Taking Notes From My Son

There’s a piece of music my son and I created five years ago that depicts our relationship.

On a chaotic day–I’d been working on a novel for a few years, simultaneously pitching journalism ideas to editors, when I received yet another rejection. I felt sorry for myself. Why am I in this business? When will life get easier? I’m just a housewife after all. Down the self-pity, anger well I fell.

After guiding three children through homework, I finished the dishes and needed a release.

I sat at our second-hand piano we had named Audrey because a year before I’d had one of those foggy-headed, deep dreams where I’d given birth to a fourth child, Audrey. Three hours later, our slender-legged upright piano was delivered.

I told Audrey all my problems, venting twisted fits of stress and frustration in a round of chords. When am I going to be the true artistic writer I dream of? I’m fooling myself. When am I going to shuck these chains of woman’s drudgery and get somewhere? I’m an impostor; a poser. I’m wasting time and am too old to ever get anywhere real. I’m nobody from nobody and will never get a break…bang, bang bang. Anger streamed.

Robert buzzed around like a curious bee, the energy in the room too much to ignore.  Not afraid of unscripted music, he grabbed his red Fender electric guitar and jumped into my energy.

In perfect timing, without stopping to ask questions or seek direction, he isolated base notes within the chords and got comfortable in a repetitious trill: one, two, three, one, two, three—two slow and one fast. As the music progressed he risked skipping a beat, trusting I’d still be there within the parameters of the same chord to stay in the rhythm. I could sense something as our combined energy shifted and I tried to hold on.

“Keep going,” I thought, “he needs me to keep going ’cause he’s looking for something.” I couldn’t keep the pace and stopped. He coaxed me back again, counting off and on we went. His timing was impeccable. Sometimes he’d deaden the note or bend others, playfully seeking that next note. Once he found it, he took off.


The music erased time. We were ageless that evening. I was no longer the authority figure as we silently followed each other to some distant point on the horizon.

Go, kid, go! Run, run, I said, I can’t do it anymore, I’m older, but you are young and are finding your legs and when you do run, kid, run. Run and don’t ever look back. Don’t worry about tripping. Don’t worry about being wrong, I’m here to catch you. Just keep going. The music built: dum, dum, dum. Audrey resonated as his electric guitar drilled la, la, la trills over and over. His wings unfurled.

Mom, stop, stopping. Let go like a child, don’t judge yourself—be free. 

The anger turned to pure joy—from a no, grew yes.

I had all I could do as a mother to keep this basic rhythm going. Leaving myself behind to get out of my own self-pity, something else took shape–hope. I felt like the first time he let go of my hand and toddled alone across the living room carpet. He was on his way.

My child taught me that day to get out of wallowing in what they say, and reminded me to stay pure in art and just do it. When I crawl into the dark hole sometimes, I click on the 1 minute and 48 seconds of  “flight” and hear pure joy in creating art. It melts those critics away.

I hear the layers of our relationship in ribbons of individual freedom stitched in family ties. Mostly, I hear that he won’t let me get away with self-pity, nor will I.



Amy Winehouse and I share a birthday: September 14th. Virgos. We are the bookends of Generation X. Me-1965; she-1983. Gen X is comprised of the sink-or-swim survivors in a generation with no war to protest or glorify. Our battle to wage is within our inner psyches. Amy fell victim, plunging headfirst into the “27” club.

As her incredible talent hit, I had begun writing a rock and roll novel, “X Marks the Spot,” coincidentally naming the central character Amy. My only reason was I love that name meaning friend (French) which my husband had nixed twice as an option for our daughters’ names. My fourth child—a novel—I’d get to name Amy.

It was fitting then, on July 23, 2011, the very moment I was to give my first public reading of work in progress at the Stony Brook Southampton Writers conference, that I learned of her death minutes before hitting the stage. A fellow attendee was tooling around the web at lunch and gasped. “God, Amy Winehouse died.”

At that moment, I knew her music, loved her voice, but didn’t know much about her. I began my reading with, “My novel’s about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. What else is there? But, Amy Winehouse died a few hours ago.” I could hear fellow writers and faculty members audibly gasp. I’d broken the cardinal rule. Never lead with news. I was sure no one heard my reading.

For weeks after, Amy’s voice flooded our house. I listened. My children knew all the words to “Rehab” and would sing along. I began to delve. How does a young woman make it in this business and not lose herself? What had happened to her? Wake up she seemed to be saying with that Contralto voice as she most definitely began to disappear.

I personally think she’s a musical genius far better than any of the poser musicians pumping out music these days. Her voice is incredible and evokes a different time, blending jazz, rock, calypso, bossa nova, searing in pain. She cuts to the bone. No BS. My favorite song: Tears Dry on Their Own.

The movie? Well, as a journalist, I think you are only as good as your sources. Asif Kapadia didn’t have enough access to the good stuff. He cleverly slowed down mountains of footage to focus on those coppery green, soulful eyes a bit too many times or endlessly showed flashes of paparazzi cameras. We get it. He didn’t have enough home movies or personal footage to work with. What I don’t know after seeing the movie is too much: was she an only child? Where did she go to school in London? And, a huge hole missing throughout were the intimate details of music, especially the GUITAR she claims saved her. (Yes she wrote and co-wrote all those brilliant songs.). Someone says in voiceover that Amy had a deep connection to music, but we didn’t see that story unfold in the moment the light switch flicked on. Too much is implied. Again, we have a music documentary missing the actual music.

But, when they cut in footage where she sings – bam, she’s incredible and we get it at a distance. Sadly, because the subject is dead, the movie audience will never feel the true intimacy that her songs give us.

Personally, I think the Kurt Cobain documentary “Montage of Heck,” by Brett Morgen was much better. Brett had access to a plethora of stuff via daughter Frances. “Amy” keeps it at an arm’s length, falling into a sensationalist piece on a fallen, drug-addicted, train wreck star way too quickly for me and gives way too much time to her lowlife husband. It somewhat diminishes her talent.

The movie puts you in a place that you want to bitch slap her parents for not helping her early on; for not understanding or getting help for Amy’s bulimia nor drug and alcohol addiction(s). Are they completely to blame? The movie makes you believe everyone around her exploited her talent, that she was a fragile yet talented true artiste. I craved more about the music.

Thanks for the music Amy. It’s a crying shame no one helped you survive.

First Day on the Job

Yesterday was my first day at my new job as an adjunct college professor. I was welcomed by eight other English Department faculty members, sharing a homemade, delicious luncheon on the good China. Wow. What a treat. We shared fabulous wine, talked about books and writing, traveling, previous jobs we had held, and how we became teachers. I felt very much at home. Lucky!