I’m up in the middle of the night. I gave up the ghost of trying to sleep, of lying there in bed with lists spinning through my head of things unfinished, of lying there in bed in my lovely warm, new house with my lovely, warm newish husband remembering the times when I lived alone and I could suffer bouts of insomnia by banging on the piano or watching endless “Law & Order” reruns in my apartments and houses. Alone. No one to disturb. Just me and my books and guitars and piano and tv. Alone. Just me and my not-so-warm house that I was always on the verge of a nervous breakdown from fear of perpetual loneliness. So don’t let me use rose-colored-glasses on hindsight as if those were the romantic years. They weren’t. I wrote self-indulgent, shitty songs at 3am and rather than get up and read my meditation books or write the truth about what’s going on, I’d drink too much wine, take some Ambien and fall asleep drooling on myself on my Ikea couch that I’d bought off someone on Craigslist. And I’d be lucky if I didn’t text the wrong person to tell them all about how they’d disappointed me at 3am. Again.
I’m not doing that tonight. I snuck quietly out of my warm bed, down the stairs to my kitchen, through the house to the back room which doubles as our guest room and my writing room. Yesterday, I spent the day putting all my inspirational things on the wall in front of my desk, so that when I look up from my writing, I see birds and goddesses, things my friends have given me, an ink drawing of Leonard Cohen from my friend Andy who illustrates for The New Yorker, a cardinal I drew in colored pencil when I was about 8, a black and white photo of my mother in her wedding dress above a black and white photo of me and my sister as babies, and various other artwork and posters. There are buddhas and birds on my desk, on the window sill.
There’s books and journals, 4 yellow pads mostly half full of notes and ideas and lyrics and plans, guitars in cases, a card my husband gave me as encouragement. There are To Do lists pinned to the bulletin board and names of people I need to call. There’s a box of kleenex, never too far from reach. There’s the painting my songwriter’s group gave me one year as a thank you for being the one who had the idea. There’s stacks of CDs from people I meet on the road and a baggie full of Ricola.
This is my space. My desk faces the wall, not a window, so my gaze goes inside. I’ve learned this about myself as a writer. I need light and access to the sky, but I need to stay in a corner, inside my own sky, as I write. I think Stephen King may have reinforced this idea in his On Writing, one of my favorite books on the subject of being a writer. My bookshelf is full of reference books, list books, idea books, encyclopedias of strange and wondrous things. There’s a Bible, a Dictionary, a Rhyming Dictionary, a Thesaurus, a book of mythology (or two), books on writing by my favorite writers, books of poetry I need close by should the whole thing fall apart on me. There’s my journals from the past 10 years, and the ones from earlier are in boxes in the attic (but I know exactly where they are). There are framed photographs of my grandmother, my mother, my female mentors, my friends.
I write all this out at almost 3am to remind myself of who I am and what I do, because that is what kept me spinning in my head in my bed and leapt me out of that womb to the computer to do a google search for “Motherhood” “Touring” “Musicians”. Because, frankly, I’m nervous about the big What Is To Come.
In front of me is a list. Regions in the United States broken into cities broken into venues I have played broken into press markets. Sketches of time-lines, potential weekend swings, broken down into 3-4 day chunks with drive times. It’s what I put together yesterday to send to my agent to prepare for the fall, to prepare for getting back to work, even though I know it’s all just a sketch of an idea, even though I know I have NO idea what is coming. What is coming is this little boy. And he is coming like a beautiful, well-loved wrecking ball, to smash through my well-laid plans. And I welcome him with the most open and naive of arms. But in the meantime, I have to make some kind of plans, even if they will all fall apart.
I am making a record. I have been trying to start, but the Universe is throwing curve balls my way. Our first idea was to make it in my living room and Neilson came over with a mic and we laid down some acoustic tracks. But soon thereafter, I was in the midst of housing chaos – selling the house, staging the house, showing the house, my life in boxes, looking at new houses — and it became evident that the time was not right. So we waited until the first week of December and decided to do it in the studio, not my home, since my home was in transition, but it turns out, my voice was reflecting the chaos around me and not cooperating and the first week of December got put off till this week and this week has thrown me the 3rd Trimester Mystery Pains and sleepless nights and heavy mucus in my voice (again), making me sound a bit like a Brenda Vaccaro Tampax ad from the 1970’s, which is cool, but isn’t me, and so, I’ll be waiting again, at the mercy of my body to tell me when the time is right. I’m hoping it’s just a matter of days, not weeks. But, here’s that wrecking ball to come in and shake up my perfectly planned snow globe. And there’s not much I can do but ‘go with the flow’.
I am making a record before this boy comes into the world. For a few reasons. Practical reasons are first: I have the time right now. In a few months, when the baby shows up, I will most likely lose my brain, having glimpsed the Newborn Schedule in advance (I’m already mourning the loss of sleep). I have the money. I have the songs. Spiritual reasons go right along: I want to make art while experiencing making a human. I want the kicks and the rolls in my belly to be a part of this creation of music. And I want a reminder of who I am when HE shows up, so I don’t forget that I am a musician as well as a mother. Even though I know one will hold sway over the other for a while. Maybe forever.
So, it’s hard to be zen right now. I’m impatient. I want my voice to cooperate. I want this mystery pain to go away. I want to just get in there, in front of a microphone, and feel that forgetting that happens when I lose myself to music for a few days in a studio inside the songs I’ve created over the past few years. And I want the thing done so I can plot and plan like I know how to do, like I’m good at doing. Even though, I know, this is all about to change.
The mystery pain is a band of searing hot burn right below my right rib, laterally across my stomach. It hurts to the touch. Sometimes even just a piece of clothing on that area is enough to make me want to scream. It’s muscular, maybe, because when I roll over at night it feels like a pulled something, a sharp bruise, a jab. Or it’s heartburn because I feel it radiate to my back in an ache. Or it’s just, as my Gyn says, “another mystery ache as your ribs expand and make room for a person growing inside.” I’m taking all the tests this week- the ultrasounds, the bloodwork, etc., to rule out anything serious, and my doctor says the baby is fine and it might be abdominal separation or just heartburn. But it’s a constant ache, a constant burn, and it’s gotten worse and it’s keeping me up at night making lists, exhausted by the pain, not really able to endure too much time driving (sitting makes it worse) or standing and talking (it’s distracting and makes me tired). I have friends who have gone through and are going through cancer, and I’m aware that my pain is, most likely, not that serious, and I’ve watched my friends walk through unimaginable pain and despair only to come back with hope, even in the face of a hopeless situation. So forgive me my whining about what may be just the normal kind of thing that happens during the 3rd Trimester. I’m tempering being honest with being grateful, so to minimize the whine.
That being said, no amount of Web MD’ing will solve this issue, just as no amount of googling “will I ever tour again and should I ever tour again and maybe I just should face the music that the dream will die and a little boy will be born and all that work over the past 15 years of slogging it out in cafes and clubs to end up forgotten and artless is part of the overall plan of which I have no control” will make me sleep better at night.
I’m entering the phase where shit gets real. I’m a month away from my 50th birthday. The night before I turn 50 I have a gig at The Bluebird Cafe. Then I’ll celebrate this milestone, very pregnant, with all my badass girlfriends doing something fun and silly, like a burlesque class, or roller skating, or bowling. And then, a month later, I will become a mother. Although, the truth is, I have been a mother since the call came telling me I was pregnant. And maybe that’s the takeaway here. This is Exactly What It’s Like Being A Mother. Worrying. Sleeplessness. Then feeling extremely grateful for the being you house that is teaching you the order of importance of things. If I make it to California on a tour with a new record is about as significant as whether or not I ever learn French. What matters is kicking my sore spot right now, inside of me, telling me to get ready. Or…better…telling me I’m already ready.