Caroline Yes

Yesterday I listened to The Beach Boys album Pet Sounds on the way to the coast. Hoist up your sails, it’s an album about going home, which is a message that ages well as an album becomes more nostalgic the more years pass.

One thing that proves that Pet Sounds is a great album is that I could identify with the songs even though I am not in that place right now. The whole album makes you feel like you tried the world, it sucked, and now you want to go back.

I tried the world, it sucked, and now I guess I want something new.

I guess I’m Caroline.

The song Caroline No is about a guy who is so worried about what the world has done to Caroline. At least he thinks he is. Here are the lyrics.

Where did your long hair go
Where is the girl I used to know
How could you lose that happy glow
Oh, Caroline no
Who took that look away
I remember how you used to say
You’d never change, but that’s not true
Oh, Caroline you
Break my heart
I want to go and cry
It’s so sad to watch a sweet thing die
Oh, Caroline why
Could I ever find in you again
The things that made me love you so much then
Could we ever bring ’em back once they have gone
Oh, Caroline no
Did The Beach Boys even know that it was sexist to want Caroline to regain “the things that made me love you so much then?” Authors know that point of view characters are flawed, but I’m not sure they did in this case. I really think they feel sorry for Caroline and want to save her. (Can anyone find anything enlightening about the writing of these lyrics? I didn’t.)
The boys in Sloop John B and That’s Not Me just want to go home, and I’m picturing Caroline coming home for summer after a year of college and visiting her old boyfriend and thinking Sweet Jesus when does school start again. She’s second-guessing the short hair and then reaffirming her hair choice. She’ll get her happy glow back as soon as she gets the hell back out of her home town.
I have to admit, I’m kind of sorry Caroline lives in a world where she has to chop her hair to move on, but so it goes. The boys can go back, but there’s no going back for us women.
Fuck yeah, Caroline.

Sarah, Viv, and Me

This short memoir is an amalgam of five pastors at two churches. I scrambled the timeline for people’s anonymity.

“Doesn’t Sarah Mattea go here?” I asked the pastor of my new church. “I knew her a long time ago.”

”She used to,” he said, pain in his eyes for Sarah. “I can’t go into specifics, but it’s a situation that requires a lot of prayer.”

Was she addicted to drugs? That was my best guess based on his expression. Or simply a wayward wife. Yes, too high to come to church or too ashamed to show her adulterous face. It was obviously one of those.

Years went by. Years during which women of the church told me that I could tell my husband my opinion but he got to make the final decision and that divorce was only an option in the case of physical abuse. Mind you, some of them had stayed through physical abuse and their husbands had changed. They never said it was the wrong choice.

Once, during a meeting, the pastor referenced the verse that says to be ready with the gospel, and a church member added, “When asked.” The pastor denied that “When asked” was part of the passage. I saw him flip through his Bible, close it, and change the subject. I looked the passage up later. Why didn’t I call the pastor and tell him to apologize to the group?

When our church was going through a churchy book together, I posted on Facebook that I thought a particular point in the book was unbiblical. A pastor called my house to tell me I was gossiping. I asked him whether I was wrong about the book. He wouldn’t give me a straight answer. Why didn’t I tell people that he told me that my posting these things on Facebook would “Make people question the church?” If God’s word needs my secrecy to spread, well it’s not much of a word. At least I answered the pastor, “Good!” But I never told anyone, until now. And still I’m afraid to say which pastor it was.

I began to feel unincluded. Was I crazy? Was I paranoid? Or did the powers that be truly not trust me? One church woman I didn’t really know posted that she was desperate for child care, and when I messaged her offering my services she ignored the message and continued to post that she was desperate. Another woman gave every excuse imaginable not to do a Bible study with me and then posted that she was looking for someone to have a Bible study with. Before “the incident,” I was going to be part of a worship songwriting team, and after, when the team was assembled, I was forgotten. I had to be paranoid. Right?

As I said, years went by. Someone brought up Sarah. I wondered how she was. Probably living on the streets by now, poor soul.

“Oh, she left because she was mad about the discipline policy in the Sunday School,” they said.

Hmmm. To put it mildly, hmmm.

Who was right, I asked myself. And then I realized that no one had to be right and wrong. I had made up the wayward Sarah character based on nothing but a pastor’s sad, sad eyes. “The situation needed prayer.” Yes it fucking well did.

But I still kept going to church for a while, and I still wondered a little whether the Sunday School version of Sarah’s departure had been wrong, or at least not the whole story. I mean, those sad, sad eyes! And I wondered whether people were spreading the word that I “needed prayer.”

Then I felt left out one final time, and stopped going. Two years later, a church friend whom I’ve gotten to know better since then said “I used to think you were crazy.” I wondered, was it because someone told him sadly that I needed prayer, or was it that my eyes darted around at church because I didn’t feel trusted and I was sprung tight as a fake snake in a can from trying to fit in where I simply didn’t fit in and maybe didn’t even want to.

It’s sad that I reminisce about my churches and think, “At least there were no molestations or sermons for Trump.” Only the long, slow burn of a gaslight. No big deal.

My friend Viv told me why she left her church. It was a typical story. Nothing earth shattering, and certainly nothing like the rumor I heard about her later.

I wonder what they say about me now that I’m gone. Whatever it is, I’m sure it needs a lot of prayer.

(For reference, here are some places I have not felt paranoid. The school districts where I worked, the music store where I work, my family, my high school friends, my college roommates, my neighbors…)

#YearOfNoLimits update: Wandering, Thoughts, Plans


I try to get to Armstrong Woods once a week. It’s somewhere I know how to get to. I’ve been feeling adventurous the last week or so, and I thought maybe I’d stop at Sunset Beach on the Russian River on the way home. Oddly, I have never been to the Russian River. Instead of 101 I took 116 to River Road, and right before the turn there was a sign for Guerneville River Park. Maybe I’d try that instead.

At Armstrong I asked the kiosk man if he knew whether the river spot was free. He said that it was but that his favorite spot on the river was four miles farther down River Road in Monte Rio.

Because the Armstrong bathrooms were closed due to storm damage and the outhouses were gross, I decided to take just a short walk to enjoy the new water in the creeks and then find a coffee shop in Guerneville. I did and happily bought a mediocre hot chocolate in exchange for a decent bathroom.

The beach in Monte Rio was muddy and loud. Traffic crossing the bridge thumped along at a steady pace as I picked my way around the least muddy path. Except for a few cute ducks, the place was not my cup of tea. But the important thing was that for once I was wandering.


There’s a fine line between making someone feel wanted and suffocating them. And the line is in a different place for everyone. It’s even in a different place for the same person at different times. It’s confusing for both parties. This is what I thought about at the river. Well this and my plans.


It’s always bothered me that there are never any female adjudicators at jazz competitions. When I was in junior high and high school I don’t remember a single one. Last week I watched my daughter at a jazz festival. Three judges, all men.

Guess who all young jazz students think are the authority on jazz? The people deemed worthy of judging them. So, not women. Guess which members of the bands will subconsciously think “I’ll never be an authority on jazz?”

Just for kicks, I went to the CMEA website and looked up the criteria for being an adjudicator. To my great surprise, you don’t need a teaching credential. One way you can get in is to simply prove you’re a working musician.


Then, as with credentialed teachers, you pay to join NAfME, buy a little recorder to say things like “End your notes together” and “Dynamics” and “Listen to Marian McPartland” into, and you take the training.

I have to be careful, because I know that I’m in a rare mood. I might not have this energy a month from now. But starting Sonoma Jazz Girlz seemed beyond my capabilities, too. Not because of my jazz teaching but because of my lack of recruiting skills. But I did it. I did it because it seemed necessary and no one else was going to do it.

Today after my wandering I practiced some jazz standards in the key of E, because #NoLimits. Money for NAfME? I will find it somewhere. #NoLimits. Schmoozing and training and fearing that some of the old guard will wonder who the hell I think I am and driving the dreaded East Bay freeways to get to festivals? #NoLimits.

Not even a month in, I’m pretty sure I picked the right theme for 2019. How is your year?


Year of Bravery: House Concert

Early in my year of bravery, my husband and daughter went to Chico for an honor band and honor choir trip. I stayed home for a gig and would drive to Chico to meet them for the honor choir concert. I had not stayed a night alone in over 16 years.

I was going to be alone Thursday and Friday nights. Friday was my gig, so I only had to decide what to do with Thursday night. An evening watching what I wanted to watch on TV with a pint of ice cream sounded pretty exciting. But it was my one night! Why not do something actually kind of exciting?

I asked my Facebook friends if any of them were playing anywhere local. I got one response. Miss Moonshine was playing at Concert House (Not its real name).

Miss Moonshine is full of people in their 20’s. I know several of them, but the one I know best is Zach, the trumpet player from my own band, Awesome Hotcakes ( I asked him about parking, and he said the house was on a dark street with no sidewalks and the neighbors didn’t like people parking on the street, so park in a nearby shopping center. I reconsidered the TV and ice cream plan.

But no! Was this the year of bravery or wasn’t it?

First I found the house. The street was indeed pitch black. It was an old dead end street with big lots. Luckily Zach was standing out front waiting for other friends and offered to ride with me to show me where to park. I believe he said something about people of my generation being less afraid to ask for help like that. Is that true?

When we got back, I paid my ten bucks at a table on the side of the house and we went up to the back porch and into the house. Sixpacks that people had brought to share littered the kitchen counter. Other than the opening act and one person I’m guessing was there specifically for her, I was the oldest person in the room by at least eighteen years.

The options were to stand in the kitchen or to sit on the floor in the living room right in front of the musicians. Two people could occupy a piano bench. It was so warm in the house that I frequently stepped back onto the porch. It was so cold outside that I frequently stepped back in. I didn’t really talk to anyone except the opening act after she played (super nice) and a guy who came outside to smoke and I was the only other person out there. Maybe another person or two throughout the night. Mostly I stood around feeling like I was bringing down the coolness factor of the venue. This was before I had a string of people at our gigs asking if I was Zach’s mom, otherwise I would have wondered if when we walked in people were thinking “Ugh, who brought their mom?” And thank goodness for Keri.

I was disappointed that my friend Keri wasn’t playing violin with Miss Moonshine but extremely glad she was there. Just because I wasn’t feeling lame enough, I tried to give her a side hug at the same time she tried to give me a real hug and almost fell on my ass.

There was pot. A guy peed in the back yard. Some of Keri’s nice friends walked me back to my car afterwards.

Fast forward to the end of the year. My trumpet player friend is playing at the Concert House with an exceptional group that doesn’t perform very often. I told him I was thinking about going. He reminded me I didn’t like it the first time.

Didn’t I?

I told my husband I was thinking about going. That would mean his driving our daughter around to her event that night. He said “I thought you hated that place.”

Did I?

Since then I’ve played a ton of gigs. Got my first, only, and doozy of a contact high at a gig on, of all days, Mothers’ Day. Spent eleven or so months thinking “Be brave!” Maybe I’ve changed. Maybe I’m not so scared around new people now. Maybe I don’t care if people think moms are a big lame. Or maybe I’m just forgetful.

When I wrote my last update on the year of bravery, I hadn’t decided on a theme for 2019, but I have now. #YearOfNoLimits.

Anyone want to come with me to Concert House? If not, that’s cool.

(Update: I went by myself. It didn’t seem scary or weird at all. One young woman sleeping in a beanbag chair with a wine bottle, but really who hasn’t done that?)

The Blue Tape

I only saw her from the back. She was in front of me at the deli. Short and trim, she wore riding pants and a tee shirt with a few horse hairs stuck to it. She had on what I would bet a hundred dollars were her favorite riding boots. Faded black and lightly splattered with dried mud. The left one was zipped up to the knee as the boots were made to be. The right zipper pull was still down at the foot, though, and the boot was held tight to her leg with three bands of blue tape.

These are the things writers are supposed to notice. I parroted other bloggers about this very topic a couple years ago. I described an encounter between a man I saw at Starbucks every morning and his new love interest. I said that noticing certain things made you a writer.

Today I decided that it only makes you a nonfiction writer. Fiction writers are supposed to steal these details and paste them onto their characters, and I’d love to steal that blue tape. I would love for my blue tape character to drive a blue pickup and drink red wine, but maybe the woman at the deli hates red wine. I would love for her to have an adorable friend who teases her about her boots. But only one woman is going to tape up her boots in just that way, and she was standing there in the deli, not living some life I imagined for her.

A while back I blogged about the fact that I fail in writing realistic characters because I don’t want people to psychoanalyze me based on my characters’ thoughts. Here’s a second reason. Try as I might, I can’t seem to find a list of details that I can collage together to make a whole person. Does blue tape pair with red wine?

On my way in to the deli, I was looking down admiring my new pants, and with the bill of my hat aimed at the ground I couldn’t really see that a woman was coming in the other direction as I walked between two cars. I looked up in plenty of time to move aside, but she was already dramatically plastering herself to one of the cars and heaving an exasperated sigh. If she were my character, I’d give her some red wine, stat.

#YearOfBravery Successes and Failures

Halfway through my year of bravery, I updated my blog on some successes and failures. A dentist success and failure, a sandwich-returning success, and a revelation about my poor posture, which I had forgotten about until I reread it just now!

Now for the second half.

The week before school started, that time when all stay-at-home moms (and teacher’s wives) are thinking about how they’ll miss their family and the summer schedule but also what they’re going to do with their first days of time to themselves, I developed a rather alarming health issue.

I was sure it was bladder cancer. My doctor said that people my age, and especially people who don’t smoke, just don’t get bladder cancer. Of course I thought I had it anyway.

What the doctors were more concerned about was my kidney function. I was pretty sure it wasn’t that, but I got the blood tests and the ultrasound anyway. I asked them to ultrasound my bladder and not just the kidneys, which they were kind enough to do.

This all took about a month, during which I was sure I was going to die. The funny thing about bravery is that it’s so different for all of us. It was much harder for me to deal with scheduling appointments than to think about dying. Maybe because part of me didn’t really think I was going to die; I don’t know. I think I really thought I was going to die.

My ultrasounds and blood tests came back fine. Sometime between my first appointment and my ultrasound appointment, I’d had two bouts of extreme pain for about five minutes. My self-diagnosis switched to bladder stones. I’d never heard of them until Googling around, which of course all my friends had told me not to do. (Among other things I decided I had arsenic poisoning and long-term damage from preeclampsia.) The doctors thought my problem was menstrual-related, and I wasn’t brave enough to say “I’m not a fucking moron,” but that’s what I was thinking.

As it stands now, my symptoms are gone, and the nephrologist wants me to do one more lab test so that she can discharge me from the kidney specialist department. But I don’t know, I kind of like having the nephrologist’s assistant leaving irritated messages on my answering machine. Maybe something to do with all the ridiculous errors she made along the way. Including but not limited to saying she was sending someone to my house to collect a blood sample since I was homebound. I am not homebound. Also I was supposed to give a urine sample that time, not a blood sample.

Was I brave through it all? Not particularly. I don’t even know. I stayed home more than usual, making my husband and my mom drive places I usually go. I quit cleaning the floors at the music store. I don’t  think I missed giving any private lessons or gigs. One of my extreme moments of pain happened during a gig, and instead of going and sitting down I just looked at the trumpet player like “Oh shit I think I’m going to collapse.” I’m not saying it was brave, just that I was astonished beyond action. In a related note, if indeed I had bladder stones, playing a brass instrument seems to have helped me avoid surgery. If I didn’t, playing a brass instrument might have been a big mistake. We’ll never know, and that’s life.

Once you start making themes for your years, it’s hard to stop. 2017, my year of confidence, was extremely beneficial to me, and I think my year of bravery was, too. What will next year be? My daughter is graduating from high school, but who knows what else the year will bring and what I will need to face it. I considered #YearOfCider, but after trying it twice this month because it’s gluten free, I’m tired of it. I just don’t like alcohol. I also considered #YearOfSharpScales because my soloing in E and A has been sucking. Thinking about #YearOfDentures, but that might be more like 2030 or so.

What do you think? And what about you? What do you hope for 2019? What quality will you need to see it come to fruition? My best wishes for you in the new year.


Soul of a Woman (a poem)

The lyric “What is the soul of a man?” by Blind Willie Johnson prompted me to ask myself “What is the soul of a woman?” And so I wrote these lyrics.

What is the soul of a woman?

Just ask a woman. She knows.

Like the wind, you don’t know were it started

When it leaves, you don’t know where it goes

You try to grab ahold but there’s nothing to hold onto

It knows it can’t stay long so it pretends it doesn’t want to

Intangible, invisible, it can still feel pain

Sometimes it’s a gentle breeze

And sometimes it’s a hurricane

What is the soul of a woman?

Wants company, wants to be alone

Wants so badly to see others loved

And maybe get some love of its own

You try to grab ahold but there’s nothing to hold onto

It knows it can’t stay long so it pretends it doesn’t want to

It wants to hide, and then again it wants to be found

Sometimes it will cool you off

And sometimes it will wear you down

Intangible, invisible, it can still feel pain

Sometimes it’s a gentle breeze

And sometimes it’s a hurricane