February and March: Looking back, looking ahead

One year ago, I wrote a “looking back, looking ahead” post for all of spring, comprising the months of March, April, and May. I’d like to avoid such a backlog this time around, but here I am, reflecting on February and March, smack dab in the middle of April. The funny/annoying thing is, while February and March were certainly not a snooze fest, they were fairly relaxed (March, in particular), so I don’t really even have a good excuse for my radio silence here.

Duchess has had a lot going on in the past couple of months: our new album, Laughing at Life, was released to critical acclaim in February, and we rode the momentum with the launch of our podcast, Harmony & Hijinks, as well as tours to the midwest and Canada and a standing-room-only four-night run at Greenwich Village’s 55 bar.

In my solo singing life, we continued post-production on The Late Set, my upcoming CD with pianist Ehud Asherie. In the last days of March, I spent a couple of days in Hilton Head, South Carolina singing at the Jazz Corner with Ehud, joined by New Orleans clarinetist Evan Christopher.

A few of the home-cooked meals that brightened February and March: butternut squash and pork sausage done cacio e pepe style; beef stew with anchovies and olives; kielbasa on split pea puree with caraway butter.

February and March were also filled with some lovely meals—both at home and in restaurants—and (probably too much) time binge-watching some fantastic new and new-to-me TV shows on Amazon Prime.

A few meals eaten out and about: savory ramen in Toronto; a pre-Valentine’s Day Spanish-style feast at Brooklyn’s La Vara; a rainy-day visit to Peking Duck House in Chinatown, following a screening of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” at Film Forum.

Looking ahead, there’s much to tell about April, including recent travels to Mexico and an upcoming Pacific Northwest tour with Duchess, but I’ll save all that for a couple of weeks, when I’ll be writing my end-of-month musings at the appropriate time (!).

In February and March, I…
Blogged about: January. Getting back on my (culinary) feet.

Read: La Venessiana, a Venice-centric blog that, however briefly, transports me to La Serenissima. This article by Tamar Adler about having a “house meal.” I wouldn’t say we have a “house meal,” per se—that is, we don’t do a lot of template cooking—but I find great comfort in the handful of stalwart recipes that we make again and again.

Watched: A whole lot of great shows on Amazon Prime. The Man in the High Castle, which asks the question, “What if the other side had won WWII?” Completely engrossing. Mozart in the Jungle, which boasts a fantastic cast (Gael Garcia Bernal, Bernadette Peters) and puts classical music in the spotlight. Goliath, starring the always-excellent Billy Bob Thornton as a brilliant but troubled lawyer who takes on a wrongful death case against a huge corporation and his old law firm. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, set in 1958 New York City and centering on a young Jewish housewife’s foray into the world of stand-up comedy. The soundtrack for the pilot was filled with Blossom Dearie, Peggy Lee, and super-young Barbra Streisand. I am delighted—delighted!—that this show was greenlit for two seasons.

Listened to: Luiz Bonfa, Solo in Rio, 1959, damn near every morning. A lovely way to start the day. At the Supper Club, with Peggy Lee subbing for Jo Stafford. A friend gave me a CD of some rare live radio broadcasts from 1946 and 1949, recorded for the Armed Forces Radio Service, and they are a delight from start to finish (thank you, Stan!). Here’s the Thing, with Alec Baldwin. His interviews with Elaine Stritch and John Turturro had me howling with laughter.

January: Looking back, looking ahead

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Gorgeous Water Island, USVI.

January was cold and gray, both metaphorically and literally. Between December 26 and January 31, I was in the throes of one minor-but-miserable ailment after another. The final tally? Two stomach bugs. One weeklong bout with influenza. Two colds. Oh, and one inauguration. (Zing! I’ll be here all week. Tip your server.)

Oy vey.

There were some lovely moments in the first month of this new year, however. Despite my hacking cough, I had a wonderful gig at Mezzrow with pianist Ehud Asherie. Then, it was off to the Water Island Music Festival for sun, fun, fish tacos, and lots of music (until the final night, when my G.I. system turned against me…again).

Just a few days after returning home from the Caribbean, I was in transit again; this time, for a brief Duchess tour in Ontario. It felt somewhat poetic to be flying to Canada on Inauguration Day, although we were all bummed to be missing the Women’s March. We spent our entire trip cheering on our marching friends and sharing pictures of hilarious protest signs and poignant moments on social media.

I got yer #NewYorkValues right here.

I got yer #NewYorkValues right here.

It was in Waterloo, Ontario that cold #2 descended upon my sinuses, and I made it through that last gig on Sudafed and an act of will. A few short, sniffly hours of sleep, one flight, and one taxi ride later and I. Was. Home.

Sleeping in my own bed for the past couple of weeks has been deeply restorative. The Spanish-themed potluck dinner we shared with a few dear ones last weekend was a balm for both body and soul. Joining throngs of protesters at the #nobannowall protest in Battery Park was invigorating. And I’ve felt well enough to recommence running for the first time in well over a month.

Looking ahead, the new Duchess CD, Laughing at Life, is coming out on February 10; we’re hitting the road again mid-month for a short midwest tour. Our new podcast, Harmony & Hijinks, is now launched and you can listen for free on iTunes, Stitcher, or the Duchess site (I implore you—please subscribe and leave us a review!).

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The new podcast from Duchess. Give it a listen!

The bird and the bee tribute I recorded in collaboration with drummer Charles Ruggiero is in the final stages of post-production, and I’m headed into the studio this week to mix the piano/vocal duo CD that I recorded in December with Ehud.

So, yes. This may be the winter of our discontent, but there is music to be made. Onward.

In January, I…
Blogged about: December. Singer-friend Rebecca Kilgore.

Read: Orphans of the Carnival, by Carol Birch. This vividly imagined novel about 19th-century circus freak Julia Pastrana (a real person) was an engrossing read. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by Anita Loos. A tour de force of comedic writing: subversive and rife with social commentary, but dripping with diamonds and “dumb blonde” parlance. Edith Wharton called this book ‘The Great American Novel,’ and I’m inclined to agree. The Muse, by Jessie Burton. This book was a slow burn, but rewarding.

Watched: I Love Lucy. I watched episode after episode the week I was sick with the flu. I used to watch reruns when I was home sick as a kid, and it’s as brilliant and hilarious and comforting as ever. Top Chef. I’m totally addicted. The Young Pope. YOU GUYS. This show is Fellini-esque and beautiful and dreamlike and really, really funny. As a lapsed Catholic, perhaps I’m predisposed to love its irreverence, and as a person with eyes, perhaps I’m predisposed to love looking at closeups of Jude Law…but, whatever the reason, I am obsessed with this show.

Listened to: The Beast, by Jerome Jennings. I’ve known Jerome for almost 14 years (!!) and am a big fan of his, personally and musically—he played drums on my CD, The Great City. Jerome’s debut solo recording is swinging, soulful and socially conscious. He’s managed to pull off that most difficult of feats: he’s made an album that is far-reaching and eclectic, but deeply personal and cohesive. Congratulations, Jerome!

December: Looking back, looking ahead

December began quietly enough, but by the time Christmas rolled around, I’d recorded a new album, shot a part in a movie, and performed in Rome and Tuscany. I know. I can’t quite believe it all, myself.

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At Systems Two with pianist Ehud Asherie & producer Eli Wolf.

Early in the month, my friend and frequent collaborator Ehud Asherie and I went into the studio with a bunch of songs—some familiar standards as well as off-the-beaten-path gems—and spent a lovely day recording vocal/piano duos at Systems Two, my favorite studio. We wanted to capture the intimacy and spontaneity of our performances at Mezzrow, and I think we succeeded. (Incidentally, we’ll be at Mezzrow on January 10 and would love to see you there!)

I don’t know what I’m allowed to tell you about the movie thing, so I’ll keep things vague: the film is a mini-series helmed by director Errol Morris. It was picked up by Netflix, but I have no idea when it’ll air. I got to wear a super-glam vintage dress and sing a swinging, new-to-me song for a nightclub scene, in which I played (surprise!) a jazz singer. During my (long) day on set, I learned that a) movie-making involves a lot more waiting around and a lot less glamour than you might expect, and b) no one should wear a corset for 13 hours. I had grooves in my torso. Ow. Restrictive undergarments notwithstanding, I think this is going to be a fantastic project and I’ll definitely share more info as details emerge, which likely won’t be for several months.

img_8484Recent viewings of Roman Holiday and Three Coins in the Fountain had had me dreaming of Rome, and in a flash of benevolent synchronicity, I received an invitation to give a couple of private performances in the Eternal City over Christmas. Giddy with delight, I hopped aboard an Alitalia flight with E. and spent a very happy week making music and living la dolce vita.

We saw the Colosseo bathed in honeyed late-afternoon sunlight and watched the city turn pink at sunset from the top of the Gianicolo (Janiculum hill). Ramrod-straight cypresses and imposing pines presided quietly over the ancient city, as they have done for millennia, while high-fashion storefronts and elegant hotels sparkled with Christmas lights and decorations. On Christmas Eve, we stood silently in the Pantheon and listened to a few minutes of midnight mass. The neighborhoods of Trastevere and the Jewish quarter provided welcome respite from the post-holiday throngs at the Fontana di Trevi and the Vatican.

img_8132And—you knew this was coming—the food! We ate fettuccine Alfredo at the restaurant where the eponymous chef/owner invented the dish, and pasta all’Amatriciana in a restaurant frequented by Fellini in his day. Pizza a taglio (paid by weight, not slice) awaited us at Pizzarium, where unique flavor combinations (my favorite was buttery mashed potatoes and mozzarella) and impossibly light, crispy crust have garnered well-deserved international recognition.

We sipped caffe marocchino at the bar at Caffe Sant’Eustachio and swooned over the silken gelato at La Romana and Giolitti. Christmas Eve was spent at La Rosetta, for course after course of the most elegant seafood dinner I’ve ever eaten. Our last day in Rome, we joined new Roman friends for high tea at Babington’s, an English tea room that has stood adjacent to the Spanish Steps since the 18th century, then we walked to Campo de’ Fiori for a final dinner at iconic Roscioli.

img_8621I did spend a couple of days in the throes of a stomach-bug-turned-head-cold, but not even illness could lessen the magic of Rome at Christmastime. In fact, our trip was so filled with beauty and joy that getting sick felt somewhat penitential—a small price to pay for an unforgettable holiday.

Now, here we are, in the first days of 2017. As in years past, one word has presented itself as talisman and goal for the year ahead: communication. It seems fitting, as the year ahead will see the release of no fewer than three new CDs (Duchess’ sophomore release is coming next month, and I have two other projects in post-production right now), and a couple of other non-singing projects are fomenting as well. But first things first. It’s time to take down the Christmas tree.

img_8635In December, I…
Blogged about: November. Singer-friend Gabrielle Stravelli.

Read: The Mother’s Recompense, by Edith Wharton. It had been well over a decade since I’d read Wharton, and returning to her forthright, incisive prose was a treat (although this story was incredibly sad). M Train, by Patti Smith, which I read while sick in bed in Rome. Smith’s dreamlike, poetic memoir is filled with reminiscences of her own travels and occasional illnesses abroad. It was, along with cups of chamomile tea and a deeply cozy hotel bed, comforting while I was under the weather.

Watched: White Christmas. I mean, obviously. Anthony Bourdain’s Rome-themed travel shows.

Listened to: Well, Christmas music, of course. Also lots of podcasts. I’m really digging Homecoming, Milk Street Radio, and Everyday Emergency.

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Spotlight On…Gabrielle Stravelli

dsc_7444Warm. Witty. Expressive. Open. Wise. You could apply any—or all—of those adjectives to Gabrielle Stravelli, and you’d be right. She is a good time gal with a whip-smart intellect and a big heart. Gabrielle sings with an effortlessness that belies her musical precision and finely honed vocal technique.

In short, I’m a fan.

I was delighted when she asked me to be a guest on her podcast, Big Modern Music, last year. We had a blast getting to know each other and talking at length about repertoire, song interpretation, and making one’s way as an artist in New York City (you can listen to the full episode HERE).

When she’s not hosting her podcast or traveling throughout the world on US State Department tours for American Music Abroad, Gabrielle is making beautiful music. And Tuesday night, December 13, she’ll be taking the stage at SubCulture to celebrate the release of her new album, Dream Ago. (Rumor has it that DUCHESS will be joining her for a tune!)

To tide you over until then, here’s Gabrielle’s delightful interview for the Spotlight On… series. Thank you, Gabrielle!

Who or what inspired you to pursue a life in music?
I have to give my parents credit for encouraging me to pursue a life in music—despite the fact they are not musicians, nor is there a single musician in my family besides me! I have loved singing and music as long as I can remember, and I was fortunate that they recognized and supported that. My parents were real music lovers and played a lot of music from many different genres in the house growing up. I think that was a big influence on my musical taste; I’m pretty adventurous and don’t really consider any kind of music “off-limits” for exploration.

gabrielle047In the course of your musical development, what has come most naturally to you? What has been the most challenging?
What a great question! I think I’ve always felt comfortable being “fluid” in performance, by which I mean that I never mind if things are played a bit differently or if a player wants to do something spontaneous. I’ve never needed things to be the same each time; even when I was a kid I liked to roll with changes and react to the music in the moment.

The most challenging thing for me has been developing confidence on stage. I’m not shy but I am quite private and being on stage felt so vulnerable for such a long time—in my early days I think I would try to hide while I was on stage, which just doesn’t work. I had to learn to give myself permission to “take [the] stage” and to be comfortable projecting that feeling of “I believe in what I’m doing and you should, too!”

How do you choose your repertoire? What makes you decide to sing a particular song?
I’m always asking musicians for song suggestions and I’m so grateful when someone really gives me something out of left field. I also worked in a record store for several years, which opened me up to so much stuff I might never have discovered. Like so many singers, the lyric is probably the biggest factor. You can reharmonize a simple song, but it’s pretty hard to take a song with a vapid lyric and make it work. However, if I really like a song and it’s super short or there’s not too much meat to it, I’ve gotten comfortable writing extra lyrics so that there’s a little more to the song.

If you were to choose another profession, what would it be?
I’d love to say that I’d go into engineering or quantum physics, but the truth is that if I didn’t sing, I’d do something in fashion. I love color and pattern and I have always loved clothes—in high school I was the weirdo wearing vintage sailor outfits or items that I would find at a thrift store and deconstruct. I really do believe that clothing is always costume and that what people choose to wear is such a powerful statement of how they want the world to see them.

10959981_919499088083616_9101897692445801490_oWhat’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, on or off the bandstand?
“Compare and despair.” Someone I know is a career/life coach and this little tidbit really stuck with me. There’s an element of competition in what we do—that’s unavoidable—but I think that in some ways, social media has exacerbated the issue of being able to look at every aspect of someone else’s career or life and say, “Why isn’t that meeeeee?!” And you’ve really got to remember that comparing never leads anywhere good and it’s also pointless. The truth is you can’t be that person. And they also can’t be you. There’s room for everyone.

Fun fact:
I played french horn for years as a kid. #bandgeek
I’m also really an early bird. I’ve forced myself onto the vampire/musician schedule of late nights out of necessity, but I actually love to get up in the morning and enjoy that time of day when I feel New York hasn’t completely woken up yet.

Gabrielle will be celebrating the release of her new CD, Dream Ago, at SubCulture on Tuesday night—tickets are available HERE. Come! A full listing of her upcoming performances can be found on her website.

Spotlight On…Kat Edmonson

Kat Edmonson inhabits a unique musical world. She hails from Texas, has headlined Austin City Limits, and she’s performed extensively with Lyle Lovett, but you’d be wrong to pigeonhole her as a country singer. Come to think of it, you’d be wrong to pigeonhole Kat at all.

The songs she writes nimbly genre-hop, encompassing mid-century pop, bossa nova, and jazz. She’s covered Brian Wilson, the Cardigans, and the Cure, but she’s equally comfortable in the realm of jazz standards (dig her swinging “Mountain Greenery” in Woody Allen’s latest film, Café Society). In fact, the first time I heard Kat in person was with the EarRegulars at Winter Jazzfest last year. Her rendition of “The Very Thought of You” was earnestly sweet, but not cloying, thanks to her keenly intelligent interpretation. The audience, myself included, was spellbound.

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The gals of DUCHESS in the studio with Kat.

Imagine, then, my delight when Kat contacted DUCHESS to sing some backgrounds on her upcoming release for Sony Masterworks. Amy, Melissa, and I had such a great time with Kat in the studio that we invited her to be our special guest for our upcoming variety hour at Jazz Standard next week…and she accepted! So, if you haven’t done so already, get your tickets now for what promises to be a hilarious, happy, swinging night of music and laughs on Wednesday, November 30.

And, to tide you over until then, here’s Kat’s Spotlight On… interview. Thank you, Kat! See you next week!

Who or what inspired you to pursue a life in music?
I identified myself as a singer as early as I can remember. As a child, I would sit and watch Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly on the screen and I knew that one day I would be up there with them. It never occurred to me until much later that I wouldn’t actually get to work beside them but the spirit of what they did lives on in my heart.

In the course of your musical development, what has come most naturally to you? What has been the most challenging?
Writing songs has been most natural for me. I never stopped to consider what it took to write a song or the right way to write a song until I became an adult. I started as a child in a primitive way by sounding out my feelings through melody and words that seemed to ring true. It was almost as though I was pulling the music out of the air. It’s perhaps more painstaking of a process now but only because I am much more exacting in the way I write. I can’t settle for anything less than the truth. Otherwise, I have no way to gauge whether my work is good or not.

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Kat singing in Woody Allen’s “Café Society.”

I never thought I’d feel this way but accepting the sound of my voice has become the most challenging thing. I always loved my voice until fairly recently when people began to criticize it harshly in articles and reviews. After that, I began dreading hearing myself and singing in front of audiences became excruciating for me at times. It’s been a very difficult process but I am working through it and I’ve learned about myself in the process. I’ve learned how to love this voice no matter what other people think of it. My voice is my voice and I don’t need anyone’s permission to sing. And I have no choice but to sing. It’s what I’m called to do.

How do you choose your repertoire? What makes you decide to sing a particular song?
Often times, I will hear a song and think, “boy, I wish I had written that” and that makes me want to sing it.

If you were to choose another profession, what would it be?
I would be an actor. Incidentally, I am currently in acting school at The William Esper Studio in Manhattan and I love it. I’m also learning how to tap dance which is some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I think screen-writing could be cool. I could also see myself being a food-writer because I love reading about food so much! When I was a kid, I wanted to be a jingle-writer but that’s not such a big profession these days. I think it would be fun to write greeting cards!

kat_edmonson_2609679bWhat’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, on or off the bandstand?
Be yourself. I’d heard that so many different times in my life when I didn’t know what it meant. I know now. It means be yourself at all costs. Be yourself when the people who support you the most don’t understand what you are doing. Be yourself when YOU don’t even understand what you are doing. Follow that calling in your heart even if you can barely hear it amidst all the other noise and be yourself. It’s always the way to go.

Fun fact:
I have a predilection for old people and the sort things they like. I’m talking about elderly people and the kinds of activities, interests, and places that most of my peers consider boring and has-been. And nothing bores me more than trends. If I see a whole bunch of people going in one direction, my natural reaction is to go the other way, probably even in spite of myself! I just love exploring and discovering things on my own. At heart, I’m a quirky old lady and happily so.

Spotlight On…Nicky Schrire

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Photo: Jonx Pillemer

Singer-songwriter Nicky Schrire completed her Masters of Music at Manhattan School of Music, which is how she came to be in New York City, and how I came to meet her. I heard Nicky sing for the first time at one of Amy Cervini’s duet nights at the 55 bar, and was charmed by “Penguin Dance,” a song the two of them co-wrote.

Nicky released her debut recording, Freedom Flight, in 2012, establishing herself as a unique presence in the ever-shifting landscape of vocal jazz. She’s recorded Bob Dylan and Beatles covers, Great American Songbook standards, and a great deal of original music, which seamlessly fuses folk, pop, and jazz sensibilities to create a sound uniquely her own.

Nicky left the Big Apple and spent some time in London before returning to Capetown, South Africa, where she currently makes her home. She and I share a birthday (August 22, along with Dorothy Parker, in case you’re curious) and a deep and abiding love of ice cream, as evidenced by her gorgeous Instagram feed. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your life in music, Nicky!

Who or what inspired you to pursue a life in music?
I’ve always just loved music. It sounds rather too simplified, but it’s been part of the fabric of my life since childhood. Music was played in the house, we watched musicals both live and on the television, we listened to music in the car going to and from school, we sang songs for fun. I never discussed with my parents whether or not I should study music post-high school. I’m lucky they were supportive and they felt it as natural a progression as I did.

In the course of your musical development, what has come most naturally to you? What has been the most challenging?
The decision to study music, both at the undergraduate and post graduate level, didn’t really require decision. So knowing the next course of action to develop as a musician has always come naturally to me. That streak of luck lasted up until I finished graduate school. Navigating the jazz industry after school and figuring out where I fit in has been very challenging.

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Photo: Shervin Lainez

As far as musicianship goes, I’ve always had a fairly good ear and musicality so that has helped me out when learning new repertoire or absorbing new vocal techniques. It has been difficult to really figure out what I want to say, musically speaking, through songwriting, arranging, repertoire choice and stylistic choices. Jazz is a genre that is hybridising and changing as I type this. It should make it easier to feel one has carte blanche to create whatever version of “jazz” one desires, but in fact it makes it more challenging because the musicians and the audiences and the powers-that-be who curate performance opportunities aren’t all on the same page.

How do you choose your repertoire? What makes you decide to sing a particular song? The lyrical component of a song is very important to me. If I can’t relate to the story being told, I won’t sing the song, in all likelihood. Even if I’m crazy about the melody or the harmonic content or the general atmosphere of a song, I know it will be challenging to delier the lyrics honestly so I’ll forego singing that song. I also tend to favour more obscure tunes over oft-sung songs.

If you were to choose another profession, what would it be?
I love food and small businesses that celebrate local suppliers and seasonal, local ingredients. So I’d try to be involved in a profession that aligned me with that industry. I love the sense of community in jazz and I sense that exists in the food community too, where business owners know one another and there’s a great pride in what they do.

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Photo: Jonx Pillemer

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, on or off the bandstand?
The best piece of advice I’ve read came from Amy Poehler’s autobiography. She wrote, “Good for you. Not for me.” I love that. It helps us to acknowledge someone else’s path and then swiftly move on.

Chris Rosenberg spoke of life being a pie when I was at Manhattan School of Music. I always think of this analogy. It makes you realise that music or career are incredibly important, but they’re only one slice of the pie. Sometimes that will be the bigger slice, and at other times it’ll be smaller. This visual idea taught me to constantly question how satisfying and rich my entire “life pie” was. I found, very often, that the entire pie was career-focused and it wasn’t very satisfying because it came at the cost of family, friends, and really enjoying life.

Fun fact:
People are often surprised to learn that I was a saxophonist (tenor, soprano and baritone) for about eleven years. The saxophone introduced me to jazz and I played in big bands and did corporate gigs well into my undergraduate degree (I was as a saxophone major for the first year). I also played in the on-stage orchestra for a Cape Town production of Fosse, Kander and Ebb’s Chicago. I lied about being able to double on the bass clarinet and had to both find one to rent and learn how to play it in a week or so. I don’t recommend this modus operandi to anyone! I also learnt the harp for a year while at junior school.

Closer to Authentic

51TKgMSTFwLA few months ago, I read The Dirty Life, a memoir by Kristin Kimball. Kimball was a successful writer living in Manhattan when she met her now-husband, Mark, whom she describes as “a wingnut farmer.” They moved to upstate New York and founded Essex Farm.

At first glance, the premise of Kimball’s memoir sounds like the setup for a rom-com: city slicker falls for country bumpkin, they start a farm together, hijinks ensue (picture falling face-down in the mud and chasing runaway cows), and they live happily every after. The Dirty Life does reveal Kimball’s deep love for both her husband and life on the farm, but it also describes her painful acclimation to backbreaking farm work, begun each day before dawn, and the financial anxiety of knowing that an early winter could mean losing their farm and home.

The difficulties and risks of farm life notwithstanding, Kimball and her husband persevered and do, indeed, appear to be living happily ever after. They have young children and Essex Farm is thriving as the world’s first full-diet CSA. Kristin Kimball is a thoughtful and vivid writer, and while her book reaffirmed that a life in the countryside is emphatically not for me, the following passage in The Dirty Life has continued to haunt me (emphasis mine):

The world had always seemed disturbingly chaotic to me, my choices too bewildering. I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences. I knew why I was doing what I was doing, and I believed in it. I felt the gap between who I thought I was and how I behaved begin to close, growing slowly closer to authentic.

In the passage above, Kimball is referring to the clarity she found while harnessing horses and carrying heavy loads as part of her day-to-day work on the farm, but her summation of what defines authenticity is elegant and universally applicable.  The narrower the gap between who we think we are and how we behave, the closer we get to authentic.

As an inveterate list-maker, I love the idea of putting two columns on a page: the first one being, “Who do you think you are?” and the second, “How do you behave?” The more overlap between the columns, the more authentic a life the list-maker can claim. Simple. But as I’ve mused here before, simple isn’t the same thing as easy. Sometimes, the distance between who I think I am (singer, writer, regular exerciser and healthy eater) and my daily routine (harried errand-runner, sporadic blogger, sunny day picnic enthusiast) feels much greater than I’d like.

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Believe it or not, buying groceries paves the way for disciplined creativity. Caveat: I am never this pulled-together while running errands.

I’ll continue trying to narrow the gap between my self-perception and habits. Daily vocal exercises are one way of keeping my focus “on the ground,” as Kimball puts it. Even if those whoops, hollers, and scales feel effortless one day and arduous the next, they’re a powerful affirmation: I am a singer. 

But damn it, even the most tedious of errands must be run (oh, hi, DMV, what a pleasure to see you!), and even sporadic writing is still better than not writing at all. Buying groceries and straightening up the apartment are not necessarily identity-related tasks, but, like Kimball, when I’m doing them, I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I’m not one of those romantic artist types who flourishes amidst chaos; my creativity thrives in the security of a stocked fridge and tidy practice space.

As for finding some lazy hours in these halcyon late-summer days for languid lunches in the park—including wine and cheese, obviously—well, that’s the urban equivalent of “making hay while the sun shines.” And that feels like time authentically well spent.