Thursday, November 2, 2017

Florida, Alabama, and Davidson College! November tour!


Hello from Nashville!

That’s a new photo of me from a photo shoot at my great-grandfather, John Rufus Smith's, cabin. He built the cabin in the late 1800s and generations of Smiths lived there until the 1960s. Now, the cabin and the land around it is owned by the gas company who have sunk a gas well nearby. But the intrepid Smith can still get there with dresses in her backpack! Photo by Graham Frear.

It's been great to be in Nashville after more than a year away! At first, I felt a bit overwhelmed seeing all of my old things. I wrote an essay about that and you can read it on my blog at Little Yellow Sewing Box. But now, my journey ahead seems a bit clearer and I am brimming with ideas about the future! But, first, time for a tour! 

Tomorrow, I begin my journey by heading further south to Florida! First stop is Gainesville for a house concert on Saturday night, Nov. 4th, at the home of banjo aficionado Chuck Levy and his lovely wife, Sandy. If you’d like to come, just write to Chuck: levyce@aol.com. 

On, Sunday, Nov. 5th, I’ll make my way down to Lakeland for a 2pm concert at the Lakeland Public Library. I haven’t been there in several years and I remember when I played there last, a woman wrote a beautiful poem based on my singing! Who knows what will happen this time around. 

Then, I am heading down to the greater Tampa area for four concerts: 
Tues, Nov 7, Jan Kaminis Platt Library, Tampa, 7pm
Thurs, Nov 9, New Port Richey Library, New Port Richey, 6pm
Sun, Nov 12, Lake Echo House Concert, Odessa, 3:30pm
Thurs, Nov 16, Hugh Embry Library, Dade City, 1pm

 And before I head back to Nashville, I will be stopping in Huntsville, AL, for a benefit concert for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI supports thousands of families struggling with mental illness. They do vital work that saves lives and I am very honored to be playing for them. That concert will take place on Friday, Nov 17th, at United Church. Doors open at 6:30, concert at 7. Tickets are only $10.
concert poster
I am thrilled to say that the last concert of my tour here in the USA will be held at my alma mater, Davidson College! Please join Professor Randy Ingram and the students of English 240 for an hour-long performance on Thursday, Nov 30, followed by a Q&A at the Carolina Inn. Doors open at 6:30, and the concert will begin at 7pm. I will also be available on campus throughout the day, so, if you’d like to have a cup of tea or lunch, let me know! I will be meeting with students at the career center from 1pm to 3pm on the 30th. So, if you know any current Davidson students who would like to talk with me about a career in the arts, I would love to meet them!

You can always find details of my concerts on my tour page. And you can buys CDs at bandcampcdbaby, and iTunes!

Thank you to all of you who came out to the concerts in MD, PA, and VA! I had such a great time seeing old friends and making new ones. If I missed you, I’ll hope to see you in 2018! 

Happiness, peace, and kindness to you all,
Jeni


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Resting your heart


It’s been a tumultuous eighteen months for this folksinger. If I could try to say something helpful for anyone else out there coping with grief and change, I would say that not every decision has to be made today. Things might look very bad on one day. Maybe that day, you give yourself a treat, and decide not to decide. Maybe, you keep things as simple as you can on that day. And, if you feel like you are worthless or that you have no place in the world, just put that thought on the shelf. It will jump up and down on your shoulder insisting to be heard, but just pick it up and put it on the shelf with your coffee mugs or your curios. And turn your back on that ugly thought. Get yourself a good book or a crossword puzzle or a bit of sewing or some pieces of wood with hammer and nails and give your brain a rest. And then your heart will get a rest, too. 

And the next day, maybe that ugly thought will have walked off due to boredom and inattention. If it’s still there, maybe it will taunt you, but just stick your tongue out at it or close the cupboard door on it. Be really kind to yourself instead. You don’t have to do anything big. Maybe you buy a new book or you let yourself try to draw a tree or you go to the movies. Just don’t push too hard or criticize yourself too much. Give yourself time.

I say this like it’s easy, like I am a pro at this. I’m not. Sometimes, I listen to that ugly thought about my worthlessness and end up in tears and the whole day gets drowned. But, that happens less and less the more I see it coming, the more I can gather up the strength to be easy, to be calm, and to rest my mind.

I only offer this up as a prayer and a wish for you and for us all. It’s not official advice or a substitution for talking with a professional whether that be a rabbi or a counselor or a doctor. I am thankful for the time that I’ve been able to talk with a counselor.  

I just want to let you know that I appreciate your encouragement and I send you strength, too.

LOVE, Jeni

At the cabin



Photo from a recent shoot at my family's cabin. My great grandfather, John Rufus Smith, built this cabin in the late 1800's. Smiths inhabited it until sometime in the 1960's. It's now owned by the gas company who are fracking nearby.

Concert announced at Davidson College!


Friday, October 27, 2017

The Girl I Once Knew




This week, I stepped into my house in Nashville for the first time in over a year. It was like stepping into an art installation made by someone I used to know – me, two or three years ago.
I came here to check on the house, to get a few sewing supplies and clothes to take back to England, and to do a little business in Nashville. But, instead, I am staring into a mirror at a person I might not have seen in a while. This person began collecting little treasures from the time she was a girl for “one day” when she would set up house. She has a set of pink tin children’s kitchen furniture, an array of china tea cups on her mantel, vintage cameras lined up like soldiers ready to shoot, and vintage soda pop bottles pulled out of old houses and flea markets keeping watch over the kitchen. She has a Hoosier cabinet, an Arts and Crafts desk, a pink ceramic water pitcher for her hairbrushes, and a pink melamine sugar bowl for her dental floss. She has a tiny green TV from Hershey Park and, when she looks in the peephole on the back and pushes the button on the bottom of it, she is transported to when she was ten years old, holding the hand of her grandmother and smelling chocolate.
I like this girl. I think we could be best friends. 
This house was built in 1912 and has had only three owners, including me. The single sisters whose father built the house lived here until they died and hardly changed a thing as far as a can tell. The wood work has never been painted. The mantlepieces are in tact. The floors have never been stripped and “re-done.” The kitchen looks to have had an update in 1960. The almond appliances date from circa 1985. No dishwasher, just an electric range and boxy fridge. This house is the perfect setting for my teal plastic sugar and flour bins, for my tasseled lamp shades, for my super 8 film projectors. The house and my things are merry together.
I walked into this house with an aim to figure out which things I was going to take over to England at some point. But, honestly, the idea of dismantling this walk-in sculpture fills me with dread. My traveling companion once told me about an artist who took over an empty store front in London and made an art of dismantling and destroying all of his possessions. This is the image that buzzes through my mind as I look at my Elvis-whisky-decanter-music-box. I feel faintly sick.
My traveling companion says I should open my house to the public and charge admission. This idea, I like. Because, actually, not many people have been to the house or seen the installation. I remember when some friends visited from England a few years ago. They said they felt they’d walked into a home magazine, but a very quirky one that didn’t exist, and they started taking pictures.
Maybe, I’ll enter the Christmas home tour in 2018. Maybe, I will turn my house into a very quirky Air B&B or furnished rental. Maybe, I will wait and think about it all another time. I have learned in this last year of tumult, that the picture becomes clearer in time, and the path forward sometimes opens like a ten cent child’s fan with a picture of the thing that means the most in the world to you.
The house is rented until sometime next year. The ceramic elephants and bakelite napkin rings will stand sentinel until I return. And the girl I once knew? She’s still around, and, I must admit, she has a little collection of thirty pence, tiny ceramic ladies on my mantlepiece in London. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Age of the News Buffet











Remembering America: Reports on Returning home after nine months in Britain.
Laurel, Maryland:For a woman whose grandad and parents owned small-town newspapers, I am strangely phobic about the news. My phobia probably started when I was a kid and couldn’t even read the news, but still I couldn’t bear the feeling of inked newsprint on my fingers. 
My parents have said that I was easily distressed when my hands got dirty and newsprint felt dirty. The smell of newspaper gave me a headache – that black inky oily smell.
In college, when I worked for my grandfather’s newspaper in the summer, I remember going into the room with the big press on “paper day” and joining the other employees in “stuffing the paper,” one section into another. We wore clean surgical gloves and soon they were black with the ink that I had watched the pressman smear into the feeder tray below the giant metal rollers. News is dirty.
I don’t like arguing or arguments, and I like overhearing arguments even less, so listening to people talk over each other on the radio or watching them raise their eyebrows and curl their lips on TV is excruciating for me.
And, let’s face it, the news is generally troubling, and though many people can shake it off or listen dispassionately as the sky seems to fall around our heads, I carry all of the muddy grimness of the news with me like a pocketful of stones all day long.
So, I straddle the line between making myself aware of the major happenings, but reluctant to the let the volume of news drag me, seduce me, into depression in a show of being informed.
Though some of my friends find it appalling, when I am in the UK, I tend to catch up on the top stories and weather in a matter of minutes by watching a bit of BBC Breakfast (think The Today Show, but less showy). And I supplement my BBC Breakfast plate with a few tune-ins to Radio 4 and the six o’clock news here and there throughout the week. Add to this the occasional newspaper found on the tube, and I don’t live in a vaccuum. 
BUT, here at the hotel in Maryland, they’ve had CNN in the breakfast area every morning. This has been a shock, a baptism by Wolf-Blitzer-Anderson-Cooper-fire. Las Vegas, Melania and Ivana, forest fires, Trump and Corker, Nuclear War, Harvey Weinstein, the Light Phone, FEMA in Puerto Rico, Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, and the run-up to the World Series. 
The thing about 24 hour news is that everything, but nature of being smushed together, is made equal, so Melania and Ivana’s spat over which of them is the actual first lady (does anyone remember this story from four days ago?) gets the same weight as new evidence about the Las Vegas shooter. 
In newspapers, you have the front page, which tends to push one story to the top. But who chooses what is tops? The Editor. And who is the editor?
Harvey Weinstein was an editor of sorts, it turns out – choosing the women who would succeed in the lucrative global film business based on whether they would watch him shower or . . . But on the other hand, NY Times Editor, Dean Baquet, chose to run the breaking story that outed Weinstein for his despicable behavior. Bad behavior, good behavior. Bad editor, Good editor. How do we know we can trust the editor? And how long do we wait to find out that someone we thought was trustworthy, worthy of presenting stories, worthy of speaking from some moral high ground, is unworthy? Then what do we do with our Bill Cosby records?
In that case does 24 hour news come closer to the truth? If we put all of the stories next to each other in an unbroken line, do we become the editors based on our own biases, for better or worse? What is better? Curated news and putting our trust in editors? Or having the events laid out in front of us – a salacious buffet of events?
This news buffet is probably best exemplified by the State by State section of the USA Today where the paper presents a short news item by each state all on one page. So a man who claimed aliens filled him with drink stands alongside a major drug bust or an elderly person found sitting in a ravine. What’s more important? You decide.
And what is the importance of deciding on what is more important? Isn’t this, in some way, the great question of life? What is most important.
Now that I am leaving the hotel and looking at several weeks of homestays, I will see less of CNN.
So, as a farewell, I can only say that I proclaim this the age of the news buffet. And in that spirit, I give you my American pictorial week in review, in no order of importance.

The Light Phone and Jason Bourne


Jason Bourne can get you into trouble. When I got to the airport in Baltimore, I thought I could simply switch the sim card in my iPhone from the British one to the American one just like Jason Bourne does in Berlin. This proved about as easy as switching my citizenship from the USA to the UK, which is to say difficult. 
That would have been alright, except I had turned down the GPS (SATNAV) option at the rental car desk, assuming that I, Jennifer Bourne, could use the maps app on my iPhone to get from the airport to the hotel.
So, there I was fluttering out onto the roads of Maryland in my lovely Nissan Versa Note with no map and no way to call any friend in the area who might direct me to my Laurel hotel. Ok, don’t panic.
I used my vague geographical knowledge of the greater Baltimore area to head south on I-95 and started looking for an exit where I could go to a gas station and buy a map. WARNING: Most gas stations don’t sell maps anymore. But I also had a scant memory from when I booked my hotel that the same chain I chose, had a sister hotel in Arundel Mills where I found the gas station. And that sister hotel was across the street from the mapless gas station. Yes!
I stopped in at the hotel front desk where the smiley night manageress printed directions for me to the Laurel hotel and I finally made it to my downy duvet in Laurel after being greeted by smiley Bruce at the front desk.
No phone, no problem But, yes, a bit of gumption required.
And this brings me to the big tech news just out today – the launch of the “light phone” – a credit card sized phone which takes forwarded calls from your real cell phone and also stores nine numbers for outgoing calls.
According to the inventors, the “light phone” allows us to untether ourselves from addictive enslaving screens that seduce us with promises of productivity and woo us away from “real” connections and experiences. The phone, in colors “white” and “night,” starts arriving on doorsteps at the end of October packaged in a hardback book full of nature photographs.
If you are getting one of these phones, please don’t think I’m against it. After watching the nifty video of their fabricators in Yantai, China, I feel their pull. But let’s just stop for a second and think about this.
In order to “go light,” we are encouraged to spend $150 and $5 a month maintenance to add another plastic device and its little charging cable to our lives in order to free ourselves from heavy cyber-enslavement, from always being available, from being owned by our screens?
Remember gumption? Free will?
Can’t we just decide to turn off our phones? Leave them behind sometimes? Just not look at them?
Do we have the willpower to use our phones to take a photograph without checking our 17 Facebook and Instagram notifications?
The “light phone” inventors are counting on, even more to the point, banking on the assumption that we don’t. We can’t.
They assumed that we don’t have that gumption. So, we need training wheels to let go of our Google alerts. If we are going to stare at trees or take a walk with our girlfriend in the park, we don’t need apps, but, wait for it, we do need “peace of mind.” So, we’ll still carry a phone in case a grizzly bear jumps out from the trees or someone flashes us on our walk in the park.
When Grandaddy Hankins took my Dad and Uncle Tom across America in a big station wagon in the 1960s, he did it without a “peace of mind” phone. He had quarters for the payphone, I suppose, and they had a big ole map which my Dad traced with his finger through grizzly-bear territory. They had a spare tire and a jack, too. They had the kindness of strangers at the gas station, like the two Latino men at the gas station who tried to give me directions to Laurel.
The Brooklyn “light phone” inventors are banking on the assumption that the soul-sucking smart phones and tablets have left us so little gumption that we will buy their device, so that we don’t have to go cold turkey and drive across America with a big ole map. They are banking on the idea that we don’t have anything left in us of our ancestors who stepped onto a boat with very little chance of seeing their homeland again. They hope that we won’t just turn our rental car onto the interstate and find our own way in the dark.