Category Archives: character building

Prickly territory

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.

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 hard 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 is perhaps stuck at home, unexpectedly 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.

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.  Even if it means my adventures have been tamed for the season.

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.

****if you haven’t listened to Dolly Parton’s America podcast, you should*****

Before we drive to Maine, 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.  We mustn’t lose our complexity in these times.  We must remain richly invested in all of it.  The good, the difficult, the grief-ridden.

I hope y’all are keeping safe and sane in these difficult times.  We will get through.  Together.  Seek joy where you can.

Here’s one more lovely thing as well.  I am ever so grateful for music.

Dog and Pony Show

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.

On Feeling Small

:::  TWIST OF HEMP ~  Week 29  :::

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?

Yes.

Making space

::: Twist of Hemp Week 25 :::

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.

Until then…..

A list for better times

::: TWIST OF HEMP ~ Week 24 :::

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.

Twist of Hemp Week 18

On Dreaming.

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…..

Week 16 ~ In which John Joe Badger feels the warm breezes of a land far from home and practices a few tunes on the rooftops
Week 17 ~ JJB was thrilled to hear about the cessation of the badger cull in the UK. This is good news indeed.

For Sale (twist of hemp, wk 15)

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.

 

 

Is that a bagpipe? t.o.h. week 14

There are many varieties of the notion of “bagpipe” to be found in many cultures across the globe.  The Uillean pipes are just one.  But since we gather the air into the bag which activates the reed in our chanter with a bellows, versus blowing up the bag of air with our own lungs, we often get curious questions from onlookers….

Yes, they are truly and actually a proper set of bagpipes.  Yes, we play “real” bagpipes.  And we use a bellows, pumped by our elbow (Irish for elbow is uillean) to blow them up.  Hopefully this clears things up for poor John Joe Badger and his piping friends who manage to field all kinds of questions while out in the world playing.

Thanks to my flute teacher (who also plays Gallician pipes) John, and my pipes teacher Cathy for the inspiration for this week’s illustration.  Each of them have heard it all over the years!

Here are some examples of “other” piping traditions….

And of course, back home to Ireland….

On traveling and coming home

John Joe Badger hasn’t been much of a piper these last few days.  He has traveled many miles to visit different forests than his own.  He thoroughly enjoyed the company of his friends from other places.  But he missed his musical practice and the comforts of his very own hut.

We shall brew a cup of tea to nurse this head cold, often a side effect of getting out into the world at large.  And perhaps we will coax the pipes out of their slumber a bit in the coming days.  What do you like best about traveling, and about coming back home….?

*PHLOOFF*

~A TWIST OF HEMP – Embarrassing Blowouts~

……With much practicing, John Joe Badger has learnt most of a simple jig.  He has invited a couple of his closest friends and confidants over for a cup of tea to share it with them.  But lo!  Just when John Joe reaches the B part, *phlooofff!!*….. An embarrassing blowout!  His friends do their utmost not to laugh, as these things do happen.  Especially in the beginning. 

The fecks continue to fly, of course, yet John Joe carries on.  His friends are delighted at his progress, in spite of the leaks, the blowouts and the goose-like cacophony of his playing.  Keep practicing John Joe!  Oh, and maybe a little twist of waxed hemp to shore up that connection between your bellows and your bag, yes?  Yes.