Welcome to my blog

That's not a thing... 

"That's not a thing." These four words recently changed my life. 

It started when I needed to call for help after being locked out of the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. My fob didn’t work, so I called Julie, a choir member who lives nearby. I am always the first in. I like to sing through some things before my choir arrives for their warm up. 

Julie is part of the temple’s leadership, and I knew she would have a key.  She was able to get us in, but the help she gave me that night ran far deeper than learning that there is another fob entrance in the back. It was even more helpful than her marathon training that enabled her to sprint to the front door in time to turn the alarm off before the police came. 

I always have anxiety about High Holiday services. I work for months to prepare, and I know that the music is an important part of the experience for people. As much as I prepare, my instrument is human, and I worry that I won’t have full access to it. I worry that if my voice isn’t up to everyone’s expectations I won’t be hired back. I don’t want to let anyone down. 

In a moment of anxiety, I told Julie about my worries. She said, “That's not a thing.” Her words echoed what the wonderful rabbi I work with has also told me. As I listened to Julie, I knew she was right. It enabled me to shed some of the pressure I felt, and to be in the moment. I now believe that a less than perfect note won’t let everyone down. That's not a thing… 

Another annual anxiety is about an amazing concert series I have been honored to be included in. These shows have enabled me to both build my mailing list and presence, and to open shows for some of my heroes. I look forward to it all year, and it has been wonderful fun. I spend a lot of energy preparing for these shows and promoting them. I have always sold a lot of tickets, and yet every year I worry that I won’t be invited back. 

Last week, I wrote to the promoter to ask if I would be invited back next season, and his email back to me was two words, “Of course.” I thought about my anxiety and heard an echo of Julie’s words, “That's not a thing.” 

It happened again two days ago. I had to run to the store for food. I was sick and not quite myself. After paying for my food, I stopped to put my credit card away, and I thought I was taking too long and blocking traffic. I mumbled to myself, “I am in everyone’s way.” I didn’t know anyone heard me, but a voice from behind me said, “You’re not in anyone’s way. You’re fine.” Again, Julie’s voice saying, “That's not a thing.” 

Some of my fears are real, but I am learning the power of telling myself, “That's not a thing.” It feels like a revelation. These words changed the way I look at my worries. I wonder if they can change yours too. I hope so…

John Gorka and the Internal GPS 

I am doing my best to transform my life in a way that honors my most authentic self. I feel alive, useful, and hopeful when I succeed at doing that. Sometimes I can’t find my way there, because I am stuck in the business of survival.  

The process isn’t always graceful, and the road is often obscured. It winds and doubles back. I am doing my best to feel and trust my internal GPS. There are powerful landmarks on this road. One of them was my gig with John Gorka. 

It has taken a couple of weeks to be ready to talk about it. I had a bit of an emotional setback after the show, which is part of how I am put together. Although there are a couple of things I would do differently, like not forgetting to tell people about my custom songwriting business, overall, it was a fabulous night. I am profoundly grateful for the experience, and for the folks who came out to share the night with me. 

My social skills get wonky when things are deeply important to me, so I didn’t talk with John as much as I would have liked, but he was kind, warm, and did me the honor of listening to my set. He had nice things to say, especially about the song “I Believe.” 

One of the lines in “I Believe” is, “I believe in wishing on a song.”  My new song is feeling like another landmark on that road I was telling you about. I am wishing on it, and working on getting it out into the world in the best shape that I can. My goal as a songwriter is to touch your heart by revealing my own. I believe this song does that. 

The song, “The Long Goodbye,” was inspired by my time as a companion for a woman I love very much, who is living with Alzheimer’s Disease. The song was well received at the show, and I was overwhelmed to learn how many people have been touched by this thief of a disease. 

I am doing some preproduction work for the song now, and look forward to sharing it with you. 

What makes you feel like your truest self?

 

Do you feel seen? 

Is it more important to be loved or to be seen? What does it mean to really see someone?  How do we know that we are truly seen? How does it feel? Can we be loved without being seen?  

I have been wrestling with these thoughts this week, as I process the last twenty-two months that I spent caring for a lovely woman with Alzheimer’s Disease. I am going to call her Marcy here, although that is not her name. Marcy is now in a residential facility, and although I will visit her, my time as her caregiver has ended. 

I want to share a piece of this experience with you, because I believe it is important, and it raises questions worth pondering. I have more questions than answers...     

The Marcy I knew was kind, funny, warm, energetic, brave, and sweet. She loved her family, although she couldn’t always recall their names. She loved her dog, although she often thought there was more than one of her. She loved to dance and sing, and to put lipstick on many times a day. She loved Dream a Little Dream of Me, Rainbow Connection, Bohemian Rhapsody, and soy lattes. 

Her words were mostly gibberish by the time we met, but if I listened closely enough to the emotion behind them and to the context, I often understood her. Sometimes she would communicate clearly, as if the pieces of her brain aligned correctly for a moment. Then she would cry, grieving for what she had lost. I did my best to honor the lucid moments, and to always treat her like she was fully present. To me, she was… 

I remember as a kid learning about twins who had developed their own language. They communicated clearly with each other, but no one else understood them. I was fascinated by that, and often thought of it during my time caretaking Marcy. 

I am certain that her family and friends thought I didn’t understand her as well as I thought I did, and that makes perfect sense to me. I didn’t know the Marcy that they knew. I never met the Marcy before Alzheimer’s Disease changed her forever. They had been saying goodbye to her for years before I met her. They loved her dearly, but she wasn’t the mother, wife and friend that they had known and treasured. We all saw her and loved her, but we saw different things. 

I think I may have tried too hard to maintain contact with the lucid part of her. That part was present, but mostly dim. Her husband called it an undercurrent of awareness. Connecting with that undercurrent was an honor, and I know it helped her to feel seen. It also sometimes pulled me under. I am just now regaining my equilibrium. 

What do we see when we look at each other. What parts of ourselves do we allow to be seen. How well do we know each other’s undercurrents? How do we connect deeply and maintain our balance? 

Marcy is an extreme example, but she highlights for me the need to be seen and known. I believe it is a brave thing to risk being truly seen. I do it best in songs. 

We all have roles we play in our lives, and adjectives that we use to describe ourselves. We also have private internal lives that are precious and genuine, and vulnerable. I believe that this part is our treasure. Sometimes we guard that treasure closely and sometimes we share it. 

What parts of yourself do you let people see? 

How deeply do you connect with others? 

I believe that when we dare to look deeper, and to reveal more of who we are, we see the currents that connect us. 

Do you feel seen and known?

(Your comments are treasured. If you leave on below, please check back. I always respond...)

It was supposed to snow... 

The wind is finally kicking up, gusting and showing a hint of the storm I had imagined. Cars were supposed to be sidelined for the weekend. Errands that needed running were supposed to have to wait. Nagging thoughts were supposed to be silenced by the storm. It was supposed to be a movie-in-pajamas kind of a weekend, the kind that feels like a much-needed time out. I was looking forward to it, but it never got cold enough to snow. 

I love the cold, gray, short days of winter. Maybe it is my introvert nature. Maybe it is the smell of fireplaces and hot chocolate, or the way breath dances in the air. Maybe it is the wonder-look of snow - icing pines, roofs, and empty roads. It could be the stillness, and the memory of 455, and the joy it brought from the radio, signaling a reprieve from school and Mr. Bellini’s tyranny. Winter is a feeling I crave, like love and beach walks on summer mornings, and the sweet voice of a guitar. 

Well…it didn’t snow, but since a cancelled weekend-long class cleared my schedule, I took a snow weekend anyway. I cooked, had a luxuriously long conversation with a dear old friend, worked on a new song, watched movies, and slept until my body was ready to get out of bed. 

Tomorrow life will start moving again and I will move with it, but for a time, it was wonderful to just be. 

I think there is still time for a batch of cookies… 

What is your relationship like with winter?

(click below to add a comment)

Starting again with gratitude... 

"Do the best you can with what you know, and when you know better, do better." Maya Angelou said that, and it is a way of thinking that rings true for me. It is a way to be kind to myself for not always making the best choices in the days when I don't know better. I recently remembered, after some weeks of struggling harder than I needed to, that I do know better.  

I finally remembered, that for over twenty years, I have made a purposeful daily practice of gratitude. I started way back by listing ten things that I was grateful for at night, and then thinking up ten more right before closing my eyes on the day.

It used to be a challenge.

With practice, it became easy. It became fun! Even in the face of grief, fear, and disappointment, I learned to identify multitudes of things to be grateful for every day. It has been life changing. 

Sometimes I am grateful for big things like getting a special gig, or writing a new song, or connecting deeply with someone. More often, it is gratitude for things as simple as a deep breath, the way my cat looks sleeping belly-up in a sunbeam, or the way it feels to take my bra off when I get home at the end of a day. If I allow myself to be present in the moment, there is always a gift in it. It is a powerful thing.

Here are some of mine for today: 

  • My apartment smells like garlic and ginger because I cooked a really good dinner! (and it may soon smell like chocolate chip cookies) 
  • My body carried me everywhere I needed to go today, even up and down stairs with heavy bags
  • I have a deep connection with the wonderful woman with Alzheimer's that I spend a lot of time with, and I know I help her to feel safe, and to have some fun
  • I was thrilled and surprised yesterday morning by Sleepy Hollow, on WXPN, playing one of my songs
  • I finally have deep blue jeans that fit
  • I have been offered several wonderful opportunities to connect with people through my music
  • I reopened my blog today, after being away from it for a long while
  • I feel hopeful.

I hope you can identify things in your life to be grateful for each day. If not, please take a deep breath, and start with that...

(I would love to hear what you are grateful for in the comments below.)

My best to you...

Denise, the grateful

 

An unexpected bit of healing... 

An unfinished piece of my past showed up at my birthday concert and allowed a long ago broken piece of my heart to mend. I got to see a dear old friend who had hurt me badly when I was fifteen. We talked, and I got to feel her genuine horror and regret that she had treated me carelessly in our youth. I got to tell her how I felt, and then like magic, a long buried hurt wasn't buried anymore, it was gone. 

I feel compassion for us both back then, doing our best to find our way through adolescence. It made me think of all of the little, and the significant ways we impact each other's lives, sometimes without realizing it.

It makes me wonder if anyone is walking around with an old wound that I caused. 

If so, I am sorry...

Have you ever had an unexpected chance to heal a long ago broken piece of your heart?

Writing about this makes me think of this song...

From puffy-eyed, day after the election me  

Today has been emotional and hard. I wonder how it has been for you. I wonder how we can all work together to heal  our broken country. I am ready to try...

I just went for a long walk in my neighborhood. The resident Poplar, Ash and Maple trees are showing off their reds, oranges, and yellows. I have been grieving over the election results, and I needed their company. I love the way they look, lit from the inside. I need to kindle my light again too. 
  
I found comfort in their company. They are gorgeous and transforming. The rain tapped a gentle rhythm on my umbrella, and it smelled like the moment. November is a dear friend, and she soothed me today.
  
I also found comfort in the hugs and conversations I shared with stranger women in the grocery store, all of us on the hunt for comfort food, and in the phone calls and emails from friends who knew I would be distraught. There was much to be grateful for today, even in the midst of sorrow and fear. 
  
Today, my eyes are puffy from crying and lack of sleep, but tomorrow I will do what I can to move forward. I don’t know what that will look like yet, but tomorrow I will dry my tears and look to the future. I will do my best to heal my little piece of the world. 
  
What has today been like for you?
(If you leave a comment, please check back. I always respond.)

Photo and recording are from my walk in the November rain. I thought you might find them soothing too...

Sarah's Woods (flash fiction) 

Sarah comes here alone. She doesn’t remember exactly when this became her spot, but these woods comfort her like a grandmother. It’s the place where her heart relaxes enough to open up and play. Sarah’s feet crunch along the path. It is a sound she waits for like a birthday. 
  
She is silent with the brittle leaves, and with the smell of November. She breathes it in, and imagines herself inside a living painting filled with falling leaves, gray skies, and busy squirrels. She wishes she could stay here forever. 
  
The steady rhythm of her feet takes her back to the autumn she stopped caring about trick-or-treating. She used to love dressing up and going door to door to the neighbors for Hershey bars, Kit Kats, 
and company. She stopped caring about everything that fall. Well, almost everything… 
  
The move was unexpected. Her dad said they would still be close, but he stopped coming over to tell bedtime stories, and to protect her from the long-armed monsters that lived under the stairs. 
  
She still hadn’t gotten used to living in an apartment. She missed her old back yard, Roberta’s tree house, and the apple tree she named Rosanne. 


(Scroll through my blog for more peeks into Sarah's world. I have been writing about her for years... If you leave a comment, please check back. I always respond.)

Ode to the Night (flash fiction with Sarah) 

The last of the day’s light glowed orange through the maple leaves. Sarah loved that tree. She had only known him for a spring and a summer, but she trusted him. She knew his faces, and his kind presence felt like a friend. 
  
Crickets and cicadas were singing “Ode to the Night,” and she felt her heart relax and soften to the gentle rhythm. Nature was her favorite composer, and she loved this song. 
  
“Why are you just sitting there in the dark?” Her mom flipped on the overhead light, and she was pulled back into the room. “Go in the kitchen, and pack your lunch for tomorrow. There won’t be time in the morning.” 
  
Everything was new: her room, the neighbor walking around upstairs, mom’s moods, packing her own lunch, and tomorrow – Brooklawn Elementary.

Sarah wished she could build a house in her Maple tree, and live there forever… 


(Scroll through my blog for other glimpses of Sarah)

Joy and fear and the Hudson Valley 

There is a place on the NY Thruway, between exits 18 and 19, where the road turns to the right and offers a first glimpse of the Catskill Mountains. Every time I see it, I feel my blood pressure going down and my joy increasing. It feels like a homecoming. 
  
When I was a kid, my parents had a business that transported people to and from the Catskill mountain resorts; places like The Concord, Grossinger’s, and Nevele. I remember the ride up, and the majesty outside the car’s windows. I loved the mountains! I still do… 
  
My recent Hudson Valley tour brought back those old memories, and created wonderful new ones. I loved meeting the kind people at my gigs, and folks like the photographer who owns an art gallery in Red Hook, dedicated to images of horses. I am still thinking about the gourmet chocolate I wish I had bought at a fabulous Kitchen Market. 
  
I was grateful for the opportunity to introduce my songs to new people, and am happy to report that they made new friends. It was thrilling to reconnect with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in forty years, and was fun to make a Facebook friend into a real flesh-and-blood person.  
  
There were also scary times in cars! My friends and I broke down on a dark road after my first gig. I was deeply grateful to have them with me. We were stranded without tow or taxi, and it worried me to think what could have happened if I had been alone there on the side of the road. 
  
There was also a bad choice of route home that led me onto five-lane-high-speed roads that scared me. I had listened to Siri when I knew better. I will try not to do that again… 
  
Whenever I leave the Hudson Valley, I feel like I am leaving home. I look forward to my next visit. I just wish that I could beam myself there, Star Trek style. 
  
It seems there is always fear mixed in with joy. Is that true for you too?