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.