One winter evening long ago, I was out with Dave and our friend/band member Ben Jaffe when we stopped by “The Thing,” an awesome secondhand shop in Greenpoint filled with extremely strange and wonderful objects. Ben picked up an old dusty piece of art in one of those gaudy brass frames and said, “This one’s from the Willy Wonka art dealer!” We giggled then took turns offering up commentary on other random items.
But the Willy Wonka art dealer stuck with me. I wondered what else he would buy and sell, how he would describe each piece, what his voice would sound like. He was probably creepy. I would probably want to hide from him.
The lyrics to this song started from there then grew into an outlet for my angst and anger over being young in America – how we were left with a recession, a broken society, a dying planet, yet were still expected to work 9-5 and pay the rent. I wanted a luck dragon to fly in and rescue me, leaving nothing but flames behind.
This anger rings truer today than ever before, but instead of hiding or running, I’ve become more empowered to get organized. Capitalism in America has run amuck. We don’t need a luck dragon to save us; if we come together and fight as a collective, we can save ourselves.
Not sure how to do this? Consider getting involved with the Working Families Party, a movement focused on creating a system that supports all Americans, not just the 1%.
“One Day,” the song that lent its name to The Brooklyn Players Reading Society’s new EP, was the very first song I ever wrote. I was 23, working in coffee shops, unsure about what I wanted in life and anxious as hell about it. The words to this song had been floating around my brain for weeks, but I hadn’t yet recognized them as lyrics. I was confident in my identity as a writer, but my anxiety disorder had buried the musician in me long ago. The idea of singing my words had never occurred to me.
And then one evening, after a profound conversation with Dave in which he’d convinced me to try making music again, I found myself on the G train, lugging an enormous 88-key Yamaha home from Guitar Center, listening to those words bounce around my head.
At first I only played through scales and a few songs I remembered from talent shows, but over time, I started improvising a little – something I’d never done before. My past life as a musician had been focused on playing sheet music perfectly, and this focus only fed my anxiety. The act of sitting down and playing whatever I wanted felt freeing, empowering even.
I kept returning to a simple bass groove with a syncopated melody over it, but I was never quite satisfied. The words in my head continually protruded themselves into my mouth, daring me to let them out. One day, when I was certain that Dave and our across-the-hall neighbor were both at work and therefore unable to hear me, I finally decided to give it a try. Heart pounding, I opened my lips and sang. It was scary, but it was also amazing, and the more I sang, the better it felt.
It took a couple of weeks to work up enough courage to play my song for Dave – so long as he sat in a separate room of the apartment in silence with the lights out – but that was enough to urge me on. “One Day” grew from there until a few years later, I got up on a stage, sat behind my keyboard and started singing into a mic, Dave on the drums beside me. My fingers shook, my breath came in spurts, and I wanted to puke, but I didn’t. Somehow, I made it through the song, and when the crowd clapped and “woo”-ed for us at the end, a rush of pure glee came over me. I understood for the very first time that performing could actually be fun.
“One Day” has morphed and grown over the years, but still, whenever I play it, I feel a special kind of contentment settle in me, like all the different versions of myself are coming home together, warm and safe inside this song.
This month marks 18 years living in the Northeast, 13 of them in Brooklyn. Before that I spent 18 years in KY. And now, in the same month in which I crossed this personal threshold of an equal number of years here as there, I find myself packing up my apartment and moving back to Middle America because Dave and I can no longer afford the rent.
Covid did the unthinkable: it shut down New York City’s entertainment and nightlife industry. Dave, like so many others, is out of work indefinitely. It’s a huge loss, not just of income but of a whole community.
But get this – my sister, Kelly, bought the house next door to my sibling, Max, then invited us to spend the upcoming year in one big Covid family compound. Four adults (aka my three moms and a Dave), four kids, two dogs, and one cat, doing our best to make it through this pandemic, this curse/gift of remote school and virtual offices, this country’s blatant racism, this frightening election season, this even more frightening climate crisis, together.
When I first left for college in Boston, I never would have guessed that I would fall in love with the Northeast, that I would come to identify myself as a New Yorker, as a part of the city, the city a part of me. It is hard to leave; there is sadness to be felt. But I am also very excited. Covid has pushed me into a place I never would have imagined. It’s scary and beautiful and full of magic. I am so grateful to have landed like this.
Will we return to a life in Brooklyn? I hope so. But these days, who knows what the future will bring. I’m still setting goals and dreaming dreams, but I’m not committing myself to any of them. Truth is, we never knew – and will never know – what the future holds for us. We humans built a society and made plans that gave us a false sense of control, of power, of certainty. We trusted it would continue despite how shaky, broken, and inherently oppressive it all is. Covid has changed me. It has changed us all. I would never choose any of this, but now that it’s here, I want to be changed by it.
I might not know where I’ll be living, what I’ll be doing, or what our country will even look like in a year from now, but what I do know is that I will never stop trying to bring a little more peace, justice, and joy into this existence. Too many people, especially people of color and immigrants, are not landing like my family is. Instead they are being murdered by police. They are being beaten and thrown into cages by ICE. They are being told that their lives don’t matter as much as the walls of their neighbors’ houses. They are being harassed by landlords, forcing them to choose between paying for food or paying for rent. There is no going back. And why would we? Our country was founded upon genocide and built upon slavery. All of its systems are rooted in white supremacy and the exploitation of labor. Our entire world is burning, literally and metaphorically.
“She started shakin’ to that fine fine music,” I sing along to the record as L and I dance hand-in-hand around our living room. He’s smiling brilliantly, hopping back and forth on his tiny toddler feet, throwing our arms up and down in an arrhythmic expression of joy. I’ve always loved to dance but never before motherhood did I just burst forth like this.
His ecstasy is contagious and in spite of all the freedom motherhood took away, being a mother has also freed me. We lose ourselves and I feel so full of love, love for this song and this kid and this life, and I don’t understand how my breastbone and thin skin manage to hold the hugeness of my heart.