April 25, 2016

She's probably One of those weird fairies that live out there in the holler

You can tell she is because she doesn't photograph well. The glamour doesn't make it in a photograph.

March 9, 2016

Spring fever, maybe

Maybe it's the monotony of gray and brown.
Maybe it's because people are so annoying.
Maybe it's because the insurance companies I have to deal with are driving me crazy, giving me wrinkles, making me tired. Press this number to be connected to that, get hung up on, wrong number, wrong person, wrong ID. Wrong diagnosis code. Wrong everything. Wrong place.
Maybe it's because what I do requires a lot of sitting, and I'm getting a tummy where I never had one before.
Maybe it's because I'm tired of people complaining all day and not doing something constructive about stuff themselves. It's easier to make a person sound stupid so you sound smart. Ok. Whatever. Don't try helping them; that actually takes effort.
Maybe it's because I hate tedious shit, minutiae, typing numbers from one place to other, adding them up, making sure they balance. God, I really really hate that. IT IS SO BORING.
Maybe it's because I see the people around me doing awesome shit, and here I am, in a fetal position on the couch because I'm either too fucking tired or too fucking frustrated to do anything else.
(I can't look at your book cover, sorry. It just reminds me that I haven't written anything in two weeks. Or was it three. I don't even know. I just know I have nothing left at the end of the day. Nothing.)
Then I feel guilty for working on something I actually like -- or I feel guilty for not being grateful for being able to afford the lifestyle that all this gets me. Or someone takes offense that I'm not happy for them, that I'm not happy all the time.
Maybe I just need to shut up.
I don't know.
I just know that some days I just feel like curling up into a ball. I also know that tomorrow I'll feel better.
Spring, please?

January 30, 2016

Fear of flying

I have what some would call an irrational fear of heights, acrophobia. I've had it since my oldest daughter was about 4. I remember the exact moment it hit me for the first time. I was probably around 23. My then-husband, Phoebe and I were at a dam, on the bridge going across the dam. It was a beautiful day and we were having a picnic. Jay was holding Phoebe, but I noticed he was standing a bit close to the edge of the bridge and I felt myself getting nervous, nervous that she would suddenly leap out his arms and plummet over the side of the bridge into the massive dam below. Ridiculous, right?
From NPS Grand Canyon website

My dad had the same problem. I'm not sure it was as severe as mine. I remember distinctly our trip to
the Grand Canyon when I was a teenager. I believe dad had to wait in the car rather than watch my sister and me start walking down the crooked, rocky path that hair-pinned its way down the canyon. We didn't even go that far. I remember the sheer joy of that place - the blue sky over that mighty crack in the earth, a river far below snaking its way through the canyon. The path was treacherous - one mistake at the wrong place, and surely it would all be over. I don't remember being afraid; I just remember the beauty of it all and the exertion upon climbing back up.

Johnstown's Incline Plane/Visit Johnstown photo
Apparently my father and I, and my middle sister Becky, shared a terrifying incident when the two of us sisters were very young. He loved to take us on hikes all through our young lives, at least until we got too snotty to admit we enjoyed them. When I was around 4, and Becky was 2, we lived in Johnstown, a gritty city surrounded by majestic hills, cliffs, and caves. On this particular day, he somehow got us onto a cliff and couldn't get us down. He only told me about this once, and that was enough to realize how truly horrible it must have been for him: his two tiny daughters perilously perched on a cliff with no seeming way to get down. The details of how he finally got us down
escape me, but I believe that incident has stuck in the back of my head, waiting to come out when I had my own small children to protect.

my picture
So now I am limited by this fear. And I have to admit, some of it is totally irrational. For example, after anticipating for months the Bruce Springsteen concert at the Verizon Center, I was chagrined when I realized our seats were in the Upper Concourse. As we were led to our seats, I felt the familiar vertigo, the churning of my stomach. I tried to breathe deeply, tell myself it was all in my head, that nothing bad could happen at a Bruce concert. I tried to imagine the tiny people I saw below, the dollhouse sized-stage set was actually a movie that I was watching. For two solid hours nothing helped. I tried meditating my way through Bruce's River set, pushing thoughts of crashing through the meager guard rail four rows ahead of me out of my head every time they popped up. But it was too much concentration for too little reward. For every good thought I had, I had 5 thoughts of falling. Unimaginable horrors became real:  the seats ahead of me became a solid, slippery surface that I would trip onto, and I'd slide, clinging like a cat to anything to slow me down, faster and faster until I went over the edge into a bloody mess as a horrified audience watched my descent. Or, a spin on a modern horror: a gunman, or maybe multiple gunmen, opening up on the audience, which would panic, rushing to the exits, and I would be the one pushed over the edge. I finally realized, into the third hour (yes, Bruce is still doing that!) I hadn't thought of falling in at least... oh, five minutes.

Photo from Wikimedia
So many other things: The first fight my husband and I had as a married couple was on our Masada, the ancient fort in Israel that sits atop a rock plateau. I've forgone at least several beautiful hikes, or ditched out; my poor husband has had to rescue me several times, when, unbeknown to me, a hike had taken us much higher than I was comfortable. He practically had to carry me off a mountain in the Canadian rockies when a path, up til then disguising the sheer drop with thick trees, we suddenly came upon a waterfall going straight down the cliff we had ascended.
honeymoon in Israel, when I refused to ride up the cable car to see

Jaco Transfers photo. Not me, but similar to the view I enjoyed
I am happy to say that I've conquered part of my fear, though it wasn't conscious, I wasn't trying. It just kind of evolved.  It's only when I'm "in charge" that my fear of falling overcomes me, In other words, airplanes don't bother me, in fact, I covet the window seat so I can enjoy the clouds, map out zipline and dangled there for a few minutes until I figured out how to get going again - and I marveled at the view of the far off ocean and the verdant canopy of trees beneath me rather than panicking.
the scene below. Incline planes and gondolas are fun! The really only horrible part of a zip line for me is waiting on top of the platform for my turn. In fact, a couple of years ago in Costa Rica, I got stuck in the middle of one of the longest, highest sections of a

I realize what some of my fear is, besides whatever primal fear was left from the experience with my dad. A crazy part of me actually wants to jump. Well, maybe not 'wants" to, but there is a sick curiosity of what it would feel like. We've all had those dreams where we're falling - and it feels pretty liberating, at least in the dream, and it's harmless, because we usually wake up before we land. I remember parasailing in Jamaica, the gentle currents guiding my wing far above the bay. I really felt like a bird and I want that. My head knows that if I jump I'll die, but something in my heart wants that soaring feeling.

Have I tried anything to cure my fear? No, not really. There's the part of me that's in every phobic, that my phobia is based on something real, and I'm the smart one for fearing it. Will I ever be like Jimmy Stewart in "Vertigo," forced to face my fear in the face of real danger? God I hope not. If I am, I will probably just.... jump.

November 29, 2015

getting older

I recently turned 60.
That just sounds wrong. I remember when my mom turned 60 and it wasn't that long ago. My sisters and I took all my parents' old movies of us kids and turned them into a VHS tape. On the other hand, maybe it was awhile ago.
I looked at my 38 year old daughter recently and reminded myself that when I was her age, I was pregnant with Willa. I looked at my 21 year old daughter and reminded myself that when I was her age, I was pregnant with Phoebe.
Also: turning 60 means I've been with Matt for half my life! 

November 2, 2015


I love this woman.
Seeing her in Amsterdam was magic. She performed in a club that was formerly an ancient church. We all went on a trip to 40 years ago when "Horses" was released, playing it all the way through. "Bird land" was really special, transformative. She ended with a few of her old favorites, "Dancing Barefoot," "People Have the Power" (which really should be #Bernie's anthem), "Because the Night." As always, with her usual charming banter in between songs. I can't even count the number of times we've seen her, but this time was really intense. This picture was taken at her concert in Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh. My father was the founding director of the River City Brass Band. The band had a concert in this very hall every month. I saw Patti Smith perform in the very spot my dad stood with his baton, directing the band. We had VIP tickets to meet Patti and the rest of the band after the show. Patti was so sweet to Willa; when she found out it was Willa's birthday, she dug into the pocket of that black jacket she always wears and pulled out a bootlace. She gave it to Willa, saying, "I know it's not much, but that lace has been with me all over the world." Her performance last week was every bit as fierce and shamanic as any I'd seen years ago.

And I love her writing. Every high school kid should be required to read "Just Kids" to inspire them, open their eyes. Patti started with nothing, but she believed in herself and developed a good network of friends, all of them involved in the arts. They lived close to the edge but they were all doing what they wanted. They dared! I think people are too scared now to dare doing what she did. What a shame. This new book, M Train, is totally different. It's autobiographical, but dreamier, with lots of insight into what she was feeling throughout. Amazing stories, sad stories all strung together on a meandering web.

September 6, 2015

The Red Hemorrhoid and a Starry Night

This is for Phoebe, who needs stories about her dad because he's not here to tell them. 
The first summer I lived with Jay I was 20. - 40 years ago, can you believe that? had just finished my first mediocre year of college, and he had swept me off my rebellious, impulsive feet halfway through that year. I was sick of school, hated it, really. I wanted to live life! Jay, usually showing up at my dorm at some unreasonable hour, ZZ Top blaring from the 8-track player, reeking of pot, was living life. He was going to school on the GI Bill, he'd been to Vietnam, he had stories.
Anyway, that summer was magical. We spent our afternoons at swimming holes, taking the canoe out on the Conewago-our house had a riverfront. Some nights, we'd drive around in his red Comet convertible-such a sweet little car, but Jay called it the Red Hemorrhoid. We'd drive all over the country with the top down, of course. Sometimes he'd turn off the headlights and drive really slowly. The night was velvet, Sky meeting road seamlessly, it was like we were flying. I remember feeling so free, so grown-up. Apples, cow manure, freshly mown grass wafted in currents, healthy smells. It was midsummer, the air heavy and ripe. We just drove and drove, so in the moment, not looking forward or backward.

August 19, 2015

More memories, mostly about my dad

So, more memories. For myself and for my daughters. For the memories that will sharpen and come to the surface like little fish to the sun.
My dad loved nature and the outdoors. We camped all through the United States, in the desert, by the ocean, high in the Rockies. And this was tent camping, mind you, not some fancy motor home. All I can say is, my mother sure was a good sport, packing, unpacking, packing, unpacking, cooking every night, every morning, on the campstove, rain or shine, with three kids. When we were little, we thought it was great, sleeping outside, listening for bears. When we were teenagers, it was a great opportunity to sneak off and meet boys in campgrounds. We have a home movie of the day we spent hiking the White Mountains, spending the night in a hostel at the top of a waterfall. Anywhere we went, he and my mother would mention the names of trees, the calls of birds, what those clouds were called and what they meant for the weather to us kids. We went for long drives in the country, "getting lost," allowing us to tell him which way to turn when we came to a crossroads, the classical music blasting from his FM radio. Those were great family times.
But some of my best memories of him are of the times he'd plan a special outing for just the two of us. One summer morning we got up before the sun and drove out to the College Lodge, just outside of our town. It's a retreat for the Indiana University of Pennsylvania where my dad taught music, but lots of people used it for picnics and get-togethers: it has a ski lift and a pond. It's surrounded by acres and acres of old forest. The mist was still rising when we got there, and it looked like it was going to be another overcast day in Indiana anyway. But I love mist, I always have. I love how it feels on my face, so refreshing and balmy at the same time, and the atmosphere is moody and mysterious, heavy but not ponderous. We didn't talk much, because we wanted to find animals, but he did his thing of pointing out leaves and telling me the name of the tree, quietly. We did see a deer, I remember. We hiked for a bit. I don't remember really how I felt. Did I think it was a drag to have to get up early so my dad could hang out with me? Was I excited that I got to spend the morning with him? Was I anxious because I thought he was going to yell at me for something? I don't know. I was rather an anxious child, but I seem to remember a content feeling. We passed the pond on the way to the car and I caught some tadpoles in a jar I had -- I guess I had been planning to do that. My dad showed me how to steer the tadpoles toward the edge of the pond with my jar so they'd be trapped. So we took the tadpoles home. I'm pretty sure most of them turned into frogs and jumped out of the container we had them in, and poor things probably died.
I know this isn't one of those big exciting memories, but it's one that I come back to often when I think of him. I can still picture the two of us there, him, still young and healthy and full of ideas and ways to live, and me, around 12, bewildered by the world but happy to be with my dad.