It was almost dinnertime at the annual retreat of my writing group. We’d spent the afternoon each having half an hour to discuss whatever we wanted to about our writing – critique of pieces we’re working on, support to revitalize our writing, testing out ideas for some new directions. As a lasagna bubbled in the oven and filled the room with the scents of tomato sauce, onions, and cheese, someone asked:
What is the story you’re here to tell?
The seven of us went around the table, each able to describe the kinds of stories we’re drawn to tell. For me, they’re the stories of “every day” people, of people whose stories often aren’t told. Such as the stories of senior citizens in my community that I profiled in our local newspaper for a number of years. Or the people who find satisfaction and joy in their work with their hands in my book, Hands at Work. Ordinary people.
A few days after the retreat, my daughter-in- law Jenn sent me a link to an interview with folk singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer. “It made me think of you,” Jenn said. Carrie was interviewed on November 26 by Krista Tippett on her radio show On Being. I’d heard about Carrie’s music at Quaker gatherings (as Krista explained at the opening of the interview, Carrie is “something of a celebrity in Quaker circles,” an unlikely title that they both laughed about), but I hadn’t listened to it in a long time, and I didn’t know much about her.
“I write a lot about finding something extraordinary in an ordinary day,” Carrie said during the interview. “Maybe even something sacred in an ordinary day. And, I think there’s a longing out there for that kind of acknowledgement.”
Carrie’s singing voice is deep, with a quiet conversational tone; her lyrics are introspective about the raw edges of real life. But even when she writes about the redemptive parts, there’s still an edge.
“I wanted to write a song that talked about hope, but not in a greeting card kind of way,” Carrie explained about her song, If Not Now. “You know, there’s the kind of hope that’s like wishful thinking. And then there’s like a hope that’s kind of gritty… the kind of hope that gets up every morning and chooses to try to make the world just a little kinder place in your own way. And the next morning gets up, and does it again. And the next morning, gets up, and you have been disappointed. And you do it again. I wanted to write about the kind of hope that’s faithful… loving something or someone so much that you will brave it with solid feet or shaky knees because you love it that much.”
Carrie says that music has always been like that for her, although “the idea of music being a spiritual practice kind of evolved. Because to be a songwriter I had to develop and practice some of the things that I think belong to the idea of spiritual practice. You know, I had to really start to practice presence. You have to be present. You have to show up.”
Central to Carrie’s spiritual practice is attending Quaker meeting. Like so many people who come to Quakerism as adults (she was raised in the Methodist church), Carrie experienced that feeling of home when she worshipped with Friends in Costa Rica while in college. Although some people question how someone who makes her living in sound feels so at home in silent worship, Carrie replies, “my best language has always come out of the silence.”
I appreciate being reintroduced to Carrie Newcomer’s music and to learning more about her songwriting path. She clearly knows the stories she’s here to tell, and I’m grateful she’s doing just that.