One of my favorite pieces of advice arrived on a clear morning in Great Barrington, MA while drinking black coffee outside at a cafe at around 7:30 a.m. It was an hour before I was going to start recording with the musicians, producers and engineers for Waxwing (my second studio album) at Pilot Recording Studios in Housatonic, MA (a couple miles down the road from the cafe). The advice came from Lisa Daly, my dear friend…. like seriously crazy dear to my heart sister friend …
… as in… we went to college together but sealed our friendship on a trip to Ireland where we gallivanted about the country like two little 21-year-old leprechauns sliding down rainbow after rainbow, from pub to pub, singing and dancing until dawn, drinking Irish flags (it’s a thing that they seemed to be selling American girls: Bailey’s, Creme de Menthe and Orange liquor poured into separate glasses on a little tray) and American Flags (it’s not a thing, but we spent an entire day making it up and an entire night drinking it), having lengthy conversations with donkeys, hanging off the sides of the Cliffs of Moher, staying in B&B’s with two beds but cuddling in the same one every night because we didn’t want to be apart, sitting at a bus station on what we thought was a Sunday (after the Amercian Flag event) to get to a class (the impetus for our trip to Ireland) but it was really Saturday (we hadn’t glanced at a calendar in a week) until the bus didn’t come for about an hour or two (while passersby pointed at us because they remembered us from our absurd night a the pub the night prior; we felt famous) and Lisa finally said, “something feels funny about today”. Turns out that funny feeling was whatever it feels like when you lose track of an entire day and so we showed up a day late to class … crying …
So THAT Lisa had loved our trip to Ireland so much that she moved there after college. But at the time of this great advice on this beautiful morning in Great Barrrington, she had just moved BACK from Ireland, after about ten years there, and moved to the same random town I had landed in — New Haven, CT. I caught her at a time when she was pretty darn free — free of a boyfriend, free of a job, free of children — and I asked her to join us for a week in Massachusetts to film a video log of the recording process for album donors (one of the fundraising “perks”).
So here we are, two sisters of sorts bound across time by that wild trip to Ireland - the place that opened our hearts like a cave blasted open to the sun (I believe I decided to become a musician there) - yes, now here we are, sitting together drinking coffee on this morning for which I had prepped for at least a couple years … or ten …. or maybe since I was a kid … if you include:
dreaming about being a musician as a kid,
12 years of classical piano lessons,
staying up until 3:00 a.m. night after night learning to play music “off” the page,
Dental School Swim Team (first band and first attempt at songwriting),
dropping my guitar and cracking it on my first solo open mic where someone
actually yelled “take off your shirt!”,
learning to write songs,
getting musicians together for a band,
moving through about 30 different “day jobs” so that I could make nothing as a musician at night,
recording first album (ten months after having a baby) with help from parents and savings from day jobs: there’s a saying that goes: “as soon as your’e done recording your first album, you’re ready to record your first album” - meaning, I learned a lot and couldn’t wait to do it again,
moving to New Haven thus all momentum in Chicago gone,
dragging my daughter with me to most “day jobs” i.e. elder care, waitressing, piano lessons ... while still dreaming,
starting a theater company with friends (kind of accidentally) and learning to write better music there,
muscling through a marriage that didn’t really support my music thing,
committing to finding a way to do another album this time with all my ducks in order, finding a producer,
one failed fundraising attempt,
taking a couple months to study up on how to run a successful fundraising campaign,
one hugely successful fundraising attempt,
writing out the charts for the songs,
taking a couple of months to make demos for musicians,
getting crazy awesome musicians,
a crazy incredible studio,
an wonderous friend at my side,
oh my god this is actually EXACTLY what I want to be doing - I wasn't "on my way" to anything: I was there.
drive away from my daughter for an extended stretch for the first time ever
one day to prep in the studio
one night’s sleep
what the F that rhymes with duck.
How did I get here? how am I, a mom from New Haven, CT, about to walk into a studio with about 10 dudes, some that have resumes that run with John Lennon, the Eagles, CSNY, etc.? And they’re going to be playing MY music? And I have 180 friends and family that are cheering me on in this? And I asked them to give me money to do it? (No pressure there. Choke.) Who the hell do I think I am? And I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid? And all the people in the studio have penises and I don’t!!!!!!
So … again .. here we are, Lisa and I, about to head over to the studio and I am totally crying. Big tears. I’m terrified really. Please let me go home. Please let me go home and I’ll get a regular job with a boss and polyester pants and everything.
And Lisa says with the smile of a gorgeous freaking leprechaun on her face, “You know what? My good friend Niz gave me this advice once and I’m going to give it to you: You have to walk through this week anyway, so you might as well decide to have a good time. You can worry about it if you want to, but you KNOW worrying won’t help anything at all. So, since the week is going to happen anyway and you could spend it worrying or you could spend it having a good time, why not have a good time?”
Bam. Light switch. Perfect words. It turned out to be the best damn week of my life.
There was so much joy. I learned volumes. I made incredible friendships. I felt like I was exactly where I belonged. I made the decision to have a marvelous time … and for that one magical week, I really did. Everything came together. Everything I’d ever learned about music and every dream I ever had about how I wanted everything to sound, it was all happening in this beautiful studio. It was like I could finally hear my heart.
I’m very aware that advice like that doesn’t apply to all things. There’s a spectrum of feelings that I believe are meant to guide us and heal us; there’s a place for anger when our boundaries are crossed, there is a necessity for tears when we must grieve. But worry alone seems to often be a great trickster. I think worry could have ruined that week at the studio. Worry makes us feel like we’re solving a problem when really it accomplishes nothing. It disconnects us from the answers. It detaches us from our core and our sense of self, so that we’re only floating on the surface of something. It keeps us in our heads and lets our bodies run like decapitated chickens. Maybe the following is a family myth, but I was told that my great-grandmother said on her death bed, “I wish I had known that I never should have worried about anything.”
I drank that cup of coffee with Lisa four years ago to the week. Four years. It took two years to finish the album after we started recording (a lot goes into it and that’s not long in the world of creating albums - not that I knew that at the time). But the two years after that … well, there’s a whole hell of a lot of yada, yada, yada in there with the key word being divorce which challenged every part of my life. All that yada needs to stay in my heart but there was earth scorching, sickness, chaos, forgiveness and ultimately love. And now I find myself like a phoenix bird looking out at a different horizon, with an entirely new sense of myself - one that has more integrity — but oddly I’m only thinking, “huh. that was crazy. now what?” I know I have a solid foundation. I know I want to return to my own music. I know I have an incredible album that I’m proud of and I want you to hear it. But time has passed and the landscape has changed … and I have changed. So I’m holding tight to another cup of coffee right now in between typing … and I’m resisting the urge to worry: 'What if you don’t understand where it was that I went? What if nobody understands why I held onto this album during the chaos? What if I’m a different musician? What if I have a different relationship with the audience? What if I can’t find the people I want to play with anymore? What if you supported me in creating this music but my idea of success is different than yours? What if I let you down? What if I let myself down?'
So I’m called back to that advice from Lisa. It’s simple really. I need to blast open the cave walls again, to let this music out, to disintegrate worry when it presents itself and to DECIDE to walk down the path that unfolds with the intention of having a great freaking time. And it is my hope that with this new and solid foundation within myself that I now have, I can make that joy last far longer than a week in a studio or a week in Ireland … past all that I can presently see.