Can't Pay The Rent

I went to visit a friend and her new baby on the Upper West Side yesterday.  Despite the rain and my own baby strapped to me, I decided to take a slight detour on my walk to the subway and pass by a place I used to live.  Tucked in amongst the Land Rover, Audi, and Mercedes car dealerships near the west side highway is an old church called "Centro Maria".  I came upon it in 2010 or 2011.  I spotted a couple of nuns in Chelsea once, and I got this idea in my head that surely nuns wouldn't charge me too much to live with them.  I wasn't totally correct, but I was on to something.  Fast forward a few months to a Tuesday, and I was in a meeting with Sister Hilda telling her "my situation has changed."  I needed a place immediately.  By Wednesday afternoon, I was moving into my little room with a single bed and a sink.  I was sharing a bathroom down the hall.  I had a curfew.  I had the Virgin Mary statue stay in my room one night.  I took part in the community talent show.  I bought a rosary one evening when someone knocked on my door.  I wasn't allowed male guests.  Breakfast ended at 7am or 8am.  My rent account balance (still $800/month) was slipped under my door every month on manilla card stock, with my name, room number, and fee written with pencil in beautiful cursive. 

These memories and more came flooding back yesterday, and I decided to buzz in.  The sweet girl at the desk remembered me and let me look around.  Nothing had changed, and I descended the perfectly polished linoleum floors to the basement Steinway.  There was the vending machine.  There was the gift shop, untouched.  There was the piano I practiced on.  

It all seemed so romantic.  But it's funny how unromantic and lost I felt at the time.   I had just graduated with a masters degree from NYU, and there I was, with a curfew, reciting the rosary with all the sisters huddled around my single bed.  I was working 8 or 9 part time jobs, wondering where it would all go, wondering where my relationship would go.  I can still hear my oldest sister telling me on the phone one night, while I was in tears: "it won't always be like this."  And of course, she was right.  In a matter of months, everything had changed:  I was  married.  I whittled my part time jobs down to one or two or three.  I went over to the dark side and moved to Brooklyn.  But I think the lesson I learned yesterday was to see the other side of "it won't always be like this."  Not only do I sometimes need the comfort that comes from the hope of change, I also need the reminder that the season I'm in now is a vital part of the story, and it has joy and romance written all over it.  I just don't always have eyes to see it that way.  

For a light version of the story, listen here to the demo of "Can't Pay The Rent".  And enjoy the experience of getting an inside look at the convent - especially if you're male (you wouldn't get past the front door)!



Greetings from Riding Mountain National Park.  Manitoba is more than a touch colder than we left it in July, but the deep winter freeze has yet to set in and the snow is biding its time.  I’ve only known this place in the summer.  The tourists and visitors are long gone now and the stores, restaurants, and bowling greens are shut up for the season.   This may not be the most far flung stop on tour, but it feels like it.  

The ride here has been anything but bumpy.  Hammer on wood, but the prairie weather has been merciful to us.  Our closest call came a few days ago.  We drove east along the Yellowhead Trail, six hours from the big northern city of Edmonton to the tiny, artist-endowed village of Meacham, Saskatchewan.  It poured rain all day long.  I said to Anna, “Imagine if this were snow”.  Or freezing rain. We pulled into our hosts’ driveway around 5pm, or I should say, we slid in.  The town was a skating rink and we’d got off the roads just in time.  So while it was disappointing that the folks from nearby Humboldt couldn’t make it to the Meacham community center for our show that evening, we were grateful for a safe arrival and for the locals who did turn out.

We’re about two thirds of the way through this trip and I’d like to think that the reps are paying off.  For touring neophytes like us, each show is unique and the opportunities to learn are abundant.  And to fail.  In Squamish, for example, I decided in real time that I would stand up for the song ‘Grandpa’ in order to add some kinetic energy to the show.  Five seconds later I forgot to come in with my harmonica part - the only harmonica part in the whole set - as I stood there thinking about how I was standing up and how kinetic I felt.  Lesson learned.  I’m the same height standing (on my knees) as sitting, so there was very little to gain in the first place.  Since then I’ve been sitting and just nailing my harmonica part, all five tastefully selected notes of it.

Besides the harmonica, we’ve introduced a couple other new sonic elements to our live sound.  On some songs, I’m playing my guitar through a Memory Man delay pedal, better known as the one the Edge used back in U2’s Joshua Tree days.  At one point in the set we play along with a drum track.  On the spectrum of risk this is pale yellow, but as Stanley says, baby steps.  (What he actually says is “Bus! Buuuus!” about 100 times a day.)

In Kamloops, I had an extra stop to make at the hockey rink to speak to the local WHL team.  It was on a Sunday morning, after they’d played a tough back-to-back, so I have to give them credit for showing up, let alone being as respectful and attentive as they were.  If there’s one half-truth I indulge in frequently, it’s the “Looking forward to it!” tag at the end of emails pertaining to speaking gigs.  The half I keep to myself is “I’m extremely nervous and hope I wake up sick and don’t have to do it!”  If I'm facing a crowd, I’d rather sing than speak.  But sometimes I’m asked to speak.  Sometimes I offer to speak, even ask to speak.  What gives?!  The full truth is that by the end of these talks, even though I kick myself a dozen times about what I shoulda, coulda said, I’m always glad I did it, and come away with some sense that it was worthwhile.

That reminds me of a new experience I had in Calgary.  My friend Adam is a professor at the University of Calgary and he asked me to come and play a song for his “History of Pop Music” class.  They were covering singer-songwriters of the 70’s, so I put on one of those harmonica headsets that were probably cool once and sang “Out On The Weekend” by Neil Young.  I’ve never felt so old.  It was great.

Last thing I’ll say is that there’s something about Edmonton.   Even though I was only three years old when my family moved to Ontario, going back always feels like a homecoming.  The Andersons and Baers don’t really give me any other option.  Hope we can get back soon.







They say "a change is as good as a rest", and after two and half weeks on the road with different beds and different homes and different sound systems, I actually agree.  All this change and bouncing around is doing me some good.  New ideas, fresh fallen snow, and first time faces all seem to reinforce that his mercies are new every morning.  

Our final show in British Columbia was at The Art We Are in Kamloops.  It's all coming back to me now...cornbread, soup, chili, homemade ice cream, everything closed on Sunday morning.  From there we had a few days off, and so obviously we found some hot springs.  When we woke up on Tuesday morning to drive to Calgary, winter had arrived.  Kicking Horse coffee is something I drink in the summer, but when I realized the roasting plant was just off the highway, we made a stop before crossing "the pass".  Also known as driving through the Rockies in a snow storm.  There were only a few moments of the day where the peaks of the mountains could be seen, but somehow I still felt the presence of them.  It was pretty dreamy.  We had a big parent fail in Banff, where we offered Stanley his first "Happy Meal", but besides that, we don't have any regrets that day.  

We had four shows in Alberta, and the ex-athlete in me is now reminded of the four stages of team development.  "forming, norming, storming, performing".  If applied to this tour, I think we're on track.  We were norming in Alberta.  Things felt good and routine, musically.  Stanley, my cousin, and I were the only ones on the playground one morning in Edmonton, and I felt pretty 'new york tough' for a few minutes until I felt like an irresponsible parent and just plain cold after about 10 minutes.  But Alberta felt like home, despite never having lived there.  We were treated like royalty and reunited with so many people we love.  Full hearts, full bellies, and I dare say even a full wallet by the time we left Edmonton are all good signs that I think we'll be returning sooner than later!  Thanks to Cafe Koi, Wine-Ohs, Cask & Barrel, and Cafe Blackbird.  

We had one "just added" stop on our tour that never made the poster.  It's probably sort of fitting, as I bet the town is off most people's radar.  Meacham, Saskatchewan.  About 90 people.  Most of whom are artists or farmers.  Or both. Due to some freezing rain, some folks got iced in, but we still played for a pretty full house at the town hall.  We had the privilege of staying with friends of friends, whom I would now simply call -- friends.  We shared our music and exchanged stories and made off with some loot to boot, as our host baked us bread and treats.  

Now we're in Manitoba.  Nine shows down and four to go.  A picture says a thousand words, but I'm just trying to use a few hundred to describe some things, as pictures are just too easy sometimes.  That being said, when this tour is over, I will post a few pictures, and perhaps these entries will come to life in new ways.




Nearly two years ago, Patrick and I boarded the Via rail train in Toronto as 'artists on board' and performed for the first time, as "The Lay Awakes".  It was a safe way to start.  The days' events included 3 meals in the dining car, champagne in the dome car, and tucking in at night to small cabin bunks with fresh, white, down comforters.  In most respects, it was a romantic adventure.  Rolling through the white planes and sneaking through the rockies in the dark (unfortunate as people pay big $ to actually SEE the rockies).  We had literally just decided on our band name, and we had released one song together - "Great Divide."  We arrived in Vancouver and had a few shows lined up in the area.  When we returned to New York, we spent the next two months finishing up six songs that would become our debut EP.

If you know us, you already know that this EP was locked in a tight race with our growing baby as to who would be released first.  Dear Stanley won, but the music followed shortly thereafter.  And while we have had some wonderful chances to play these songs out for people, it still feels like this sort of marks a beginning for us.   Life on the road.  For music's sake.  We are no strangers to thirty hour car trips and laying our heads on everybody's pillows, but this is different and feels different, and we are very excited.   Our tour officially kicked off on Friday, November 4th @ The Conway Muse.  We have played this venue once before, and it doesn't disappoint.  As a converted Swedish dairy barn, it has a country laid back appeal, but it stands out as something not to miss with its diverse clientele and quirky objects and art.  Examples being a piano bench equipped with a seatbelt.  We saw dear friends and fans and met wonderful new people.  Our friend, Ross, whom we met on the Via rail train, even drove across the border to get to the show.  He's a keeper, and it's relationships like this one that give us a real spark when the going gets tough.  

Following the Muse, we headed to Squamish BC, where we played @ The Ledge.  The Ledge boasts espresso, sandwiches, beer, and the perfect size stage for an act our size.  A lot of people from the community came out, and we really enjoyed the evening.  Start to finish.  Soundcheck to pilsner.   We've since had a few days to reconnect with some of our best friends in the world.  This is why I titled this entry "soft landing".  So many people have blessed us this past week, and we are very thankful.  We could not have asked for a better spot to begin our tour.  Even Stanley is loving it. 

In light of the events in America this week, I want to say little, but I want to say something.  I am tucked away by a fire north of the border pondering the events, but removed physically from the streets that I live and work on - streets now filled with protesters and homes and churches filled with people gathered together to pray and support one another.   I have the privilege to be a dual citizen.  People have often asked me if I feel more Canadian or more American.   And I don't know.  I've never really known.  My family is Canadian, and they all make me so proud.  But I really do feel dual.  Sort of caught in between.  Sort of both.  But I don't think this gives me a way out.  I hope that like so many of our dear friends in New York and beyond, I will be bold and gird myself to fight the good fight.  I think of Paul's admonition to Timothy to "guard what has been entrusted to your care."  

Anna says...

I've known for 7 years now that I'm a songwriter.  It was partly a realization, but mostly a decision - a declaration.  I couldn't, of course, decide to be a good songwriter - that's not besides the point, but it's not my point to make or job to decide!  To me, the risky and exciting part about being an artist is that you're bound for bull's eyes, near-misses, and strike outs.  It's most crucial that you keep attempting.