This is a weekly newsletter where I send out a new “nice sounding” track, some writing, and a picture of something I saw. It’s also one way I let people know what I’m up to otherwise. Thank you for reading. You can hear every single My Big Break track in one playlist right here.
Good morning ~
I recently packed up and left NYC entirely. I threw a panicked assortment of music gear, clothing, and my exercise bike in a rented Altima and drove in a straight line all the way to the bullseye of Ohio, letting the cold night air pour in the rolled-down windows for the last twenty minutes of the drive. Breathed deep, ears roaring. I neglected to bring the synth I usually use to make these weekly tracks or a guitar amp and I have yet to figure out how to gain access to this fancy college’s many pianos, so the track this week feels particularly cobbled together. Making do! But these emails have to continue, right? I think it’s also really strongly inspired by having watched both of the recent Paddington movies in the last 48 hours.
The accompanying photo is the main walking path on this college campus. I didn’t see a soul when I was out for a walk that evening. I did see five deer in the road, however, who waited until the very last minute to bound fleeing from me.
On my third evening in Ohio my sweetie comes home later than expected. I am cooking dinner happily - there’s a big pot of various things simmering away and baked potatoes in the oven and I absentmindedly listen to internet radio as I stir and chop, opening five or six drawers to find what I’m looking for. Unfamiliar with where things live here - I struggle to find one of those flexible silicone spatulas, the type you use to scrape cake batter out of a pyrex bowl, but after a while I realize there is none to be found. All of a sudden I am spending more-or-less twenty-four hours a day in my sweetie’s apartment - sleeping here, eating here, and working from home. It’s a modest but spacious institutional two bedroom at the edge of campus. There’s stain proof carpet throughout most of the apartment and linoleum in the kitchen. She’s still teaching at/for the college but all the students have been sent away from here, their institution at the top of a hill in rural Ohio is eerily empty, and their classes now take place through videoconferencing (which is especially a cruel joke in her case - she teaches sculpture, how can someone learn to weld on zoom?).
There’s a particular feeling one gets when staying at their sweetie’s place - a feeling of being both simultaneously welcome and invited to prod and investigate every book on every shelf, every kitschy item (who else but a sweetie gets the entire catalog of what’s on your shelf and why?) but also feeling tentative, a bit exposed, wanting to respect the space and be a gracious guest - I wouldn’t necessarily eat leftovers with my hands straight from the fridge at a sweetie’s apartment, I wouldn’t leave my dirty laundry out with quite such abandon. It’s not my home, necessarily, but I am entirely welcome here, and I’ve sprawled my exercise and music gear out in the spare room (imagine me doing fifteen miles a day on the bike, blasting pop punk and fogging up the windows while my sweetie sleeps just across the carpeted hallway). But I’m getting more comfortable, settling in, learning the space. I’ve left my socks around a couple of times now, and I know which window to look out of to see the sun set. I don’t go outside much if at all, but when I do go out I am not choked with anxiety as I was last week in the city. We are together now, which is the big good thing.
So she comes home later than expected from going for a run, she’s out on the exurban roads, no sidewalk, and I get a little worried. I wonder if I should stick the potatoes back in the oven, will they get cold, is she okay. But then she’s there, through the front door with a generous handful of daffodils. They’ve just bloomed and she got distracted skulking around and picking them from various neighbors’ yards. They are shockingly yellow and - like every time she walks through the door these days - I am relieved, and very moved. She cuts the ends and arranges them in a rounded enamel pitcher. It is white, with a rim of red at the top, and the yellow flowers poke their heads out, like friendly sailors crowded in the top hatch of a submarine pulling into port. I feel very strongly the urge to wave to them when I walk into the kitchen. And what strikes me so strongly about these flowers in an enamel vase is that they are all together, crowded in, bright, upon each other.
My second digital seder went better than the first, technologically. We successfully watched a clip from the Rugrats version of Exodus, and the different portions of the ceremony passed smoothly from person to person. This seder was organized by a friend of mine, attended by a group of friends, and I was so grateful for how thoughtfully everyone listened and shared. There was effort, and in that effort care, and in that care, love. I played a Hank Williams song on harmonium and chomped into a scallion, the best stand-in I could find for bitter herb. My one friend was tasked with making a toast. He has a history of giving excellent toasts in these kinds of communal settings - always the one to say the thing that really jerks the tears, the deliverer of a rousing wedding speech last fall - and I was looking forward to what he was gonna say. But all he said was that John Prine was one of his favorite ever songwriters, and he played a song of his off of his phone and held the speakers up to the webcam. We didn’t even hear the whole song.
I don’t think my friend on the seder videochat knew this, but the last conversation I ever had with my friend who died last summer was concerning a John Prine song. I had completely forgotten this fact - blocked it out - and had never considered it, even after the days following John Prime’s death, even after I listened to the very song we had been discussing over text, even after I joined her family last week for their digital seder. The thought had not yet fully formed. Last summer, my friend was planning this elaborate thing where she wanted to sing a John Prine song at her friend’s wedding in Iceland, a raunchy duet that is wildly inappropriate for most weddings (but perfect for this particular couple). She wanted me to learn it and record myself playing it so that she could sing along to the recording playing on a bluetooth speaker - I guess there wasn’t any electricity on the beach. It was a big ask, and a bit impossible - just the thing my friend was great at asking. The last thing I ever said to her was something like, “yo do you still wanna do this wedding thing? Probably gotta do it TONITE if so.” But we never got around to it.
I don’t think my friend holding his phone speakers up to the videoconference knew any of this. Maybe this is how he finds out. But man does he have an uncanny ability to make a touching toast.
That’s all I’ve got this week. What about you? What vase are you crammed into? Do you miss 2am dance floors as badly as I do? Have you seen either of the Paddington movies? What’s the one song you heard that really helped you get through today?