Studio Journal 3-10-2011

dulcimer and buddha

Important service announcement!

There's been an interruption of service due to technical difficulties.

Seriously, it is time for the facts of life. Not sure how to put it so I'll just forge ahead.

I haven't done a webjournal for over 7 weeks. I tried to start entries a couple times, but never got very far. I haven't done any video, haven't been performing seriously. I didn't keep up with email. I haven''t left for Florida and don;t expect to for a while, though I still need to go sometime.

The explanation is simple, I am doing what I came here for. If you have followed the story for long, you know that I gave up my old routine several years ago and "settled down", more or less, here in DC to be here for my ma. And I brought my sailboat to north Florida and "settled down" there as well, between it and Gainesville, where my Dad lived, to spend time with him and be able to help out if needed. While I am trying to "do more" with the music, that is not the reason I am here, or moved there. It is simply making the best of the situation, not the foundation.

So the simple explanation is that during the end of January and beginning of February, it was getting clear something was wrong with ma. This is nothing new, really, which is why I am here. was a gradual crisis, as is often the case, subtle symptoms were slowly becoming more obvious. I was basically doing more for ma as she got more out of it, watching and waiting for her to get better, just a touch of flu or a cold, or get bad enough so I had to act if she didn't on her own. This has happened several times over the past five years. Which is why I decided to base here. I tried to keep working on the chores, taking down the tree, cleaning up the house, setting up the video studio, dealing with snow. Though I'd planned to head south at the end of February, I was really doubting that I would go, so wasn't putting much energy into getting ready. I’ve been through this too many times before, and I could just tell that something was wrong with ma, though I was still hoping it would just be some minor illness this time, maybe a short delay.

It all came down the second weekend of February. My brother and his wife were coming to visit for a few days, even though she was in chemotherapy. But they hadn't been able to come at over xmass, and now they had a chance, while he was attending a conference in DC. They arrived Friday, we had a family dinner at the house with ma, me and my brother and sisters all there. I was making it all work, almost forgetting to be part of the party, caught up in being of service. But Sunday, I was really called into service. Both my sister-in-law and my ma had to be checked into different hospitals. I spent most of the next few days dealing with this, driving back and forth, running errands, communicating with all the family, shuttling my brother from his hotel to the hospital and back as well. Though by Monday my sister-in-law was out, and Tuesday I drove her north to Baltimore to catch her plane to make her chemo appointment Wednesday in Austin. Ma would stay in the hospital another week.

sailboat 2008This is an old story for us. I first came back to stay and care for her through cancer back in late 2003 though 2004. She recovered, but over the next couple years I came to the decision to start a new chapter, a new routine, based around my Ma in DC and my Dad in North Florida, moving my sailboat north in 2008. The main reasons are just to spend time with them, while I could, and to be available if I am needed, whether just for odd jobs or especially for something serious. So my life was based around those two places as much as possible. Though I finished paying for my land in Alaska, I decided not start to build there yet. I still made trips there, but I started making the trips short, then recently started skipping years. As my life always is, I pulled all the threads into single vision, deciding to "do more" with the music and the dulcimer, do a major rebuild of the old family house.

But it is a familiar routine for both of us. I'd go visit two or three times a day, taking her email messages and regular mail, though mostly just taking her anything she wanted, and keeping her company when she was awake for a while, keep her spirits up, keep her distracted. In the evening I would take my guitar in and play for and hour or two till she was ready to sleep. The whole ward liked it, patients and staff. It calmed everything down, and people rested, or slept. A hard thing in the hospital.

Ma was back almost two weeks ago, very weak, though. Though the primary problem was easy to identify and treat, turned out she also had pneumonia, which kept her in longer. The antibiotics which she didn't react well to made it tough for another 10 days. And I'm hoping she'l be feeling better in a few days as those effects wear off. It still has been and is a continuous series of doctor's appointments since. The various doctors at the hospital were "stumped" as to the cause of the original problem, high blood calcium, which she'd also been hospitalized for about a year ago. But she has an exceptional oncologist, and he had a "eureka" moment, pulled together a lot of long-standing minor symptoms, and a couple major ones, and tested for the protein signature of a rare low-grade non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and found it. Oddly, it is good news. There is a specific antibody-based treatment for it. It answers a lot of long-standing health problems ma has had over the last few years, minor and serious, and curing it will resolve them. He was quite happy.

But it also means we are looking at 8 weeks of treatment,, though is luckily without any major side effects, a very "mild" treatment. And it isn't aggressive, she has probably had it for years already, so there's no emergency in dealing with it. But we are still going through tests, and a biopsy to determine the exact type, and perhaps a second one if the first is inconclusive, then treatment, probably not starting till April at the present rate.

So I am caught in the middle, once again. My plans are on hold, even just till we see what is going on. I still need to go to Florida at some point, but it will depend on how this all works out. It may be once she is settled in treatment. It might not be till after it is all done, which could be June. All I can do is what I have been doing, accept the inevitable, keep trying to hold my course despite all the delays and distractions.

sailboatThough it does justify the decision I made to be here. Just like I know I did the right thing in putting my old routine in Florida, the boat and performing, on hold to spend time with Dad before he died last Fall. Even though my boat has been sitting and, well, rusting away, getting torn up by other boats that dragged down on it, to the point where I consider just getting rid of it rather than face the huge job to get it up and running again after so many years. But I have no doubts I made the right decision, even if it means I regret some of the consequences. I am here when I am needed. Everything is flexible enough so I can stay here if have to, and when I have time, I do have the studio and I'll be able to get back to work again, and even get a little done at the worst of times, in the small spaces between, like now.

So it is ok, even if it is a big distraction right now, with ma so weak and needing help. But that is what I am here for, and glad to be, no matter how hard it is sometimes. But this will pass. In a couple months she will be ok, and I'll have time for the music again. Perhaps it is also because it is a new unavoidable distraction just as I finally got out from under all the other distraction and emergencies that faced me when I got back from Alaska, planning to start recording. And here it is, four months later, and I’ve made little or no progress on the music. It is a hard bit to chew on.

I have kept going out occasionally, trying to network. But it is always strange. There is just a subtext to my life that is hard to explain, not when people are trying to have fun. It isn't something I can really talk about in casual conversation. But for me, it is always there, and the explanation for what I'm doing, or can do, or am not doing. Why I am here, why I am not performing, not even producing anything lately.

dulcimerIt is funny, in some ways it is like it has always been with the dulcimer, whenever I was somewhere without it. How can I explain this thing that really dominates my life? Especially when the dulcimer, and the music, is… well, an experience. Nothing I can say can really say what it is about. Yet that is what moves my life, subtle or obvious, it is fundamental. But most of the time, I don't even try to explain, it is just too much, too big and wide and deep, a story that it would take too long too tell. And I still don't know how to explain what the dulcimer is. I don't think I know, really. It is somehow so much more than what it simply is, like some force of nature, or something more, something supernatural, magic, mystical, just something I can't explain. I can talk about "frequency following response" and other technicalities, but it is still hard to explain the power of the instrument. If I can, I just drag the dulcimer out and show them. It That usually explains a lot, about the dulcimer, about me and my life. Otherwise, I can give them a card, and say that's what I do, smile, and move on to other things.


Back to here. Wondering what I should do with the little spare time I have. A moment to reflect. Spring is starting, with the first flowers. I am having to put in time working on the yard, preparing the garden. The plants can't wait, life goes on. I plant some seeds for flowers. I cut a daffodil and bring it in for ma today. The Spring Rains are here.


dulcimerSo what about the music? I try to keep this journal focused on the music, not my personal life. Though really, the music is my life, pretty much my whole life. To be honest. I've never really had a personal life, or social life, outside the music. A few years ago, after some attempts to have a life outside the music, I realized that it wasn't going to happen, and looking outside the music was the wrong idea. I was on a road, and it was my life, and I couldn't leave it. If I wanted more from life, it had to be on those terms, I had to find whatever I lacked somewhere within the music, on that road. "The music is the Way" which means the music is the expression and manifestation of my fundamental philosophy and motivation, and "The Way is the music", that everything I seek I have to find by following the music, that the music leads me to, and are part of it, therefore, part of my life, not outside it. My life is made of music, and anything I want to be part of my life has to be made of music. If I want more from my life, it has to be by expanding the music, not seeking outside it.

Though, of course, my life is on hold right now, both actually and intentionally. So it goes.

fall colors

It has always been hard for me to consider my own life important, anyway. Self is the focus of my philosophy, service is. Even what I am doing now isn't so much what I want to do, but what I feel I have to do to do what is right. Life is music, and like playing music, you need to set your selfishness aside, go out of yourself, yield to the music, while being yourself, for you are the instrument you are playing, and you need to bring out it's voice, within the music.

I do think about it. I never stop thinking about it. I still keep working at it when I can, whatever small progress I can make when I can. I have gotten the studio moved a third time and set up back in the audio studio room with the camera hooked directly into the studio computer so I can shoot video without drop-outs. It is a bit cramped and camera angles are limited, but it is better than nothing, and can keep moving forward at least. I can also work down here during the day or early evening. I have to get up early these days, so I can't wait till ma goes to bed, and the neighborhood is quiet. Now I can work here while she watches a movie out in the living room by the fire. Not much I can do about the jet traffic. Still, better than nothing. My standards are really way too high, compared to a lot of what is on the internet. But I have to be happy with what I do.


I still play, whenever I can, even just a few minutes here and there, working on new songs, playing songs that are always going in my head, playing for ma in the evening when she is too worn out to focus on anything but not able to sleep yet, just like at the hospital. When she does go to bed I can practice in the studio and the sound of the dulcimer helps her sleep. I have been going out to play at open mikes, song circles, and jams, try to meet people and network, but I have real doubts that it is a practical use of time, except for purely social purposes. Which is a good reason. I need to socialize, and it is good to meet with other artists. At least we share some common ground. There is just such a big gap between the life I live and have lived and most folk. But every time I go out I face the fact that I do have this gift, and right now, I am not doing much with it. For most everyone else, it is a hobby, while they have a job, a family, a home. All I have ever had is the music, and right now, I am neglecting it. And going to open mikes or song circles to play two or three songs is just frustrating compared t performing. And always reminds me that I do have a great sound, which only makes me wonder what I am doing there. I should be performing somewhere, even if it is the street, be doing what I am here to do. And of course, music is what pays the bills, and the street pays, while open mikes and song circles don't. I have to think of that as well. This is supposed to be a temporary pause while I record, build dulcimers, try to launch the internet as a venue, and figure out how to go international. But with the emergencies and other distractions, I am a year at least behind schedule. In the end, I have to return to performing somewhere that pays, and do keep doing what I am here to do, however I do it. And the street works, it always has.

More mundanely, I was personally satisfied just playing for people, everywhere I went, on the street, in a cafe, at someone's house, wherever I was. Any place I played, people would stop and listen. It was beautiful. Practically, people gave me more money than I really needed without me ever asking for it. In fact, they insisted. I had to learn to accept, to respect the value of what I was doing. The street was cool, and absolutely real, personal, and immediate, good and bad. All the world's a stage, absolutely. Though yes, perhaps I was avoiding recognition of my accomplishments, trying to stay anonymous, staying out of the spotlight, away from the business of music that I disliked, but also obscuring this phenomenal thing I had created. Perhaps that was wrong, but I am trying to rectify that now. Yet I won't be surprised if there is no response to this effort to "do more". I often see the world glorifying what it should not and ignoring what is true and great. It is the way of the world, and certainly the businesses that dominate the media. I don't care though. The people love my music, and that has and always will be enough for me. I just wish I could be back out on the street where I can just play for them, slow as small as that may be, it is real. I am just passing through, and I really doubt what I do to "do more" has any significance or will be noticed or remembered. There isn't much encouragement, though what I get is so kind, while the street was always full of positive feedback. So it is hard to make a sincere effort here on the web, hard to not just return to the streets.

But I am stuck here. And though the weather starts to get warm, it isn't really good for the street yet, and the street scene here isn't very good for me here, any more. I can't find a good place to play. Generally it has been harder and harder to find good street scenes.

The problem with the studio and the internet is I don't have the experience of connecting with people that is so great on the street, so much better than the stage, I think. There is a one to one connection and a personal interaction that you can't get with the stage separating you from the people. Playing for people on their level, where they aren't afraid to talk with me, where I am not on a stage above them, is something I have always loved. And to some degree, I need it. I want to play for people, not to a camera. Though I can feel the people there on the other side, it isn't the same. I can't see their reactions, can't ask them what they want to here, try to sense what they want to hear, what will make their day. It was always about them. It was almost always their desire to listen that moved me to play. and only seldom did I play for myself. That is what is holding me back here, trying to play for no one but myself in this empty studio.

Though I know it is stupid, I still wonder why I keep trying. It is hard to keep going without any positive feedback or encouragement. The street at least gave me that.

fall colors

I face serious questions. Should I really invest in a new camera, go into debt again? I finally paid off the debts for the original studio just a few years ago, and it was such a relief. And I just ran up my debt again buying another thousand CDs. Or maybe that is what I need to do, accept that I need to make another major commitment, and spend the money to buy new hardware, a new camera, a mobile laptop-based production system, mobile broadband access. As it is, the last camera lasted ten years, and so only cost me a dollar or two a day. Yet I still have years of footage I have never done anything with, don;t seem to have time to do anything with, considering I haven't been able to complete producing the footage from last summer's trip to Alaska yet. There are harsh realities to being an indie, trying to d tit all, and accepting that you can't, so what do I do? Especially when my care-giving chores leave me so little time. Should I be writing this? Or recording? Every choice of what to do is a choice of what not to do.

I am of course, not feeling great. A lot of stress in a situation like this. Though now that there is a relatively positive prognosis, it is better. But I am prey to doubts. Why am I trying to "do more" with the music? What for? Who cares? Yes, I know it is great, the dulcimer is phenomenal, everyone tells me so and I have seen it. I'd be a fool not to recognize it. But so what? In America, it means nothing. I often feel I did better reaching people on the street. I can feel no common ground between me, a real folksinger, living it on the street and playing for the people, with the business of music, of stars and celebrities who do anything for fame and fortune, and art is not even part of the equation really.

I really hope that the internet will let me reach people directly, like the street. But the medium that was once the realm of the individual is now overwhelmed by the big money, and people with unlimited time to promote themselves. While I barely have time to play the dulcimer, eat, and sleep, especially right now. Simple truth, so it goes.

The world has much more important things, tragic and amazing things. I think about the struggle in Egypt and Tunisia, and now Libya. This is the same struggle for freedom and justice that has been the cause of my life, and I wish I was there. Though this really is their battle, and it is hard to see that I have a part in it, to me, we are part of the same struggle. Though I do dream of finding an Arabic singer and poet to collaborate with, translate and record the great American songs of hope and struggle for them, using my modern version of their ancient instrument, and try to show the common cause we have, the common feelings.

I feel like I should be wiring my reps in government instead of writing this, about the budget, about the situation in Libya, about so many things.

But now it is late and I need to sleep. Tomorrow I have to take ma to a doctor's appointment. I expect it will be a while before I write again, at least now you know the reason why. I will focus on producing some video with whatever time I have over the next month as this latest situation plays out. So it goes.

spacerBrian the folksinger

Comments are closed.