Day 31 of 31

To live is to be annoyed, I guess. To be disappointed. People will let you down and you let yourself down the most for being let down.

How much better to be blithe and easy going and free.

I’m tense. I’m not usually tense but Im all wound up, balled up like aluminum foil crushed in on myself, like a little star.

I don’t know much about stars. My nephew was reading a popular physics book.

The universe is ever expanding forever. Into what? What holds the Universe? A Universe container. And what contains the container? And why is it always expanding?

There’s a truth. A truth and a good spot always overhead.

There’s a good place. Sometimes if I write and keep writing I can find the good place where something good comes.

I went for a bike ride today. I was working today, most of the day. Kind of a stressful project.

And I finished, and didn’t feel great about it, and went for a bike ride.

It’s Halloween. In my neighborhood they relly make a big deal about Halloween. NYPD comes and White cars sit at the end of the streeet to block the street.

And families come out. Little kids are dressed up. Lots of dinosaurs, superheros, harry potter, princesses, witches, pirates. Teenagers are dressed up, even adults are dressed up.

People are in a good mood. Shuttling kids to and fro, smiling. Cops are waving people by. I see the guns on the belt and feel a little uneasy.

Some houses are more popular than others. People are waiting in line to get into the good houses. The streets are jammed with people.

I have to walk my bike.

Then the street clears and I am able to ride, it’s fine. It’s getting dark so I don’t stay out too long.

I come back, and Robert, the guy who often hangs out in the garage, says the veil is the thinnest between the Spirit world and the material world today, on this day.

Hm ok.

I’m a bit dead, nothing’s working to break through, to get me to the good place. The place where good words and ideas come out.

That’s ok. I can be grateful. In AA they taught me to be grateful as a remedy for — pretty much everything (count your blessings).

Sometimes I just thank God for my fingers. I’ll look at each one and bend it and Thank God for it, and it does help. It puts me in a better place.

I had a crisis of confidence today. not sure why but I was looking at video of myself performing and was convincing myself I’m no good.

And I emailed a friend and said “Am I any good?” And he said “You are VERY Good.” True story.

So now, do I believe it, or not?

So many kids and parents. I saw a jellyfish. Someone dressed as a carton of milk. Looking for meaning to break through my crumpled tinfoil heart.

in AA they teach you to pray for the object of your resentment. I did this and I’m feeling better (pray for your enemies).

It’s a really good strategy. It’s hard to be mad at someone if you’re wishing good thing for them.

The fact is, the world is suffused with beauty and meaning. It’s a beautiful rich, glorious, shining world.

I’m impatient. That’s my problem. My writing is good if I treat it with respect and patience. If I don’t want to be doing something else, if I’m not balled up in anxiety.

It’s respectful to breathe, to practice gratitude, to let anxiety dispel, to let the richness of the world in so that you can in turn let it back out.

I’m a control freak. Once I went to a Christian recovery group. I was the only man. THere were women, and they all said they were adiicted to control. That was the first time I had heard that. One of them owned a pie shop. She was a ball of stress. She was learning to relinuish control.

Then the women broke into groups and I had to leave because they were going to share intimately, and being Christians, they paired the women with women and the men with men. And there were no other men. THe leader — the owner of the pie shop — asked me to leave, apologetically.

So I did, feeling a bit sorry for myself. But yeah, i like to be in control. I want to be wanted and I want to have things the way I like them. WHo doesn’t?

It’s beter for me to ask how may I be used. HOw may I be a blessing, how may I be poured out to help someone else.

I just read lyrics to a praise song that said “rid me of myself.” Ha. Good Calvinist praise song, that, but on the other hand, the Bible does talk about killing the old creature and becoming a new creation. That in fact all things will be made new. Are new. Old, becoming new, and already new at the same time.

I’m leaving New York. It’s finally decided. I just remembered going on a date with a former girlfriend, and we were in Corona queens, and there were some people playing Bocce, and we joined them for two games, and they welcomed us in. And then we went and had some ice. What to they call it? Snow cones? Shaved ice? I don’t know. And we walked forever. And it was summertime. I’m going to leave New York, and I’m not going to say goodbye to her, not because we’re not on good terms, but because it would be weird. Or what the hell, maybe I will. I will say goodbye to lots and lots of people.

People say “New York will always be there; you can come back.” They mean come back to live. Because of course I will come back to visit. But probably not to live. I fought so hard to stay here. Every year I fought and scrambled and scratched, until finally it wasn’t hard to stay here anymore.

And now I’m leaving.

Day 30 of 31 (Frosty)

In need of exultation, I exulted in a Frosty. Let me back up.

I started to walk by Wendy’s. It was a grey-white day in a grey-white month. Everything was the color of dry cement. It seemed like it might rain, or might not.

If it had rained everything would have been the color of wet cement.

In fact much of everything would indeed have been wet cement. But it didn’t rain. Everything was kind of in-between.

Everyone seemed like they thought about waking from a daze but then thought better of it.


I started to walk by Wendy’s but instead, feeling like I owed myself something — like the Universe owed me something, I walked in.

The Universe owed me a Frosty.

I had the means to make it happen.

There were about 5 people in line, and then an empty space in front of a cashier where it looked like another line might be. I asked the woman — a fellow customer — at the end of the line if there were two lines or just one. She held up 2 fingers.

But only one register looked open and I felt like talking. Sometimes, in a city of strangers hustling back and forth, you just feel like talking.

“I haven’t been in a Wendy’s in a long time” I said.

“Oh really,” the woman said, humoring me.

“I don’t know why” I said.

“Maybe because it’s so slow,” she said, indicating the line.

“No that’s not why,” I said, thinking that that would a strange reason to not visit a particular fast food restaurant chain. It might not be a good reason to visit *this* particular fast food restaurant though.

“I think I just don’t like Wendy’s,” I said. “Except for the Frosty.”

She gave me a friendly shrug.

I wanted to talk more but had pretty much used up that topic of conversation and was teetering on the edge between friendly stranger and strange stranger, so I walked to the front of the counter, where a woman who had previously been in conversation looked up and asked if she could take my order.

“Do you have a child-sized Frosty?” I asked.

She shook her head and said “Junior Frosty.”

“Oh Junior Frosty, then. Ok, I’ll have one of those.”

She nodded and went to the machine and filled up a little cup with frosty and then snapped a lid on it.

“I don’t want a lid,” I said, after it was too late.

I pictured Frostys of my youth, which ascended out of a bright yellow cup into a consummate swirl. That was when going to Wendy’s was a treat. I remember going to a Wendy’s in Durham, NC with my family after church. They had the old timey tables made to look like old newspapers, and they had old timey font everywhere, and a cash register that had a little chute where the change came out into a dish. That was back when square hamburgers really seemed like an innovation.

When she handed me the frosty she said, “Sorry, I didn’t catch what you said.”

“Oh, I didn’t want a lid,” I said.

“We have to put a lid on it,” she said. “It’s a rule.”

“Ok. It’s just nice if it has a –” And then I made a little upward-drawing motion with my hand to indicate a swirl.

“Yeah, I get it,” she said. “No swirls anymore. You have to have a lid.” “But here.” She handed me a coupon book.

“That’s good for five free Junior Frostys. You finish that frosty, come back and I’ll give you another one, on the house. In fact, I’ll give you free Junior Frostys all day if you want.”

This caused her to laugh, and several other people in the Wendy’s to laugh too. I laughed too, thanking her.

I put the coupons in my pocket. I took the lid off of my frosty, carefully, so I didn’t get my hand sticky. I put the spoon in. It was thick. I tasted it. It was sweet, cold, slightly granular in texture. Chocolate. It’s got a distinctive flavor. Wendy’s might have gone downhill, but they still have the frosty. Unchanged, tastes just like that Sunday after church in Durham.

I walked outside. It was still grey-white. The sky, the sidewalk, even the remains of my frosty were grey-white in the cup. I was grey-white too.

People were walking by in a daze. Hustling strangers, some going this way, some going that.

I threw away the cup and started walking.

I’m walking around the city this city,

looking at people, they’re looking at me, same old.

just walking. I go in a bathroom, I get the code, I punch it in, it doesn’t work.

“You’re using the code for the other bathroom,” a woman says, gesturing toward the other bathroom. Apparently only one bathroom is open to the public.

“Thanks,” I say. “I won’t be long.”

I go in and there’s toilet paper on the floor, urine on the seat. I use it, then clean it a bit, hating for the woman to think
I’d left it like that.

I go back out, holding the door a bit like you do.

There are a lot of tourists today. I’m by the Empire State building and they’re taking pictures.

I pass a sign on a wall that has a red hand on the right and a blue hand on the left, and tells passersby to place their hands on the appropriate places on the sign
and then to wait until their hands come together and there’s a hashtag which says “unity.”

While I appreciate the sentiment, the sign makes no sense and strikes me as naive. The sign would make more sense if it were ironic — if it were on the ground, say, forcing prospective sign-readers and sign hand-putter-onners into pushup position. Then the sign would show us how truly hard it is to put our hands together — to be unified.

Maybe the sign was meant to be ironic, I’m not sure.

But it seems earnest to me, and naive, as if we could ever come together and be unified at a time such as this.

I’m still rattled and discouraged by the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Outraged, if I can take the time to let the horror and evilness of what actually happened get through to me. I’m numb though.

A day after the Synagogue shooting, a man shot two black people in a Kroger supermarket, after trying unsuccessfully to enter a black church. What?

Hate crime upon hate crime.

It’s horrifying and infuriating, or should be. If I can let what actually happened sink in. If I can un-numb myself and wake up.

God, we need your justice.

Day 28 of 31

I don’t feel that I have it in me to write today. Or, that is, to write anything artistic or meaningful. Some days you got it and other days you don’t. Most days I can get to a place where I do “have it.” It helps if I don’t start so late. I missed writing yesterday. Quite a hard day yesterday, with the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. A day — a weekend really — of devastation and heartbreak.

My friend Glenn Bell and his wife Stacia are in town from Seattle. I’ve know Glenn since freshman year of college, 1990. He was on my freshman High Road group. High Road is like Christian outward bound. Our group of eight (I think) students hiked, canoed, and camped all around Northern Wisconsin the summer before our freshman year. Glenn is very outdoorsy, the kind of guy high road is made for. I’m a lot less outdoorsy and yet I have really good memories of that trip. The culmination of the trip was a solo camp by the shores of lake Superior during which we fasted. I didn’t eat for 2.5 days — just drank water. I remember they told us to drink directly from the Lake. They said it was so big it was “self-cleaning.” So that’s what I did. I remember feeling really hungry, then the hunger faded. At the end of the fast they made us this amazing oatmeal with berries in it. Ours was the first, and I think maybe the last, co-ed group that High Road sent out. I was in love with a couple of the girls in our group.

Glenn is from near Philadelphia. He was in the army for four years and is now a fireman in Seattle. Stacia is a school librarian. I used to make a yearly trip to Seattle each summer, and I’d usually stay with them. We had some really good times. But it’s been a while since I’ve out there.

Glenn and I got together yesterday for Ramen in Brooklyn, then walked to the Brooklyn Public Library and had pie. It was one of those days where it spit rain all day, so we didn’t walk long. The pie was from this popular place called Four and Twenty Blackbirds. I had something called “Black Bottom Oat.” I found a recipe for it. I thought it had molasses in it, but it turns out it was black corn syrup. It was quite good. Got to love a Library that serves pie.

Day 26 of 31 (Bernstein and Gould)

I was going to take a picture of Leonard Bernstein’s grave.
I biked to the cemetery and hiked up the hill.
I used my phone to divine where the grave is, like one of those sticks they used to find water. A divining rod? Dowser?
Holding my phone in front of me like a shining oracular stone.
A magic 8 ball which did yeah tell me where Leonard Bernstein is buried, and his grave, I dunno.

People had put stones all over it and then someone put an apple, and then someone had affixed a cutesy sticker, which gave me pause.

People were making his grave more about themselves than about Leonard Bernstein. I wanted to be the opposite of those people. So I demurred from taking a picture and instead turned around to look at the city in the distance
between the headstones,

The water shining in the harbor.

When I got home I watched some Leonard Bernstein online. First introducing Glenn Gould, the then-young piano prodigy, then accompanying Gould with an orchestra. Glenn was moving his mouth like a rock-and-roll guitarist and his fingers were spider legs waltzing a magic web out of Bach in D minor.

It was the 50’s. The online comments were full of fulsome praise for the musicians (all of whom were white) and for time gone by.

One commenter had a story:

Leonard Bernstein fell off his conductor’s stand one night, and later at a party when someone mentioned it, Lenny, swigging bourbon, said “did I wake the fuckers up?”
Heh. Irreverent and, troubled, and hm. Who wouldn’t want to swig bourbon with a swearing Lenny Bernstein? Such a chance would knock me off my sobriety.

I see Bernstein introducing schoolchildren to the William Tell Overture. And he’s playing melodies and asking the kids to identify what he’s playing. The 1958 kids all know the answers: “Blue Danube,” “Tales of the Vienna Woods.”

2018 Middle aged me doesn’t know the answers. I don’t know from Strauss. I feel the holes in my education, in my attention, in my accomplishments. What if I could go back in time and know more, do more.

Bernstein’s wearing a suit. Everyone is wearing a suit. One of the youtube comments says “Where are the black kids at though?”

Yeah really. Where? Such an obvious question that we forget to ask it.

I have a keyboard. I will never be as good at anything as Glenn Gould was at playing piano.

Except for being me, a voice says, louder than the voice which says “don’t write that down.”

I have one advantage and remedy which those in the video don’t have: Life, time, desire, who knows how much.

God woke me up today. He might not tomorrow.

I watch Bernstein and Gould and say hello to all those disembodied bodies of 1958 and thank them and praise them. Then I shut the computer and wander to the piano.

I practice my inversions, slow and unsteady.

A blind spider climbing steps.

Better than yesterday,

Not as good as tomorrow.

Day 25 of 31

Today I had to take my guitar in to the repair guy, again. A few weeks ago the bridge popped off, for second time in a little over 20 years. This time it cracked in two. I sent away to Lowden (it’s a Lowden guitar) for a new bridge, and they sent a replacement that is stronger and of a superior design. I took it to Norio Imai, a great guitar repair person in the city. He put the new bridge on, and repaired some of the bracing inside while he was at it. It was a $650 repair. The problem is that the new bridge sits a little bit taller on the guitar so my action is too high. This means that the strings sit too high above the fretboard for my comfort. I had a gig coming up and no time to change the action, so I played one gig with the guitar like this and one gig with a borrowed guitar. I felt frustrated because I didn’t think I played as well as I could have due to not having my guitar, the way I like it. So I took the guitar back in today. I hope we can get it the way I was used to it.

Norio Imai is a good repair person. He seems to work 24/7. He’s very friendly. He’s always kind of half-laughing at me. I think I amuse him. His client list is very impressive. Keith Richards is on there. There’s a picture of him and Keith Richards embracing on the wall. John Mayer, Sting. Guys like that. I should have my guitar back Monday. In the meantime I will use my backup guitar which (for now) is a Norman guitar. I like some things about the Norman, but am really ready to have my Lowden back. I have some friends who are luthiers, like Ryan and Stephen at Kinnaird guitars. They make beautiful guitars and are great people to boot. I was honored to play a Kinnaird guitar for a spotlight showcase at the Healdsburg guitar festival in Santa Rosa, CA many years ago. That was a really fun time.

Day 24 of 31 (Thoughts On New York)

I’ve been trying to write a “New York” song for a while now. In fact I did write one, but I’m not quite sure about it for reasons I will explain later — perhaps tomorrow. New York has crept into my songs here and there. In “Messed Up Everywhere Blues,” where I’m afraid I stole a line (or more) from Billy Joel. This is so embarrassing I won’t repeat those lines here.

Also in the song “Snowstorm,” where I say:

“Snowstorm is a simple word first used in 1771
it must have been a frightful storm the day it was spoken
its a compound, like “skyscraper,” looming up so high
baby its cold out wherever you’re holed up i hope that you’re all right.”

I wrote that song in New York City, where skyscrapers do loom.

Also, from “Out in the Fields”:

“Here in the city harder than iron
Lost children gather like bottles in bars.
There is a pain that awaits us, unchanging.
It hangs in our breasts and our stars.”

I wrote that in New York City also. I spent a lot of time drinking in New York City bars, and in my minds eye I can see the bottles shining behind the bars. I haven’t had a drink in over 4 years, and it’s very possible I will never have a drink in a bar, or anywhere, again. Will I miss it, do I miss it? Yes, very much. But I will never regret not drinking. I very often regretted drinking.

There’s this from “Outposts”:

“You made a bad joke, sounded just like my dad
but looked like a kid in a big winter hat
and waited, impatient, for traffic to pass
said goodbye and stepped into the road.”

That’s a New York City scene.

Lastly, there is this verse I added to my version of “This Land is Your Land”:

“Oh pretty baby won’t you come with me?
leave all your worries here in the city
up to the mountains and out to the sea
this land was made for you and me.”

Those are pretty much all of the New York City references in my songs. It’s not made explicit in the songs that the references are specifically about New York City, because they just mention “the city.” Of course that’s the way New Yorkers talk about the city: “The City,” as if there is only one. Even when I lived near Boston, if people mentioned “The City,” chances are they meant not Boston but New York.

New Yorkers are very proud to live in what they consider to be the greatest city in the world but they don’t talk about it. They’re more likely to complain about it than to praise it. Their pride is in their bearing, their walk, their speech, their posture, that they live in a place where just existing is an accomplishment.

New York is a place I am always glad to leave and never sorry to come back to. It’s massive, sprawling, a vast expanse of habitation. It weighs on you and wears on you. If you haven’t been out of town for awhile people will so get on what you think is your last nerve that you become desperate to escape. If you leave town and then come back, it feels like magic. Like you’re in an Audrey Hepburn movie. Everyone’s so beautiful and cool, and you are beautiful and cool. There’s nothing you can’t do.

New York is provincial. I know New Yorkers who have never been west of New Jersey — never learned to drive, never been in a plane. I know born-and-bred Manhattanites for whom Brooklyn is a foreign land they only visit on very rare occasions, and bumble around hapless as tourists, though they grew up half a mile away.

I have a friend whose great-grandparents had a farm, yes a farm, at Broadway and 22nd street, but who left the city in the great scare of 1837. I have no idea what the great scare of 1837 was, but he told that to me as if I would know. My friend drops names like Astor and Whitney, and Hearst. As in Patty. “Patty Hearst? I thought she was dead,” I said. “Oh no, she’s very much alive. I had her over here for a party a few months ago,” my friend said. I told my friend that that reminded me, I needed to read the Jeffrey Toobin book on her. And I still do.

New Yorkers are snobs about living here. I am, even though I’m not a “real” New Yorker. I know people who have lived here 40, 50, 60 years. I know people who will never leave this place. They are real New Yorkers. I’ve only been here 10 years, and I talk of leaving all the time, and one day I will leave. I can’t stay forever. I’m not a “lifer.” It’s not in me. The people who are lifers have my very real respect, and a certain amount of my envy.

I’m never sorry to leave. But to really leave? To leave for good, when that happens? I will be real sorry for that.

Manhattan Skyline, view from Queens.

Day 22 (Your love, Love, is Like)

What’s a good metaphor for your love, Love?

Your love might be like light through a glass honey jar, hefted in the hand.

Diffused through granular anticipated delight.

Or maybe it’s like the honey itself, viscous, poured out reluctant, coming on its own time, a fine amber stream in the sun

Or else recalcitrant in the bottle, hard, crystallized. Not coming, never coming.

Or maybe your love is like falling down the stairs, arms legs flying landing in a heap with thud.

Oh hey, lover and object of love why such a jarring metaphor?


Distrust, Dread. A dark foreboding which unfolds in my breast like a spider.

It replaced my thoughts of love (sorry Love) with a quick thought of falling down the stairs.

A certain dark stairwell.

A dark certain stairwell.

And why is there a spider in my breast? I don’t know, ask him.

I’m sitting, waiting for a wayward moth to come (he says).

A flitter a flutter, you know how moths fly. Never in a straight line.

So the spider put some thoughts in me. And some expressions on my face and maybe a pain in my back that makes me walk with a trudge and a slump and a not-here-ness.

Trudging with my mind somewhere else.

I went to buy some blackberries today.

I used to pick them with my sister. My mom would send us, and we’d fill up buckets, like characters in a children’s book except we were real.

I bought blackberries from the Korean market and they were just sweet enough but not too sweet. Fat and plump. I stuffed big handfulls in my mouth.

On the way out a woman was asking for spare change. My change was 65 cents so I gave it to her.

Sometimes I give to people who ask of me; sometimes I don’t. The Bible says to give to whoever asks of you.

That’s one of those verses that’s in a grey area right? Like, we dont *always* have to do that, right? Kind of like selling everything we have and give to the poor.

Crazy talk.

I’m trudging home. Partly because my back hurts. I’ve locked my bike up. I’m walking back to my bike.
A guy smiles at me, he’s smoking, talking on the phone, but he goes out of his way to smile and make a gesture that says he saw me.
I smile back, wave.

He’s the manager of the store where I buy groceries sometimes. It’s a very small supermarket as supermarkets in NY tend to be.

They used to carry this salmon in a bag and they would run out and I’d pester him for more until they got more in on the truck.

But the salmon in a bag stopped coming and I stopped pestering him.

The spider tells me to worry, and I do. I’m obedient to it. Jesus said not to worry. is that one of those things to obey, or is that a grey area like giving everything to the poor?

Either way I’m disobeying it. I’m obeying the spider. What if, what if so and so withholds love or this good thing doesn’t happen or this bad thing does happen?

Maybe your love is like a guy trudging weighed-down down the street trying not to think about falling down the stairs.

Yep it is.

I forgot to say when I got home I gave some blackberries to a friend.
A friend at home. She was watching final jeopardy. She held out her hand, freshly washed, and I put my unwashed blackberry stained hand in the blackberry container
and pulled out 4 blackberries.

I dropped the 4 blackberries in her hand. She ate them, and made an absent-minded “mmm” silent chewing sound.
I heard it but didn’t hear it.

My mind was not there,
it was on the stairs,
or with the spider,
waiting for his moth.

Day 21

Well, I missed a day (yesterday), dangit [of writing that is. I challenged myself to write every day in October]. I had a few hours of driving in the morning followed by preparing for a show followed by a show (in Stow, MA) followed by hanging out with a friend followed by a hard crash. And the thought of trying to write never entered my mind. Today I woke early, had pancakes with friends in Bedford, MA and drove from Bedford to NYC. It was a pretty easy drive. Even returning the rental car was not too bad. A friendly agent who told me since I returned the car with more gas than I had taken it with I was due money back. That’s the first time any rental car agency has every offered that. I declined, because the line in the office was so long.

It was a fun and productive weekend. I had some good shows and spent some quality time with good friends. It’s always good to be home though, even if home is sometimes tenuous. I have a few days off from performing this week, during which it will be easier to write.

Here’s a pic I snapped of a dog in a truck in a rest stop on the Mass Tpke. I was kind of taken with the whiteness of the whole scene.