Thursday, August 9, 2007

the home stretch

July 30. The Home Stretch.

Just a few minutes ago Caroline premiered her new dance move at a truck stop just over the Mississippi on the Arkansas side of Memphis. IPod attached to her ears by those ubiquitous white umbilical cords, she danced as if no one was watching – and I’d like to say it was the second coming of Alvin Ailey. Luckily for us it was even more entertaining – sort of like a stork doing the jitterbug. Cary, Kate and I pondered through fits of exhausted laughter whether she was more Elaine or Kramer. Kate being Lindy Hearne’s daughter who nannied for us while Cary taught with me at The Young Writer’s Workshops (my summer home at UVA in Charlottesville, VA for the last eight years).

Hannah is wired beyond belief, and now she’s jealous too. She tried to trump Caroline with her own signature move – and even though it was more swan / less stork, it didn’t work this time. The girls haven’t been to bed before midnight lately (that’s going to change really soon) and they’re doing remarkably well on the trip, but I think we’ve all hit the wall. If hysterical laughter is verse one then just plain hysterics is the second. Guess that’s what happens when you put all this estrogen in a confined space for a scenic trip cross-country, it was just a matter of time. What was I thinking?

It’s 10:23 PM Central, and we’ll get home to Dallas maybe by 5 AM, and if I have my way we’re not stopping before then. Cary’s driving the MLU, which in recent months has taken on the appearance of a hippie van, gear piled up to the roof in the back, peace and love bumper stickers plastered all over the back doors, and less than a square foot of window for the driver to see through her rear view. She drives like she writes: Ferociously – Dorothy Parker on uppers. I’m too tired to tamp my feet down on those passenger brake pedals, but I do have Progressive on speed dial just in case.

Several weeks ago we got the news that Cary got in the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival song contest. As difficult as Kerrville is to get into, this is even harder – over 900 entries, with only 10 chosen to perform for the contest, a Pulitzer for songwriters if you will. Cary is one of the chosen, that’s her karma – I sometimes wonder if she was Mother Theresa in her past life. In this life I can tell you she’s certainly the Diva of Becky Court. But I digress: come August 17 about mid-day Mountain Time would you send up a good word? I know she’s my wife and all but still I’ve never known anyone who’s worked harder at her craft, or anyone who’s grown as much artistically over the last several years.

I’m going to tell you a secret: It’s intimidating to be around her as a songwriter – she’s so good that sometimes I feel small by comparison. I mean I wallow in the English language like I’m wading through molasses, like I’m drowning in the shadow of Tom Kimmel and Pierce, and she throws out lyrics that read like perfect stars on top of perfect Christmas trees. That’s one of my crosses. One of hers is playing guitar, and now she has to play for herself in the contest. She’s been working hard at that too and, true to her form, I know she’s going to do fine.

Last week at the tail end of the workshop I recorded and mixed 37 songs of my students in 4 days, and on Thursday night gave them each 2 CDs with all their songs on them as they received their diplomas. My teaching assistants Ben Johnson and Emily Henry told me those songs were blasting out of students’ suites until the wee hours of Friday morning, and it filled me with pride – the kind of feeling I don’t get anywhere else, doing anything else. It’s knowing you’ve done your best, worked your hardest, given your all, and made at least a little difference in a few young people’s lives. How could I give that up?

Earlier this year Cary and I talked about this being my last year at Young Writers. But we both came away from teaching this summer re-learning what we already knew: How it feeds our artistic souls, how much we get energized by being in that creative environment, and how completely it frames the rest of the year for us. So we’re not leaving yet, we’re going back – and we hope that it becomes an even bigger part of our girls lives too.

Hannah already talks about herself as a songwriter, and she really is. One day I’m going to record her song “Lucky Penny” so you can all hear it. Last summer she helped me write “Angel Wings” with Cary: You can hear singing the descant part on the outro, a melody and lyric she came up with herself. Caroline wants to try her hand at playwriting, and even though she didn’t sit in on any classes this summer, I think she’ll be really good at it when she does – her short stories are chock full of the kind of unexpected details I can see working on stage or screen.

My ex and I used to joke about how we’d have buttoned down neo-cons for children. And though she and I weren’t blessed with children, having 2 stepdaughters now with Cary makes me grateful that our lifestyle – although not abundant with material things – exposes them to things I never even knew existed until I was in my 30’s. I hope that one day they’ll look back at all the places they’ve been, all the cool people they’ve interacted with, and all the songs they’ve sung to realize how special it was. But how could they know? It’s a life unencumbered by the corsets Cary and I used to wear. They’ll never know the flip side: the rules, the dos and donts, the hellfire and damnation, the odious requirements of organized religion. And I’m glad they won’t. I’m doing my job here too.

So it’s with a certain sense of accomplishment that I return home. I can’t wait to get my studio working again. This weekend I go to Boston to mix an album I recorded with Jagoda – my percussionist soul mate. We’ll be mixing at Fox Run Studios, and I’ll finally get a chance to work with Pro-Tools guru Neale Eckstein. I did manage to finish the mixes to Lauren LaPointe’s and Erik Balkey’s new albums this summer, and later on in August I’ll be recording my cousin Rekha in Denver, then recording my friend Nancy Jephcoate from Martha’s Vineyard. Early September I’ll start work on Nick Annis’ new CD in South Florida.

At some point, I need to start on another CD for Cary too. “Yellow” with such great songs [and great production, ha!] is a hard album to follow, but if anyone can do it she can. And later I’ve promised myself to start working on that Indian album I keep talking about. Hold me to that will you?

Cary and I’ve been away from home for over seven weeks. I miss our bed. It’s going to feel so good when I lay my head down early tomorrow morning. I want to go downstairs in the morning and make my own cup of coffee, I want to veg out for a few days, be decadent, watch ESPN and catch up on Big Love. I don’t even know who’s president anymore (wishful thinking). Eventually I’ll catch up with the world reading the editorials from the Washington Post – my paper of record.

So … that will last a few days, then I’ll be ready for the next chapter. My life is a twisted path and right now in the middle of nowhere Arkansas I’m grateful for every step.

Namaste’ TPR