The Working Waterfront

My summer of trying new things

Musical, transportation challenges remind me to keep growing

Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2019-09-06
Last Modified 2019-09-06

By Courtney Naliboff

At 38, it’s easy to get into a comfortable routine. Work, music, parenting, swimming, gardening, writing—these are all solidly in my comfort zone, and completely enjoyable. Not that they’re always easy or straightforward, but I can confront those challenges without anxiety because they’re well known to me.

But it’s nice to know that even at the “age that I should start thinking about my blood sugar and cholesterol,” per my nurse practitioner, I can still be challenged and have new, sometimes mildly terrifying, opportunities for personal growth.

The first of these came when I was asked to play bass for a jazz singer performing at Skål, Vinalhaven’s new music venue. While I play rock bass comfortably, and sing and play jazz trumpet, jazz bass was a whole new beast. Once I received the charts and recordings, I began frantically practicing, although my confidence remained low. 

Compounding my anxiety was the fact that I would have to drive myself, in our swanky Vinalhaven-based minivan, to and from the gig. But when the day came, I had to just get in the boat, cross the Thoroughfare, get in the minivan, and go. And yes, I drive maddeningly slowly on the North Haven Road, but I got there in time.

We sound checked and ran through the forms of the songs, and to my surprise, it was fine. I mean, I’m certainly no Esperanza Spalding, and my electric SG bass raised some eyebrows in a jazz combo context. But I played simple, appropriate lines, and felt prepared. And if the singer comes back through town, she says she’d like to work with me again.

I pushed myself a little further after a mainland Bait Bag show. Typically, Fiona and Claire take turns driving, while I, a nervous and inexperienced mainland driver, am a perpetual passenger. This time, however, faced with a relatively short and easy drive from Whitefield to Rockland, I offered to take the wheel. With a lot of positive support, some nervous chatter, and a lot of questions (and a close encounter with the Lobster Festival parade set up), we arrived safely, and with plenty of time before the boat left. I even drove the car on board the ferry, although my feelings of triumph were dampened when I later sat on the steering wheel while attempting to squeeze back into the car, sounding the horn with my butt.

Penrose has been trying some new things this summer, too. Dance camp with Kea Tesseyman was a big hit, although solidly within her comfort zone. Soccer camp was more of a stretch. There were a lot of tears at drop off and during camp, complaints about the heat, the running, the fact that she was the slowest (and one of the youngest and smallest, to be fair) in the group.

Towards the end of the week, the tears came less frequently and she even admitted to having fun. When I saw her put on the maroon T-shirt the following week, I took it as a sign that she might even try it again next summer.

Pen and I checked in about our respective personal growth before my mainland drive, and the conversation went something like this:

“You’ve got to try new things, Mom. Like I did.”

“True. Well, I think I have. I played jazz bass, and I drove the car on Vinalhaven by myself. I even drove Daddy’s truck over here.”

“That’s good, Mom! Your next task is to drive on the mainland.”

“You’re right. I’m going to give it a try. So, you’ve tried new things, and I’ve tried new things. What new things should daddy try?”

“Daddy needs to work on his juggling.”

And there you have it. You’re never too young or too old to try something new, whether it’s learning a new performance style, driving a car, kicking a ball—or just practicing a skill your five-year-old randomly assigns you.

Courtney Naliboff teaches, plays music, and parents on North Haven.