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 oh Angel City * keep my shifting focus true * art words music you

oh Angel City * keep my shifting focus true * art words music you

I have to share this because Hollyweird happens:


Like today, after farmers market when a fellow creative put me in check, a chiding encouragement delivered with body-shaking force to show-me-the-life-of-the-mind.


A young man originally from Georgia writing in Hollywood, socially-media-ed and strategic. We have our phones and use them to look at each other’s work and projects, a peek into where we’ve been as reference for where we’re going. Where we want to be.


Where we will be.


“Sing something right now,” he casually dared.


Of course. Amazing Grace—my song. A mantra. Everyday.

I sang. Delivered. The people sitting next to, across from us smiled, the guy

selecting focus * shapes how you feel about the * things within your view

selecting focus * shapes how you feel about the * things within your view

behind the counter smiled. A shared moment of unexpected cheer and authenticity. It was nice.


The light coming through the large open windows shifted with the passing clouds. The young man stood up slim and serious and grabbed my shoulder, pulling me to my feet.


“What are you doing? When the grace of God shines on you, you must use it. Be relentless. Everyday you sing—sing covers, sing originals and post them on YouTube. You have a YouTube, use it! Be relentless. Live relentless. RELENTLESS. Listen to me, Monday you are relentless and you shine and you don’t give up. Shine on, angel sister!”


His gripped my shoulder firmly once more before raising an eyebrow and sitting. The fervor of our conversation reached the people beside us, drawing us all together. And it was good.


perspective depends * on where you choose to focus * choice is up to you

perspective depends * on where you choose to focus * choice is up to you

Here’s the thing: I had just been having—five minutes prior?—a conversation with a friend encouraging him to use video and YouTube and social media to promote his band (Free Rain) and new CD. When this young man stood up and shook my shoulder, it was like all that encouragement, advice and ideas I’m constantly spouting were double-slammed back at me. Listen, we’re telling YOU: follow your own damn advice and do those things! LISTEN!


Fuck. Be relentless, lady.



Do not give up.

Do what you say.


Not too long after, I had to excuse myself. Because I got sick, really, like ate-something-funky-at-the farmers-market ick. Puked. Not good. And I had to bail on dinner plans with Kyle and Iku. I went home. Got sick again. And slept until now when I am compelled to re-commit to relentless.


But do you see how we’re connected here? It’s like when you recognize another beating white heart against the flames and the urgency you feel to reach across the inferno to help keep each other’s space. You get it?


Also check out Barton Fink.


Hey! Kosuke and I get to do the House of Blues again—the Parish Room. Tickets are just $15.  I can get them to you, or we can e-ticket. Holla. I’ll hook you up!




Yup, we'll be there again---this time the Parish Room ;)

Yup, we’ll be there again—this time the Parish Room ;)

stars that rock


Josephine Johnson returns to Humboldt County for an evening of music, art, and poetry at the Arcata Playhouse, Saturday, February 21, 2015.


Piet Dalmolen (guitar), Dan Davis (bass), and Jay Forbes (drums) join her to create a smooth sonic force to be reckoned with.




Therese Keslin

poet, wordsmith, the night’s MC


Electro Saloon

acid coutry, gloomgrass duo

(Colin Begell, Alanna Jane Powell)


Matt Beard

surfer, painter, all ‘round rad guy

live paints during the performance


Doors open at 7:30


Show starts 8:00


Tickets available Wildberries, Peoples Records, and The Works

$12 pre-show

$15 at the door


A portion of the proceeds from the evening goes to support Food for People, Humboldt’s primary food bank. Just before Christmas 2014 a big rig bound for Eureka was destroyed in a fiery crash south of Benbow. Thankfully, the driver sustained only minor injuries, but the entire shipment of food was destroyed. Concert-goers are asked to bring a canned food item. Artist Matt Beard will auction his creation to the highest bidder at the end of the night. Mr. Beard is graciously donating half the final bid to Food for People.



Bring a can of food.


And get ready to rock

Gabe Pressure designs, Matt Beard Art:

because we can. rock. like stars

because we can. rock. like stars

by Josephine Johnson

What a month.

crossing the desert

me & the droids

What a year.

What a life.

It’s that time. Because less light. Because reflection. Because gratitude. Because introspection. Because warm hugs. Because friends. Because family. Because the light begins to return. Because holidaze. And I will do my best not to make this one of those cringe-worthy year in review posts tinged with melancholia. Or braggadocio. Mostly, I’m really thankful for all the people I’ve met on the journey this year and thankful for friends and family who keep on with me. Because spirits. Because guidance. Because all this love we have to share. Share it!

Let’s kick this off with a track the guys and I worked on just before Christmas. I’m a sucker for the obscure, weird, uncool and off the beaten path. Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away” is one of those underdog songs, well-written with an uplifting, egalitarian message. Piet and Jay liked the track, too, so we hit it, tracked it, and then Piet mixed and made it radio-ready—all in a few short hours. I think the recording captures the friendly, easy ethos typical of our interactions—we don’t get to see each other much these days, and when we do, our company is golden. I think that feeling comes through.

The Guys: sound art cool like that * yo no matter the idea * always got my back


Hope you like it:

I’m blessed and lucky to get to write, sing, and perform music with a lot of great folks that I love.

I do. Love. I am.

Lucky. Not only have I gotten to work with some of Humboldt’s finest and kindest musicians (Piet, Dan & Jay!), but also this year I’ve gotten to meet a whole new crew of awesome, talented, and keen players. Like Kosuke Yoshitome.  We played some super fun spots—El Cid, House of Blues, Viper Room, concerts for our housemates, house parties and anywhere we could find/create an audience. I’m grateful for his friendship and encouragement, and I am in awe of his talent and generosity.

Kosuke: dang such a bass boss * all treble clef and four strings * he gets the funk out

Here’s a recording from our May 2014 performance at the El Cid in Los Angeles:

Another highlight of the year was meeting Juli Crockett and the Evangenitals. The Evangenitals. EVANGENITALS! C’mon, try saying “Evangenitals” out loud without smiling. Go on…TRY it! See? Chortles and grins—you can’t without cracking a smile. And the Evangenitals are a win, too, because, well, they already love YOU. They do. And they loved me so much right away  that in February, I got to be part of their video for Turbulent Flow, a song from their 2014 release “Moby Dick“.  A really great crew of people. Juli, Michael, and I are collaborating to record a few songs for my next album project along with Humboldt’s Piet, Jay, and Dan. More on that in the new year. :) Ready for some rad-ness from the Evan (ha ha!) genitals, Evangenitals— shout out to Sofia Garza-Barba who directed. Oh, I’m the pink-tentacled anemone.

Juli Crockett-Feldman:  renaissance lady * million dollar double fists * dang how you slay me


I can’t forget Modesto and all the good folks I’ve met there this year— music and art, some of the most generous folks in the universe live in that sleepy agricultural town. Here’s an adventure I won’t forget, that 102 degree July afternoon when Anthony Edwards convinced me to ride bikes with him. And it was a beautiful day of searing blue skies riding along almond groves and irrigation canals. But *dang* that sun was oppressive, full on summer heat so heavy you could feel

droids do it digitally

really, we’re getting down

it in your ears, behind your eyes. Melting. Challenging your ability to breathe, pedal, and think. So I put my head down and gave up thinking. Pedal on! Yeah, it was hot….but we made it. A true bonding experience. :) Or more recently when Steve Nelson and I showed up at Cafe Deva to cheer for Modesto’s most beloved singer-songwriter, Patty Davis Castillo. Patty does this arrangement of Amazing Grace that makes me look up and catch my breath every time, a beautiful way to begin Sunday morning. Thank you, my Modesto family, for taking me in and letting me be one of you. Many thanks to Aaron Rowan for booking me at several of his acoustic events this year!

Here’s this great pic from the Anthony’s annual benefit concert at the State theater in Modesto. The people on this stage are wonderful humans, so humbled to be among their friends. I love these folks!!!

Modesto: almonds cattle trains * singing whispers in the rain * comfort finds me there

Anthony Edward's annual fundraiser

Modesto “Bringing Them Home” Fundraiser


Well, for goodness sakes, it’s been a lovely year, and I’m so thankful for the love, good people, and great spirits that have managed to find me. I don’t know how to tie this all up in an elegantly incisive way, so I won’t. Just know that I’m aware of all the love and good thoughts you all send my way. I can feel them and I’m grateful for all the encouragement and support. Thank you! We’re really gonna send it in the new year—you ready? I am!!! Let’s do this.


by Josephine Johnson

Howdy. Here are two bright bits of news :) Thursday (tomorrow) I’m kicking off  SHINE, an evening of storytelling at the Westside Santa Monica YWCA. Doors open at 7p. $10 suggested donation. The theme is finding bravery, which, if you’ve been following the Josephine saga, is more than apropos. I’ll be sharing my best and most uplifting tunes along with a story or two from 7:30 to 8p.

And then on Friday, November 21, Stormy Phoenix at KCSS 91.9 is featuring my CD Let It All Out from 4 to to 6p. KCSS is the alternative music voice of CSU Stanislaus. You can stream it and listen live here. (Thank you, Stormy, you are kind and rockin’.)

Ok, this is a quickie. Love and good things to you. ~Jos


shine moxie, shine

finding bravery Thursday, November 20, 7:30, pm

Heya! I know, you’re hankerin’ to get those creative juices flowing, maybe a little writing, some instrument playing… you’re getting into the idea of …the ukulele. You really, really want to wow your friends with Somewhere Over the Rainbow but you need a little help, inspiration? Well, check this out, I teach music and I’d sure love to teach YOU :) What, you’re not so into the ukulele and wanna learn some guitar instead? OK, we can do that. Or, maybe you want to transform that shoebox of lyric-littered scrap paper into a song or two?  Yeah, I can help push and pull words together—let’s get started on this and finish a song, or two, or three or four.

What are you (we) waiting for? Let’s get creative and learn!

Right now, I’m doing an introductory special—a free  half hour lesson to get an idea, a feel, for some of the things you’ll learn. We can meet at your home, local park, or other public place. My regular rates are $30 for half hour lesson and $45 for a full hour. An LA bargain, to be sure. Get in touch—email me at Josephine on Facebook. Josephine songwriting with the kids on YOUTUBE.

Let’s do this!

I will teach you ukulele

For reals, I can teach you, your children, your grandma–perhaps even your pouch–how to play ukulele :)



The number one thing my students complain about in Los Angeles is traffic. And it’s my Swiss and German students, who, no doubt accustomed to trains

brake check

brake check

running like clockwork, are most often dismayed with LA’s lackluster public transit. Why, they ask, are the busses always so late? It’s not just LA I respond. I concede that in general, America doesn’t have very well-funded or well-developed infrastructure for mass transportation. After WWII, I explain, America built a bubble empire around private vehicle ownership, and then many communities ripped out well-established trolley lines and bus routes to encourage the use of cars. This was the case especially in southern California. Meanwhile, Japan, Korea, and much of Europe invested in mass transit innovation and infrastructure. Now, America’s biggest cities have serious issues managing where to put all those individual cars—that’s why traffic and parking are always so frustrating in LA or in any big American city.


Sometimes, though, I tell them that America missed the train and now we’re so far behind we can’t even run to catch the bus. Truly, as their American English teacher, I’m always a little embarrassed to explain why this great nation has such sucky public transit. But Nikolas, from Switzerland, insists it’s really because America’s favorite pastime is waiting. He says, “I don’t understand. If I drive, I wait on the freeway. If I take the bus, I wait. Disneyland, Six Flags, Hollywood clubs, the same. Don’t get me started on the Dodgers and baseball…” Nikolas concludes, “You Americans must really like waiting around.”


Hmmm. Maybe. Conspiracy theorist friends, any input?


fix a flat

fix a flat

Yeah, so traffic. I do it every day, whether by bike or car, for at least an hour. I prefer biking, though, and have discovered I can get places faster that way, especially during morning/evening rush hours. But, I do drive more often than I’d like, and therein lies the philosophical dilemma: how to make peace with having to do something that’s not really very enjoyable? It’s part of the price we pay to live in this amazing city—reconciling our lives, dreams, and careers with the tedious reality of LA traffic.


You must make peace

You have to make peace with the fact that living ten miles from your job easily translates into a one-hour, one-way commute. Obviously, living closer to your job would alleviate drive time stress, but the better-paying jobs are on the Westside while more affordable, artist-friendly housing is in Echo Park, Lincoln Heights, East Hollywood, Silverlake-ish.


When I lived at the international house, I commuted from East Hollywood to Westwood, ten miles there, ten miles back. Sitting in the car creeping along for an hour in morning traffic really, really sucked, so I began biking. But not everyday—that’d just be too much. Here’s how I made peace when I did the

What Ms. Davis said

What Ms. Davis said

stop and slow: Sing along with 100.3 The Sound, roll down the windows and rock out. Or some mornings listen along with 102.7, Ryan Seacrest and Ellen K. What? No, really. They’re sharp and funny, and I like listening to Ryan and Ellen banter on about celebrity gossip. Or talk about Ryan and his dog. And Richard Marks. Don’t judge. Listen for yourself. Here’s the thing: being mad, angry, and cranky—horn honking, finger flipping, screaming—and sitting in

traffic doesn’t work for anyone. You gotta get over it. And as I’ve embraced this, I’ve found that there really are a lot of courteous drivers, as if the collective commuter unconscious knows this sucks for everybody, so we might as well make the best of it and be kind. Patient. And not flip out.


In all this driving, biking, traffic-doing, I have noticed a few wonky things about our fair city that really would make most drivers in other areas lose it. Here are a few tips and observations:


Avoid the freeways

Mornings and evenings the 405 and 10 are parking lots. Forget ‘em. Instead, figure out surface streets that can get you where you need to be. True story—I have a route from East Hollywood to Culver City that can take under forty-five minutes in rush hour traffic.




Parking check

We all do this, park in a space that’s really close to a red curb or driveway, or maybe we’re not sure if it’s permit-only parking. So, we leave the car running, get out, check the signs and make sure we’re not in the red, not blocking someone’s drive. Definitely make sure it’s not street sweeping day because the penalties are steep–$63 if you’re not permitted properly and $73 if you’re parked during street sweeping. Ouch. I’m more than OCD about this. As are most LA drivers. Parking check, necessary ritual.


Lane position is everything

There’s a less-impacted route I drive to work, but to do it effectively, you’ve gotta know the lane structure. For example, to maximize efficiency, you must be in the center lane for part of the commute and then know when exactly to get in the right lane because the center lane turns into the left turn lane at an intersection without a left turn arrow. Timing is everything. You can be stuck fifteen cars deep if you don’t change lanes at the right moment. Then, to get onto Westwood, you’ve got to get back over to the left lane and continue with a few more center/right lane changes for optimal forward motion. *Actually, the bike is much better for this route :)


Why do so many LA intersections lack a dedicated left turn arrow?



This mystifies me. Even some of the larger intersections don’t have a left arrow—WHY? A few days ago I sat, patiently of course, at Centinella and Venice for seven minutes to make a left onto Venice. Without a left light, cars end up turning as the light changes from yellow to red, so that left-turning cars remain in the intersection when the light turns green for the cross traffic. At peak times, this creates a huge traffic flow problem—cars stuck in the intersection trying to complete a turn. Why not add the left turn arrow to all the intersections?

Shitty Los Angeles city streets

Really, I’ve ridden and driven on a lot of streets—Hollywood, Silverlake, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Miracle Mile, and all over Westwood, Venice, and Santa Monica. The roads on the Westside are slightly better maintained (more affluence on that side), but they’re still not great, and the roads in Hollywood, Silverlake, east side-ish are really torn up and a peril to ride on. Where does all the revenue from parking violations go? Clearly, it’s not into road maintenance or street repair…


Well, there ya go, a 10 month intensive study of LA traffic. It’s frustrating but manageable, and if you let it, negotiating LA traffic can teach some humbling, very Buddhist life lessons. Patience, perspective, kindness, tolerance and peace.

Come ride with me.


Yup :)

Yup :)


Wednesday, October 15, 8p, Bar Lubitsch, West Hollywood, $8 tix

Sunday, October 19, 10:30 am, Sunday Assembly Los AngelesProfessional Musicians Local, 90038

Sunday, October 26, 3:00 pm, Prospect Theater, Modesto

Friday, November 28, 8:00pm, Plough and Stars, San Francisco

Josephine Johnson

Josephine Johnson


Well, goodness, it’s been a while since I’ve made a substantive post. You know, something more than ‘hey, I’m playing here, come



see me’ kind of thing. In the past four months, though, it’s all I’ve had time to communicate, but there’s so much more. Mostly, I’ve been living and working my tail off in the big city and taking great aims to do so as kindly and justly as possible. Each day seems a marathon, some peppered with starts and sprints, others completely hung up in the blocks. Sleep each night a welcomed retreat, necessary, sometimes the only reprieve. I’ve lived in Los Angeles nearly 10 months and have scarecely had a moment to reflect on what it’s like for a small-town girl to strike upon the big city all by herself. What it’s like avoiding scams, paying rent, making friends, and surviving SoCal traffic. Each of these could have their own supporting mini-thesis. For reals. But I won’t do that to you…

’bout this instead:

anemone & seahorse

anemone & seahorse

Good stuff comes from Gratitude. And getting up early.

Some of you know, I teach English to second language learners during the day, and I’ve regularly been doing an activity with my

mad docs in da house

mad docs in da house

students (thanks, Alene Webb, for the inspiration). At the end of each class, I ask them to write three things, different every day, they are grateful for and three things they are good at.

Example: I am grateful for cooler temperatures in Los Angeles. I am grateful to be able to write and sing. I am grateful for kind people and friends. I am good at encouraging people. I am good at playing ukulele. I am good at soldiering on.

We speak about these things briefly, and I focus on how being grateful for the wonderful things in life can bring more positivity and self-satisfaction, that positivity—essentially believing in yourself—and goal setting are connected. Many of my students go

more crazy

more crazy

on to study at American colleges, so I like to think this exercise helps train them to have more power over their minds and more power over the outcomes in their lives. It makes them think. It makes them share. And it makes them think about life beyond our classroom.

I am grateful for kind people and friends. This is a biggie. When I came to Los Angeles, I left a community that



had known me for nearly ten years. I have a lot of friends in Humboldt County who genuinely support and believe in me and I cherish that beyond words. Yeah, moving to a new place without a solid network in place—I knew two people when I landed in Los Angeles—was a huge leap, much bigger than I realized. I am so very grateful for all of my Humboldt friends who have been cheering me on from behind the Redwood curtain. I don’t express this often enough, but THANK YOU, NorCal! I feel you rooting

lisa dee & Juli

lisa dee & Juli

for me and it makes my heart glow. Like E.T. and Reese’s Pieces :) Thanks for all the love, I feel it everyday.

I’ve also met some keen folks in Los Angeles, and I’m grateful for my new circle of friends. Like Susann, who makes the best

dancers dancing

dancers dancing

vegetarian-friendly jerk sauces this side of Jamaica. I’ve been helping her with a few Los Angeles farmer’s markets—my fave is the Hollywood market. It’s a blast. And then there’re the Evangenitals and Juli Crocket. For goodness sakes, this crew. I just love ‘em. Kind, intelligent, driven, inspired. And nerdy. :) Back in February I got to be part of their Turbulent Flow video. Have you seen it? Check this out—I’m the pink sea anemone.

It’s a hoot, huh? These are super fun people and I’m thankful we all got introduced. Turbulent Flow is a single from the Evangenital’s 2014 release Moby Dick, which is about, you guessed it, that 10th-grade-rite-of-passage novel, Moby Dick. The pics in this post are from the shoot—oh man, so much fun. I could do that every day…

juli, Lisa dee & balloons

juli, lisa dee & balloons

Juli was also the one who told me about Kulak’s in North Hollywood, that folks were super friendly there. And that they film performances with multiple cameras and edit it all together. So I did that, went and played, and had a blast. I’d say the folks at Kulak’s Woodshed are Humboldt-types—Americana-y, indie-arty, hippie-peace-freak-like. Heck, Jeff DeMark, a Humboldt County icon was there in 2006. Check this link and you’ll see him backed by uke duo the Tiny Tims. I went on a Monday, early to get a slot, and took in the kitschy DIY, yet refined, atmosphere. There’s a group of regulars who are part of the backing band, and the first 10 solo artists can work with the band to back them up for the recording. Optional, not mandatory. It works. And it’s pretty fun. Next time, the band and I will get something going on. Below is my video. Good times!

sea horse & anenome

sea horse & anemone

Well, friends, thank you for the love, support, and kind words. I am very grateful to have so many kind people in my life. I am thankful for my friends and family, and I send love and peace to you. Now, go, get out there and do great things, be thankful for them and acknowledge when you do them well. :) DO IT!


Turbulent Flow Fin

the brains Michael & Juli

the brains Michael & Juli

for reals fin big finish

for reals fin big finish

We had a beautiful time last month at the House of Blues.

September 13 we get to do it again.
Kousuke and I are up at 10p and we have a few surprises in store.
Come hang out with us. In the fun!


Josephine & Kousuke, House of Blues, Saturday, September 13

Josephine & Kousuke, House of Blues, Saturday, September 13

osephine & Kousuke live at House of Blues, Voodoo Lounge, Thursday, August 7, 2014

Josephine & Kousuke
live at House of Blues, Voodoo Lounge, Thursday, August 7, 2014

Well, what can I say? I’m bitten.


Yeah, the road bug got me. Travel, music, meeting new people and learning about their lives, catching up (kinda) with friends, letting them know I’m alive and thriving in Los Angeles. That I can do this.


Let It All Out Summer 2014 Tour pretty much ROCKED.

And I’m ready to do it again.

But that’ll have to wait, though, a month or two, and then *shazam* I’ll be back on the road!


In the meantime here’re some nice gigs upcoming in the Los Angeles area. The flyer says it all :) See ya out there.

Come find me!

Where Josephine will be in August 2014


Let It All Out 2014

Let It All Out 2014

early spring

Chilly LA, Hotel Cafe

–Sunday, March 30, 2014, Hotel Café, Los Angeles—

by Josephine Johnson

On a crisp, clear Los Angeles evening, the sun hangs low illuminating, if not warming, a group of plaid, leather and glasses-clad event-goers waiting to enter the Hotel Café.   The line stretches from the back entrance, around the corner and down the alley. It’s after 6 and these keen language-lovers are ready for Conrad Romo’s monthly showcase, Tongue & Groove.


Once a month, Romo curates and hosts a night of prose, poetry, short stories and music at the Hotel Cafe. Tongue and Groove regularly highlights a mix of literary up- and-comers as well as veteran writers. Most events also feature a lyric-driven, literary-focused songwriter.


It’s a hot ticket. And devotees are willing to wait outside in the chill because they know the warmth that awaits within—ah, well-crafted prose, tight turns of phrase—the heat of savory language.


The line grows.

Hotel Cafe, Tongue & Groove

the house fills


Snippets of conversation sift and filter: “…Oh yes, Maria’s in New York, now…on a new doc project…talked to Tim yesterday, says she’s doing well”… “for sure a new script with a great team”…”what he shared was focused, best work yet”…”I’m here for Lauren, so happy she’s reading tonight…”  These bits, lilting and laudatory and largely without pretense convey the ethos of the evening: Friends, colleagues, language aficionados checking in and hanging out to support and encourage each other.


And then Conrad passes by. With a mop in hand. His pace quick and deliberate. Eyes wide. He chats briefly, smiles, and ducks back inside, clearly focused on the evening ahead.


Laughter, conversation continue, the line lively. Eager.


Conrad Romo, Tongue & Groove

Conrad Romo, Tongue & Groove

And then the backdoors open. It’s time.

Quickly, the house fills.


Inside, candles and low-lit incandescents understate the club’s classy black wooden chairs and tables, crimson walls and mahogany bar so that all eyes are focused on the front stage brightly lit and ready for readers, writers, musicians.


Romo decisively takes the stage, introducing each performer. Songwriter Amilia Spicer begins with an original on an abalone-inlay Taylor guitar. With a breathy yet powerful, Emmy Lou-like voice, her music evokes a time gone by. Spicer’s are story songs with each verse a compelling scene in the drama unfolding. And on stage she is at home, a calm master fully in control of her craft. Spicer expends no unnecessary energy.


On this night, March 30 the last Sunday of the month, writers Lauren Eggert-Crowe, Michele Matheson, Marley Klaus, David Kendrick and J. Dylan Yates all deliver engaging and powerful prose and poetry, but Michele Matheson and Marley Klaus are the evening’s standouts.

Amilia Spicer

Amilia Spicer


Michele Matheson reads a scene from her 2006 novel ‘Saving Angelfish’ in which the protagonist, a near-hopeless junkie, Max, is shooting heroine in the

bathroom while her boyfriend lingers just outside, the door ajar. Matheson immerses herself in the dialog between these characters. The boyfriend asks ‘what would love do?’ Max seated on the toilet and focused solely on the needle puncturing her vein replies in soft annoyance ‘I don’t know’. Pause. Then through Matheson’s voice the boyfriend replies resolutely, calmly ‘love would save me from you’. And he leaves.


The audience is so still that the needle could be heard crashing to the apartment’s dingy bathroom floor.

Michelle Matheson

Michele Matheson, Tongue & Groove

Matheson hit a vein with her character and struck a nerve with the audience. In a bigger sense, this scene could be about any moment someone chooses to walk away from a person, place or situation that is no longer good, loving, wholesome or supportive. Matheson poignantly captures the difficult necessity of saving one’s self first. How very hard it can be to choose to leave.


When she finishes, the audience breathes an audible, heavy sigh and praises her with vigorous applause.


Then Marley Klaus takes the stage.


Klaus lightens the mood with a short story about accompanying her 15 year old son to Ozzfest, a heavy metal music conflagration that ignites each summer in the SoCal desert. Her writing is sharp, comic delivery impeccable. She marvels at how 60,000 people can converge for a day in July in a place that she notes ‘spontaneously combusts in the summer’ and of course ‘everyone is wearing black’. Yet she’s determined to provide a much-desired experience for her son and ensure his safety while doing so. Klaus commits to the festival regardless of the death-spraying death lyrics in which everything must die, bleed, kill, die, die. With her wry, analytical humor she surveys the number of ‘fucks’ uttered in one song, one performance, one set length of time; she

Marley Klaus

Marley Klaus

comically describes the near-horror of multiple trash cans catching fire; she details how gallantly her son reacts when two drug-addled concert-goers fall at their feet and begin having sex: “Mom, I think we should stand over there.”

Klaus weathers the angst-y onslaught of all that hormone-fueled death metal rage and emerges as a victorious post-apocalyptic super Mom. She knows for certain she’s forged a new bond of understanding when her son looks her in the eyes and fiercely thanks her. He gets it. His Mom is truly hardcore-awesome, waaay beyond Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Mad Max and Thunderdome.


The audience laughs, cheers, applauds wildly, ready to shake fists, scream, burn and fuck something.


Romo’s next installment of Tongue and Groove is slated for the last Sunday in April—April 27 at Hotel Café in Hollywood. Rumor has it, he’s planning a similar literary showcase for the OC beginning sometime later this year. Contact Conrad Romo for more info.

listening crowd

listening crowd

Humboldt’s Hidden Treasures

Spreading the love with geocaching


  • Geocacher Jessica Davis’ collection of shiny things.

Over an after-work round of brews, healthcare worker Jessica Davis pipes up, “Well, I’m a treasure hunter,” she says, “I look for GPS locations with hidden treasure caches.” She slips out of the room and proudly returns moments later with two jewelry box-sized treasure chests. One contains a miniature mountain lion, smooth chunks of colored glass, a quartz crystal, a rubber duck keychain, a shark figurine and more tiny, colored trinkets reminiscent of sandbox make-believe. “See,” she says, holding out a bright rainbow heart bracelet, “these are some of the things I’ve found.” She leaves her own little baubles behind, too.

Geocaching is what happens when inquisitive tech geeks hide things and then dare each other to find them. To date, there are more than two million geocache sites all over the world (there’s even one in Antarctica). It started back in 2000, when techie and computer consultant David Ulmer hid a bucket of random objects in the woods near his home in Beaverton, Ore., and challenged his tech buddies to find it in order to test the accuracy of the newly-improved GPS. It’s everywhere in the world, even Old Town, the Arcata Plaza, the community forest and the marsh.

Davis has a second box of trinkets that are “track-ables” with a specific geocaching mission. With their own individual GPS markers, you can trace them as they move from hiding place to hiding place all over the world. She selects a small bunny rabbit and explains, “This one’s mission is to get to San Diego. Next time I head south, I’ll find a cache and leave her there to get her closer to her destination.”

Ready to go hunting? Sign up at to discover this world of secret stashes all around you. Humboldt County is home to hundreds of hidden treasures in town, on the beach, in the forest and even out at sea. Of course, you will need a GPS device or tracking software. If you have a smart phone, you can download the geocaching app directly from the site. The Geocaching app is solid — it also can link you to clues if you’re having a tough time in the field. Go to the maps section on the website and find an area you’d like to scour — again, they’re everywhere! The caches also have difficulty ratings, so on your first few times out, select easy ones. That way you’re less likely to get frustrated and give up.

According to the maps, there’s one at Arcata City Hall, where Heather Leigh Stevens, recreation manager for the city, has watched treasure seekers investigate the ferns, climb the wall and tap on the water fountain just outside her office. “It makes us smile and sometimes laugh,” says Leigh, who has seen her fair share of students, traveling retirees and occasional traveling families trying to find the cache in the past three years. She also notes that the people who do this tend to be focused and tenacious — they keep at it until they find the treasure. “I rarely hear people resort to anger or profanity,” she says. “Most people in this office know where it is, and if someone is having a really hard time, we’ll offer clues. For us in recreation, we like seeing people poking around in the bushes, getting out, getting active.”

If you attempt the Arcata City Hall cache, note that it has an “easy” rating, even though the overhang of the roof skews the satellite signal. It took this reporter 40 minutes. Though said reporter did not swear, she did utter a whole string of “dangs,” “holy cats” and “for goodness sakes” before finally finding it without a clue from the recreation folks. She also crawled around the water fountain numerous times.

Curious? Get out there, Humboldt. And let us know what you find.


by Josephine Johnson

Under Dog Rock Star All-Stars

Under Dog Rock Star All-Stars

Well, for goodness sakes, it’s been almost a month since the last post. I’ve done some stuff…

***New release available at CD Baby***



Since the Has Beans days...

Since the Has Beans days…

First, in a weekend of mad-marathon driving, I went back to Humboldt to release the new CD—January 25th, the Eureka Inn—26-and-a-smidge hours grand total of driving to play a fine show for some of my dearest friends. A release and an opportunity to say goodbye to a whole crew and community that have loved and supported me since the early days.

***New release available at CD Baby***

Way back in the way, way back, when I used to play Thursday lunch at Has Beans in Eureka, folks like Brother James, Pat, Ralph, Ginger and more would show up just to make sure there were folks to listen. The night of the release, they all showed up one last time, and it was genuinely touching.

To be sure by evening’s end (2 am rock star time!), I’d made a few new friends and fans to keep me pointed forward on this journey. It was a really, really kind night. Some quick shout outs to that HumCo crew who helped make it happen:

Jos & Kirsten

Jos & Kirsten

Many thanks to Dale and Lei Winget—they put me up in their ‘rabbit room’ and made sure the next morning’s send off included a Humboldt-proud breakfast from Golden Harvest. Another big thank you to Perry

Lei is also an acupuncturist, she fixed my left arm and hand. It was amazing. go see her if you are in EUREKA :)

Lei is also an acupuncturist, she fixed my left arm and hand. It was amazing. go see her if you are in EUREKA :)

Brubaker who designed the flyer and locked in a date for this performance. Mo Hollis MC’ed and engineered the night—thank you, Mo! Jay Forbes, your drums–a pleasure & honor to get to play with you—thanks for being part of the night. And more, so many more thanks. It was a great celebration marking the end of an era and beginning of a new.

***New release available at CD Baby***

***AND just as I was leaving LA, I managed to get in a phone interview with

meeting friends, signing CDs :)

meeting friends, signing CDs :)

Emma Brecain, the host of KHSU’s Through the Eyes of Women. We talked about music, the new album, what it’s like to be another white-girl-with-a-guitar. You can listen to our conversation here.***

PIg 'n Whistle, Hollywood :)

PIg ‘n Whistle, Hollywood :)

And so then after the grand-Humboldt-rock-star-adventure, I was booked at Pig ‘n Whistle in Hollywood as part of a Friday night indie musician showcase. THAT was a great time, too. Thank you, Sharon Groom, Joey Maramba & more!

***New release available at CD Baby***

Last but not least, in the near-month since I’ve posted, I also got booked on Kato

Julie Brown, Kato Kaelin, Josephine & Princess

Julie Brown, Kato Kaelin, Josephine & Princess

Kaelin’s new British podcast. For reals. Not once. But twice. And oh my goodness, that was a fun time. Maybe because I’m so new to show business, but it all was like a comical, hyper-frenetic, yet well-heeled circus. And Kato’s funny in this goofy, rapid fire way—the guy made me smile. And I enjoyed getting to be part of the show. Am hoping I get to go and visit again.

***New release available at CD Baby***

Julie & Kato

Julie & Kato

The second time, Down Town Julie Brown was the special guest—you know, from MTV when it was about music? Videos? She’s a sweet cat, too.

Well, that’s it for tonight. Enjoy the pics-n-links-n-such. And have fun, have lots & lots of FUN!

***New release available at CD Baby***

Finally, the story about working with the Treehouse Masters November/December 2013, as published January 29th in the North Coast Journal. And Yes, Pete Nelson really is the affable, eccentric, goofy-enthusiastic guy you see on TV. All good folks! ~Josephine

A Home in a Redwood

Treehouse dream to reality (TV)


Maybe you’re feeling low, a little too close to the ground. You want a place of retreat to elevate, inspire and get you floating again.

For Humboldt County resident Crystal Miller, a longtime lover of great trees, that meant a treehouse in a redwood in her backyard. Miller and her fiancé Arif Malik bought their rural property together in late 2009 with the shared dream of building a treehouse in that one big redwood out back, but tragically Malik died in a car accident in December of 2009, just as their place went into escrow. Miller remained determined to make good on their original dream and honor his memory.

A genuine do-it-her-selfer, Miller had been following the work of treehouse builder Pete Nelson through his books and building conferences. She says she knew building one properly would require special know-how and that she couldn’t do it by herself. It would take expertise, hardware, equipment and grit — precisely the moxie and special knowledge of Nelson and crew. So, a couple years ago, Miller reached out to Nelson, who responded eagerly that he’d love to build a treehouse in a California coast redwood way, way up — 60 feet off the ground.

As fate would have it, just as Miller was contacting Nelson, so were Animal Planet and Stiletto TV. They wanted to do a reality TV series with Nelson and his treehouse projects. Miller’s project was waitlisted until network negotiations, production and construction schedules were all settled.

Nelson grew up building treehouses in his father’s trees. As a kid he practiced in his backyard with old storm windows, discarded lumber — whatever was in the garage. But lacking building skills, his structures couldn’t match the grand vision in his head, and he grew frustrated. After working his way through Colorado College doing construction, he had the chops to start building lush, adult retreat spaces in trees. For the first decade, he financed many of his projects himself, including much of what went into his first book, Treehouse: The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb. His custom treehouses for private clients can cost up to $300,000, but ones built for theTreehouse Masters show run from $80,000 to $120,000.

After a couple years of waiting, following Nelson’s treehouse building exploits and hoping her project would be next, it was finally Miller’s turn. In November, Nelson and his crew began constructing Crystal’s dream tree retreat.

For nearly three weeks, a TV crew and building crew spent 14 hours a day — and sometimes longer — on Miller’s property building and filming the tallest structure the crew had ever attempted. Miller was not content to merely stand by and watch. As any true tree-loving, hardcore Humboldt woman would, Miller donned a hardhat and safety harness and went to work along side Nelson and his crew. “I needed to help build this,” says Miller. “I wanted to get my hands dirty finishing a dream I fondly shared with someone who’s no longer on this earth. Finishing this feels really good.”

Nelson found Miller’s project a fascinating challenge. “We’d never built a treehouse as high as 60 feet,” says Nelson, “plus we’ve only built a handful where the tree is actually inside the structure.” He pauses, runs his hand through his hair. “This will be fun to monitor!” He explains that the redwood adds a challenge to Miller’s structure. Redwood is a soft wood, and when conditions are right — lots of moisture and moderate temps — they grow rapidly, as much as 3 feet in height per year. Humboldt’s redwoods typically (though not this year) endure tough winter storms, too, with winds sometimes gusting over 50 miles per hour.

Miller’s treehouse would have to be built to accommodate extreme wind and rain, as well as the natural growth factor of the tree. Nelson would need to use at least four 21-inch long treehouse attachment bolts to firmly anchor the structure to the tree. These special bolts reach into the tree’s heartwood and provide solid anchor points. Once in place, the bolts jut out far enough from the bark to allow for the redwood’s growth. For a little while, anyway. Nelson would like to check up on Miller’s treehouse in the next two to three years.

You can check it out on TV when the Treehouse Masters “Sky High Redwood Retreat” episode airs Friday, Jan. 31 on Animal Planet.


by Josephine Johnson

Susann's Pirate Elixers

Susann’s Pirate Elixers

All that random rockstar ruckus, mayhem, mojo motion last weekend? Hands down, one of the best 48 hours on record. Ever.  For me, anyway, especially given that my weekends are usually more cerebral, computery, outdoors-ical. Or I’m working. Last weekend, though, was a first. But rockstar antics or no, LA remains one hell of an adventure. Every day. Unlike any other—China, Thailand, backpacking got nothing. And I wouldn’t trade this City of Angels for anything right now. Hollywood, Venice, Santa Monica, the Westside, I’m smitten.  AND I’ve shared NOTHING even of the spectacular, warm punch sunsets I’ve ridden my bike through on Venice beach. Or that the sun shines almost everyday.



This past weekend?

Though much less rock & porn star-y, still wins. Run it down: The Pig ‘n Whistle in Hollywood does open-mic on Tuesday and Wednesday in their back room—it’s sweet, intimate, solo-

Ryder Buck’s avataracoustic friendly.  I did the Wednesday night and landed a Friday 8:30pm opener.(!!!)

But it wasn’t until gig night, Friday, that I got the full picture of the evening. This young man, 23 year old Ryder Buck, a local fave and student at Musician’s Institute, died recently. Early in the morning of October 27, He walked into traffic on the 2 freeway where a car struck him down. He died a few hours later at Huntington Memorial.  The crappiest part? Buck had just been through chemo and beaten cancer. Shitty, huh?

Mike, who books the room, ‘had a hunch’ I’d be a ‘good fit’ to open the night, which was band mates, all their friends and family sharing music and celebrating the young, talented, too short life of Ryder Buck. I played all my spirit songs, you know, the ones about dead people. Emily,



Edgar, Andrew. All in the house. And then some. I closed the set with Let It All Out. From the audience they asked my name twice. A positive

Billy Stobo

Billy Stobo

sign, I think,  it all went over well.

Then Saturday, Joey invites me to ‘this art thing in Mar Vista’.  He vague-splains, “like there’re musicians, I’m playing a set, and artists, probably paintings, maybe beer, wine…”

Aha! Art, music, booze. I’m there.

The Top Tomato Market. A gallery. Performance venue. A community space across from the post office and smack in the middle of Mar Vista’s Sunday Farmers Market—prime location for local art and music to grow, blossom, unfurl.

And that’s exactly what Katie Boeck intends. Two months ago the business owner formerly occupying the gallery gave Boeck the go ahead to follow her dream,

Katie Boeck

Katie Boeck

Top Tomato Market

Top Tomato Market

provided she can get it to pay for itself. In the two months since, Boeck and co-curator, Mitch Orquiola, have opened two gallery shows (this night being one) and hosted a music relief fundraiser for the Philippines. “We want to create a premiere community art space that caters to a variety of ages and mediums of expression,” says Boeck. In February, Beck and Orquiola plan to introduce their first Buzz Club,  a music-focused night that features “invited musicians along with a few open sign up slots.” Currently, they rent the performance room, with real-deal acoustic tiling and bass traps, to local bands for rehearsal. A music producer teaches kids to make electronic music, and out back there’re benches and picnic tables suited for teaching.  The space is coming together with a music-centric, yet multipurpose, family-friendly sensibility.

Joey Maramba

Joey Maramba

“There’s nothing like this on the block or in this part of town,” says Orquiola, “and I

Mitch Orquiola

Mitch Orquiola

want to be part of creating something special for my community. This has great potential.”

On this night Katie Boeck, Billy Stobo, and Joey Maramba played. Check out these people! You will be inspired.

And then Sunday, I met Julie of the Evangenitals. She’s the brainchild behind the project, and she’s booking a west coast tour.  Their latest release is a bluegrass-tinged concept album revolving around Moby Dick. Yeah, thar she blows, straight outta 10th grade lit. *Erupts Mr. Melville with glee, so smug yet mirthful he!* I got to hear a copy, pre-release, and it’s really,



really good. It has Portland written all over it, a fine synthesis of literature, whimsy, and weird grass (my new genre!). A hit, especially up north.  Best part? They will be coming through Arcata, California, enroute to Portland. Yay! Humboldt. The first week in March, the Evangenitals play the Jambalaya on a Tuesday night. Really, you have to see them to get it, an accessible blend of weird, smart, and smokin’.

Phew, I think that’s it. No porn stars in this one but still one heck of an LA adventure weekend.




Top Tomato Market

Top Tomato Market

princess frank's guitar

royal glory

by Josephine Johnson

This all started a week ago, the Sunday before New Year’s.



suck it up

See, I need a day job to keep eating, writing, and performing. This is LA. Unless you’re JT, Katy Perry, Jimmy Iovine, or a trusty, a day job is necessary. A two-fold plan, this GET THE MUSIC  business. Part one: during the day, attack Craigslist—mostly for education, English teaching-type jobs, and some office-y positions—craft cover letters, send resumes. So far, this has yielded three interviews, and from those, I’ve been asked for two second interviews. Both went well, and so now I’m in that hurry-wait-and-see-oh-please-hire-me-now!-limbo land. Since I don’t wait very well, I keep trolling Craigslist, sending resumes…

Gerry & Omar, late night in Silverlake

Gerry & Omar, late night in Silver lake

Part two is the fun: open-mics and music-scene-mix-it-up, a.k.a get acquainted with LA double quick-like.  Thank Google for their maps! For reals, there’s at least one open-mic every night of the week, so I’m getting down the venues, streets, and freeways and how they all link up (or not!) in different parts of the city. I’m getting it, this City of Angles. And it’s fun.

Last Sunday, part two of Operation: GET THE MUSIC TO THE PEOPLE began when I ducked into the Thirsty Crow waiting for the Silverlake Lounge’s open-mic sign up to get rolling. And that’s when I met Princess Frank, a one-man whirlwind of a band who has a

princess frank

princess frank

Sunday residency at the Crow. Princess Frank. Think Prince-meets-Jack-White-meets-Stevie-Nicks for a bar top whiskey-drinking, porn-romp roll ’round. He’s sexy, sassy, kind of gender bender-y, has a great voice and won an award from the adult film industry for a little ditty called Rock and Roll in My Butthole.

princess frank

suzanne & princess frank

I can’t make this up.

There’s a movie, too…

Princess Frank has many friends. Installation artists, musicians, a local, organic hipster chef, actors, a make up artist, and porn stars, who are driven and focused on their passions, which makes this eclectic ensemble all the more real, solid, down to earth, and engaging. His bass player friend, Joey, has been all over the world with some heavy hitters. But I didn’t know any of this. Not yet. Not sitting at the bar in this first Princess Frank encounter, just being my Emily Dickinson-loving, non-pornstar self, enjoying this very new life unfolding. The wanna be open-mic queen, the LA newbie, hanging out and having a hoot with Princess Frank and his entourage.



And then later in the week Joey invites me to an Un-poppables gig in Pasadena.  Addi, the leader of the three piece (drums, bass & Addi), is a balloon artist. A professional balloon twister guy with a show on TLC.  He’s figured out how to get music out of a balloon with a Piezo mic, a gynormous board of pedals, and an electric tooth brush, and actually, it’s way more musical than you’d think. You can definitely move to it, though that a-tonal, avante garde jazziness does figure in. But it’s Joey and his bass that really help keep it together. He’s got pedals, dextrous fingers, a bow, and keen intuition guiding him through the changes and slight onstage hiccups inevitable when rubber and electricity are focal points of music-making. Of course, the drums help, keeping it smooth and toe-tappable.

So, yesterday, Sunday, when I received this text:

not jerk chicken!

jerk pork

ok me and my landlord are going to Hollywood farmers market…and we are gonna put on a cccchicken cccostume and a rabbit costume and terrorize!

I knew I had to be there.

And so I went, and it wasn’t long before I spotted Joey and Suzanne. Suzanne also happens to run a booth at market every Sunday. She makes hand-crafted, organic jerk sauces and pirates elixirs. With acoustic bass in-hand, the rabbit and the chicken were working the

crowd guerrilla marketing-style with a song in favor of jerk pork. Not jerk Chicken! Not jerk rabbit! I’m not sure they understood, but the kids seemed to dig it.

Somewhere in all the market mayhem, Suzanne hollers out, “Princess Frank is shooting a music video this afternoon at the Crow. We should all go!”


And suffice it to say, I spent my Sunday afternoon, evening, and night partying with rockstars.

LA rockstars. Who work really, really hard and are oddly humble and nothin’ but(t) real.



princess frank thirsty crow silverlake

princess frank thirsty crow silverlake

I wrote this cover for the North Coast Journal, Eureka, California, in April 2013 and am just now sharing on the blog. I realize it’s out of sequence, but it’s  important that it have a home here. And better late than never, right? Also, I realize the timing is kind of a downer—an assisted suicide story shared  the week before Christmas? Potentially very dark, depressing, and icky. But it’s not. I Promise. This is a tale of a loving son and family who are brave in helping their parents die with dignity. Bravery, compassion, and release. And love.

Click the title to link to original post on the Journal’s website.

click to flip through (10)DAWSON FAMILY PHOTO - Reg and Betty Dawson married in 1946 and celebrated more than 60 wedding anniversaries before they died, side by side, in the fall of 2012.
  • Reg and Betty Dawson married in 1946 and celebrated more than 60 wedding anniversaries before they died, side by side, in the fall of 2012.
In early September 2011, Dominic Dawson, a lean and soft-spoken delivery driver who lives in Manila, received an email from his ailing father in Wales. “I’m ready to go to Switzerland, October 2012,” Reg Dawson wrote his son. “What do you think?” Dominic was sitting at his desk in a second-story cupola peering over Humboldt Bay. From here, he could often see small flocks of dowitchers erupting from the shore, shimmering in the morning haze. He knew that “Switzerland” meant his father hoped to die at a Zurich apartment where an organization called Dignitas helps people commit suicide legally. Diffuse sunlight seeped through the old Victorian’s window. Outside, shore birds pecked in the mud, shifting and turning in unison. Dominic cradled his coffee mug.

He was surprised, but not shocked. His father, in his late 80s and struggling with Parkinson’s disease. was losing the ability to walk unassisted, sit upright and feed himself. About a year before, Reg had begun talking about Dignitas with his wife and his daughter, Teresa Schwanauer. When Teresa filled Dominic in, she’d confided that she didn’t think their father would go through with it. Now Reg was sounding more certain. And Dominic felt oddly comforted that his father had reached out to him, after a long estrangement that had lessened only gradually, as they both grew older.

He read the email again, and before the morning faded, forwarded it to Tina George, his partner of 10 years, who lives in Arcata. That night they talked logistics: Reg wanted the whole family to gather beforehand in England, to celebrate his life — and not to mourn. Dominic had no qualms about the suicide itself. He had long believed people have a right to die when and how they choose. So mostly, he and Tina talked about arranging the trip and whether she should come along.

The next morning, though, Dominic struggled for words to put into his email reply. What do you say to your own father when he announces his plans for passing? How do you sound supportive but not cold, or worse, eager? Dominic wrote, finally, that he didn’t know quite what to say. To which Reg replied, “That is perfectly normal and understandable.”


Dominic Dawson had severed ties with his parents in 1968, moving out of the family home in London when he was 16 years old. He and his parents just didn’t think the same way. He was embracing the freedom-loving ethos of the 1960s — equal rights, anti-war, Eastern mysticism — while his parents remained politically and socially conservative. He moved in with friends and took temporary jobs that were easy to find in London then: a clerk, a messenger, whatever kept him free from his parents’ rules. After a couple of years he craved more adventure and traveled overland to India. He met and stayed with royalty in Bangladesh, and he lived for six months in Calcutta, working for an international relief organization. Then he bounced around some more — traveling in the Middle East, then over to the United States, settling in the early 1970s in Santa Cruz, where he married and had his first daughter. In 1979, he arrived in Humboldt. To make it on the North Coast, he worked odd jobs and did lots of manual labor. He backpacked all over the Trinity Alps. He had a second daughter, in another relationship. Rooted in Humboldt, held by its natural beauty, Dominic has lived in the same Manila neighborhood since 1985.

The family ties with his parents reknit, but slowly. He would see them now and then, when they made trips to America. In 1996, the whole family gathered in England for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Not long after, he and his father began corresponding again. When the email about Switzerland came, Dominic was 60, with a 2-year-old grandson of his own. Gray-haired, blue-eyed and fit, he was semi-retired, running a delivery service, taking rafting trips with Tina. Now there was this — and before it was over, both his parents would make fateful decisions.


In California, as in many other states and many nations, helping or encouraging someone to commit suicide is a crime. The law stands even as public opinion has been shifting. In a 2006 Pew Research poll, 60 percent of those polled nationwide thought that people in great pain with no hope of improvement had a right to die. And 53 percent said people with an incurable disease had a right to choose death.

The idea appalls some advocates for the elderly and for people with disabilities. They worry about pressure from relatives who are crumbling under the stress of care, or who want to preserve family assets. Some religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, orthodox Judaism, and many evangelical Protestant denominations, consider suicide or helping with suicide a sin. Opponents warn that opening the door to legal assisted suicides could eventually lead to encouraging death for people deemed undesirable, people whose lives are looked at as somehow less worthy or less worthwhile than the lives of others. But amid those warnings, many religious, civil rights and patient rights groups champion the idea that people have a right to die, and that helping should be considered a kindness, not a crime. Legally assisted suicide, they say, gives people who have no hope of recovery the option to die before physical pain becomes unbearable or mental abilities are lost.

Worldwide, assisted suicide is legal in only a few places, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Oregon and Washington, and the laws vary widely. Oregon and Washington have similar legislation, legalizing suicide under narrow conditions. A patient must be at least 18, a state resident and terminally diagnosed with six months or less to live. The patient must convince a doctor that he or she is of sound mind, making two oral requests and one written statement. Two doctors must sign separate forms verifying the patient’s terminal illness. Then the state must approve the suicide, no sooner than 15 days after the first oral request. After all that, a physician can prescribe — but not administer — a lethal, swallow-able drug. No injections.

On the other end of the spectrum is Switzerland, with the most liberal suicide law in the world. Under article 115 of the Swiss Criminal Code, assisting another’s suicide is criminal only if the motive is for personal gain. This sparse pronouncement was interpreted in the 1980s as a legal green light to create self-assisted suicide organizations. EXIT, founded in 1997, and Dignitas, founded in 1998, are among the best-known. Dignitas, which was featured in a 2012 Frontline documentary, is the only Swiss organization to accept foreigners. In the years since Dignitas’ founding, the Swiss Supreme Court has expanded the law even more, ruling in 2006 that chronically depressed and mentally ill people have a right to assisted suicide. Today, Swiss law allows people with a range of non-terminal and progressive ailments to apply — and if approved — to choose to die.

Not all Swiss are on board with this right-to-die, death-with-dignity mission. In 2011, the Evangelical People’s Party of Switzerland and the Swiss Federal Democratic Union lobbied heavily for a citywide referendum in Zurich over the practice. The May 2011 ballot measure asked residents whether assisted suicide should be banned altogether and whether organizations — Dignitas specifically — should admit foreigners. Despite heavy funding from Switzerland’s conservative and religious right, the proposed ban was rejected by 84 percent of voters. And 78 percent voted to keep assisted suicide services available to overseas users.


Dominic had always thought of his conservative parents as swift-witted and independent. Reg Dawson grew up in London and met his wife, then Betty Johnson, in the first years of World War II when they were both at a community dance. She was 15 and he was 17. Reg was getting ready for a stint in the Royal Air Force doing communications work. Theirs was a long courtship – they didn’t marry until after the war ended, in February of 1946Their wedding picture shows him in uniform, his hair already thinning, one hand clasping Betty’s. She is smiling a little more broadly, a white veil billowing behind her, sprays from a lavish bouquet trailing nearly to her knees. By then, both had converted to Catholicism. Dominic speculates the religion offered them a sense of spiritual security during the frightening years of wartime air raids.

Their oldest child, Teresa, was born in 1947. Soon after came Paul, then Dominic and Christopher. After the military, Reg worked as a negotiator in the British civil service. Once, Dominic recalls, Reg helped keep some commuter rail services alive by leaking information about government plans to stop them. Betty was a homemaker, focused on raising the children. She enjoyed cooking and baking and reading popular novels, her children remember. Once they were grown, she returned to school and became a business skills instructor, teaching typing and dictation. Over the years, both drifted from Catholicism — Reg becoming an atheist and Betty an agnostic. Reg grew skeptical of organized religion and critical of government.

In the late 1980s, when Reg retired after more than 30 years in the civil service, he and his wife were still in good health, and Betty was a regular swimmer. That began to change with the turn of the new century. In 2002, Reg was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease. Their children noticed Betty’s memory significantly slipping in 2006, although she wasn’t officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s until 2012. Her early memories persisted — childhood, early years of marriage, her children’s youth — but she was losing track of the day-to-day: luncheons, medical appointments. Had she turned off the stove, or was the water running in the bathroom? Reg first broached the subject of suicide with Teresa, a retired computer analyst who lives in Walnut Creek, when she was visiting her parents at her brother Christopher’s house in London in the fall of 2010. “If your mother passes before I do,” he directed in his calm British English, “I want to go to Switzerland and commit suicide.” At the time, Teresa didn’t think that her father would travel all the way to a Swiss clinic to end his life. “I wasn’t worried,” she recalled later. “I Skyped with them every week and was certain that when my father passed, it would be at their retirement community in Wales.” Teresa and her three brothers assumed that Reg would die before their mother.


As Reg’s condition worsened, he became less and less willing to wait for his wife to pass away first. Even in October 2010, when he was 88 and she 86, she could no longer lift and move him. An attendant at their retirement community in Wales had to bathe him. And Betty had left a burner on. Again. Reg began emailing with his oldest son, Paul, about choosing suicide if he was unable to live and move independently. And Parkinson’s disease does that, steals a person’s independence. It’s a nasty degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that begins with slight physical tremors, rigidity and difficulty walking, and then progresses to uncontrollable cognitive and behavioral problems. In late stages, dementia is common. Reg resisted using a wheelchair and insisted on walking as much as possible. By December 2011, though, he was resigned to a wheelchair most of the time, and by then, all four of his children knew he wanted to die. “When he announced his plan, my only surprise was how late he had left it,” Paul remembered. “He was clearly not enjoying life at all.” And Dominic, who at first had thought he would only attend his father’s going away celebration in England, now reassured Teresa that he would go farther. If she wanted his help and support accompanying their father to Switzerland, Dominic would come along for that, tooTogether, then, all four children planned how to best support Reg’s choice, while making sure their mother would have a good quality of life after he was gone.

Betty, though, did not approve. Not for religious or philosophical reasons, but because for more than 60 years of marriage, they’d always been a team. Even as Reg’s body withered, Betty had remained physically strong and able to help him. As she became more forgetful, Reg’s mind remained razor sharp.

“But my mother also knew the reality of Alzheimer’s,” Teresa recalled, “My mother was afraid that if Reg went to Switzerland to die, that she would be alone and eventually die not knowing who her children are. This terrified her.” And at least with Reg by her side, Betty had someone. Without him, she feared dying without memories or knowing who she was.

It wasn’t so much that Betty didn’t want Reg to go to Switzerland but that she didn’t want him to go without her. Even with all four children ready to help, Reg hated the thought of leaving Betty alone. But he hated his continuing decline even more.


In late October 2011, Reg paid $250 and joined the assisted suicide organization Dignitas, intent upon ending his life in Zurich, Switzerland, sometime in late 2012. The application process is not simple. There are thick packets of paperwork, and a Swiss physician must review the applicant’s full medical records. To further complicate matters, assisted suicide is illegal in the United Kingdom, and doctors can lose their medical license and face up to 14 years in prison if caught knowingly releasing records for a suicide that would occur outside the country. But Reg wanted to do the right thing, be above board the whole way through. He was honest. At first. He told his doctors exactly what he was doing.

They curtly denied release of his medical records.

A clever man, Reg changed tactics. A few weeks later, he re-contacted his physicians, this time telling them the records were needed for travel insurance to the United States for his 90th birthday celebration. It worked. He submitted his full application in December 2011. Now he had to wait, for Dignitas and for the approval of the Swiss government.

By then, in mid-December 2011, Reg’s health was in a tailspin. Feeding himself had become prolonged and excruciating — loss of muscle control meant that what food wasn’t lost down his front was often smeared across his face. “My father was an extremely dignified man,” Teresa said. “It was messy, but he preferred to feed himself.” A meal could take an hour or more. And he had become incontinent.

Dominic, keeping in touch from afar, hated to think of his father hunched in a wheelchair, unable to go to the bathroom by himself. Reg’s choice seemed courageous to his second son, and the obstacles he had to overcome were just one more sign of that courage.

As Reg worsened and Betty contemplated his hopes to die, she became uncharacteristically quiet and withdrawn. She cut short Skype sessions with her daughter and grandchildren, or skipped them entirely. This was not the vivacious business instructor and nurturing, reassuring mother Teresa had known. And then came the startling email from Reg. In January 2012, he wrote Teresa that Betty had read the Dignitas literature and wanted to die with him. Life would be intolerable without him, Betty felt, no matter how hard her children would try to help. She, too, would apply to Dignitas.


By the end of January 2012, Reg Dawson received the provisional green light from Dignitas, which meant he had passed the Swiss medical review and could proceed with setting a date for his assisted suicide. The organization carefully advised him not to plan it on or near birthdays or other important family celebrations. At the same time, Betty began her application. They were hoping to die together.

To apply to Dignitas, a patient first must pay and become a member. Then comes the packet of paperwork and the required medical records, which can take up to three months to be evaluated. If the documents are approved, the patient must go to Zurich and meet with a physician, who will assess whether he or she is unpressured and of sound mind. Only then does Dignitas grant a provisional green light for the suicide. The week of the scheduled death, the patient must meet with two separate doctors to be sure this is what he or she wants to do.

Betty’s application would be tricky. To comply with Swiss law, doctors affiliated with Dignitas would have to determine whether she was mentally sound enough to choose death. The question for doctors in such cases, according to a Dignitas pamphlet, is whether the decision is “a wish to die that is an expression of a curable psychic distortion and which calls for treatment” or a “self-determined, carefully considered and lasting decision of a lucid person.” It is a difficult distinction for anyone, and was complicated by the Alzheimer’s, which is considered a mental illness under Swiss law. Betty would have to convince doctors that she was capable of deciding to die.

And then, to make things even more difficult, she and Reg were applying for a double assisted suicide. The family was told that such suicides, with their more complex logistics, are relatively rare in Switzerland.

After three months of emailing between the Dawsons and Dignitas, a rewritten request letter from Betty, and more medical appointments in the United Kingdom and Zurich, Betty got the provisional green light in May of 2012. Now both of Dominic’s parents had been cleared for assisted suicide, and they wanted to do it together. They needed two separate physicians for each of them to prescribe the lethal dosage. In August, Reg got word by email: the doctors had been arranged. After working around a large family’s birthdays and wedding anniversaries, Reg and Betty set Sept. 17 as the day of their passing.


Even the final arrangements would be complicated. Paul, an international finance professor, had professional obligations in Asia and couldn’t be by their side. And the family feared that Christopher, a British citizen, could be detained and possibly arrested for involvement with their suicides once he returned to London. They all decided it was safer for him not to be in Switzerland. Teresa, Dominic and Tina — all U.S. citizens — seemed likely to face less, if any, scrutiny on their return to London from Zurich. It was agreed. The three of them would travel with Reg and Betty that final week.

With the suicide date set, Dominic and Tina flew to London during the first week of September. All of Reg and Betty’s children, their nearest grandchild, and Reg’s brother and wife also arrived. They talked and reflected quietly during the day. In the evenings the family dined together in London restaurants. On Sept. 11, Reg, Betty, Teresa, Dominic and Tina left London for Switzerland. There, they interspersed pre-suicide doctor visits with trips to Lake Thune and a visit to a pumpkin festival.

On Sept. 17, the five of them arrived at a Dignitas apartment in an industrial part of Zurich. The sun was bright and warm. A light breeze stirred the trees. Earlier that week, Reg and Betty had met with the physicians and had gotten their final approvals. Calm and relaxed, the family sat in the apartment, completing the last bits of paperwork. A Dignitas assistant brought Reg and Betty each cups of a liquid antiemetic to coat their stomachs so they wouldn’t vomit on the lethal barbiturate dosage that would come later. Teresa and her mother left the apartment to sit beside a small pond outside and quietly enjoy the splendor of the warm afternoon. Reg, Dominic and Tina chatted for a bit and drank coffee for over an hour, long enough for the stomach coating to be fully effective. When the Betty and her daughter came back indoors, both parents were smiling.

“I think it’s time,” said Reg.

As required by Swiss law, a videotape was running. Reg and Betty Dawson were helped into a twin bed, where they nestled together. They had selected music for their passing. Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3 played softly, followed by Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. A dream of love, and then the underworld.

Reg joked about the luggage — there will be more than necessary for the flight home. What will they do with the suitcases? The adult pads? “We won’t need those anymore,” he said. And Betty, smiling, piped up, “Oh, my jewelry.” She slid off her engagement ring and wedding band, and lovingly extended them to Teresa.

The non-physician Dignitas assistant brought them each a cup of sodium pentobarbitol. These Reg and Betty had to drink very quickly, and they had to drink them unassisted. Reg sucked his through a straw. Betty slugged hers back without hesitation. When the cups were empty, the assistant gave them each a piece of Swiss chocolate to banish the bitter taste of the barbiturate cocktail.

The room was still. Betty leaned over and kissed Reg. Dominic held his father’s free hand. Teresa held her mother’s. The music continued softly in the background. Reg and Betty clasped hands and fell asleep slowly, peacefully. Finally.


Dominic Dawson returned to his parents’ home in Wales to put the last of their affairs to rest. Papers, books, family photos, CDs all sorted and organized by his hand. He listed their assisted living unit on the market. On Oct. 1, the family held a memorial service and Reg and Betty’s ashes were scattered in the memorial garden of the British Railway Preservation Society, where they had been lifetime members.

Dominic, back home in Humboldt now, does not sorrow. From his cupola window, he can watch gulls soar. He can see a squadron of pelicans, flying in formation above the bay. “There’s nothing to be sad about” he said. The way he looks at it, both his parents accomplished something worthwhile, and they both kept their dignity. “It was awe-inspiring. There was no fear or regret in those final days. I am thankful I was there.”

On the Ridge

I know. I hinted at the Treehouse Masters for this post. That’s coming. But super quick-like, here’s a link to most recent article for the North Coast Journal. Enjoy!

Sunny Brae residents Natalia Collier and Adam Brown know this trail. Up Buttermilk Lane, past the middle school and left onto Margaret, where a large army-green water tank marks the trailhead and a concrete staircase on the right rises into the Sunny Brae portion of the Arcata Community Forest. Collier, Brown and their dog Casey hike here at least once a week. This new trail is a welcome dose of solitude and near-wilderness in their backyard, but, says Brown, “It’s so new, there aren’t any names or signs up yet, and most people really don’t use this part.” Well, technically, the Sunny Brae section of the Arcata Community Forest isn’t open.

Not just yet.

But it will be, and soon more folks will hike and love it because this trailhead also marks the start of the Arcata Ridge Trail, which is getting closer and closer to completion. That means if you want to hike from Sunny Brae over to West End Road — that spot under the 101 overpass with those concrete curb-like structures will be the other trailhead — you’ll be able to bike, hike or horseback ride the 3.8-mile trek by summer 2014. By spring, the northern portion of the Arcata Ridge Trail, which begins on West End Road, should be ready for exploration, and sometime in February 2014, the south fork of the Janes Creek Loop trail will be open.

The Arcata Ridge Trail started out as an idea about 15 years ago, according to Kirk Cohune, a principal at Greenway Partners and a community trail volunteer. The goal was to connect South Arcata (Sunny Brae) with north Arcata (West End Road) via trails and create a system where responsible timber harvest and volunteer support would sustain the trail’s management. Mark Andre, Arcata’s environmental services director, acquired land and conservation easements throughout these timber lands. In 2000, Sierra Pacific, the company that owned the forest adjacent to Sunny Brae, wanted to log the hillside. Enter Sunny Brae local and now Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace. He and concerned neighbors formed the Sunny Brae Neighborhood Alliance to stop large-scale logging near their homes. When Sierra Pacific finally offered to sell the land, the Alliance and the community raised $100,000 to help Arcata buy the property and turn it into a community forest. The cash allowed Mark Andre to secure matching grants from the U.S. Forest Service, CALTRANS, the California Department of Forestry and other agencies, and in 2006, Arcata bought most of the Sunny Brae part of the forest.

There’s a nice sign near the trailhead thanking many state and community organizations for the forest’s conservation. Again, not open yet. And just because other folks are hiking doesn’t mean you won’t get a ticket. Of course, hypothetically, if a reporter did accidentally hike its wide paths in all their splendor before she knew it was closed, it might have been magical. Think redwoods, Doug firs, Bigleaf maples. She mighthave seen faded, broad leaves twisting and falling all along the hillside, sunlight dappling them as they dance their way down to the forest floor. Add sunshine, crisp sky and a gentle, late autumn breeze, and it would have hypothetically been the stuff of fairies, wizards, sprites and unicorns. It’s the perfect place for the Arcata Ridge Trail to begin. (Of course, said reporter also might have gotten lost for a couple of hours with no signs to guide her, and she may have been very grateful to have brought a friend, a phone and plenty of water.)

Can’t wait to get in there? Dennis Houghton heads up the trail maintenance crew for the City of Arcata, and he often needs volunteers. Maybe you could help. Craft some sweet signage for these amazing community trails with Houghton, his crew and a legion of community volunteers. Contact Dennis at 707-822-8184.

Happy Thanksgiving and So Much More

On this Thanksgiving morning, thankful for all this and much more.

by Josephine Johnson


Delicious organic produce comes from here.


I should be writing about KickStarter, that I have an active campaign up and running. I do.  A really, really big deal that I’ve not shared or documented here. It’s been more work than I imagined, managing and promoting the ol’ KickStarter. But it’s also been a valuable learning adventure in time management and prioritization. Posting updates, acknowledging supporters, promoting on FB and other internet/print media outlets have filled any free time I may have had these past weeks to post something here. And yes, then, I should be writing about the gratitude I feel that so many friends and fans stepped up so quickly to get behind the new album project. And I am. I am really, genuinely thankful to have generous people in my life, who not only believe in and appreciate my music but who are also willing to help me see this album through to completion. For sure, I am lucky to live in Humboldt County and to be able to perform and share music here. Thank you for all your support. The CD is a reality now because a whole lot of Humboldt folks pitched in to make it happen.

Monica Topping made this. Kikki & I wrangled the agates.

Monica Topping made this. Kikki & I wrangled the agates.

How DID it happen? How’d we do it? How’d this come about, and really, what does it take to be an indie artist and musician in a small, rural community notorious for low wages and less-than-stellar day-job opportunities? I’d like to share my perspective, what’s it’s been like to see this through. What it’s like to be an artist at the edge, near the margin, on the verge. I AM on the verge, I know it, the verge of something grand, a breakthrough. Sharing this part of the story, I think, is the best way for me to show you how thankful I am to be where I am doing what I do. This, an active exercise in gratitude.

If you know me in my day-to-day or Facebook life, then it’s no secret I’ve been Humboldt shuffling’, cobbling things together to keep the bills paid, to keep it all rolling. Working retail, an organic farm, freelance writing, English and ESL tutoring, yard work, odd jobs, housesitting, music gigs. At any given time at least four jobs are spinning in the air around me.

Wait, you’re not teaching this semester? Not at College of the Redwoods?

No. I’m not.


If you could work here, wouldn't you?

If you could work here, wouldn’t you?

In the August burglary at my former Eureka apartment, much of my English teaching resources were either taken or destroyed–computers with lesson plans, thumb drives, syllabi, handouts, ESL resources. Gone. All this a week and a half before school. Re-creating and pulling these materials back together on top of securing new housing—I could not live in that space any longer—was not feasible. Plus, I was not entirely at ease with my course schedule. I was slated to teach 6:30 pm to 7:50pm Monday thru Thursday and Saturday morning 9am to noon. Not absolutely impossible, but certainly less than ideal for a working musician.

That schedule meant I’d likely have to give up the Siren’s Song open-mic that I host and worked so hard to build; certainly no pints for non-profits gigs, or any weeknight slots at Mad River Brewery. It also meant that rehearsing and recording with Piet and the guys would have to go on the back burner. If I taught fall semester, it’d be nearly impossible to finish the CD before Christmas, the key project we’d so diligently focused on all summer. With my world upturned and I in search of a safe place to live, the only thing I felt secure and happy about was my music and finishing the CD with the guys. And so I committed to music. I decided not to teach fall semester fully knowing that I would have to work hard at a multitude of things to make ends meet. I would do it. Humboldt shuffle and juggle it. Again, if you’ve been following my posts on Facebook, then you know the crazy

I & I Farm, organic rainbow chard

I & I Farm, organic rainbow chard

schedules I keep, the jobs I juggle to be able to keep the music happening. And in the end (or beginning?) I think the shuffle has been my best teacher—teaching me grace and how to honor commitments across a broad range of job deadlines and expectations; how to be punctual and complete the things I say I’m going to; how to prioritize and keep organized. I’ve also become pretty snazzy with timely completion of paperwork, which is a darn handy skill to have. I’m a whiz at making phone calls, meeting deadlines, and chasing down details. I’ve got a good attitude, too, mostly positive and upbeat in spite of all the potential time management pitfalls. Ah, time management Tetris!

Yes, in the face of one of the greatest physical losses I’ve ever experienced, I committed to finishing the CD. I had to.  To honor the core part of what makes me, ‘me’. To shift my life to better nurture and love the creative, music,

Steampunk thresher you know what this is?

Steampunk thresher thing…do you know what this is?

singing, voice inside. And by that, I think, stepping out of the classroom and committing to honoring myself—to making and sharing music and leading a loving and creatively inspired life—I have been the best teacher within my power to be. By example. Humbly, with kindness I strive to continue doing so everyday, being both a creative musician and teacher. When you wake up in the morning and at the end of the day, if you believe in yourself  and know without a shadow of a doubt what you want, make it so. Do it. One of the most effective ways to encourage and inspire, to teach, is by honoring what you know to be true in your life and then living that truth. For me, that’s singing, music, and writing.

I am a sharp lady and talented teacher. I love teaching and know one day I will return to the classroom. But for now, I have more life experiences to gain, a whole lotta music to do, and so much more to learn before I get back there. On my return “I’ll be bringing back the melodies and rhythm that I find”. Thank you, Townes.

That I (we!) have completed a CD in the midst of all this is no small feat.

That I’ve (we’ve!!) launched and landed a successful KickStarter campaign, just shy of a minor miracle.

So thankful that I live where I do and am able to make it. And Imma MAKE IT, now.  Again, thank you Humboldt for helping make this happen. Having jobs to shuffle was key to making it go; having great friends and fans here makes it all worthwhile. We did it. CDs by Christmas. Love. WE DID IT!!!


***Next post: how the Humboldt Shuffle best qualified me to assist with production on Animal Planet’s ‘Treehouse Masters’. For real. There are no coincidences. It’s all connected. For a reason.

Nelson Treehouse Supply

Nelson Treehouse Supply

Taking Care of Business

Folks have been asking how I’m doing, if everything’s back to normal post break-in. (Much more cautious about what is posted on Facebook)

Josephine Johnson in studio

Josephine Johnson in studio

Update: I live in a safe place. I have a couple of great jobs (farm & retail); am freelancing for the North Coast Journal; hosting monthly open-mic at Siren’s Song; gigging various venues in Humboldt. Most importantly, I am finishing a new CD at Universal Balance Studio in Arcata. Am very busy taking care of business, getting things done for big changes and am thankful for all your kind words & support. Some images from the studio last week. Thank you Sasha! And now to get back to KickStarter campaign design :)

Josephine Johnson in the studio

Josephine Johnson in the studio

by Josephine Johnson


Doug Green, Joanne Rand, Darryl Cherney

I didn’t know Doug Green. Never went to an event he emceed or hung out with him after a show

Peter Rowan

Peter Rowan

he produced. That’s right, I’ve never been to Reggae on the River–the Humboldt jewel in the crown music festival for which Doug is most famous as founding member and Master of Ceremonies.  He’s been a fixture on the music and entertainment scene in Humboldt County for more than 30 years, a real mover and shaker and genuine supporter of local SoHum community and talent. But I didn’t know any of that not until I went to the LoveFest in his honor this past Saturday. Doug Green is now very ill and wheelchair-bound. That’s why the whole of southern Hulmboldt, under the direction of Darryl Cherney, came together at the Mateel Community Center in Redway, California, to celebrate Doug’s life and community contributions. Joanne Rand, Alice Dimicele, Peter Rowan, Tina Malia, even Darryl himself all took the stage for him.

One of the most touching moments of the evening was when Tina Malia shared how she came to know Doug. Tina and Sasha Butterfly were fresh

Joanne Rand

Joanne Rand


Alice Dimicele & her band

from a Rainbow gathering where they wooed folks with their enchanting, ephemeral sounds. Both self-described hippie kids impressed Doug with their fledgling songwriting and harmonizing skills. He also appreciated their uplifting message of love and spirituality. Doug became their diligent supporter and helped them connect with folks who could further develop and share their musical gifts. Now, Tina is a recording artist in Los Angeles with three albums under her belt and tours the U.S. and beyond. She spoke with great reverence about Doug and how his belief in her talent helped her realize her dream of being a professional musician.

So many people packed the Mateel that night to support him and listen to the performers whom Doug so loved and worked with.  By night’s end more than 600 people had graced the community center, listening, singing, dancing, even participating in a singing bowl prayer offering. A genuinely heart-felt good time. We were all blessed by spirit that Saturday night.
…After Peter Rowan’s set (Free Mexican Air Force was clear as a bell, by the way), I had a hankering for dessert. Ah, something sweet to keep me moving on the dance floor! But I didn’t have any cash. Jan, with whom I’d ride-shared, had a $20 dollar bill to spot my sugar craving.
Mmmmm, pound cake with raspberries and vanilla ice cream–lactose intolerance be damned! I selected the biggest slice, asked for extra ice cream & deposited the $20 into the donation can. Only enough to make $10 in change, though. Dang. What to do?  Select another slice of cake, of course, which I initially intended to take to Jan, but…
…I made my way to a back corner of the Mateel, placed one slice on an empty table and began devouring the other in myCIMG5717 hand. So good. The melting ice cream seeped and saturated the cake in sweet creamy bliss. The raspberries added the perfect amount of tart. I was within two bites of finishing the big slice and thinking about eating the second when Peter Rowan strode over with a small paper plate of the same cake in hand also within micro bites of finishing.
“Hi, would you like to share a second piece of cake with me? I was either going to take it to my friend or eat it myself, which is why I’m in this corner  contemplating having two pieces of cake. Like maybe hide and eat them both? But actually it’s nicer to share,” I said.
Peter Rowan smiled.
“It is good cake, isn’t it?” He replied.
“Yes, it is,and I am happy to share.”
So there we stood eating cake, me attempting to remain nonchalant, non-goofy.CIMG5722
“Do you live here?” He asked.
“I live in NorHum, in Eureka, no wait, I mean McKinleyville now, but I’ve moved a couple times recently and have had a string of house sitting gigs. I’m not so sure where I live these days.” (Goodness, was I flubbing this?)
But we continued!
Chatting. He asked how I got here, and I told him I came to Humboldt for grad school to pursue something lucrative like a Master’s in English. He laughed. We talked about community and how some folks in these parts may not have a lot of material wealth, but that in Humboldt we all have an abundance of spirit and heart, great relationships to make up for the money we may not have.
“And weed. There’s good weed,” he chuckled, dark eyes twinkling.
“Right? What is that saying?” I mused, trying really, really hard not to trip over my tongue, “in tough times it’s better to have weed and no money than money and no weed,” I quipped.
Another smile. Pause. Me, deep breath.CIMG5723
“I took some photos of you. Can I show you?”
“I saw you out there. Let’s see.”
We crowded around my camera, and he beamed a solid confident smile.
“I don’t know if you can see it in these pics, but you glowed on stage, especially on the high notes. You’re in line with that thing that’s bigger than us,” I said.
No response. Another pause.
“Are you staying down here tonight?” He asked.
“No, I have to leave. I have a gig tomorrow morning and have to be there as close to 9 as possible,” I said.
Another pause. Both of us.
“I’m a musician, too. I get to play music tomorrow. Early.”
Another pause. Standing. looking between me, the cake, my camera.
“Are you getting support up here?” he asked.
And I wasn’t sure what he meant.
“You’re getting some positive support up here for your music, aren’t you?”
“Yes, yes, I am. In so many ways. This community seems to enjoy what I do, very thankful for that.”
He put the last bites of the cake back on the table. Another pause.
“You’re really good. Keep at it, keep doing it,” he said.
He looked me in the eyes, smiled, then gracefully, slowly strode away.
Speechless. No sounds. Words gone. The implications… Did he know before I told him I was a singer-songwriter? Had he seen a tweet, blog post, a video–goodness knows a lot of my stuff’s all over the internet.  (Google Josephine Johnson. It comes up first!)
Or was it something else?
I was glowing that night, too, feeling positively buoyant. Confident. Could he see my connection to that thing so much bigger than myself? The

Peter Rowan

Peter Rowan

golden cord we all have but that resonates and shimmers especially bright when we are comfortable and surrounded by our own? That thing that right now urges me to finish recording my CD (so close to being DONE) then GET my music out to a broader audience.

Could he see I have  BIG thoughts? That Los Angeles, scary as it is, is on my mind?
Or was he just being polite?
Saying what any singer-songwriter would want to hear from a Grammy-winning blue grass legend?
I don’t know.
But I was so happy and goose-bumpy, I went outside to gather my thoughts and watch the rising moon.
Goodness and Doug’s great force of spirit.
With us.
And will be.

Well, howdy.

Title of the post reveals it all: I got robbed.


Ah, the view from my former crack shack. That dumpster? Tweeker paradise. Damn

Ah, the view from my former crack shack. That dumpster? Tweeker paradise. Damn

Brief backstory: I moved into a new space in Eureka, my very, very own artist abode (with working bathroom and kitchen!). Unfortunately, it was across the street from a run-down apartment unit. And believe me that place was no artist’s haven—it hummed a black frequency that only meth and heroine addiction can resonate. Artist abode. Drug den. Never the twain shall meet and resolve harmoniously. I may have lost this fight to looters and opportunists, but I am not giving up. I am not done. Josephine Johnson is a winner, and mark these words: I WILL BE BACK ON TOP.  Minor setback.  True, my computer’s gone (thank you Jennifer Savage for use of yours), as are my sound system, ukulele, cameras, bedding, toilet paper, soap—bastards even took my Q-tips!!!—but it will all be ok. I live in a very kind community that’s showing me nothing but love.

Example: today Greg Gehr, Ken Terrill Dave Isley Buddy Reed & many more are hosting a benefit fundraiser to help get my things back.

Today, Sunday, August 11 from 2 pm to 7:30 at the Mad River Brewery in Blue Lake, Josephine Johnson music equipment recovery benefit.

Know what else is amazing? My friend Greg Beaumont also set up a donation page–it’s handled through Paypal & your donations go directly to my account.

Click on this link to get to the donation page

*Since it’s Paypal, donors must also list their mailing address—excellent! I can send thank you cards and let you know how I am using your dollars to purchase stolen items.

Computer, sound system & ukulele are the most important items to replace quickly :) We’ll git ‘er done—thank you!

Below is the post from the Lost Coast Outpost:


You can click all through the story to land on donation page :)


Eureka Musician and All-Around Good Person Josephine Johnson Comes Home to Find All Her Stuff Stolen
Hank Sims / Wednesday, Aug. 7 @ 12:44 p.m. / Crime

Eureka singer-songwriter Josephine Johnson went out to play music for the girls at North Star Quest Camp yesterday. When she got back to her downtown Eureka home this morning, her front door was busted in and all her stuff was gone — her computer, her sound system, even her ukulele.

“I’m barely keeping it together,” Johnson told the Outpost in between making the rounds at local pawn shops, looking for the tools she uses to make her art. “Welcome to Humboldt County. I’m just frustrated and angry.”

The Eureka Police Department came to the scene, took a report and were very sympathetic and helpful, Johnson said. Helpfully, the burglars left a box of donuts at the scene of the crime. That box could well crack the case. In the meanwhile, Johnson is asking the public to keep an eye out for the following items, which were taken from her:

Sony handheld digital camera
Peavey 8-channel sound sound system with two speakers
Canon SLR film camera
Tascam portable digital recorder
Tenor ukulele
Macbook Pro

If you think you may have a lead on the thief or thieves, give the EPD a ring — 441-4060. No one deserves to be have their important stuff stolen, but it’s particularly galling when it happens to a selfless starving artist like Josephine.

Let’s listen to her playing her ukulele at the Jambalaya last year.

around the bend

around the bend

Songwriting, Saturday,
June 15, 2013
Gracewinds Music
Corvallis, Oregon

Hey! Thanks for being part of songwriting class  I’ve re-typed our song and have included it in two versions—the first is the way we completed it at the end of class; the second is how I have edited the song to ‘tighten’ it up. In my edit, you’ll see that I changed some of the structure that we began with—this is part of songwriting! In many ways it is very much like solving a puzzle, like playing a super fun language game that involves pushing and pulling language and music so that words and melody fit and work together. And of course much like writing essays for school (remember, songwriting has its parallels with academic writing—who’da thought?!), writing songs involves multiple drafts, editing, and peer feedback to make it as sparkle-y good as possible.

I will share your song on my blog at so more folks can have a look at what and how we did this. Thanks so much, Eva, Sonja, Sequoia and Ginger!!! Thank you, Gracewinds Music!

Version 1, the song at the end of class:

Verse The warm rain that joins the beat of crystal waves that shine with heat
Cannot dislodge your perfect day from its hold on love in every way
I’m paddling towards my future I must take this journey alone
To find my heart, soul, and self to find my own way home
Bridge: You never know just how far you’ll go to be yourself and finally show
Just who you are and what you’ll do to show this world
That you are you
Verse: The dark clouds came to spoil my day it started to pour but I know everything
Is OK and I think to myself there is no need to worry the wind and rain
Won’t blow my perfect day away

Pacific Ocean

Pacific Ocean!

So, we have a lot of great stuff here, but we need to shift things around a bit to give the song a sense of symmetry and completeness. For example, it still needs some kind of chorus or ‘hook’ and it needs a sense of story or narrative movement. And that main idea? The song’s gotta have a point, right? Most importantly, it needs a TITLE!
I’ll show you how I did it, BUT you can—and please do— play with the words, timing, and chords to create your own edit for the song. Great thing about songwriting? There’re multiple ways to make it the way YOU want it to be. So, feel free to edit and play with this song—push it to be even more than it is! Thanks for all your hard work. It was a blast spending a Saturday afternoon with you 
Version 2, Josephine edit
D Gbm
The warm rain that joins the beat of crystal waves that shine with heat
Cannot dislodge your perfect day from its hold on love in every way
D Gbm
I’m paddling toward my future I must take this journey alone
To find my heart, soul, and self to find my own way home
Gm D Gm D Gbm G
Wish I knew how far I had to go to be myself and finally know
G D Gbm G D
Love is all I need to show

D Gbm
Dark clouds try to spoil my day it may pour but I know everything’s OK
I know there’s no need to worry wind and rain won’t wash this away
D Gbm
shining toward the future and I am really not alone
Because my heart, soul and self are my home
Gm D Gm D Gbm G
No matter how far I have to go to be myself and proudly know
G D Gbm G D

Love is all I need to grow


Em D Em D
You never know how far you’ll go to be yourself and show
Em D Gbm G
who you are and what you’ll do to show
G D Gbm G D
That you are you

D Gbm
Waves will crash and storms will blow But I carry deep what I always know
that love is key to heart, soul, self connecting all our mystery
D Gbm
future, past, and present certain I am my own
Laugh out loud I am strong I am home
Gm D Gm D Gbm G
So very far I have come to find out what I knew all along
D Gbm G D
I am love, I am loved, I am love

West End Road

West End Road Barn

Such busy times these! A short shout out to let you all know: 1) I’m back in Humboldt County California (Yay!) 2) I’m teaching English as a second language at College of the Redwoods 3) I’m juggling a CRAZY schedule and performing, recording, and writing as much music as I can. Check this video filmed by the amazing Chuck Johnson,  aka Freak Photo, for his Humboldt Live Sessions project:

I have also donated a track to the Humboldt Music Project Check it out!

Humboldt Music Project

Humboldt Music Project

And this Saturday, December 22nd, I’ll be playing a set at Spirit Vibrations 2nd annual Holiday Party at the Jambalaya in Arcata, California. I go on around 9:25 pm for a quick 25 minute set–gonna be fun! Happy holidays & I’ll see you out there :)

Spirit Vibrations Presents!

Spirit Vibrations Presents!

Josephine at Chill Haus, Surat Thani, Thailand

Josephine Johnson & Jock Mackay open for Peck Palichoke & Bowling Manida

by Josephine Johnson

the staff table

all us farang!

A fine evening indeed!

Wow, not only did I get to meet some great people from SMOOTH 97.5, but I also got to hear and meet Peck Palitchoke and Bowling Manida. Very, very kind and down to earth folks, those two. Here’s what I learned:

Turns out, Peck got his start in Thai-Disney media and entertainment—think Siam’s answer to Justin Timberlake. From there he went on to record a parade of Thai pop hits. When he’s not performing and recording music, he does Thai-voice over work in Harry Potter films as well as Thai-only Disney animation releases.

Bowling, who  is mostly known for her vocals, hasn’t done any TV or film work yet. She says singing, recording and traveling keep her busy. And they’re busy! Many more shows (didn’t get an exact number) over the next month

Chill Haus, packed, July 18, 2012, Surat Thani, Thailand

Peck sings to a packed Chill Haus, July 18, 2012, Surat Thani, Thailand

then back to Bangkok for a couple stadium-style performances.

Fine entertainers and lovely people.Check out Peck’s website & listen to a couple of Bowling’s song. It’s fun, Thai pop. And they’re both gorgeous—you’ll get a kick out of it :)

Josephine and Head Media president, DJ Kaah

Josephine and Head Media president, DJ Kaah

But the real star of the evening? That’d be DJ Kaah. With the help of her staff, she seamlessly, magically put the big event together. Really, no hitches, glitches or upsets the whole night. Just seamless professionalism. And I learned a little about her, too. Ready?

When Kaah was 17 she started working at a little pop station in Surat. In ten year’s time she worked her way into a top dj position meeting people, networking and making music business contacts from Surat to Bangkok.

She paid attention to the business.

When she was 28 Kaah decided she wanted to go out on her own. So, she made local history: Kaah became the first woman to own a radio station in Surat. She launched Freeze 97 FM. Then, she started Pro 103 FM. The current crowning jewel of her

Ping Pong (drummer), Josephine Johnson, Jock Mackay, Chill Haus, Surat Thani, Thailand, July 18, 2012

Ping Pong (drummer), Josephine Johnson, Jock Mackay, Chill Haus, Surat Thani, Thailand

media kingdom is Surat’s Smooth 97.5. Kaah now owns and is president of Head Media the parent company of all three of her stations.

And she’s not even 40—I can’t tell you her exact age. She’d kill me. But she’s a whirlwind, a git ‘er done kinda ga,l a natural bubbly charmer, not to mention a popular MC in Surat. Yeah, she’s super cute and fun—and oh yes, gentlemen—DJ Kaah’s single! Smart, young, funny, successful. Kaah’s a catch!

But really, thank you, thank you, Kaah, for putting on such a wonderful and successful night. As my Granny would say, ya did good, and I’m honored to have been part of it. Just so you know, if you’re ever lookin’ to add a farang, I’d be part of your staff any day. You’re incredible. A true inspiration!

And many thanks to Chatchawan Detkasem who photographed the night—check out more of his work on Facebook

Smooth Concert 4 with Josephine Johnson, Jock Mackay & DJ Kaah and her amazing staff

Smooth Concert 4 with Josephine Johnson, Jock Mackay & DJ Kaah and her amazing staff

Jos & DJ Kaah

Jos and DK Kaah July 16, 2012, Chill Haus rehearsal, Surat Thani, Thailand

By Josephine Johnson

I finally got the artists’ names: Peck Palitchoke & Bowling Manida.

They’re big right now on Smooth 97.5  in Surat—oh yeah, tomorrow night’s gonna be SUPER huge.  Kaah and crew anticipate at least 200, possibly 300 people, to pack Chill Haus.


Jock and I kick things off around 7:30—we’ve a special, special surprise: his student, Opal, will sing a song with us.  She and all her 14 years are going to shine some English on Adele’s ‘Someone Like You.’



I’ll be thinking of you.


Peck Palitchoke & Bowling Manida

Peck Palitchoke & Bowling Manida, SMOOTH 97.5 Concert 4, Chill Haus, Surat Thani, Thailand

A new tune, too :) More on this song in a bit—the Humboldt crew will hear it SOON.

My friend Jock Mackay,  Surat’s Smooth 97.5 English hour host, asked me to join him for Smooth Concert 4 at Chill Haus. We’re the warmers for the Move & Strike party and we’re doing all the farang mega-hits—‘Lucky’ (Jason Mraz & Colbie Caillat), ‘Someone Like You’ (Adele), ‘Lazy Song’ (Bruno Mars) and more with a full band behind us. Good times!  But here’s the embarrassing part: I don’t have an English translation of the names of  the two Thai pop performers we’re opening for.  I know they’re touring the country and south east Asia in support of their albums ‘Move’ (the guy’s) and ‘Strike’ (the woman’s). I know folks in Thailand love them. I know they’re beautiful. I know it’s going to be a FUN night! If only I knew their NAMES! Argh. When I know, I’ll give you an update with links to photos and their music. Goodness!

Tables are 3,500 Baht for this party, an evening of food, drinks and great music. Email me: I can put you in touch with the reservation goddesses.  See you there!

Smooth Concert 4 Chill Haus Surat Thani Thailand

Smooth Concert 4, Chill Haus, Surat Thani, Thailand— Josephine Johnson & Jock Mackay

map of Thailand

map of Thailand

a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction –Virginia Woolf

*equally applicable to women who write and sing

SuratThani is Thailand’s largest southern province. It’s also, confusingly, the moniker of the region’s capital

blue betty, hot, hot, hot G ride!

Blue Betty

city which frequently gets a bad rap. Guide books profess there’s not much to do, little spoken English, and that it’s a dirty, working-class backwater. And partly that is Surat, but a lively night market—chock full of traditional Thai dishes, fresh fruits and veggies, roasted insects, larvae!—nice roads and bike lanes, low cost of living and many near-by tourist hot spots make this hard-working city of farmers and fishers a very nice place to live. Really. Maybe this southern almost-coastal city doesn’t have galleria shopping or medical spas, Sirocco’s or an abundance of blinged out temples like some up-north metropolises, but what Surat lacks in iconic Thai attractions, it makes up for with its location near some of the country’s most amazing natural wonders.
Ready for this? Check that map. Uh, huh:

Surat is a seven hour night boat ride from Koh Tao—spectacular diving, snorkeling in the Gulf of Thailand; a two hour ferry from Koh Phangnan—long, white beaches, clear water and full moon parties; less than two hours from Krabi—Thailand’s rock climbing and caving mecca; two hours from Kao Sok National Park—home to the world’s oldest evergreen rainforest, elephants, waterfalls and floating bungalows; an hour by motor bike from a series of waterfalls mostly known by Thai locals. And these are just a few of the

sunset koh phangan

sunset koh phangan

biggies. There’s so much more—monkey training camps, Buddhist meditation centers, coconut plantations, mountain biking everywhere—Surat’s a great, great place to live and work, well-suited as a centrally-located adventure base!

So, I live in a veritable adventure zone. This is great! But I also appreciate that Surat is a real Thai city. There are maybe 120 foreigners, roughly 40 are teachers. (In China, I was ‘laowai.’ In Thailand, I am ‘Farang.’ Foreigner.) Not a big ex-pat community, so I will have to learn and negotiate the culture if I am to thrive. :)  Embrace and thrive!

Are there places to play if there aren’t many westerners? Ahh, Yes! Maybe not as many as in Xi’an (for those just tuning in, I spent a year teaching college English in Xi’an, China, a city of nearly 10 million), but I know, now, of at least four places, and really, one is all you need! Just down the street is Old Coffee, and then of course, there’s Big’s Bar.  Big’s is my favorite so far and caters to the teacher crowd…it’s where I went last night…

saturday night market, surat thani

saturday night market, surat thani

…On my bike at night after the air had cooled and traffic subsided, was mostly me and my thoughts riding on Donnok over to Big’s. Pedaling and singing, in my blue flower tank, smiling and thinking, happy to be in light clothing, sandals, no sleeves. No hat! A lovely exercise.  Elegance. On two wheels and thinking of nine months past, returning from China, digging in, getting bearings to focus and be Humboldt and work and sing, make music.

And then the incline how it lifted slowly steeper, steeper, measured, steady, gradual. The slope, rise over run, then over-run and no rise but clinging, clawing, tearing to make it, to hang on. Just hang on. Grasping, gasping. Hang on!

But I slid the slide slowly, pieces falling, chunks, who I thought I was and thought I wanted, sloughing from me, burning, burnt, exhausted, cast off, vertical slipping, slide down. When I let go, I relinquished but didn’t give in.

(that tiny flame somewhere, so far inside— still there burning—white hot and searing)
and landed here, Thailand, teaching. No more pushing, striving—just be and be renewed, renewed for writing, singing, performing, loving. That little white heat inside held itself to me, my soul heart beating a torch forced, examined, to acknowledge, reconcile me to that thing I love most. Forced me to admit, acknowledge, embrace:
I love singing. I love performing. I love writing.

And the breath of that tiny flame roared back, “Girl, thank you, love these, honor them, DO them.”

And I promised I would never again deny that I can write, sing, and perform. I love these. LOVE. And I am good at them.
Love to word wrestle and melody make. Love practicing a song over and over until it is seared into me. Am smitten when wrapped in that silver chain connecting a soul and mind to the ether flame where forged all great lines, turns of phrase, melodies.

Money, profit are not connected, here, not related to this. Money, no relationship to love. I embrace the fact that honoring these truths—all this love—may not ever be profitable. I accept this.

But I must: love writing, love singing, love performing. That’s all I need to do.



No more money-competition-blah-blah-blah, who’s-who-what’s-what. NO MORE!
I love what I do and that is enough.

All this thinking and singing out loud on the bike in the short mile from home to Big’s bar… No one was there when I arrived, an empty 10 o’clock Tuesday. Roofed but open-sided, the night breezes pass gently, street noises drift subtle—this is not China, the air is not loud, but soft with easy bursts of laughter, sweet with big, whole-toned Thai pop…parked by the frog pond, the bike leaning against slightly leaking cement. The pond, cluttered with jungle plants, a desk, maybe, other random furniture?… sang to him, the frog, this new understanding of honor, love, expression— his low croaks, rhythmic and resonant, intoning agreement, like how butterflies know when you know of them and they flirt and hover so closely, teasing with their awareness…

a Steady Boat, part of the collaboration…Sam.

…and then chatted with owners Big and Champ, who were busy working on their first edition of Surat’s new art, music and culture

passing it on

from one to the next

magazine—deliberately lo-fi and hand-drawn indie but assembled deftly in latest InDesign crack. These guys, four total, alties bent over screens, smoking cigarettes, gesturing and speaking fast Thai, a pause, exhale, laughter and cigarette smoke. Through the speakers, Dylan croaked Maggie’s Farm, and Marley wailed, then Brandi Carlyle.  Joni Mitchell.  Indigo Girls? And  Sarah Mclachlan—an ENTIRE Sarah McLachlan album/mix (the one with the rainbow connection). Girl music, these guys?  Softies for Sarah and the rainbow chicks…

Behind the counter Big turns down the music and  hands me his classical guitar: Play.

And so I did…sang for them until midnight while they worked on layout, ads and design. I let it all out, the real love …because I really,

really have to sing….because I love to sing…I love to share this love for singing, music…got lost in words and singing, the rhythmic frog honking, floor fans blowing. Two hours passed? Honest, unobtrusive, the sound tapestry for the working art-alti-writerly-Surat fringe trust.

As I gathered my things to leave, Big grabbed my hands and all alive and serious says, “You need to sing. Your voice can help people.”

koh tao super sunset

koh tao super sunset

Cannot speak words to respond.  Instead, a warm smile, pause, bow head: Gratitude, grateful for the compliment—perhaps the best thing ever heard after singing, really, like someone had faithfully peered through, knew and felt all the psychic battles, wars waged and recent reconciliation of the soul. That, really, more than anything I want this love—this singing, song, writing—to be soothing and healing. To help. As if Big got all of this and knew beyond the language and culture gap the kindest, most genuine thing to say—like he knew what my soul needed to hear.

That’s what love does. One of the things, anyway. It  helps people.

It does.

It transcends.

It heals.


12 plants 3 passenegrs 1 bike

12 plants 3 passenegrs 1 bike

Come Get Cash!

This, my most recent story for the North Coast Journal


Come Get Cash!

The county’s giving money back again and again … and again

(MARCH 8, 2012)  Ervin McCluskey and Ervin McCluskey Jr. — Humboldt County is looking for you. And it wants to give you $18,837.14.

That’s because your one-time property at 1286 Howard St. near Oceanview Cemetery in Eureka sold at a county tax auction back in October, and that’s how much money was left over after fees and back taxes were paid.

The county’s also looking for 25 other former property owners, hoping to give them excess money from tax sales.

Eventually, usually in less than a year’s time, the county tends to find the people it’s trying to reunite with small to largish chunks of cash, according to John Bartholomew, Humboldt County treasurer and tax collector.

The countyusually startsits search bysending letters of notification to the former owners and other interested parties, such as people who might have placed a lien against the property, Bartholomew said. Then legal notices are published. Most recently those notices showed up in the North Coast Journal for three weeks back in January, there for the perusal of any nerdy-hip, above average vocabulary, slight OCD-tending Journal reader who likes fine print. And the county also lists on its website the parcel numbers and the amounts it wants to hand out, but it doesn’t name names.

Both the letters and the website give instructions on how to file a claim to get your money back.

Likely, if the county owes you some money from a tax auction, things haven’t been going great with you and the taxman for the last few years.

Properties end up at tax auctions after five consecutive years of unpaid property taxes. Humboldt holds those auctions at least once a year, over the Internet, to try to get back some of the money it is owed. Once a property is sold to the highest bidder, the tax man takes his share, and the rest goes back to the former owner, if he or she can be located.

Readers who focused on the fine print in those legal ads probably noticed that along with the McCluskey’s west-side Eureka property, another in Alderpoint sold for $17,958 more than was owed. Most of the properties where owners stopped paying property taxes, though — 18 of the 26 —  were located in Shelter Cove. They sold for only $400 to $2,400 above whatever was owed to Humboldt County.

Ah, Shelter Cove and its decades-old echoes of poorly parceled land. Most likely, these properties were part of its revolving door of property default and tax sales.

Bartholomew acknowledges that some parcels in Shelter Cove should never have been approved. In 1965, developers descended upon Shelter Cove, initially dividing it into 4,189 parcels, but after heavy storms, earthquakes and constant erosion, the number of parcels is now somewhere around 3,400. It’s estimated that as much as 15 percent of those are unbuildable due to steep slope or inability to maintain a septic leech field system. Some are little more than sheer cliff face.

In the past these Shelter Cove parcels have been advertised on the Internet, targeted toward retirement-aged people and young people eager to invest in coastal California property. The land is suspiciously low-priced but enticing enough to attract folks from all over the country. Often, a parcel is purchased site-unseen.  When the new owners discover they’ve been had, some choose to re-sell and perpetuate the land debacle. Others choose to walk away. And that’s how many of the Shelter Cove properties end up at county auction. After five years of property tax non-payment, the county steps in and puts the land up for sale.

For a while, Bartholomew had been active in trying to get these properties off the tax roll in hopes of stopping the Shelter Cover revolving-land-tax-auction cycle. But the trouble is, the parcels still require upkeep like brush removal or other maintenance that state, Humboldt County or Shelter Cove agencies are unwilling to take on. Maintenance costs money, and money is in short supply these days. Says Bartholomew, “We’ve reached a stalemate on this. There’s no good way to get these parcels off the tax rolls for Humboldt County.” And so it goes … again, again and again …

by Josephine Johnson

Josephine, Fieldbrook Market

Josephine, Feb. 24, 2012, Fieldbrook Market

Hey all!

It’s V WEEK and this weekend is the 15th annual production of Eve Ensler‘s Vagina Monologues—this year’s performance benefits two great North Coast charities—North Star Quest Camp for Girls (ALWAYS accepting donations!) & the Women’s Resource Center. We’re in production week, honing our monologues, getting ready for the show this weekend.

Friday, March 2nd, we’ll be holding it down at the Arcata Playhouse. On Saturday and Sunday, March 3rd & 4th, we’ll be performing at the Eureka Theater. It’s been a blast so far and I’m so looking forward to sharing the evening with such fine, fine ladies—you really must come and see—we will knock your socks off! And your panties! We will blow YOU away.

Much love,


Vagina Monologues! V WEEK!


they beat the girl out of my boy

they beat the girl out of my boy---Amy, Sarah, Katelyn, Christin

Eureka Theater check in---with Chelsea, Kyra, Chelsea, Sarah, Katelyn & Soja

Eureka Theater check in---with Chelsea, Kyra, Chelsea, Sarah, Katelyn & Soja

A quick update!

Molly Severdia---reclaiming cunt!

Molly Severdia---reclaiming cunt!

Monday, March 5, 2012—The show’s over folks, the memories will last a lifetime—Humboldt‘s V Week 2012 was amazing, just incredible. Again, so thankful to have met and worked with such fine, talented ladies. I’ve included a few pics from the show—some are from the Arcata Playhouse, the others from Eureka Theater. And I found my favorite Storm Large song that EVERYONE should sing!

ladies backstage playhouse

ladies backstage playhouse

sassy cast, snappy vaginas

sassy cast, snappy vaginas

by Josephine Johnson

The past month took me to Atlanta and Cumming, Georgia, where I worked with 6th, 7th & 8th grade students writing five different sets of lyrics to a piece of music I composed for the ukulele. On Saturday, February 4, I brought the same songwriting lesson to students in grades 4 thru 9 at HSU’s annual Young Writer’s Conference.

How’d we do this?

Well, as a group we talked about parts of songs and collaborated on ideas and motifs—super important that as a group we decided together what the song would be about to focus our imagery and hone the point of what we wanted to express. In some ways writing a song is sort of like tackling a five paragraph essay. A song needs an intro, a main theme & conclusion. Think about it. At least, I think there are similarities between these seemingly disparate genres—the students, though, were thoroughly nonplussed by this comparison.  After we agreed on unifying theme, concept and imagery, we broke into small groups where students came up with three verses, a chorus and a lyric-driven bridge.

Below is a video from Bob Doran that he filmed and edited at the 2012 Young Writer’s Conference.

Below are videos of songs that I collaborated with students at Little Mill Middle School in Cumming, Georgia. Many, many thanks to Beth Faris and all the kind folks at Little Mill. I had a great time. And I think the students had fun, too, though it all may have been more work than we bargained for! *Unfortunately, we spent all of our time writing and editing—we didn’t get around to titles for these. Dang.

This last one is my favorite song from the students at Little Mill. To write this one, I experimented with a different process in which I asked the students to listen twice to the music I composed and then do a free write about what the piece made them think or feel. I then collected the students’ written exercises and edited together the song. Not all of the students’ words were used, but all of the words—save for adding/ removing an -ing or -ed ending—are the kids’ own work. :) They made more than one nice turn of phrase!

This last song was written collaboratively at the 2012 Young Writer’s Conference on Saturday, February 4, on the campus of Humboldt State University. We sure had a blast! I’d like to teach this lesson over the course of a week so that students could better understand the importance of stepping away from a song to let it breathe. Writing a song in an hour and fifteen minutes does not leave much time for editing and/or close scrutiny of word options. Next time! Hopefully this summer I will be teaching at Young Writer’s Academy :)

In the Can


In the Can

What Arcata can learn from Eureka’s public bathrooms

(JAN. 5, 2012)  Ever wander the Arcata Plaza and have to go? Really have to get to a bathroom quick? Maybe you high-tailed it to Jacoby’s Storehouse and sneaked into its facilities. Or if things were a little less pressing, perhaps you fast-stepped it to the Co-op, got the door code, and maybe waited behind a person or two before finally breathing that sweet sigh of relief. When you gotta go, you gotta go. Trouble is, Arcata doesn’t have a public bathroom, and people have argued for years over whether it should. Occupiers renewed that debate in October, and now City Council is considering whether to build public facilities somewhere near downtown.

But public bathrooms pose their own set of challenges, including cleaning, maintenance and vandalism prevention — as well as a budget to pay for them.

Old Town Eureka, the can...

And if the goal, at least partly, is to give the homeless somewhere they can go with dignity, Eureka’s experience might offer lessons for Arcata.

Eureka built restrooms in Old Town in 1993, partly in response to merchants who hoped that a public bathroom would reduce the number of non-shoppers seeking relief in their stores.

It has worked, several merchants say, but it’s a sort of a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t undertaking.

The City of Eureka’s two unisex bathrooms, each with a single toilet, are tucked away behind the northwest corner of the downtown gazebo. Brick on the outside and with bare-bones accommodations inside — fluorescent lights, lime green cinder block walls, stainless toilets and wash basins — the bathrooms show signs of hard use. On different days in December, black plastic bags of old clothes were propped against the wall of one toilet, and the other had wads of cardboard in the toilet bowl.

Both bathrooms have custom, protective metal guards over the toilet paper dispensers. One has a stainless steel mirror, and the other lacks anything reflective. Each outside door locks, and homeless folks occasionally lock themselves inside, posing problems for the maintenance man who takes care of the Old Town restrooms.

“Bottom line is everyone goes to the bathroom, and a good functioning bathroom in Old Town is a necessity,” says Jonathan Buckmaster, who has maintained the facilities for the past five years. Buckmaster, an HSU graduate — as well as a clarinet prodigy who performed with L.A. big bands and symphonies throughout his teens – knows the ins and outs of these bathrooms. He opens them each morning around 8:30, returns to clean them at 4 p.m. and closes them at 5 p.m.

Vandalism, he says, is a near-daily occurrence. Sometimes it’s as minor as Sharpie marker graffiti. Other times it’s incapacitating, as in

Jonathan Buckmaster, clarinet marvel who manages Old Town's bathrooms

Jonathan Buckmaster, clarinet marvel who manages Old Town's bathrooms

2008, when the former, porcelain toilets and sinks were smashed to bits and light fixtures and hand dryers were ripped from the walls. After that, the bathrooms were closed for nearly three months for repairs. And six months ago someone tried to demolish the cinder block partition in one of the bathrooms, putting that one out of commission for a few days.

It costs about $9,500 a year just to clean and keep toilet paper in the two bathrooms in Old Town, according to Jeff Raimey, Eureka’s harbor operations supervisor. And that doesn’t even touch the cost of major repairs post-vandalism. The city’s public restrooms at the Samoa bridge boat launch and marina also endure vandalism and cost about the same to maintain, he said. All are cared for with money from the city’s general fund, which is supported by sales and property taxes.

Some merchants say the Old Town restrooms are vital — or at least, better than nothing. They provide an option for locals and tourists, even if they’re not the coziest or the cleanest.

Dorine Leisz, store manager at Many Hands Gallery at the corner of F and Second streets, thinks the bathrooms are embarrassing. “I cringe when I send tourists across the street,” says Leisz.

Charlotte McDonald, executive director of Eureka Main Street, also is familiar with the pitfalls of Old Town’s restrooms. Knowing what Eureka knows now, she says, it would have helped to build bathrooms with doors that don’t lock from the inside, and in a more visible place. “The current location is a place not so easy to monitor. It’s out of the way, making vandalism that much easier to undertake.”

Some have suggested a full-time, on-site attendant could help. The city claims this is too costly, and really not a viable option for Eureka. That might be different in Arcata, says Laura Cutler, who has been following closely the Arcata public bathroom dilemma since October.

Cutler, a Westhaven resident and formerHumboldt County counsel, helped Arcata Occupiers bring the issue to local government officials, reminding the community that those on the lowest socio-economic rungs often “literally do not have a pot to piss in.” Cutler’s idea? If an on-site attendant would minimize vandalism and help keep facilities clean, then why not make a community service work position in which minor offenders would serve by tending to the bathrooms? “In homeless court people are sentenced with community service,” says Cutler. “This could be one way to monitor and maintain the bathrooms at a community level.”

Arcata is considering bathroom designs in which stalls latch but doors don’t lock, said Councilmember Susan Ornelas, who is on the committee studying bathroom options. “We’re also considering involving local artists for public art on the facility.”

The committee has its eye on the space between Arcata City Hall and the Crabs ball field for a potential site, said Ornelas.

So far, though, no date has been set for the council to review the committee’s ideas.

Happy Holidaze!

Hey! I’m sharin’ the bill with some fine folks this Thursday. Trillium, Lonesome Roses, Lorenza Simmons, Peter Ciotti & more. Good stuff. Here’s to a great new year!

Jambalaya Holiday Show, Thursday, Dec. 22

Jambalaya Holiday Show, Thursday, Dec. 22

Joanne Rand & Josephine Johnson, Arcata Playhouse, December 16, 2011

Joanne Rand & Josephine Johnson, Arcata Playhouse, December 16, 2011

Fare thee well, Bryan.


Sweet Soul

The death of Bryan Osper tore a hole in Humboldt’s music scene

(DEC. 8, 2011)  It had been an especially warm and joyful Thanksgiving at his parents’ house. In between eating good food and laughing, Bryan and his younger brother, Jason, had spent most of the weekend playing guitarsand drumming in the living room, with Bryan’s little nephew joining in on the ukulele. Just 7 years old, Victor had learned a few chords from his uncle the year before and was excited to play with the big boys.

Bryan's Alter at the Bucky House

Bryan's Alter at the Bucky House

After the family weekend, Bryan Osper, only 26 years old himself, got into his green Montero and left El Cajon, taking I-5 north toward his girlfriend’s home in Sonoma. Sometime in the early evening on Nov. 28, Osper pulled off the interstate and parked on the shoulder of Copus Road, near Bakersfield. At about 6:15, as he was getting back on the road, he attempted a U-turn and swung right into the path of a tractor-trailer. He died at the scene from blunt head and neck trauma. Though there had been heavy fog that night, the CHP said that wasn’t a factor.

Osper’s sudden death not only left his family reeling, but ripped a ragged hole in the tight-knit Humboldt music scene he had woven himself into since moving here in 2003 to study journalism at Humboldt State University. Osper was a good writer, and he’d only been playing guitar a couple of years. But in his first week on campus he met the people with whom he would eventually form significant musical bonds that would pull him away from his original purpose. Niko Daoussis. Joey Goforth. Cat Fountain. Melody Walker. Those were just a few. Oh, and professor Eugene Novotney, the leader of the HSU Calypso Band.

Osper had heard there might be openings in the band and showed up at a calypso rehearsal that first week. He asked if he could play, try it out. Novotney let him have a go at the steel drums — and he was smooth. “I knew that first time I saw him he would make major contributions to the program,” Novotney said.

Soon Osper dropped journalism and picked up music. He concentrated on percussion and traveled with Novotney to Brazil and Trinidad to study samba and calypso. By the time he’d graduated from Humboldt State’s music program in 2009, Osper had earned a reputation as a bright and exceptional multi-instrumentalist. Novotney calls him the best example of a natural musician. “He could move within and between different instruments with ease and grace,” he said. “There was no music that wasn’t his friend.”

Bryan Osper & The Bucky Walters

Bryan Osper & The Bucky Walters

Indeed, to hear friends tell it, Bryan Osper could play any instrument he touched. And his voice was clear, comforting, as if he had a direct connection to a realm beyond.

Besides playing with HSU’s Calypso band, Osper was a founding member of the world-dance-fusion band WoMama, played guitar and sang with the bluegrass band The Bucky Walters, and played with Samba D’Alegria, Dun Dun Fare and Bloco Firmeza.

Jesse Jonathon, who met Osper in 2003, said everyone was calling him “hot licks” even back then. Jonathon, a fellow student at the time, had sent out an email to prospective members of a new campus club he was forming, called the HSU Jammers League.

“Bryan was the first person to respond to my email,” said Jonathon. The League — which included Daoussis, Goforth and Fountain, all future Bucky Walters band mates — played classic Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Paul Simon and Metallica and shined up some of the songs for performance. The league members thought Osper a brilliant guitarist. “He was the go-to rock God,” Jonathon said.

Osper’s prowess developed rapidly and he became much more than a rock guitarist and percussionist. Melody Walker recalled the first time the Jammers heard him sing. He performed the Talking Heads’ “Cross-eyed and Painless” and blew everyone away, Walker said. “Here was this guy who up to this point I knew as just a very good rock-and-roll guitar player,” she said. “Then he sang. It was just like David Byrne. Flawless. I got to see him blossom as a singer, songwriter and bluegrass guitarist.” Walker and Osper remained musical collaborators; recently, Osper performed as a guest musician on Walker’s forthcoming 2012 releaseGold Rush Goddess.

Bryan's electric guitar

Bryan's electric guitar

Two days after Osper’s death, friends and fans gathered in the afternoon at the “Bucky” house, where the band practiced. They were dazed, their eyes tear-blurred. People had been coming and going all day. In the kitchen there was an altar of photos, candles, notes and mementos. Lauren Smith had left a tiny mbira, an African thumb piano, as an offering. The house swelled with laughter and sobbing, then fell silent. Then swelled again. They were telling Bryan stories.

Goforth recalled how, after The Bucky Walters played the North West String Summit in 2007, the band had mistakenly left Osper behind at the festival. An hour into their drive home, he said, he got a call from Osper. “And he’s still there, and know what he’s doing? He’s washing dishes. He was washing dishes and helping clean up.” Everybody laughed. Then Daoussis noted that, when they were on tour, they never let Osper drive the van. Friends agreed he wasn’t the best driver.

Everybody grew quiet.

Fountain, the Bucky Walters’ back-up harmonizer and harmonica player, said the last time she saw Osper, a couple weeks ago, he was teaching a friend of hers to play ukulele. Osper sat and wrote for an hour, she said, creating a little book of chords and ukulele tips. Then he showed her how to play them.

Osper’s girlfriend of four years, 22-year-old Sophia Mackell, recalled that Osper was very sentimental. She said he liked to tell people about the time he first met her, and he’d written poems and notes about it — in them, Mackell is shimmering in the sunlight. “I was in the art quad wearing a big, plate mother of pearl necklace, and he turned and saw how the sun shone on the necklace,” she said. “And he always liked to say how that was like Heaven bringing me to him.” Mackell paused, took a breath, then sobbed, “He was the kindest, gentlest, most passionate person I ever met.”



He was a sweet, sweet boy, said George Osper, Bryan’s dad, on the phone last week. “When he was 2, I was in the Navy,” he said. “I will never forget when I had to deploy and my wife was crying and holding Bryan in her arms. He was patting her arm and told her, ‘It’s OK, Mommy, it will be OK.’ He was a very sensitive and empathetic soul.”

More than 200 people celebrated Bryan Osper’s memory Monday night at Humboldt Brews in Arcata. Services are planned for 1 p.m., Dec. 17, at the Cottonwood Golf Club in El Cajon. Flowers and cards may be sent to Cottonwood Golf Club, 3121 Willow Glen Drive, El Cajon, Calif., 92019.





Josephine Johnson

Create Your Badge

Some Singing, a Video

Kirsten Petersen filmed. Ralph camera-steadied.

Old Town Coffee & Chocolates. Eureka, California.

by Josephine Johnson

Couldn’t keep away. Returned to Humboldt County courthouse this morning to check-in with our local Occupy movement. I spoke with resident Don Jeffers who has been watching all of this for the past 72 years. Wise soul, kind man.

Monday, November 14, 2011, Occupy Eureka site

Monday, November 14, 2011, Occupy Eureka site (photo A. Goff)

Friday, November 11, 2011 Eureka Occupy camp

Friday, November 11, 2011 Eureka Occupy camp (photo A. Goff)

by Josephine Johnson

So, you all know I live in Eureka, California, yeah? Ok. And recently my foggy burg by the bay garnered national press for our local Occupy encampment. Like many places in this great nation, folks here are camping in—occupying—public spaces in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, and though many local HumCo folks are supportive, some just ain’t havin’ it. Which is perplexing given that most here—not counting the big-time growers— are the 99%. Most here, like the rest of America, are being squeezed from the middle class. If you’ve read this post, then you’ve seen the nice pics and graphs depicting the not-so-nice trends and facts about the withering American middle class.  So, recently a reporter from local News Channel 3 visited the Occupy Eureka site at  Humboldt County courthouse. And this is what happened:

Yeah. Feels kinda like a Christopher Guest mockumentary, doesn’t it?  Not everyone supports the Occupy movement here, and Ms. Lambert certainly has her HumCo fans. But wait! It gets funnier. I mean really silly. Lambert’s report inspired this ditty by Andrew Goff (oh you KNOW Dylan’s all envious…):

Pretty funny, eh? And, unlike Ms. Lambert (bless her heart), it’s not unnecessarily cruel or patronizing. For sure, kids across America’ll be howlin’ this tune at bonfires, singalongs, summer camps and backyard BBQs for years to come. Why? Because it has poop and pee in it, of course!

And how ’bout this one?

Occupy image, multi-track audio, Goff the goof, oh my!

Firedoglake, Verum Serum, Gawker, the blaze and probably lots more—all scatologically fixated! I mean, sheesh, we’re in the midst of the new millennium massive economic meltdown, worse than the 1930s according to some—we all need something silly, funny, hilarious to lift us from the grim economic facts and future facing us. Let’s laugh! This is funny shit—I mean stuff. This is really, really silly stuff!

Or is it? Maybe not to local law enforcement. This morning (Monday, November 14, 2011) at 4:50 am the Eureka Police Department and Humboldt County Sheriff’s office raided the Eureka Occupy camp. I don’t think anyone was laughing then, especially not the occupiers since they were all sleeping. I learned of the raid a few hours after it happened. Andrew Goff reported it on the North Coast Journal blog. I’ve cut-n-pasted from the original, but check out the site, too.


Occupy Eureka Wiped Out (PHOTOS)

… at least for now.

The most elaborate encampment constructed on the Humboldt County Courthouse lawn by Occupy Eureka to date — a society that lasted from Friday afternoon until early Monday morning — has been removed by the Eureka Police Department.

Monday morning, the police taped-off area was heavily protected by EPD officers. New fencing was scheduled to arrive later in the day.

EPD Interim Police Chief Murl Harpham estimated 25 arrests were made in a raid of the camp that commenced at around 4 a.m. today. Harpham restated his stance that protesting was allowed.

“If they want to protest, they can protest on the sidewalk,” Harpham said.

Protester James Decker said that last night’s raid saw occupiers “Mark” and “Andrew” tackled by officers.

To compare and contrast, here’s the setup Occupy Eureka maintained from Friday through Sunday:

Friday, November 11, 2011 Eureka Occupy camp

Friday, November 11, 2011 Eureka Occupy camp (photo A. Goff)

Monday, November 14, 2011, Occupy Eureka site

Monday, November 14, 2011, Occupy Eureka site (photo A. Goff)


After reading Goff’s report and seeing the photos, I was compelled to go to the HumCo courthouse to see for myself.  I know the folks down there because I ride or walk past the encampment almost daily. They’re respectful, cheerful and easy to engage in conversation—yeah, they’re my neighbors, dang it. So I went. And discovered that all of the people I usually talk with had been arrested. Yeah, 25 people—poor people, as in folks in poverty, poor people— were arrested and thrown in jail for occupying the courthouse lawn. Why? I can’t help but think that the higher-ups, the powers that be, began to grow weary of the negative national press, that city officials and local muckety-mucks started thinking about how silly (come on, comical!) Eureka must be coming across to folks beyond our protective redwood curtain. That all this bad press might affect tourist dollars or something. (Like people can afford to go on vacation these days…) So they pressured local police to enforce  local ordinance. (Eureka city code bans camping within city limits.) Just a theory. In any case I am certain Eureka uppity-ups have NO sense of humor. None. No funny ha-ha. Maybe an enema would help? Work it all out, get the funny flowing again, yeah?

When I went to the courthouse today I took my camera and spoke with the few people fortunate enough not to have been arrested. Mostly, their words to tell the story.

One more song! No poo, no pee—enjoy!

Just a quick share & thank you—big shout out to the folks at the North Coast Journal, Arcata Playhouse, Russ Cole, Mike Dronkers, Andrew Goff, Chris Parreira & the Trouble for a super fun evening of Humboldt County’s ‘bests’ (NCJ reader-voted). :)

The poster---thanks NCJ!

The poster---thanks NCJ!

Super thanks to Todd Krider (camera use) & Holley Pering (camera operator)

The awesome Don Husman filmed and posted this treat—the Trouble & Josephine!!!

THANK YOU for all the love & support. Really, really, really. Love!

In this post are the most-liked images from the Arcata Photo Studios shoot.    Thank you for all your input and kind words. Thank you, thank you!

Why can't I hear the vocals?

about that mic cable...

In motion, Josephine Johnson.

From Humboldt to San Francisco and back and around the County, I’ve been moving and taking it

that cable?

I can't hear you.

all in, talking with a range of folks from different backgrounds. From Oakland street conversations, BART station banter, rideshare debates and Old Town Coffee and Chocolates repartee, all of these exchanges have circled back to the current protests on Wall Street. Some SoHum (Southern Humboldt) friends are certain the demonstrations are pushing toward something very big—nearing the critical mass of a genuine movement. My Eureka open-mic friendsseem assured this is the beginning of a major paradigm shift in America, that soon we’ll all have to be more communal in our living and working arrangements because more and more of us will be making less and less, and we will have to figure out how to get along in order to share our dwindling economic

hourly wages have stagnated over the last 50 years

stagnant hourly wages

resources. Also common among these disparate conversations is the notion that the strength of this ‘movement’ is grounded in the fact that so many protesters are seemingly average Americans. Sure, there’s a contingent of typical college-aged firebrands (your presence, thank you!), but there’re are also out of work fathers, struggling single mothers, homeless families and concerned grandparents all weighing in and standing up in support of taking back America from the corporations and executive managers that have slowly squeezed the wealth from the rest of us over the last forty years.  Most agree that corporations have robbed this nation of our middle class (what’s that?).

My fave :)

smiles & cute despite, in spite of, the gloom

Right now, there are Occupy Humboldt sites on the Arcata Plaza, Eureka Court House and Humboldt State quad. This weekend I will be camping with the HSU occupiers—Travis Turner heads up that site. Likely, if you’re reading this you’re part of the 99% and we need to unite. If you are able to join a site for a day or night, do it. Or start your own Occupy site.  We have much strength in our numbers. Align, be peaceful, get together & power to the people.

For insight check out

This link takes you to a slide show of graphs depicting, among many facts, how wages for what we’d ostensibly call the middle class have been eroding since the early 1970s while CEO pay has ballooned to more than 300% relative to the average wage-earner. There’s also insight into the current American jobs picture. It’s not pretty. At all.

CEO pay skyrockets while the rest of us plummet

CEO pay skyrockets while the rest of us plummet

And yeah, I’m nervous about it.

Like many, many people right now, I worry about the future. Right now— for the sake of pursuing music as well as out of necessity—I juggle odd jobs, freelance writing and a little music to make ends meet.  What pays the bills best?  Manual Labor. And really, I am thankful to know great folks who hire me for lawn maintenance, fence building and house painting. (Need something painted, trimmed, constructed? Contact me. I may be your girl.)  Halleluiah and a shout out to the Student Conservation Association and the undergrad & grad school grounds crews I worked on— these jobs and experiences provided vital skills to pay the bills, to be sure.

U.S. CEO pay relative to other industrialized nations

U.S. CEO pay relative to other industrialized nations

Why manual labor? Because it pays better than anything else I could be doing right now including food & beverage, teaching and


and stuff

administration. And I do enjoy it.  Yes, I have a Master’s in English, and I really, really enjoy teaching, but there’s none of that to be had right now in California and in most of the U.S. I could return to China or another South East Asia locale to teach and use this brain, knowledge and passion to inspire and challenge young minds—and maybe someday that will be the best option—but I’m an American, and I love living here, especially in Humboldt. So, I’m going to hang in for as long as I can and be thankful for employment options to juggle. Maybe I’m revealing too much, here, but it’s my labor, time and talents that I have going for me, not a trust fund or rich relatives. I am a hard worker, and music, education and travel are all things I’ve labored at most of my life on my own merit and dime to achieve. Just want you all to know that :)

I can probably juggle like this for another 20 years, though I’m praying in time I juggle fewer and fewer odd jobs and play more and more

income inequity

income inequity---inner Tank Girl rages...

music. But then what? There’s no pension, no insurance, nothing like that. And it’s not like I’m saving anything to squirrel away in an IRA or tuck in an off-shore bank account. But I keep at it—like lots of folks right now—and tell myself things like “it’s a good thing I’m tough, ‘cause I CAN do this, grrr,” and “this is good for me, builds character, arrr.” You know, all that lemons-to-lemonaid-power-of-positive-thinking-law-of-attraction-pop-psycho babble many have come to hold close in recent years because believing in it is far rosier and more comforting than embracing the dark implications of what graphs like these illustrate.  Note their sources.

Josephine one

Josephine one

Yeah, I worry, just like many, many other Americans. I worry.

And I have a feeling that soon folks like me working multiple jobs without insurance or pensions will be the norm, if we aren’t already. And for this I’m deeply disappointed in a system that taught me in 3rd grade anyone can be president in the U.S. (well, actually, you gotta at least be a millionaire first), that if I work hard, I can be/do anything (being a millionaire definitely helps with that, too),  that my vote counts. ARRRGH! Yeah, so I’m Occupying Humboldt this weekend. I am. It’s an opportunity to spend time with folks and listen to stories of where they’ve been and hear their ideas, visions and hope for the future. To build solidarity because I’m pretty sure we’re gonna need to work together to move through this 50-years-in-the-making mess we have ahead of us. Besides, what’s there to lose, the middle class?

Yes, there will be singing.

Which brings me to one more point: Food for People is the designated food bank for Humboldt County and currently serves over 12,000 community members each month through its 12 programs. Within the last year, there has been a 45% increase in requests for food assistance, and the food bank is


Really?! We've been had.

struggling to keep up with the current need for food assistance in Humboldt County.   For more information or to find out how you can help, contact Harriet Pecot, Fund Development Direct at Food for People (707) 445-3166.  Additional information about Food for People can also be found at

Huh? What? Singing and the food bank?

build a fence, trim a hedge, wield axe, sing---simultaneously

I AM tough.

On October 22 the North Coast Journal and Arcata Playhouse are sponsoring an evening in celebration of the Journal’s 2011 ‘Best of Humboldt’ edition. Chris Parreira and I tied for best solo performer, and we’ll be sharing the Arcata Playhouse stage to raise money for Food for People, also voted best non-profit Humboldt County 2011. The cost of admission for the evening is just $10 and a non-perishable food item.  Doors open at 7:15 pm. Show starts at 8. I think the amazing Russ Cole will be running sound, so you know it will be great.

wealthiest 20% have 93% of America's total financial pie---mad as hell.

wealthiest 20% have 93% of America's total financial pie---mad as hell.

Singing?  Here’s a new song recorded late last night—enjoy, and I challenge you to find ways to shine with each other, to be the best of us for each of us. We must stand together if are to weather and get through this economic shit storm. Be peaceful, be patient. Be brave. Be tough. Be together.

:) ~Jos

Josephine one

Josephine one

Josephine Johnson

Still don’t have all that digi-media stuff consolidated and expressed in one clear message, though thankfully, one piece of the digi-puzzle is much closer to being in

Josephine two

Josephine two

place.  Recently I visited Arcata Photo Studios, where on a clear-skied Tuesday evening Terrence McNally went out of his way to accommodate me and my crazy schedule. He shot more than an hour’s worth of photos and succeeded in making me look attractive—maybe even ‘hot’. Valerie McGowan’s hair styling magic also helped with the heat. :)

And I mean that in the most humble way.

Josephine five

Josephine five

Josephine six

Josephine six

Like most women I have body image issues. What woman doesn’t, right? But since, oh say junior high, I’ve been very aware that I’m not the most photogenic of folks—not

Josephine seven

Josephine seven

classically beautiful, more rugged than refined-looking. Olan Mills family portraits circa seventh grade were trained on the disparate features of my face and body: a big nose; petite-ness paired with linebacker-broad shoulders; an equally ample rump;  arms and legs of muscle. To be sure I am not a gamine glamour babe, but more a tough (yet painfully sensitive) pygmy girl-Hulk. At least that’s how those Olan Mills photos made me feel. And this is why the last set of studio portraits of me was taken when I was twelve. Just ask Mom. She’s been hounding me for years to get her some nice photos for the dining room.

Josephine eight

Josephine eight

My Mom doesn’t get the agony of portraiture (for me)—finding body-accentuating clothing, getting the hair done, wearing make-up. Wearing make-up so that I don’t look like I’m in drag…but here’s the upside—I can still wear shorts and t-shirts from junior high (that’s always good, yeah?) and I do have nice teeth. (Thank you, Mom, for making me brush and taking me to the dentist.)

Josephine eight

Josephine eight

Josephine three

Josephine three

***So, here’s where I need a little help from YOU. I’ve narrowed them down to the top twelve that I like and am hoping you can help winnow that to the best five or six images.

What will they be used for?  These will be the first images folks see before booking me. They will be used in my electronic press kit as well as on  the blog,

Josephine four

Josephine four

Facebook, Twitter and other places on the web. Press photos! The pics are numbered & you can leave a comment explaining which ones you like best. Would you, could you do that? Your feedback is very, very much appreciated. You can also email me at

Josephine 12

Josephine 12

One last shout out here: Thank you, Nancy, at Vintage Avenger for the use of the dresses—that 1960s number was off the chain!  It’s now in my arsenal—love it.

Wait! One more thing: I did do senior portraits. You know the ones where you pose by the barn or in front of faux graffiti? Didn’t do those but I did do studio poses. Correction: last studio pics were in high school not junior high. Oh, Olan Mills, senior portraits, family holiday photos—similar traumas all…

But not these. Thanks, Terrence, for making these painless and fun.

Josephine 10

Josephine 10

Josephine eleven

Josephine eleven

Josephine nine

Josephine nine

A quickie!

Kneeland Music Fest, Sept. 2011

Kneeland Music Fest, Sept. 2011

Josephine Johnson

Phew, back in Humboldt and so very busy— almost a month since the last post, mea culpa, but when you live here, you know the hustle. All of us with our dreams of art, music, expression—in the midst of a major economic recession—have at least a few jobs to support the chase, feed the dream, feed ourselves, kids & pets.  And this morning I’m in that hustle with yard work and projects (hey, you know whose yard I’m in!) and some bike riding, and then I’m gonna beautify.

Yep, I’m gonna get hot. See, that Terrence McNally at Arcata Photos Studio is taking some pictures of me this evening, and we’re glamming it up. My gal Valerie is on the hair. Nancy (super thanks, Nancy!) from Vintage Avenger has lent three dresses for the shoot. I’m on the ‘artistic vision’. And make up? My nemesis, make up…not sure, but we’ll figure it out. Terrence said not to over think it. He also said he had a ‘hot’ button on his camera. We’ll find out, won’t we? I’ll share some here, and maybe you all help me decide which ones are best, ok?

Speaking of ‘best’…thank you for all the support in the North Coast Journal’s best of edition. Chris Parreira & I tied for ‘best solo musical artist.’ This means so much to me—I feel very lucky and loved.

Below is the Journal blurb (thank you, Andrew Goof , for the kind words!). Be well & I’ll share some pics soon.  ~Jos

p.s. I’m still working on the bus thing and musical travel—there’re some really great stuff in the works. All in good time. And really, thank you for the love!!!

Sunset King Range Pacific Ocean—this is the best it gets. The best. BEST.

Best Solo Musical Artist

(SEPT. 22, 2011)  Foiled again! It would appear that the statistical gods have reaped vengeance upon us for daring to ask readers to pit the pure souls of musicians competitively against each other and declare a “best.” Thus, we have a tie.

In this corner, Chris Parreira: “It’s funny, this is the one year I haven’t been doing many solo gigs at all, less than 12 really. All of my shows these days are with one of [my] bands.” ‘Tis true. Chris has been focusing much of his recent musical energy on The Trouble — a group that would likely have won our Best Band category had it not been for “Sinnergate.” But obviously his solo restrained, Dylan-esque folk made enough of an impression to propel him to the co-top of this heap.

Josephine Johnson

In the other corner, Josephine Johnson. Like Chris, she too has been absent from the local scene as of late — she recently returned from a 10-month English teaching gig in Xian, China (see “The China Connection,” July 21). Back now, she’s hit the ground running with poetic lyrics, subdued strumming and haunting vocals in tow. (Disclosure: I’ve picked a few tunes with her in my day.)

So, apologies to the blood lusters who wanted a clear victor, but we’re calling this a happy ending. Why? We contacted both Chris and Josephine with the good news and they’ve both agreed to schedule a special joint “Best Of Doublebill” in the near future. Their similar styles should gel, right? When it all goes down — keep your eyes and ears open — we’re demanding a duet version of Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” with its “Baby, you’re the best” refrain.

Well, “demand” is a strong word. They’re the “best.” They’ll figure it out.

— Andrew Goff

The Breakdown: Chris Parreira 4.8%, Josephine Johnson 4.8%, Berel Alexander 4.5%, Ishi Dube 4.5%, Sarah Bareilles 2.9%, Voter Turnout: 29th.

yard art in the way out

yard art in the way out

This will be quick. A little note to let folks know I’m working super-hard to get all this digi-media stuff consolidated, consistent. You know, like strategic messaging, smooth, targeted media-ese. I’m professional—as my granny would say I’m ‘getting my poop in a group’. I’ll need a bigger, better computer to cover it all!

Phew, and there sure is a lot of it to get into a group. Really, check this out. I have all these different ways to

These handsome guys, sheesh...

These handsome guys, sheesh...

reach out to/ keep in touch with people on the internet.
Two Facebook pages:        Josephine Johnson and the music/fan site Josephine

Twitter: @JosephineSing

Attempt at consistency—Facebook fan page addy: similar to Twitter

thingy: @JosephineSing

Ok, three so far. Consistency one.

Want to buy a CD? Do that here: (so much for consistency…)

Feeling nostalgic? How about MySpace: (wait? now she’s in the trees?)

Lyndsey Battle & Josephine Johnson are playing a show!

Lyndsey Battle & Josephine Johnson are playing a show!

Or via video? There’s YouTube:  and Vimeo: (uh, consistency…)

This blog: and the big website that is in progress (not yet updated from China):

Of course, there’s Google+ which no one uses…Ok, Bob Morse does (Morse Media!). I’m there, too. :) Just in case.

Got lots to do!

But the real reason for this post is to help keep myself together—to jot down quick-like what’s coming up as I get busier juggling more immediate stuff. Have some gigs, and I’m gonna list info here first then refer back as I share with different calendars and in other places. Essentially, this is a swifty cheat sheet for you and for me. Ready? Let’s go!

 Saturday, September 3rd, Arts Alive! Eureka 6-9 Belle Star—be the rainbow!

cow pushers

The Pacific and happiest of happy

Tuesday, September 13th, Will Jam for Food, 9pm Jambalaya, Arcata—boysen, marion, huckle, mmmmm…

Friday, September 16th, Lyndsey Battle & Josephine Johnson, 7-9 Redwood Yogurt, Arcata—first real hometown show since China!

Saturday, September 17th, Two Car Garage CD release, 7pm Mosgo’s, Arcata—fun :)

Wednesday, September 21st, Pints for the Environment, 6pm Redwood Curtain Brewery—it’s for EPIC.

Saturday, October 1st, Arts Alive! Eureka, 6-9 Ramone’s Bakery Old Town—with Brother


Friday, October 14th, Arts Arcata, 6-9 Plaza Design—who will be playing with me???

Saturday, November 5th, Arts Alive! Eureka, 6-9 Old Town Antique Lighting—yep, that sweet space on the corner of F & 2nd.

And what does all this have to do with Greyhound? Keeping that under the hat a bit longer—but the poop’s gettin’ grouped fo’ sho—there you go!                                           Peas, carrots, bikes and birds, ~Jos

Now for the holy: St. Patrick's, Petrolia

Now for the holy: St. Patrick's, Petrolia

Old Town Coffee and Chocolates has an open-mic each Wednesday evening hosted by Mike Anderson. Good ol’ Papa Paul let’s us use his fine sound equipment, too. Last night Brother James and I went and played some tunes together—our friend Thomas from Montana filmed our set.  With an attentive, supportive audience, it’s always a good time, always friendly folk there—to name a few Gin and Laura of the Soulful SidekicksLester, Charlie, a poet, this awesome guy and his electric guitar and a bunch more. Oh, Mike Anderson, by the way, has his own band, Out of Sheep, and they played Bummer Fest this past weekend. Oh, oh, and, and—the Soulful Sidekicks are playing at the Eureka Inn this Friday, August 26th, 8:00 to 11:00 pm—go catch em!

Oh yes, one more plug…the North Coast Journal is doing its annual “Best of Humboldt” these next few weeks. One of the categories this year is ‘best solo musical act’. There’re a lot of great solo folks in these parts—fantastic players, writers, singers—if you like what I’m about, the music I have to share, then heck yeah, go to the Journal (vote here) and vote for Josephine! But only if you wanna. I know you have many great folks to consider. Super thanks! There, ’nuff said. :)

Below you’ll find Thomas’s videos.

josephine johnson & brother james carr
aug. 24, 2011, old town coffee & chocolates
eureka, ca

Watch brother james tell the future. Hear him prognosticate. josephine rattles bones, keeps secrets, pontificates…

Thank you, Thomas from Montana, for filming!!!

These Old Bones/ Halos and Horns/ Dolly Parton/2002

Do you love Dolly?
Josephine does.

josephine johnson & james carr
roygbiv copyright josephine johnson 2011

aug. 24, 2011, eureka, ca
old town coffee & chocolates

Thank you, Thomas from Montana, for filming!

A snippet of a new one, just Jos & brother James

josephine johnson & james carr
aug. 24, 2011, eureka, ca
old town coffee & chocolates

Copyright 2011 Josephine Johnson

Thank you, Thomas from Montana, for filming :)

The Story from Josephine Johnson on Vimeo.

Golden Gate at sunset, August 9, 2011

Golden Gate at sunset, August 9, 2011

Part of this post is about spirituality and the interconnectedness of all life, especially among animals including humans; the other part is about travel and how unexpected ‘setbacks’ are never really setbacks but opportunities for learning. Mostly, this post is about how spiritual insight, reverence and understanding often come through travel.

I was raised Christian, believe in God, Jesus and the Bible. But I also think there’s more to it, not that

Jos, Alcatraz, SF

Jos, Alcatraz, SF

Jesus and the Bible aren’t enough. I believe, though, that spiritual traditions in addition to Christianity possess important knowledge for growth.  For me, I can’t deny the profound connection I have with animals—birds, horses, cows, cats, dogs, snakes, bumble bees—all of them. Yet the flavor of Christianity I grew up with embraces the idea of human dominion, emphasizing how animals are at humans’ disposal to do with them as we will. This notion has NEVER set with me. Ever. To me it condones poor treatment and brutality.

And really, all living things respond positively to patience, kindness and calmness. They just do. If you want something to come to you, never yell for it. Think about that. Why would a run-away dog or cat ever return home to an angry voice calling its name?. This knowing, empathy and feeling of connected-ness when I interact with animals comes straight from God.  At least that’s how it feels, that animals are a gift requiring love, respect and kind treatment in the same way as any human.

The queen Mama who granted entry.

The queen Mama who granted entry.

In January 2011 I traveled in Laos and had two profound animal-focused experiences that I’m sure God, Jesus, Buddha and the Universe had everything to do with.

In a small rice paddy outside of Nong Kiew, I sat with thirteen or so water buffalo one afternoon.  After negotiating with the dominant cow—horns and all, snorting and stamping the ground—she let me close enough for the herd to smell and lick my face, hands, head.  A white calf rubbed against my back and lay down, dangling his hoof over my knee.  As if they were over-sized, cloven-hoofed puppies, they let me sit in their midst, and I felt an undeniable connection to God, the earth and the animals so close. I felt as if they, like me, were very much emotionally connected to the moment, that they really liked me.  And this realization moved me to tears: how similar life is on this planet, how our atoms and basic building blocks are all the same across species, how animals must have an emotional structure similar to humans’. How there is something holy and sacred connecting all life because when I look into the eye of a buffalo I see love and know that God is good.

Or perhaps I was just sweaty, and their enthusiasm for me was of a more practical design—maybe they so

The Utah hosts fabulous open-mic each Monday---sign-up starts at 7:00. Get there early to get on the list.

The Utah hosts fabulous open-mic each Monday---sign-up starts at 7:00. Get there early to get on the list.

liked me because I was at their disposal, a human salt lick.

The second animal-inspired moment happened a few days later in Luangphrabang, when I saw two men taking a hog off to slaughter. She was squealing high-pitched like a human. They were kicking her. In a flash it occurred that we should never treat poorly anything that will be taken into our bodies. An animal about to die for meat needs respect. Another flash—so long as I do not know how an animal is treated before and during its slaughter, I cannot take it into my body. Taking in mistreated and disrespectfully handled flesh dishonors the spirit of the animal.

These came so suddenly and with such force that they felt from God.

Pacific Trade Winds Hostel, in the heart of Chinatown, great staff!

Pacific Trade Winds Hostel, in the heart of Chinatown, great staff!

At the risk of sounding like a hokey-religio-spiritual-northern-California-fruit-nut-seed-eater (oh geeze), these experiences and the insight they brought made very clear part of my purpose in this life. I love animals. They are so close and similar to us, and I’m certain part of why I’m here is to honor all creatures and to help humans understand that, hello, we’re all animals, and we have way more in common with non-human life (yes, even plants) than not. Sitting with the buffalo, watching the pig taken to slaughter almost instantaneously altered my world view and how I consider the relationship between my body and the food I put into it. All drama aside, these experiences were pivotal in making me vegetarian.

And what does this have to do with travel and San Francisco? Two days “stranded” in the City, and I met folks from different spiritual persuasions who were also vegetarians.

Traveling back from my friends and family in Georgia, my connecting flight from Dallas to San Francisco was delayed making it impossible to catch Greyhound to Humboldt. But it gets better. The flight attendants announced that the now-delayed flight was overbooked and asked if anyone would be willing to give up a seat? Yes, I raised my hand! Fifteen minutes later the Universe winked, God smiled and Buddha laughed—I scored a $300 ticket voucher good for a year anywhere in the U.S. Better still, at the SF airport information kiosk, there was a

Hosteling International, Fisherman's Wharf

Hosteling International, Fisherman's Wharf

list of every hostel in the City. The seventh phone call yielded the last dorm bed at the Pacific Trade Winds Hostel in Chinatown.

And then two days in SF turned into a random adventure of spiritual connections and conversations.

Breakfast at Fisherman's Wharf Hostel

Breakfast at Fisherman's Wharf Hostel

The gentleman on the BART was catholic (and vegetarian), and talked about how he loved the ritual and formality involved in his faith, and then he said, “Surely, you’re an old soul.”  To which I responded, “You’re Catholic. That doesn’t make any sense. Aren’t you declaring something outside of, contrary to, your faith?”

And we laughed at the apparent religious (cognitive?) dissonance—the ritual-loving, re-incarnation-believing Catholic . He responded with something like, “I don’t have the answers. A lot of it is beyond any human understanding, but I like Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is involved.” And then we launched into a discussion about the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, and we both agreed it best to bring forth what is within, to wear your soul on the outside. We laughed. Shove me in the shallow water, please, that 45 minute BART ride into the City. Wow.

Then, that evening the Jewish doctor at the Hotel Utah—after discussing zealous Christians, the debt debacle, China, whiteness as property,

mural, Chinatown

mural, Chinatown

and fishing rights on the Klamath River—he asked when I knew I was an artist. (Huh? But we weren’t talking about art. Wait, wha?) ”When did you know you were doing what you should be doing?” He asked more directly. “You came in here with a guitar. Your guitar.”

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA, August 9, 2011

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA, August 9, 2011

Ok, got me. That question. I think I’ve always known this and for too many years have refused to embrace it. I’ve banged my head against thick walls trying to be something I’m not. To Answer your question, Justin, it wasn’t until you backed me into the corner that I realized I’ve been an artist all my life, and yes, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing—writing, thinking, singing, talking to animals and meeting people. You recognized it, and now I see it and am just now able to understand that it’s all art to me. Living my life is art. Got it. So, yeah, thanks.

market, Chinatown

market, Chinatown

On Tuesday the bus to Humboldt was sold out. I called every hostel in San Francisco—the last one had one dorm bed left for the night. On the #30 bus to Fisherman’s Wharf, I met a young man on his way to martial arts class. He knew where the hostel was, and since it was a few blocks from the bus stop he happily walked me there. He laughed at the stuff I had—a backpack, two shoulder bags and a guitar, really not much for 16 days of travel but a hefty load for a petit woman jockeying the bus and hiking San Francisco’s streets. I took some veggies from a bag and shared them. He was Buddhist and studying a form of martial arts that used swords. He knew all about the Shaolin Temple in China.

As we walked the discussion came around to food and what we put into our bodies. “The most sacred thing we do

Cosmic reminder: in Tan's "Joy Luck Club," Waverly Jong was named after this street. Waverly's family attended the First Chinese Baptist Church.

Cosmic reminder: in Tan's "Joy Luck Club," Waverly Jong was named after this street. Waverly's family attended the First Chinese Baptist Church.

each day is eat and drink,” Jon said, “being mindful of what I eat is an act of reverence.” And he continued. Buddhism for him is a lifestyle in which he strives to live in a way that minimizes suffering toward others.  “There is no separation,” he said, “our culture and technology creates barriers that haven’t always been.” (Yes, I wrote this down, his quote. I wanted to get his words right.) According to Jon, the fear, anger, and pain of slaughter are unhealthy for life—choosing not to eat meat helps keep these negative energies away. That’s what he thinks, what his faith advocates.

The point of all of this is how travel, if you let it, brings amazing opportunities to connect with and learn from people, and I think it significant that each of these conversations revealed something profoundly spiritual about the speaker. That each of these folks I met was vegetarian surely must be more than



coincidence. God, Buddha, Jesus and the Universe work in mysterious ways—in all of this I choose to see the adventures and insight gained as nothing less than the miracle of God working in my life. But I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions from this story, leave it to you to find your own truth, leave it to you to make your life your own spiritual masterpiece. Living is art.

Peace & carrots,


“Let’s just be honest and open instead of burying our heads in the sand while huge companies do crappy things to creatures that are just as smart and personable as our cats or dogs.”  Sam McKee

impaired clearance

impaired clearance...yeah, right?

Video from Spitfire Saturday, July 30, 2011, Savaanh, GA

Forsyth Park, Savannah, GA

Forsyth Park, Savannah, GA

by Josephine Johnson

There’s no place like Savannah, Georgia—her ante bellum architecture, manicured squares of oleander and magnolia, live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, her warm southern charm seeping from every cobble and crack, lingering like jasmine on the sweet night air. Seductive Savannah.  Summers here are usually searing, but this one’s been a real scorcher. When I arrived on July 26, the city was in the midst of a sixty-day heat streak of temperatures over ninety degrees—that’s about thirty degrees warmer than an average summer day in my hometown of Eureka, California.  It’s hot in Savannah. But I’m getting used to it, wearing less

The way late July sunlight shifts silent through early morning oak leaves and Spanish moss—it’s like grace rolling from God’s gentle shoulders.

The way late July sunlight shifts silent through early morning oak leaves and Spanish moss—it’s like grace rolling from God’s gentle shoulders.

clothing and getting more sun. This body still embraces the steamy heat of the deep south.

I went to school in Savannah seven years ago, and back then things were rougher. Crime—break-ins, muggings, stabbings, drive-by shootings—synonymous with downtown.  And I lived downtown on Henry

Street—that same Henry Street on which Forrest’s beloved Jenny once resided. It wasn’t yet gentrified: rent was only $250 a month for a one bedroom. Back then, there was no city-wide recycling. No Saturday Forsyth Park farmers markets. No hybrid buses. No Parker’s Market monopoly. I had no car, either, only bike, bus and feet to tread the daily marathon of classes, Gryphon Tea Room and Starbucks shifts, work study and homework. Savannah may have been rougher back then, but it helped make me tough, independent and focused, helped steel me to the art of setting and achieving goals.

Saturday Farmers Market, Forsyth Park, Savannah. And when a mocking bird calls in that light? It’s like love laughing at the corners of Buddha’s great grin.

Saturday Farmers Market, Forsyth Park, Savannah. And when a mocking bird calls in that light? It’s like love laughing at the corners of Buddha’s great grin.

I do recall, though, being a little bitter at having to do all that just to go to school. Savannah College of Art and Design is one of the nation’s best and most expensive art schools. It attracts talented students from all over the country, including a good number of students (not so talented?) from very wealthy families.  For some, art school was/is an opportunity, purchased by mom and dad, to get a degree without having to deal with the academic rigmarole of traditional college—an

especially sweet deal if you ‘re a rich kid, screwed up your GPA in high school and are unable to get into a decent college or university. SCAD is a fine school, but like most things, it can be bought.

hybrid buses, Savannah

hybrid buses, Savannah

215 Henry Street---in the blue house, screen door on the right, where I lived back in the day

215 Henry Street---in the blue house, screen door on the right, where I lived back in the day

Once during a shift at Starbucks, a co-worker and student complained to me his parents were

making him work to pay for the insurance on the BMW they bought him. Just the insurance, to pay for it. Meanwhile, I, like other co-workers and students in similar situations, juggled Starbucks, the Tea Room, work study, other odd jobs and homework to make it. I was in classes with several students like him—students whose folks footed the bill for most if not all of their college and living expenses so that pretty much all they had to do was go

Savannah Segway

Savannah Segway

to class (sometimes), study (maybe) and party (definitely).  Bitter much?  How to escape it, the bitterness, resentment? My solution: minimize contact. Find other folks.

I sought out people and students like me who relied on scholarships, loans and jobs to make it, and that’s partially how I met Clinton and Ren with whom I worked on poetry and music for Spitfire.  (Melanie Smith formally introduced Clinton and me.) By finding and hanging out with other people in situations similar to mine, eventually that bitterness faded to annoyance, gradually dissipated to indifference, and after a

Georgia Queen, Savannah

Georgia Queen, Savannah

while, I just felt sorry for them.  I arrived at the conclusion that surely, though theirs were different, they probably had problems just as real, stressful and painful as mine. At least that’s what I told myself so I wouldn’t hate.  Hate, resentment, bitterness are ugly things. And I didn’t want to be ugly. Ah, poor rich kids, c’est la vie.

Savannah, seven years later seems softer, more forgiving, more aware.  Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m softer.

Way-back in the way-back, Clinton, Ren and I collaborated, writing and performing poetry for elementary kids.  This endeavor slowly morphed into Clinton’s Spitfire poetry project.  It paid nothing at first. We did it because we loved it. Clinton juggled school and who knows how many jobs; Ren was a new father also juggling school, multiple jobs. We all believed in the power of the spoken (and sung) word to transform young people’s lives and perspectives. To engage and

Ren & Jos

Ren & Jos

empower them. We loved performing and the exchange involved in cooperative artistic creation, and we wanted to share this interactive, dynamic process with young people.

Those lean years. They were tough, but they made me (Clinton and Ren, too); they forged and sharpened us to seek excellence in all things. Each time we performed in a school and listened to students’ songs and poetry, we knew we were helping to create something profoundly powerful, empowering young people by encouraging creative self-expression.

It’s been seven months, now, since Clinton Powell passed away, and his dream and

baby, Spitfire Poetry, has a new visionary at the helm. On July 30 Marquice Williams organized the first Spitfire event since Clinton’s passing. It was beyond a packed house—close to 300 people showed up at the Muse Arts Warehouse to spitfire, share music, love.

in the house

in the house

Rock on, Marquice, you did good. Clinton’s got your back. And Ren’s.  And mine. Spitfire’s back and blazin’.

All that toughness, struggle, meanness, strife that was Savannah? It’s mellowed.  I’ve mellowed. She and I have softened into our strength, transcended resentment, focused now on forward sight, grateful for the power of positive intent, somehow all those wrongs have made it right, all these songs can’t help but jump and sing pure light. Sight. Sigh. C’est la vie. Forever CP

spirit of Clinton

spirit of Clinton

Reia Chapman, Spitfire Saturday

by Josephine Johnson

Monday, July 25—left the house at 8:00 am with one backpack, authentic Swiss army ‘purse’, guitar, laptop, digi-media devices, and six whole-wheat tempeh-avocado-carrot sandwiches.  My

at the airport, savannah

at the airport, savannah

plan: to get to San Francisco without using a private vehicle and arrive at the airport in time to catch a 10:00 pm flight to Savannah, Georgia.  This would necessarily require traveling light. Walking to the RTS stop (Redwood Transit System), I wondered if I’d gone overboard with the sandwiches.

I caught the 8:24 bus (total cost $2.75) from Eureka to Arcata then rode Greyhound ($52.50) from Arcata to San Francisco. A lot of folks pooh-pooh Greyhound. I know —they say the bus is dirty, smelly, full of ‘rough’ people, a drawn out ordeal. Really? The ride from Arcata to San Francisco, actually, (this time) was pretty good, and compared to Chinese buses the experience was quite pleasant. At the very least I could sit in a cushioned seat wider and with more leg room than most airplanes.  The scenery’s great, too.

Stevo, theremin, Old Town Coffee & Chocs, July 23 2011

Stevo, theremin, Old Town Coffee & Chocs, July 23 2011

In San Francisco I easily located a BART station (Bay Area Rapid Transit) on Market Street just up from the Greyhound terminal.  Before hopping on, though, I needed to spend some time with the guitar. Behind a well-heeled Italian restaurant I found a quiet yet safe-seeming alley, took out the guitar and sang while the eatery’s wait and kitchen staff rotated through smoke breaks. They smiled. From a second floor window, patrons pointed, nodded. Just like old times, Xi’an, singing on the street. It felt so good to sing and play, so good. I love making music.

After forty minutes or so of working out the legs, hands, vocal chords, entertaining folks, it was time to head to the airport. From Market Street to San Francisco International Airport, it was only $8.10 to take the BART. This is a transportation score.

San Francisco Greyhound terminal

San Francisco Greyhound terminal

  I made it to the airport by 8:15 pm and with plenty of time to catch that 10:00 pm flight. Yes, going from Arcata to San Francisco without a private vehicle is totally doable and

enjoyable especially if you like thinking, looking out the window, daydreaming, meeting and talking with new people. Ranks high on affordability, too—getting to the San Francisco airport from Arcata by Greyhound and public transportation only costs $63.35. It’s good, really.

Why didn’t I fly from Arcata?  It’s just cheaper to fly from the City—busing it to SFO saved me almost $300.

Once at SFO I discovered the connecting flight from Philadelphia to Savannah had been canceled

Michael, Mikey, me, Humboldt Folklife Fest, July 23, 2011

Michael, Mikey, me, Humboldt Folklife Fest, July 23, 2011

due to weather, and here’s where things got fun. I arrived in Philly 6:00 am and was rescheduled on a connection to Charlotte and then on to Savannah. Though the times were close, I made the flights and arrived in Savannah early afternoon. Unfortunately, while I was landing in Charlotte, my guitar was touching down in Cleveland. So here I sit at Melanie and David’s up late and jet-lagged, lacking my friend and money-maker, my guitar. Folks at U.S. Airways say it should be delivered sometime in the next day or two. So long as I have it by Friday in time to play Spitfire, it’s all good.

Those six sandwiches? I’m eating my last one right now here on the couch. Avocado’s a little brown but still good. Though it was tempting, these sandwiches saved me from spending anything on over-priced airport food. Ha!

Moral(s) of this story? Greyhound and public transportation are reliable, affordable and (gasp) enjoyable. Definitely easier to keep track of one’s guitar on the Greyhound. Preparing six

Betty Chinn

Betty Chinn established a shower facility for the homeless in Eureka, California. She is a miracle worker.

sandwiches was divinely inspired—not hungry once. And all this has me thinking about music, travel, and performing—perhaps a Greyhound music tour is in order. Maybe do a run from San Francisco to Portland, couch surf. I’d be a real folksinger then. Yeah? Like Betty Chin says, “I don’t organize, I just do it.” Maybe I should just do it, take all this music and love and get it out there and just do it.

Thanks, Betty. You inspired me beyond words last Sunday. :)

The China Connection

the BIKE!

the BIKE!

by Josephine Johnson

Bike’s fixed (finally), tuned-up and ready for Eureka. Ah, being home. Since Has Beans is in the midst of management and ownership changes, Old Town Coffee & Chocolates would have to caffeinate this morning.

paul, rich & North Coast Journal

paul, rich & North Coast Journal. Coffee, conversation, catching-up--early morning in Old Town perfect for these.

Saint Paul and Spirit Rich are there, Jeff Katz, Paul from Scotch Wiggly, too— a few of the regulars I missed while teaching in China.

Paul (Saint not Wiggly) is reading a North Coast Journal. And so is Rich. And I have my camera. You know what’s coming, right?

Gratuitous self-promotion, keen product placement.

I wrote the cover story for this week’s North Coast Journal–if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll recognize facts and bits of information about China and its education system in the Journal. The piece focuses on two

Saint Paul

Saint Paul, click pic & go to Journal story :)

students, Mia and Sharpay, and explains their lives as students and how they came to be enrolled in Humboldt College, the joint venture between Humboldt State and Xi’an International Studies University.  Of course, there’re pics, too.

*Now, you all know I’m looking for a job—sure do like to write, take photos, sing and make music. So I put this out to God, the Universe, pranksters, agents, talent scouts, mystery mavens and anyone who might could use a deadline-adhering media person, songwriter, performer/ entertainer: I’m for hire.  And I’d love to tell YOUR story. I could sing it, photograph it. TELL it with creativity and compassion.

Enjoy the Journal. Get java Old Town Coffee & Chocolates. Listen to the wisdom of Paul. He shared a poem with me this morning that you should hear :)

recapturing the essence

recapturing the essence

By Josephine Johnson

Home.  Jet-lagged.  2 am and awake, awake, awake. On the floor in the parlor, street light falling silent through stained glass curved and great. This is my space, where I live, where I belong, where it all happens.  My spirit (and many, many others) are here.

We’re all much more than our possessions, right? No one is defined solely by what she owns, but it’s a warm,

Grandma, I'm home--brought you some feathers, blue one from Laos

Grandma, I'm home--brought you some feathers, blue one from Laos

identity-affirming hug to be here now admiring so many special feathers on the mantle, guitars, tambourines, amplifiers, scarves, hats, fossils, beads, books, Willie, Meows—my favorite things. And I am more than all this, but these sure do help recall who I am, help me remember that I’m not just an English-teaching,

sino-linguistically impaired specter haunting classrooms, buses, and crowded streets somewhere in central China. I remember. Yes, I am a teacher, but I’m also an artist, musician, writer, observer, lover, singer, priestess, passionate poet—a socially awkward geek with a flair for melody, rhythm, and the English language.

And much more of course…

Fixing the Washing Machine, Xi’an, China from Josephine Johnson on Vimeo.

Let’s catch up.

Shortly after June 1st, I was no longer able to post to this blog. The big folks in Beijing, an internet techno-junta of more than 30,000, finally decided they’d had enough. They were thorough, too, nullifying my ability to access

I've been a bad Mom. They refuse to look me in the eye...beg, grovel...wet food? Willie, Meows, Please?

I've been a bad Mom. They refuse to look me in the eye...beg, grovel...wet food? Willie, Meows, please?

gmail and all social media. I kept writing, confident that once back in the States I’d be able to post my adventures.

After 10 months in China teaching, singing, making Chinese friends, talking with other foreigners, and despite the dismal economic news, vanishing  American job prospects faithfully reported on CNN & BBC, I’ve come to appreciate just how great the good ol’ USA is. Watch out, about to get patriotic, but it’s merited, and the timing couldn’t be better. Why’s the U.S. so great? Number one reason: the First Amendment and the rights it guarantees.  The First Amendmentsupports an individual’s right to independent thought(s), and it guarantees the right to express those thoughts free from government interference— individual thought or opinion and freedom of expression make this nation great and strong. For the most part (let’s disregard Obama’s extension of the Patriot Act for a moment), in America we can enter into passionate debate and loudly profess how much we disagree with our government and/or its political acts and parties without fear of being black

street music

street music & Inner-Mongolian Student Friends

balled, censored, or worse. In the States we can agree to disagree safe from political retaliation for personal beliefs outside the Party line; we can rest assured that our home won’t be invaded and occupants taken away because someone turned us in for having and expressing thoughts subversive to the State. The First Amendment may well be the best part of being an American— wanna disagree? Go!

But I did have an excellent adventure in China, met some very kind people—many students, local Xi’an folks, and travelers and teachers from all over the world. Shared music with many

Bob & Peter: Two-thirds of the Brothers Hughes with whom I woulda gone to Hainan...

Bob & Peter: Two-thirds of the Brothers Hughes with whom I woulda gone to Hainan...

supportive people, too—I had three regular weekly gigs at Park Qin, the Belgian Bar, and Vice Versa.  But playing in bars, though, limited who could hear the music I had to share—mostly foreign travelers or wealthy Chinese business men could hear me. No children (personal demographic fave) could hear. This troubled me.  I’m a folksinger, of the people, and so the more I played the bar scene, the more I felt pulling at my heart the need to connect with everyday people and young folks.  Solution? I took to the streets and found that by playing various sidewalks and underpasses around Xi’an I could connect more genuinely with a broader range of Chinese folks—older people were baffled at first, and kids never failed to smile; college students often gave ‘thumbs up,’ and the wealthier set always tried to give me Yuan, which I occasionally accepted. I most usually refused money

musician bonding

musician bonding

because I wanted to share

A bird pooped on my shoulder & this kind guy wiped it away. We sang & people took pics. One of my favorite music memories

A bird pooped on my shoulder & this kind guy wiped it away. We sang & people took pics. One of my favorite music memories

music for the sake of love and connection—I didn’t want it to be obscured by transaction or to receive money as sign of appreciation. Though I couldn’t communicate this, with all my heart I tried to express that the best payment anyone could give was to listen, clap, sing, hum, harmonize, and just enjoy the moment. But if a rich business man insisted on a 100 Yuan bill, then OK. Sometimes insistence won. Don’t argue with the business set—they’re Party connected (mostly).

Near the end of the adventure I had two offers to join music ensembles—one in Hainan (really, read this NYT article link), the other in Xi’an. Hainan is an island in the South China Sea and is often considered the Hawaii of China. It’s a tropical paradise

Because you will

Because you will

that attracts uber-wealthy vacationing Chinese business people as well as Russian oil barons. The gig I was offered there would entail playing three, forty-five minute sets of popular covers 6 nights a week. OK. The initial compensation package was something like 10,000 RMB per month for each member (four total), plus the company would provide two, two-bedroom apartments at no cost to the musicians. But when it came time to talk real terms—before we all got our instruments on a train headed to Hainan—the offer became more like 7,000 RMB per month—plus we each would have to put 1,000 RMB (monthly) toward renting one, three-bedroom apartment. Uhhh… It didn’t sit right with me the whole arrangement—plus, I would have been the only woman of four musicians—not a prude on this, really, just not so sure I wanted to live with three dudes

Oh, Bob!  Peter wields voo doo behind you...

Oh, Bob! Peter wields voo doo behind you...

(John, Bob, Peter, love you, but a girl like me needs her space ). By the time we would have gotten to Hainan and were essentially captive, who knows how much further the terms would have slid (a two bed-room apartment for all four of us? Yikes.) The guys went on without me and have vowed to keep me in the loop—I wish great times and music to them, fine weather for sure!

The other musical opportunity was to play with this multi-cultural group that specifically wanted a western

Oh dear

Oh dear

woman who played guitar. This project would have been based in Xi’an playing a variety of music—Chinese pop, American country (big in China), and folk from South Africa and Ghana. These folks are great musicians. There’s Malvern an ethnomusicologist on sabbatical from teaching music in South Africa; Naomi sings American pop and folk music from Ghana, (she’s from Ghana) hip hop dances, too; Tommy is a Chinese pop music genius. These three also know a keyboardist and trumpet player.

Andrew’s Song (multi-cultural) from Josephine Johnson on Vimeo.

The project really could be a (and likely will without me) force of international scale, love, and unity. Or just a lot of fun with really nice folks.  This came up just a week before I left. We played fuzzball and jammed together one afternoon. They

Big Goose Pagoda, June 4, 2011

Big Goose Pagoda, June 4, 2011

hot times + water = happy kids & people

hot times + water = happy kids & people

want me to go back. I will miss them tremendously. We will keep in touch. I guess I still have an out (in?) if jobs here at home don’t pan out…let’s hope it’s not as bad as CNN Asia & the BBC have portrayed—maybe all that crappy economic news was Chinese-crafted propaganda, re-tooled and crafted especially for English-speaking foreign teachers…to keep us there, keep our heads down…

Lastly, I have photos to share. These were taken on Saturday, June 4thin Xi’an.  Some are images of the afternoon fountain show at Big Goose Pagoda—little kids playing in the water too precious. There’s a busquing  pic (or busking? disagreement re: correct spelling. Playing on the street, street musician), a fruit


super fun

vendor, and an image of a visual artist who crafts and draws her own bookmarks and post cards. She uses earth tones and a muted color palette of mellow teals, a range of mustard yellows, soft burgundy, and subdued pine greens. Fine illustrations, too. Check out her work. Order online Support a ‘local’ Chinese artist!!!

in the water

in the water

Here she is--she's great. Buy her stuff!!! Quality.

Here she is--she's great. Buy her stuff!!! Quality.

I have a few more China posts to make mostly documenting final goings on in China.

fresh fruit always

fresh fruit always

More soon.

little red princess

little red princess


~love, Jos




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