Archive for Family

Love in the Time of COVID-19

Today is my mother’s 94th birthday. She lives in a retirement community, Peconic Landing, in Greenport, Long Island. She requires advanced care and her mind has gone cloudy with only occasional patches of sun.

Our original plan was to travel down to visit this weekend, spend the night, surprise her with cake, balloons, and small gifts. But that was before the virus. Before the world changed. From what we’ve been told, as of two days ago, Peconic has already experienced three virus-related deaths. It now begins to wash like a great wave through the community, affecting healthcare workers and elderly patients alike. I don’t know if I’ll ever see my mother again.

These are hard times. For much of it, we are strong and brave and something close to our regular selves. Other times, we might feel that weight drag us down. For a few minutes, alone in my room, the tears come. I tried to call, something that I’ve all but given up on in the past. Thanks to the help of the staff, the call gets through. Our conversation becomes confused very quickly. Eventually, in the muddled silence, I hang up. Goodbye, I say.

It’s far better to see her in person, face to face, squeeze her hand, push the wheelchair outside, look out into the bay. My mother enjoys a cup of Lipton tea with sugar and still, amazingly, eats like a stevedore. That’s one of her signature expressions, which I love. Such a visit is not possible right now, will likely never again be possible.

Yet here in upstate, the sun is shining and the sky is blue. It’s the first day of Spring. Our two youngest children, Gavin and Maggie, are home with us. Our oldest, Nick, is healthy and working at home in New York City, supposedly the new epicenter of America’s coronavirus epidemic. My wife, Lisa, a midwife, is an amazing woman, doing important work. She touches lives in deeply meaningful ways. I’m infinitely proud of her.

There is still so much to love in this world. The trees, the clouds, the morning’s dawn chorus, our friends and family. Forgive me, if for a moment, I forget. I think we all have to forgive ourselves during these lapses. These moments when we feel it closing in around us. I’d planned on getting some work done this afternoon, attempting to make a bright, upbeat video for young readers who might have enjoyed my books. Throw it on Youtube, maybe somebody would find it. That’s something positive, right? But now? I’m not feeling it. Work can wait until tomorrow. This effing virus. Oh Mom, oh my family, this small mercy is not the ending I wanted to write, not the first day of Spring I had imagined with balloons, and small gifts, and cake. 

Photo: My Dog Echo

 

This is the creature who secretly writes my books.

Echo was a rescue dog, and the cliche is true: we do often wonder who saved who.

He’s part border collie, part who-knows-what. Fifty pounds, 17 months old, and faster than email.

He’s great off-leash and we walk miles together every day, almost never in the neighborhood or on leash.

It’s a great thinking time for me. Often, I never say a word. If I clap my hands, he comes running. It’s kind of cool.

Some random shots, mostly from this winter, taken along the Hudson river, an Albany golf course, and a couple of other spots. We’ve got about 8-10 different routes we usually take.

 

Me & My Dog

This is our rescue dog, Echo. He’s about 15 months old, part Border Collie, and we’re crazy about him. Very smart and energetic and fast. I work at home in relative solitude. Together Echo and I usually go on two long walks in the woods, or near the river, and wherever there’s open space. He’s great off-leash and comes running whenever he’s called. Love him. Anyway, this is a recent (unsmiling) photo of me, a few days before my 59th birthday. Still feel alert and creative and strong. Not dead yet! Many more books to come — so long as there are readers. Thanks for stopping by.

2019 in Music: Year of the Full-Album Project, My Top 20 & Honorable Mentions

Okay, I’m going to move beyond the fact that most of my usual readers couldn’t care less about this, and just write what I want anyway.

It’s my blog after all. 

It occurs, typing this, that speaks to all my writing. If I worried too much about people reading it, or “liking” it, I wouldn’t have the heart to continue. You have to move forward regardless of approval. Like life, I guess.

Back to music: I listened to a lot this year. Always have, but this was the first year I kept track. My sons, Nick (26) and Gavin (20), came up with a “full album” project; I tagged along for the ride. We each approached it somewhat differently, but the basic agreement was to listen to at least a full album a day. I got to 778 full albums, in addition to all the other random-scattered listening I do.

It was Nick’s idea, motivated by the realization that the album is an underappreciated art form. For most listeners, and quite a few musicians it seems, music has increasingly become a singles and playlist experience. Nick’s rule was to never repeat artists, to listen to 365 albums by 365 different artists, because he wanted to expand his palette. I didn’t limit myself in that way. (Yes, I see now that I listened to 43 different Bob Dylan albums this year — hey, I was trying something — along with every album by Kanye West, including “Watch the Throne” and “Kids See Ghosts.” Overall, I’d say that my discovery of the year was Bill Callahan/Smog: I went deep there.)

I listened to 125 new albums that came out in 2019. I liked most of them, and loved a lot. There’s so much outstanding new music that comes out every single week. My success rate was high because if I didn’t like an album, I usually either 1) knew to stay away in the first place; or 2) didn’t bother to sit through to the bitter end. So when I listened all the way, it was because I enjoyed it or felt compelled to finish for some reason.

Personally, I enjoy reading lists like this. They help me find music I missed, or prod me to listen again, more closely, to albums I may have dismissed too quickly. I’ll paraphrase something Jeff Tweedy once said. When he doesn’t like an album — especially one that others might be enjoying — he doesn’t begin with, “This music sucks!” Instead, he asks of himself, “What am I missing here? What am I not hearing?”

That is, the problem might not be with “it,” but with the attitude of the listener. For me, that’s an interesting and a humbling notion.

ONE LAST THING ABOUT MY LISTENING HABITS/TASTES: Because I’ve now got this large file on my desktop, I noted the artists I listened to most widely (by the measure of at least 3 different full albums). Those included in 2019: Aimee Mann, Arcade Fire, Avishai Cohen, Beach House, The Beatles, Beth Orton, Big Star, Big Thief, Bill Callahan, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The Byrds, Cass McCombs, Charles Mingus, The Clash, Courtney Barnett, David Bowie, Death Cab for Cutie, Don Cherry, Drive-By Truckers, Elliott Smith, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, Florist, Frank Zappa, Genesis, Gillian Welch, Grateful Dead, Hayes Carl, Hot Tuna, James Blake, Jason Isbell, Jeff Tweedy, Joe Henry, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, John Prine, Joni Mitchell, Kanye West, The Kinks, Laura Cannell, Laura Marling, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Magnolia Electric Company, Miles Davis, Mitski, Mountain Goats, Neil Young, Nick Cave, Nick Drake, Nick Lowe, Paul Simon, Pavement, Penguin Cafe, Radiohead, R.E.M., Rolling Stones, Ryan Adams, Sam Amidon, Silver Jews, Smog, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Sufjan Stevens, Sun Kil Moon, Teenage Fanclub, Thelonious Monk, Tom Petty, Tom Waits, War on Drugs, Waylon Jennings, The Who, Wilco, William Tyler, Van Morrison, and Yo La Tengo. Safe to say that I love them all, and more.

 

TOP 20

Purple Mountains: s/t

Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising

Big Thief: U.F.O.F

Lana Del Ray: Norman fucking Rockwell

Billie Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep

Aldous Harding: Designer

Julia Jacklin: Crushing

Faye Webster: Atlanta Millionaires Club

Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka

Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow

Brittany Howard: Jaime

(Sandy) Alex G: House of Sugar

Solange: When I Get Home @ 2019

Joe Henry: The Gospel According to Water

Better Oblivion Community Center: s/t

Sudan Archives: Athena

Tinariwen: Amadjar

Lankum: The Livelong Day

Nick Cave: Ghosteen

Rhiannon Giddens: there is no Other

 

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS (35)

 

World

Brighe Chaimbeul: The Reeling

Ye Vagabonds: The Hare’s Lament

The Gloaming: The Gloaming 3

Mdou Moctar: Ilana

 

Hip-Hop/Rap

GoldLink: Diaspora

Summer Walker: Over It

YBN Cordae: The Lost Boy

Freddie Gibbs, Madlib: Bandana

Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy!

Tyler, the Creator: Igor

Little Simz: GREY Area @ 2019

 

Jazz/Experimental

Avishai Cohen: Playing the Room

Penguin Café: Handfuls of Night

Jamie Branch: Fly or DIE II

The Comet Is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce

Caleb Burhans: Past Lives

Nivhek: After its own death … spiral

1000 gecs: s/t

 

Indie/Folk

Kacy & Clayton: Carrying On

Bill Callahan: Shephard in the Sheepskin Vest

Jake Xerxes Fussell: Out of Sight

Florist: Just Emily

William Tyler: Goes West

Jessica Pratt: Quiet Signs

  

Indie/Rock/Pop

Mannequin Pussy: Patience

Jay Som: Anak Ko

Fontaines D.C.: Dogrel

A.A. Bondy: Enderness.

Helado Negro: This Is How You Smile

James Blake: Assume Form

Big Thief: Two Hands

Wilco: Ode to Joy

 

Country/ Americana/Songwriter

Tyler Childers: Country Squire

Caroline Spence: Mint Condition

Hayes Carl: What It Is

 

CONCLUSION: Forget what I like or dislike, whether I have “good taste” or bad. The interesting thing for me was keeping track. So, come 2020, for the first time I’m going to do it with BOOKS. Yeah, it scares me a little. 

REPOST, UPDATE: “Watch Me, Dad!”

Here we are, that odd little stunted week before Thanksgiving. Of course we want to work hard and be good citizens, but the holiday approaches. Thoughts of family, mostly. And in my case, the Prellers are a bit scattered these days. Nick down in NYC, drawing the short straw at his new job, asked to work on Wednesday and Friday; we won’t be seeing him this Thanksgiving. Gavin is in France, working on an organic farm, opening his heart and mind to the world. Figuring it out, we hope. And Maggie, our youngest, is back home from her first semester at college. 

Gavin and Maggie and one of our black cats. Long ago.

 

It can be a lot, college. My wise friend referred to it as “adjustment fatigue.” It’s all new: a roommate, a new town, dorm life, classes, eating in a cafeteria, away from home, all of it. So now for a few days she’s back with us. You think we’re happy, you should see the dog. 

Anyway, found this Maggie-centered post from 10 years ago and thought I’d share it again . . . time, it flies.

Lisa went out with Maggie last night to buy a new pair of basketball shoes, as they call ’em these days. Used to be sneakers, but whatever. Maggie was thrilled; she’s very excited about playing hoops on the grades 3/4 travel team. She practiced dribbling all night — in the kitchen, in the living room, wherever it might give me a headache. Lisa and I watched and said, “Good, good, keep at it.”

At bedtime, Maggie asked if she could bring her basketball to bed with her. She wanted to sleep with it. Yeah, sure, knock yourself out, just don’t forget to brush your teeth.

This morning I drove Maggie to school. We were running late. Maggie, of course, wore her spotless new kicks. Just before climbing into the car, she said: “I can run faster now.”

“You can?”

She nodded, smiled. Oh yes.

“Put down your backpack,” I said. “Let me see.”

“Where do you want me to run?”

“I don’t know, across the front lawn to Don’s driveway.”

She walked to the far end of the lawn, methodically got herself into running position, and said, “Tell me when to go.”

“Go,” I said.

She raced across the yard.

“Good,” I said. “Now run back on the street. Let’s see how they do on cement.”

So she did, just as hard and determined as she could.

“Wow, Maggie, that was a lot faster — and I mean a lot. Those are pretty fast shoes.”

She smiled, proud and happy, pleased with her new powers.

Don’t you just love being a parent?

College drop-off day. Not all grown up . . . but I’m getting there!