This is How It Feels

Anton, Anton. You made good on your promise. I spoke to Nicky and feel better. Such an Anton way to go. I’m staying off social media to avoid the circus. How would you feel about it (the circus)? You’d hate it and love it. Scorn the hypocrites. Bathe a little in the adoration. You are (were) full of such contradictions.

The first time I met you was in the late eighties. You came to my little apartment on the West Side and we sat in the garden. I was interviewing you, looking for a producer for my first album. Gary Gersh was a fan. He was impressed with the Joe Henry record. You were in the running, a dark horse. You always said if I’d chosen you instead of Hal Willner to produce that record, we’d both have different careers. But I don’t know about that.

The next time was years later. After Geffen. I was just starting to gig again and you came to a show. I can’t remember the name of the club. They were always opening and closing in the early nineties. I think it was in the East Twenties. I was playing with Paul. We did a lot of duo gigs. Anyway, that was the night that you asked me to work with you on the record that would become This Is How it Feels. I had no idea it would be a Golden Palominos record. You didn’t tell me until it was about to come out. You put my picture on the cover. I had mixed feelings about it. Of course it turned out to be a great thing for me. Working with you changed my life.

You were my biggest fan. I could make you cry at will. Play you a new song on the guitar and you wept. Such a baby. But not in the studio. In the studio, you were exacting, a task-master, a dictator. We, the players, were your means to an end, the raw material, the enactors of your vision. And you could be brutal. By the time we made Pure, you had me lying on the floor in tears. Your worship could turn on a dime and did. It was a mistake to get involved romantically. When someone loved you, you lost respect for them, turned them into unpaid assistants. Men and women, both.

You stole my best song. A song I wrote for you and about you. I wrote it in my bedroom. You asked if we could include it on Pure, and I agreed. You said you needed a third of the publishing for your deal to go through, and I agreed. Then you called it a Golden Palominos song, and got mad when I tried to claim it. But it was my song. 100% of it.

You betrayed me and I betrayed you. We fought like cats. But you never let me down. Not really. And you gave me the thing I most cared about: the ability to make music, to record my own songs. You got me my second record deal. My career would have been over in 1991 if it wasn’t for you. I believe that.

Once you asked me to marry you and I accepted. So, we were briefly engaged. Ha! You came to my parent’s house on Long Island and asked my father for my hand. Soon after, some bit of press came out and you were unhappy with something I said, and we called it off– thank god! Can you imagine? We’d have killed each other long ago. I would have never gotten to know you as an old man. But I did. It makes me sad to know you are no longer here. But I don’t begrudge you your exit, and I understand it. Without music, what was life’s purpose?

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Or How About A Bird Flying?

Wednesday, the 10th of August. First thing, walked the dog. Went for a run with Tracy around the reservoir. Made coffee. Worked on the novel until noon. 67,000 words and counting. Bought strawberries, bananas, peaches from the produce man. Took Gem with me. Too hot for us out there, Gem in her fur coat. Picked up laundry. Came home.

Made strawberry, banana popsicles. Put away laundry. Read a little of Nicole Krauss’s novel The Great House, which I didn’t have patience for, when it came out, years ago. Seeing her autograph on the first page, I remembered meeting her at the 92nd Street Y. My first book was about to be published. I asked her how she dealt with using real people as characters, family members, friends. Whether she did and how she/they felt about it. I remember she was dismissive, even rude. Now, reading the first section of her novel, I find it’s about that exactly. Did she think I was pulling her leg?

How many years since then? Ten, I think. Ten years! Fast as a single year of childhood-time. Try to explain the concept to a young person of fifteen, or twenty-five, or even thirty. You can’t. You’ll only sound like an old fool if you try.

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Another Year Begins

Another year begins.

Lately, I’ve been dreaming of being caught unprepared. I don’t have a setlist and can’t remember my songs. I’ve meant to spend the day practicing and preparing for the performance but have been kept busy by unimportant things and now it’s time to get on stage and I haven’t warmed up and have no idea what I’m going to play or what will come out of my mouth when I open it to sing. I suppose it’s telling that my anxiety is placed in the context of this thing I did for so long and no longer do.

What is life without all the things that change or are lost? One must invent new ways to enjoy the world as it is (even as it is). If I choose to spend my days staring at the tree outside my window, walking the dog, preparing a meal, then that is the life I make for myself. The pandemic has altered the parameters but it hasn’t eliminated choice entirely. Am I so afraid of dying that I make my world a neighborhood of six blocks, a dog’s love, a cat’s peculiar attentions? I’m not afraid of dying, so what is it? I see my father in myself. He who retreated from the world to a back room in his house. A vital man, a beautiful man, and much smarter than I will ever be. Did he run out of gas? Grow disillusioned? And have I inherited his disease, whatever it was?

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Summer Songwriting Workshop (online via Zoom)

Some say that songwriting can’t be taught, but it isn’t true. If you know three chords on the guitar, you can learn to write a song. Maybe they say it because every song is a unique writing experience. You have to find your way every time. You have an idea, a theme, a beginning, even an ending. But the song has its own ideas. It wants to surprise you, move you, lead you to discover it. In this workshop, we will discover your own unique songs, refine them, and perform them. We will experiment with language and form, feed our imaginations with literature and poetry. Whether you are a beginner, a writer of another discipline, or an experienced songwriter who is feeling a little stuck, please join me this summer for four weekly sessions of The Song Knows, a Songwriting Workshop with Lori Carson.

Each four-week session (July and August) will be limited to no more than twelve participants. Two partial scholarships are available for each. If you would like to attend, please introduce yourself. I’d love to know who you are and where you are in your practice—in whatever discipline.



2 Sessions, 4 workshops per session: Tuesday, July 6, 13, 20, 27
+ August 3, 10, 17, 24
6:00-8:00PM EDT
Lori Carson

All workshops are held online via Zoom.

12 students, 2 partial scholarships of $150. For more information, please contact Cassie Archdeacon,

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This morning for the first time in a long time, I turned the radio dial to WFUV and listened to music instead of the news reports and shows on WNYC. It felt so good. I was dancing in the kitchen. That’s where the radio is. Dancing while I washed dishes and made coffee. Gem was entertained by this. She likes dancing though she is somewhat ambivalent about music itself. I’ve only had one animal that was a true music-lover. Bailey the cat. Oh, he was a good one. Anyway, Trump is on the way out and that is something to dance about. What a relief. The anxiety of “what next?” was the defining characteristic of his presidency. What stupidity, what cruelty? It’s been four years of fight or flight. But this morning, I was dancing.

Thanksgiving felt good this year, despite the pandemic. I’m thankful for my family and friends, and for the life I have, which is quiet and peaceful, full of books and dog walks and deep connections. I keep waiting for the fire of creation to alight, but it’s quiet down there in the place of creation. I probably need something (or someone) to shake it up. But I don’t want to be shaken up. And I continue to work anyway, to write, even without the inciting incident, the need that comes from pain. I have a life of disciplined daily practice. Waiting for inspiration is an amateur’s game. Every day, I sit down to work, aided by a large cup of coffee and a need to make meaning of my (mostly) solitary life.

It’s a trade-off, obviously. A peaceful heart makes for quiet work. I’ve learned not to feed the depression and anxiety that tortured and controlled me. As a result, those things have diminished, and no rocket-fuel, no rocket. But I don’t need a rocket. I’ve got an armchair, a radio in the kitchen, and Gem, my dancing partner.

Painting by Helen Frankenthaler

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Another Saturday. Sometimes it feels as if all the other days are just pages being flipped though — not that the weekend is really any different. My every day is full of coffee drinking, dog-walking, attempting to write.

I’ve been working on a new novel that refuses to be moved ahead by more than a sentence or two per day. The real-life distractions of the world are not only attention-grabbing but so depressing as to make one want to give up on living, let alone writing. Still, I try, waiting for my story to catch, to take me somewhere that feels meaningful. And when I can’t write, I read. Most recently: Luster by Raven Leilani, Catherine Lacey’s The Answers, a novel called The Margot Affair by Sanae Lemoine. Also The Liar’s Club by Mary Carr, which for some reason I’ve never gotten around to.

I’m home again after spending another two weeks at my mother’s house (where this photo was taken). While I was there, I recorded some piano ideas on my phone, sent them to Paul, and he put guitars on them. Other than that, I cooked for my mother, walked back and forth through her neighborhood, tried to maintain my sanity. I’m happy to be back in my own place. I feel a certain comfort in my solitude even as I wish, sometimes, for a partner who would make sense. I’m sure, after so many years of failed attempts, that this is a fantasy and, so, refuse to give it more than a passing thought. There are more important things to wish for such as democracy, a vaccine for Covid, or to wake up in another time (perhaps the past since the future is hard to imagine without feeling afraid).

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It’s the end of my second week here at my mother’s house, on Long Island. I’ve been taking it easy, riding my bike, sitting out in the yard under the big trees, taking Gem for long walks into town. It’s very peaceful here. I felt I needed a break from the crowds of NYC, the pandemic-deniers, or mask-avoidants. I needed to be able to let my guard down a little.

Since arriving, I’ve been doing all the cooking, which is surprisingly enjoyable — to have someone else to cook for, I mean. At home, I cook for myself, but only things that take no longer to cook than to eat. Cooking for my mother is different, a more elaborate affair: grilled salmon and mashed potatoes and glazed carrots, for example. I like to surprise her. Every evening, I call her to the table and she oohs and aahs, which feels wonderful.

My mother and I have been giving each other plenty of space too. In the first few days, we were stubborn and prickly with one another, both used to doing things our own way. But slowly we have adjusted and found compromises. Seeing her idiosyncratic habits makes me more aware of mine. How strange we are, we humans! All our little peculiarities practiced into grooves. Every morning, I come out to the yard and converse with the birds, convinced that my whistling imitations are being returned. Our eccentricities become exaggerated with age.

I’m still writing poems every day (as is she), or almost every day. We’ve been doing it since mid-March. Earlier, I was going through mine looking to send a few to a friend. There are probably ten or fifteen that I like, which doesn’t mean they’re any good. But I do like a few very much. It feels good to be doing something creative. I’ve been looking for an old Tascam 4-track on ebay too. Perhaps, when I get back to New York I’ll try to do some low-fi recordings. I find my Pro-Tools software difficult to use. I want a new toy that is easy and fun to play around with.

Painting by Egon Schiele

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Memorial Day. I write a dark poem and send it to my mother and sister (we are writing poems each day, sending them to one another). As my mood darkens, I grow restless with intolerance, monstrous with impatience, defeating the intention of the exercise — to give our quarantined lives purpose, an activity we can invest in and share. It was my idea. My sister has jumped in enthusiastically. My mother looks forward to the daily prompts. But poetry. What is poetry? A rhyming verse, a happy refrain? “Go deeper,” I want to tell them, though I hold my tongue. Because who made me poetry god? Can they feel the hostility embedded in my Memorial Day poem?

Soldiers died in wars
And we remember them
On the beach
Or at a barbecue
Roasting animal flesh
To perfection

Holiday weekends
Have always come
With the pressure
Of acknowledging
Not only their occasion
But our good fortune

Never to have gone to war
Never a marine in Afghanistan
Nor a foot-soldier in Iraq
Not a pig or a cow
Or a chicken
On the grill

It has taken me a lifetime and much reflection to recognize my intolerance as a symptom of anxiety– a tantrum that can be controlled with self-discipline and compassion. Because it is the antithesis of what I want to be in the world, which is kind. It is my own kindness I defeat when I am intolerant.

I can apply this to the people on the street who don’t wear masks and runners who come up quickly from behind. Everyone is living in this strange new anxiety-making time, doing the best they can. It’s so important to practice kindness and compassion now– with loved ones and strangers both.

(Painting by Gerhard Richter)

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Saturday morning. Everything is blooming. Week two or three? Spring arrives in the midst of a plague. For the first time, the streets were empty when I took Gem out for her walk. People in NYC have been slow to conform to the practice of social distancing. I took to it right away (although a non-conformist by nature). Wearing my black mask, lined with a Hepa filter, a wool hat pulled down low, and my puffy coat with the hood up, I keep a distance of six feet or more from others. My scary protective ensemble helps me achieve it. I don’t want to be one of those people who suffocate, as their lungs give out, waiting for a bed in an overcrowded hospital. I’ve been in a New York hospital. It’s awful in the best of times. It must be a kind of hell now. I feel for the health-care workers. They are saints and heroes in any time.

Every day, I occupy myself: drink coffee, write, play music, read. I call my mother and we decide a topic for a poem to be written. Then we write our poems and send them to one another. I make a stuffed cat out of a sock (which Gem soon destroys) and wash everything: keys, debit card, hat, gloves, mask, Hepa filter. My groceries are being delivered but I always forget something, or the store is out of it. Oh! Birthday Oreos– amazing! A substitution for the chocolate biscuits I like. They are addictive.

Outside, my tree is turning that chartreuse green it does in the spring when it is full of buds. Birds are communicating in their birdsong language. Gem is asleep on the loveseat across from me. It’s quite lovely and peaceful here.

(Painting by Henri Matisse)

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What to say about this time? Trump, climate catastrophe, and Covid19? It feels like a movie, unreal.

In Lars Von Trier’s film about the end of the world, Melancholia, the character played by Kristin Dunst, the depressed character– the one who ruins her own wedding because she is unable to be happy– is the only one who can face it. Her brain-chemistry has taught her to view the world with foreboding from the start, so unlike her sister and brother-in-law, she is prepared for the end. She is ready.

I’m a good isolator. I’ve often thought that I could survive solitary confinement better than most, though it’s easier to isolate in New York City than other places. You can be alone here without ever truly achieving isolation. There is the sound of the neighbor’s door closing, the construction workers on the roof next door, smoking cigarettes and talking. And though the streets are emptier than usual, they are never truly empty. Walking Gem around the block, or to the park, I pass other dog-walkers, or people out for whatever reason they need to be. We keep our social-distance, but life doesn’t stop here. Or hasn’t yet. Maybe at some point, we will be on lockdown as they are in Italy.

I have been playing the piano. Checking in with friends via text and email. Ordered 50 replacement squeakers for Gem’s toys and delighted her by bringing them all back to life. I have vacuumed and cleaned the bathroom. Sewed patches into a pair of torn jeans. I have called my mother every day. She is doing alright, reading or watching Netflix, as am I.

I have read everything there is to read on the Coronavirus, have added that to my obsessive reading about the upcoming election. The New York Times, Politico, The Washington Post, The Guardian, NPR, and WNYC. I am well-informed. Ask me anything. As for fiction, well, I haven’t been writing. I just can’t start something new right now. I don’t know why. The plague, perhaps? The monster in charge? I can’t get into the right headspace, but I am reading and not just the paper. Thank god for the writers who have written and will keep writing. I just finished The Convert by Stefan Hertmans and started Writers & Lovers by Lily King– wonderful. So much art and literature and music to feast on. Beauty in the midst of it.

Painting by Cecilia Vicuma

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