May 2011
color/guitar emergency/opportunity

I had to take my beloved Olson Guitar to the Flip Scipio guitar hospital in Brooklyn. I knocked it over last weekend doing a little salon concert for my brother's school. BAM it fell in just the exact way as to crack the beautiful Cedar top. A year ago, I would have crumbled. Now? It was a strange relief in a way to finally have the dreaded "bad thing" happen to my most cherished possession. It's been lost by the airlines, needed setting up and down over the years. But this is the first serious battle wound! And now, it's fine. Everything is fine. And it's just one more reminder not to hold too tight to anything.


It's been a little intense around here, so getting out was a very big deal and felt almost surreal. The colors seared into my brain; vivid. The outlines of things, urgent, pressing. Here was my  hidden gift in the mission!


this beautiful turquoise bike!


these crazy hues. I know, it's graffiti and junk and just somebody's bike.... maybe I'd better get out more!


turquoise cream puff. these are all cell phone pix and so the colors are funky.


and then, when I got back, this was on Mom's desk. Sometimes I am floored by her amazing efforts, still, to keep writing. Just this morning she came up with a new title for a poem: "Lost opportunities, found opportunities."


And again, as she says almost every day, "You know, we should really make a play out of all this." And I say, "That's a great idea mom, I will write it all down. In fact, maybe it should be a documentary!" Without missing a beat, she says:


"No, a docuWOMANtary!" and cracks herself up.


No one can find the "special note" - but I wonder what it says!



The irony is that over the years I have been more and more relieved that I did not have kids. No offense, I love kids. It just never seemed to be in the cards, and I'm so in love with my life as is, that I'm digging that the Dealer dealt me this hand. I used to joke: "Nah, I have a hostile womb," when people would ask me why, oh why i hadn't jumped at the joys of motherhood? They would threaten too: "you will regret this, trust me... you must be a mother. you were born for it." Um. I don't think so.


I have written about this before but obviously now it is particularly a propos!


I AM a mother after all! I never expected to be mothering my mother so intensely. There are times when i can't believe that I am in this strange position of authority - making terribly important and impossible decisions on her behalf. How did I even qualify for this job? Where's my degree?


I am learning daily to trust my instincts. Watching someone suffer, year after year physically, and now on this very existential level is humbling at best. So compassion is my armor. Forgiveness is my new default. Patience? My biggest challenge and lesson.


Getting mom anywhere is exhausting on every single level. Yesterday, (another Dr. visit) was one for the books. She was particularly cranky and sarcastic. She can spit out passive aggressive barbs with the best! Sometimes we just sing something from 'the sound of music' under our breath in order not to react. After all, she was the one asking for a doctor in the first place.


She even brought a book of her poems to give Dr. Kruger. He loved it, read one out loud, joked with her about already having two ex-wives named Nancy when she asked if he was married. (mom's legal name is Nancy) But still, she defaulted back to her complete funk.


There are no "teachable moments." I can't kiss it and make it better. There is no learning curve up.

Even Mr. and Mrs. Potato head didn't help.


Driving home finally, quiet, no complaints, she offers: "You know what would make me feel much better? If we could just get some ice cream."

Grammy Career Day

I had the honor of being on a panel of music creators and survivors (!) yesterday at Grammy Career Day at Pace University. 700 high school kids from all over the area come and get to talk to professionals about just what is involved in a career in music.


A couple of kids (it was top secret until yesterday morning) were chosen for a real dose. They had submitted songs, which were then produced and mixed by Scott Jacoby and Barry Eastman, then presented in front of the whole crew! The kids were then walked through the sequence of what might happen next, once you have a song that gets some traction. Wow! The works.


Lauren Kinhan and Nicki Richards did a HOT session on improvisation. No one knows better than these masters.

Lauren Kinhan, Nicki Richards


Fonzworth Bentley did a workshop, Gordon Chambers was in the house, the 2AM club came. Christina Perri flitted in fresh from her "TODAY show" appearance.


My panel got to talk about sustaining a career, being smart, being versatile, keeping your soul, and your integrity. Scott Jacoby, Bashiri Johnson, and Michael Whalen were on our team. Towards the end of our session, Michael Whalen asked: "ok, any themes emerging here? What are you guys taking away from this?"


One girl, perfect, said: "You need backbone." 'Nuff said. Which brings me to my divine introduction of the day.

Angela Hunte wrote "Empire State of Mind" - homesick, in London. There's been a lot of misinfo, a lot of bad blood and greasy fingers in the aftermath of the love and purity of that tune. but backbone? Angela DEFINES it!


the grammy posse!


Gang's all here. And then, something about my coat got a few girls all excited, and so, to kill time until the big finale, the coat of many colors was passed around.

Cathy had been trying to steal it most of the day


Lauren definitely had the right shoes.


Nicki insisted it wouldn't fit, and then wouldn't give it back.


Good thing i kept that thing. I think it's been sitting in the closet doing nothing for five years now.


At the end of the day, Angela presented about 12 seniors with gift certificates to Sam Ash for instruments of their choice. These kids were about to have to turn in their rental instruments and go without. Now that was worth the price of admission. One girl got a tuba.



I got a charge from the day for sure. There are some smart and talented kids out there. And I was thrilled to be able to try and impart a little bit of knowledge about some very hard won lessons:


Work your ass off, yes, follow your dream, yes, be nice, yes, be on time, yes, stand up for the VALUE of your art!!!!! YES!!!!!! And you better want this more than anything else in the world, or you better do something else!

japan benefit

At the benefit for Japan last night at SIR on 37th, it was a love affair. 


I got to hang with some really close peeps I haven't been able to see in ages, AND meet musicians I've been dying to meet forever. Joy.

Kenny White, blissed out here by the beauty!

Akiko Yano, Leni Stern, the FAB FAUX,



Tabitha Fair, (um, blew the roof off)


WOWEE. The music really was sublime, the live and silent auctions kicked butt, the vibe was really lovely, I believe we may have achieved some of our goals!


Thanks all. Especially Will and Sandrine and Jennifer. xoxoxoxoxox


It was so nice to be out and about. Ah, this is what we do! 

spring hopes eternal

We braved the bus again today. A little checkup on that knee. A little check in on those "gammy" (as mom likes to say) hips.


Julie and Elaine. We triple teamed, as mom was super cranky.


Last time Dr. Bronson said:

"Mrs. Nelson, if you were a car, I would tell you you have three flat tires." This time, he told us the knees looked great (especially the one he replaced in November) but the hips? Worse. Worser, Worst:

"Mrs. Nelson, you have no hip sockets. On a scale of 1 to 10 in severity, you are beyond an 11."


Oh daunting news. We are bracing. We are gearing up. We are praying. Unrelenting pain is not really ok. Surgery is hell. Deep breath.


And then, a little bird. Reassurance? Life will go on? Spring will always bring things around. (ok, maybe after it hangs you up the most!)


It was like he was telling us something. He kept posing.


and posing

ok, little bird. tell me. tell me.

getting it out
 I am finding that if I don't write down these stories, they get stuck in my heart. And then they hurt. There is so much love and so much humor here every day. And that's what I will choose to remember.

Some of the day to day, I can't even talk about. But telling stories has always been a way for me to make the best of the hardest things. My songs, and now, these journals.


I sometimes worry that the private has become too public. But dementia is a very present, and pressing epidemic. We should be talking about it. Everyone I meet has their own story. And so I am putting my squeamishness aside more and more.


Yesterday we had to get my mom to a doctor's appointment. No problem with a mobile, sane 79 year old. With my mother? The process starts two hours before we even need to get her dressed. There is the labyrinthine conversation. Denial of pain, terrible pain, no pain, "I never said that, I've been telling you...why are you doing this to me, just get it done."


Julie and I did a trial run on Tuesday. I was in the wheel chair. Julie was my aide. I felt so guilty putting the bus driver through the exercise, but we needed to know how it would work before subjecting my mother to the ordeal.


Well, I  had a new compassion for anyone in that situation dealing with the public, buses, etc. I have been the one rolling my eyes because we had to take that extra 30 seconds to strap in someone in a wheel chair. What a jerk! 30 seconds!




We had definitely weighed our options. There's the public medicare service. 8 bucks each way, but you are at their mercy and may end up waiting hours on either end of  your appointment. Impossible for mom or anyone trying to comfort and cajole her through it.


Then, there's a private ambulette. $250 minimum for two hours. $80 for any portion of an hour thereafter. $330 bucks to go 30 blocks? I don't think so.


Taxi? We've failed at that. Getting her in and out is impossible.


Rental car. Done that. It's the in and out that kills us all.


OK, so then, there's the bus! They are all wheelchair accessible, easy roll on, easy roll off.  The bus stop is directly across from our door. And it's $2.75.  Mom's going to be miserable no matter which choice we make. If we get lucky and it's a nice day? - we do the math, and make the terrifying choice to take the bus.



She is cranky from the start. Even after the two hour massaging of the whole plan. The best we ever get is a huffy resignation. "Do whatever you want." She groans with each tiny bump. Three times she says "I wouldn't live here for all the tea in China!"


The second we are in the doctor's office, mom comes alive. She LOVES an audience. We have given her vicodin and an ice cream sandwich for the trip, yes, but her arthritis has hobbled her and kept her in pretty constant pain for a long time now. It's not just the vicodin!


She sees the beautiful Dr. Devi? Stands straighter, listens intently, follows every direction perfectly. We see the power of her own need to perform. Maybe this is how we trick her in to walking, standing, getting the kinks out - we have to find her an audience. If we can do that we might keep her mobile a little bit longer; avoid another surgery for a little bit longer.


The bus ride home again is a breeze. Mom doesn't flinch or complain at every jolt. She is worried that there might not be enough ice cream for all of us when we get there. She tries to hand Patrick her mittens as she is worried he might be cold. (it's a gorgeous spring day) Mom at her best.


This morning? Crabby, lost, in pain, wanting to spend more time with me. I suggest maybe finding some new friends - "Remember how nice it was talking to Dr. Devi?"


mom: "I don't want just any old person. I want you."

me: "Well I can't be there all the time."

mom: "I know that, I'm not stupid."

me: "Well maybe we should take a walk later, there are a lot of great people in our neighborhood."

mom: "Nevermind. You just don't understand."

And she hangs up on me.

And I remember:

"Start again more than you ever dreamed you could."

promise of a rainbow life

Life is funny. One moment I am standing with a glass of champagne, hobnobbing with Lindsay Buckingham,



or singing (and forgetting the words of) a new song right after being knocked off my chair Tommy Sims' new song. (I think it is called "No Further Information at this Time")


The next, I am cajoling/begging my mother into the shower, and she is arguing: "Do you make ALL the people in this place take a shower? Do you make JULIE take a shower?"

me: "yes mom, everybody has to take a shower, I take one EVERY DAY!! Julie too!"

mom: "Well that's just silly."

me: "Actually mom, most people in the whole world shower at least every other day."

mom: "You are so NAIVE!!!"


Somehow, at least for now, we accomplish the very complicated and dreaded shower every week. It seems that most dementia patients have an aversion to getting clean. For mom it's partly fear of falling, and partly fear of being cold and lost. But that is nothing new.


Last week I gave her that book of poems I bought called "Delirium." I had met the poet on the street next to my building. He was hanging out, smoking outside the assisted living facility there. Lloyd Van Brunt is his name. I thought mom might get a kick out of a published and handsome poet living next door. Maybe someday they would meet and spar. She could pull her "Are you married?" line, and he would come up with some flinty return.



When I got back from LA, mom had ripped a few of his poems out of the book. One of them "I Fall in Love with Nancy Drew" seemed fitting.  (her real name is Nancy.) She had underlined the very last line of the poem: "Trembling with the promise of a rainbow life."


That is her lifelong story. My mother's constant longing at play. Always on the verge of discovery. Always seeking a self she couldn't quite locate or contain. But, like any good mother, somehow willing and endowing a certainty of self, a wholeness to her children that she never quite found for herself.

start again

It was such a treat to be back on earth for a bit. Old friends, family really of a sort.

Randy Grimmett from ASCAP


Claudia BRANT!!!


I got to participate in a down to the truth kind of panel about touring. Ok we all got a little potty mouthed, but that's what touring can do to ya...

jb. matt Nathanson


 the ice cream man, dan bern and jb


 I got to sing and share the stage with monster writers.


WOW. Steve Kipner (umm, "falling to pieces" for one, "PHYSICAL" for another!!)


Rick Nowels ("white flag" for one...) and Tommy Sims.("change the world" oh my) It truly was dreamy.


And then, home again, this reminder from my mother's mess of chopped and stacked poems:


"Start again, more than you ever dreamed you could."

 Like spring....

like songs


like love


She read me her poem from long, long ago. From starting again with my father:


Going to the Party


Harsh words have cut compassion down

to brevities; our atmosphere grows stiff

as crinoline. I have put on my black

pretentious gown and smoothed the edges

of my silence down. We will act nonchalant

with friends and I will laugh and frown

and you will do the same.


Leaving the party for our house our mood

is mute and cool; yet passing from the porch

to the car we note the singing of one evening star

which follows us along a winding road.

Arriving home we slowly seek the stairs

but find the distance farther than before.

We dare not speak; there is a silly stumbling

 of the feet, and reaching out for

hands which finally meet.


In spite of pride, regret, and words gone

wrong, the light of who we truly are seems

suddenly a galaxy outshining who

we thought we had to be.


 Darren Stone