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Europe, Part 1: Bangor, Northern Ireland

I haven’t posted much about Europe. I was there from Mid September through The end of November 2016. It was amazing. I flew from New York to London, and then to Belfast. The airline lost my guitar at JFK. Not a very auspicious start (I later got it back). My first gig was in Bangor, Northern Ireland. I basically tumbled off the plane and into this gig in a lovely pub called Fealty’s. It’s a series run by a beautiful songwriter named Stephen Macartney. Well, just imagine — my first time in Northern Ireland. I was really jet-lagged but thrilled to be there. It went well, and it was there that I met Rodney and Jennifer Cordner, a wonderful couple who took me under their wings for a few days. They were just lovely. More on them later. The people in the pub were really warm and welcoming. For instance, I left my coat at home in New York. A nice man in the pub, when he found out I didn’t have a coat, went home and got a windbreaker which he then gave me.

After the gig, Stephen and his girlfriend Trish had me over for chili and Guinness but since I don’t drink anymore, I just had chili. And at that point hadn’t had a drink in over two years. And I don’t usually miss it. But that night, there amongst all those wonderful people drinking Guinness and Irish whiskey, I did feel a little bit of that yearning to have some. And that’s the problem right there: wanting a drink always took on the quality of a yearning. Anyway, it was a beautiful night and I got a little bit of an education about the area and about “The Troubles” between Protestants and Catholics. That’s an old story and I didn’t quite get all the nuances. For instance, earlier, during the show, when I brought forth some of the spirituality in my own songs, some of the people in the pub had gotten a bit uncomfortable. Stephen said later that some people get uncomfortable when religion comes up, because it has been so divisive.

The next day Stephen, Trish and I took a walk around Bangor and looked for a coat for me to replace the windbreaker, which was a bit thin. I eventually found one, but not in Bangor.

Didn’t take many pictures in Bangor for some reason.

Here’s Stephen, Trish, and me (in gifted windbreaker).

Me playing in Fealty’s

In Northern Ireland, Top Cat hawks Mortgages. I thought that was noteworthy. I’m guessing most of my readers won’t know who Top Cat is.

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Joy

It’s January 30th. phew. what a day. The Trump Presidency has been a roller coaster and we’re only eight days in. I’m beat. I should post earlier in the day.

I did hear a poet — well, Christian Wiman. I think I started the month talking about him, so maybe it’s fitting that I end the month talking about him, too. I went to another reading of his the other night.

He was talking about joy, and how joy and happiness are not the same, because joy can be — I’m trying to think of the right word — attained, obtained, experienced, gifted, evinced — even in the midst of deep sorrow. Happiness, not so much.

Paul and Timoty say in the letter to the Philippians to rejoice always. This constant-joy seems inextricable with gentleness, and with peace.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” — Philippians 4:4-8

Seems like good advice for these times.

The older I get, the more content I become. Not in a lazy or resigned way, but in a way that, I think, reflects a deeper sense of gratitude and surrender. Thanks to God for giving me that. For gratitude itself is a gift. As is surrender.

By the way, have you been praying for Trump? No, me either. Maybe I’ll go do that now.

See you tomorrow

Writing Class

I recently joined a fiction-writing class at the Gotham Writers Workshop. We just had our second class today. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for over eight years, ever since I moved to NYC. They have these distinctive yellow boxes with newsprint catalogs full of all the courses they offer. I’d always pick up the catalogs and leaf through wistfully, But I never took a class, first because my schedule was so erratic, and secondly because they are expensive. But since my gigging schedule is pretty empty over the next 8 weeks, I bit the bullet and joined a class. I wanted to take Fiction Writing II, but they strongly suggested I. It was a great decision, for while I had good instincts about writing, I was missing some basics. I’ve already learned a lot over the past week about how to put a story together.

I wrote two short stories in high school. One was about a young theology student returning home to his small town and, a little too full of himself and his fancy learning, spouting off at the mouth and generally acting like an ass. A humble country preacher and two elderly women at a church pig-pickin’ teach him a lesson in humility. I wish I could remember exactly what happened. I do remember a pig head grinning at the young theology student, a motif which I believe I stole from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. That was pretty brazen but maybe I altered it so it wasn’t obvious.

The other short story was taken from reality and was about my Grandmother shaving the face of her older half-sister, Ruby. I remember accompanying my Grandmother Hazel over to Aunt Ruby’s and sitting dutifully, if a bit terror-stricken, while she shaved her. While I could not wait to escape the proceedings, I also realized it was a beautiful act of devotion and love. It was a good story. I entered one of those short stories — I can’t remember which — in a state-wide fiction contest and won ..something. I can’t remember. Third place? It’s foggy. My prize was a certificate and a red paperback Roget’s Thesaurus which I used up until very recently.

Last week, the writing instructor asked if anyone wanted to bring in a short story for next week and I said I did. I think she meant who has a short story already written, not who wants to spend the next week writing a new story. But that’s pretty much what I did. I had a 500-word vignette and I turned it into a 3500-word short story. I think it’s pretty good and I’ve been alternately excited and panic stricken over the past few days trying to finish it and make something decent out of it. Some of the passages seem really good to me, and some read clunky. Forced. Like I’m in ninth grade stealing from Lord of the Flies again. Maybe I’ll put a conch in there.

And there’s always the attendant fear. Am I good enough? Will she (the instructor) like me? Will the students like me? Or not me, but the stuff I am presenting, which seems one and the same. These are the same things I hold at bay every time I play a show or go on a date or send a booking email (what if they see way down there to the real me and hate it?). Fear. It’s fear in danger of becoming self-pity. The way I’ve found to deal with it is to surrender it to God, to ask God to take it away and replace it with trust, love, service, and gratitude (gratitude’s a good antidote for most ills). God’s seen the real me, God is in the real me, and I’m in him. It’s in him that I’m home. Got to keep bringing myself home, remembering that I am home.

I printed up 14 copies of the story to my instructor and classmates who are going to mark it up and critique it next week. I’ll keep you posted.

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Water Tower in the Flatiron District/Tesla

6th Ave and 27th Street.

This is a picture I took of a water tower on 26th Street, viewed from 27th (Here’s a good article on the ubiquitous NYC water towers, which look like relics of the past but are still very much in use). The church I used to work for had its office on 26th. Directly behind me is the “Radio Wave building,” So named because Nikola Tesla lived and experimented there. There’s a great park nearby, Madison Square Park. Once Kanye West held a free concert there and it was a *mess*. Harried police shut down several blocks and there were tons of people. Apparently Kanye came on super late. Kanye and Jay-Z own a club nearby, called the 40/40 club. I stuck my head in there once, but didn’t sit down.

Speaking of Tesla: There are two Tesla Plaques in NYC (that I know of). One on the aforementioned Radio Wave Building (which used to be called Hotel Gerlach), and one on the Hotel New Yorker Hotel at 34th and 8th, where Tesla died, destitute. This leads me to a question: how come a long time ago living in hotels used to be a thing?

Jody/ Women’s March

Today I met up in Times Square with my friend Jody, whom I’ve known for 15 years. It’s the first time we’ve seen each other outside Washington State, where I go often on tour. After some initial scrambling around trying to find his colleague a place to charge her phone — scrambling which involved being seated in and perusing the menu of an Applebees, JOdy and I found a place to settle in and just talk. He was a sight for sore eyes, and it reminded me of all the great times I’ve had playing in Washington State — particularly in the State Parks, where Jody was a Ranger. Sometimes people ask me if touring is lonely, but in fact the opposite is true. When I’m tour I’m less lonely than when I’m at home, because I’m usually staying with and hanging out with friends or friends of friends. It’s one of the reasons I love being on tour, and one of the reasons it’s hard to come home.

Today was the day of the women’s march(es) in Washington and other places. I’m proud of my friends and family who went, who made signs, who got out of the house and marched. I’m also a little regretful that I didn’t go. I saw a lot of women, and some men, carrying signs on the subway. “Love Trumps Hate,” “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” “Yuge Mistake,” and lots of signs riffing off the “P” word that is recently in the news thanks to the President. My favorite poster was a cartoon of Donald Trump being chased down the street by a rolling-pin-wielding Statue of Liberty.

Yeah so Donald Trump became president. I’m still a little stunned by that, and have a hard time believing that it’s an actual thing that happened, and not an element in the the plot of some movie in which someone goes back in time and inadvertently alters the future (Whoops, Donald Trump is president! Better go back and Fix it, McFly.) I was very vocal in my dismay over Trump on Facebook last year, and now I’m out of things to say. I feel a bit numb about it, but also am trying to practice acceptance, and am allowing myself some hope that it won’t be as bad as we think. I’m sure I will write more about this later. For now I’m going to go fall asleep while reading short stories. Oh yeah, I’m taking a fiction writing course! More on that later, too. Good night.