Memories of Martin–and Coretta Too

One of my earliest memories is holding hands and swaying with a bunch of strangers, singing “We Shall Overcome.” I was probably five, and, from later figuring, that was probably at a 1967 demonstration by Duke University faculty (which my Dad was) and students and local activists in support of the Duke maintenance workers.

From that age on, I knew Dr. King as a man to listen to. When he was murdered (I remember my mother crying), I knew he was a man to revere. Only more recently have I started thinking more about the woman beside the man–Coretta Scott King.

Coretta in 1964 (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Coretta in 1964 (Courtesy Wikimedia)

I haven’t yet seen the movie “Selma,” but I will, and I’m grateful to its makers for reminding a new generation that The Movement was–and is–a long, long, LONG series of struggles. And it wasn’t only about one man.

In honor of the Martin Luther King holiday, I’d like to share this song I wrote about his wife, two years ago. I haven’t gotten around to recording it yet, so you’ll just have to imagine the tune…but I hope the lyrics speak for themselves. 



Every city in this land got a street named for your man;

We celebrate his birthday, we sing and hold hands.

But sometimes I wonder if we’d ever be here

If you hadn’t stood beside him for all of those years.

All of those years…imagine the tears.

Coretta Scott King, your name hardly appears.


Lovely young soprano, Alabama to Ohio:

Your music could’ve carried you even further, you know.

But Martin sweeps you off your feet, or you sweep him,

And you’re swept into the movement, sink or swim.

Sink or swim…opposition is grim.

Montgomery Bus Boycott is the first big win.


Martin’s filling up the jails, says that love will never fail

And you’re right there with him, center of the gale.

But your four little children can’t be left alone

And Martin says their mama needs to stay at home.

Stay at home, keep the children calm.

Thank the Lord you are out when your house gets bombed.


Klan don’t need to wait for dark; Selma’s like their personal park.

Cross the Pettus Bridge to face Sheriff Clark.

On that Bloody Sunday you can hear the cries

With your hands in the laundry and your eyes on the prize.

Eyes on the prize…when a martyr dies

Best step aside, feel the power rise.


Martin goes to Memphis town; hand of hate cuts him down.

Now they’re looking to you to lead ’em to high ground.

You’re still in shock, you don’t know what to feel

But just like Martin, you’re made of steel.

Made of steel…Lord, this is real:

41 year-old widow of a slain ideal.


So you take up Martin’s cross, learn to be a movement boss

And you march and you rally and you pay the cost.

You tell your fellow women to embrace their role:

“If you want to save the nation, you must become its soul.”

Become its soul…it took its toll.

But Coretta, look around, we’re approaching the goal.


 For over thirteen thousand days, you walked those weary ways

Speaking out against the war, supporting the gays.

For the poor and persecuted you carried the flame

And never got a monument. Ain’t it a shame?

Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.

But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.

Ain’t it a shame? No one’s to blame.

But Coretta Scott King, we remember your name.

G. Wing, March 2013

The Selma March (Courtesy Wikimedia)

The Selma March (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Have you seen “Selma”? Care to share your impressions? Or your own memories of Martin, or Coretta? Let’s take time to remember.


Making Your Own Peace on Earth For Christmas

 “Peace on Earth.” “Silent Night.” Given how Christmas is portrayed in our culture, these words would seem to be the last ones to apply to this wonderful holiday.

But that’s what I want for Christmas: Silence. Peace. Big gobs of it. I don’t know when, but I intend to give it to myself as a gift, and I’m wondering if you might want to do the same. Or perhaps you already do.

This past weekend, the Quaker Meeting I attend scheduled its annual Silent Retreat. I wrote about it last year–6 1/2 hours of group silence, spent separately and together, bookended by explanations for the new folks, and sharing at the end of the day. I was really looking forward to another Day of Silence this year…till I realized I wasn’t ready for it. Son One is visiting, and I’m in Mom mode, which means cooking, hiking, playing guitar, hanging out, doing work projects…and TALKING. This was not the right time for a silent retreat, however much I longed for it.

So I skipped it. For now. But I’ve promised myself, sometime before the end of January, a good, four-hour chunk of time to sit and think and write, maybe go for a walk without, for once, talking to myself out loud like I do. (Not even embarrassed about that!) Probably I’ll wait till The Mate is out of town, so’s not to feel like a slacker.

Keep in mind–I already lead a pretty damn peaceful life compared to most folks. I live on an island! I’m no longer a classroom teacher, I’m a writer! And yet even I feel the need for more quiet in my life. If that’s true for me–how much more so must it be for, well…maybe you?

Silence means different things to different people at different times. I thought I’d share one of my takes on silence that turned into a song. Here are the lyrics to “Sometimes Silence”:

Sometimes silence is a force

that generates inside;   

sometimes something sets a course

and all you have to do is glide, glide, glide…

 and sometimes nothing moves at all, 

no matter how you try.


Sat yourself down just to get something straight,

Mind racing like a horse from the gate.

Need to focus on something profound;

Concentration’s going down, down, down…

So you try, try, try, try…

Sit and listen to the breezes sigh,     

Giving it your best shot–like you have a choice–

Straining to hear that still, small voice.


Sometimes silence strikes itself

and lights you like a fuse;            

Sometimes it shows you all too well

how much you have to lose, lose, lose…

And sometimes you’re just sitting there, increasingly confused.


Sat yourself down just to get something straight,

Mind racing like a horse from the gate.

Need to focus on something profound;

Concentration’s going down, down, down…

So you try, try, try, try…

Sit and listen to the breezes sigh,     

Giving it your best shot–like you have a choice–

Straining to hear that still, small voice.

I want to hear that still, small voice.


 And here’s the live version. NOTE: FAST-FORWARD TO MINUTE 1.33 TO AVOID HAVING TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIENCE SINGING HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, AND ME THANKING PEOPLE…and yes, the film quality is terrible but it does get better, and the sound is pretty good.

Did any of this resonate with you? How do you get your silence? Will you be able to gift yourself with some, this crowded, busy holiday season? Please share.

PS–another gift I’m giving myself is a week off from blogging, so…merry Christmas! I’ll pop back in to celebrate the end of 2014 with y’all.





To Copyright or Not to Copyright: Pondering the “Writing” Part of Songwriting

Copyrights? For books, it’s a no-brainer. Duh.

For songs? Well, yes, when I first started writing them, about two and a half years ago, my music teacher persuaded me to go through the copyrighting process as each song came out. Obediently, I did…through the first eight or nine songs. Then I got tired. (And it got expensive! $35 per song adds up!)

And I started wondering…what would happen if I didn’t?

Worst-case scenario: I upload one of my songs to YouTube. It goes viral. Everyone starts singing it. A famous singer picks it up, does a cover, makes a million bucks.

You know the part of that scenario I’m focused on? “Everyone starts singing it.” The million bucks? That singer’s welcome to it. Money is not driving my songwriting impulse. Money, apparently, does not figure anywhere in my calculations.

My books? Yes, definitely. I would love to be paid for them. But they represent hours and hours, weeks, months, years of my life. My songs–maybe a few hours each, no more.

Even more than the time differential, my songs come from a place that is wholly spontaneous, unplanned, even startling…unlike my books, which represent a deliberate and highly-planned career shift.

So…by all means, check out my songs as they begin to appear in cyberspace. Let me know if you’d like the lyrics and chords. Sing them, share them, pass them on. I’ll be nothing but thrilled.

And if Emmylou Harris that famous singer out there ever does a Gretchen Wing cover and makes a million bucks…feel free to remind me of this post if you ever hear me snark about it.

Think I’m being naive here? My mind’s still open on this topic, so feel free to chime in.

If The Big-Girl Panties Fit…

It’s concert time again.

A quick retrospective:

2011, Chicken Biscuit: “Which end of the mic do I sing into?”

2012, Gretchen Wing & Chicken Biscuit: “Oh, I get to sing a couple of my songs too? OK…but YOU introduce ’em, I don’t want to talk.”

2013, Gretchen Wing & Chicken Biscuit: “What do you mean, Bill’s going out of town? Who’s going to be emcee? I don’t know any jokes! Oh, s–t…”

2014, Gretchen Wing & Friends: “OK, everyone. At tonight’s rehearsal, I’d like the musicians to be there at 6 so they can get all their stuff ready. Singers, come whenever you need to in order to be ready to start right at 6:30…”

Ah, if only it were that simple. Yes, my “career” as local singer-songwriter-performer has evolved to the point where I think of this weekend’s show as “my” concert. Yes, I am in charge of the set list and the rehearsal schedule. Yes, my face is the only one on the poster.


But oh my, do I have a long way to go before I can be said to be “putting on” a concert! Here’s my To Do list for 2015…just in case I do this again:

1. Start rehearsals in June instead of August.

2. On second thought, start rehearsals in July, but schedule the darn concert for November when there aren’t gazillion other things going on around here.

3. Find the “sound man” with the best reputation in the community, and secure his services several months in advance. Bribe him with pie.

4. Provide binders for all musicians so they can keep track of their music and notes.

5. Fill the freezer with treats for rehearsals, so I can grab ’em and go. (No, I will never let go of my need to feed people.)

I have other resolutions, but I won’t bore you with them. This is just my way of saying: Yes. OK. I get it. If you’re new at something, you can enjoy being helpless and having everyone do stuff for you…once. Once you get halfway good at something and want to run it yourself, be ready to RUN it. No whining.



Don’t get me wrong–I am totally looking forward to, and totally humbled by, this chance to share my music with my community. I will be one happy woman on concert night. But for now–I gotta go bake cookies. And I still need to find another joke. And does anyone have any extra binders?

I would love to hear your stories of transition from bystander to administrator of…anything. What lessons did YOU learn? Anything I can steal?

Confessions of an Imperfectionist, Part II

I have finished another landscape quilt, and I’m bursting with pride. Please, look at my pictures! But don’t look too close.

004 (5)

“The Enchantments”–based on my Happy Place in the central Cascades.

005 (4)

Detail of the bottom. I like to have the picture overflow out of the border.

007 (4)

A look at the variety of stitching on the back. I try to match the quilting with the picture.

About a year and a half ago, I blogged about my imperfectionism as it relates to quilts. Here’s what I said:

I’m a lousy carpenter. So I never thought I’d make it as a quilter either, and I never tried. Till I discovered landscape quilts.

Landscape quilting is just what it sounds like: you create a landscape, like a painter, substituting appliqued cloth for paint. The effect can be as realistic or impressionistic as you choose. Me, I’m all about the impressionism. Who cares if that flower has eight petals in real life? On my quilt, it gets five, and it’s still pretty.

Nice and sloppy, just like nature.Another way landscape quilting is like impressionist painting is in its wonderful, inherent sloppiness. Who cares if my stitches are uneven, or if I miss an edge here or there which might fray? Nature’s full of ragged edges, weird curves, asymmetry. It’s a gorgeous slop-fest out there! Too much precision = unnatural-looking landscape…or so says I.

Am I making a virtue of necessity? Cheering myself up for being lazy, not to mention bad at arithmetic?

You betcha. But hey: I’m quilting, aren’t I?


Now, a year and a half later, my quilts are no less imperfect. Or no more perfect. And I’m still okay with that…in quilts. But in writing? Good enough has never been good enough. That’s why I write draft after draft, that’s why I’m still re-re-re-re-re-revising Headwinds even when it’s in its final proofs.

And lo and behold, with my next community concert looming in a week and a half, I’m starting to apply that perfectionism to musical performance.

You: “What do you mean, starting to? You mean you’ve been performing up till now without caring how good you are?”

Me: “Nnnnyeah….well…not exactly. See, when I first got onstage, it was really kind of a lark. I didn’t think of myself as a “real” performer. So what if I couldn’t nail the hard chords? Isn’t that what the other musicians were there for–to cover for me while I distracted the audience with my singing?”

You: “You’re really buying this?”

Me: “Well…the alternative was to practice a WHOLE LOT more than I wanted to. So…yeah.”

You: “Wow.”

Me: “I know, right? I sat on a stool for my performances because I’d never used a strap with my guitar and I didn’t want to learn. I used a music stand in case I forgot the words or chords. I glanced at my fingers all the time, even when that meant singing away from the mike.”

You: “So is there something you’d like to say to your audiences now?”

Me: “I’m SORRY! I’ve upped my standards. Come to my concert on October 26th and you’ll see.”


You: “Yeah. But you still could have brushed your hair for the promo poster.”

Me: ***sigh…***

OK, all you fellow imperfectionists: where do you draw YOUR line? Where do you let yourself slide, and where do you NEVER let yourself slide? Are you trying to work on sliding less, or sliding more? I am very interested to hear.




A Shout-out to Twenty-Somethings

When’s the last time you told someone you were proud of them?

When’s the last time you said that to an entire generation?

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. Back in April, having just spent time with my then-21 year-old son, I wrote a song expressing both my regret at leaving him a world with so many problems to deal with in his adulthood, and my pride in his ability to do just that.

Yes, I said April. And it’s now August. But hey, I finally got that song recorded. So today’s post is going to be the words of my song, “Launched.” I couldn’t say it any better in prose.

Here’s your chance to share your own pride in the 20-somethings in your life. Tell me about them! Then go tell them how proud you are. 

Anne Lamott 2.0: Why I’m Starting to Dig This Blogging Thing

First of all, thank you to all who sent me kind words or plain ol’ “likes” on my last post. I was (obviously) feeling pretty down about my dog and my book and my responses to both. One wonderful response came from my friend Shan Jeniah Burton, who quoted Vulcan wisdom to me:

“You are very adept at listing the questionable decisions you’ve made. But there have been other decisions – many of them – that no one would question. ”

Thanks, SJ. I call her SJ. I have NO IDEA if anyone else does, because, see, we’ve never met. We were both prisoners students in Kristen Lamb’s blogging-for-writers class over a year ago (Hotel Californians, we call ourselves, ’cause we can check out any time we like, but…yeah). Now we’re soul sisters…remotely.

This is why I can say with perfect honesty, 14 months since starting that class in order to kick-start my reluctant, anti-blogging self into doing something I was pretty sure authors just needed to suck-it-up-and-DO, I like my blog. I like this weird way of connecting with people. I have made real–not “virtual,” but REAL real–friends this way. Not to mention how lovely it is to re-connect with existing friends through this medium. Way more room to roam than on Facebook.

Then there’s the “please help” aspect. Granted, this works on Facebook and Twitter too, but I’m thinking I’m going to get a much more meaningful and useful response if I try this here on Wing’s World.

Can anyone advise me on how to get in touch with Anne Lamott? Her own blog does not have a “contact me” button (for obvious reasons; she’s a famous gal!). I’ve tweeted her and left a message on her Facebook page, but never heard anything, and I don’t want to be a stalker about it.

See, I wrote a song that I really want her to hear. It’s based on her famous quote about having only two prayers, “Help me help me help me” and “Thank you thank you thank you.” (That was in her book Traveling Mercies. Since then she’s added a third prayer, “Oh, wow,” which I guess is detailed in her book Help, Thanks, Wow, which is on my reading list.)

I started to write a song about that, but the lyrics got intertwined with another story, that of a friend of mine who died of cancer at age 42, just after delivering a baby. I do not know if my friend actually said Annie’s prayers, but the way she lived in her final year made me think that she might have, and so I wrote the song that way.

Here’s my song, “Help Me Help Me, Thank You, Thank You,” from our little Chicken Biscuit concert on Lopez Island, October 2012. I’m backed up by my friend Bruce Creps, who’s a much better guitarist than I am:

I don’t want Annie Lamott to help me “market” this song. I have zero ambitions for a career as a singer-songwriter; my plate is full! I just want her reaction.

So, internet friends and friends-I’ve-already-met-in-the-flesh (’cause “flesh friends sounds REALLY nasty), here’s my question: Can you help me figure out a way to get this song to Anne’s ears? I look forward to your help, advice, or support in this endeavor.


Where Have All My Heroes Gone? R.I.P., Pete Seeger

Uncle Pete is gone. I miss him already.

He lived to 94, but considering what he packed into those years, I’d say he was really more like 188 when he died the other day. Consider these facts:

Pete Seeger wrote, co-wrote, or adapted all of the following songs:

  • We Shall Overcome
  • If I Had a Hammer
  • Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
  • Turn! Turn! Turn!

All the royalties from We Shall Overcome go to the We Shall Overcome Fund of the Highlander Center, which provides grants to support the organizing efforts of impoverished Southerners for improved conditions.

He and his group, The Weavers, were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, then blacklisted for their Communist ideals (i.e., the shocking notion that people ought to be treated and paid fairly).

Later, when The Weavers recorded a song to advertise Lucky Strike cigarettes, Uncle Pete left the group, not wishing to support the tobacco industry.


Uncle Pete traveled the world with his guitar and banjo. Twice, he came to my town, Durham, North Carolina. One of my earliest memories is of him bounding around the stage as he enacted the chorus of a song–something about a giant named “Abayoyo.” “Aba-yoyo…Aba-yoyo…” I must have been about six years old, but I can hear him now.

Uncle Pete was married to the same woman his whole life. They lived in a modest cabin in upstate New York where, in his 90s, Uncle Pete still split his own wood.

I won’t even go into all his efforts to stop the war in Vietnam, to support the Civil Rights Movement, to clean up the Hudson River, to bring Israelis and Palestinians together…You may already know. If you want to learn more or spend some time remembering, you can read about them in his New York Times obituary.

For now, I just want to say: Thanks, Uncle Pete. Thank you for lending your voice to the voiceless. Thank you for giving your boundless energy to the poor, the desperate, the war-weary, the polluted waters. Thank you for your beautiful example, living your life with such humble simplicity.

What’s your favorite Pete Seeger song? What does it evoke for you?  Please share–then take some time to hum or sing it to yourself as you go through your day.

The Gift of Confidence: “Gretchen Wing with Chicken Biscuit” Now Feels…Legit

meThis is what I’m doing tonight:

This is my second annual “Gretchen Wing With Chicken Biscuit” concert. The year before we were simply Chicken Biscuit. Then I started writing songs, and something changed.The story’s a little longer than that, but I’ve told it before.

Right now, I just want to compare two Gretchens:

October 2012
Lopez Community Member: “So, you’re giving a concert?”
Gretchen: “Yeah, I know, it feels so weird, I can’t believe I’m actually asking people to pay money to come hear me, I’m just, you know, I’ve never done anything like this before.”

November 2013
Lopez Community Member: “So hey, another concert?”
Gretchen: “Yup! So excited! Hope you’re coming!”

What changed? I’m only a marginally better guitar player than I was a year ago, and I have a long way to go before I reach the level of the wonderful Biscuits who play with me. My voice is probably a little stronger, from a year’s worth of singing.

But the main ingredient of change is CONFIDENCE. By now enough people have told me I am a good singer and a good songwriter that I have finally stopped thinking they are all extra-nice folks with low standards.

I believe I’m good: therefore I am. WHOA. Talk about a life-changing Blinding Flash of the Obvious.

I could probably run with this theme, and who knows where it would take me? But I’m kinda in a hurry here…gotta walk the dog and get the house ready for the post-performance party before heading into town for set-up and sound-checks. (I meant to post this yesterday, but our internet went bye-bye…so it goes!)

So I’ll close with the obvious question: Have YOU had an experience where someone telling you you could do something made it happen? Are you having such an experience now? Please tell me all about it!