Touching My Soul


When I was a self conscious college student, I spent way too much time discussing questions like, “What is art?”

I never really understood. I read classic literature, but I was the kid in the back of the class on “Anna Karenina” who couldn’t get past the mother walking out on her kid. I remember an hour long discussion of how Tolstoi used the symbol of the rowan tree in his work. I squirmed. I wiggled. I finally blurted out, “Oh, my God! It’s just a tree! He just put it in there because they were in a forest!”

I was not the best student at interpreting artistic metaphor.

I have tried to look at contemporary and abstract art. Honestly, most of it just looks to me as if a bunch of kids walked through spilled paint and did the happy dance on a canvas.


I dunno.

But last night I think I finally figure out what “art” is to me.

Last night Paul and I and some of old friends went to see a performance by Rhiannon Giddens. I have been listening to this woman’s music for the past nine or ten months. But seeing her live?

Oh. Dear Lord.

I finally know what art is.

Art reaches way way inside of you. It pokes you, not so gently, and it makes you look at yourself. Hard.

Ms. Giddens is, as far as I am concerned, the embodiment of the Goddess.

As I listened to the sound of indescribably gorgeous, rich voice, and as I watched her move with grace around the stage, I imagined myself describing her to my granddaughter, Ellie.

I have to tell you that Ellie already loves Rhiannon’s music. She comes into my house and chooses her music every day. It is usually either  “Melanie” of Upstate Rubdown, “Allie” of Birds of Chicago, or “Annon” of “Rhiannon Giddens.”

The child knows good music when she hears it.

But last night, seeing Rhiannon Giddens on stage, moving, smiling, playing, singing, I kept trying to capture the words to describe the experience to Ellie.

“Rhiannon is….” I don’t want to say ‘beautiful’, although she surely is. I don’t want to reduce her to another lovely face.  I don’t want Ellie to think that beauty is the standard to be most admired.

No. There are so many more substantial words to describe her, and to describe the meaning of “art”.

Art hits you hard. It rocks you.

Art doesn’t apologize.

It makes you look at your real self. It makes you want to be better than you were just a moment before.

Now I think that art makes you question yourself in the best ways. It challenges you to grow.

Rhiannon Giddens is an artist. Last night her music made me cry. It made me question my role in the life of my country and of the world.

This is what I will tell Ellie.

I admire Rhiannon Giddens and love her music because of the woman that she is.

She is powerful. She is strong. She doesn’t apologize for her views or her reactions. She is tall, and dark and loud and glorious. She sings like a sweet angel. She sings like an avenging angel.

She is my understanding of art. She’s my challenge going forward.


What a concert.

If by chance you do not know the music of this woman, you owe it to yourself to listen to her.

Rhiannon Giddons/TED


Dancing with an old lady

So there I was, on a Sunday evening.  My husband and son had gone away on a camping trip up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. It was the final weekend of camping at our favorite spot up there, the spot where our daughter went into labor in July during our annual family reunion!   Paul and Tim had gone up there, to Dolly Copp Campground, for a last “hurrah” in this beautiful summer of 2015.

I stayed home.

I suppose I could make you feel bad for me, left behind by my beloved husband and much adored son, left to cope with all of the chores at the family homestead.  But I have to tell the truth: at the age of 59, I am really and truly ALL DONE with sleeping on an air mattress on the ground. Especially in October in New England.   Been there, honey, done that.  Ain’t goin’ back.

So I stayed home to “take care of the dogs” while the menfolk froze themselves into popsicles in the Great North.

Paul had been planning to drive our son, Tim, back to his home in the Berkshires before returning to our little house in Central Mass.  I expected him somewhere around 8 pm or so.

I planned a nice chicken dinner, and enjoyed my nice quiet house.  I walked the dogs, did some writing, did a bunch of laundry, read an Alice Hoffman novel out on the sunny deck.

And finally, it was around 7:30 at night.  Paul had been texting me on and off all day. His latest message read: “Bumpa to bumpa in Brattleboro.”

He was going to be way. late.

So I poured some wine.  I decided that he’d be too late for dinner, and I started to make a cake. (What? Who hasn’t had cake for dinner after a long ride?)   I was in a happy mood.  I had enjoyed two lovely days by myself in my now very clean house. My boy and my hubby had enjoyed a chance for bonding and a visit to a magical place.

All was well with the world.

I decided to listen to some music as I baked.  I firmly believe that a little good music helps the heaviest of cakes to rise.  I plugged my laptop into my dock and found a youtube video of an incredible band that I first heard when I went to the “Fresh Grass” festival in North Adams, Mass with both of my sons and one of my brothers.  I love this band.  LOVE them.  I put on one of my favorite songs by the band “Birds of Chicago“, and I started to move around my kitchen, singing and whisking and shaking out the cinnamon.

My old dog, Sadie, came into the kitchen to watch.

Now, you need to understand that at the ripe old doggie age of 14, Sadie is coming into the kitchen for the possible dropped food scraps, not for the music.

But here’s the thing: Sadie most likely has cancer.  She has lost a whole bunch of muscle mass on her head and face. She is losing weight.  She is on a bunch of medications.

We often think that this will be her last day.

So.  Last night, as the gorgeous voices of “Birds of Chicago” soared through my house, I called out, “Sadie! Come dance with me!”

And she did.  She wagged her shaggy black tail, raised up on her funny camo colored paws, and began to sway and swing with me in the kitchen.

I sang along to the music, Flying Dreams.   I danced and swayed, and so did my old Sadie, her big brown eyes on mine.

We didn’t think about life flying by, Sadie and I. We didn’t ask each other for treats or hugs or wagging tails.  She simply swayed and rocked and danced, her beautiful deep eyes on mine.  I simply sang and danced, not wondering how much time we might have together.

It was pure magic, for those few minutes.

Please listen to Birds of Chicago!  You will absolutely not be disappointed, no matter how old you are.