Better Help

I’ve been thinking I’d like to find a therapist. The last few years have been hard and I could use someone to talk to. I have Eric, true, and my daughter. Friends. But there are things I don’t want to burden them with when we could be talking about whatever’s streaming or whether or not they’ll put the concrete blocks back out on our local streets so that people can drink alcohol on the sidewalk this summer. You know, crucial, important stuff.

Same goes for accountants. The last several years I’ve done me and Eric’s taxes via TurboTax. It’s not that there was anything wrong with using a professional — I think I just needed to come to grips with the whole process to finally accept that there are many many things about making money and paying taxes that I will never fully understand. But I came by this knowledge honestly, through hard work. I put in a lot of hours and learned a lot of things before I threw up my hands.

A friend recommended an accountant down in New Jersey — all strictly remote of course — and a couple of podcasts I listen to mention Better Help, an online therapy service. “Speak to a professional from the comfort and privacy of your own home.” It makes sense, I guess. No need to factor in travel time, Covid risk, scheduling. My insurance offers the same through an app. I guess it’s what people do now?

Only the idea is completely unappealing to me. Not just unappealing — downright untenable.

It occurs to me I don’t want to just talk to someone — I want a window into the life of my professional. Only through putting myself in someone else’s environment can I truly see where I’m at.

I tried the Babylon app through my insurance, setting up an input appointment via FaceTime. I felt comforted knowing the person I was speaking with was based in Queens. It helped anchor things — I pictured one of those cute 1920’s Tudor apartment buildings in Kew Gardens, near where my dad’s been living. But when the therapist came on the screen, her pretty face, smooth hair and big white teeth were interchangeable with one of the YouTube yoga instructors I follow. I wished she’d pull back the camera just a little so I could at least see whether there were pocket doors or the original casement windows in her apartment. I feel like I could’ve unburdened myself better then.

If you can’t have parquet envy or imagine yourself living an alternate life, not better or worse necessarily, just more well-appointed, are you really getting the help you need?

Maybe I should go into real estate.

I started looking back over the professionals of my past, and it occurs to me they were all so much more adult and together than I could ever hope to be and had the home decor to prove it. Elevator buildings; matching furnishings…art hung on the walls! That’s what I’m looking for. Confirmation that my choices in life are what make me the seeker and them the font of knowledge. Their ability to provide the trappings: the Kleenex box (real Kleenex rather than some off brand), not one couch but two (one for the waiting area!) and subtle lighting help convince me they have what it takes to support my quest for a deeper understanding of myself and in the case of an accountant, things of a financial nature.

When I lived in New York City, I was East Village all the way until we got priced out and ended in Williamsburg Brooklyn, back when it was a dump with not much more than a C Town supermarket and Polish bakery that featured day old pastries and rancid coffee in styrofoam cups, not the mecca for the fabulous like now. Every year at tax time I had an adventure traveling to my accountant on the Upper West Side — often the only time I made it up to that part of town. There were boutiques! Cafes and famous delis. It was the Movie New York I’d imagined my life would be, before I knew anything about…life.

Mr. Accountant lived in a modern-ish high rise with a balcony. I feel sure there was furniture with sleek metal tubing involved, an actual dining table with cane seat chairs. I’d drop off paperwork and then make small talk, a Jill Clayburgh wannabe in grubby Keds and a thrift store overcoat. My eyes lingered over every detail in the place: the ABC Warehouse rugs, a cream-colored couch. He practically had to shove me out the door after the appointed half-hour.

My first NYC therapist allowed me the same coveted window into — Stuyvesant Town of all places. I’d lived across the street from the leafy middle class enclave for years, and only glimpsed the lives of the inhabitants in passing and at the annual “yard sale” where everyone used the shopping carts they usually cluttered the aisles of D’Agostino and Gristede’s with to haul their unwanted copies of My Mother, My Self and Vidal Sassoon hairdryers out to the shaded sidewalks for an afternoon or two.

Joan the Therapist had the neutral furnishings, the earth tone clothes I imagined were the spoils of a life well-lived. Like a soundcheck before a gig, my subway ride into Manhattan, wait for the lobby buzzer and elevator ascent set up the session. Entering this other world clearly stated that my problems were fixable. How would I know when I was better? When I didn’t need the peaceful hum of Joan’s window fan, her view of a verdant courtyard so much less chaotic than the siren wails and ice cream truck cacophony outside my own windows?

My daughter’s pediatrician was my West Village fantasy life — just around the corner from Balducci’s, at an address I could only afford once or twice a year via Child Health Plus.

There was a dentist in the flower district, a midwife practice on Fifth Avenue near the Flatiron Building. I knew when I moved upstate, those moments of approximation to posh or, let’s be honest —solid middle class respectability— weren’t going to happen anymore. When we first moved here I got help from an accountant at a chic West Village address but it just wasn’t sustainable. Maybe that was why I went online to do taxes…the very house we live in now once belonged to an accountant. A Catskill accountant with wood-paneled walls, a dodgy wood-burning stove in the corner and battleship grey cubbies to hold his paperwork – it was all still in place when we moved into this house. It was a foreclosure. Where’s that accountant now?

But back to therapy, where I’d like to go. There’s this therapist I have my eye on who lives at the foot of a mountain. She told me she wasn’t taking new patients but to get in touch if I was stuck. I’m imagining purple clapboard with bright green trim…a babbling brook to babble by out back. My expectations have changed— not lowered, just adjusted. By this point in my life, I’ve bought a few things at Crate and Barrel myself and I know that’s not the answer. It’s just an older wiser woman I’m looking for really, maybe even one who can chop wood. Please let there be a gazing ball in the yard…

Not exactly a therapist’s couch

Up In The Air

The Southwest flight circled Albany airport, unable to land due to dense fog. It was already close to midnight – we’d been sitting up in the air for over half an hour.

“Sorry folks,” said the captain. “Looks like we’re gonna have to take you all over to …Syracuse.”

The whole plane groaned through their masks. I struck up a conversation with the older woman next to me. I’d admired her chic tote and we’d smiled earlier at our matching Kindles. She told me she and her husband were visiting from San Diego. I told her I’d just been to see my daughter in Los Angeles.

“Are you retired?” she asked.

When an older person thinks you’re in the same club – well it makes you take a good hard look at yourself.

Remember my last post where I swore I would take that trip without my guitar and enjoy it? Well, I had. I’d flown out of Albany a mere week before, amazed at fellow upstate New Yorkers dressed in shorts and flip flops to fly, even though the temperature when I parked in the economy lot was hovering just around freezing. A brief layover in Chicago (you can’t fly anywhere you really want to go from Albany except maybe…Chicago) and clear skies all the way across the Grand Canyon to California. Hazel picked me up at Burbank Airport, driving so ably in her sporty Honda CRV – it was great to see her adapting to her west coast life. We bought pastries at Porto’s, marveling at the low prices and kindness of the counter staff. Then we took a walk around the reservoir in Silver Lake. The temperature was perfect; people were smiling – welcome to L.A. It was so good to be there.

The Airbnb I’d booked for a few nights had a stunning view across the hills all the way to the Hollywood sign. The turntable much-heralded in the listing didn’t work and neither did the wifi (standard Airbnb style over substance) but the host did come down and try to get a record to play through the speakers. He failed at that but managed to make the wifi happen.

Hazel and I walked around Little Tokyo in downtown L.A. and put our name in at Hama Sushi. 

“Is that your mother? She’s nice-looking,” a bum walking past said. Not to Hazel, but to a guy that looked like Hazel’s much older brother who was standing nearby. Referring to me. “Hey it’s a compliment,” the bum said. He must have caught the shattered expression on my face. I’m not just a mother but the mother of a strange grown ass adult man in the world’s eyes. The pandemic has laid to waste any remaining shred of hope I could still pass for vaguely age indeterminate. Ouch.

But what’s the alternative? Everywhere I turn, I see reminders of heroes and friends no longer with us. The Hollywood Bowl, where Tom Petty played his last show, the street where Don Heffington lived. Sights of past glories: in an Uber I passed the Iliad bookshop that stood next to the studio where I recorded a lot of my first album. Hazel and I met up with Roger Trilling, one of my oldest friends, at the Red Lion, a long-running German brewhouse Roger and I used to frequent in the 90s. We had a drink at the Dresden and I got a little misty remembering the times I’d seen Marty & Elayne tearing it up in there. Drove by the former site of the Ambassador Hotel where my parents had seen Steve and Eydie at the Cocoanut Grove and where Robert Kennedy was assassinated. So long ago. A school stands there now.

In typical New Yorker fashion, I’d declared “I’ll take a walk and get us some breakfast!” from the Airbnb high up on a hill in Silver Lake. I knew parking on such a steep street wasn’t an option but surely walking is always possible? I misjudged my GPS directions and went down the wrong side of the hill and then was faced with a choice: either call my daughter and tearfully beg her to come pick me up (“It’s Mom! I’ve walked down and I can’t get up!”) or scale the incredibly steep hill to right my wrongs so I could carry on down the other side to a bakery I’d scoped out.

Walking up that hill

Now I grew up in Pittsburgh so I thought I’d seen and walked every kind of hill there is, but this was insane. I was nearly on my hands and knees for some of the climb. Zigzagging for part of it. Crying and whimpering. Nobody saw me because nobody is ever out on the streets anyways in L.A. unless they’re busy running, but I knew.

“I used to be quite good at this thing called travel,” I said.

A sunny late afternoon in Malibu was a great reviver. We stumbled on the Adamson House at Malibu Lagoon, a 1920s gem of old tile and Southern California landscaping. Hazel drove us back through Brentwood and Beverly Hills and I found myself repeating the phrase my dad had used to describe my driving skills a few months back: “You’re a regular Joey Chitwood!” which made way less sense to Hazel than it had to me, and I’d had to really forage in my memory to locate a long-ago figure of racing lore.

A trip to the desert was a good way to blow the cobwebs out. Like way too many places, “I’ve been there” but aside from a pointless gig at a coffee shop and a mystical stay in Gram Parsons’ room at the Joshua Tree Inn, my desert memories are scarce and I looked forward to having Hazel show me stuff as she’s been spending lots of time out there. It was fun stopping in Palm Springs for a classic coffee shop meal at Billy Reed’s, which Hazel declared looked “like your parents’ house!” It did have that stuck-in-the-early-seventies flair with faux Tiffany lamps, dark wood, ceramic knick knacks and plants a-plenty. My parents’ house, the house I grew up in, sold in the year 2000, lives forever in my daughter’s mind like my grandparents’ house does in mine.

Hazel reminding me of my mom, in the place she said reminded her of my parents’ house

We listened to fantastic dance radio station KGAY out of Palm Springs on the drive to Yucca Valley, bumped along a dirt road for a mile or two to stay with Hazel’s boyfriend in full desert glory, the nearest neighbors a vague notion rather than a visual reality. It was spectacular out there, in a rustic way. We hiked at Joshua Tree, tried to watch the new West Side Story which just made me want to watch the old West Side Story even though I might have to try it again. I smoked weed, saw Pioneertown; did yoga on the desert floor keeping an eye out for scorpions and snakes. We went to a swap meet and I found a hippie-ish batik skirt to wear for the new life I planned for me and Eric where we lived in a desert shanty (apparently that’s everybody’s imagined new life as there’s not a shanty to be had out there anymore).

The just-about closed desert swap meet, once used as a film set
Desert inspiration

Hazel and I drove up to Big Bear which was spectacular and snowy (“wait – you’re in California and you’re looking at snow?” said Eric, from snowy New York. “What are you, crazy?”) and on to Lake Arrowhead which reminded me a little of that Simpsons episode with the Stonecutters, like there was some kind of slightly evil entity in control of the lake and everything and everyone around it, but we stayed in this cool old ramshackle hotel called the Saddleback Inn where neither of us slept well – there was a mysterious closet with the beginnings of a flight of steps towards the back that just felt unsettling but isn’t this why we travel? To wonder about things that don’t matter? And forget things that do, and then remember they matter again, with renewed force.

It was nice to have a chance to talk and it was also fun to listen to the music Hazel brought along on the trip. I feel so stuck in the past with what I listen to sometimes, relying on music to wrap me in a warm familiar blanket rather than challenge me. 

Back in L.A. I stayed with friends Tobi and Clyde. I’d played at their house back in November 2019, one of my last house concerts before things shut down. It was nice to visit with them and we took a walk around the neighborhood and saw the house where Leonard Cohen lived and also Muhammed Ali. Hazel and I hiked up to Griffith Park Observatory and enjoyed the beauty of Huntington Gardens in Pasadena. We ate some wonderful food and drank nice cocktails here and there. I kept wishing I had a better wardrobe, my upstate New York clothes felt too utilitarian for sunny, breezy L.A. I ran into a friend or two and wished I could hang out in Los Angeles more often, for longer. 

Flying back home, I changed planes in Chicago again. It was St. Patrick’s Day and Midway Airport was filled with people in shiny green boas, green top hats and athletic shirts. The whole time I was traveling, Eric’s voice lodged in my head, making his usual funny remarks and the voice went into overdrive now, doing a fake but convincing Irish brogue. Is that just marriage, especially after two years of essentially seeing hardly anyone else for any length of time? You begin to wonder what thoughts are yours; who you are out in the world, all of that. It was letting a genie just a little bit out of the bottle, going out west like that. I wrote about not knowing who I am out on the road without a guitar and part of it is just as an individual person, who used to travel around all the time on my own. I’d met some of Hazel’s friends at a gallery opening and introduced myself as “Hazel’s mom” not even bothering to add my own name at the end – like it wouldn’t come out, it felt too strange: Amy. No guitar, no husband, just a mom of a full-grown child at large in the world. No wonder I don’t know what to wear anymore.

“So, are you?” the older woman with the chic tote and the Kindle in the airplane seat next to me said. “Retired?”

Like a trial lawyer I jumped to my own defense as a working person: Retired, me? Never! I heaped on all the evidence, the guitar I left at home which usually traveled by my side, gigs to come, no pension or IRA, how I’d work til I die. I had to do it, to still feel like someone. An entity. Out there in the world. Up in the air.

Desert at sunrise, making like Georgia O’Keefe

Setting Out

“Were you touring?”

“You play gigs over there?”

“You gonna do any shows?”

That’s life as a touring musician. If people see that you’ve been anywhere, or are getting ready to go away, there’s the feeling that it includes work. Home is home but home is also the road and there’s something reassuring about being able to tell whoever asks “Yes – I was working.” “Yep, got some gigs.” Vacations are something other people take because they have jobs that pay that don’t involve travel and they need to break up the routine of being home. When you travel a lot to play gigs, the idea of staying home is the novelty. Seeing one season change to the next and then the one ofter that and beyond seems gloriously stable—the changes happening around you as fixed point.

I haven’t spent four consecutive seasons in this house or any place of residence since the 90s. Watched spring turn to summer then the grass stop growing and the leaves fall, rake them away and wait for snow to arrive without big gaps, until these past two years.

Travel! If I’m setting out on a trip, life must be returning to something resembling what it was before.

Only it isn’t quite and I’m not, right now, traveling to play music. I feel sheepish, embarrassed almost, to say I have very little of that kind of work at the moment. Just a gig here and there in the nearish future. So why am I getting on a plane?

Last month Eric and I flew to England, something I used to do nearly as often as driving down into NYC pre-pandemic. Everything has shifted since my last trip to the UK in January 2020. I left behind slippers and hiking boots, old clothes I’d been wearing to work on a flat we were fixing up. I had a tour booked for March/April that year (Working! I was going to be working!) When it all got cancelled I put those gigs out of my mind because I’d spent months setting them up and all of that came to…nothing. I’d ordered and paid for books to sell, shipped over a load of records. But everyone lost due to the pandemic and these work losses were relatively small compared to what my family and pretty much every person you and I know has suffered.

We used our travel vouchers from 2020 and no, we didn’t play any gigs in England. We worked on the flat, saw friends and visited Eric’s daughter and partner and grandkids. We did get out the guitars at one point and thought of forming a soft rock cover band but no gigs were played. Eric got a request to use a song in a Super Bowl ad and it went the whole world without him getting up off the couch.

It still felt weird to head to the airport without guitars on our backs. Isn’t that who we are? The people who take turns using the restroom so the other can watch the pile of bags and guitars? Wearing a mask at the airport and onto the plane was nothing – it was helpful actually cause I didn’t know how to arrange my face to greet the flight attendants without a part jovial/part pleading expression that would entice them into letting me stow a guitar in the first class coat closet.

“Hello – I’m just…a passenger?”

“Welcome aboard!” So this is how people live, all the time? It was interesting to not feel special/annoying/a nuisance.

I’ll set out again tomorrow and get on a plane for Los Angeles. I bet you’re wondering if I have a gig out there? Even as I write this, I’m thinking shouldn’t I have just booked a little-

No. I’m going to visit my daughter. Around the time my life of touring started, back in the late 80s, I became a mom. I’ve felt proud and strong that I never let being a mother get in the way of creating and playing music.

Me and Hazel (2004?), on the road, heading for another joint…

But my poor daughter. I think we took one non-music related trip when she was growing up, to the Florida Panhandle. I dragged her to shows, to recording sessions, always on tour, in planes trains and automobiles. When she moved to L.A. almost a year ago, I started looking forward to visiting her out there. I love California and L.A. in particular. But it’s a long way to go without a gig. Am I allowed to just…visit?

I’m a mother. It was a big job I did with love and no small amount of bravado and now looking back as you do at this age, the regrets come. I was selfish in the way artists tend to be — need to be? Always with my eye on the prize. Often forgetting that I’d already won.  Work is important, it’s part of who we are, but it’s not everything. 

I never had the chance to enjoy an adult relationship with my own mother, to take trips or have lunch together. By the time I was old enough to fully appreciate the force she was—how cool, how funny and fearless— that woman was gone. I wonder what it would’ve been like?

So now I fly to see my daughter. No guitar, no gig. I feel lucky to do it, a trip rescheduled from back when things shut down after starting up again after shutting down after…I know I don’t have to apologize. I do it while I can, because I can.

If I see a person getting on the plane with a guitar, I admit I’ll probably look at them with envy. Then I’ll remember there are other things in life.

I might stick my leg out and trip them.

Just kidding. (sort of)

Memories Are Made Of This

Dear Premier Inn,

It’s been a long time and we’ve missed you, my husband and I. We think of you almost like family—an important part of our history. Who knows, maybe we owe you a debt of gratitude for the early days of our relationship, the consistency of your hot water, bedside lamps and teamaking facilities a backdrop to our blossoming love. When all we wanted was to be together, you kept the focus on us instead of turning overnight stays into the drama often presented by random B&B’s: what would come out of the shower tap? Would there be protective covers on the mattress and pillows? Whose grandmother died to provide this nightstand; that vanity set? Where was the light switch and why was pink toilet paper ever invented? We could count on you, so none of these questions would plague us, when all we really wanted to think about was…us. 

Which is why the other night was crucial. After two pandemic years, day and night safely at home on the same couch and mattress together in our individual and collective purgatories, my (amazingly still dear) guy and I booked a Friday night at your Hastings location for a pre-Valentine’s treat. We know the location well, having spent random nights there throughout the last decade and a half and have always found it to be acceptable – enjoyable even. The Sainsbury’s superstore within walking distance is a real bonus. You might say we have fond memories of the Hastings Premier Inn — or had, until this past weekend.

Even before check-in there were stressful moments trying to find a parking place in the terraced lot, which since the last visit in…2018, seemed to have grown by a terrace or two. We managed to snag the last spot only minutes before another couple pulled into the car park and things threatened to get ugly as they loomed near our Fiat Punto in their much larger vehicle, but my husband stood his ground behind the wheel, reminding me once more why I love him. He seemed prepared to do battle with a more expensive, glamorous vehicle — almost appeared hopeful it would come to a showdown, muttering “come on you c**t” under his breath — but we were soon making our way to the front desk, beating out the other couple thanks in large part to our sensible footwear. 

The check-in proceeded without incident but when we followed the desk clerk’s instruction “up the stairs and follow the signs” we were plunged into a Jacques Tati film. One flight up a sign pointed us down a hall, then down another flight of stairs, nearly a half mile of corridor to another flight up and – well, apparently the architects of this new extension didn’t take into account the car park below but we passed every room in the hotel and finally reached our door and to be honest we were laughing by the time we got there. “This is so us,” I think I said. My husband popped the single key card into the light switch and while small, the room had all the features we’ve come to expect from the Premier Inn brand except…the purple stole at the foot of the bed. Maybe it’s a Covid thing? It was really disorienting without that accent but we settled in until we realized – the room was freezing. There were only two towels. And – we only had one key. So if I were to travel the half mile back to reception, I’d have to leave my husband in total darkness or risk not being able to get through one of the multiple doors requiring a key card.

The room really was freezing. I found the number of the hotel on my phone and called the front desk. I pleaded with the clerk for more towels, and could they do something about the heat. After some hesitiation he said they could turn the heat on and would bring a towel.

A towel.

We turned on the hair dryer for warmth, snuggled together in the bed fully clothed and waited for a knock on the door, remembering how much we loved to travel.

The clerk arrived, handed me a towel and adjusted the heat. We sat shivering for another half hour while the new temperature kicked in.

“Do you think they still do the Good Night Guarantee?” my husband asked. 

March 2013 — Two nights in Premier Inns and so there were no issues with the hotel – Premier’s are consistent, and whenever you check in they remind you of their “Good Night Guarantee” which we probably could have held them to back in Gateshead where the people were bouncing overhead – if you’re not happy with your stay they promise a full refund. 

Sept 2010 — We were supposed to check into a Premier Inn near Newcastle and do a phone interview and have a rest but the van broke down. We sat on the side of the A1 waiting for help for almost two hours. 

Sept 2009 — Saturday night in Bristol was so much fun! And we benefited from the Premier Inn money back “Good Night” guarantee because there was no TV remote in our room, so we couldn’t actually have a good night’s sleep. So, we’re saving money too.

Apr 2011 — Okay, I’ve got to get back to adding up these receipts – here’s one for that Premier Travel Inn. Remember that one? It was just like the other ones, only instead of the painting with the two trees, there was one with three trees.

July 2020 — Eric and I joked for a while about redecorating our bedroom to resemble a Premier Inn – wondering where to source the purple stole that lays across the foot of the bed. These places become more familiar than your own home when you tour, down to the biscuits and kettle on the workstation – writing about it now I have a longing to make two cups of tea with UHT milk and dunk a biscuit…

Good Night Guarantee…

That guarantee had served us well – not that we’d ever taken unfair advantage. But for picky travelers on a budget, it had come in handy a few times. It’s a lot easier to sleep in a substandard  hotel room when you know you’ll get your money back.

“Probably gone the way of the purple stole,” I said. We realized we were too tired to be disappointed. I thought back to how fired up we both used to get at the slightest slip in standards. It was hard to even care anymore. We were alive. We were out of the house – isn’t that what mattered?

Then I went to make a cup of tea.

“Remember those biscuits they always used to have?” I asked. “They were really crunchy and tasted of cinnamon?” Our tea making facilities were biscuit-free. How dare they? I started working up a head of steam. “We can’t let them get away with this-“ I started to say to my husband.

Then I heard him gently snoring. He’s been through so much. We both have. Maybe we’ve learned what really matters in life. Maybe we don’t waste our time on petty details anymore.

So all of this is just a way to say thank you Premier Inn. Thank you for still being there, a measuring stick for life. For what counts. We’re alive. We’re still together.

Oh, and please bring back the biscuits. (You can keep the purple stole.)  

Back in the early days – looking for that next Good Night Guarantee…(photo by Karen Hall)

Thank You For The Days

I’ve been needing this new year to start but found myself stuck in December 2021. 

There’s absolutely no reason anyone should stay stuck in 2021. It’s just that— I needed a new calendar.

The first year we were living in the Hudson Valley, I saw this beautiful calendar on the wall of a shop in Hudson. Screenprinted on bright white paper — the colors, the design — it was wonderful. “Where did you get that work of art?” I asked Mary the shop owner. 

“Isn’t it fabulous? Isn’t it inspiring?” she said.  Dolphin Studio in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, she told me. Then she added: “Be careful — it’s addictive. You’ll see.”

I didn’t know what she meant. When 2013 approached, I searched for Dolphin and ordered a calendar online. It was a splurge – $60! But I justified it as “my Christmas gift to myself.” There was a perfect spot on the wall, the exact size for the 12” x 24” calendar. Every month’s turn of the page reveals a new work of art. Some of them are wacky, some stylized, some WTF? But every month is a fresh start, fresh colors, a new perspective. Turning the pages helps shape the year.

And because the pages aren’t bound, the operation is ceremonial. The calendar must come off the wall, the bulldog clips removed, the old month shuffled to the back of the sheaf of paper, revealing the fresh new design and colors. I snap the clips into place and feel like I’m in control.

At the height of the pandemic I started crossing off days, like a prisoner making marks on the wall of their cell. Then things kept dragging on and after a few months I went back to leaving the pages pristine.

The year ends and I can’t dispose of all this artwork, all this hand-silkscreened paper. I cut it up for cards, use it for wrapping paper. I take inspiration from the old calendars all year round. But after nine years, the paper is piling up. Should I send more cards? Make some journals? Paper a wall?

And every year I go through a dance with myself when December rolls around: should I order again? Is it wasteful to go through another calendar? I weigh the cost that’s gone up, like everything. I wonder if it might be better to try something new in the calendar spot. I hate to feel dictated to or obligated to do anything, even if the decree comes from…me.

We were into the second week of January but December still sat up there on the wall, taunting me. You fool! it seemed to say. Why do you do this dance? Just get the damned Dolphin calendar.

But life can never be that easy, at least not when a part of your personality is built on these struggles with gratification and self-denial. So I tried a free calendar I’d received when I ordered some tea towel blanks the other week. See I do some printing too, and sometimes sell the results. I could almost call the Dolphin calendar a justifiable business expense: research. But money is tight and the free calendar had all these “go for it” statements on every page, in every font imaginable. Neon colored “You Are Awesome” on a black background. I thought it would be funny, and secretly inspiring. It lasted less than a minute on the wall. 

“Fuck you!” I yelled at the calendar.

I knew I was going to cave. The Dolphin Studio calendar grip was too strong. I went online and ordered, wincing a little at the cost of postage. If I drove to pick it up I’d save those dollars but then there’s the cost of gas-oh for God’s sake. I took a deep breath and pressed the BUY NOW button.

A large cardboard package arrived in a few days. I sliced it open, read about the Ffrench family (as I do every year) who’ve been hand-screening these calendars since 1970. The calendar was tucked into a brown paper envelope, beautifully printed, the whole package a work of art. The Ffrench family smiled at me from a photo in their literature. What an amazing group of people. The mother and father started things. Now their children and grandchildren are involved as well.

Out came the calendar. The first month was a delicately rendered ballgown, the colors cool, creamy and perfect. I hung it on the wall in its rightful place, where it seemed to light up the whole kitchen.

It’s okay to treat yourself to something you love; something that works, that makes you happy every day.

“You Are Awesome And I Believe In You” the calendar seemed to say, in a language I could live with.