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Europe, Part 2: Bangor, Northern Ireland (continued)

Greetings and welcome back to the series of posts about my trip to Europe in the Fall of 2016. When I left off, I was talking about playing in Fealty’s pub in Bangor, Northern Ireland in late September 2016. I forgot to say that the fellow who gave me his windbreaker (necessitated by my having left my jacket and coat at home in Brooklyn) in Fealty’s was originally from Arizona, and that it was a dad-windbreaker. The kind of windbreaker that my dad would wear, or your dad, or, if you are a dad, you. And apparently me, because I wore it all through EU, until I found a suitable replacement. (oh yeah. The day I replaced the dad-windbreaker. *that* was a banner day.  Stay tuned for that, you won’t wanna miss it.).

At Fealty’s, I met Rodney and Jennifer Cordner, a wonderful couple from Portadown who took me under their wings for a few days.  I was introduced to them via Facebook through my friend Gary Moorehead of  Massachusetts (It’s worth pointing out, that as much as I think social media contributes to the downfall of society, here’s a decidedly positive thing about it. I was able to easily make 2 lifelong friends because of a mutual friend on Facebook). Rod and Jenny are fun, warm, bubbly, funny, nurturing, creative, and plain old fun. Rod will talk your ear off, and did mine. He loves an audience and has the Irish gift of gab. His dad was from Texas (met Rod’s mum in Ireland, and then, I think left and went back to the US) and Rod never misses an opportunity to remind you that he is part Texan (and part Cherokee as he claims). Rodney is a singer-songwriter as well, and endlessly entertaining. Jennifer is sweet, kind, generous, and possessed of an deep, strong, unconditional love.  She treats Rodney’s hurricane-like conversation style with a bemused forbearance. Jenny has heard his stories before, many times, and has got a few stories of their own, as it happens. Neither Rod nor Jenny ever met a stranger. They drove me around, fed me, housed me, and took me sightseeing. Rodney lent me his guitar (“a teckaminny”) for that first gig. Oh and they taught me some of the lingo, which I drank in in wonder, as I drank in everything in wonder.

Here’s some Irish lingo I learned:

They Irish say “wee” a whole lot. Every sentence, like (That’s another Irish-ism, putting “like” at the end of a sentence like that): A wee spot of tea. a wee bit of juice. a wee walk, a wee gig.
“How’s about ya?” means “How are you?”
“What’s the craic?” means what’s going on or where may a good time be found.
“a brave drop of soup” is a big, hearty, bowl of soup.
someone who is incredibly drunk is “bleuthered.”
Someone who has “popped his clogs” has died.

First on the sightseeing agenda was the Mountains of Mourne, or Mourne Mountains, in County Down. It’s a granite mountain range in the Southeast part of NI, full of misty Celtic myths, Game of Thrones filming locations, endless stone walls, and sheep.

 

 

Rod and Jenny

 

 

Rod and Jenny’s front garden in Portadown.

 

This was a resort town where we stopped for tea on the way to the Mts.. can’t remember the name of it.

 

Jenny.

 

It gets windy.

 

The stone walls, the green, the sheep, the sea.

 

Jenny and Me. Do not, I repeat, do not be jealous of my sweet dad-windbreaker, I implore you.

 

A map.  Mourne Mts are at the bottom, Portadown is kind of in the Middle-West, under Lough Neagh.  Belfast and Bangor, Northeast.

Red Lentil Stew

I don’t usually take or post pictures of my food. In fact, maybe I never have. But I made a really good batch of red lentil stew tonight so I’m breaking the rule. It’s not the first time I’ve been tempted to post a picture of red lentils. I eat a lot of them. They are really hard to mess up unless you burn them. You can’t really overcook them (unless, you know, you burn them) and they cook really quickly, unlike regular lentils (wikipedia tells me red lentils *are* regular lentils, only de-husked). The shops around me, many of which are Pakistani-owned, sell a lot of them so I always have some on hand.

This stew had lentils, water, tomato puree, lemon juice, and a little bit of garlic powder. I didn’t add salt because the tomato puree had salt already. I simmered it over the lowest flame I could get on the burner for close to two hours and it turned out perfectly. I added some spinach at the end which quickly steamed.

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Back

I’m back in New York after 3 weeks or so of touring (in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio) followed by a week of visiting my parents in NC. It was great being on the road again, and an experiment of sorts because it was my first extended stretch of shows since transitioning out of ministry work. I hit the road with a lot of questions. Will I enjoy playing? Will I be good? Will people come? And will I make enough to make rent? The answer to all of these questions is, for the most part, yes. I had good shows, and enjoyed connecting with friends I don’t get to see that often.

Being back in NY feels — well, it feels ok. There’s a certain loss of momentum that comes with not having any performances coming up soon. I’m always happier if I have shows lined up. I’m working on booking the next batch of shows, and thinking about what the next batch of songs might be like. It’s been on my mind to record a collection of hymns. Either an all-original collection, or a mixture of some original and some traditional, or, perhaps something more conceptual like a double album of half doubt-songs and half faith-songs. This latter idea has received some good feedback, but I worry it might be too gimmicky or too forced. Part of what I already do (I think) is explore the edges and overlaps where faith intersects doubt. Really, they go hand-in-hand, and I’m not sure I’d want to hear any songs of faith that were entirely devoid of doubt, or vice-versa. So maybe my next album will just be plain old Jason Harrod songs without any special thematic emphasis. But at least, the gears in my mind are turning.

Here’s a picture of a construction site I took on a walk tonight through Midwood, the neighborhood just South of where I live:

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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.