IT JUST KIND OF FEELS LIKE WE’RE LIVING IN MOLASSES!
First things first.
Wait in line if you have to. Insist. Don’t let anyone take your right to do it.
And now some entertainment. Here are 2 songs (Little Things and Same Rain), 1 tongue-tied tale (3 Gilly Boats) and 1 new take on a traditional song/story that you all know, with the help of Rhett Thomas (I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly) Soon to be up and streaming everywhere!
In this issue:
I hope this finds you well. And I mean that more than ever. It’s been a confusing, hard time for all of us, and each of us has their particular challenges as we negotiate the pandemic and the uproar in our country. Usually, at one time in the day I’m happy and content. And then there’s the other time of the day when I am the opposite. Deep, dark hole! Every day has its ups and downs, but this year they’re uppier and downier. I always knew life was provisional, but it seems more so now – we just don’t know what will happen and things seem more fragile.
As you might guess, my live performance work is gone. My usual routine of traveling somewhere and standing in front of an audience has disappeared and, will stay that way for the foreseeable future. I had been thinking about how to cut back on my travel, and the universe has figured out a way. I wasn’t quite ready. And I miss it. A lot. While this is a challenge in terms of our income, I’m more concerned for younger artists who are left high and dry. Art is always a tenuous hustle – now it’s just threatened and, perhaps not feasible as a profession.
That said, my days are filled. I’m finishing up two big writing projects (more below) and mixing a recording of songs. I’ve got plans for another book and other things I’d like to try. And, like many, since I’ve been at home, there’s more things getting done around here. New roof (so exciting), new insulation (more excitement), painting and shingles (not the disease, please!), and puttering. Puttering – a word I associate with my dad. This week, the honey got harvested and processed and I’m watching the seasons change in my backyard, which I don’t often get to do in the fall. A couple of long walks a day with our rambunctious, insatiable (for tennis balls) border collie. And I’ve been playing piano an hour a day – Mozart, Bach, Handel and Debussy are on the music stand. So, it’s hard to complain about that. But I miss all of you, and my many compatriot artists – storytellers, singers, actors, authors – I see on the road.
In the backyard
Three stars call in the dark
A cricket answers
By this time, many have you may have seen and heard my song, Elijah, written in memory of Elijah McClain, killed by the police in Aurora, CO. His story moved me deeply and I felt compelled to write something. Then, I had the good sense to ask my friend Peter Amidon to write a choral arrangement of it. He did a beautiful job and assembled a wonderful group of singers to record it. I dabbled in video for the first time and you can see it here. While it’s not gone viral, it is mildly contagious on the Internet. A number of other people are singing it now, including my good friends Sally Rogers and Claudia Schmidt. It’s just a little thing but I hope it contributes to the serious discussion we need to have about race, caste and class in our country. We will see if we have the fortitude and perseverance to really address what the original sin of slavery has brought us.
And now – for something completely different!
Over the years, my friend, fellow storyteller-songwriter-troublemaker Keith Munslow and I have written and recorded a whole series of short skits about us running a dollar store where NOTHING EVER GETS SOLD. We have one bad idea after another. They are really, really dumb – an exorcism of our um, more mature side. Are they good? All I know is we can’t stop laughing when we make them. They got their first airplay on Sirius/XM Kids Place Live and are being played by a lot of other kids’ shows now. But we’ve released a passel of them for live streaming – or you can download them on my store (in which case, the artist gets paid!) We’re working on some more now, too. Check them out!
Quentin Manning: Detective for Justice!
I’m putting the finishing touches on the scripts for a radio drama to be produced by BYU productions. The seventeen (!) episode series is about a sixth grader, Quentin Manning, who decides to be a detective in his middle school. He’s a romantic (in love with an unattainable eighth grader) who enlists his classmate as an assistant and bumbles his way through one experience after another. You can think of Don Quixote and Sancha Panza, because I sure was (a book I’ve read at least three times). It’s a comic odyssey, and I’m really excited about the energy and production BYU is putting into it. Storyteller, friend and radio show host Sam Payne is overseeing the project for BYU, and they’re working on casting now. The plans are for me to be Quentin’s father, Phinneas – a computer genius who can’t hold a job because of his rather odd, anarchic take on life. Yes, I wrote myself into the show.
Predictably, production has been slowed because of Covid, but it will see the light of day, and I’ll let you know when it does.
New Book from Peachtree
Next fall my newest book will be released by Peachtree Publishers. We’re in the final edit now. I’d like to tell you the name of it, but that is one of the things being fiddled with. (It seems every one of my books has been through a dozen names before one is decided upon.) As I’ve written earlier: fifteen-year old girl drives with her nine year old brother from Los Angeles to Boston the week of the big eclipse. Therein lies the tale. As soon we figure out what it’s called, I’ll let you know.
I’ve got another book I’m thinking about writing and hope to begin this winter – it’s about a kid who becomes a storyteller, after being mentored by the defrocked royal teller who has been cast into the dungeon for his misbehavior (telling the wrong kind of stories). It’s a story I’ve been fiddling with for years. And now, I’m not going to say anything more about it. But having spoken it out loud, perhaps I’ll write it.
Among the house projects has been a deep (well sort of deep) clean/organization of our basement which is home to more CD’s and Bill Harley “stuff” than we know what to do with. We’d love to send this stuff to you!!! SO, we’re offering you a “Grab Bag” – CD’s, audiobooks, Tee shirts, shoelaces, postcards – you’ll receive about $100 worth of merch for $25 + shipping. What a deal! Buy 1, buy 2 – buy them for holiday gifts for your neighborhood – and – think of all the happiness you’ll bring us (ie Debbie) as we get to clear out the basement!
I’ve got a couple of shows coming up virtually, so if you’re able I hope you can watch.
October 1-3: National Storytelling Festival. They are finalizing the schedule as we speak, so visit them at www.storytellingcenter.net/festival to find out how to get tickets, who’s going to tell and the full schedule.
Sunday October 4: Kid Pan Alley’s “Best Friends” Concert. Kid Pan Alley is releasing their new album “Best Friends” and they’ve asked me, Randy Kaplan and Silly Bus to help them celebrate. You can watch this on Facebook Live or in a Zoom Room, but you’ll need to sign up through Eventbrite to watch that way.
Saturday November 14: Snake River Storytelling Conference and Concert. Featuring me, Dovie Thomason, Kevin Kling and Minton Sparks. Tickets are available from now until 11/13. It’s a Zoom Event and you’ll need to get tickets via Eventbrite.
Saturday December 12: Family Holiday Concert at the Cabot. I’ll be there virtually and you can too! More info about the how closer to the event. Visit TheCabot.org or check back with us.
Well, there’s been a lot of reading, and I’m not sure I can list it all, but here are some highlights.
Stalingrad – by Vassily Grossman – what an odd book to read during a pandemic – about the siege of Stalingrad in World War Two – but a great one. It’s a Russian novel! It’s really long! Cast of hundreds! Love, death, war, the steppes! And only the prequel to what’s considered his masterpiece, Life and Fate. Not for the faint of heart. Having read this, I somehow better understand the nature of Russia culture and politics.
Also, related to Russia, How Shostakovich Changed My Mind is a beautiful essay/book by Stephen Johnson about music’s ability to help people in their lives. Deeply personal, but also really insightful about the very interesting composer and mental illness. I really recommend it for music-lovers.
Housekeeping, Gilead and Lila – all by Marilynne Robinson – . Her books are somber, honest, heartbreaking, clear-eyed, and deeply spiritual, too. She’s amazing. Robinson is never in a hurry to publish a book, and it’s always worth the wait.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich – her new book, based on her grandfather’s quest to keep his tribe from being “decertified”. Have I said love Louise Erdrich? I love Louise Erdrich.
The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson – Who knew? I didn’t. Eels are, well, really strange. And their life cycle is even stranger. As in – who knew the Sargasso Sea is where all eels come from? Svensson somehow tells a very personal story about eels – with of course, and unfortunately, observations about how our actions are threatening their existence.
Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It changed the way I look at things and put into words things I’ve sensed but not known how to explain. Raworth turns all the economic models economists have developed over the years on their heads and shows us a way to understand how the world works. And while she’s not Pollyannish about the situation we’re in, she shows a way to a fairer, more equitable and less destructive economy.
Caste by Isabelle Wilkerson – like many of you, I’ve been reading a lot about race, identity and justice in the past four or five months. This book, like Doughnut Economics, changes the way you see things. And once you see it that way, you can’t unsee it. Wilkerson is an incredible writer and meshes personal experience with history and sociology. What I was afraid would be a “tough” read, was a truly moving one. Highly recommended.
Omigod the pile of books by my bedside. But then, I’m home, aren’t I? Let us know what you’re reading.
Look, it’s the long haul. It’s going to be a hard winter. We already know that. Figure a safe way to be with people. Wear your mask, please. Get outside every day. Take a walk. Work on being kind. It can be harder now. Help others who need it – it helps you forget about your own little tangled ball of string. Stay in touch.