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I spend a lot of time on the phone these days. The conversations are varied, consisting of in-depth discussions regarding various blood pressure medications, the process of adjusting to bifocals, or anecdotes regarding doctors both good and bad. Some days, I might learn about the benefits of jumping on the trampoline, how to use cover crops to grow vegetables, or the proper method of preparing collard greens. A few weeks ago, a good 20 minutes were devoted strictly to the subject of peach cobbler. This morning, I listened, spellbound, to a story about a man who pulled his own tooth with a pair of pliers. At this point, you are probably wondering what these seemingly unrelated conversations have in common. Since May I have been in the process of conducting health surveys with Music Maker Relief Foundation-sponsored artists. These health surveys will be really helpful for MMRF programs, particularly artist services. The data I have collected will make sure we are getting the artists what they need when it comes to their health. During these health surveys, I ask a variety of health-related questions that touch on emotional health and wellness, healthcare and health insurance, diet, and much more.

At first, the concept of calling a total stranger and asking questions about his or her health was a daunting task. I stuck closely to the questions Aaron provided, making me sound rather stiff (No offense, Aaron!). However, after the first few phone calls, I realized that even though I was a stranger to the artists I was calling, Music Maker was certainly not. For instance, at the end of our conversation, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins thanked the Music Maker Relief Foundation for being there for her “through, through, through the years.” Time and again, artists discussed the work this organization does and the caring nature of those I have come to call my colleagues here at the office. One artist was able to get emergency funding to cover a shingles vaccine; another was able to use Music Maker funds to see a dentist for the first time in several years. I learned how to integrate the survey questions into larger, more informal conversations, and the phone calls became easier and much more enjoyable for all parties involved. Some artists and I chatted away for up to an hour! By the time our conversations drew to a close, many artists inquired eagerly about their next gig or how they could get more CDs. Others invited me to upcoming concerts or asked me when they could come in the studio to record the new songs they had been working on. Many artists closed our phone calls with an emphatic “Say hi to Tim for me!” After I finished my health survey with Ironing Board Sam, he exclaimed, “I can’t talk any more today—I gotta get back to my music!” and promptly hung up.

These conversations are exciting, moving, and often great fun. When the time comes for the sharing of words of wisdom, my ears perk up and I get a pen and paper ready. Ernie Vincent’s secret to maintaining his stress levels, he says, is knowing the difference between what you can control and what you cannot. Last week, he shared some timeless advice with me. “When you can’t fix it, don’t worry about it,” he said. “When you can fix it, go fix it. Concentrate on what’s happening at the moment.” Each day, Pat Wilder rides her bike, plays music, and works on expanding her website. The secret to staying well, she claims, is pushing yourself, even when it is difficult, but also taking time to relax, rejuvenate, and spend time with people you love. Harvey Dalton Arnold gave me advice on how to improve and deepen my meditation practice. He begins each morning with a seated meditation, setting an intention for the day and taking time to concentrate on his breathing. He also lets me badger him with my gardening questions. Big Ron Hunter shares his love of milk and cookies at bedtime.

Tomorrow is my last day at the Music Maker Relief Foundation. I will return to Tallahassee with Piedmont blues in my ears, holding Pat Cohen’s wise words about passion close to my heart. She believes that the true key to success is passion. “It’s not just about who you know, who you work with or even how well you play. Landing big gigs and doing big things happens when people can see and recognize your passion. And trust me, I’m not new to this game, I’m true to this game.” Dom Flemons’ new CD, Prospect Hill, will undoubtedly underscore my long drive back to Tallahassee. Soon, I will make pinto beans the way John Dee’s girlfriend, Joan, taught me one July afternoon. During difficult days, I will reflect on John Dee’s timeless sense of humor, his rhymes, raps, riddles, and jokes. Ten weeks ago, I arrived at Music Maker with the vague idea of a summer project. It has been a joy to come into the office, pick up the phone, and spend time with some of the most talented and interesting people on earth.

I spend a lot of time on the phone these days. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

– Erica

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