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Take Me Home: Scary Places 

When I feel scared (especially when I’m alone at night, envisioning every terrible thing that could possibly occur before and beyond dawn) I remind myself that I’ve survived nights on bar floors in foreign countries, the haunted basement of a warehouse in downtown Albuquerque, vehicles from the Olympic Peninsula to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and hundreds of other seemingly terrifying “sleeping” arrangements, all to see the light of day.

I just came across this photo I half-jokingly (okay, 1% jokingly) texted to a friend one night in case I went missing. I don’t think people realize how fearful I am... I slept with a nightlight until I went away to college. (And then I was in NYC so it never got dark anyway.) But I’ve been able to live on the road for so long because I love it that much. I love you that much. More than I fear, which is a crazy amount, because love is stronger than fear. Love is real. Fear is not. Yes, fear appears to be real when we’re fixated on the shadows of things we don’t understand and/or cannot control. But when the light returns we see that love is everything.

With the news of the world in the palms of our hands we don’t need to use our imaginations to terrify ourselves. We need to use our imaginations to transcend this thick fear swaddling Earth so that we may continue to move freely and joyfully across every imaginary border, connecting and celebrating these lives we are so unbelievably blessed to experience. Thank you for holding up your light, and for sheltering me from so many storms. Sweet dreams.

Take Me Home: PKP 


Seeking the approval of others is a form of self-hatred. We have been groomed to do this. Or maybe we just do this… because we do this. But we do this. I do this. Seeking, scrolling tweeting, trolling… onscreen and off. Each journey around the sun I crave approval a little less, but I still find myself jumping to please a Loved One. Am I not a Loved One, too? Is it so hard to see ourselves? Will selfies ultimately give way to deep unconditional acceptance of Self? I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that fear spends what Love saves. Energy. Life force. Protect your precious resource. Your life is worth more than the U.S. National Debt (currently $21,205,959,245,607.94). Don’t let it slip into the pockets of others, figuratively or literally. We don’t need all this stuff. We Are. I love you.

Bath-time thoughts. Happy Tuesday. Mars is cray, yo. 

Photo from somewhere between Łódź and Toruń, just before my 32nd journey ’round the sun…

Take Me Home: København, DNK 


Outside a small cafe in Nørrebro, a “hip” part of København, a man was selling assorted household items on the sidewalk — gently worn shoes, children’s blocks, a giant kitchen timer, etc. 

“Are you having a good day? Are things selling well?” 

“I always have a good day,” he smiled. “It’s important to focus on the good things.” Seeing the notebook under my arm he asked, “Are you American?” 

I looked down and noticed the cover bore a small US flag with “Made in USA” beneath. Shit, I thought. “Yes.” 

“Where do you come from?” 

“Eh….” I never know how to answer this. Every attempt feels like a lie. He laughed. 

“Once I saw a guy on a talent search show who had a similar answer,” he said. “Here, there… the guy was really funny! Are you having a good day?” 

“Eh….” I wasn’t. I was jetlagged, overwhelmed, and sharing a room with a guy who stared with longing and told me I reminded him of his ex-girlfriend. “Just tired.” 

“Come,” he said, moving aside vests and a blanket so we could sit on a bench. “Give me your right hand. You are going to send all your negative feelings to me.” 

My heart surged. Not the surge you’d expect of a young woman meeting a strange man in a foreign city street, but the surge of a struggling sadhu meeting her guru in the forest. As I placed my hand in his my eyes swelled. Paris. Brussels. Terror. Anger. Refugees. Despair. One more puff and I felt like the whole world would fall down. 

“It’s okay, I can take it. Just breathe and know you are safe.” 

A tear slid down my cheek. A bicycle pinged. Sunlight danced on my eyelids. A cool breeze shivered my spine and then… breathing.… I was breathing. 

After a time I opened my eyes and he said, “Fasting during Ramadan has helped me become more positive. It’s a mental as well as a physical fast — to conserve energy one speaks less, is more reflective.” He looked at me so kindly, without judgment or proselytizing. Just compassion. “It’s important to focus on thinking about the good things and only speaking good things.” 

Lately it's hard not to dwell on the bad, sad things… but what does that accomplish? Where does that take me? Who does that empower? When I think of holding hands with a bodhisattva on a bench midway between our respective homelands there is a break in the fog… and I’m reminded that this planet is filled with living, breathing, loving beings and there are so, so many hands to hold if we just reach out our own.

    

Take Me Home: Telluride, CO 

Happy Solstice. Ten years ago today I woke up in Telluride for the first time. I arrived late the night before, not super late but late enough that the only vacant camping spot was half falling into a river. I was thrilled. I was in Telluride, and the river would sing me to sleep. 

The next day I woke to a sky so crisp I thought it might melt in my mouth. Lilacs. Smiling faces. Music. I was already in love when I took the stage at Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I felt my chest might explode, and not only because of the altitude. 

The performance went as well as I could've hoped... though my hope was pretty wild back then. I was very green. So green I didn't recognize the man waiting for me afterwards as that night's headliner. Not until we were halfway through lunch did I recognize his face from the cover of the gossip magazine I'd seen at my sister's apartment the month before. 

After sharing soggy peach cobbler we circled through the campground to drop off my stuff. At first I couldn't find my tent because now it really was falling into the river - I forgot to mention that it was broken so I had tied it to branches above, which apparently had given way. "That's so punk rock," he said. "Don't worry, you'll stay with me tonight."

And so it went... if you've heard "Back in NY" you know the gist of it. My enchantment deepened, heightened, expanded in every direction as I stood backstage, wide-eyed and enamored with not one but with All. I didn't just feel like a fish out of water, I felt like a fish with its face pressed against the side of the aquarium, drooling fish drool, longing for admission to this super cool fish school. And yet... I was a fish, too. 

There's too much to squeeze in this little box but one image that still makes me laugh is that of him scooping up armfuls of candy and videos (actual videos #tbt) in the hotel lobby after his show, manic, elated, childlike, qualities I see in musicians of all ages, all over the world. Maybe it's what makes us crazy and difficult to live with... but it's also why you love us. And we love you.

 

Take Me Home: Elkton, FL 


The last time I stayed with my grandparents - before Gram moved to a nursing home - was the first time I stayed with them on my own. As I stepped out of my car and walked across the spiky Floridian grass I felt the rush of being The Grandchild, without my older, louder sister there to take centerstage. (Yes, even as a twenty-something. Many of us who end up onstage are there because of older, louder siblings. It’s the only way we were ever going to be heard.*) 

Yet for the same reason, I felt shy, nervous… even a little scared. Without my sister, mom, aunts, uncles, or cousins, and all the noise and activity they bring with them, who was I in relationship to my grandparents? How would we interact? What would we say? What could they possibly think of this grimy, barefoot vagabond crossing the driveway, car piled to the ceiling with all that Mary Poppins couldn’t fit? 

I didn’t even have to knock before Papa opened the door, eyes twinkling, corners of his mouth turned ever so slightly upward. “How are you!” he said, patting me on the back. And from beneath the cool waves of the fan Gram’s lips emerged, bright like a tropical fish at the end of a long line of “ooooohs.” Gram. It’s difficult to recall Gram then… the past few years have been so hard for her. For Papa. For their children. 

However that afternoon, still able to drive, she went on a secret mission to Publix and returned as I stood in the driveway rolling clean laundry into burritos. “Come here!” she rasped. “Quick, before Papa sees!” I walked to the street to meet her dark sunglasses, half-obscured by a low visor. From the passenger’s seat she presented two bags of trail mix. “I got you this for the road,” she said. Then, placing a folded $20 bill in my hand, “Don’t tell Papa.” 

Of course Papa wouldn’t have minded, though he might have been puzzled by the strange deal going on outside. It wasn’t about the trail mix, nor the $20. It was about the conspiratorial grin. I’d never discussed “the road” with my grandparents, for reasons you can and can’t imagine. But in that moment I felt like Gram, who had given me a subscription to Rolling Stone when I turned ten, got it. No explanation necessary. Even more than that, she wanted to be part of it. And she was. She is. They both are. How could they not be? 

Thank you, Gram. Thank you, Papa. I love you, Shellenbach tribe. 

 

* To be fair, I enjoyed and exploited my sister’s loudness. It/she enabled me to silently witness all the stuff I sing about.

Take Me Home: White Sulphur Springs, MT 

July 26, 2013

I was invited to play a festival in White Sulfur Springs. Merle Haggard would headline, along with Todd Snider, Robert Earl Keen, and other names people recognize. As with other little acts I was asked to play for exposure, which meant a spot to camp in the high desert mid-summer. Having no money, no tent, and a very full car, I obviously said yes and began searching for local concerts to supplement my exposure (to heatstroke), and hopefully, shelter. 

On short notice options were limited; however just an hour and a half away a biker bar in Helena offered me the second set in a three-act metal show and $200. I was thrilled. My third grade state report was on Montana and one of my bffs is Helena, so how bad could it be? (This is why artists need managers.) 

The first act was a three-armed four-piece metal duo. Lugging his Marshall stack onstage with one arm the singer-guitarist-bassist provided me with a new definition for hardworking musician. He screamed, strummed, thumped while my teeth rattled against my chest. I wondered how the crowd would receive my acoustic ballads… but this wasn’t my first metal show. (Metalheads dig alternate tunings.) 

As I began the crowd was silent, attentive, supportive. Then the third act showed up and began dry-humping in front of the stage, shouting profanities and - from where I stood - preparing to kill me. There was a lot of tongue and a lot of fist. I started doubting whether I could hold things together when the sound guy and one of the bartenders dragged the humpers outside and restored peace. I sold a dozen CDs, packed up my gear, and opened the stage door… to a wall of flames. 

Having been obstructed from expressing his anger in general, and towards me, in particular, Humper #1 had set fire to empty boxes and beer cases, alarmingly close to my car. That is, about to explode everything I own. I stood in the doorway not knowing how to respond when once again Bartender and Sound Guy appeared, practically leaping over my head to put out the blaze. (This wasn’t their first metal show.) 

I drove back to White Sulphur Springs in silence, admiring the dark silhouette of the mountains... and smiling. For having survived another night on the road. For the audience, the staff, the musicians - even the humpers. For the money in my pocket and the songs that brought me here. For the festival organizer, who let me sleep in her Airstream. For the Canadians, who adopted me for the remainder of the weekend. For Todd Snider, who made the drive from California worthwhile alone. And most of all, for the exposure.

Thank you.

Take Me Home: Land of Awes 


A few days ago I sat at my desk as the sky turned from blue to gray to green. In the time it took to go outside, close an umbrella, and turn on the electric kettle, a tornado whipped through the area, leaving me in the dark with my hot water. 

Hot water. If you know me you know it's my drink of choice. And I love a long bath. For years I've said it's the ultimate luxury - cold hostel, early morning train, crappy gig - all (most) forgiven with the addition of hot water. 

As birdsong signaled the end of the storm I felt relieved. We were safe. Then I thought: shit, I should've showered this morning. Then I thought: Puerto Rico. Gaza. Port-au-Prince. Aleppo. Kathmandu. Mumbai. Hundreds and thousands and millions without electricity or plumbing, with or without bombs and bullets whipping overhead, never mind an electric kettle. 
 
Just now I crossed the street to fill a pot of water from the lake so I can flush the toilet. I cannot describe the overwhelming awe and gratitude I feel for the soft rain, the full pantry, the proximity to water, and the ability to heat it. We joke about #firstworldproblems but I would happily, gratefully, ecstatically never shower or look at this stupid device again if only everyone had enough food, water, and warm, safe haven. 
 
I can't tell if my heart is breaking for the insane abundance right here, right now, or for the insane disparity right here, right now.

Current Inspiration: my record player 

For the first time in over four years I woke up and turned on my record player. As I lie on the floor listening I re-realized that one of the many things I love about music is its movement - not just of the music being played, but of that which is playing music. Records, CDs, cassettes… revolution. Revolution is essential to music. Music is essential to revolution. 

I feel fortunate to be alive when music still spins. It’s so magical! Like earth, chakras, breath... maybe this is why streaming doesn’t work for me. Aside from the fact that everything’s compressed to shit and makes my head hurt (not to mention that artists aren’t fairly compensated) it’s energy is so… scattered. One song streams and spills into the next, a big jangly mess of all the wrong keys. Even when I play my favorites, they never make it past the porch. My body remains locked. In need of revolution. 

Maybe I’m loopy after driving 4000+ miles but I’m always loopy and that’s the point. We loop. We spin. Might as well commit to a groove and let it play out. :) In the spirit of spring spirals and new nests everything in the online shop is 20% off plus FREE SHIPPING on everything that spins! 

So happy to be home again. Different yet same home. What a trip. Sending an email as soon as I upload the pics.

Take Me Home: Maplewood, MO 


April 3, 2015 I still see her face. Too shy to offer in person she slipped me this note during the concert. I had to drive on somewhere that night, and I regretted it... I wanted to know her, felt like I already did. But sometimes we only have a moment, and that is enough. 

Today as I pack to leave Santa Cruz for the last time (for now) this note drifted out of the cupboard. What a lovely reminder! No matter where we are... Grace lives upstairs. 

Thank you, Grace. Thank you, all people I will never know and yet somehow know because we're all One. Thank you, Santa Cruz family. I will miss you and yet I am with you.