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Carpenter finds her comfort zone on the road


After many months touring behind her current album, "Stones in the Road," how does Mary Chapin Carpenter spend one of her rare weekends at home in Washington?

"I've been sleeping a lot this weekend," she says with a chuckle. "I'm either sleeping or trying to fix my computer, which has been fritzing out on me. I'm reinstalling all the software, and rebooting the hard disk, and trying to figure out what the heck's going on here."

Needless to say, fixing the computer would not normally be her preferred way to spend time. If she had her druthers, she'd devote the bulk of her time to songwriting. But one of the great ironies of the record industry is that the demands of a successful career sometimes make it harder for an artist to find time to create.

Finding a way to balance the obligations of touring with her need to write has been "an education" for Carpenter.

"Now, I feel like I'm getting a lot better at it, and really learning how to take that time, and keep the time sacred," she says. "I actually have broken my own personal hex about not being able to write on the road. I've started scribbling a little bit, finishing things up. And I think partly that's due to the fact that our quality of life out there is a little better than it was a couple years ago."

Carpenter isn't thinking about bigger concert halls or bigger money -- she's thinking the bus she and her band travel in. "It has a little desk in the back, and I don't ever get a hotel room anymore, because I've got everything I need on the bus.

"Our routine now is that we get in somewhere in the morning and drop the band off at a hotel. Then the bus immediately goes over to the venue, where the crew and everybody already is. I kind of wake up on the bus, and I can go in and just get a cup of coffee and come back. And if I don't have to do any promotion or media that day, I have the whole day just to sit at my little desk at the back. I just scribble, and have that privacy that doesn't get interrupted by schlepping up to the hotel and schlepping back."

The bus has made life on the road more comfortable for Carpenter, but she admits she's nowhere near as road-tough as some of her colleagues. "Melissa Etheridge would say, 'Oh, man. I can do it from anywhere. Just give me a napkin. I can be on a plane and I'll start writing.' And I was always going, 'God! How can you do that?' "

She laughs. "I realize now that everybody sort of finds their comfort zone, and I've been able to suss one out for myself," she says. "The best place for me is to be able to sit at my desk at home. But just like we were talking, just to be able to have that little space at the back of the bus, and it's my little world, I really can get the solitude and privacy that I need there."

Mary Chapin Carpenter

When: Monday, Oct. 9, 8 p.m.

Where: Baltimore Arena

Tickets: $25

Call: (410) 481-7328

Sundial: To hear excerpts from the Mary Chapin Carpenter album "Stones in the Road," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6227 after you hear the greeting.

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