I believe I mentioned in a post at the beginning of November that I would take as my November themes solvency, National Novel Writing Month and gratitude. Shortly after that I began to experience a hurricane of self-doubt and wrote a post about my inability to work on The Kale Chronicles without the weekly infusion of a box of organically grown produce.

Several kind readers responded with comments telling me that they enjoyed my writing and would be glad to read it anytime, telling me not to worry about providing recipes, advising me to let the blog morph into whatever it would. I am more grateful than I can say for the kindness and support of my readers and thought I might compose a brief status report.

1) Solvency. I have continued my weekday morning busking at the Berkeley BART station, playing and singing two hours for tips. Thanksgiving Week was good to me — I sold three CDs that week and my daily earnings rose above $10.00 per day (when I started busking in mid-October I sometimes earned less than $5.00). I have had two weeks of double digit earnings and believed I had crossed a threshold when I ran into competition at the station this morning and earned only $3.50. C’est la vie. I have managed to cut my debt down to $249.06 and will keep chipping away at it until it is gone.

2) NaNoWriMo. Despite the Thanksgiving holiday and time off for recurrent back pain I did manage to complete the 50,000 words of writing required during National Novel Writing Month. I am well-trained in the art of sitting down and putting words on paper and my experience served me well. For your pleasure or idle curiosity I include the first day’s work on the memoir below. The memoir, which deals with my life with cerebral palsy and my struggles with money, love and work, is called “Broken.” The third section, which begins below, is called “Whole.”

Whole: Green Hat Incident

Wearing a green gown is unlucky in ballads: bad things happen to women in green dresses. They get raped (“Tam Lin”) even if they fall in love with the rapist later. Women put on a green dress to signify that they have been forsaken. Just before the Earl of Aboyne’s lady falls into a year of woe and dies she dons a green gown with red silk trimming to greet her returning lord.

One day in Ballad Group (in 2011) I happened to notice that Elaine was singing a song about a woman who wanted to get married who had sent her petticoats to be dyed green when she sent her shoes to be mended. When she finished the song, I wondered aloud why she would be dying her petticoats green and commented to the others that wearing green in ballads was generally a bad thing. After some discussion, Johnny Harper, who sits next to me at Ballad Group, reached over and tweaked the lime green hat that I was wearing.

I turned to him and said, “Green petticoats, not green hats.”

The session went on: when we get together to sing ballads we sit around a table full of potluck food. We eat and chat for a bit and then we go around the table widdershins (counterclockwise) for each person to sing a song. We sing for three or four hours and then pull out our calendars to schedule the next meeting.

Most of the ballad-singers are women. We had Malcolm for awhile before he moved back to England. Bill comes regularly and Ed Silberman sometimes drops by toward the end of a meeting. The group has been running for more than ten years and Johnny is, in fact, a Johnny-come-lately, brought a year or so ago by Marlene, who has been with us just a few years herself. The core of Ballads has been me, Elaine, Mary O’Brien, Sadie Damascus and Toni Gross, all “women of a certain age.” I started the ballad-singing session over ten years ago so that we would have a place to sing the traditional ballads that make other people yawn, cringe, head for the bathroom or remark unfavorably on our choice of repertory.

Ballad group is not where you would go to flirt with the boys. I once brought a date to Ballad Group — I thought he was a date, anyway — because I wanted to share something precious with him. I had sung him “Barbara Allen” at my house one day. He had listened through the whole thing and enjoyed it and I had invited him to Ballad Group to hear us sing. He came. Then we went out to eat afterwards. Some months later he told me he was “trying to be friends with me.”

When I got home, I turned the incident with Johnny over in my mind.

“He flirted with me,” I thought. “He’s never done that before. Maybe he likes me.” I wanted to call up the other members of the ballad group and see if they had noticed anything, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself, so I did the next best thing: I checked him out on Facebook — I became friends with him (sent him a friend request) and read his profile: he was single and interested in women. Good.

The incident — after all, he had touched me — left a spark. I lay in bed that night unable to get to sleep, touching myself while I played it over in my mind. I think I sent him an email called “Good Behavior,” praising him for bringing his acoustic guitar to Ballad Group that afternoon (he often brings a red Telecaster and a small amp, going electric at the Ballad Group the first day he showed up). He claims that he can play certain things better on the Telecaster because he can bend the strings more easily. That may be true, but I love it when he plays his Martin, so I sent him a note about it. I thought the subject line, “Good Behavior” was mildly flirtatious — I was trying to respond in kind.

Johnny never replied to the email. He continued to come to Ballads and he continued to sit next to me, but he never made another move. It’s true that every now and then we would say something to each other: once I pointed out to him that Sadie required a lot of space: she had come in, commandeered two chairs — one for her and one for her junk (projects) — and things were spilling off her lap onto the floor below. He looked and laughed, but he never flirted with me again. I told myself that he was just a flirty guy and it had been a thing of the moment, signifying nothing, but I recalled the spark I felt when he touched me and felt it wake me up, preoccupy me through a long night. I wrote about it the next day and then nothing happened.

Several months later, in May, I was preparing to make a trip to France to study with Natalie Goldberg there. While trying on clothes to take to Paris I decided I did not want to be a fat lady in France and instituted a routine of long, daily uphill walks to take off some weight and firm up in the five weeks before my departure. Exercise, while not my favorite thing, has a way of opening up things in my life because it forces me to pay attention to my body.

Meditation retreats are great opening experiences, too, because you take several days to be with your own thoughts and feelings whatever they are. You minimize distractions — you don’t talk or watch T.V. or check Facebook or make phone calls. At Natalie’s retreats you are allowed to read and write, but you are not supposed to be reading mysteries to take you out of your life but “literature” to study writing and teach you things you did not know.

Travel also opens you, unless it shuts you down. You are seeing new sights, eating new foods, encountering new customs, hearing new language and trying to speak it. You have no home to go to when traveling, although you may have a home base, a hotel room or a backpack that you take with you everywhere.

I spent a week with Natalie in Villefavard, France and then I spent a week in Paris, five days with other people from the retreat and two nights on my own. Although I had roommates, I spent a lot of time wandering the streets alone, taking long walks. Once I found a good bakery I went out for breakfast early every morning alone and sketched at my table while I waited for my croissant and hot chocolate to arrive. In the afternoons I would walk about the city. On my best day I walked along the quays all the way down to Shakespeare and Company and spent hours in the upper room sketching and writing. I may have gone from there to the Cafe de Deux Magot where I sketched again and ate a salad, following a Natalie itinerary of places to see. I had dessert at Cafe de Flor next door, a concoction of coffee ice cream and whipped cream.

In Villefavard I swam everyday in the small lake. One evening I went for a long walk along a lane. My time in Paris became an extended retreat, a way to be with myself, isolated by language: when I was out I would speak in my halting French. When I was in, there was often no one to talk to: I was alone in my shoe box room at the Hotel Bastille Baudelaire or sketching on my bed at Hotel du Quai Voltaire while my roommates toured or slept.

I had been home just a day or two when I had the thought that maybe Johnny would like to get together to play music. Musicians usually like to do this. I had repertory he had never heard, including original songs: at Ballads we are constrained by the rules, which require us to sing traditional ballads, or at least traditional songs with no known author. Once a year we can bust out our Bob Dylan songs, our Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire, our hits by Linda Ronstadt and The Rolling Stones: when I founded the Ballad Group I decided we could have the month of April as a safety valve, a pressure release, that we would have a free-for-all every April where we could sing anything we chose of any origin. I had hoped that allowing us one meeting to let our hair down would help us stick to the straight and narrow the rest of the year.

But this was July — April was far away. The thought to ask Johnny to get together had come up in my daily morning writing and I followed that thought by sending him an email.

3) Gratitude. I have fallen down a bit on this, having been experiencing several flavors of fear this month in its stead. Nevertheless, I am grateful that I have been able to explore all of my feelings in writing, grateful for my kind and patient readers and grateful for the presence in my life of Mr. Johnny Harper.

I still can’t say when I will be back with regular posts or paintings. My back is still troubling me but, as wise people say, “This, too, shall pass.”

– Sharyn

Painting Notes: Still no painting — apparently, the emperor found something else to wear at the back of his closet.