A story worth telling


This happened a few years ago...but I'd never written the story.  Thought it was time.  

Here's to more serendipity...


My grandmother used to say that I lived a charmed life.  I don’t agree.  I do believe that I live life with my eyes and ears wide open, and when you live that way, you see, hear and take the possibilities presented that the average joe often misses.  One of my favorite stories to illustrate this started on a layover at LAX: 


I was on my way to Seattle with my (then) husband and two daughters.  Ten minutes before boarding, the gate agent announced that the flight had been overbooked and they were looking for someone to take the first flight out the following morning.  The reward:  dinner, hotel for the night, and two round trip tickets anywhere in the continental US.   As a frequent flying instrument toting troubadour (and not one to take free airfare lightly), I exchanged a knowing glance with my husband and darted to the counter to be first in line for the swag.  As I watched my family board the flight to Seattle without me, I manage to hide my smile and excitement at the possibility of spending an evening with my best friend, who happened to live in LA. 


After five unanswered calls to my friend Mel, I finally received the disappointing text: “on a date”, and started thinking in terms of a Plan B.  I remembered that one of my East Coast songwriter friends had recently made the move West to pursue a dual career as songwriter/comic.  I texted Eric:   “what’s shakin tonight?  bumped off flight. here till morning”.  Five minutes later, Eric texted back:  “at party near airport.  take cab to addy.  call when u get here.  meet out front”.   


Fifteen minutes later, I was paying my cab fare and hugging Eric hello.  Before we entered the house, Eric said, “I should warn you, this isn’t your typical party.  Just be cool, and act like you belong”.    We made our way through the house and ended up in the backyard where the party was happening.   Eric, never one to shy away from the spotlight, made a general announcement to anyone listening, “Hey everybody, this is my songwriter friend, Cary, from Texas.  She was recently cast on a TV docu-drama about Texas songwriters.  She deserted her family at LAX to spend the night with us.  Make her feel welcome”, and then left me to the masses to fend for myself. 


As I surveyed the yard, I started to see a few familiar faces.  Holding court in one corner, wearing Pippi Longstocking-style red and white striped socks with green Chucks and an equally colorful but totally clashing tunic, was Roseanne Barr.  She waved hello and said “Hey Texas”.   Sitting at a picnic table, deep in a cell phone conversation with her teenage daughter, was Laraine Newman.  When she hung up, she came over and introduced herself and we talked about the angsty joy of raising teenage girls.   At the other end of the picnic table, Paul Provenza was in the middle of a heated debate with several staff writers from Worldwide Pants.  A woman named Kelly approached me with a warm hug saying, “Welcome to my crazy house.  I hope you can stomach my crazy friends.”    As she walked away, a cigarette-smoking stranger leaned over and said, “That’s Kelly Carlin.  George’s daughter.” 


As the night progressed in this surreal scene, I found myself, the stranded songwriter from Texas, at the center of buzz and activity.  Everyone wanted to hear my story.  Why had I deserted my family?  How did I know Eric?  What was happening in Seattle?  What kind of songs do I write?  When does my TV show come out?  Will I sing for them? 


The last question I didn’t take seriously, until Eric reappeared with my ukulele and said,
“It’s not everyday that you get the opportunity to entertain a crowd like this.  I’d take it if I were you…” So I found myself singing my little ditties to a circle of new friends who seemed to be hanging on my every word, asking for more each time I finished a tune.  After many business cards were exchanged (apparently that’s what you do at parties in LA), Eric drove me to my hotel where we discussed the best way to break the news of the evening’s events to my exhausted husband who’d spent his evening schlepping bags and kids in Seattle.  After agreeing that I might want to “play it down” a bit in the retelling, he hugged me and drove off down the proverbial sunset strip. 


This kind of thing happens to me a lot.  Being in the right place at the right time; but more importantly, being AWARE of being in the right place at the right time.    I engage people.  I ask the right questions.  I find out what I need to know to open the door that needs to open.  I should be a reporter.  I have no doubt I’d make a damned good one. 




On Singing The Song That Only You Can Sing


i originally posted this on a private facebook page for folks that attended Patti Digh's DESIGN YOUR LIFE CAMP.  

But i thought that maybe some of you would like to read it as well...


i wanted to write and attempt to tell you why camp meant so much to me. 
when i was 37 years old, a therapist told me that if i didn't find something outside my crappy marriage that made me happy, i was going to die. not spiritually die. or emotionally, but physically keel over one day, and she told me she was afraid it was going to be soon. 

i was so stunned by her words that i knew i needed to pay attention. but i felt empty and so far away from the core of who i was that i didn't even know where to begin looking. 

a friend invited me about a week into my "search of self" to a house concert. i thought it sounded like the weirdest thing i'd ever heard of. i even asked her if she was sure it wasn't a cult.  she assured me that it was just music and that she thought i'd like it. so i went. i cried through the whole thing and knew as surely as if i'd been struck by lightening that THIS is what i needed to be doing. 
i went home and wrote three songs that week. i attempted to teach myself to play 3 chords on an old beat up guitar that had been hiding in the back of my closet that my brother inherited from my sister's college roommate.

i was empowered. i began to find my voice. 
i told my THEN husband that i was on a new path. that there was room for him on it if he wanted to support me. but if he didn't, i was going it alone. he told me he was happy where he was and good luck. a week later i found out i was pregnant with hannah, my youngest daughter. it was a dark time. 

thankfully, a year before that, i had started to meet with a group of five women that wanted to build community with other women. we wanted to be there for each other through thick and thin. through births and deaths and weddings of our children and hard times and figure out how to remain present and committed to each other. they rallied around me and told me not to give up on my path. that they would support me. they rallied around me and helped me go to a songwriting school when i was nine months pregnant (with a birthing kit, the name of three midwives and books about divorce in my car). thankfully i didn't give birth at the camp, but a week later, with three of the women from my group in the room when hannah came into the world. 

when hannah was six weeks old, i found myself at another music festival, with more books on divorce in the backseat trying to outrun my fear that i wasn't strong enough to do this on my own. my way. my family thought i was crazy. leaving the security of my huge house and all it's trappings to run off and be a folk singer. everyone thought i was crazy except my community group and my therapist. 

the last night at the festival, as i stood holding hannah to the side of the audience behind where the dancers liked to dance, i saw a man on the stage singing a song. his name was tom prasada-rao. with tears streaming down my face with my newborn in my arms, his song became my mantra:

little prince charming wouldn't play
he picked up all his toys and walked away
no happy endings no goodnight kiss
bet you never thought that you'd end up like this

now you wait in disbelief 
till someone sweeps you off your feet

you can walk a million miles
fake a million smiles in the line of duty
but you don't have to make believe 
cause every one can see you're a sleeping beauty

beautiful dreamer awake
you've been dancing round your dreams at heaven's gate
all the right steps and all the right moves
so what you want and what you got to prove

all those demons in the dark 
will scatter when you wake your heart

you can walk a million miles
fake a million smiles in the line of duty
but you don't have to make believe 
cause every one can see you're a sleeping beauty

no sugar daddies
no calvary rides
no tossing and turning 
till loves in your sight

you can walk a million miles
fake a million smiles in the line of duty
but you don't have to make believe 
cause every one can see you're a sleeping beauty

i was introduced to tom later that same night. 
he helped me with a song i was working on.
two years later he produced my first cd.
we worked sporadically a week at a time when he would find himself in dallas (as he lived in d.c.). 
it took a year to complete. 
by the end of the year, all our friends told us we were in love. 
i thought we were just good friends, so did he. 
as it turns out, good friends are easy to love. 
four years later he was the man on his knee putting rings on the tiny fingers of my little girls. 

i had to learn how to stand on my own two feet before love found me. but the one thing love didn't wait for was for me to learn to play the guitar or become my own performer. when tom and i fell in love, we formed a duo and performed together for 8 years. i wrote songs and sang them, (as did he) but i never learned to play an instrument. i didn't need to. he was so good at it. at least that was my excuse. 

when the economy tanked, and as the girls got older, it didn't make sense for us to do music together anymore. that was fine for him, but it left me in a big bind. if i was going to continue to have a career in music, i was going to have to learn to play. it was the scariest thing i ever did. harder than leaving my marriage. 

i was full of self doubt. full of crippling perfectionistic thoughts. i thought about quitting. then i remembered the voice of my therapist. and i kept trying. in the middle of one of my biggest moments of darkness, a wise friend, Mary Gauthier, told me, "you weren't put on this planet to play the guitar like tom prasada-rao, or have the best voice, or win all the prestigious contests...you were put on this planet to SING THE SONG THAT ONLY YOU CAN SING and to let it touch whoever is supposed to hear it. 

my new mantra. it's tattooed in the crook of my left arm so i'll never forget it and so i'll see it when i play. 

that was three years ago. 
and slowly but surely i'm making my way as a solo performer. 

fast forward to getting the invitation to come to "design your life camp". before i even got to the end of the email, i hit reply to say yes. and then i panicked. all the old negative messages and self doubt filled my head. "what if you get there and patti digh doesn't think you're good enough? what if she's only heard your recordings and when you play she thinks, god i thought she was supposed to be more professional than this?" what if what if what if... 


so i stood up in a room full of strangers with my heart leaping out of my chest, with my trembly fingers and my shaky voice trying to find itself in front of all of you. and i sang. 
and each time i searched the audience for a set of eyes that were bright and shining back at me with love, i would sing a little louder and my heart would beat a little less fierce. by the third song, i was no longer afraid and felt surrounded with love. 

being with all of you this weekend was the biggest gift. i came looking for personal answers. and i found them in your hugs, your warmth, your own stories. thank you, thank you. a million times, thank you. 

i know some of you read the following on my personal page earlier, but i wanted to repost it here, because THIS is the change i want to make coming out of camp:

so i had a bit of a revelation this weekend. 
i love writing songs. i love singing the songs i write. 
but nothing thrills me more or does more for me on a soul level than to sing them and to tell "my story" to people who are hungry to hear it beyond just the need to be entertained. hungry to improve themselves. hungry to make a difference in the world. the music world at times reduces you to very selfish thoughts. the world of comparisons. the world of all about me. last summer on my way to a songwriting competition in telluride, i had the opportunity to sing for a group of women in a rehab facility in oakland. women who were down and out. women who wanted life to be different than it was. in terns of "success" in the music world, singing to a room of thirty addicts does not make you a rockstar. but i KNOW with every fiber of my being that i made a difference in their lives. THAT matters to me. much more gratifying than winning any contest.  i am happiest when i feel like i'm in service. this weekend i was. i want to do MORE of that.

thank you Patti Digh, for providing a safe enough place for all of us to find what we needed to find this weekend. i am forever grateful.




On Sight Reading, Girl Scouts and Demons


I have a love-hate relationship with the piano.  My earliest memories of the piano were watching my paternal grandmother play circus songs on an old beat up upright while my sister and I tore all the cushions off her sofa and lined them up in a row to tumble on while she played.  I used to love to sit at that same piano and plunk out songs that I learned to play note by note by ear.  When my parents and grandparents discovered that I had an affinity for music, the lessons began.  

I'm sure I was every piano teachers nightmare.  I hated to read music.  It's not that I couldn't read music, I could.  But I was lazy, and I could also "hear" the music, and as soon as I figured out where to place my hands, I was off to the races.  I can't tell you how many piano lessons I sweated my way through waiting for the teacher to ask me to play a certain section of music only to know I couldn't find it because I had no idea where in the music the section was.  Like I said, nightmare.  

In the 5th grade, I was asked to play Taps at the girl scout banquet.  A big event in the life of a girl scout.  Every day after school, my mom would say, "you should practice for the banquet".  Every day, I'd say, "okay".  And then I'd set out to do everything BUT practice the song.  The afternoon of the banquet, my procrastination caught up with me when I tried to shove months worth of practice into an hour.  The night of the banquet, when it was time, I walked to the stage, sat down, said a prayer, proceeded to play and failed miserably.  Scarred me for life.  Therapy scarred.  Why-I-never-picked-up-another-instrument-till-I-was-well-into-my-thirties-scarred.  I haven't played the piano in public since.

But saturday night I wrote a song.  And no arrangement on the guitar or ukulele sounded right.  In my head, I kept hearing a simple little piano part.  But I blew it off and kept noodling around trying to find a guitar arrangement that worked.  But the piano was calling my name.  So while Tom was in the studio, and the kids were away, I sat down in front of the keyboard, and began to find the chords.  Here's what I came up with.  I won't be winning trophies, or girl scout badges anytime soon, but it makes me feel good to know that I don't have to live under the negative messages I formed about myself in childhood.

I wrote this song for my beautiful friend, Lori who recently lost her daughter and is reeling from the devastation of grief.  The first verse is the way she described grief to me.

Like wading in the water

With my feet on shifting sand

The waves whip up around me

And I’m trying hard to stand

And I think I’ve got my balance

When right outta the blue

The current pulls me under

The current pulls me under

And all my memories of you


It’s a losing uphill battle

And it stops me in my tracks

Each time I remember

That you’re never coming back

And all this treading water

It’s the hardest thing to do

Cause the current pulls me under

The current pulls me under

With all my memories of you


Not a needle in my vein

Not a thing to numb this pain


All my friends they tell me

It gets easier with time

Nothing can erase that

For a moment you were mine

Someday I might believe them

Someday it might feel true

But the current pulls me under

The current pulls me under

With all my memories of you


Peace, love and new beginnings...



Hearts & Skin & Annie Lennox


So today I feel like blogging.  I used to blog.  But it's been a while.  When you spend as much time online AND writing songs as I do, you sometimes feel as though you've already said it all.  But I realized today, that I've had a lot stewing under the surface for a while, and some observations about it are coming in clearer.  So here goes.  

I am a sensitive soul.  My family would go so far as to say that I'm ULTRA sensitive or OVERLY sensitive.  It's what sent me to therapy over twenty years ago.  I confessed a lot.  I cried a lot.  I learned a lot.  I grew a lot.  Then I became a songwriter. And quickly realized that to survive, I needed an incredibly thick skin to cover my acutely sensitive soul.  Easier said than done sometimes.  And nothing like thinking you've got everything under control only to have something happen that knocks the wind out of you.  

About a month ago, I had the wind knocked out of me.  And I've been struggling to breathe ever since. Some days, I breathe okay.  Other days, it feels a little like trying to breathe underwater.  I hate when I feel like this because my survival mode is to stop living on the outside and do the majority of my living in my head.  I suffer.  My family suffers.  And my path looks a little more like a carousel instead of a crooked road unfolding in front of me.  

Last night, Tom and I were sitting outside under the stars talking about all the things we don't say out loud. We even made a game of it.  It was kind of fun for a while.  I'd name someone, and Tom would spend the next minute saying things to that person that he'd never have the courage to say.  Not necessarily mean or ugly things, just honest things.  Then we turned the game to ourselves.  What would you say to yourself if you could say anything at all.  What holds you back.  Keeps you stuck. How nice are you to yourself?  How much grace do you allow for your shortcomings?  Or do you go too easy?  Do you need to toughen up?  I realized in my speech to myself, that I had let my demons loose. The gremlins had overtaken the castle.  

Birthing a new CD is kind of like having a baby.  You dream and scheme and prepare for months, sometimes years, and then in an instant, your baby is out there for the whole world to see.  And you want every single person that hears it to think your baby is just as beautiful as you think it is.  Heart on sleeve.  24/7.  With a baby, everyone is going to tell you it's beautiful regardless of the truth.  At least to your face.  With music, you tend to get more of what people really think.  And that's scary.  But it shouldn't stop you from living.   


Because the deal is, Heart on sleeve is the way it should be.  24/7.  Knowing not everyone will resonate with your particular heart's work.  But some will.  The job of an artist is to find and celebrate those people that find and celebrate the art.  

So my promise to myself, and to you, is authenticity and presence.  I will continue to be real.  I will be nervous about my CD, but I will proudly share it with you.    I will continue to feel.  To be happy.  To lick my wounds.  To be where I am. Without withdrawing or going inside.  I want to live in the present. LIVE in the PRESENT.  Because just like the word says, the present is a gift.  But only if you're ready to live it consciously.  

I discovered one of my all time favorite songs at one of my lowest points.  It's by Annie Lennox.  It speaks to me on more levels than I can say.  But I'm thankful every time I hear it.  Today it's my gift to you.  So feel what you feel.  Speak your truth.  Don't turn and run inside.  I'm opening the door. Ready to feel the rain on my face.   

The Gift

Annie Lennox

 Darling don't you understand

 I feel so ill at ease

 The room is full of silence and it's getting hard to breathe

 Take this guilted cage of pain and set me free

 Take this overcoat of shame

 It never did belong to me

 It never did belong to me

 I need to go outside

 I need to leave the smoke

 'cause I can't go on living in this same sick joke

 It seems our lives have taken on a different kind of twist

 Now that you have given me the perfect gift

 You have given me the gift

 For we have fallen from our shelves

 To face the truth about ourselves

 And we have tumbled from our trees

 Tumbled from our trees

 And I can almost...

 I can almost feel the rain falling

 Don't you know it feels so good

 So let's go out into the rain again

 Just like we said we always would




I hope you're enjoying cruising around on my new website!  I've had so much fun working on it for you!  I plan to use the "blog" section to share news, wax poetic and post things that don't fit anywhere else.  So check back often!  If you happen to be attending the Folk Alliance conference in Toronto next week, I'd love if you stopped by one of my showcases.  My schedule is below:  


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