Hiya friends. Amy here, the creatrix of John Joe Badger. It’s a strange time to be drawing gentle, tuneful badgers. There are so many badgers from which to choose in this harsh, fast-paced world.
There is the screaming, spitting, distrustful American badger; the go-your-own-way, screw-everyone-else, “independent” honey badger; and of course our own John Joe Badger, based as a character more on a “European” styled badger.
John Joe loves tea and gathering with fellow woodland animals – even, and perhaps especially – when they differ from him. He is quiet, thoughtful, and believes in fair opportunity for everyone. He believes in the arts (tunes and seascapes are his favorites!) and good, local food, available and affordable to all.
A friend of mine on the book of faces ranted recently “enough of politics!!!” And I hear that. But perhaps todays’ politics are more than “just” politics. Perhaps the choices these days are about life versus death, art and culture as life-saving things. Education and critical thinking as ways forward, not things to be afraid of.
It is difficult to make art, share a joyful tune, laugh at a silly pun, when the world is literally burning. But we MUST!
Today is week 42 of John Joe Badger’s “Twist of Hemp” series. I will bring episode 43 to you when my new pipes arrive from Ireland which might be a few weeks what with one thing and another (unless another idea springs to mind which sometimes happens.) There are tunes to record with my flutilla mates and our capitán of recent weeks Kevin, and tunes to record for the start of our strange new quarter at the Riley School. There are also votes to get out, volunteering opportunities to rock, old dogs to care for, gardens to harvest.
Art is a funny thing. It encompasses so much. And it’s not always what some might consider to be “art”. Sometimes, it’s politics.
There are many mysteries in this thing we call piping. John Joe Badger has heard whispers of a mysterious thing some call ‘The Backstitch’, and he is intrigued. On occasion he thinks he can hear it, in the playing of one further along the piping path, but he does not yet know what it really IS.
Perhaps one day he will figure it out.
For now he will leave backstitching efforts to the mending basket, and merely play the little tunes he knows as best he can.
This evening I was walking the lone, remaining dog up the drive. She doesn’t care for a long walk really, being fully deaf and mostly blind, but she does still like a good ole sniff along. I spied some neighbors walking by. A mother and adult son by the looks of it. They were thick into conversation, and looked up just in time to wave to myself and little Charlie from afar. And I got to thinking about the silverish lining of these strange and grief-full times in which we find ourselves just now.
Today would have been Full Day One at the Swannanoa Gathering and to be quite honest, I have been a bed of ready tears since the day before yesterday. I had texted my friend Peter on Saturday about the snacks and tunes and books-on-tape we might have shared along the drive south together on Sunday if we had been able to actually go.
Then Sunday morning, the waterworks really began as there were videos available from the Celtic Week Staff (only temporary, so click *here* for now, but not forever…) to wish us all well as we weather this heartbreaking non-time.
Thankfully the weather here locally was remarkably reasonable so I went for a hike and a little bicycle ride with the Hub and tried not to think about what we’ve lost this year.
It didn’t work.
I still had a good sob in the bath upon returning home, in spite of a day well spent in good company.
Grief is a funny country. It doesn’t follow the rules of polite society. It’s prickly territory.
Having had a dance with griefs big and small over the years, I figured, let’s just dance with it again and see what happens. As I communicated with all of my favorite summer and musical soul mates we talked of how fortunate we all are to have one another, if but from afar. To have this music in our lives to give us strength in hard times. We are all sad not to be together this year, but we are all hopeful that we will persevere toward better times. We know what we have here. And we are grateful.
So for now we work on our craft, learning new tunes, new instruments maybe. We weather this grief, personally, collectively. We know our loss of this week together is just one small loss in the Grand Scheme. But we grieve anyway.
There are plans to gather online in coming days, weeks, months, as best we can and we solider on with the help of our loved ones who seem to know how hard this is.
Case in point, I was drawing late this afternoon and heard the distinct sound of Irish music coming from outside. And wouldn’t you know, my Hub, knowing how difficult this has all been on me had set up a little ‘beer tent’ in the back yard in honor of Swannanoa. It’s the most thoughtful thing.
I think about that mother and son from my neighborhood and wonder if he, as a young person, is perhaps stuck at home unexpectedly with his parents in this wild, pandemicly charged time. Might they be getting to know each other in new and unexpected ways? I do not know. But maybe.
Small, unexpected silver linings in what is indeed a very dark time in the world.
As for me, I’ve seen more of my garden this year than in years past and I am glad of it, even if it means the work I do in the world will not look as it has in the past, at least this year. Even if it means my adventures have been tamed for the season. I am glad of the time here at home, fraught as it has been with worry about The State of Things.
Do I wish I were with my musical mates this evening down at Swannanoa? Yes, of course I do. But instead, here I am in a different sort of time, trying to make sense of things as they are. Blooming where I am planted.
In a couple of days we will make the quiet drive to Maine. Stealing away like thieves in the night. Before departure, I’ll get the garlic out of the ground for the season, and engage a neighbor to water the rest of the plants while we are away.
I’ll admit to be a bit anxious about the journey. There are no plans to engage anyone or anything once there, besides our extended family. We know how fortunate we are to even have this option of ‘away time’. And this is another prickly level of things. To allow grief for the things in our lives that aren’t happening this year, and joy for the things that are, amidst the complexities of the world at large.
We must make space in our hearts for all of it. To be at once missing wistful tunes in misty mountains outside of Asheville while also making fervent calls to government representatives. To doodle gentle creatures while gardening as if our lives might depend upon it. Perhaps they may yet. We mustn’t lose our capacity for complexity in these times. We must remain richly invested in all of it. The good when we can find it, the difficult when it confronts us, the grief-ridden – especially as a collective of human beans.
In a long ago chapter of our early days together, we were faced with a number of long deployments due to Tony’s work in the Navy. Fortunately, these were in peaceful days and the dangers were relatively few. But nevertheless, the separations were difficult. I used to have a system of whining about it all that gave space for the grieving without wallowing in it. A couple of days of feeling pitiful, with allowances for ice cream for breakfast, an extra bottle of wine or what have you. And then, I’d wipe my tears, and get back to the job at hand. The time eventually passed, possessing its own arc and way. This pandemic is a bit like a long and terrible deployment I think. We have no idea how long it may last. I think it’s vital to let ourselves whinge a bit now and then about the waves of losses that have come in the wake of this thing. To be a bit weepy for a day or two in the midst of it all is far better than to armor up completely under the guise of “being strong” or feeling like our small griefs do not count when others have lost so much more. Armor is not good for an open heart.
I hope y’all are keeping safe and sane in these difficult times. We will get through. Together. Seek joy where you can. Lean on one another. Send letters. Have a good sob in the tub now and then. But don’t lose faith all together.
Here’s one more lovely thing as well. I am ever so grateful for music.
Since the beginning of the era in which we found ourselves in a state of lockdown and isolation, a few of us faithful session-goers loosely affiliated with the Riley School of Irish Music community have gathered weekly on zoom to have a few tunes, check in with one another and have a bit o’ craic (i.e. chats, jokes, catching up, sharing stories – a crucial part of a good session.) As with all things coming at us on the mycelial network ad infinitum these days, zoom is an imperfect way to connect musically. But we take what we can get.
Somehow, I have managed to find myself as moderator each week for these online gatherings. I attempt to keep proceedings least awkward as they can be, making sure those who have something to say or play get a chance to do so. It’s a good job for one with long internal antennae and I do the job gladly week to week so that our beautiful community will be there when this whole pandemic eases and we can be together properly once more.
I jokingly call it the Dog and Pony Show because sometimes it feels that way. But at the heart of it all, it’s a sincere offering to my musical mates. It’s just hard to be social.
There are a lot of people out on the interwebs putting together online shows and bits of shows to put together with bits of other shows to keep the music and the communities surrounding it all alive. It can be frustrating sometimes to be sure (such as when the neighborhood lawn mower starts when the recording begins! *kevin*) but the gifts in return are wonderful. I do my small part with our little session here in town (and we sometimes have old friends in from Ireland which has been lovely!!) The professionals continue to do their best to keep us tapped into the tradition properly along the way as well. And we must support them.
Go donate to Tune Supply if you love traditional Irish music, or any place your favorite artists and musicians might be hanging out online doing their work. Reach out to them, buy some gift cards or a painting or a song or tune, an essay or a poem. Artists are still working, making the world a more magical place.
It’s what we do.
Join us at the Riley School for session each Saturday from 4-6 pm EST (message me for the link), or consider taking a class from one of our esteemed instructors sometime! Hope to see you there.
In the meantime, here is this week’s Twist of Hemp illustration featuring John Joe Badger, and some new friends from the dog and pony show. It’s week 33.
In this brave new world of zooming here and there and everywhere, we are confronted with the giants among us, musically and culturally speaking. We have opportunities to hear from them about their musical journeys and to learn from them in classes in the online sphere.
These opportunities can have a badger feeling rather small sometimes, but take heart John Joe! We must all start somewhere, yes?
Occasionally, between tunes over in the woodshed and foraging for food in the forest, a day must be taken to clear the decks about the hut a bit. To sweep the dust from the floors, the winter’s grime from the windows, and send the spiders back outside where they belong. It is a time to craft piles of books, clothes and maybe ideas that could use a bit of shifting. Until we can be with our friends once again to play a merry tune, John Joe Badger mindfully considers what might be worth keeping, and what perhaps can be let go.
I think this is something perhaps many are doing, yes? And it’s not all about stuff either.
How has this slowing down changed your view on things in general? What will you keep from this time when it is just a memory? Being a badger, John Joe likes his solitude, and the slowness of this isolation; the pace of things and the nature of the day to day in general. But he does look forward to meeting his musical mates one day again soon.
These are hard days indeed. Even the most solitary creatures miss their dearest friends more than words can say. Each day a new ‘cup of disappointment’ is served on large and small scale. No one is spared. And so, like many, John Joe Badger must occasionally recalibrate and reset. He makes his lists, some to get him through a day, this day, the now day. And other lists for the hopeful some day. Which will come.
He ponders what will stay and what will go when this strange era has passed. He seems already to have it fair figured out. Music, tea, plenty of rest, always. Then eventually, in a better time, tunes with friends once more.
Often times, one must simply make a commitment to something. Sometimes these commitments are small, such as making one’s bed each day,, eating more kale, or promising to go for a long walk every day ~even without a dog. (to be fair, these can add up to big things in the long run.) But other times, these commitments are larger ones. Such as adopting a pet, becoming a parent, or…. investing in a new musical instrument.
Today I sent an email off to a renowned Uillean pipes maker in Ireland to acquire a “half-set” of pipes later this year, hopefully when I go to Ireland for my artist’s residency. The maker is someone recommended to me by my teacher, dear friend and fellow musician Cathy whom I trust whole-heartedly. I guess this means I am diving full on into this piping stuff. I will continue to play the set I have on loan here, with all it’s quirks, and hope for the best with the new set when I pick it up in the fall. Praying I don’t drive everyone crazy with my practicing as I go.
In the meantime, St. Patrick’s day is coming. There are gigs to play with friend-musicians I am so fortunate to know and play with. A number of years ago, this would have felt like a pipe-dream of its own, really. So I have faith that with a bit of work, maybe my own “pipe dream” may come true and I’ll learn enough to play this wild new instrument along with others once more…. in the meantime, it is nice merely to grow and learn with a new project. I have some large canvases I plan to paint on as well. Big, new terrifying territory. But, like music, I am diving in. It’s the only way.
What are you doing these days that scares you?
ps. The above is week 18 of my little drawing series with John Joe Badger. While I was away teaching in Guatemala, I did manage to make a drawing each week, though sharing wasn’t as manageable. Here are week 16 and 17…..
As much as John Joe Badger loves his borrowed practice set, even with all of its idiosyncrasies (and don’t all sets have their idiosyncrasies?), he’s begun to consider the acquisition of a practice set of his own. Perhaps even a “half set”, which would surely complicate matters.
John Joe consults his latest issue of Piper’s Weekly……
Where does an average badger of modest means even begin to look for such a set? Does he go for a freshly made set of pipes? Or a well loved set, which might come along with adopted issues. Who are the best makers? Does he seek a maker near to him and to his climactic locale? Or does he dare contact one of the makers in Ireland….? These are the questions that keep our dear John Joe awake at night these days.
These, and the humidity levels (or lack thereof) here in late winter.