1. LISTENING: Camille O'Sullivan singing "Look, Mummy"
The doormat lay on the sidewalk. In a mix of fonts, it welcomed me to the Irish Arts Center. I got my ticket from a large woman squeezed into a small coat closet under the stairs. I squeezed myself into a sagging, crooked seat in the second-to-last row. Four songs in, Camille killed me with her raw, heart-wrenching performance of this raw, heart-wrenching song. When I stopped being dead, my only thought was "I wish I'd written that."
2. SEEING: Shakespeare's Henriad at Brooklyn Academy of Music in late April
I'm a Shakespeare freak. Though I'd dabbled with the Bard in high school, my habit got serious at Harvard thanks to Professor Marjorie Garber's fantastic class on his later works. Garber's swagger was infectious. She encouraged a deep, visceral engagement with the plays and with the phenomenon of "Shakespeare," in quotation marks, as he appears across the centuries.
Ever since, I've seen as many of the plays as I can, wherever I can -- in theaters large and small, in warehouses, on movie screens, on people's porches. Notable productions include the six-hour immersive staging of three Roman tragedies in a row (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus) that Ivo van Hove did at BAM in Dutch with subtitles (!) and Julie Taymor's version of A Midsummer Night's Dream with an indelible performance by Kathryn Hunter as Puck.
In late April, I courted deep-vein thrombosis once again by seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company's Henriad at BAM in its final weekend -- Richard II on Friday night, Henry IV Part I & II on Saturday, and Henry V on Sunday. That's about 12 hours of theater.
Re-reading the plays and seeing them performed over and over is not only an inexhaustible delight but also an opportunity to refresh and revivify my imagination and sense of the possibilities of language. My whole idea of Richard II changed after seeing David Tennant's arresting and spectral-like performance of the ineffectual and spoiled King in this production. Every time I engage with the plays, be it a highbrow production by the Royal Shakespeare Company or a lowbrow puppet show in an off-off-off-Broadway "theater," new aspects of character, language, and relationship are revealed, opened, explored, magnified.
This has everything to do with music and songwriting for me. The compulsion to experience Shakespeare is akin to listening over and over again to the gems of the Great American Songbook as done by different singers and instrumentalists. For example, what a wonder it is, what interesting thoughts and feelings are brought up by searching My Funny Valentine in Spotify or iTunes and listening to ten or twenty different renditions. The range, depth, and breadth of interpretations is stunning. I've heard hundreds of versions of My Funny Valentine. Is there a reason to stop listening to or singing this song? Do I know everything there is to know about My Funny Valentine? I hope not. I've seen four stagings of King Lear in the last twelve months. Do I know enough about King Lear now to stop seeing it performed? I hope not and I expect never to. I feel about Shakespeare and the Great American Songbook the way Robert Frost felt about reading poems in light of other poems, "Progress is not the aim, but circulation. The thing is to get among the poems where they hold each other apart in their places as the stars do."
3. READING: The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
I'm so frickin' late to this bandwagon, it's a joke. At dinner with a handful of writer friends last month, Amy Hempel came up in conversation. My friends were smitten, almost panting, definitely tripping over each other to get a word in about their favorite Hempel story. There was no way not to put this book at the top of my reading list. Turns out, I've been living under a rock. It's not surprising, really. Short stories aren't my first stop at the buffet. I gravitate towards the heavy end of the spread -- the beefy novel, hearty, full, fleshy. Paradoxically, short stories make me feel impatient. I'm too hungry going in and so, in a rush, I don't savor or chew enough. I start eating and in a blink the plate is bald. Somewhere in there I've read a short story, but it's over before I've really tasted it. That is, unless they're really short, a la Lydia Davis. Then, it's like peanut M&Ms. I can't get enough. I think this is because those ultra-short stories are roughly the length of a well-written song, which is, of course, what I'm most interested in.
In case you live under a similar rock, allow me to lift the edge an inch. Hempel writes short stories marked by packed lines and suggestive, strange moments. She begins where another writer would leave off, or she writes the story behind the story behind the story. It is about voice and raising the stakes so high it's excruciating. She's also deeply, darkly funny. More than a few lines made me laugh out loud and at the same time wonder what exactly in the sentence made me laugh so hard. Her writing stays with you, bubble gum stuck to the shoe of your mind. I gather from my writer friends that it's redundant to recommend Hempel's story "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" because it's been so widely anthologized that if you're under the age of 30 and spent any time in the humanities department at an institution of higher education, you've probably been assigned to read it five times. Well, consider this your sixth assignment or your first.
(Extra credit: Rick Moody's introductory essay to The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel is absolutely stunning and worth reading both before and after you read the book. His essay reads like the best liner notes ever written about your favorite band's greatest album.)
I love hearing from you! The back and forth with you is WHY I do this. Please leave a comment below. Tell me what your 3 Things are, ask me a question, or just say hi! I read and respond to every one.
Hit me up on Snapchat. I'm there strumming, songwriting, and showing you my world.
1. LISTENING: Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson "Alexandra Leaving"
I have a category in my head for songs like this one: Mystical. Such songs are extremely hard to pull off without sounding cheesy or over-reaching. They transport us to a strange time and place. When I first heard "Alexandra Leaving" it literally floored me. Some part of me is still down there, trying to get up.
(Want to hear other examples of this type of song? Check out: James Shelton's Lilac Wine (Jeff Buckley's version, Nina Simone's version), Kathleen Edwards's The Lone Wolf, Suzanne Vega's The Queen and the Soldier, Van Morrison's Rave On John Donne, Rickie Lee Jones's Ghost Train, and, of course, much of Tom Waits's music. You're welcome.)
2. SEEING: Jeremy Denk, piano recital at Carnegie Hall
I did not know who Jeremy Denk was until very recently and for that I am sad. His sharply articulate, often hilarious writing about his life as a musician has been an inspiration to me ever since a close friend turned me on to him. (He has a review in this week's NYT Book Review section.) In mid-April, I was lucky enough to catch his recital at Carnegie Hall. I went on a whim, in a rush, snagging a third-row seat, in full view of his hands on the keyboard.
Though Denk began and ended the afternoon concert with the familiar (Bach's English Suite No. 3 in G minor and Schubert's Piano Sonata in B-flat Major), the show was really about the in-between: a quirky, winding tour of his mind cogitating on the word "ragtime." Denk started with Scott Joplin, of course (Sunflower Slow Drag). Wondrously, he then careened backward in time to William Byrd's 1591 piece The Passinge Mesures: The Nynthe Pavian, then forward in time to a technically staggering canon by Conlon Nancarrow. He played a number of other "rags" (Stravinsky, Hindemith) but my favorite by far was his haunting rendition of William Bolcom's Graceful Ghost Rag. Forgive me for not including a link; I cannot find a version of Denk playing it. All renditions I did find were too straight, decidedly un-beguiling. Denk's was a study of the dynamic marking ppp with a whisper of swing. He took the word "ghost" in the title literally: it was ethereal, otherworldly, breathtaking.
3. CONNECTING: with my 101-year-old friend Gladys
Gladys writes the best letters. She's my second most faithful correspondent, sending scarily prompt replies, written in a wonderful cursive, on the classiest letterhead. She grew up in an era when everything was accomplished by post so she knows not to linger over a response.
I took a 36-hour detour to Miami a few weeks ago to spend time with Gladys. What a remarkable person! So lively, so fun, so interested and interesting. She reads three newspapers a day, speaks at least four languages (that I know of), and can absolutely school me on current events. In fact, I bought and read the Sunday New York Times cover-to-cover in preparation for my visit with her.
How wonderful to hear her lilting voice pronounce Alabama Al-ah-bah-ma (Gladys is Cuban). She remembers everyone -- recounting, for instance, a hilarious car ride from one part of Cuba to another with my great uncle when she was in her 20s. She delights in everything -- the sharp tang of the Maine air when she visited my grandmother forty years ago. Looking around her living room, I see letters from and pictures of three generations of my family. On the threshold, saying my goodbyes, I notice my grandmother's wedding photo.
A week later, Gladys called. She said my visit was a "tonic." I'd been struggling to articulate to friends and family Gladys's effect on me. A tonic. Ah yes. That's it.
Want to share what your 3 Things are? Let me know in the comments below! I read and respond to every one. I love the back and forth with you! Stop lurking! Just do it.
Question of the Month (QOTM): Who did you go visit recently just for the fun and connection of it? Tell me about it in the comments below!
Say hi to me on Snapchat. I'm on there doing my thing: playing guitar, writing songs, lifting heavy objects, and connecting with you!
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I'm always doing some kind of drawing in one or more of my journals. Here's one I did while practicing my guitar.
1. LISTENING: Lori Cullen's "Careful How You Break My Heart"
When I first heard Lori Cullen play her guitar and sing, I said to myself, "I'm gonna make that girl my friend."
As many of you know, I've been exchanging letters and postcards with my fans since forever. This fun activity used to be called "The Postcard Project."
Now, I'm calling it "Mail Me 1 Thing."
I thought it was time to re-up the FAQ. Here goes ...
1. LISTENING: Vintage Tina Turner "Proud Mary"
These past few weeks, I've been going out to see a lot of music and I've been making a lot of my own. The rough and tumble of that much input and output calls for
1. LISTENING: Calder Quartet playing Janacek Quartet No. 2 'Intimate Letters' - Mvt. 3
Last week, I was lucky enough to see Calder Quartet perform the entire Janacek piece Intimate Letters. Wow. Here's the third movement for you to experience. What a piece of music! And what an incredible performance of it!
1. LISTENING: Ben Webster's version of "In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning"
Basically, I'm obsessed with figuring out how to play my guitar the way Ben Webster played saxophone. Webster's version of "Wee Small Hours" is the song that stopped me in my tracks and started me on this quixotic path. I've listened to it almost everyday for a year now. I played it for my Mom as I was sitting with her in the wee small hours of her final mornings.
This list is straight up, no nonsense. Certainly no year-end wrap-up or New Year's resolution-y directive. I'm daring myself NOT to do a review of 2015. I'm daring myself NOT to make a resolution. Instead, my goal is to have no goals. You can bet I will be creating things and taking action, but I won't be using goals to "get" somewhere.
The wise words of Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart are helpful here: “We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate the perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that’s death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn’t have any fresh air. There’s no room for something to come in and interrupt all that. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience."
My Mom's memorial service was on November 7, 2015. Organizing that, seeing it through, was (in my mind) my last duty to my mother. It was a beautiful service. Many of you were there. Thank you. Since then, I have been adjusting to a new normal: life without her. She was the center of my world. I am very much at sea. Here are a few buoys I've held onto this past month.
It's been a little over two weeks since my Mom died.
I am so sorry for not reaching out sooner. I've been beyond heartbroken. More like heart-crushed. I've been speechless. Paralyzed to reach out to you. You, who have been such good friends, such tender, worthy companions on this four year journey.
It's just that the end was ... so many things. So very many things.
I'll be writing about it (the beginning, middle, and end of the end) more on this site, in songs, letters, essays, and on a new site I'm making chronicling my vagabonding in the land of death. I'll be painting and drawing about it, too. And, of course, I'll be living it. Day by day by day.
For now, for you, here is the obituary I wrote for my Mom and a portrait I took of her in 2014.
(If you'd like to leave a comment, please do. Don't second guess yourself. Just open your heart and write. I will read and respond to every single one of you. If you'd like to write me or my family a letter, my mailing address can be found on this page.)
On October 13, 2015 Katharine Draper “Puss” Schutt, 71, of Chadds Ford died peacefully at home after a lengthy and honorable reckoning with ovarian cancer. Puss was a lover of the outdoors, deeply committed to her community, and – above all – devoted to her family. Throughout her illness, she was tenderly cared for by her husband, children, and sisters, the oncology team at the Helen F. Graham Center, and Delaware Hospice.
Puss was raised on Twin Bridges Farm, Chadds Ford and was the second born of Katharine Reeve Draper and Ford B Draper. She attended Tower Hill School before graduating from Milton Academy in 1962 and from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966.
She married Charles Porter “Chip” Schutt Jr. in December 1967, embarking on a wonderfully full union of their two large families and the creation of their own. Puss joined Chip in his passion for sailing and they traveled extensively and adventurously.
Puss worked with great devotion for many organizations, including as President of the Garden Club of Wilmington and as President of the Board of Trustees of Tower Hill School. She contributed significantly to the successes of the Delaware Center for Horticulture, the Winterthur Point-to-Point, the Vicmead Hunt Club, and Christiana Care Health System where she remained engaged even throughout her last year. Her earnest interest, valuable insights, and wise counsel will be greatly missed by all who had the privilege of working alongside her.
Puss loved spending summers in Northeast Harbor, Maine and winters at Galio Farms in Vredenburgh, Alabama. She remained connected to both communities year-round through her subscriptions to the local papers. Since childhood and until her last days, she reveled and found solace in the natural world. For many years she shared a family passion for riding and foxhunting with Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds. Dogs, too, were always part of her life. She was an avid walker, alive to the particularities of the wildflowers and birds of every landscape.
Puss had a gift for remembering the complex genealogies of both her and Chip’s extended families. She delighted in creating and strengthening connections—hosting innumerable family gatherings, holiday meals, and impromptu get-togethers, writing unique and chatty letters, and always making the effort to ask about the lives and interests of others. She believed in the importance of a firm handshake and looking people in the eye. Puss had the true sign of greatness in that she was absolutely without pretension. She had a profound respect for every human being and was warm, generous, and inclusive in her attention.
Above all, she was the spark of the spirited family she and Chip created: daughter Kate of New York City; son Jake of Mill Valley, California, his wife Hilah, and their children Jasper, Elsa, and Luke; and son Porter of Wilmington, his wife Laurisa and their daughters Ryann, Tatum, and Bridget.
She was predeceased by her sisters Avery Draper of West Chester and Ellen Chadwick of Chadds Ford and is survived by siblings Jim Draper of Alexandria, Virginia, Prue Osborn of Unionville, Reeve Draper of Wilmington, and Ford Draper, Jr. of Chadds Ford.
Puss’s smile, kindness, and genuine interest in others will be remembered by all who knew her.
A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, November 7, at 10:00am, at Christ Church Christiana Hundred, 505 E. Buck Road, Wilmington, DE 19807. A reception will follow at Vicmead Hunt Club, 903 Owls Nest Road, Wilmington, DE 19807.
I've been with my Mom this entire month -- cooking, cleaning, taking her to her doctor for the last time, starting hospice care, creating time for her friends and family to say goodbye, making a sacred space of her home, spending time in the gardens and fields she loves, sharing early mornings and late nights with my Dad in the quiet of her exhaustion and heavy sleep. My 3 Things reflects the work of living and the work of dying I am doing right now -- with and for my Mom and my family.
1. MAKING: Ice cream
I've been wanting to make ice cream since my days in Cambridge.