Heart-Shaped Key 

Two years ago I was watching the news in our hotel in Florida. Top of the cycle were stories about immigration. Immigrants were struggling to get across the border but the access was getting harder by the minute. The president, calling them "rapists and criminals" declared that he would build a wall  from one end of the US-Mexican border to the other. Even people with sick children who needed medical treatment in the United States were being denied entry.

I tried to process my tears and heartache about what was happening by writing a song about it. This song, Heart-Shaped Key, started out quite differently than it ended up, but that's part of the process. When I finished it, I sang it at some open mics and people began requesting it. I decided to share it with others by making a music video of one woman's story of trying to immigrate from El Salvador with her baby, something that reflected what I had heard in the news.

The illustrations in the video are simple, as if this complicated story is being told by a child. I engaged my neighbor, Eleanor, age seven, to color the images in her own imaginative way. The result is a three-minute piece that I hope will compel people to donate to immigration services. Or at least to think about what is happening with a little more compassion. Click this link to see and hear.


the chicken or the egg? 

“So . . . what comes first,” asks my friend Jim. “the lyrics or the melody?” 

“Both,” I say. 

They come at the same time, like orphaned twin angels. They come while I am walking, freed of the distractions of my computer, email, groceries, bookkeeping, cat litter, everything. A phrase arrives and I sing it. This is a free-floating place: I am walking among stars or clouds, listening to the universe. 

I pull out my iPhone into which I sing my song snippets, accompanied by the swoosh of buses, percussion of rush hour, chatter of passers-by. The songs enter the world without any criticism from me. Much later, after the words are written down and the melody sketched out, I begin to examine them deeply, tweaking version after version. 

Years ago I had a drawing teacher who told us that we should walk out on our work and then come back later (a minute? An hour? A day?) to surprise it. So we can really SEE the work. I try to do that with my songs. I record them, listen to them before sleep and then surprise them in the morning. I evaluate, adjust a word, a space, a breath, a chord.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. It can take a long time. Maybe a month, six months, a year. Or even years, until that initial impulse snatched from the universe, recorded into my phone, becomes the final piece that ends up getting recorded. And that’s another story.

how do I say I love you?  

Several years ago while sitting in a Costco parking lot, I started writing a song for my husband called "Traveler." I was trying to find a way to say "I love you" without saying exactly that . . . but more. How could I express the the depth of love I felt for this person I have been with for so many years? Images started to develop, as if coming into view in a darkroom tray. "If you were a traveler, I'd be the road, I'd wind out before you to help carry your load." The images went on from there, a sort of laundry list of who he is ("If you were a poet, I'd be the rhyme") and the existential question about what happens to us when we are gone ("if you were the heavens, I'll be the earth"). I ended up giving the song to him as a Christmas present and then several years later, sang it for friends at their wedding.

This past weekend (September 9. 2018), an article by Susan Hodara in the Styles section of the New York Times mentions the song in an article about personalized wedding gifts. Check it out!

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