Ale, the kid’s real English teacher, asked me last week to teach the kids the alphabet song. It might not be obvious that learning how to spell in a foreign language is important but I can tell you from my own personal experience it is critical. A few years ago I tried to tell an guy I was hiring off of Craig’s List how to find our job site. This guy spoke only Spanish. I could speak Spanish to him but getting a street address and a town name across two languages can be hard. I tried to say the name slowly. Then I had the bright idea that I would spell the name. Oh, snap! I couldn’t spell easily. I kept saying e instead of a and i instead of e and after a few laughter filled minutes I realized I couldn’t even figure out how to say k….I texted the guy and he found us just fine.
I have since learned to spell pretty well but I still get hung up on k, g, and x. Most recently I’ve learned to ask the kids how to spell their names since I can’t understand what they try to tell me. They are world champion mumblers and most of the names are quite unusual to my ears. Try: Marely, Mireya, Onahomi, Yeraska, Frixia, Janexi, Zania, Evely…in Spanish. I enter their spelled names into my phone and practice after class. I still confuse the names Marely and Mireya but at least I see them in different places.
So today we sang the ABCs. Remember how it goes? It’s set to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. We did that too. There is a Spanish language version of the same song. The kids’ faces lit up when they realized their ABCs and their Brillante Estrella were the same tune, too. Nobody had pointed it out to them before. Add that to my list of things to learn.
Even though he kept me up half the night snoring last night I still have warm feelings for this guy. He was a rock last night during our first show in 2 months. I was unaccountably unsettled. Where Burt was forceful and had a presence I felt timid and the notes recalcitrant. Our venue was Las Fuentes in Todos Santos, BCS, MX. The owners made a romantic ambiance for Valentine’s Day with flowers, candles, and balloons. They arranged the tables so everyone could see us and they installed a STAGE. All of this extra effort on their part has heretofore been unseen by any venue host in the history of our career. There were dinner specials and a house sangria. Usually we show up to a cafe and we have to move the tables and chairs to make a space to stand. We have to find room for our cases. In our experience nobody thinks ahead. These people asked if they could help us unload our stuff! If they want us I am sure we will be happy to go back.
Great hosts and then a passel of new fans made for a nice night. Previous events in Todos Santos have only yielded a few diehard followers. Sara Gay and her friends. The Elias Calles crowd makes the trek (kudos to them) but they’re not Todo Santeños. And that was about it in our 6 years of trying to get a thing going in TS. A lot of shows would be 6 or 10 people. Bridge is what changed the game. Duplicate Bridge friends came out in force and brought their friends. Add them to Sara Gay and the Elias Calleños peeps and a few random strangers and we nearly filled the large restaurant. And then everyone stayed and listened.
The highlight for me was when we bantered a bit and the venue owner, a local, forcefully yelled out, “Jackson!” Without missing a beat we launched into the Johnny and June standard. He was beaming. I presumed he was a plant because I knew Sara Gay had heard us do it but we found out later he was genuinely asking for a song his mother loved. Johnny and June were timeless and knew now boundaries. They speak across cultures and generations.
Burt’s been studying Spanish with an on-line program called Duolingo. Duolingo keeps track of how many days you log in and practice. If a student makes it to ten days in a row they get extra points added to their score. You can use points to upgrade the all free features. Burt says he’s setting a record of one day streaks. I guess I just hit reset around here, too, and it was simply forgetfulness. I had a window in my very busy day and when that window arrived I did diddly. It didn’t even pass through my mind. What does that tell me? Time for a mini-break.
Yesterday was tennis at 8:30. Sunday morning is a round robin event that gets on our nerves. We rarely partake. Too much yakking not enough playing. We did it any way. Some people like to socialize. I like to do stuff. I was even asked to explain how I can be involved in all the activities we are involved in and my disdain for hanging with people. I was like, “Seriously?” To me this is unexplainable. If a person can’t understand loathing chatting and loving singing a song or chasing a tennis ball or playing cards there’s a wide gulf in socio-perception between us. Doing something with people is fun. Talking about things with more than one other person: agony. Okay, maybe two other people and Burt is okay. Call me an introvert that likes to play and work. No small talk, please.
After tennis, which ended at 11:00, was the break. Of course, we ate lunch. Then we lounged. Brain discarded all thoughts. At 2:00 we played music at a memorial service for a guy we barely knew but was a fixture in my daily life. Brian used to come to our shows when they were at the local pizza joint. He lived in teh RV park where I take yoga. I saw him several times a week. We’d say, hello and exchange pleasantries. Cue social agony. With nothing more to say I’d usually head for home. Brian was very nice and very helpful. His last major ‘help thy neighbor’ feat was helping Rosemary and Ed strap their camper onto their truck. He was dead four days later. He even joked with Rosemary (she and Ed are much better at chatting with people. That’s why they can be campground hosts and we can’t.) that he might not live to next year. He knew (and I did) that he was very ill. Rosemary had not heard the news.
So we played his memorial feast and got a great gift in return. Brian did not like music but he came to hear us because Althea and Paty liked music. Althea was his wife and Paty was their neighbor. He once told Paty, “I don’t like music, but I like the Gypsy Carpenters. They are real. They are working man’s music.” There you have it. A gift of appreciation from the dead. We are working class and proud to have included a former commercial fisherman in our fold of fans. We played his favorite song Sixteen Tons.
Big news here: Mi papá va a visitarnos. My father is going to visit us. Holy cow. Talk about feeding the blog. What a font of material he will be as he gets his first taste of Baja. Burt and I are already considering the list of chores we have ahead of us to make our home presentable. Complete demolition is not possible in the time frame before he gets here. Dad will arrive the last week of March.
Today the Gypsy Carpenters played a private party. It was a great job and we made a few bucks. The party also gave us a low key way to kick off some dust. The whales were dancing just off shore at Elias Calles while the sun went down and the tunes flowed. We ate too much, too. On the way home we did some drive by birding at Rancho Pilar. There was a flock of lesser goldfinches flitting from bush to bush. Jackpot.
The Gypsy Carpenters are dusting off love gone good and love gone bad songs for your listening pleasure. If you happen to be in Baja California Sur you can come on out and hear us play on Valentine’s Day at Las Fuentes, in Todos Santos from 6 to 7:30. That’s next Tuesday.
Today we sat down and worked on our set list and swept away some cobwebs. If you have any requests send them in now. All ideas considered.
Thanks, Harlow Pinson for the great promo shots. Too bad we never look good at the same time.
Burt’s finally had enough of our annual slog on the skirts of Titi Mountain. I think. We’ve made an annual trek up there every year for the last four year. This year I cried. Between losing the way, the heat, hunger, and the darn beta-blockers I had my work cut out for me. I knew I would be miserable on an uphill hike through the thorn forest and I tried to take it like a big person but the first 40 minutes were really discouraging. I almost quit.
The start of this marathon is a very poor ranch deep in the desert at the edge of an arroyo. In the past the house has been vacant but this year the owners were there with their three skeletal dogs. The burro that rubbed his head on our car all night long last year was not seen. The owners speak a version of Baja Spanish that I find impenetrable. We exchanged pleasantries where every other word was Mande? or Como? What? Hi? What? How are you? Say that again? Great? You? What? Painful. Then the man says, “You play violin.” I heard that. We played music once here 4 years ago and everyone within 10 square miles remembers. Does this make us famous. In a word, yes. At the time it seemed like we were torturing them. Maybe we were. Today he seemed to remember it fondly. He asked if I had brought my violin and seemed disappointed when I said no. Maybe he was just being polite.
This route is located in a spot our friends the deer hunters showed us four years ago. Angel and Ramon agreed to let us tag along while they hunted. That day we covered twice as much ground in the same amount of time. We were faster then but we also had a guide dragging us over and under and through vegetation. On our own we wallow a bit trying to figure out where to go. The area is very wild but also heavily grazed by cattle. There are microtrails everywhere created by cows stomping their way to every green shoot or puddle of water. Cows make trails that are too short for the average gringo. Tree limbs, vines and cactus hang about at the four foot level. Constantly we find ourselves trying to decide if we should climb over a log, pass under that nasty vine, or through the chest high weeds. All this obstacle course like maneuvering while headed uphill. It’s not an enjoyable walk; it is more like an expedition. About an hour in there is a native palm oasis. Things get more enjoyable there.
The thing that keeps us going, besides the annual grudge match, is that we hope to find some of Baja’s endemic birds that live at the higher elevations. Today we had our eyes and ears peeled for the cape robin, the Baird’s junco, and the isolated population of acorn woodpeckers. All of these birds are subspecies of birds found elsewhere but the ones here in Baja have been left isolated by the ocean and the desert. They don’t migrate. They all look slightly different from tehir more mobile colleagues.
At 2:30 and after 4 hours of trudging with ample and lengthy breaks we turned for home. My phone said we’d walked 3 miles. I believe it was closer to 2 but it felt more like 5. So three is a nice compromise. At the turnaround point we had not seen any of our birds. We did find a nice persimmon tree on the edge of the palm oasis and it was full of butter butts (yellow rumped warblers) and orange crowned warblers. The fruit tree is a relic of the sugar processing days. At the ridge there was a sugar cane processing plant. Local people hiked 6 miles every day to work it back in the late 1800s. The workers planted fruit trees on their route. On our way back down, just before the persimmons, Burt spotted a woodpecker. I got my binoculars on it just as it flew and I was 90% certain it was our clown faced acorn woodpecker. Then Burt spotted another one and this next one held still and we both confirmed it was the bird we were looking for. Yippee. All tears were worth it.
Here is the writing assignment for today from Zoë Dearborn: Think of a highlight of your life. A moment or time period where you felt uplifted or inspired or deeply engaged in life. Free write for 15 minutes. Describe this memory in detail. Emotions, senses, images. Draw or illustrate this experience. What truth does it reflect to you about yourself? Enjoy.
I’ve been mulling this over since the middle of the night. I’m not getting anywhere singular. I was so paralyzed for a while I opened it up for suggestions with Burt, Rosemary, and Ed. They have all seen me through thick and thin. Burt suggested when he flipped my raft. I’d had some thoughts on epic outdoor adventures but none struck me as lasting or interesting now. I forget what RR and Ed said.
Recent life events cast a light on the feeling of good enough and exactly right for the moment that I feel more happy about how I was in crisis than I was in a stereotypical happy moment. The 10 minutes between noticing Olive was poisoned and driving her to town strike me as some of the worst and best of my life. I did exactly what needed to be done and I was aware of it in the moment. I knew only a veterinarian could save her life. I disregarded politely bidding ‘adios’ to my friends. I did not try to save her myself or provide comfort during the drive. I disregarded traffic laws. I stayed focused. I got her to the vet on time. I didn’t panic. I felt time passing by. I saw cars in slow motion. I was in the moment. I don’t want a repeat but I can accept that I did what needed doing and I did it well. The end results were out of my hands and I wonder if I would feel okay about this had Olive died.
Someone recently asked me if I sang at my mother’s funeral. I told her how I had and that it was a transformative moment. We’d struggled to rehearse three pieces. None of the practicing went smoothly. Either Burt or I would flub a line, loose the chord progression, or just start blubbering. I felt so sad but at peace about my mother’s death after such a long illness. The conflicting emotions were at home side by side. My mother sang and played guitar with a church group when I was a child. The moment I stood up to sing for her at her memorial service I felt a column of light fill me. I knew I was doing the exact thing I was supposed to do. It could be a good or bad performance and it was exactly right. It felt fantastic. I was singing for my mother. It was the right thing to do. I was enlivened. It felt flawless. The words of 500 miles soared across the space. The feeling of sounds leaving me felt beautiful. It was stunningly easy. The actual act of singing was such a comfort. I wonder if I’d feel the same way if we had fallen apart and I muffed it? I wonder if seeing the video (Yes, can you believe it, the funeral home filmed the service. ugh.) would ruin this moment for me? I’ve told my father I never want to hear or see the performance. Some art is meant to be ephemeral. Never to be seen or heard again. That whole week I felt so useful and available to my father. It was a good thing in a bad time.
So I am struck by how the two things I feel most drawn to are so very recent and such obvious culminations of life’s practice for me. First aid, EMT training, karate, adrenaline sports, music, years of performing, yoga, meditation, all these things culminating in my ability to do what I needed and or wanted to do at the right moment. If I could bring that presence in on a daily basis outside the realm of tragedy or catastrophe I think I would be calmer and more relaxed. We’ll see.
The journal people are drawing today. Our assignment is a graphic representation of your to-do list. I don’t have a lot on my agenda today. Well, not a lot time wise but a couple of big things.
1. Always the hardest. Get out of bed. The tar pits have a hold on me every day. Burt left early so I had to rouse myself to eat and dress for a 9:00 AM singles tennis match. It was a struggle.
2. On the list so I won’t forget it take my heart meds. Propranolol is a powerful anti-arrhythmia and anti-anxiety med. Perfect for insecure times. Too bad I feel a little sluggish and the external factors of world dynamics are getting to me anyway.
3. I hate daily care. It bores me. I was never into grooming. I do it, mostly, anyway. I brushed my teeth and applied sunscreen.
4. Get dressed. Tennis first, so wear the tennies. Mary and I had a nice match. I won 6-2 and then lost 5-7. My limited endurance betrayed me. I’m hopeful that single splay will help my fitness.
5. Help Mary with her fiddle. First fiddle lesson for her is next Tuesday. I am about to unleash my un-impressive skills on yet another music student. Mary can blame me when she develops all kinds of bad habits. We’ll have fun.
6. Read this great book. I haven’t been able to finish it. The news is too compelling and I fritter the day surfing. I must find a way to stay informed but not obsessed. I don’t know where that middle ground is. Reading a book might help.
7. Play music with the kids. This helps with mood. Today we’ll be working on a simple crossword of music and lyric related words we’ve taught. Burt and I were commenting to each other on how much fun we have and yet it always seems so hard to get enthused about leaving the house. Why is that? I do not know. Sort of the same as how hard it is to get out of bed. Then I remembered my response when someone congratulated me on achieving my black belt. “I just showed up.”
So I can summarize this day: Show up. Consistency pays off. Do the work. The rewards come. Sort of like blogging every day. More readers and comments than ever.
Personal Manifesto: After yesterday there is so much hurt and pain in me that I do not want to manifest. Our goal for today was to write about our personal manifesto. I want peace. I want community. I want enough. I don’t know where it is. I told Burt I am so angry I could harm the human that did this to my dog. If I can’t get over this how can a person get over a bomb that killed their child or any of the horrible things we intentionally do to one another? I will get over it. I am already getting over it but I hurt.
I believe the dog was a used as a tool to intimidate us, the community. Once, twenty years ago I was working on a big, local enforcement action. My dog was poisoned. It’s not the dog. It’s the dog as our guardian, representative, friend, soul mate. That dog survived and so did Olive. Here a large condo complex owner doesn’t want locals and dogs on his beach. It’s illegal to kill people and it’s illegal to keep us off the beach. Kill a dog and a lot of locals will stay away. It was even implied that I was to blame for walking my dog there. Heavy sigh. I cannot manifest why that is the wrong thing to say to a person. Gross alert…I can only manifest the desire to go back and take a dump in full view on their beach. I’ll get over it.
Ollie-belle is recovering. She’s eating, peeing, sleeping. It remains to be seen if she has permanent eye damage. Today her pupils won’t contract. She cannot see outside. It’s too bright. It’s likely just a residual of the muscle relaxants in her body. The drugs can take several days to clear.
On the getting over it side of life the Gypsy Carpenters were asked to play some songs at a women’s rally in Todos Santos this morning. Our patron wanted Spanish and English songs that the crowd could sing and that were apolitical. Tourists and foreign nationals cannot have political events in Mexico. Due to their history of colonialism and occupation Mexico frowns upon outsiders telling it what to do. No problem for me. We are guests here. This event was bicultiral and bilingual. I tried for two weeks to find a native born singer to join our band for the event. I had no luck until I got a text at 9:30 PM last night from Mireya. We met Mireya a few weeks ago at the Hablando Mexicano school where I take Spanish lessons. She can sing. So last night I texted her the names of the songs and she learned them on her own and then showed up at 8:30 AM this morning ready to join the band. This was a gratifying moment in my effort to work in community and I hope it is the start of a new collaboration.
If I have to manifest today it is I want to manifest community music as a way to build bridges and work with my neighbors. There’s a Facebook video circulating of us doing Cielito Lindo. Check it out.
All of you know we are musicians. The Gypsy Carpenters is a musical duo. To the non-musician being a musician seems like some magical power. I used to be one of those non-musician types. Now I hardly consider myself a musician but I have some skills. I can still remember when I was consumed by this new found magical skill. I wasn’t very good but it still a powerful life transforming skill. New friends, new ways to pass time, a new inner critic to deal with.
Strangely my inner critic was hardly noticeable for the first few years. I was very generous with the, “I’m just a beginner. I can make mistakes.” I leapt into many situations where I found myself over my head. It served me well. I was invited to play because I had the chutzpah to try. Now I am more cautious. I miss those days. In karate they call it the Beginner’s Mind. The goal is to always bring a beginner’s mind to your practice. I have lost it. I have fair to middling skills. I know I will never be great. I can play along and enjoy singing and picking. In this comfort zone my inner critic has found a nitch. She has the habit of saying, “You’d be better if you practiced. You’d be better if you listened to more music. You should try harder…” and so forth. She’s ruining my vibe. The irony of hearing this voice when I run a music school encouraging people to enjoy the skills they have does not escape me. Am I setting a good or bad example?
Part of this syndrome is due to life on the road. Burt and I are isolated from a steady supply of music pals where we can motivate and be motivated. In Baja we have some short term overlap with our friend Tom and he does inspire but there’s not enough time to really get a groove going. I have so many other things I want to do. The other factor of life on the road is it’s really hard to get the instruments out of the case when we live in a trailer. I always advise newbies to keep their instruments out so they can pick them up any time they feel the desire. Baja helps there to. Our instruments can be out all day long in the rumpus room.
Another key to motivation is to take gigs. Burt and I are still seeking this year’s home place. Last night we had a brilliant idea that turned into a big disappointment. We tried a new restaurant in downtown Pescadero. We knew the space had great acoustics because a previous owner had had us over for a jam once. Turns out the current owner has built a bit of Cabo. It’s flashy and loud inside. The prices are in dollars which alienates locals and long term visitors besides being illegal. We decided it was a no-go for us even before we learned who owned the place. We’re not quite ready to play in a connected joint. Yet. On the up side the drinks were big and strong and a solid deal at 2 for 1 happy hour. The food was pretty good but pricey.
So our only steady gig right now is our mini-music class in Pescadero. Burt and I do songs and dance for half and hour and Yvonne and Alejandra teach English the other half hour. We split the class in two and send half back and forth. We also drive half the kids to class. It’s a big commitment but we are in 100%.
Coming up we’ll be singing some English and Spanish folk songs at a rally in Todos Santos next week. It is an honor to be asked to lead the crowd in song. This is something we know how to do. I am nervous and have lots of internal and a few external voices to deal with but I am tapping into my beginner’s mind and going full steam ahead.