Fairwell January... Already? My favorite month goes so quickly! Perhaps it is why I so frequently catch myself lingering in it well into February. Well, at least unlike so many others, I love the winter! I love nature telling everyone to SLOW DOWN, take your time... and be mindful of your step because it gets slick out there!
It would be difficult for anyone watching to believe I am striving to slow down. When I meditate over my days in retrospect and see myself from an outside perspective, I already appear to be moving at a sloth's pace. Nevertheless, to satisfy my intrinsic sense of accomplishment, I am endeavoring to resume blog-posting my monthly activities.
December 2016, I surrendered to the plan of last resort: I moved back to my parents' house. By all right, I should have done so an entire year ago- But at that time, I could not bring myself to stay in their little farm community beyond Christmas 2015, into New Years. Instead, I ran away to live with my fairy-fest parents; James and Julie.
James Drury is my luthier. He and his partner, Julie adopted me at Philadelphia Folk Festival in 2013 when I showed up at their booth, playing their handmade guitars and ukuleles all day. Although they are by no means comparable to my biological parents, their home did happen to be close to Philadelphia, and at that time I was not ready to surrender. I sold my first guitar for the rent money and moved in.
Over the following few months, I watched in dismay as everything unraveled. Cohabitation with my fairy-fest parents and their artist roommate did not pan out. My laptop died. My bike was stolen. My vehicle was totaled by another driver running a stop sign... and my heart broke. 2016 was the year which simplified life down to my heart's desire; The only thing that went right was music.
L-earning to Cover
Having only picked up a guitar a few years prior, my knowledge had been mostly limited to the original songs I composed. Despite this, I had performed in numerous shows and music festivals alongside seasoned talents whom I truly admired. Nevertheless, I felt like a failure for how little income music had generated, for how little I understood about the theory I had heard and read hundreds of times over. I questioned whether I wasn't simply trying to be someone I wasn't.
However, music is magic this way; Just when I felt like giving up, something clicked!
In the midst of my low-swing, I thought about an old folk tune my lover's grandmother had sang for me. "I Ride an Old Paint", which sounded like utter nonsense to me at the time, was the first cover I began to rehearse. I listened to Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger perform it. I copied down the lyrics, again and again; like studying for a spelling test. Suddenly, the silly story spoke to me. I could see variants of its narrative played out like a movie in my mind each time I sang it. Dream ponies followed me in my sleep...
I began a separate journal specifically for cover songs and began filling its pages with lyrics and chords; "You are my Sunshine", "Walking After Midnight", "Leaving on a Jet-plane". Each morning, as I prepared to leave for work, I would play through as many as I could, especially Dolly Parton's "9 to 5". Throughout my days I repeated her words to myself like a mantra, "In the same boat as a lot of your friends, waiting for the day your ship'll come in. The tide is gonna turn, and it's all gonna roll your way!"
Sure enough, in the next few weeks, I received unexpected gigs, getting paid to perform at an SPCA fundraiser and a retirement community. I took a leap of faith and purchased a small PA system on credit. Finally, I could consider rehearsal time a financial investment.
Of course, the process had never been a secret. Every good Samaritan who knew a little more than me took me aside at open mics and outlined it in great detail. However, seeing a route on a map is an altogether different experience than getting behind the wheel of a car or boarding a plane! At last I could make my own way!
Music Theory Coloring Book in the making...
As my fingers found their way to the chord changes in time with the the tunes; so did my mind begin to absorb a modicum of the vast theory I had imbued into a color-coded chart of the guitar fretboard.
Creating this visual aid had been a sudden burst of inspiration in the winter of 2015, while I was working for the nonprofit, Music in the Park ATL. During the 6 weeks I set aside to be their full time dedicated volunteer, I had the opportunity prioritize creativity and explore my graphic art talents. However, memorizing the chart and applying it to my music theory studies would take another year...
Just as a series of dominoes demystified the craft of covering songs in 2016, so too did a sequence of events help me understand theory. While I was just beginning to rehearse "I Ride an Old Paint", I was recruited to volunteer for the children's literacy and writing nonprofit Mighty Writers. Their students had expressed an interest in learning how to play guitar, and with my background in both childhood development and music, I was an ideal candidate.
A large component of my music workshop was built around the guitar fretboard chart. I presented it to the children in black and white, then introduced them to the color-code as a color by notes (rather than numbers) exercise. Eight notes = Eight colors, plus five variations of the colors to represent the sharps and flats. This way I could present the children with familiar songs by letter or color, and they were able to find the corresponding notes on the guitar.
But let me not digress... This concept will be explored in depth as this website expands. For now, I will simply say, volunteering my time as a workshop leader with Mighty Writers helped me identify the concepts and details that are currently being turned into a Music Theory Coloring Book. With each illustration I create, I come to a greater understanding of how the guitar works!
New Year, New Career
The biggest lesson 2016 gave me is the one that requires the least words; Surrender. Again, it is a skill I have actually invested several years' efforts into achieving, but 2016 was the year it clicked- Repeat the words and practices which you want to remember and improve. It sounds so simple, and yet- What is only implied in this statement is the real challenge. How does one remember to let go of everything else?
I have heard and read so many times that people who have achieved their impossible-seeming dreams do so because they put aside everything else. Regardless of their origins, education, or obstacles; again and again, mankind continues to prove anything is possible.
The Return of the Prodigal Child
So, when I got all of my belongings moved back under my parents' roof, I took a long pause... I informed my parents of my intention to do as little as possible for the remainder of December, to clear my mind and prepare for a clean slate in 2017.
To my surprise, they were happy I was staying. They take great pleasure in resuming the same simple routines we carried out when I was a child. My dad insists upon kissing me goodnight and goodmorning every day, like I am a little girl. My mother's greatest joy is in sharing food. Whether we are grocery shopping, cooking, or eating; she is happiest when she knows I am well-nourished.
After living away from them for over 15 years, it was enlightening to confront what had made me so anxious about living with them again. I was ready because I had finally established my own boundaries. As the weeks passed, I began to realize the behaviors that made me most reluctant to live with them were frequently patterns which reflected my own.