Change–Going The Distance

I don’t like change very much. I cried every time I tried to finish the song,“The Distance.” It’s a song about my son growing up and out of the house. It took me 5 years, really, to put the final lines together and then let it go, move on. Planted on my padded piano bench, my hands gently pressing into the chords, I would sing the first few words in the verse:

The sun sets as we drive the Trace

I’ll never forget this side of your face

It’s not the same as it was, so much has changed since I met you.

My heart would immediately connect with the image in my head: my young teenage son and me driving together on the Natchez Trace, a winding, scenic roadway close to our home. Although it stretches from Nashville, Tennessee to Tupelo, Mississippi, there’s a short section that connects a friend’s house to ours.

the Natchez Trace bridge in Nashville Tennessee

Way back then, Julian and I were crossing the lovely Natchez Trace Bridge which spans a yawning valley. The sky was sunset orange. In the glow to my right, I saw that my son was a young man in transformation. Soon, he would be in the driver’s seat and I would be the passenger. Not long after that, he wouldn’t need me at his side at all. The road before us began to stretch out in ways that my heart didn’t want to face.

Julian had already changed so much in the fourteen years I’d known him. But I knew there was more change to come. For that reason, whenever I sat at my piano determined to finish the song, the words got stuck in my throat.

Transatlanticism

In the awkward silences of Julian’s early teenage years, music was our connection. What kept us talking was our love of the melody and lyrics. A great song can really go the distance, keep its impact despite the flow of time all around it.

In the car, we’d sing along with our favorite songs, working out the harmonies and talking about the lyrics. One particular song by the group, Death Cab For Cutie, was a puzzle to both of us. What did “Transatlanticism” mean? What deeper message was hidden in the song’s images?

Part of its attractiveness was its mystery, the blank spaces left for us to fill. Somehow, it was a bridge in the growing gap between mother and son. It helped me to forge ahead with finishing, “The Distance.”

Change:young Julian DenteWe can’t always connect what’s between us now

And these silent stretches are longer somehow

We turn the music way up loud

And wonder what the song’s about

And the music spans the distance

It’s our transatlanticism

Love and Letting Go

As my son became a man, I finally finished and recorded my song about change and going the distance. Julian writes and records his own music now. He drives his own roads and goes places far from where we first traveled together. His songs keep me and the whole family talking. We all love the chord changes he chooses and sometimes we embarrass him with our enthusiasm.

Thankfully, I can say that I’m glad he has grown up and gone on without me. It’s good when sons—and songs—grow up and move on. He certainly comes back to visit and keeps me up to date on his latest favorite songs. The music he’s making is all his own yet has hints of his beginnings, links that connect him to home.

change: going the distance

Yeah, we always go together now

But I know what I know, soon I’ll slow you down

The time will come when I can’t keep up

And you’ll go on without me

Whether in small increments or large sweeps, change is a guarantee. How I traverse it is key.

Julian has a lovely wife and a son of his own now. I am learning to live with the distance that makes for a great relationship; mothers and sons are complicated! I am still listening closely to every lyric he writes and wondering what the song’s about. But I don’t have to figure it all out anymore or even assign meaning to every little bump in the road.

Trying to enjoy this ride we call life, I can see the mystery as attractive rather than scary. Find the beauty, deal with the impermanence, and go the distance with change. I’ll finish one song so I can move on to write the next one, connecting the changes in a chain of love and letting go.

Now we’re staring at that last bridge

And it feels like the Atlantic

Let the music span the distance

Read more about this and other songs in my book, Lifelines and the article, “Animal House!”

Listen to “The Distance” song and 9 others in A Little Light Left.

Thanks for listening and for going the distance with me.

Full lyric for “The Distance”

change: going the distance

Happy with Your Lot in Life?

living with your lot in life

Every spring, people get an itch for something new, something different. Many people move to new homes in this season, looking for a different situation or a change of view. They are imagining a better lot in life.

This spring, I have an itch for updating, remodeling, and just cleaning out the house I have. Yet, I am starting to look around, too. I’m noticing all the for sale signs and wondering, “is there something out there that could be better than what I have?”

Turn-Arounders

As a kid, I lived in several rented and temporary homes. No matter how many times we moved, Mom always kept my sister and brother and me in the same school district. But I didn’t like the impermanence of the shifting address, the change of neighbors. I wanted to settle in and stay for awhile.

These days, I live in a house of my own at the end of a cul-de-sac in a small suburban neighborhood. Cul-de-sac literally means “bottom of a sack.” The name says it all. In a cul-de-sac you can’t just drive through. It’s a dead end of sorts for those who don’t live there. My family and I call them the turn-arounders, the cars that come in to find they must follow the circle around to get back out to where they meant to go.

Not me. I belong here and I like being at the bottom of the bag where I can see who is coming and who is going, where I can watch the kids play and the neighbors can have an eye out too.

Permanent People

There are nine homes gathered around our little circle of macadam. Almost half of these have had the same families in them for as long as my family has lived in ours. Scott and I and our three children moved to this house in December of 1995. That same week, a Christmas card from some neighbors in the same circle appeared in our mailbox. Robert and Linda live three doors down and around. Amazingly, they had been in the cul-de-sac for many years before welcoming us and they still call it home these 24 years later.

Also, Joe and Amy to our left and Austin and Diane next to them have been here longer than we have. These four families, including ours, have grown up together. We watched each other’s daughters and sons grow up and go on to adulthood. We didn’t pick each other as neighbors, but we’re happy with the lot we got.

Camels and Change

When we moved to Nashville in 1988, Scott and I decided to live in the suburbs. Having both grown up in suburbia, he in River Vale, New Jersey and I in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we imagined that living downtown would be expensive or unsafe and that living rurally would be inconvenient. Thus, when we were ready to leave our suburban apartment and buy a home, we settled on a nearby little neighborhood still under construction. We loved the lot we got and the area was spacious and safe.

At the time, the neighborhood was perched on the edges of development. It bordered farms and woods in an unincorporated little town. Not surprisingly, in the 20+ years since then, new towns and houses have sprouted up around us. Now, the traffic growls along the main road for most of the day. It rumbles in the background of our backyard into the evening.

 It wasn’t always that way. The birds and bugs used to be the loudest performers in our backyard haven beneath the trees. These days, I sometimes strain to hear them above a muffler’s roar or a siren’s wail. With city growth comes the inevitable sprawl. We are certainly part of the problem as our neighborhood was just the camel’s nose under the tent.

Convenient and Clean

Nevertheless, our subdivision is still a splendid place to live. Our kids say it was a great place to grow up. Friends were a sidewalk skip away and the nearby neighborhood pool was uncrowded and clean. Community in the front yard and privacy in the back. Grocery stores just a quick drive down the road and a homeowner’s association to keep our property values up to snuff.

Scott and I also found our Nashville suburbia to be the perfect place for making our music. We did all of our recording in local studios. Our first two records came to life in a nearby strip mall studio and the next several emerged from the Art House studio which was only a 5-minute drive from home. Nowadays, our own home studio is as convenient as it gets.

Back in the 1990’s, when we were touring a lot, we would board our tour buses in nearby grocery store parking lots. Our record label was only a town away. Managers and booking agents were close by, too. The airport is a quick 25 minutes on a light traffic day. What more could we want?

Country Cousins

My sister, her husband, and their seven children started out on the outskirts of Nashville near us. Now, they live far out in the country, closer to the border of Alabama than to Nashville. They asserted their aversion to homeowners’ associations and close neighbors early on after their move from Pennsylvania to our neck of the woods. Twenty years later, they have a home on a lovely hill surrounded by their twenty-nine acres. Although their church and community are quite close, their nearest neighbors are tucked out of sight and their closest grocery store requires a twenty-five minute drive.

They certainly have their freedom from associations. What Scott and I sometimes get are nosey board-member neighbors reporting  that our moldy siding and paint-peeled eaves aren’t up to neighborhood covenants. Or we get letters threatening fines for unruly lawns and other debatable infractions. At its worst, our homeowners association has been a small cabal of localized tyranny.

There are more reasons to envy others’ rural isolation. If I lived at the end of a dirt road, I could go out to get my mail in my underwear — if I wanted to. Additionally, it would be nice to not have that middle-of-the-night barking of the next-door dog, consistent and persistent these many years. There was one early morning, around 3 AM, that I actually went from my bed to the dog owner’s door in my underwear, half-asleep as I was from the disruption.

“Please stop letting your dog run around and bark in the cul-de-sac every night at this time. We are trying to sleep here!” She was shocked—by the accusation or the underwear? Both, I suppose. The barking stopped but only for a short time.

City Friends

Those we know who live in cities have a more eclectic community experience. Their neighbors are much more diverse. Our New York City family brushes shoulders with people from an amazing array of cultures and countries. I have family and friends who live in East Nashville and South Nashville neighborhoods who experience a lot of economic, racial and cultural diversity. With some intentionality, they get to know people who look, think, and live differently than they do. They also hear the occasional gun shots and keep their kids inside at night.

In my song, “Cul-de-sac Cathy,” I sing that all of my neighbors are somewhat like me. For the most part it’s true: we stay within a certain income range and have a lot of the same choices of schools and provisions for our kids. I did have an Afghani friend in the neighborhood for a while before she and her family moved away. I enjoyed learning about her views of Islam and America and family life. Mostly, though, I interact with people I can relate to. Seems to be a human propensity. Something about birds of a feather….

American Dreams

What am I trying to get at in my song and in this article?

I am reminding myself to be happy with my lot in life!

Perhaps I imagine judgements from city and country friends alike. These projections drive me to ask myself:

“Who are you to choose convenience and safety? Do you recognize the privilege in your choices?”

  • Do I have a right to affluence and permanence?
  • Is this middle-class American guilt?
  • Would you call it white privilege?

It’s definitely underpinned with lots of gratitude: I like my lot in life!

However, I do not want to sleep-walk in an American dream. I want God’s design for me and my family above all. The questions, however, don’t always get answered. Guess I’ll have to live in the tension.

In deed, I know I’ve got a lot that isn’t just a house. No more rented and temporary for me, I get to settle in and stay awhile. Thanks to the circle, Scott and I see our neighbors and they see us. We belong here. To this day we are all sharing our lives and dreams. In defense of suburbs and close associations, I’ll just say something about if the shoe fits….

                                                 Cul-de-sac Cathy

Everybody’s got two cars in the drive

We’re all working hard to give our kids a life

Tell me then, who am I to criticize?

The shoe is mine

 

I’m Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors are somewhat like me

Getting to work on American dreams

 

Why would I trade away my pretty little yard

Where the kids can play and life is not too hard

And it’s safe to stay outside even when it’s dark

It doesn’t get better than

 

Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors look somewhat like me

Falling asleep with American dreams

 

Well the country cousins say the isolation gives them freedom from associations

And my city friends seem so progressive in their accommodations

I must admit I wonder what I’ve missed by playing it safe,

playing it safe, am I playing it safe?

 

Guess I’m gonna live in this middle ground

Cause I got a lot that isn’t just a house

Location of the heart they say is everything

 

Cul-de-sac Cathy

Happy to be

Here where the world is convenient and clean

All of my neighbors are someone like me

Living our lives and sharing our dreams

 

Check out the other songs on my 5-Song EP, Closer to Free.

More like this: I Wanted My DogDead

Vulnerability’s Voice: See Through Me

As a grubby little tomboy climbing trees, I longed to be seen. vulnerability

“Watch me, Dad!”

He didn’t see me because he wasn’t around. My mom was always there but the “Bad Dad” impact seems to override a lot of the “Good Mom” effect.

Once when he was there, I had run crying to him because my kitten was trapped between two tool benches in the basement. As I remember it, (sorry, Dad, if my recollection is wrong) he rushed with me back downstairs to rescue the trapped cat. When he saw how she had gotten her head caught and was not hurt, he laughed and lifted the poor little thing up and out, showing me how easily I could have done it. I had made a stupid mistake and he teased me about it.

I think I dimmed the light in my heart a little that day, afraid to risk the feeling of exposure and vulnerability. After that, I grew smaller, wanting to be invisible for a while.

Then came middle school and high school and I cried ‘watch me!’ to all the boys willing to look my way. Exhilarated to be noticed, I clambered up the pedestal which displayed the gold plate inscribed: “talented, pretty and smart !” I got good at balancing up there. Whenever I came crashing down, I climbed back up and fell again many more times.

What Women Want

Have you seen the movie called What Women Want?

I like it because it’s about how people, how women, hide their vulnerability, their true selves. It’s a story that makes us imagine what would happen if we could read each other’s thoughts.

Mel Gibson plays a typical male chauvinist (do we use that description anymore?) who runs an advertising firm. After a strange event involving a hair dryer, nail polish, and lightning, he wakes up able to literally hear women’s thoughts.vulnerability

One of the minor characters in the film is a mousy office worker who gets stepped on and ignored all day long. She is nondescript and sad but no-one notices. Mel Gibson’s boss character doesn’t even know she exists in his workspace until he hears her thoughts in passing. Her perspective of life in the office surprises him as he recognizes her mute cries for help. She wants to be seen.

Her scenes, including the one where the boss discovers she’s been missing and goes looking for her at home, remind us to be attentive to those overlooked people in our lives. People so unassuming and ordinary that we see right through them, like an old shower curtain just doing its job. This actor made me think of all the quiet characters in my periphery whose thoughts might shock me if I could overhear the stories swirling there. Their vulnerability is hidden by invisibility.

What We All Want

On the other hand, we all know those other characters who stand out and rarely get missed. The confident, beautiful women who seem to have what every woman wants. The men with unquestioned charm and confidence. Picture the models in fashion magazines displayed on every page. Imagine the actors and artists and entrepreneurs interviewed before the camera. The powerful ones unafraid to voice their thoughts, able to stand tall in front of us all.

We put these types on pedestals and tell them how much we love them. We do it because we hope their fairy tale lives are true and we want to believe in them.

Of course, it’s not all castles and happy endings. When their worlds come crashing down, the surprise lasts only a moment because we know these posed and powerful are just like us…fragile, unsteady. Their vulnerability is hidden by the brave part they’ve been playing.

What I want

I want you to think I’m smart, talented, and pretty. But I also want you to see through my masks and tell me you really see me and love me.

What’s funny is how we do a disservice to one another by refusing to see through the masks both types wear: the hidden characters and the pedestal people. Vulnerability is scary.vulnerability

I am always worried about what they will think of me. How can I imagine that they are not more focused on what I will think of them? Crazy.

Every once in a while, I glimpse a freedom in which I am completely vulnerable and unselfconscious. Sometimes when I walk my dogs in the neighborhood or meet friends at a restaurant, I forget to care how my hair looks or what my clothes say. Other times, I don’t worry about saying something dumb or being less than special. In those moments, I am neither magnificent nor unremarkable. I am alive and loved in the world.

So Ordinary

I still want to be seen.

As a not-so-young-anymore person, I do not want to get lost in the crowd.  Yet I also sense there’s a peculiar freedom that comes with being ordinary. Have you felt it?

Aging teaches lots of lessons about being ordinary. As I have gotten older, I realize I can hop down off of all my pedestals. I can stop posing to be noticed.

On the other hand, I can step out of the crowd wearing some crazy outfit and wave wildly to my family and friends. I am becoming free to be exactly me!

See Through Me

I wrote this song, See Through Me, because I can relate to being in both positions of vulnerability: the invisible girl and the pedestal girl.

When others see through me as just another face in the crowd, I trust those who love me to notice everything about me.

When I’m feeling proud and tall, I trust those who love me to see through all of my posturing and love me for who I truly am.

When I do fall, I know they’ll gently lift me up again.

When I say, “watch me,” they do!

See Through Me

Look at me, I’m oh so ordinary

Just a face to lose in the crowd

Can you see me clearly unremarkable

Like the shadow of a passing cloud

      I’m paper thin, light as a feather

See through me

 

On this pedestal I look so steady

See my skin, the finest porcelain

Should you dare to shine a light my way

See the shadow of the shape I’m in

      So paper thin, fragile as glass

See through me

 

Another song I sing related to this idea is Closer to Free, also found in my new 5-song EP, Closer to Free.

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