I just wrapped up my weekly interview, Songwriter Sunday (Sundays @2pm CST on all the major streaming platforms), with Heidi Joosten. Heidi is a composer, songwriter, sage of musical theater, and my maid of honor, aka a dear friend. I thought I was fully ready to facilitate today's conversation given that we've been buds since 2015 and that we lived together for a few of the years in between then and now, but she surprised me with an interesting thinking point.
Heidi is a child of music educators with a masters degree level (plus a boatload of experience) of schooling. She explained that her affinity for Musical Theater versus art music was based in the spirit of collaboration. In academia, or art music, she explained, there is an expectation that an artist will be able to do everything they need to do perfectly, regardless of their skill or education level. I remember feeling horrified, as a creative person, that I'd have to learn basic computer programming to complete my degree program. I even cried in my undergrad sound processing class, much to my professor's disdain. I wasn't supposed to be there. I know that now, in retrospect.
I enjoy many facets of being a sound aficionado: mixing, mic placement, marketing, and of course, writing. I like painting, dancing, listening to albums, and drinking wine while I do so at times. But the tech aspect of things has pretty much scared me out of a DMA. (There are other factors, but that's for another day.)
Musical Theater, however, Heidi said, relies on a spirit of collaboration...of knowing that there are friendly, intelligent experts who want to elevate your content or work with you on a project. They're out there in the universe. You just have to ask them if they want to play.
I realized that the same is true with my relationship to pop music. Again, I can handle most of my basic needs as a content creator, but I much prefer when an enthusiast of a specific area steps in and reassures me that whatever I'm into will be the best it can be.
How else does life work without teamwork, really? I'm 4'10". I need John to reach the flower vase on the top shelf for me. I need the plumber to fix the garbage disposal. I need the cashier at the Dollar Store to render me change. This should be the norm throughout the arts as well. The Rugged Individualism philosophy which has wrecked our country, most prominently in the last four-five years, is also wrecking our budding artists. Not everyone is meant to program in MaxMSP. Not everyone likes writing lyrics. Not everyone wants to research the ins and outs of mastering. When a child wants to write a song, for god's f***ing sake, don't crush that aspiration. Help them. Collaborate instead.
Maybe that person who's averse to certain skill sets likes to write melody, or weld their own instruments together, or function as an arts administer to a collective. Rather than criticize people for their shortcomings, why don't we applaud them for their strengths and find places to connect these inclined folks? My whole experience in academia was centered around what I failed to do best instead of celebrating what I did well while cultivating room for improvement.
We can do better.
In short, many thanks to Ms. Joosten for that mental spark which has fueled today's blog post! I think that, as artists, we can always improve in the areas where we lack, but leaning into our stronger traits couldn't possibly hurt.
Ego's a whole other hurdle, but that's not for today. ;)
What are you good at? I found that after two degrees in music, I really like to write prose. On paper, I'm not qualified for it, but I'm letting myself love the new parts of me that pop out; surprises abound.
In your dream world, who would you like to work with? A dancer? A singer? A painter? For the record, I know a lot of really stunning artists in a lot of disciplines. That's kind of my passion...connecting people. So if you have an idea that requires a bit of support but you're not sure where to start, don't hesitate to hit me up. Smash that contact form. If you have my phone number or email address, contact me directly. I'm here for all of it.
Welp, we're losing daylight here in the now fairly-bearable Chicago pre-spring, so I'm going to head out for a walk before it's too late!
Until tomorrow, stay safe, stay well, and stay kind.
For more on Heidi, visit https://heidijoosten.com/
Short Saturday #1: These posts won't be quite so long because I teach and stream all day on Saturdays, but here's a snippet of my brain chatter for those who enjoy it. :)
I like to read. I really, really like to read. This past year has allowed me more time to read than I've had in over a decade, and I have been taking advantage of it. In fact (once I got the go-ahead from the aforementioned family friend, of course), buying books was the one thing I didn't skimp on. Toilet hooch, sure, but not an eye batted at an Amazon cart packed with books.
Between my spending loophole and John's comparable interest and book harvesting efforts, we've accumulated more books than our three six-foot tall shelves can handle. I've done the rough math. Each bookshelf can hold between 100 and 150 books, depending on the length/thickness of the books at hand, so it's possible that we own 450 books plus the stacks that have started growing out of the floorboards.
After ordering two small personal bookshelves for our journals/reads of the week that we keep close by our morning writing table (thanks to those who got us the Bed, Bath and Beyond Gift Cards!), we were fortunate to pick up a little auxiliary shelf from the neighborhood thrift store. Starting last night, I began the gargantuan task of reallocating books from the big shelves to the little ones, being sure to keep everything in order by genre and author. (Someone once tried to rearrange my collection. They are lucky to be alive.)
Today I'm going to share a few of my favorite reads from the last year or so. I'd love it if you dropped yours in the comments, too! Admittedly, I'm a bit more inclined toward nonfiction, but I'll take any suggestions.
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron (I read this yearly)
Me by Elton John
67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence by Howard Means
Ohio by Stephen Markley (not for the faint of heart)
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Empathy Cultivating Must-Reads:
Hunger by Roxanne Gay
Entitled by Kate Manne
The Torture Letters by Lawrence Ralph
Until tomorrow, stay safe, stay well, and stay kind!
...and wish me luck with my crazy Saturday.
I got my hair cut on Wednesday for the first time since November. Last fall, COVID numbers were soaring, so John and I decided to hunker back down and keep our excursions to the grocery store. It's been a lonely winter, even with my best friend around.
After my haircut, my amazing stylist (she is an artist and also a wonderful therapist at times) and I took a walk around the neighborhood, since we hadn't seen each other in a season. She's incredibly fashionable, kind, and witty as hell, so I always expect a good conversation. A pair of hip, lace-up-bottomed pants displayed in a storefront window caught her eye, so we paused to study them. She joked that because of all of our work loss (she's also a bartender), she'd have to stick to window shopping for now, and that she even "window shops" at online stores, dreaming of all the cool clothes she'll eventually want to purchase. I confided that at the beginning of the pandemic, I spent money exclusively on groceries, prescriptions, and yes, Disney Plus, and that's all I allowed myself.
Mid-summer, John and I had a call with a trusted family friend, who gave us the go-ahead to get takeout once a week or buy a new item of clothing if it gave us a bit of a mental lift. His justification: "What's the point of holding on to every penny if you're miserable?"
When we got off the call I remember bursting into tears and asking John, "Can we get takeout tonight?" Those of you who know me well know that we got Pho. It was the highlight of the last several months. Remember, this is back when we had a full day's worth of sunlight. My college self would have scoffed at me if she was in the room that day. Remember when we lived off of coffee and ramen? You've gone soft on me!
Yesterday, on a long walk, I allowed myself to step into an art shop for a moment. I starve without art, without color, without eccentric and beautiful things around me. A year ago I wouldn't have admitted that, but my college self is right; A year of isolation and stress has certainly changed me. Budget in mind, I picked out a small art print and a pair of odd cutlery earrings. The cashier jokingly called me "The Winter Ninja" since I had a dark mask, dark blue eyeliner and a black beanie cap on. We shared a laugh, and for a moment, I felt normal, or whatever I think normal feels like these days. My face hurt from smiling while John hung the print on the wall near my sink. (It's a JSalvador painting of my favorite Marvel heroine, Jessica Jones. More on PTSD later, though. I have plenty on that. Don't rush a good thing!)
Back to my walk with the stupidly, all-around wonderful stylist-bartender-counselor-trend consultant-friend. She agreed that finding small ways to connect with the things you once loved is a brain saver. A well placed candle, a rearranged reading nook, that one bottle of nice wine you've been saving for 6 months while drinking toilet hooch in the meantime to save money (okay, not toilet hooch, but $2.99 wine is a close second)...all of these things are important. I found that I might not even need a tangible fix. Sitting in the park reading a book this summer felt like a vacation. I got a free app that identifies flowers and plants on site, and that's provided hours of entertainment. (Seek! Get it!)
In "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron, the author argues that observation is the key to sanity. The chives are growing back in after the winter freeze! The gecko really ate that insect up quickly! The rain sounds nice today. That print looks dope over my sink, and I get to look at it every day. All of this comes back to yesterday's post: the desire to live can be beautifully colored with rewards and surprises.
I hope you have time and metal/emotional space to reward yourself with something small and meaningful today. Drop your favorite treats (material and otherwise) in the comments if you like. It might inspire others.
Until tomorrow, stay safe, stay well, and stay kind.
Goodness gracious, my dear fans and frenemies, it has been awhile.
As most of you know, my fellow artists and human beings, this past year has been, uh, how shall we say, a flipping doozy? I played my last full-rate, safe gig on 14 March 2020 and since then have been figuring out how to navigate the world as I know it in a completely different light.
In the last almost-year, I've had about 2 panic attacks per month, taught myself a little bass and ukulele, written about 50 new original songs, day drank a few times too many, tracked half of an album, connected and re-connected with a ton of amazing artists for collaborations, burned a few bridges, grown some hot peppers, and written a book. If there was a graphic for my artistic and emotional journey, it would look like a child's interpretation of a mountain range.
But here's a cool thing that's come out of this whole mess. It's going to sound silly, but it's huge for me. I discovered that I want to live. I really, really want to live. For many years, I didn't care either way. Some odd combination of being afraid of dying of Covid, along with settling into more free time with my best friend and life partner John worked like a swift and loving slap across the face.
So with that little pesky conclusion out of the way, I found myself more and more able to sit down and work on my book, my songs, my chops. I made time for the relationships that make me feel supported and refreshed and cut out the ones that left me rubbing my head, wondering why I hurt so much when I put the phone down.
I'll be 30 this year. I feel like a kid with some of these accomplishments, but they're huge for me. I've been trying to remind myself that Friendship 101 or How to Manage Anxiety for Dummies isn't really offered in school, so I'm giving myself a pass.
Another thing I've been doing, that I haven't had the chance to do much in the past few years, is reading more books. Fiction, Non-Fiction, Instruction Manuals, you name it. I'm currently halfway through "On Writing" by Stephen King. He advocates 4-6 hours of writing or reading a day if you want to be a professional writer. I figured I'd give that a try, given that I'm working on a book and writing at least a song per week. That being said, you might see more of me here.
You can expect to start seeing the body of work I've been cranking out this year soon. I've been keeping quiet about most of it, protecting it, growing my little seedlings into a garden in private for fear that some of my darlings won't survive. But I figure, who cares? At least I'm trying. That's all we can do sometimes.
Hopefully you can feast your eyes and ears on my biggest endeavors, my book and my album, on my 30th birthday. Mark your calendars for 9/22/21 if you need a whole lot of Cassandra in your life. (Ego, much?)
Right now, I feel like a spider skating down some rapids, each leg on a separate lily pad. Am I writing prose today? Poetry? Am I teaching? Streaming? Cleaning out my hard drive? Working on my website? Wallowing in self doubt? Spin the wheel, and we'll find out.
This past year, I've discovered a lot of hidden hopes, dreams, and aspirations that I thought had atrophied. I'm sitting with this treasure trove, hands dirty, and I feel overwhelmed, but I know I have work to do with them. That might mean some major changes. It might mean some minor, subtle tweaks. Whatever it means, I'm here for it. After all, this is my garden.
So, I hope you do a little digging of your own. Make time to read an extra book. Turn off stupid social media for a day. It isn't doing you any good. Don't pick up that phone call from your toxic friend. Drink water. Stretch more. Listen to a good album. You know what I mean.
Until tomorrow, stay safe, stay well, and stay kind.