Monday, November 10, 2014


I made the bed with your sheets.
I'm trying desperately to keep your memory alive.

The more time passes, the thinner you feel.

I'm bombarded with useless details.
Memories slide aside
to fleeting likes and comments and conversations;
faceless, voiceless and unreal.

I miss your grilled cheese on a paper plate,
and the way your belly could burp.

Mother, I admit 
I write songs you will never hear
but pray you are listening
and pour wine before bed.

Come press your hand against my forehead,
I'm feverish.
My eyes are sweating, my skin smells like grief.

The dogs behave,
the dead decompose
the dishes dry
diets dive
days date days date days date 

Time is tacky without you.

You promised to visit.
I'm waiting, warding off abandonment.

This is thinning. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Find What Makes You Happy and Do It. Often.

This past weekend I went my niece's high school graduation party.  I spent a good chunk of my twenties growing up beside her, so her leap from high school to college felt particularly profound.  I have vivid memories of dragging her and her older sister to my college campus, so they could see what it was I did when I left the house.  They joined me at dance rehearsals, at plays, at musicals and I remember secretly hoping they were soaking up the energy of artists at work.  I hoped they could feel the spirit of people who weren't afraid to express themselves and openly loved every bead of sweat that creating demanded. I wasn't out to make them artists, actors, or dancers.  I just wanted them to see what it looked like when people were actively doing something they loved, and the joy that came from doing so.

Oh so many years later, I find myself watching both of them embark into the adult world with excitement and curiosity. One fresh high school graduate and one fresh college graduate dancing around topics like "roommates" and "moving out of the house." It could make me feel old. And it does, slightly.  What it really does is make me feel more aware of time, and the precious delicacy surrounding the choices we make.

I am not about to do to them what a lot of adults did to me at that time, because I have learned that all the advice about making money and having nice things means nothing if you aren't listening to your gut and doing what makes you happy.  I'm not saying that's easy.  Money definitely helps us all.  But from all my observations, the most fulfilled people, whose spirits inspire me, are doing what makes them happy.  They know they need to do it, and they put every bit of self into doing it.

Knowing what makes you happy is not always a given.  Knowing how to put your authentic self into what makes you happy is also not always a given.  Learning yourself, learning to listen to yourself, to feel guided by a genuine and grounded sense of trust in your choices takes time, takes mistakes, takes failures, and then takes even more time.  Ultimately tho, all those failures and mistakes and time can develop into wisdom. And that wisdom, that trust-in-self leads to a divine awareness of what truly makes one happy.  Find what makes you happy, and do it. It may just save your life.  It did mine.

No, really.  It did.

Ten years ago, I made the choice to follow a dream.  I wanted to learn how to play the guitar and write songs.  Life had thrown some serious health challenges my way and those challenges gave me a heightened sense of the fragility of life and time.  So I picked up a guitar and with the fuel of a dream,  I wrote my first song.  My head was full of "what if" visions like most creative people. What if I could sing in front of people and play the guitar?  What if people actually liked and connected to what I wrote?  What if I could record an album? What if I could travel to other cities and share my music? What if I had a band?

Ten years ago, the possibilities were endless.  Yet my imagination never considered a "what if" like this:

"What if I become a budding singer-songwriter with kidney failure, and my music draws in an accordion player, who joins my band, who also turns out to be a willing donor, with a kidney that proves to be nothing short of miraculously perfect the moment I receive it?"

Had I never had that dream, had I never picked up that guitar, I would never have met Meredith.  I'm not exactly sure what my life would look like.  It wouldn't be good, I know that.

Some people make millions doing what makes them happy, others don't make a dime. In the end, the reward isn't about the profit in pocket. It's about the profit in heart.  Or in my case, kidney.

My hope for my nieces and all my loved ones is that you find what makes you happy and you do it, in whatever ways you possibly can. The rewards are endless. They surprise you.  They change your life. They may even save your life.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

New Album on the Horizon

It's been almost two years since we last recorded and released "A Good Heart Will Break." We released that album to a sold out show at The Beachland Tavern at the end of July 2012.  Twelve days later I  received a life-altering/rejuvenating kidney from Meredith, my accordionist.  I prefer to refer to her as my harmony-making, life-saving soul sister. (I could go on and on with adjectives!)  

It seems only right that after our healing, adjusting and growing we venture back into the world of recording to document how the past two years have shaped us and changed our worlds.  

This will be the very first album I will approach with good health.  It will be my first album I write and record without the fear of declining health hanging over my head, without the fatigue of kidney failure, and without the uncertainty of my body's ability to match the goals my heart and mind have made.    

As artists we are driven to move people.  We are driven to engage the minds, hearts, and spirits of others.  I'm not sure why things have worked out as they have, but as an artist I feel called to share what this journey has been.  I feel a purpose to make this album that I've never quite felt before, and that is simultaneously exciting and scary as hell.

This is also the first album I will approach without both of my parents.  My mother and my father were my biggest fans, in life and in music.  I need to make this album for myself, for my fans, but most importantly, for them. 

I look forward to all that lies ahead. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

One Year Ago, Today. Now.

You called me at 8 am
(an hour earlier than your daily morning call.)

The phone vibrating jolted me upright 
like that bad dream
where I feel myself falling
and catch myself into awake.

Your voice was gentle, soft
and lacked oxygen.

"Can you please stay with me today? 
I'm afraid to be alone.
I believe it's going to be soon."


Soon bounced between my ears and morphed into a hundred possibilities.
An hour? A day? A week? A month? A year?

What mama wakes her baby
shaking her shoulders and soul with this word soon?

I tasted morning breath, 
or vomit.

"I'm on my way."

My hand lost grip of the phone.
Maybe I didn't want to hold it, 
or hear you
or come over 
or agree to this notion of soon.

Denial was not my issue.
While others held their noses to swallow,
I willingly tasted every teaspoon.
But in that moment
your request for my company was frightening
because you were certain.

(Rewind and remind me
how soon began in October.
Superstorm Sandy rolled into Cleveland
and we sipped coffee and discussed your dying.
Hurricanes aren't supposed to hit Cleveland like that.)

I arrived and insisted we go out for lunch
because fresh air and food can cure anything.
I put on your clothes, slipped on your shoes
and convinced you and/or myself that you could do it.

in the car i vented about a musician 
who pulled out drugs and snorted them beside me.
a stranger i hardly knew became the focus of our last car ride together.
my frightened, selfish argument for respect met your calm, end-of life argument for compassion.
compassion was always your winning argument, 
but especially then
because you were dying and your soul was sacred.

I think you ordered mussels and a bowl of soup,
and ate no more than three bites.
You were determined to apologize for things that made no sense to me
because I never once doubted your love.

One year ago today
I sat on your bed with your feisty, foul-mouthed granddaughter.
We held your feet, held your hands
and held your request for help in dying.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


I went to Vegas
bet twenty, lost twenty
but climbed the Red Rocks
and stood some two thousand feet above the slots.
I felt a gamble with every step higher.

Some people are addicted to the tug of cards
I'm addicted to the tug of my gut 
to touch god and sky 
flora and fauna and faces that fit forever.

I met tequila and met the mountains
and met the carcass of grief within me.

I spit the latter out.

On three hours of sleep, I know this:
The pain of losing my best friend
(whose hands healed my heartbreak
whose tongue sung my sorry songs)
made me consider the leap.
Dabble and test the eternal rest high.

If the nice nap had a money-back guarantee 
I may have bet it all in Vegas,
but I despise the thud of flesh and rock.

I stood still  
and heard something like the sound of you.

(what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,
except this and tequila.)

Every breath is a bet.
I inhaled and stared
in the stones and sky and desert horizon.

I miss looking at the lines in the palm of your hand.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I'm listening.

This happened a month ago.  Superbowl Sunday.

Upon ending a two mile hike, I went to open my car and realized I had lost my keys.  My girlfriend and I had just covered a VERY large area of beautiful, snow covered land.  The initial idea of finding them seemed insanely impossible, and I felt panic stir in my belly.  I have faced what felt like impossible before, so I jumped into the search with a half slice of panic and a half slice of hope. As I often try to do with fear, I coached myself with this thought:  "It's going to be okay. I began talking to myself, assuring myself that it would all work out. I also asked my deceased mother and father for help. Crazy?  I figured it couldn't hurt. As I stared at an endless field of thick, deep white challenge, and considered the mile hike extending from that field...talking with my Mom and Dad brought me the most comfort. As my girlfriend went to cover the 2 miles we hiked, I shoveled through the field of snow our dogs had tore into just an hour ago.

Shoveling and feeling more and more desperate, I asked myself "what am I supposed to learn from this?" My mother always taught me to look for the lesson in all my challenges.  While I tried to answer that, I observed a couple approaching with a dog.  Panic went on pause, and dog mama turned on. A very large, excited dog approached. It eagerly wanted to play with my dogs. So I wrapped the leashes tight and held on. Unfortunately, the slippery snow beneath my feet was on the dogs' side. The next fifteen seconds were film-esque. I was instantly on the ground, being dragged across the snow, hearing a couple shriek and shout, "Oh my God! Are you okay? Will they hurt our dog?"

"I'm okay! These girls are lovable!" I yelled or screamed, as my body slid like a sled horizontally across the field.  I was not okay.  But I did not want to explain why to these strangers.  "Seriously, I'm fine. I'm just trying to understand the universe is all.  My dogs just want to play and I just want to find my keys. No, I don't wanna karatekid kick the world right now."   As tears streamed down my face from pain and embarrassment, I questioned the universe's sense of humor. And I may have questioned my purpose in life.

I was ready to give up and call for real help.  Not the help of my deceased parents.  I reached for my phone.  The phone that had been in my pocket just seconds ago.

My phone was gone.

I did the "check every pocket" dance for the couple who nervously walked away from me. (They were clinging like experts to their dog. They were mastering walking without a single tumble.) Then I crumbled to the ground.

In the dog-led-snow-drag, my phone had ironically fell out? Purposefully fell out?  Comically?  Insanely?

For whatever reason, it fell OUT of my pocket.

Keyless and phoneless, in a field of snow, covered in snow, crying tears on top of snow, I stopped thinking about the lesson I was supposed to learn.  I mean, other than keeping my pockets zipped, what the hell was I supposed to learn from this?

I knew I would survive.  I would be fine.   In fact, I was still here after losing the two people my heart has known and loved the longest. What's the point of  freaking out about losing keys and a phone?  Money can replace them, because they are just things. No amount of money can bring back my mother or father.

And that hit me. I don't know what that was, but something hit me hard.  Suddenly I was more eager to find what had been lost. But I was no longer looking for my keys or a phone.  I was looking for something more. Trust? Faith? Grace? Answers? Was I looking to find that my parents, six feet under, are still with me. It now seemed more important to me to know that my conversation with them was not a one-way street. That somehow, in some way, what I lost wasn't really gone...that what we lose is somehow never really gone. I wanted to find my keys not because I needed to get into my car, but because I needed to know my parents are with me, because I needed to know that my gut was not leading me in the wrong direction.

So once again, I asked my mother and father for help.  And I asked the Universe. And God.  And Saint Christopher (who I later found out was the patron Saint of Travelers, not the one who helps find things.)   And tho I was panicked and found myself praying to everyone and everything, I felt a KNOWING surface within me. I KNEW I was gonna find BOTH my keys and my phone.  I KNEW without a doubt they had to be somewhere in that field, not in the mile walk.  I can't describe exactly how or why I KNEW, I just did.  I had zero clue of where my keys had fallen out, yet I KNEW they would be found in that field.  My gut KNEW.

And my gut has KNOWN a few things.

(Like I had KNOWN to ask for a miracle when doctors found two brain aneurysms three years ago. I assure you, I am not someone who has ever asked for a miracle.  Nor am I someone who goes to church on Sundays, prays on a daily basis, or has a clear understanding what faith or God is. I believe...I just don't know what exactly I believe. So asking for a miracle was simply something I KNEW I had to do, but had no rational explanation to offer on why.  The same KNOWING experience occurred when I KNEW who my kidney donor was going to be, a year before my surgery, in light of never asking her or understanding how she could be.  Let me reiterate: I don't understand this KNOWING, but I do understand that I am responsible to pay attention to it.  So instead of giving up, which most sane people would probably have done, I accepted that I would find both my keys and my phone. Because my gut KNEW it.  I've asked myself, "what if you didn't find them, what would you say about this KNOWING then?" I don't have an answer to that. Honestly, this sense of KNOWING has yet to prove me wrong. I don't claim to understand it.  And I feel pretty vulnerable sharing about it.)

My gut KNEW and I was without fear.

I made the dogs sit (a command they excel at without other dogs around) and I got on my hands and knees. I dug into the fifteen feet of snow sculpted by my dragged body.  I didn't think about how deep the snow was or how huge the field was. I thought about how my mom and dad were there with me, and how I knew I was going to find what I was looking for.  If you saw the size of this field/ if you saw me on my hands and knees digging in the snow/ if you saw my body being dragged across this field by two dogs, you would have laughed. I laugh thinking about it. A part of me felt like I should have still been panicking. But the bigger part of me, the part that KNEW (my gut) bitch-slapped that panic into silence. Within seconds my eyes spotted something peeking out of the snow.

My phone! (It didn't look like my phone.)

My keys?

Had the dogs had actually dragged me through a path that exposed a little piece of metal?

I screamed. "My keys!"

I felt my inner Julie Andrews burst from within. Suddenly "My Favorite Things" included a verse "finding my keys under three feet of snow."

A moment later I was back on the ground shoveling my gloves into the snow, knowing my phone was there somewhere.  It took less than two minutes to find my phone after finding my keys. It wasn't just laying on top of the snow, tho.  It too had been buried (it had a nice rice bath when it got home) deep in the snow, with just a corner peeking out.  The same eyes that often can't find the butter glaring at them in the fridge, saw a silver corner of iPhone.

I grabbed it and wiped all the snow off. I blew hard, like any proud iPhone owner blows, into the exposed, vulnerable openings of a wet iPhone. (get your head out of the gutter.)

I found my keys and my iPhone.

That's all I needed, right?

Maybe at that moment.  But I'm writing this because it was not all I needed. A month later, after writing this two or three times, I finally think I know what the lesson was.  (Yes, Mom.  I guess I have always been a slow learner.)

Let me share that at first, I thought losing/finding my keys was about needing to know my parents are with me.  That somehow losing and finding these objects was directly related to realizing, embracing that my parents are indeed present and somehow guiding me (only those who have lost someone dear can understand this fuzzy logic.)  I believe that was indeed part of it.

But this morning, a whole month later, I can't help but think it's about more. What this entire experience shouted to me over a cup of coffee was this:

"Listen to your gut."

And that sounds super simple.  But we all know how not simple listening to our gut can be.  And we all come up with a thousand reasons why we don't do something our gut tells us we have to do.  And the root of those thousand reasons is always fear.   Fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of hurt, fear of failure, fear of rejection....

Fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear.

I trust my parents are somehow with me.  How or why?  I can't explain that.  But I think that finding my keys and phone was less about trust in my parents' presence,  and more about trust in myself.

Trusting myself, trusting my heart, trusting my gut.

My parents believed in me, believed in my goodness, believed in seeking the best within themselves and others. In their absences, especially that of my mother, I have struggled a great deal with listening to my gut.  I have questioned everything my gut has been shouting to me.  But if there is anything my mother would feel disappointed in, it would be the silencing of my voice, of my heart, of my gut.      

I'm happy I found my keys and phone.  I really am.  But tears are soaking my face right now because I  can hear my gut. And I'm listening.

I'm listening.