Living collaboratively in the broadest, most beautiful strokes

Jodi Pulick Walker is a force of nature.  Mother.  Speech therapist.  Yoga instructor.  Pioneer in the field of Nature Play for children.  She and her family literally give shelter: they adopted a family from Africa.  One of our mutual friends recovered from surgery at her house.  Another became her “roommate” during the process of a personal revolution. 

She and one of her musical partners, Dave Walker, spotted my husband Robin at the FitzGerald’s Open Mic.  He dropped in, enjoyed it very much, but didn’t go back for a year.  “Come on,” he kept saying.  “You'll have fun.  And you have to meet this great young couple.”  

Well, I thought, “no, I don’t.”  

I had just had my heart broken by a beloved young couple who moved away, and my children were in the process of coming and going during their college years.  Sidebar:  when your kids come home from being away, it feels wonderful and natural.  When they leave, even though you know they are going, it feels like an exit wound.  So I managed to prolong what would come feel like the inevitable, for a whole year. 

NEVER BEFORE TOLD.

Know what got me to that FitzGerald’s Open Mic?  A BET.  I was recording with Bruce Roper at Little School Street Studios.  I had shared the stage with a wonderful musician, Hans York.  He and his friend were in Chicago for a few days, and were looking for something to do.  

Bruce is one of my best friends, I often describe him as my best friend who is a man and also not Robin.  Know what I mean?  It's a good gig.  This is a lifetime position, with very few responsibilities.  The number one thing you have to do is, pick up the phone. 

So I called Bruce at midnight after the gig, and he picked up, “Juniper?” he said. “Come on over tomorrow night.”  We agreed to meet in the stuido with Hans and his friends to work on a few songs I had in process. 

Hans is a phenomenal player, and did a wonderful job on the songs.  Caught up in that fleeting moment as I was, I got what I could but it wasn’t all I needed.  As we discussed what to do, Bruce said I would never find a guitar player in Chicago who could do what Hans did, and now he was gone, and I couldn’t bring him back in. 

So, have you met me?  Did you know that the magic word is “No?” and “Never?”  I just really could not even…and then I remembered…THAT YOUNG COUPLE. 

This is what got me to FitzGerald’s.  Lurking.  Comfortable in the shade Robin’s long shadow.  I really was not sure I was going to stay… 

And then this FORCE OF NATURE comes along, and telling me how much she loves my husband, quoting lines from his songs, and telling me about WHO HE IS, and how every Tuesday she waits and waits and waits for him and just wishes he would come back… 

Long and short, resistance was futile.  I let those songs go the way of all the wonderful things you start but never finish, that turn out to be what got you where you need to be.  Thank you Hans York.  Thank you Bruce Roper.  Thank you Bill and Kate FitzGerald for your Open Mic, and Will Duncan for keeping the place going.  Thank you, lucky stars, that Jodi Walker is now one of my dearest friends and collaborators. 

Now let me get out of the way, so you can enjoy her writing.  

“This is the year of collaboration and who better to send out the edict than the inimitable Jenny Bienemann. I have learned so much about living collaboratively since I moved to Chicago in 2009 and my friendship and musical relationship with Jenny Bienemann illustrates that with the broadest, most beautiful strokes. I just love that Jenny Bienemann in all her glory. [editor: blush.] 

I have now written three haiku songs: my first two took the haiku and directly placed it in the song, building the structure around the haiku. 

My first song came from her haiku: “I wish you could see you as I do, sparkling, like the creek sees the sky.” As I reflected on the divergent relationship between how we see ourselves and how others see us, I thought about the different directions that could take. 

The music flowed from there: three different ways that our view of self could veer off from how others perceive us, and what that felt like in the physical world. 

For my second shot at haiku collaboration, I chose one from what I like to call Jenny's laughing Buddha haiku group: “I shall turn to dust under a laughing child's shoe, mesmerized by the clouds.” I imagined all the pathways that a life could take towards death - all the near-misses and could-have-beens as we careen towards the ultimate reality, and how finding someone to truly love can ease us into that reality peacefully, with laughter, knowing that the love we found was worth the road we took to find it, and through to the Great Beyond. 

When Jenny sent around her latest idea for haiku collaboration, it happened to be a few days after I had shared the stage with Peter Joly and Rachel Drew for a gig at Uncommon Ground. Rachel had been kind enough to lend her voice to one of my songs and I immediately thought of her as a writing partner, if only for the chance to sing with her again. 

We met for a single writing session before Covid 19 hit and our ability to continue collaborating was cut off by our mutual pressures of motherhood, career and illness, but during that session we brainstormed enough for not one haiku song but 3. 

I pulled out some writing prompts and strategies that I had learned from two of the greats: stream of consciousness timed writing, which I learned from Sue Demel back in her Old Town days, and using mindfulness and presence to write about what is accessible to the senses in a moment of time, which I learned from one of my Jenny classes. 

Rachel and I then exchanged our solo writing and began to write, based on the writing of the other. With that initial burst of creativity, I took our individual songs and weaved them together to form the song "Steeped in Darkness." 

Although I was unable to perform it with Rachel, I did have an opportunity to collaborate with my quarantine string section, my daughters Jane and Tessie, who accompanied me with improvised parts on violin and cello respectively. 

I am always first in line for anything Jenny cooks up. Jenny's motto resonates so soundly with me, especially at this moment in time: "And Why NOT?"”  - Jodi Pulick Walker. 

Go here for Jodi's "Steeped in Darkness" song and video:  https://youtu.be/hPYXArSuqjM

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