I learned the basics of disc golfing about a year ago. I was hesitant, as I was awful at "normal" golf, but discing, as it is called colloquially, felt like a fun athletic activity where I could hang. You toss a frisbee, try to get it into a chain "net" of sorts, and rack up your points. Just like golf, you're going for a low score, and damn, is it fun.
Every time I play, I get a sore right tricep and the sneaker of the big toe of my right foot gets scuffed up, but I don't regret a single moment.
We try to take a trip somewhere outside of Chicago every few months, and a disc golf course is always a necessity in our location choice. Out here near our (undisclosed location) AirBnb, we've found a wealth of courses. We've gotten a ton of exercises and we'll be back again tomorrow, no doubt. I can't wait to walk a few miles while competing with myself on my most recent low score. My inner music school can only be quelled with self-competition, I guess.
The best part of Disc Golf is that it's social, it's competitive, it's booze/420/sobriety/what the hell ever friendly, and the whole culture of gameplay revolves around a culture of 1. loving nature/the outdoors, 2. trying to get some exercise, 3. being tolerant of relaxation activities...again, a little beer, and a lot of socialization. There's a super kind vibe there. I've only seen these types of interactions in metal/alternative culture before, and I wonder where the two intersect. Definitely, the love of being outdoors or the lack of a fear of getting dirty are part of the gamut. Most people I know that love nature and beer or weed tend to like good music and a bit of exercise, especially alongside a challenging conversation about a good book. I feel like I'm being redundant but these are the pillars of what I'd consider a "chill" person. I'm feeling extremely grateful today...the weather has been incredible, the (undisclosed location) we're staying at is super musician friendly, and we're eating and sleeping super well. No complaints on this front.
This week is Spring Break, so I may be writing a bit less on the blog front, but I hope you'll stay in touch here.
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay well.
Hey everyone! I'm going on Spring Break. This doesn't mean a break from blogging (for the most part) or writing, but more of a framework for how I'll be spending the next few days. Breaks are important in the sense of daily breaks of self care (taking time for a sit down dinner or a hot bath), but also in the macro way of leaving down, turning your phone off, and spending a bit more time doing what you want instead of what you need. Maybe. Am I right?
Why do we need these? Most of us can afford to sleep 7 or 8 hours a night (I hope), and that should account for sufficient survival rest. What is it about the permission to escape reality (on a beach in Mexico), or rent that cabin where there's no cell phone service.
I, personally, need time to unplug my brain. Dissociation and excessive sleeping during a depressive episode are two indicators in my life that prove it, as far as my body goes. It may have been the years of non-stop working, schooling, and perfectionist-ing, but something changed for me about two or three years ago. It wasn't fun to work overtime any more. I didn't feel rejuvenated if I was the first person to cross the finish line. This may sound like a cop out, but man, I went hard for about 26 years of my life.
I practiced excessively in my undergrad, and I felt proud of that until I burned out and wrecked my arms for a good six months. I had tendonitis, carpal tunnel, tennis elbow...it was awful. Once I recovered, a friend of mine (who was also an excellent musician) leveled with me: "if you need to practice more than four hours a day, you're not doing it right." He was talking about focused, detail-oriented practice, not running the same passages over and over just to punish myself. It put a lot in perspective for me.
I don't think I work any less hard than I did back then. I teach, I'll be back to gigs soon, I write songs, I'm drafting my second book, and I still see my friends. Martyrdom is not sexy. Taking time off or doing something for yourself isn't selfish. I know there have been a lot of takes surrounding mental health and self care, but I still don't see too many artists that I know doing it all that well (the self care part). When I sit down to write, I turn my phone and computer to do not disturb, set a timer, and go. Once the timer goes off, I get a break. I find this practice to be efficient and rewarding, and better yet, it makes more time for me to take those much needed evenings, days, or weeks off without lingering feelings of guilt.
I will also say that most of my creative work is work that I love to do, so even on days off, if I have a free hour and a great idea, I write it down. I may even work on a draft of something, but always in the context of curiosity and love, never negative self-talk. At least that's what I'm trying to do.
As I prepare for my break this coming week, I'm looking forward to writing, reading, and taking long walks. My phone won't be with me all that much, but I hope that when I get back, we'll all reconnect, especially once I get through my vax process.
In the mean time, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind. (And take a break!)
I don't know about you, but a fun fact I discovered at the beginning of the pandemic is that not too many contemporary games are built for two-person play. Most popular games that I know (Cards Against Humanity, Anomia, etc.) are specifically designed to be played in a group, just like so many of the social traditions embedded in our fabric: karaoke, bowling, double date nights, you name it.
(*Preface: All of the following games can be played with large groups; they just have a cool two person vibe, too.*)
Before we knew what we could do safely, before we knew what we knew about the virus, we all shut ourselves inside and had panic attacks on grocery store days. (Just me? Really?) John and I burned out on Netflix shows and daily long (6+ mile) walks. On top of that, we were doing creative work for the better part of most days and needed something fun to do, so we brainstormed.
I proposed Gin Rummy, since I used to play it with both my mom and my grandma. We played it til the cards' corners were rubbed raw, but that occupied a few months of healthy competition (and a lot of friendly cussing). One day, John looked at me and said, "I'm so bored with this game." Someone had to say it. So we moved on.
John produced his great-grandfather's cribbage set. We watched some YouTube videos on how to play it and over wine-soaked late nights, slowly got the hang of it. (As I drank more wine, John got better. How does that work?) Cribbage is a beautifully interesting game because it has layers; you have to pay attention, count cards, do math, and hope for a little strategy via good luck. Soon that lost some of its luster as well, so we bounced on.
We circled back to Gin for awhile before we decided it was time for a new game.
Enter Shut-The-Box, a lovely Christmas present from John's grandma. It's an old English pub game, apparently, and it involves (again) some luck and some strategy to create combinations of numbers to score lower than your opponent. It moves quickly, too, so that creates opportunities for a heightened heart rate. Today, we found out that there are variations in how it's played from one of my dearest friends who'd recently discovered the game. So add variations on Shut-The-Box to my to-do list!
Our neighborhood has an awesome secondhand store named Family Tree. (If you're ever in Lincoln Square, go! It has delightful treasures at ridiculously low prices and every time you shop or donate, some of the store's wares go to charities in need.) We found an unopened box of Trivial Pursuit from 1981 for a few dollars. I remembered playing that with my parents every New Years Eve and threw it in our shopping basket. We've been playing an ongoing game for the last 3 days and I think this will remain a tradition until we need a break from that, too. (Disclaimer here -- there are a few not-PC cards. I do not endorse that shit. I do endorse remembering who wrote Wuthering Heights and where the Ambassador Bridge is located.)
The cool thing about these old games is that they do provide a lot of engaging fun and they create space for conversation. No doubt that's because they were all designed well before the internet (or even decent television, honestly) was widely accessible. Long nights could be spent with your friends or family playing them because you simply had the time. I kind of like that better than the fast paced party game (for now...there's a time and a place and an open bar for those). As technology-avoidant people when it's not necessary, they've been a great way to burn some time and have a few laughs (or threats - haha).
Do you have any favorite 2-person or older games? I want to acquire them all!
Until tomorrow, play on, playettes. (I had to say something hip-ish in this blog post...geez.)
About a month ago, John's high school pal (and my new friend) Paul Breazeale asked us to do a livestream of title tracks with him. Through the magic of technology, I'm able to Skype him into a multi-streamed show all the way from California! Also featured in the show are fellow Californian Jimmy Clemons and our fellow Chicagoan Katy Marquardt (who taught me everything I know about this tech stuff, seriously. She deserves a paycheck).
That got me thinking about title tracks and why they're important for certain records. John and I are playing "(Let's Get) Lifted" as one of our title tracks from John Legend's debut studio album. It's the first (non Prelude) track, too, and man...the first time I heard that song, it was with me forever. So was the album. But, no doubt, the clever placement of the song within the album, and the album title, helped me never forget it.
I'm thinking of the fame and catchiness of some of the other title tracks for today's show. "Jolene" and "Born to Run" come to mind. You'll just have to watch to find out the rest of the selections!
This is all very important to me right now as I'm writing my second book and planning to release my first book and first album this year, all very ambitious projects. Of course, aided by the pandemic , but not only in the sense of the gift of time. The gift of time also yielded the gift of self-study. I've been doing the same job for 9 years, practicing the same instrument for 23, I a thousand habits that I've had since I was a kid. It was time to consider the possibility that I've changed, maybe a little bit, during my 30 years on this rock. And surprise, surprise, I found how that I have all these pieces of myself that I've forgotten about over the years, especially my love of writing.
Another lesson revealed itself through a songwriting session. I wrote what is, as of now, my favorite song to date. Ever. I realized that it has to be my album's title, and the first track on the album, too, to color all of the others. It may even involve a persona, but that's for you to find out later. I decided all of this because I think Title Tracks say a lot about what's to come, especially since we live in an age of singles and streaming. A Title Track might entice us to start at the beginning, to follow the arc or the concept of the album. I can't wait to get started with mine!
I hope you'll join us this evening for an hour of Title Track fun.
What are some of your favorite title tracks? Drop them in the comments!
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
When I was younger (and single-r) I would hear people discuss their "types". I don't believe in the concept of the "type" since, historically, I have been attracted to lots of different people who have lots of different appearances, styles, gender identities, you name it. But there might be something to be said for an inclination. I was inclined to date artists, you see? Artists are shiny. Artists are smart and freeing. So, maybe I'll glom onto that for this argument.
As an older (and married-er) adult, I think a lot about taste as it pertains to music, decor, fashion, and culinary taste. Again, I like Indian food, but I eat all kinds of food, not just Indian food. Buuuuut on a day off, I might be more inclined to choose Indian food, over, say, American Gastropub fare.
The same goes for my aesthetic preferences. The more I let myself be "me", the more I surprise myself. I like to wear all blacks or neutrals. My wedding dress was navy blue. I prefer eccentric eye makeup, with liners in blues, purples, and greens. I only buy organic beauty products, even if it costs twice the price of a grocery store staple. I will choose a bottle of liquor based on whether it is streamlined and pleasing to the eye (Jameson is exempt. Old habits die hard. Also, I'm currently too broke to justify purchasing Aviation Gin and Crème de Violette. There is always an exception to the rule.) And, much to my horror as of late, I've realized that I really like nice jewelry. Not the classic stuff like gold and diamonds, but weird, contemporary art pieces.
My mom bought me wild navy and gold Swarovski crystal earrings for my wedding day. They touched my shoulders as they spun around and around, little cubes stacked upon one another. My favorite rings are large and tacky; they dominate my small hands and fingers like a disco ball at a kitchen table. One of my favorite Pixar characters is Edna Mode. She dresses simply but loves eccentric things. I'm trying to quit fighting it. I also love her because she's short and objectively unsexy, just like me. I let my lack of physical confidence determine how I'd dress and accessorize for awhile. After this year, no mas. Remember that saying about beauty being in the eye of the beholder? So yeah, I retract my statement about sexiness.
Yesterday, I slapped on two masks and went down to Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. I love museums, and I've missed them so much. I spent about 2.5 hours there, and could have stayed longer if my feet didn't hurt so damn much. There was a wonderful exhibit featuring the works of artists of color and their reflections on the pandemic ("The Long Dream"), a room showcasing a Puerto-Rican artist who uses a mix of acrylics and oils, as well as builds his own instruments (Omar Velázquez), Carolina Caycedo (whose work connects ecology, native culture, and language) and Christina Quarles. Quarles' work particularly stunned me. She's like Picasso, if Picasso used more interesting gestures and colors, and perhaps, touched on more intimate human interactions. (Sorry, Pablo.)
With my mind humming with a chorus of a thousand fire ants, I made my way through the gift shop doors, as they so cleverly direct you to do, and was determined not to buy anything. But then I thought, I'll look at the clearance jewelry. Or maybe all of the voices of generations of women on my mom's side of the family said that. Who knows?
I saw a beautiful necklace at a staggeringly low price. I stared at it for about ten minutes, not bothering to look at anything else. It was glass with rose petals encased within. I decided I could afford it, and as the teller was packing it up, I saw the original price tag, written at nearly ten times the price I was purchasing at. Now, if that isn't synchronicity, I don't know what is. It was too beautiful for me to pass up. We belonged together.
So maybe we should lean into the things we find beautiful. Love interests, weird scarfs, remote vacation destinations. They might present themselves to us quietly, discreetly, and affordably.
What are your guilty inclinations that you plan on leaning into? Your artistic preferences? The lovely things you must keep around you at all times? I'm curious.
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
We've always given flowers for a myriad of occasions: birthdays, weddings, funerals, holidays, or random gestures of love. I looked up the history of this tradition and found vague consistencies across the board such as, "everyone just always has," or "flowers are used to express emotion without words". Though that is dissatisfying, it also makes sense. Flowers are pretty. Sometimes you want to gift someone a pretty thing, especially if you're not super wealthy. Sometimes you don't know how to tell that person how you're feeling, but hey! Flowers!
Flowers can mean, "I'm glad you're alive," or "I'm sorry that you are grieving". (When I die, don't buy flowers for me. Buy some for yourself.) They can mean "I love you", or "f*** off," such as in the Rolling Stones' Dead Flowers.
We keep potted flowers as well as cut bouquets around the house all the time. They've been little pockets of light during a bleak year, and the live ones in particular have been an ongoing source of excitement for John, who tenderly cares for them. (This is good, as they would most likely die under my watch. I'm a succulent lady through and through. That's weird to type. And read. I should delete it. Nah.)
There's something thrilling to see buds unfold into brilliant, colorful petals, like the parachute in elementary gym glass. I don't want kids, but I will admit that it feels rewarding to watch a plant grow and blossom, like I am bringing something to life by ensuring it has its basic needs met (okay, this is still John, but I watch). With our little garden, we got constant Spring in a winter of a year.
And then, of course, the picture above is of a bouquet of cut and dyed roses, but I couldn't help myself when I saw them. I just knew they would brighten up our living room (which is already quite bright with the fireplace, the plants, the paintings, but as I've said before, I am an eccentric type). Those roses absolutely pop next to our giant, turquoise wall and I am determined to continue adding color to our space until it's so loud that it's nauseating.
We have some seeds that need planting in our leftover terra cotta pots by the bay windows. That'll mean a quick run to the store and a messy hour or two, but we hope to have an even bigger presence of plants and flowers this year. We're hoping 2021 can be bolder and more luminous than the last several combined.
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
Something I truly don't understand about American "culture", if you can call it that, is rewarding self-harm achieved by overwork. If you're one of those people who falls asleep at night feeling good about having a productive day, I'm not talking about you.
It's like, we worship not having a life. I don't know how else to say it. Listen, I was a three-season art and sport extracurricular, plus honors student, plus crazy "how else can I fill my time" person in high school. I even had a part time job. That followed me to my undergrad, where I worked as a school accompanist, theatre pit musician, and eventually piano bar player while double majoring through the honors college. I kept gigging through my masters, too, sometimes playing til 2am and getting up at 7 to get to class. I did the thing. I thought I was awesome.
But the truth about that is that I drank too much, I cried wayyyyy more than I should have had to, and got enmeshed in really ugly relationships (platonic and romantic) to take the edge off of being sad. Or was it...tired?
With a year off of my bar job, I've had time to refocus my energy. I like to write. (I really, really like to write.) I like to take walks. I like to paint. I like to monologue at my gecko, Athena, who tolerates me but has become increasingly grumpy. I've had more meaningful conversations and less small talk.
John's grandmother bought me a book for my 29th birthday. It's called "A Cloud a Day" which is a collection of photographs of clouds and identifications of those photographs by a group called The Cloud Appreciation Society. I thought, wow, there's a cloud appreciation society? But as I've worked my way through the book, I can see the appeal. It's about the beauty of the sky, but also about the culture and activities surrounding one's ability to notice it. This requires long walks in interesting places, time to look around, and the curiosity to delight in your findings.
With our pandemic-inspired walks, I've gotten more interested in flowers, tombstones, architecture, and -- you guessed it -- clouds. I don't think I've taken the time to actually look at the world around me much. Sure, I've always taken trips, gone to the zoo, planned wild excursions, and that's all been amazing. I hope to do more of all of that. But in a year where most of that was off limits, I realized, my neighborhood is a museum. My condo is a blank canvas that begs decoration. My bay windows are a gallery. How flipping cool (and nerdy, but hey...don't @me) is that??
In The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, she says, "Sanity lies in paying attention." Even if we have nothing, we can always find the joy and beauty in the small things that surround us. I guess I never took the time to notice. My desk chair is oddly shaded based on how I sit. My two-runged succulent stand was oddly planted with all colored cacti in one pot, and all greenery in the other. It's drizzling now, but that'll likely pass in time for a walk because the clouds are moving fairly quickly.
I suppose, all of this rambling mess is to say that if you have a few minutes to look around at what you've got, I highly recommend it. The more I observe the simple things, the better I feel. It may not be much, but it's perfect for me. Oh, and take a day off now and then. Turn your phone off. Go for a walk. The main thing I admire these days is the capacity for someone to have a meaningful, thoughtful conversation, and I'm realizing that a big part of the ability to do so is in the power of observation coupled with being well-read. Not a bad way to spend an hour or two, I'd argue.
I just saw that The Cloud Appreciation Society has a Music tab. Guess I'd better get to writing some music.
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
I've been writing a lot of heavy material, so I figured it was time to drop in something a bit more upbeat. Unsure of where to start for today's post, my eye caught my little Cordoba concert ukulele, comfortably perched on its A-stand (thanks, John)! It's beautiful, sort of milk chocolate-bar brown and silvery strings and frets compliment the black fretboard.
I named the ukulele Lejana after the Federico Garcia Lorca poem (1924), Canción de Jinete. It goes like this:
Córdoba. Lejana y sola.
Jaca negra, luna grande,
y aceitunas en mi alforja.
I hyperlinked the full poem above for those of you who enjoy dabbling in Spanish, but the basic translation of the opening lines is:
Córdoba. Distant and alone.
Black horse, large moon,
and olives in my saddlebag.
I remember memorizing that poem in high school for my Spanish II class. It's a lovely, sad, lonely poem, and those of who know me know how much I enjoy lovely, sad things.
This brings me to my pondering of the day: why are so many people drawn to the ukulele. I know older players, people my age, and little kids who light up when they see the instrument in any of its various shapes and forms. Sure, it's easy to learn and play because of its design and size. That's what most people I've asked seem to think. But Recorders and Kazoos are also easy to play. Not the same.
For many years I was primarily attracted to big sounds: romantic piano pieces, thrashing punk bands, bass-booming rap acts. I still am. I've just found a new place to enjoy music in the introverted, simple sound of the ukulele. It doesn't boast, it doesn't demand attention, and it doesn't carry the gravitas of, in my case, 23 years of music education that was primarily for one thing: success. (Whatever that means.) I don't imagine anyone will burst into my condo shouting, "You've played it wrong!" when I'm strumming a few simple chords, singing softly, in the same way expectations have been held in my classical studies or even my pop/rock gig work. In that way, it feels like a really safe instrument.
Maybe this is all just a strange way of saying that I'm enjoying learning something new, and that I appreciate it for what it is. I've found myself needing more quiet time, especially as things seem to be opening up and there's a serious uptick of social invites (that I will likely decline until I am fully vaccinated).
There is a time and a place for my favorite rock and rap groups as well as my favorite Chopin Ballade. But on quiet, grey afternoons such as this one, I might just need the simple, soothing sound of this modest string instrument. I'm no expert at it. I don't want to be. I've spent almost my whole life trying to achieve musical excellence at the expense of the joy. I had largely given up on trying to rekindle my relationship to sound until recently. So...thanks, little uke.
And if you happen to be walking through my building and you hear someone fumbling around with a hushed four-stringed wood-bodied instrument, you'll know it was this: Córdoba. Lejana y sola.
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
Let's start here. Having a rough life or mental illness are not prerequisites for creating great art. I know a lot of very happy, healthy artists in all genres, and I'm actively trying to be one of those at all times.
Before I am accused of throwing the first stone, I want to admit that I, just like most of the world has a dark preoccupation with tortured artists. We make movies about them. We read books about them. We look at or listen to their art and shake our heads and empathetic understanding, knowing what we know. Of course Rothko filled giant canvases with only dark blue and black paint. He was depressed! His suicide makes sense...but his art, wow.
I'm reading a biography about the saga of Guns N' Roses; how they got started, what it took to get famous, etc. Pages and pages of wild anecdotes make it quick reading. I had no idea, though, that our wild-man, rock star lead singer, Axl, had a horrible childhood followed by an extremely awful, painful few years trying to make his dream work. He was abused, assaulted, and lived on the streets. How is a deviant demigod born from such atrocities?
Similarly, I will be interviewing our Alderman, Andre Vasquez, today on my Songwriter Sunday show, specifically about hip hop and community building. We touched base yesterday to plan out some topics of conversation, and one of his more powerful statements was on how rap empowers the voiceless. I recently did a deep dive into some of the more "classic" rap (80's and early 90's...the stuff I'm less familiar with), and compared side by side with the contemporary rap I listen to, there is a certain theme of struggle. This sometimes comes in the form of a flex track. Here's a sample from Cardi B's "Get Up 10".
I went from rag to riches, went from WIC to lit, n----
Only person in my fam to see six figures
The pressure on your shoulders feel like boulders
When you gotta make sure that everybody straight
Bitches stab you in your back while they smilin' in your face
Talking crazy on your name, trying not to catch a case
The rest of the song details more about everything she went through to be come a famous rapper, including her controversial career as a stripper (sigh...when will we leave sex workers alone? I've you've never been in a strip club or watched a dirty movie raise your hand. Almost no one? That's what I thought).
In other forms, it comes out as a straightforward testimony, such as Grandmaster Flash's "The Message".
Being used and abused and served like hell
'Til one day you was found hung dead in a cell
It was plain to see that your life was lost
You was cold and your body swung back and forth
But now your eyes sing the sad, sad song
Of how you lived so fast and died so young
Or perhaps, it comes out as a rip-roaring metal song like "Welcome to the Jungle".
Whatever these three artists don't have in common is dwarfed by their stunning and thought provoking art.
As always, reader, I have no answers, but I have a gaggle of hunches. I think it comes down to a desire to survive. Maybe to get rich, maybe to make a difference, maybe to make it to the next LA sunset with a sixer and a beautiful girl by your side. And some artists don't have that same will, and frankly, though it's tragic, I think it's okay to go out any way you choose.
I'll have more thoughts on this tomorrow after I have time to think about my conversation with Alderman Vasquez, especially if others chime in with some thought provoking questions.
I'd better go get ready for the show. Don't forget to stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
How do you comfort someone when they are mourning? Is there a right way to do so? Because everyone is different and therefore processes grief differently, it often leaves me speechless or with the same old tropes.
"I'm sorry for your loss."
"Praying for you."
My favorite, if I am close enough to the bereaved, is to ask the most important question you can ask anyone, ever. One of my dearest friends taught me about this though our own relationship.
"What can I do to help?"
As someone who struggles to ask for help, I find that this is my favorite question to ask, but it may not be right for everyone.
I'm thinking about this and writing about it because I don't have answers. I wish this was a self-help blog and I was a grief therapist, it is isn't and I'm not. I mentioned in a previous post that I had lost some important friends this past year. At the time that I write this, 550,000+ Americans are dead from the Coronavirus, so there has been a lot of mourning going on for quite some time. How have humans coped with this cycle of painful since the beginning of their existence? I can hardly take what's been on my plate, and can't imagine what others have been through.
I didn't mean for today's post to be such a bummer. One of my piano students lost his dad this week and I didn't know what to say. All of those empty phrases just feel like...empty phrases, even as well intentioned as they are, and do they even help? They never really made me feel much better, but I suppose they're better than silence in these trying moments.
How do you cope with grief? How do you grieve with others? I'm curious to know, if you're okay with sharing. I want to be a more supportive wife, friend, daughter, music teacher, stranger, you name it.
There may not be a better way, too. That's always a possibility.
I'll try and be a bit more upbeat tomorrow, but as they say, death and taxes.
Until then, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.