Love in the time of Social Distancing

I’ve been doing this thing lately where I wake up at around 1am and can’t go back to sleep for several hours. While we’re all trying to stay home during this pandemic, time has lost its rigidity; I can nap in between digital obligations, the line between daytime clothes and nighttime clothes has blurred or disappeared altogether, impending shows or deadlines are now all canceled or in flux, so I’m struggling to be motivated to be productive. “Is this thing I’m working towards still happening, even?”

The week they announced schools would be closed, I’d just had a horrific week without a ton of alone time to process things, and I welcomed the idea of quiet, stillness, and a break from the routine. For a few days, I delighted in the stillness. I wrote. I drank coffee. I re-read old journals. I cleaned.

Over a week in, with who knows how long we have to go, I have to stare down my demons. Usually, I jam pack my schedule so tightly that I need to leave one obligation early to arrive at the next one late, and that way I’m flooded with — what? — relief, intermittently: “Whew! I made it!” Adrenaline, dopamine. What I wouldn’t give to be racing down the highway, right now, one eye on the clock, a sense of purpose and urgency. I’m now on withdrawal from that chemical cycle, and I acknowledge that it is possible — possible — that I use “busy” as a self-numbing defense. A crutch I’m now without.

We’re being asked, collectively, to prioritize. To love and care for our neighbors by staying away from them. This is love. Love in action. Empty concert halls are love. Empty stadiums are love. This love is a struggle, it’s painful, it’s inconvenient, it involves hardship and sacrifice and lost income and tons of fear and uncertainty. It is love nonetheless.

I daydream about before this began. Thinking nothing of walking through busy hallways. Pawing through clothes in a store. Adjusting a student’s hands on their guitar. Borrowing a pencil. I daydream about when this ends. The gigs, the hugs, the reunion with loved ones. Man. We should all walk around positively giddy when that happens again.

So we’re alone, together, for the time being and it’s temporary. I identify as an introvert; but I realize balance is key for me. Too much time around others, I’m drained and need alone time in order to check in, recharge. Too much time alone, I can become self absorbed, and need others in order to remind me my thoughts and perspectives are not the only reality. My problems are not the only problems.

I hope you are safe and I’m so proud of you for doing what we’re doing.

Vulnerability

There’s a Brené Brown special on Netflix currently, all about vulnerability. Her talk hinges around the Teddy Roosevelt quote:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

A lot of Brown’s talk hinged upon the fact that living authentically involves risk. It involves looking foolish. It involves making mistakes, or getting hurt from time to time. It sucks. But it’s better than the alternative of playing it safe. Living authentically and showing our scars and hurts is actually what connects us to other people.

Yeah, that scares the shit out of me.

In not quite un-related news, I sent some demos to a producer, Mark, and started the ball rolling on planning an EP. Scariest shit I’ve ever done. My inner gremlins were going crazy and saying all kinds of shit.

“What if your singing sucks?”

“What if your words are cliché? What if your very THOUGHTS are unoriginal?”

“How dare you think so highly of yourself? Who wants to hear this?”

To sum up: WHAT IF YOU LOOK FOOLISH? I had Brené Brown’s words ringing in my ears as I held my breath and sent the demos. I haven’t played these demos for anyone. Not a soul. It felt like sending journal pages to a business associate. Now Mark’s first impressions of me might be that I’m a freaking mess.

I texted my friends Dani and Kristen (they introduced me to this idea of inner gremlins, by the way) because I knew they’d understand my panic. They were incredibly supportive.

I have three songs I feel are ready. I want two more.

Selecting the songs has been a challenge in vulnerability in and of itself. Of course, I want to put my best foot forward. But I already have a couple of self-empowered songs on there. I think I’m missing one that says “I don’t have the answers.” “I’m hurting, and I can’t sum it up. I don’t know what the lesson is here.”

Those honest songs are the ones I gravitate towards most in other songwriters; but writing them myself is going to be an exercise in looking like a fool. In admitting that I’m not all buttoned up. I’m working on it.

P.S. If you get the chance to read any of Brené Brown’s books, or watch her TED talks on YouTube, or watch her Netflix special, I highly recommend it.

Don’t Ask Permission – Write Drunk, Edit Sober

Just keep writing. I’ve been reading a book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, since last year. I keep re-reading sections of it since having finished it over the summer. No matter who you are — lawyer, actor, musician, teacher, painter, broker, whatever — I recommend this book.

One of the premises: we are creations. The desire and the instinct to create things is to fulfill a divine purpose. To get closer to God, or the universe, or whatever terminology that works for you.

One of the tactics in the book describes “Morning Pages” — a ritual in which you write three longhand pages, each morning, without going back and editing or re-reading. Don’t share them with anyone. They can be as trivial or as deep as you need them to be.

I’ve found this to be such a helpful exercise. For me, sometimes, they describe a weird dream I had. Sometimes, they describe mundane errands I need to remember. Sometimes, they’re my deepest fears. Sometimes, they’re song lyrics.

I think the most helpful thing has been turning off my “edit” button as I write. Just keep the pen moving. Don’t judge what you’ve put on the page. You can always come back to it later, massage it, make it work for you.

I used to wait for inspiration to hit. Now, it’s a daily discipline, and I’ve come up with a ton of insights and songs. Please, don’t ask anyone’s permission to create what you need to create. Keep on swimming.

New Music I’m Listening To: Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers.

My friend Emily (who always listens to THE coolest music) introduced me to Maggie Rogers earlier this year. I saw the video of Pharrell listening to her song “Alaska” and being blown away by it.To hear Emily describe her, she’s so pure. She’s in the zone.

Not to be melodramatic; but when I listen to her stuff, it changes what I aspire to be.

When I record my own stuff, I used to think: “I’m not allowed to use head voice.” When I listen to Maggie, she makes head voice sound hip.

When I listen to my stuff, I used to think “I have too many harmonies.” You guys. Maggie Rogers has harmonies all over the place. And they sound vibe-y and clubby as hell, somehow.

Not to mention, she is a producer. Girlfriend is goals. I think I have her to thank for a new wave of courage. Please go check her out.

Lifestyle Bloggers, Social Media, and Being Quiet

I had this crazy thought when reading the book “Girl, Wash Your Face” by Rachel Hollis. What if I started this website to promote music, but included some lifestyle content as well?

One of my favorite blogs is “Live Simply by Annie.” She’s a Seattle based professional organizer, but even in DC I get so much joy out of reading her words. She clearly has fun writing them. Maybe she built a site to initially promote her flesh and blood business. But the site became a way to connect with her whether or not you’ve hired her. I have friends in the same boat of balancing an in-person business (live music, life coaching, public speaking) and maintaining an online presence as well.

This is a slippery slope for me. Maybe I’m a child of the 90’s, but sometimes I have trouble seeing what happens on the internet as “real.” Feel free to imagine this next sentence in a crotchety old-man voice: In my day, you didn’t like each other’s posts. You hung out at the gas station slash convenience store nearest your high school. (I grew up in a small town, okay?)

But I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that the internet has flesh and blood affects on my life. My husband and I started hanging out largely due to Twitter. My personal style, my hair, the clothes on my back can’t help but be informed by ideas I get on Pinterest or Instagram. The internet affects what music I listen to. What dollars I spend. I make real, analog, unplugged decisions about my life because of someone who I’ve never met who published a book or a blog or a tweet and now I have the benefit of reading their thoughts and getting a glimpse into a different perspective.

So, embrace it right? Why not write about my latest gig outfit? My gear? How I keep my calendar? Ooh. Wouldn’t it be cool to share how I discovered a powder manicure doesn’t chip, no matter how much you play piano. I could post pictures of it! I could name my followers and readers something cute.

While I’m really excited reading that paragraph above, there is something in me that says “be careful.” Posting pictures of clothes is fun. But it might take away from those quiet moments you need by yourself in order to do the real work. The unglamorous moments of practicing, and ignoring the phone for a few hours. Those difficult moments of struggling to distill A feeling into just the right phrase or musical idea. John Mayer once quit Twitter because he admitted it was getting in the way of his songwriting. To paraphrase what he said at the time: It was far more gratifying to send a tweet that got immediate engagement than it was to sit down and do the work. For the record, he’s back on Twitter now- but perhaps he sets more boundaries now, or perhaps he’s in a season in his life where he’s not currently writing an album. Or maybe he has someone in his life to hold him accountable, who says he can have his phone back when he’s written three more hits. I don’t know. But that boundary left an impression on me.

I also have my own personality to contend with, here. I tend to be a private person. I definitely identify as introverted. So my social time happens in fits and starts, both in person and online. The idea of “new music every Monday!” Or needing to “show up online” every day is tiring to think about.

I’m not sure what the answer is here. Do you feel the same struggle to balance online life with analog life? Do you feel nostalgia for the 90’s like I do? Do you have helpful boundaries you’ve discovered? (I think we need to bring back the “Away Message” a la AOL Instant Messenger.” It basically says “I’m not snubbing you! It’s just that my attentions are focused elsewhere at the moment!”) I know when the 2016 election happened our collective mental health took a very anxious turn as a direct result of social media, and lots of conversation emerged about setting boundaries. I think that’s a positive thing. But I’m still struggling. With what I think I’m supposed to be doing, with what I want to be doing, with seeing other people doing things and going “I could do that.” I’d love any insights you’ve discovered.