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Current Inspiration: Richie Havens 

This song has been running through my head in recent days. My heart aches for the families separated at the U.S. border. I can't sleep. I can't think about anything except those poor motherless children and childless parents. Only a voice as powerful as Richie Havens can hold me steady now.

When I was thirteen or so I got to see him perform this song in my hometown. It was as close as I'd ever come to meeting god. In fact, I did meet him - he towered above me with a wide open smile and shook my hand (which I didn't wash for days), infusing my palm with the electricity of nothing less than an angel's wing.

Thank you, Richie. <3

You can hear me sing a version of this song on Patreon. All proceeds will go to Together Rising

A message from Cosmic Turtle 

There’s abundant evidence that the world is spinning out of control. And it is. Because the world has never been in our control. And it’s okay. We’re okay. When we notice this, we’re out of its control. We’re free. We have choices. We have imaginations. And then we can use them.

This morning I jogged along to the last minutes of an audiobook, The Female Persuasion. I like to listen to audiobooks on low volume without headphones so I can hear the birds and keep the bears away (I’m not sure if this is an effective bear-deterrent, but it’s a comforting thought.) Plus, out here in the “country” it’s helpful and inspiring to hear other human voices, especially smart, witty ones that offer entertainment and perspective on difficult subjects.

Today I was faster than usual because I got a late start. I always feel behind, no matter what I’m doing. There’s just so much I want to do. Here we are in the longest days of the year and they still feel too short.

As I approached the top of the hill I noticed a lump in the road I couldn’t identify…  a new shape in my growing encyclopedia, slightly domed. Just before the stop sign the narrator reached the final lines of the book —There wasn’t much time. In the end, she thought, the turtle might outlive them all — and at that exact moment the lump in the road revealed itself to be a turtle.


Can you imagine my delight? Yes, there are many critters in these woods… but this is the first time I've seen a turtle, and I can’t remember the last time I read/listened to a book in which a turtle had a starring role. The world might be out of control but maybe, just maybe... something is connecting all these moving parts?

As we approach solstice, the top of the hill, the time when the planet is divided into extreme darkness and extreme light, find solace in nature. Slow down, says Turtle in my hands. See all the light has to reveal. Feel all that is shrouded in darkness. Beyond these extremes and constant flux there is solid, common ground. Proceed carefully, watch for signs, trust yourself to recognize them, and you will get there. You are here. And you are needed. 

Love, 
Cygne

Current Inspiration: the woods 

In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life — no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed my the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.  

As a teenager I underlined and starred these lines by Ralph Waldo Emerson, going over I become a transparent eyeball a second time with green marker. I hadn’t read them in years until, arriving home from the woods and "randomly" pulling a book from a pile, this is the passage that greeted me. :)

Take Me Home: Elkton, FL 


The last time I stayed with my grandparents - before Gram moved to a nursing home - was the first time I stayed with them on my own. As I stepped out of my car and walked across the spiky Floridian grass I felt the rush of being The Grandchild, without my older, louder sister there to take centerstage. (Yes, even as a twenty-something. Many of us who end up onstage are there because of older, louder siblings. It’s the only way we were ever going to be heard.*) 

Yet for the same reason, I felt shy, nervous… even a little scared. Without my sister, mom, aunts, uncles, or cousins, and all the noise and activity they bring with them, who was I in relationship to my grandparents? How would we interact? What would we say? What could they possibly think of this grimy, barefoot vagabond crossing the driveway, car piled to the ceiling with all that Mary Poppins couldn’t fit? 

I didn’t even have to knock before Papa opened the door, eyes twinkling, corners of his mouth turned ever so slightly upward. “How are you!” he said, patting me on the back. And from beneath the cool waves of the fan Gram’s lips emerged, bright like a tropical fish at the end of a long line of “ooooohs.” Gram. It’s difficult to recall Gram then… the past few years have been so hard for her. For Papa. For their children. 

However that afternoon, still able to drive, she went on a secret mission to Publix and returned as I stood in the driveway rolling clean laundry into burritos. “Come here!” she rasped. “Quick, before Papa sees!” I walked to the street to meet her dark sunglasses, half-obscured by a low visor. From the passenger’s seat she presented two bags of trail mix. “I got you this for the road,” she said. Then, placing a folded $20 bill in my hand, “Don’t tell Papa.” 

Of course Papa wouldn’t have minded, though he might have been puzzled by the strange deal going on outside. It wasn’t about the trail mix, nor the $20. It was about the conspiratorial grin. I’d never discussed “the road” with my grandparents, for reasons you can and can’t imagine. But in that moment I felt like Gram, who had given me a subscription to Rolling Stone when I turned ten, got it. No explanation necessary. Even more than that, she wanted to be part of it. And she was. She is. They both are. How could they not be? 

Thank you, Gram. Thank you, Papa. I love you, Shellenbach tribe. 

 

* To be fair, I enjoyed and exploited my sister’s loudness. It/she enabled me to silently witness all the stuff I sing about.

Take Me Home: White Sulphur Springs, MT 

July 26, 2013

I was invited to play a festival in White Sulfur Springs. Merle Haggard would headline, along with Todd Snider, Robert Earl Keen, and other names people recognize. As with other little acts I was asked to play for exposure, which meant a spot to camp in the high desert mid-summer. Having no money, no tent, and a very full car, I obviously said yes and began searching for local concerts to supplement my exposure (to heatstroke), and hopefully, shelter. 

On short notice options were limited; however just an hour and a half away a biker bar in Helena offered me the second set in a three-act metal show and $200. I was thrilled. My third grade state report was on Montana and one of my bffs is Helena, so how bad could it be? (This is why artists need managers.) 

The first act was a three-armed four-piece metal duo. Lugging his Marshall stack onstage with one arm the singer-guitarist-bassist provided me with a new definition for hardworking musician. He screamed, strummed, thumped while my teeth rattled against my chest. I wondered how the crowd would receive my acoustic ballads… but this wasn’t my first metal show. (Metalheads dig alternate tunings.) 

As I began the crowd was silent, attentive, supportive. Then the third act showed up and began dry-humping in front of the stage, shouting profanities and - from where I stood - preparing to kill me. There was a lot of tongue and a lot of fist. I started doubting whether I could hold things together when the sound guy and one of the bartenders dragged the humpers outside and restored peace. I sold a dozen CDs, packed up my gear, and opened the stage door… to a wall of flames. 

Having been obstructed from expressing his anger in general, and towards me, in particular, Humper #1 had set fire to empty boxes and beer cases, alarmingly close to my car. That is, about to explode everything I own. I stood in the doorway not knowing how to respond when once again Bartender and Sound Guy appeared, practically leaping over my head to put out the blaze. (This wasn’t their first metal show.) 

I drove back to White Sulphur Springs in silence, admiring the dark silhouette of the mountains... and smiling. For having survived another night on the road. For the audience, the staff, the musicians - even the humpers. For the money in my pocket and the songs that brought me here. For the festival organizer, who let me sleep in her Airstream. For the Canadians, who adopted me for the remainder of the weekend. For Todd Snider, who made the drive from California worthwhile alone. And most of all, for the exposure.

Thank you.

Current Inspiration: Donald Glover 

Our internet has been down since the storm (a couple weeks ago) which means that I'm even more out of the loop than usual (which is very out of the loop). Plus I live in the woods and my neighbors are (in descending order of population) bugs, birds, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, deer, raccoons, horses, and humans (very rare sightings) and none of them have been online either. So I've been deeeeep in my hole and, I'll admit, proud of my monastic ways. I actually thought I'd be able to maintain them when back online. HA!

Now that service is restored I've been binge-watching Dave Chappelle and French children's movies, and tonight I fell into my favorite, "let's Google people I went to school with and feel shitty about myself." Yes... I do this. Very rarely, but after a long period of abstinence of course I'm going to go deep into the other extreme. And I'm glad I did. Because it led me to this: 

With hundreds of millions of views I guess this is old news now? Like that big wedding and all those funerals? We churn through everything so quickly now... and yet some things reach through the screen, grab us, and don't let go. 

Take Me Home: Land of Awes 


A few days ago I sat at my desk as the sky turned from blue to gray to green. In the time it took to go outside, close an umbrella, and turn on the electric kettle, a tornado whipped through the area, leaving me in the dark with my hot water. 

Hot water. If you know me you know it's my drink of choice. And I love a long bath. For years I've said it's the ultimate luxury - cold hostel, early morning train, crappy gig - all (most) forgiven with the addition of hot water. 

As birdsong signaled the end of the storm I felt relieved. We were safe. Then I thought: shit, I should've showered this morning. Then I thought: Puerto Rico. Gaza. Port-au-Prince. Aleppo. Kathmandu. Mumbai. Hundreds and thousands and millions without electricity or plumbing, with or without bombs and bullets whipping overhead, never mind an electric kettle. 
 
Just now I crossed the street to fill a pot of water from the lake so I can flush the toilet. I cannot describe the overwhelming awe and gratitude I feel for the soft rain, the full pantry, the proximity to water, and the ability to heat it. We joke about #firstworldproblems but I would happily, gratefully, ecstatically never shower or look at this stupid device again if only everyone had enough food, water, and warm, safe haven. 
 
I can't tell if my heart is breaking for the insane abundance right here, right now, or for the insane disparity right here, right now.

Cross-country highlights and everything on sale! 

It’s said that we overestimate what we can accomplish in a year and underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years. Similarly, I think we overestimate the length of a cross-country drive and underestimate the length of Pennsylvania. Sheesh. After I-I-I-O that final stretch of I-80 is lllong!! But I am so happy and grateful and relieved to have successfully completed another continental crossing. :)

Back at the starting line I feared I wouldn’t make it because after I sent the last email update I went outside and discovered that my car - along with everything I own - was gone. Before you lecture me know that I normally don’t leave anything I’d be devastated to lose in my car (mainly my guitar and my computer containing thousands of pages and hours of work). But as it was Sunday morning and people were waking up and jogging and smoothie-ing… and as I was on my way to sing at the OC Center for Spiritual Living (so much good juju)… and as it was just a teensie weensie quickie stoppie…

Yes, friends... I gambled my life’s work, my house on wheels, and my beloved panda bear... for a smoothie. But - under a crisp blue sea-breezy sky, pacing in circles, hyperventialing on the phone with the LAPD, trembling so hard that my teeth were chattering, I realized - hey - wait! - my car wasn’t missing! I was on the wrong block!

LMAO. Sleep deprivation is not only dangerous, it's embarassing. And in the best case scenario, it’s also hilarious.With a renewed sense of gratitude (not to mention pulse) I sang and journeyed on to Phoenix, arriving just in time for a pre-sleep swim. Floating underneath palm trees and a third quarter moon after having regained all my material possessions I recorded a memory I will replay anytime I doubt that I'm incredibly blessed and that the universe is a magical place to live (basically anytime I accidentally watch the news).

Then Santa Fe… oh, how I love Santa Fe! Lilacs dangled in sweet bunches of grape goodness and Meow Wolf is just about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. The shows in Taos, Santa Fe, and Las Vegas were the perfect exhale to Let It Breathe.

Then in Denver I reunited with a soul sister and soul doggy and we walked around a lake until cherry blossom drizzle turned to rain. Then we watched Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and laughed and laughed until my heart felt very plump and pink. 

Then the serious hauling began. Denver to Omaha to Bowling Green to home. Halfway through Illinois I was pulled over for using my hands-free headset (apparently this is illegal in a bunch of states) but the real reason was that the (very nice) officer was looking for drugs. What's weird is that seconds before I'd been thinking about "Great Whites," which I'd written on the same stretch of road the last time I'd driven it (some five years ago) and I thought, "Oh, man, I hope I don't get pulled over and searched." #lawofattraction

Officer Nice questioned my Santa Cruz bumper stickers and the strange herbal fragrance (he hit his head on a smudge stick when he leaned inside the passenger window), but when he asked to look in the trunk what he saw either scared the hell out of him or he has good sense because my car was packed so tightly had he searched it I don't know if we would've been able to fit everything back inside. Like a parachute. Of stuff. 

He let me go without a warning and I was very grateful however I couldn’t help thinking that had I been wearing different skin our encounter might’ve gone very differently. The remaining thousand miles were solemn. I felt very shaken and sad. 

How to steady myself in these moments of despair? Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations (always).

If you can believe it I didn't listen to any music on this trip (except for a few works in progress) but I listened to a bunch of audiobooks - A Gentleman in Moscow got me through the desert and Year of Yes and Mom & Me & Mom got me home. I especially recommend the latter for this season of motherhood/Mother consciousness. I save Maya Angelou for emergencies, such as when I’ve lost all perspective and I’ve begun screaming (literally) in the final hours of a drive. Her voice is balm to my frayed nerves and her stories have me sitting upright and alert right through the finish line. Gratitude. Perspective. Grace. Wisdom. To know we are not just what life makes of us but what we make of life.

And then I woke up to this. 
Spring. In the spirit of moms, dads, grads, you, me, Meow Wolf, friendship, lilacs, cherry blossoms, Officer Nice, Maya Angelou, and the daring red squirrel I watched dash across a four-lane freeway during morning rush hour - everything in the store is 20% off and all music ships for free! 

Happy Mother's Day. May you birth something glorious. 

Cygne