promoting, and discussing my art show, I was starting to get fatigued by all the time I was spending in the past. This Monday, I jumped - like a six-year-old jumping into a puddle while wearing his dad’s work boots - back into the present.

I went to my girlfriend’s thesis defense at Princeton University and then immediately met her whole family at the after party. By the evening, I was mildly drunk and serving as her family’s portrait photographer in a restaurant on Nassau Street.

Eras overlap. Tuesdays in New Hope used to be a time for Marcella and I to connect with Aunt Donna after the death of Uncle Joe, but at some point, it became a new ritual. A new set of memories that I now treasure.

Sometimes a whole week disappears from your memory, but a fifteen-second exchange sticks with you forever. I’ll never forget the brief moment next to Love Saves The Day when Donna and Joe happened to be on the same block as Marcella and I. "Joe and I both thought that Marcella was cute and round and Italian. If you remember, I gave her a big squishy hug and Joe beamed."

It’s a few days later now and I’m at Indian Rock in Bucks County. Some of the lovers’ initials are in Wite-Out and some of them are carved in stone.

I honk at bad driving, especially when I’m forced to slam on my brakes. Hell, I honk at cigarette litterers if I’m feeling like a jerk that day. This particular guy stopped his box truck in the middle of the road and got out a bat. I’m pretty good under pressure. I didn’t back away from him; I just started filming him. It could be that I’d be playing in The Great Jam Session In The Sky right now if I’d pulled out a gun. Because I was pulled out a camera, I was able to describe him and his truck with detail, and relay his license plate to the local police. I shot pictures, not bullets.

I got pretty calm after laying low at Pam’s and Scott’s house, playing Marcella’s old guitar for a little while. I needed to burn off more of the stress, though, so I spent a while making Nolan’s first music video; footage I shot in New Hope that day with some music that Shawn Kilroy passed along to me. It is delightfully insane.

The next day, though, I found that I hadn’t quite emerged from this new fog. I got myself into a funk thinking about the various friends - and even one grandma - that dropped out of my life when Marcella was sick, and another who’s flaked out more recently. In the end, my girlfriend and my pal Jenni both helped me realize that there’s no upside to wanting things from people who are not capable of giving them. It’s better to focus on the people who showed up to the party than to worry about the ones who didn’t.

Everyone has reasons to be bitter, Bertrice, but bitter is basically boring, Barb. Better, Betty, to look for the sweet…

Biff.

I wonder how many of my peers are afraid to deal with death. All I know is that the bulk of the great conversations I’ve had since Marcella died have been with people older than me. With notable exceptions.

I welcome this growth. This very hard, very valuable growth.

Once again, they’ve painted over the art and graffiti at Tyler State Park’s Walking Bridge Of Truth. They replaced a public art piece (hard to find in Bucks County) with the color brown and probably spent a lot of money to do it. Meanwhile, somebody - can’t be sure who - wrote on the freshly painted bridge, “THANKS FOR THE BROWN. NOW WE WILL ADD MORE ART. AND PROBABLY SOME CARTOON PENISES.”

Having been in a time warp for parts of this month, it had barely crossed my mind that I will be in Nashville this time next week. Nashville is the place where I have some of the best memories with my dad, having explored it with him five years ago. I also can’t say enough about how sweet Marcella was to take me there as one of my MANY Christmas presents in 2013. She didn’t know it would be our last Christmas together, but she knew it might’ve been. I found that out later.

She was by my side when I explored the Everly Brothers’ hometown while talking to their cousin on the phone. She was by my side when I woke up on Music Row in an Airbnb apartment that belonged to a music publisher and the son of George Harrison’s steel guitarist from All Things Must Pass, Pete Drake. She walked through a cold winter night with me in search of Johnny Cash’s and June Carter’s grave site. She won the race to find Chet Atkins’ site out in the massive Harpeth Hills Memorial Garden. She drank boozy coffee with me at Loveless Cafe. She even tolerated me drunkenly searching a Nashville supermarket (and a bar) (and two Starbucks) for Don Everly.

Dad and I have a nice collection of Nashville memories, too. The time Neil Young walked past us at Jack’s BBQ. Neil’s unique solo acoustic/electric show that same night at the Ryman. The time we entered the room where almost every Everly Brothers hit was recorded and played Floyd Cramer’s old piano.

Now, we get to make new memories.

Meanwhile, I will keep my expectations reasonable. I will party with the people who showed up to the party. I won’t respond to the bastards by becoming the bastard.

And I will try not to aggravate men with baseball bats. Try.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Driving away from the cemetery today after improvising a few guitar pieces for Marcella on her birthday, I realized: the longer she's gone, the more I see that I've only just begun to discover what her time in my life meant.

Aunt Laura sent one of the best texts I’ve received so far in 2015. Uncle Tom asked their kids Gabbi and Tommy if my art show made them sad.

“No - the opposite, Daddy. It made us very happy.”

Something about the way that the piano in my earbuds is bouncing back and forth between the left and right channel is making me feel excited about the otherworldly majesty of music. Between the preparation of my art show and a long-lasting, nasty cold, I feel disconnected from many of my life’s loves. I miss music like some sort of long-haired, bearded sea creature stranded on the shore and reminiscing about life in the deep sea. I am ready for a swim. In the meantime, pull up a beach chair and let me tell you some stories.

Colleen showed up to the opening reception of A Few Moments With Marcella before I did. I’d gone across town to buy the sunflowers that I thought would be the perfect finishing touch. I’m glad I did, but I was nevertheless astonished by my ability to be late for my own show - a show that had been in the works for about six months. I imagined Marcella, “The Planner,” shaking her head in faux-disgust.

Half an hour after the advertised start time, we were rolling. I’d hung a new print of “Knit Hat Girl” (having spilled gold ink on the first one), laid out a few of my postcards on each table, put out some business cards, and gave the title cards to our curator Karen so she could help hang them. While my mom kindly prepared the flowers for a vase, I went into the café’s tiny bathroom and put on the red, button-down shirt and black suit jacket that I’d purchased with Marcella last year.

Doing a show in someone else’s honor really freed me up to think bigger. I also made peace with the idea that I might lose money on the show. I ordered 11x14 prints from a high-end printing company and printed 100 full-color postcards so people, particularly younger people, would have something to take home whether they bought a print or not. And I’d decided to try to get all the local papers to write about it.

I’d followed Karen’s advice and used my pastel title cards to tell the stories behind the pieces. It was not only a chance to explain the local connections that many of the photos have (i.e. a walk down the abandoned stretch of Route 61 in Centralia or a drunken stroll to the fifteenth floor of the Sheraton hotel), but also the emotional significance. From the very light moment of posing with some dried-up silly string in her tiny hand to the heavier moment of taking her first step onto the beach on Topsail Island, North Carolina after having brain surgery. Adding a pinch of my storytelling skills to the show brought it to the next level and I’m glad Karen suggested it.

After several cups of wine, I settled into the evening. While Mike & Shanna performed acoustic music, I made my way around the room connecting with family, a few strangers, and friends from various parts of my life. Some of Marcella’s closest friends and family were there and that it made it feel real.

It felt even more real the following week when I met her mom at the show. We were soon joined by two of her aunts, five of her cousins, and her sister Daniela. Me and nine Italians at a table; the type of moment I’d grown very accustomed to during my time in Marcella’s life. Although I had to rush to work in Allentown before long, I left with a feeling of satisfaction, as if the show - having opened eight days earlier - had just become official. One day, I brought the mail in and spotted Marcella’s face on the side column of Midweek Wire, a free paper that is mailed to about 60,000 Bucks County residents. Matt Schickling wrote a beautiful piece about Marcella and the show I built around her. He also very kindly mailed me several copies of the Feasterville edition of the paper. 

Appropriately enough, residents of her part of the county got a version of the paper in which she was the cover story! The shot of her tossing cherry blossoms into the night air outside Newtown’s Café con Leche was front and center.

Equally exciting and cathartic was the moment when my girlfriend Nicky and I walked into a drug store in Yardley to look at the Sunday edition of Bucks County Courier Times, another paper with a circulation of about 60,000, the paper I used to deliver, and the paper I used to sell on the phone! I’d read the extensive, moving piece that Gwen Shrift posted on the online edition, but didn’t know quite what the physical version would look like.

I walked up to the newsstand and peeled back section A, overjoyed to find that the top half of section B was entirely taken over by one of the eerily beautiful shots of Marcella beside a pond on a hill in Centralia. Lots of other photos followed on the bottom half of that page and on page two, including a photo that Aunt Laura took of Marcella and I in front of a book store in Carrboro. The article was developed around interviews that Gwen conducted with both me and Daniela, and painted a vivid picture of the struggles and beauty that characterized Marcella’s life.

Putting this show together has put me back in touch with Marcella the passionate, music-loving, gift-buying, occasionally livid, funny, feisty, sensitive, well-dressed, romantic, devoted, idealistic person. She did "sick" with class and beauty, too, but the process of planning and promoting this show has brought back our nearly two years of regular life to me.

Getting to know her again has also made the grieving more intense. I face it head-on. I cry when it's time to cry. Then I feel lighter again. I suspect that I will both grieve and celebrate Marcella for the rest of my life. I want to do many more beautiful things in her name.

Our stories are rapidly sliding into the past and it’s dawning on me that I'm the only one on Earth with the capacity to tell them. I am in the coffee shop in Feasterville where we met three-and-a-half years ago. She didn’t notice me sitting in a plush chair by the front window, so after she ordered a drink, I walked up to the register and flipped through CDs until she spotted me. That week, she represented little more than some post-house-burning-down entertainment. She spent the next few months trying to get and maintain my attention.

Some of our stories have now been published in local newspapers. Imagine if every relationship required an exit interview and corresponding press articles?! Needless to say, Marcella's different - and worth it. Besides, she's not so much an “ex-girlfriend” as a spiritual experience. An ongoing one.

It was during one of these interviews that I discovered two more meaningful aspects of the show. I realized the full-circle beauty of having the show in a coffee shop - not far from the one in which we’d met. I also realized the significance of dedicating my first completely solo art show to her since, on one of our earliest dates, she helped me finish preparing the prints for my very first show, a group show in Princeton.

I’ll never forget the way she showed up to my rental house that day. Everything about the look in her eye said, “I realize you have your reasons for doing things at your own pace, but it has been decided that I am in your life from now on.”

Fourteen months later, she talked about forever again; this time, out loud. I was helping her take a very slow walk around the hospital after she’d had brain surgery. She bird’s-eye-viewed this scene and told me, “I’m gonna marry you one day.”

Medicated? Sure. Brain recently poked with surgical instruments? Sure. But she was saying we were forever. And we are. And not because I’m in her 'forever' Facebook photo, or because we've been written about in some newspapers. Not because I turned out, as she must have suspected, to be strong enough to keep loving her when things became dire. But because our bond is a deep one and it has outlasted her physical life. I know her spirit and influence will be with me forever.

I had to quietly make peace last year with the fact that life with her was day-to-day and that I would likely share my journey and my love with someone else one day.

But I am eternally grateful to have had - and to be able to share - a few moments with Marcella.

One time, I was following her home after a night of music and drinks with 'our' Aunt Donna at our New Hope hangout, the now-defunct Lola. We were driving down my favorite stretch of the road, a part where both sides are wide-open views of curvy mountains that seem endless until it gets so dark that they disappear entirely.

Suddenly, her car is at a complete stop. I slam on my brakes to avoid hitting her. I put on my hazard lights and run up to her on this shoulder-less road to see what happened. Turned out that a deer ran across the roadway and she was positive that she'd hit it. I got out a flashlight and looked all around her car and found no trace of it. “You must have just missed him!”

She was still a little shaky, so I just stood there holding her in the middle of the road under a silent, late-night sky until she felt calm again.

I think of this simple, wordless moment of love when I drive past that spot.

I'm sure a few more moments will come to me.

Happy birthday, Marcella.

Friday, August 7, 2015



Committed to Memory: Bucks County artist remembered through the lens of longtime boyfriend

Matt Schickling / August 7, 2015

When Greg McGarvey met Marcella Di Sandro for the first time, he didn’t know much about her. He didn’t know that when she was 3 years old, her older sister Adriana died from leukemia after battling cancer for the better part of her nine-year life. McGarvey didn’t know that she had her own struggles with skin and colon cancer. He didn’t know that they would date for two and a half years.

He eventually knew all of this, but didn’t think he would lose her so soon.

Di Sandro, a lifelong resident of Southampton, passed away due to complications from aggressive terminal cancer in September 2014 at the age of 28. The cancer was brought on by Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic blood disorder, the same her sister had.

About a year after her death, McGarvey decided that he wanted to remember Di Sandro for the way she lived, not what took her life. The Levittown photographer/musician began to compile a collection of photos he had of Di Sandro. He visited places they went together, channeled all the ways she inspired him and turned that inspiration into art. Those photos will hang on the walls of the Langhorne Coffee House as part of a month-long series titled, “A Few Moments with Marcella.”

“I knew at some point I wanted to tell her story, at least from my perspective,” McGarvey said in an interview at the Langhorne Coffee House. Later that night, he would begin to hang his work throughout the shop in preparation for the Aug. 7 opening. “It gets at the idea that it’s good to celebrate the moments of beauty in everyday life, the moments that are easy to miss otherwise.”

That idea matches the way Di Sandro lived, McGarvey said. Losing her sister so young, battling with cancer and being diagnosed with Fanconi anemia all contributed to Di Sandro’s worldview that the present holds more weight than the past or future.

“She was of the mind to appreciate the beauty of life because she knew it can be fleeting,” McGarvey said.

In one of the photos, Di Sandro is tossing fistfuls of cherry blossoms into the air, in another she’s posing with her hands on the colorful walls of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. Some of the photos show Toms-style shoes, Di Sandro’s usual footwear, in different places the couple had been together.

Other than the theme, there are several other elements of the show that relate to Di Sandro, like timing. It has been about a year since her passing and approaching what would have been her 29th birthday on Aug. 21. There’s also small connections, like how McGarvey and Di Sandro met in a coffee shop and on one of their first dates, she helped him prepare for his first photography show.

Art is often what they connected over. Di Sandro was a graphic designer by trade and was interested in all forms of creativity. For McGarvey, putting together his own show is a cathartic experience, but one he hopes will connect with Di Sandro’s friends and family.

Half of the proceeds from sales will benefit the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund, a cause for which nearly $46,000 has been raised in an online campaign started by Di Sandro’s family and friends.

“I didn’t want to force it. I just needed to do something to honor her memory,” McGarvey said. “She would believe in the message of this show.”

“A Few Moments with Marcella” will be on display at the Langhorne Coffee House, 102 S. Bellevue Ave., for the month of August. For information on Greg McGarvey, visit www.gregmcgarvey.net. To contribute to the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund, visit www.crowdrise.com/chellieschallenge.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Nolan is a pianist now. He was pulling on my guitar’s E string a little too hard, so we switched him to the electric piano that his Great-Aunt Donna gave me a few years ago. So. He’s a pianist now. Pam made a comment that was cute and true - all of his plastic toys suddenly become INVISIBLE when he spots Uncle Greg’s guitar. Perhaps the music gene is in him, too? Perhaps his mind would be blown later in life by the images and videos of Mommy, Daddy, and Uncle Greg playing loud rock music together at John & Peter’s in New Hope.

It gets me thinking about the essence of creativity. I remember telling my Mom and her friend Peggy that I was gonna perform a concert for them. I don’t know what I would’ve sang or how long they stayed, but I know that it was in some mangy room in my childhood home (“The Labyrinth”) and I know that I was several years away from knowing how to play a chord and more than several years away from knowing how to sing. Nevertheless, it was ABSOLUTELY time to perform a concert! This was early; I’ve probably gone on dates with women born after this concert.

I also remember deciding that one of the shelves of my bookshelf should probably have a Christmas scene on it rather than books. Like a snow globe with elements you can touch. I remember the intoxicating sense of purpose I felt while doing it and I also remember my Mom telling me that I can’t use sugar as fake snow because it’ll attract ants. It was an early run-in with The Man who, in this case, was a woman.

While Nolan eyed-up my guitar, I showed Pam how three generations of guitar-playing McGarveys’ acoustic guitars are in black cases side-by-side under my bed, in descending generational order - my 2014 Martin 000-15M (almost entirely paid off, spiritually co-owned by Nick Crocker, and named “Chellie” in honor of the girlfriend who suffered through my long infatuation with this model), my Dad’s 1980s Sigma DM-2, and my Grandpa’s late 1930s or early 1940s archtop Gibson L50 (or similar). Maybe Nolan will play all these guitars one day?

Inspired, perhaps, by The Scientist and her successful, last-minute dissertation at Princeton, I’ve JUST begun promoting next week’s art show. How lazy can one get? Nevertheless, I will be interviewed about the show next week by two newspapers, one of which is the paper that I used to sell over the phone when I was a teenager (and, before that, delivered).

Having hit a rough patch in the creation of a show poster for “A Few Moments With Marcella,” I had the thought: "Marcella, you were a graphic designer; can you help me finish this poster?" A few minutes later, I went back to it and it had these strange gray shapes on it. A glitch or a spiritual collaboration? You tell me. I dug it, so I took a screen shot before it went away, added text, and now that's the show poster.

The other day, I woke to emails from two different empaths. The messages they sent me inspired me to do a little deep-soul diving. I’ve been staying busy - and gratefully so. Working, paying bills, fixing the car, going to Trader Joe’s (my Snack Game is VERY strong right now)… Surface stuff. But what’s happening below the surface?

I’m on the porch, home surprisingly early from a gig. Red flowers in front of me. Over my shoulder, a spider is climbing over the blue moon. The whole neighborhood a chorus of crickets, interrupted only occasionally by the toiletesque sound of manchildren drag-racing around town.

I played a gig on an outdoor stage in Somerville, New Jersey, not far from where I was born. I spent a song or two getting out of my own way: “Do I know how to sing?” “Will anyone come to the show?” “Why are these people texting while I’m singing my ass off in front of them?”

But then that moment happened. I succumbed. I caught the wave and rode it all the way to shore. Suddenly, we had a nice crowd watching, singing, putting money in our tip jar, dancing. It was fun watching strangers react to my songs, not to mention songs like R.E.M.’s “I’ve Been High” which they’d almost certainly never heard before. My voice and my freshly restrung Martin served me well.

My friend Jenny Cat accompanied me on Stratocaster and, thoroughly energized by the power of the music, I couldn’t resist accompanying her on acoustic guitar, slide guitar, harmonica, and vocals during her set. If you missed that gig, you missed some of my best guitar playing. (Maybe I felt more connected to the guitar having bled on it earlier in the day?) I relished in the challenge of writing guitar parts on-the-spot to songs of Jenny’s that I’d never heard before.

We were pushing our voices and guitars hard enough that we could hear them bouncing off the brick buildings on either side of the alley. Natural echo. By the end, I was stomping on the stage in my baby blue argyle socks and unable to wipe the big stupid smile off my face. The crowd let us know that they dug it, too. Even the young lady who sold me a milkshake afterwards complimented me as I tried to decide between rocky road and mint chocolate chip.

Come to think of it, on that stage, I did the deep-soul diving I’d been craving.
And I probably sounded a lot better than I did at that show in ‘80s.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"watching the lightning bugs"

I woke to a corgi’s bark at 5 AM. Inside my digestive tract, it feels like there’s a tiny circus operating, an acrobat doing a neat backflip every few minutes. My weekend plans - on paper - are a series of joyless obligations. I woke up feeling like my hall of mirrors has been replaced with brick walls. Nevertheless, I have arrived in another day. And, hey, the carnival is in town!

The morning sun is rising over the carnival. It’s poking out behind the big brick tower at the nearby church. There’s nothing out here but birds singin’ in the trees, the occasional old person power-walking down the street, a black cat taking a tongue shower, a rabbit hoping that cat won’t notice it. I can deal with the full force of the summer sun, but it’s so pleasant in the hours before it - and the town - have woken up.

There’s something important about loneliness. Craving. Something about your vehicle getting down to the last drops of fuel. Something about appreciating motion more because you’ve had a moment of stillness.

The Scientist and I were driving from Ralph Stover State Park to New Hope with our eyes on the gas gauge. We didn’t know if we would get there. Maybe our dinner at Karla’s tasted better because we weren’t sure if we’d make it. Maybe the booze was more potent.

Ahhhh, there’s that sun, like an aggressively friendly friend poking me on the back of the neck to say “HI HI HI HI HI HI HI HI.” At 7:38 AM, it’s already feeling strong enough to tint my skin.

Last year was the most intense year of my life so far and I did the most writing I’d ever done. I’ve been re-sharing the posts I wrote during that time - an opportunity to revisit them for my own purposes and also to connect them to people who missed them the first time. It’s been rewarding. It’s also made me hesitate to crack open a notebook and write something new. I recognize the silliness of that, but it’s a familiar sensation - my factory being so full of half-finished projects that I hesitate to add something new. I haven’t finished, for example, recording the songs I wrote in 2012 (or, for that matter, the songs I wrote in 2007).

Yet, the wheels are rolling. My next art show opens in less than a month, down the road from Marcella’s house. It will be a celebration of my time with her and will run for a month; it’ll even be open on her birthday.

Sometimes I feel a desperate sadness for her. Knowing that she understood what she was losing is maybe what hurts the most. But more often, what I feel is that I met one of my life's soulmates and experienced our journey together fully and now have her with me in some intangible way for the rest of my life. The pictures of her as a bald, sick person are harder to see now that I don't have the shocked numbness I had at the time, but I want to keep a few of them as a reminder of how brave she was.

My first record is about halfway finished; the finished tracks give me the giddy buzz I’d always imagined feeling if I could record my own songs on my own time in my own way (and while not on-the-clock). Good things are happening.

Still, I crave the feeling of being up-to-date. I will get there. In the meantime, I feel very alive and keep finding myself in beautiful scenes. Here are some things that have happened since I last wrote you.

I mentioned in October that my sister grew a person. These days, he is big enough that he can walk over to me while I’m playing guitar and pluck the strings. Aggressively, even! Yesterday, my Dad (AKA Grandpa) was watching Nolan and I playing and he shared this anecdote about me.

"I asked you if you wanted guitar lessons. You were four or five. You said, 'I already know how to play.' I said, 'usually people use both hands.'"

I might've been playing his Sigma acoustic guitar. That's under my bed now and it was my main acoustic guitar from about eleven to thirty-one. From the schoolyard to Marcella's services. Whatever I am, there are traces of me in that guitar.

Last week, The Scientist and I parked beside the Tohickon Creek in Bucks County. She painted a mini landscape using a small tin of paint and a small notebook. A snake watched her. I filmed some sort of business meeting that some butterflies were having. Then I walked through the water on slippery rocks and seaweed singing R.E.M. songs with my not-yet-paid-off mahogany Martin guitar. “Pennsylvania guitars just COULDN’T be harmed by Pennsylvania water,” I reasoned.

We drove down the road to another park, searching a forest trail for some cliffs she’d read about, but ended up on some beautiful large rocks in the middle of the creek. I tried to gauge how much visibility the nearby cabin and house might’ve had of us and eventually stripped down to some grey boxers and sank myself into the warm water. The little boy we passed as we made our way back up the mountain made me feel comfortable in my decision to not skinnydip. On the drive home, we stopped at Washington Crossing Park in New Jersey and watched the lightning bugs in the otherwise dark and motionless park. I prepared a backstory in the event that we ran into a park ranger or an especially well-spoken deer who was wondering why we were in the park so far past closing time. We were, I imagined, looking around the park for a mix CD called "Julia'z Wedding Jamz" we'd lost earlier in the day.

I came home with filthy pants and shoes and a sense that we’d won that particular summer day.
I haven’t been Big Picture this summer. I’ve been enjoying moments. Train rides. Back scratches. Playing unattended church pianos. Unexpected photo ops. Getting caught in rainstorms. Watching lightning storms from highways. Work has been plentiful this summer and the sometimes-long hours have been good exercises in staying in the moment - the realization that consciousness of the clock can’t speed up the time, but good conversation and a commitment to the work can.

The Scientist has some serious scienceing to do for a little while, so I’m trying to give her space and remember how to be happy alone. Michael sang, “the only thing worth looking for is what you find inside.” I have some books to read and I have some music to record. And then more music to write. And then maybe a book to write. And an art show to create.

I left Willie out in the rain. My close friend Jenni is about to leave the northeast and head to Asheville, North Carolina. She lobbied hard for me to move into another apartment in the same house, but the Delaware Valley still has a hold on me. Still, I look forward to visiting this great little Southern town that so many people rave about. I visited Jenni in New Jersey one last time, reconnecting with the guitar Marcella gave me (which I’d left there in the springtime), eating gigantic diner hamburgers over placemats with an ad that said “Come See Franny!!”, and then taking a walk with her beautiful dog Sidney around her neighborhood, not far from Grounds For Sculptures. A few minutes into the walk, we heard a rooster crow. We soon found a backyard with a chicken coop and talked to the owner about her semi-legal chickens.

“You just had an official Southern Moment before you even left New Jersey!”

A downpour started. The rain was so warm and soothing that we barely increased our speed. I did, however, want to get back to the Willie Nelson book I’d left against my car tire.

The Willie Nelson book looks like it floated to my house on the Delaware River via the Atlantic Ocean. I figure Willie don’t mind the rain. My newest book now looks like it's my oldest book. I’m a few hundred pages in. I look forward to seeing what else he has to say. I look forward to seeing what else I have to say, too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I thought I looked handsome today, so I asked myself out for tea. I obliged. I drove myself to the cafe and then offered to pay. "No, I insist," I insisted. I offered to carry my bag and to read myself a book. I was being QUITE the gentleman and felt like I must've been earning some serious points. I took me out to the outdoor seating by the lake, a romantic spot with lots of ducks floating by. I had a bag of trail mix and offered it to myself, even offering to do all the chewing. My mirrored sunglasses were on the table and, in them, I could see the way I was looking at me. Some kind of examination was happening but I couldn't tell what kind. Was I planning to make a move? Was I judging? Was there food between my teeth? Was it merely the long stare of a man feeling exhausted from the heat? Those big blue eyes were burning holes through me. After about twenty wordless minutes, I went inside to the bathroom and sent a text to me - "what are we?" I stood by the sink awaiting my response.

It was just seconds later that me responded in the most perfect way imaginable - repeating the same question. "What are we?" The question was the answer! The question was the answer!

He took me out to a big field to sit under a tree and watch a waterfall, but when I turned away to take a picture of it, I could see that me was telling our story on Facebook. I found that off-putting. I gave myself a disappointed look and walked away. Me protested for a while before eventually saying, "you'll be back. Me ALWAYS comes back to I."

I bought a cup of tea today.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

My backpack makes a makeshift pillow, propping up my back as I rest on this wooden bridge that crosses over a tiny stream. Feeling like a troll who got sick of the view from underneath and came up for a better view. This shirt reminds me of twenty-seven - new travels, a new look, a new band, new love and a few love-adjacent moments before and after. This wristband reminds me of being thirty and kneeling on the hospital floor trying to swallow some bad news I always hoped wouldn’t come but suspected would. These shoes remind me of being thirty-two and sitting on this bridge writing this sentence about these shoes reminding me of being thirty-two and sitting on this bridge writing this sentence. 

I am alone right now and I like alone. The circle of love keeps getting bigger, though. I liked the toast that Marcella’s dad raised to me on my birthday. These shoes remind me of people I got close to when the world was ending. It’s always beginning and ending, I guess - just depends on how widely you can open your eyes the next day. The forest looks very similar to the way it did when I was eighteen, many beginnings and endings ago. My dad was walking with me and my sister was walking with me. I climbed a tree and asked to be photographed in it. My scalp was buzzed and my soul was, too - high on existence, ready for travel and acclaim and money and sex and a house and love. In the meantime, I was content to walk up a sideways, barkless tree and mug for the 35mm camera. 

I made a ten-second movie of myself spinning slowly as if in a forest tornado. 360 degrees of green things shimmering under the sun. Round and round and et cetera. The trees weren’t spinning; it was my head. Anxiety as invisible as the unrealized ideas it squashes like wildflowers. A jammed conveyor belt. Laying on this bridge helps. And the non-metaphorical flowers smell intoxicating. I’ve been still long enough that the once-startled frogs have reemerged. 

I can hear a forest’s worth of chirping birds as loudly as I can hear heavy, Route One rush hour traffic. Here, you learn to tune it out. Here, you learn to accept that a ten-to-twenty-minute car ride is always between you and nature, that nature closes at 8:00. Here, it takes a lot of effort to experience the nothing that my soul craves. 

Last year, I booked a lot of work that required long drives. It helped burn off some of the stress of the days spent in hospice. I’ve had some pretty wild travel days this year, too, and as much as my camera loves it, my body keeps requesting that I be still. Not inactive, but still. Able to be still. The kind of stillness that, paradoxically, makes you more productive. One of my closer friends hatched a plan that centers around a southern town that sounds like it spins at about 33 ⅓ RPM. Somewhere that wouldn’t require you to escape every time you want a dose of nature and/or culture. There sure is a lot of love up here for this northern troll. Still, it might be nice to take a big whiff of southern air.

It always seems like the wrong time, so I go to sleep in my haunted house and wake up surrounded by ghosts. I try to entertain them. I spend my days trying to put out fires. Or at least contain them. But you can’t put out the fire just by lookin’ at it. I spend a lot of time trying to get back to zero, but zero isn't where I want to go. Sometimes you gotta pick up the pace by going slow. 

For now, I'm going home.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

There are people to my right who are speaking in a language I don't recognize and they have asymmetrical bars of light shining across them from top to bottom, provided by the sun pouring through the cracks in the horizontal blinds.
From the second floor, the parking lot looks like one of those preposterously large lots you see on the train to New York and wonder how many of the people parked there are actually doing something that matters.
I am sitting a table away from the table at which I chatted with The Scientist earlier this winter.
Today, we shared some breakfast sandwiches at my second favorite breakfast joint and then walked the grounds of an old prep school. I couldn’t resist inviting myself into the music building. Surely it must be locked? If not, surely there must not be classes on Saturday? Wrong and wrong again, Shirley. I panicked and tried to come up with a cover story in case one of the expensive students asked why I was there. “Uh, I’m Ben Folds. I’m here for a lecture.”
The Scientist likes chocolate, wine, movies, the outdoors, and a good conversation. It’s very easy to spend time with The Scientist. I haven’t figured out why she spends time with me, but I HAVE figured out that she is easily impressed. The fact that I was once in US1, a local free newspaper, seems to be the thing about me that’s impressed her the most. Then again, she only knows things I’ve communicated to her in 2015, a year so young that I have only just begun to write it correctly on deposit slips on the first try.
The Scientist knows a LOT about the free local newspapers in our area. I’ve started to see her in the context of an 85-year-old woman in a 27-year-old body. She makes more sense that way. The same might be true for me if you adjust 27 to 31 and 85 to 93. I told her that Bucks County has a free paper called Coffee News in which, each week, a miniature version of their cartoon mascot is hidden somewhere in one of the ads. She was excited to hear this in a way more reminiscent of 85-year-olds I’ve met than 27-year-olds I’ve met.
So, anyway, here I am, somewhere in New Jersey, using a lot of commas. The sun is on the side of my face and I’d surely photograph it if I was me but the face was someone else’s. I smell like dirty hair, The Scientist’s roommate’s SPF lotion, and last night.
I’m trying to relax and allow the smile that’s trying to creep up my face to make its creepy way there. I need some healing and I don’t know in what form it will come. A road trip with The Scientist could have done the trick, but it was not an option. So I took one myself. To nowhere in particular - I just got on Route 27 and drove. All that motion made me realize I was in the mood to be still, so I turned around on Old Road and used other unfamiliar roads to loop back to the town I’d started in. I found a comfortable spot with a lot of sunlight. If a cat went to Wegman’s to get a drink and read a David Sedaris book, he would do it here.
The person across from me just said, “you have to either dress like a mobster or a lobster” and then walked away. At least, I think so. I hope that I never figure out if that’s what she really said or not.
I met Marcella three years ago, tomorrow, or rather, the day that tomorrow would be if there was always a February 29. I’ve told that story. But I haven’t sung it. I haven’t written songs lately (other than the songs I’ve written lately) but another batch will emerge when it’s time. There’s no rush when you’re only interested in writing from the heart. My motivation is to send musical postcards to the future from the most beautiful places I’ve visited.
I went to watch a band last night and the drummer recognized me. He’d watched a song that I'd posted to Facebook. I’ve gotten into the habit of hitting Record and just making something up, an exercise in spontaneous creative expression. In this instance, I had a capo on the fourth fret of my Martin guitar, the outside strings tuned down a step, and a cable connecting it to my electric guitar rig (the home version, including a yellow karaoke machine that makes the most satisfyingly disgusting distortion). I played for two-and-a-half minutes and posted it, dedicating it to Sharon Osbourne (her face was on my paused TV screen at the time).
Some people use the Internet as a sounding board for complaints about celebrities, weather, traffic and other things they can't control. (These things seemed especially whiny when I read them in Marcella's hospice room last summer). I prefer the people who use it to share things that pass the “could this be helpful?” test. In my book, music, humor, and art always qualify.
The Scientist and I dreamed of the sandwiches we would soon eat while we watched an impressive amount of dust pass through a strong beam of sunlight cutting through the middle of her bedroom. The dust storm only grew stronger when I picked up my right sock from the floor. A Larry King bookmark stood on the second shelf of her bookcase, cross-armed and exuding equal parts judgment and bemusement. I put on a t-shirt that reads “What Would Regis Do?”
Me, The Scientist, Larry, and Regis. Just a bunch of senior citizens trying to make the most of a cold Saturday in February.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

This book, in all its leatheriness, is weirdly intimidating. I’d better make some marks on it now and break it in. It is a book that came preloaded with North Carolinian love.
My voice sounds good tonight - in the car, anyway. I fall in and out of love with it all the time. I just finished eating some road food by the river. A few nights of subpar sleep and the thoughts of health management become harder to find. They will be back, though, as will sleep.
I have two very close female friends. One is slightly younger than me and relates more to my Larry David side. One is slightly older than me and relates to my Willie Nelson side. I’ve been talking to Ms. Larry more this week. She asked me if I think she’s become more negative lately. I answered. I’ve seen her crash and I’ve also seen her keep moving by setting new, big goals for herself. Continuing is winning, I said. Like me, I also said. She, perhaps, reflected on the forty-seven pounds of subtext in that statement and asked me: how do you manage to stay positive?
I slept on it. (A little.)
Creativity, I said, keeps recharging my battery.
Previously, Pam and I talked all the way home from Manville. Love, family, goals, friends, health. The McGarvey Twins are both doing really well, no matter what life throws at them. We both had our lives change last autumn in ways expected and unexpected. 99/100 of our loved ones went above and beyond, sharing our overlapping pain and joy. 1/100 didn’t. Why spend any time focusing on those ones? I guess there’s enough time in the day. Converting the disappointment into the weapon of anger is a way to feel in-control, but then you’re just another schmuck who thinks a weapon will make him happy. Forgiveness is better. Life is short. Then again, where were you? Then again, forgiveness is better. Then again, where were you? Jeff Lynne said in that song “End Of The Line,” “the best you can do is forgive.” I’d believe Jeff Lynne more if Jeff Lynne was Roy Orbison. But that's not Jeff Lynne's fault. Also, he’s probably right.
As for me, I am here. Gina and Joe are expecting me. I wonder if I will come off more like Larry David or Willie Nelson tonight. You could drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how other people perceive you, so I don’t. Life is short. Just be nice.
It is tomorrow. I am in one of my secret hideouts. In the middle of a nearby town by a big window with a big vase of flowers on the table, attractive people milling around, and jazz music playing a little too loud from the speaker beside my head, assaulting me with beauty.
I arrived at Gina’s and Joe’s house and was love-mugged by their dog Lily. Imagine a bag of English muffins running toward you tongue-first, looking at you with Teddy Ruxpin eyes that seem to exclaim, “TELL ME of these SCENTS you carry with you in your shoes and jeans!!”
I pick up the guitar and everything makes sense. It feels like I’m on a mission. No commander, no objective. Not even a TANK! Just some invisible mission that Congress didn’t authorize. No enemy but my own pull toward suburban complacency, the "dusty five-string guitar in the closet” scenario. Basically, the enemy is TV and junk food! The mission is to create and connect. To be emotionally open. Mentally alert. To create a trail of breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs you can dance to. I turned down beer. How un-Irish! I couldn’t figure out if I was more foggy or groggy and I knew that alcohol wouldn’t help me decide.
We were playing music that I didn’t know - older folk and gospel songs that I hadn’t heard before, and some songs that Gina had written. I was ready to dive into a new lake of sound. I recognize the sound that comes out of my face more and more as time goes by and appreciate it for what it is, rather than wish it sounded more like Don Everly or pre-coke Stephen Stills. I probably should’ve just listened to Nick The Drummer telling me my voice is a good instrument all those years ago.
There we were, brown-skinned Martin guitar face-to-face with a big ol’ Gibson, Gina and her guitar and sweet voice between us, in their great old house in Bristol. The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol, and we weren’t too bad, either. I feel like a grown-up now, so Gina and Joe seem younger than they did when I was a teenager. Gina was the only teacher that played - or even mentioned - Patti Smith in class. Even at sixteen, I recognized that there was something special about that. Last night, I sang harmony with her on a few Patti songs and felt like I was earning some unexpected stamp on my Adult Card. A full-circle moment. We made plans for a gig happening later in the year. We even sang in true, three-part harmony a few times. All of this happened without Lily The Dog noticing.
The people sitting next to me are very smart and it’s taking everything out of me to not listen to their conversation. I will turn on the brown noise app on my cell phone. Technology taking me further into my imagination rather than further away from it - that’s worth all ninety-nine cents. The smart people sitting next to me wanted to know if I’d recommend the Bob Dylan book I’m reading. I said nice things about it, but that hasn’t stopped Bob from leering at me while I write. Some people just can’t be pleased. With my cell phone partially obscuring the book, his eyes are still visible, gazing at me all black-and-white and 1962-like.
It’s last night again. I’m on the sidewalk on a cold February night and I’m holding my surprisingly heavy guitar case. I look down and notice I’m not wearing the green scarf I arrived with, a scarf I acquired this week at the world’s most affordable consignment shop - Bucky’s The Closet in Manville, New Jersey. I resist the urge to walk back up the block to reclaim it, reasoning that it's another good reason to get together for more music as soon as schedules allow.
I had decided that I wanted to spend a little time in the cemetery at St. James The Greater Episcopal Church (Est. 1712). It has a good atmosphere and is more photogenic than the ones populated by the young whippersnappers of The Greatest Generation. I find an opening in the wrought iron fence and enter the brick sidewalk, quickly being obscured in the shadow of the church and the dark of night. While I wait for a bolt of inspiration, I text a picture of myself playing upright bass to Nicolette. Being 5'7", I probably look a little like a rhesus monkey trying to play a canoe, but she seems impressed. She reminds me, though, that I’d asked her to remind me to finish my home recording project, a project I did not work on that day.
New is more fun than old. The next song is always more interesting than the last song. But you do want to take the old songs with you as you move into the future. If you made them with your heart open and your mind engaged, there’s probably something there.
Back in the graveyard, the wind is bone-rattling (get it?) and I atypically go back to the car without taking a picture. I reason that the graveyard will probably be there the next time I’m in town. It's a copout, but at least it's a copout with solid logic backing it up.
I go home, tuck myself into bed, and enjoy some late night talk shows with some Ben & Jerry’s I acquired on the drive home. If you’re keeping score at home, you’ll note that I won the battle and then went to bed with the enemy. Still, there are worse uses for a Wednesday night in the suburbs.