Costumes & Crime-Fighting

It was 11:30 last Saturday night. My dear friend Sarah Jane and I were heading out the door, on our way to the Pussyfooters’ 10th Anniversary Blush Ball.

Sarah Jane was my ballet teacher when I first moved to New Orleans. She’s an amazing dancer & she installed all the plumbing in her own house & all she really wants to do is sew costumes. When I met her I thought, ‘That girl is so cool, she would never want to be friends with someone like me,’ so it still makes me happy & slightly amazed that she’s one of my best friends, eleven years later. The Pussyfooters are a majorette group for grown women: “Majorettes from the Mothership sent here to help the party people get their groove on,” quoth Camille Baldassar, one of their founders.

They’re awesome; they wear pink wigs and white boots and many feathers. Sarah Jane used to be a Pussyfooter; so did my friend Marigold. I always wanted to be one, but then my knee got wrecked, rendering me unfit to march long parade routes, so now I just admire them, and go to their parties. For this ball they decorated The Howlin’ Wolf in black, white and pink, and raised ten thousand dollars for a battered womens’ shelter. Sexy strong strong sexy women!

I took a disco nap while Sarah went out to dinner with a bunch of ballerinas, and then she came over to my house and we got all costumed up. Sarah’s costume was a pink & orange tasseled bikini-and-skirt combo that she made herself, tangerine striped stockings, white go-go boots, a red wig, and an orange-feather jacket, also made by her. This is Sarah Jane, and this is her jacket:

Sarah Jane & her orange feather coat

My costume was a purple leotard, a purple wig, pink fishnets, pink gloves, and my awesome superhero black boots. I found the boots when I was in New York City in the summer of 2008 with my friend Christopher, who’s been a crucial part of my life and my creative team for more than ten years. We knew I was soon to have a surgery that would leave me with a humongous scar on my right leg. I didn’t know whether I’d ever want to show my legs again, so we were on a mission to find a pair of flat-heeled over-the-knee black boots…and on our last day there, we did. We joked that they were ass-kicking, crime-fighting boots, and tried to come up with superhero names for each other. Here we are with The Boots:

Christopher, me, & The Superhero Boots we love so well

Sarah made me a pink feather coat last year, so I wore that too. It’s the warmest, happiest garment I own. She has one just like it. Sometimes we go out wearing matching ones, like last year at MOM’s Ball:

Pink Ladies (& yes, that man is dressed as a penis)

When at last we were dressed and getting in the truck, looking like two scoops of sherbert, we ran into our friend John Allen, who we hadn’t seen for months. He took this picture of us; it’s not his fault my phone’s camera is so bad.

Two scoops of sherbert!

So we chatted with him for a little while, and if we hadn’t, I honestly think a man would have died, or else landed in hospital with tubes down his throat and crippled for life. Because here’s what happened next:

We got in Sarah’s truck. We drove five blocks from my house. I was looking out the window, and I saw three men struggling with something that was low on the pavement. My first thought was that they were torturing a dog. As we passed I saw one of them punching a man who was on the ground with his arms up over his face and head. The punches were so fast and so savage. I’ve seen great performers abandoned to music or to dance. These men were abandoned to violence; that’s the only way I can put it. If I’d had more time to watch, I’m sure I would have found it terrifying.

Instead I yelled at Sarah to slow down, rolled down my window, and screamed, “HEY!” at the three men. And they scattered. Just like that. They ran in three directions. They ran fast, like the cowards they were.

This was lucky, as later we found out one of them had a gun. Sarah pulled her truck over and we called to the beaten guy, who was getting to his feet. He was bleeding everywhere. My phone kept slipping out of my satin-gloved fingers; I tried simultaneously to tear the gloves off with my teeth and to call the guy to come over to us – he was staggering around. Sarah got her phone and called 911. The beaten guy (who I will call Pete from hereon out, although that is not his name) was in shock; he was standing in the street. I got him to stand on the sidewalk while Sarah told the dispatcher where we were.

Blood was pouring from a wound on Pete’s scalp. He kept spitting blood. His left eye was already swelling shut, and he couldn’t use his right hand. He said he lived a block from where he’d been jumped. He was a young guy, maybe 25, and he’d left his wife and kids at home and gone to the corner store with only a debit card to run an errand. When the guys jumped him, he told them he had no cash. They just beat him anyway. He wouldn’t sit down. I didn’t even have a towel or a tissue to offer him.

I can’t imagine how bewildering it must have been for him, first to be attacked in his own neighborhood, and then to have two feather-clad females, one red and orange, one pink and purple, pull up in a battered old truck to offer assistance. I’m not sure he believed we were real. He wouldn’t let anyone send for an ambulance; he kept saying he couldn’t pay the bill.

The cops came. They got him to sit down. They talked to him and took our information. New Orleans cops are kind of blasé. They didn’t bat an eye at our feather-clad bewigged going-out-at-midnight selves; they thanked us for being good citizens and for saving Pete’s life, and told us to have a good time, and sent us on our way.

We said goodbye to Pete, wished him all the best, and went to the ball. The whole episode lasted perhaps fifteen minutes (for us, not for him, of course).

We found our friends and we hugged them and kissed them and danced with them. Big Sam’s Funky Nation was playing. The Howlin’ Wolf was a sea of pink, and gold lame. I’ve spent a lot of the last five years stuck in my house, recovering from surgeries, not really well enough to go out and join in life. A room full of costumes fills my heart with joy at any time, but especially so these days when I am starting to rejoin the world. And after such a close brush with horror, I felt like my eyes were double-wide opened to the sweetness of the evening. Everyone looked beautiful to me.

Then it was the next day, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and working on this story, and several things intrigue me.

One is the fact that Sarah Jane and I, avid moviegoers that we are, inadvertently became Costumed Crime Fighters. It didn’t really take bad-ass-ery to stop the crime – it took a ‘hey!’ It took looking at something ugly and being willing to see it.

But given that we were in costume, and given that we’d just seen ‘The Green Hornet,’ and given that I’m incapable of going through any situation without trying to make a joke, we did come up with superhero names. I’m ‘The Pink WASP’ and Sarah is ‘Tangerine.’ (Or possibly ‘Orange Crush.’)

Another thing that intrigues me is the way all of our stories came together for those fifteen minutes and then separated. I’m still thinking about Pete; I’m sure he and his family are still thinking about that night. Try as I might I can’t imagine what the three men who attacked him might have been thinking at that moment, or afterwards. But for a few minutes, we all came together on the street where I live.

And another thing that intrigues me is what it means to me to have been able to make this particular piece of violence stop. Until I was 18 there was a lot of violence in my life. Some of it happened to me; I had to watch some of it happen to my little brother and to our animals. I know how frightening and demeaning and power-removing violence can be. It’s part of my life’s work to heal those wounds and to attempt to use what I learned to be of some service to others.

So for me there is something miraculous in the fact that I was able to make those men stop. It’s the first time in my whole life that I ever was able to make violence stop. And as I said, I didn’t do it by being great or amazing or courageous. It wasn’t that hard to make it stop, and that in itself is a miracle.

There’s a story I love about the Buddha. He sat down to meditate, and all his demons swarmed about his head, attacking him. In his wisdom and compassion, he saw them for what they truly were – illusion – and when he did, they turned into flowers and showered down upon him.

Let me be clear: those men were not illusions, and I don’t mean to suggest that they were. They damaged a living person, but Pete’s story belongs, as Aslan would say, to Pete. What I’m talking about is what they represent, as perpetrators of violence, to me.

I’ve spent so much of my life shadow-boxing with old fears, letting them hold me in and hold me back. Yet Saturday I wasn’t afraid. I had something to offer and I offered it. I had a friend with me whom I totally trust and respect and admire, and I was sure that together we could help the stranger who was bleeding on the sidewalk. And we did.

Beauty and horror do walk side by side. I’ve found that to be true in my life. And by and large, people don’t want to hear about the horror. If it’s ugly, if it’s icky, if it’s uncomfortable, people will do almost anything not to hear it, not to see it.

I lost most of my family – not my amazing mother and my amazing brother, but pretty much all the rest – when I started talking about the violence that had happened to me as a child. I didn’t feel like I had a choice; it was never my secret to keep, and keeping it secret was poisoning me.

How can the world ever get safer if we won’t look at what’s happening? How can we help each other if we won’t see each other when we are bleeding, unbeautiful, sad, humiliated, frightened? This is why I keep talking about it – because I hope that every time I do, someone else will discover that he or she is free.

The thing is, when I acted on what I saw Saturday night, when I rolled down the window and yelled (articulately) “Hey!” – those men vanished like a bubble popping. It didn’t take much – it didn’t really take anything – to help.

And Saturday night beauty and horror were juxtaposed so perfectly that it was almost ridiculous. We went from a crime scene to a ball filled with beautiful women & men who’d raised ten thousand dollars for the Metro Center for Women and Children, to help families escape domestic violence. We danced with our friends. For me, after all these surgeries, just to dance is a triumph of Olympic magnitude (and it always hurts a little, but it’s always worth it). I had my fucking leg cut in half & seven pieces of titanium put into my bones & had two bits from other peoples’ bodies transplanted, just so that I could dance!

So I was dancing, with my cane and my boots and my purple wig, watching Sarah Jane and Marigold really get down, and a guy in a top hat and black & white face-paint came up to me and said, “Are you a Pussyfooter?”

“No,” I said, still dancing.

“What are you?” he asked.

“I’m just a citizen!” I said.

“You mean you’re just a badass?” he said.

It was at that moment I realized that life was telling me clearly that It Was Good. I considered giving the guy a kiss on the cheek, but I didn’t want face-paint all over my face. So I grinned and I said, “Sure!” and I high-fived him, and I kept on dancing.



PS The lovely Lisanne Brown took this picture of me, Sarah Jane & Marigold at the ball:

We made it to the ball, without any fairy godmothers!

PPS If you’re wondering ‘What are these Pussyfooters?’ or even ‘How could I myself be one someday?’ go here:

PPPS If you’re wondering (and I know you are) ‘How can I get a headdress like Marigold’s orange one for my Carnival season attire?’ go here:

PPPPS If you’re wondering how you too can have a lovely warm delightful delicious feather boa coat, that will keep you warm during Carnival and will make strangers stop and take your picture (and sometimes ask if they can stroke your feathers)…well, the coat-maker is quite shy & elusive, (much like the snow leopard), but if you email me, I’ll see about getting you an introduction. Because trust me, birds are NOT cold in winter. Feathers are warm. And happy.

PPPPPS If you’re wondering whether I love to brag on my beautiful and talented friends, the answer, quite obviously, is yes.

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Short Story


Hola comrades:


Two days ago I wrote an extremely short story. Forty-eight hours later, I still like it a lot. So without further ado, voila:


Rubber Bands


There was a girl who collected rubber bands. She grew to be a woman, and she couldn’t stop herself. Thousands upon thousands of rubber bands filled her house. They were, frankly, unnerving. She stacked them neatly round bedposts and the necks of bottles and the fat bottoms of jars. She filled her drawers and closets and cabinets with rubber bands.


She got old. The apocalypse came. A group of survivors banded together to live communally in her house. The rubber bands proved invaluable for making alarms around the perimeter and booby-traps and surprisingly lethal slingshots. The food and ammo would run out long before the endlessly useful rubber bands did. She was so pleased, even though a zombie ate her on the fifth day of the siege.


The End



I am dedicating this story to my brother Frederic, because it is the first thing I have ever written with zombies in it, and I know how happy that will make him.


And yes, I know dedications are supposed to go at the beginning of the story, but if I had done that, I would have given away the zombie surprise.


All my love,






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“Trust me, Tiger Woods was waaaaaayyyy more of a wuss than you.”

Hola comrades,

My darling friend Mary Herczog wrote her way through twelve years of breast cancer. She was a great writer, and the chronicles of her story live on at, and honestly, if you can only read one blog today, go read hers and save mine for later. She wrote beautifully, and she was a brave, bright spirit.

Because she got cancer when she was 33, she was the person in my life who most knew what it was like to get yanked out of the realm of the young-and-healthy at an early age, and what it was like to live through illness & its isolation, Western medical procedures and the blast zone they leave, and all the other junk that goes with a chronic or long-term illness. She supported me with such unending generosity: she and her husband Steve Hochman once lent me their house in New Orleans for five months so that I could finish the first draft of my book.

Sometimes, pretty often in fact, I would say to her that I felt shiftless in comparison to her. Through all her years of cancer I never once heard her spirits flag. She had cancer and she wrote the Frommers’ guidebooks every year for New Orleans and Las Vegas; she wrote books of fiction, she wrote articles, she got a graduate degree, she had a beautiful and tender marriage, she traveled the world and went to concerts and read voraciously and somehow found time to care, to really care, about the many things that were going on in the lives of her many many friends. By comparison, I am a banana slug. Whenever I said to her that I felt I should be doing more, she’d say in her brisk, sweet voice, “But honey, I’ve never felt bad with cancer, except during chemo. You’re in pain all the time. Give yourself a break.” Towards the end of her life, when she was in pain more often, she’d call to tell me she was proud of me for enduring years of chronic pain. Praise from her was high praise indeed.

She died on Mardi Gras this year, and I am still learning about what it means to miss her. Now that she’s gone, it’s my job to remember the wise and loving things she used to say, and to tell them to myself when it’s necessary. Like now, when in the middle of writing this blog my brain pitched a fit along the lines of “Who are you to write now when you haven’t felt well enough to write for weeks, you banana slug?”

On August 20th my friend Christopher and I drove from New Orleans to Lafayette for my 3rd session of prolotherapy & PRP.  Prolotherapy & PRP are non-scalpel-based surgical procedures: prolo works by creating inflammation that stimulates the body’s naïve stem cells to create new tissue; PRP works by whirling a lot of my blood in a centrifuge til the plasma separates from the rest, and then reinjecting the plasma into my knees. Basically it amounts to getting stuck with lots and lots of needles.

Since after the treatment I can’t drive and am bleary as hell from meds and endorphins, none of this treatment would be possible without my friends who give up a day to drive to Lafayette with me, sing along with the stereo while we drive, hold my hand through the procedure, and then drive my semi-conscious self home. Sarah Jane took the first two trips with me; Christopher drove me yesterday; Jesyka’s on board for next time. (If I need more treatments after that I am planning to purchase a mail-order husband.) I am lucky to be loved & supported by these amazing people. I often wonder if my lonely, lonely teenage or twenty-something self can look through time and see how well things turned out.

The first 30-odd injections on each knee are lidocaine, a topical anaesthetic to dull the pain. Paradoxically, lidocaine stings like a bitch. The next 30-odd injections are the actual dextrose/saline solution, and then for the big finale, we do the PRP: the big fucking needle that injects my own platelet-rich plasma cells right into the center of my knee. (It’s a little bit like that movie where Bruce Willis has to drill to the core of the asteroid that’s coming to destroy Earth so he can insert a Big Bomb…only a little bit, though). We did the right leg first. There are about eight surgery scars on that knee; the longest is five ½ inches long. Getting needles stuck into scar tissue is very special, infinitely less fun than your average bikini wax. I said ‘Fuck’ and variations thereon about ten thousand times.  My wonderful doctor, Dr. Thomas K. (for Kermit) Bond, somehow makes the whole wretched experience jolly. This is mostly because he’s a remarkable healer, and partly because he gives me a Valium 30 minutes before the procedure.

Then we got to the PRP on the right leg. The needle they use for this is loooooooong. I don’t know exactly how long because I try never to look at it. As Dr. Bond was putting the needle in my knee, I involuntarily pushed back against it (it’s hard not to). This tensed my quadriceps, which made the muscle grab the needle, which took the whole thing off the charts of the pain scale. When the muscle grabs the needle, the big-ass needle moves inside the knee joint, and then it’s really hard to get it out. By the time they pulled the needle out, I was crying, and a few seconds later I got an adrenaline surge that made my teeth chatter and my body shake. They gave me a fifteen-minute break and some pain meds before we did the left knee.

But here’s the funny bit: somewhere in the trying-to-pull-the-needle-out bizness, I said, trying to find a bright spot, “Well, it’s good to know Tiger Woods has had PRP too, cause he put his family through a lot, and now we know instant karma’s kicking in. We should write Elin Nordegren a note and tell her.” (NB: the original version was probably a little less lucid, since articulate goes out the window early in the procedure. It was also said through clenched teeth, and I distinctly remember thanking the heavens at one point that I had not had to have surgery during the Civil War. You gotta be grateful when and where you can.)

My beloved Dr. Bond finally pulled the needle out, patted my shoulder, and said, “Trust me, Tiger Woods was waaaaayyyyyy more of a wuss than you. You’re a tough lady.”

It made me laugh (while still crying) and it made me proud.

(NB again – Dr. Bond is not Tiger Woods’ doctor, so he wasn’t violating any confidentiality….just so you know).

The left knee was comparatively uneventful, or else my mind was mercifully blurry. Either way, I slept most of the way home, ate half a bag of Zapp’s barbeque chips and two pears, and we got to my house minutes before the Saints kicked off against the 49ers.

For the first two days after the procedure I had more energy than I usually do, which I immediately jinxed by telling everyone how easily and well it had gone this time. On the third day I crashed and slept for most of the next three days: those deep daytime sleeps where you sleep like you do at night, where you come out it with all the reluctance of a fish drawn out of water by the line that’s hooked in its cheek.

Almost all the time, but especially after the procedures, pain is my constant companion. Prolotherapy works by creating inflammation, so I can’t ice my knees. Without ice, there’s never a respite from the pain. God only knows how awful the pain would be without pain meds. I am often grateful to live in a time and place where there are analgesics, contact lenses, running water, civil rights for women….all these things make life better.

Since then the almost two-month-long writer’s block that’s had my by the throat has eased its grip. Bits of songs, ideas for scenes in my book, characters and plotlines for the next book (which exists thus far only as notes): all these have been buzzing through my brain. I write them down and go back to sleep. I’m still a little too weary to finish them without ruining them, but it pleases me greatly to see them appear.

I wanted to finish this and post it last week, but I didn’t. Today, however, is the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness month, and it seems apt to finish today.

One of the things being injured or ill teaches you, if you’re lucky, is that everyone’s in pain: some more, some less. Some can bear it better than others. And none of us seem to be any good at talking about it. We say, “I’m fine” when we aren’t; we apologize for crying. I find that whenever I tell someone how I got hurt, how many surgeries I’ve had, how little success I’ve had with all the various treatments I’ve tried, that I always plaster a bright smile at the end. I hate doing it, but it’s almost reflexive.

My friend Mary wrote wittily and bravely and beautifully about her cancer (and all the food she ate & music she heard & places she went with cancer) and her writing served, in part, as a shining example of how to be honest about the hard stuff. She died six months ago. Her work and the way she lived her life became a beacon that said, “Tell the truth. You can tell the truth and be loved. You can loet your hair & nails & appetite, your ability to walk or lift or dance, and you can tell the truth about it. There is no shame in being stuck in some hard times.”

She had the heart of a lion. I miss her. When Hunter S. Thompson died I came up with a theory I dubbed “The Thompson Justification.” It states that in the absence of that master of chaos, the rest of us are obligated to break some rules and act out a little or a lot in order to replace, with our collective efforts, some part of the gleeful mayhem Mr. Thompson strew about the world.

I’ve just invented another theory, or theorem, or whatever. I’m calling it ‘The Mary Motivation.” It is this: “Write and finish and POST your frickin’ writing, my dear, even if you’ve lost the use of one arm or both legs, even if you’re sick and weary, even if whatever. And then do something nice for yourself: hug a dog or seven; eat some chocolate.”

Nothing ever stopped her except the final visitor who stops us all. How I could I aim to do less?

Thanks to all of you for reading this, the little flare I throw up in the air from time to time.

All my love,


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Good surprises

Bonjour tout le monde,

Well….I don’t want to alarm anybody by blogging twice in one day, instead of my usual once every two weeks….but some things are too good to wait. Like this:

I got an answer back from my old friend ***Mabel. (***Not even remotely her real name.) I was braced for a slew of ugly words, or else just silence.

Instead I got an apology. A real, sincere, I’m-sorry-I-let-you-down, I’ve-thought-about-what-you-experienced letter, with some explanations, at long last, for how a wonderful friendship ended seemingly overnight. Those details aren’t mine to share; suffice it to say we all wrestle with demons, and in my twenties, it seemed like that wrestling match happened daily; and I wasn’t the only one.

Speaking my mind is something I have to work at, particularly when it comes to conflict (when it comes to pizza, or dogs, or how to prune a shrub, I can do it pretty well). It took me almost two weeks to formulate my thoughts to write the email I quoted in the last blog, and my hands were shaking when I sent it.

And the email I got in return was a beautiful reminder of how not just good, not just great, but actually IMPORTANT it is for us to open our mouths and say what we need to say. Because if I hadn’t, if I’d just clicked ‘ignore,’ this friendship that used to mean a lot to me would have remained nothing but a sad memory. I don’t say that now ***Mabel and I are going to braid each other’s hair and sing campfire songs (then again, we might), but just to have some peace and resolution and affection in place of hurt and sadness is winning the lottery, in my book.

all my love,


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Closure, with white gloves on

Bonjour tout le monde –
A couple of weeks ago I got a friend request that actually gave me that jolt-in-the-stomach lurchy feeling when I saw the person’s name. I took a couple of weeks to contemplate how to respond in a ladylike and concise fashion. Today I sent this, and I am feeling a warm sense of closure and satisfaction. I might send a copy of this to Miss Manners (one of my favorite authors – as a child I loved to read her books. I also loved to alphabetize my own books, which were also sorted into non-fiction, by category, and fiction. It’s a wonder I ever made a friend – but I did: in tenth grade! Thanks, Laura!). This is what I wrote:
“Dear ***Mabel, (***not her real name)
I was surprised to get your friend request. In case you’ve forgotten how we lost touch, let me summarize what I experienced: you (my dearest friend in college) and I moved to New York the summer after college to explore the big city. Instead I spent the summer alone in our sublet on 186th Street, looking after your cat, while you spent the summer with a guy you hooked up with in our second week there, who had a nice downtown apartment. After our summer sublet ended and I moved back to Virginia, you and your boyfriend spoke to my mother on the phone and told her the following:
a) that you would not be paying me back for any of the household bills, which I had rather naively paid for both of us
b) that I had been stealing money from you, and
c) that she had no idea what kind of person I really was.
Of these statements, only the first one had any truth to it. Luckily my mother knows me well and didn’t believe you. That didn’t make the whole experience much less sad and sickening for me. And that was the last I ever heard from you.
Months later a mutual friend from college heard what had happened and said, “Oh, didn’t you know Mabel’s a pathological liar?” I hadn’t known, unfortunately for me.
Whoever and whatever you are now, I hope you treat both your friends and your animals better these days. I hope I made it clear why I have no desire to be either your actual or virtual friend.
As for your writing to me “I am so happy to have finally found you!”: I’ve worked as a performer ever since college. If you had done a google search for my name, you’d have seen that my website is the fourth link listed. You can’t have looked very hard.

I think Miss Manners would be very proud. She would probably tell me to go have some lunch, and a mango popsicle. So that is exactly what I shall do. Achieving closure really works up an appetite.

all my love,


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Rah rah ah ah ah for Miss Amanda Palmer

I haven’t been feeling bloggy lately, but I’ve been reading the hell out of Amanda Palmer’s blogs. She’s become my musical polestar: an independent artist who really has a strong sense of what to do and how to do it; a yogi; a wacky girl who likes dressing up in costumes; a mistress of social media. And she plays the ukulele.

To be honest, I don’t care that much about ukuleles, especially since they became the hipster instrument of choice a while back. But Miss Palmer has today released a record of Radiohead cover songs, and I do love me some Radiohead. I also love long record titles. Long ago I made tshirts for a record title that I was subsequently persuaded (begged, threatened, cajoled) not to use. I still love it. It is: Miss Alexandra Scott Sips A Bellini On The Mysterious Ice Planet of Quaoar. (I had to make a few google searches to remember how to spell Quaoar, and I’m a good speller…so perhaps it’s better that I didn’t try to get others to spell this title).

Anyway, the long title of the record released today by Amanda Palmer is: Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukulele. I’m listening to it now, and it’s ultra-groovy. She’s also selling some fantastic merch – tshirts and handpainted ukuleles (you know what? ‘ukulele’ is JUST as hard to spell as ‘Quaoar’). You can find it at

And just know that I wouldn’t have pulled myself out of my blog-slump for anyone less inspiring than Amanda Fucking Palmer. Here’s hoping she can inspire me, and everyone, to blog more, and better, to write more songs, to wear more tutus and fairy wings and silver glitter. Here’s hoping her day goes really, really well.

all my love,


PS If you’re a twitter-head, you can find her at @amandapalmer, or via the hashtag #UKULELEhead, and probably through some other twitter ways and means that I know nothing about. But still…go see.

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the one about coming back to performing after a long long layoff

I’m in pain most of the time. Physical pain, that is; my heart & soul are about as mercurial as your average oversensitive artist type, but by and large I’d say my spirits are good. I just hurt a lot.

The reason why is this: Five-plus years ago I was a serious Ashtanga yoga practitioner and teacher. My teacher and employer was a problematic person, to put it mildly; I ignored a lot of warning signs. Finally the universe got my attention one morning in class when she wrenched my right leg behind my head (knee behind shoulder, ankle behind neck) and tore my knee up so badly that despite three surgeries, I haven’t really walked properly since. Also my left knee tore due to me standing on one leg for the better part of five years. So the phrase ‘not a leg to stand on’ has taken on a new meaning in my life. I don’t walk so well; I can’t run or dance or carry my guitars. I work hard to remember that despite this I am still so much luckier than most people; I wasn’t blown up in a war or crushed in an earthquake.

But chronic pain is tiring and depressing, and has a way of undoing one’s best-laid plans: you wake up with your head full of all the interesting, exciting and important things you’re going to do that day, only to find that your body isn’t up to it. Pushing too hard a few times, or a few hundred times, teaches that taking it easy when you need to take it easy is A REALLY IMPORTANT PART OF CARING FOR YOURSELF RESPONSIBLY. I am learning this lesson…slowly.

Friday June 18th was my big return-to-music show. I hadn’t played in a year and a half, since before my last surgery. Eight days before the show I got some shots of synthetic joint fluid in both of my knees – two giant, horse-penis sized syringes full of stuff that’s supposed to make life easier. Except it turned out to be too much to inject at one time, so for almost two weeks following the shots, I was in worse pain than I’d been in for 12 months, and was hobbling like a crone, and low on energy. This was discouraging. I don’t really like pain.

I always was a tough girl. I could carry my own amplifiers, I went hiking and running and practiced Ashtanga yoga. I’ve always driven a truck. So it’s been weird to have to accept the changes that injury has wrought. It feels a little shameful to admit that I’m fragile, that I need help with stuff as basic as carrying my guitars, that rehearsals and work and then a show leaves me needing to rest for days after.

And I was worried about how I’d get through the show. But while I was playing, there was no pain in my body, not anywhere. I played sitting down, as I can’t stand for an hour; and the whole time we were playing, I felt a kind of energy I don’t know how to describe in words coming through my body, out my chest, out my throat, down through my feet. It was bliss, there’s no denying it. It was part of why the music sounded so good that night (it sounded SO good!), and I think it was a gift from the music to me.

There were many many reasons why the show was great. The guys I play with are musical true loves of mine: Sam Craft on violin and vocals, Jack Craft on cello, Caleb Guillotte sharing lead vocals with me, singing backup and playing his badass guitar. Playing with people I trust AND respect AND just plain love – and having the music sound better than it’s ever sounded: that’s one reason. My friend Ellen naming my upcoming record based on the outfit I was wearing: that’s another. (It’s going to be called ‘Pistachio Pearl’ and it’s coming soon, and it’s really good…but that is a story for another time). My mom flying down from Virginia to hear me play and spend the week with me was another reason. It also turns out that my mom is the best merch girl in the history of merch girls. No one can resist her. She sold a shitload of records! My best friends in the audience, loving me and singing along to the music; the women from my Reiki II class, sending good energy; the people who were new to the music coming up afterwards to tell me they loved it: all of these things are part of what was magic. And more, and more….but the thing is, when you try to write about happiness, about how good something felt, it rarely works. You just have to live it. It was one of those nights where I actually knew how precious and magical each passing second was.

And then you come back to earth…you wake up the next day and your knees hurt and you’re just a person with an aching body, and you catch the flu, and a week and a half goes by while you struggle to figure out how to write about it all without sounding like a braggart or an idiot. Or at least, I do.

Recently I watched online a talk Elizabeth Gilbert gave about the creative process. She said that many, many, many years ago in Northern Africa, dancers would gather to perform sacred dances for their people. Occasionally the watchers would see that one particular dancer had been possessed by God (N.B.: Having luckily been raised without much religious training or indoctrination, ‘God’ to me just means ‘the divine,’ and the longer I live the more I think that everything is divine…but I know it’s a trigger word for some of us). When they saw that, they would shout “Allah! Allah!” Eventually some North Africans emigrated to Spain, and the cry of “Allah!” became “Ole!” – an interesting tidbit.

She talked about what it must be like for one of those dancers to wake up the next morning, just a person in a frail mortal body that has to pee and is sore and does all the things bodies do. What if that moment of divine possession never came back? What was the rest of life to be after that?

And it was true: I woke up and the dog needed feeding, breakfast needed making, there were floors to sweep and bills to pay and work to do. And I didn’t care, and I still don’t: I was just so happy. I can still feel that surge of energy, what it was like to be possessed by music, to give myself over to it.

But I wanted to write it down so I’d remember it, and so the people who weren’t there can read about it too. There are pictures and stuff on Facebook, and I’ll be posting the video of “I Want A Boy” to Youtube tomorrow.

I’m just so fantastically lucky, so lucky beyond all imagining, to have been born with music in me, to have a mother who encouraged me to pursue it, to have encountered teachers and collaborators who helped and taught me. I’m so lucky that I get to feel music moving through me, that my body is my instrument, that even though my body can’t do lots of the things I used to love to do, it can still sing.

I don’t know whom to thank for that gift and blessing, but to whom it may concern: THANK YOU, MERCI, DANKE SCHOEN, GRACIAS, GRAZIE. I’d never want to live without it.



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I can overthink anything. Including this blog. I’ve been fretting over how to convey in words how perfectly perfect and gloriously glorious my show on the 18th was…and the thing is, that can’t really be done. It was a glorious night of MUSIC, and as my beloved Steve Martin says, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

I haven’t given up on it yet. Meanwhile, though, I’m posting this little snippet just to thumb my nose at the voice in my mind that alternates between yelling at me for not having written a perfect blog, and yelling at me for not having posted anything at all, and yelling at me for…you get the idea. It sucks to have a mean bully living in one’s head. It seems that most of my nearest and dearest do have just that. May we all be bully-free, SOON!.



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return to music

It’s been 18 months since I last played a show. That’s the longest I’ve gone without playing live since I started playing shows at age 13. I’ve missed it. In my time off I spent a month in a wheelchair, eight months on crutches, more time than I care to count in doctors’ offices and physical therapy and pursuing every alternative therapy you can name, trying to heal my knees. My knees are still a work in progress…but the music came back. It went away for a while, during the time I was in crazy pain and hobbling around and locked up in the house going crazy with loneliness and frustration. And losing the music was maybe the worst part of all that – but getting it back was a joy beyond joys. So I couldn’t be any happier to be playing tonight with the following delightful gentlemen: Sam Craft on violin and vocals and crazy curly hair (Sam is my old friend and bandmate; we rocked Bonnaroo in 2005 and he’s my musical true love); Caleb Guillotte on guitar and lead/backing vocals and debonair-ness (Caleb is my songwriting partner, and gives me a reason not to dress like a slob, and is generally awesome and wise); and Jack Craft on cello and vocals (Jack’s played on two of my records and has been in my band since he and Sam were in high school – now they are old enough to drink – also they are both brilliant). Tonight, New Orleans, Carrollton Station (, 9 pm. YES I SAID YES I SAID YES I SAID YES I SAID YES!

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June 9, 2010. 9 years ago today I got married. I’ve been unmarried for seven years now. I remember when I left I thought I was leaving happiness behind me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I remember the first week of waking up in my own house and my own bed, and realizing each morning that nobody was going to yell at me that day. It was like a thousand-pound anvil had disappeared from my chest, an anvil I hadn’t even known was there. I’m glad I got married: I’m glad I loved and was loved, and I’m glad I left and found the life I wanted to live.

So I do celebrate my anniversary, because it’s worth remembering the mistakes we made, and it’s worth remembering what we learned from them, and it’s worth remembering the good things when there are good things to remember. And on this day my heart always goes out to people who are stuck, in any of the ways that people can get stuck. I hope you all get unstuck.

I will be celebrating, somewhat belatedly, by going with my girls to see ‘The A-Team.’ Because nothing represents growth like a good shoot-em-up summer movie, and a bag of popcorn, and friends.

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