February is a fitting month to reflect on the nature of love. Winter allows us the opportunity (should we take it) to get cozy and hopefully slow down enough to truly appreciate that which we cherish in a close-up, contemplative way. We needn’t limit our ideas about love to romance. After all, love has many different forms, and they are all important. Whether your experiences of love come from interacting with a life partner, a child, parents, siblings, coworkers, clients, pets, or nature – take some time to think how you can best express your love to the world this month.
The older I get, the more I am realizing that all too often we are taught to see love as somehow serving us – we want love in our lives because it makes us feel joyful, excited, comforted or peaceful. Of course love often brings forth these positive feelings – they are huge blessings and should never be taken for granted. But perhaps we need to focus more on the true hallmark of love – selfless giving. The version of love depicted in most religious texts is not all roses and chocolates – on the contrary, love is looking beyond ourselves and truly serving another.
It should be made very clear here that I’m by no means an expert servant. Marriage has been a wonderful and beautiful journey so far but it has also exposed a lot of… ahem… growth areas… for me. In a weird way marriage has shown me just how selfish or inflexible or unkind I can be, simply because when you live with someone they see all your bad moments in addition to the good ones. No matter how much you love someone, there are times when you don’t choose to act in a loving way. But there is indeed hope, because every day is a new opportunity to learn how to love better.
Wherever you’re at in terms of love, there is always room to grow. None of us are perfect, but nor are we hopeless. Each moment is a chance to be mindful and kind… Keep striving to be more loving; sometimes you might just surprise yourself when you act truly out of compassion, serving those around you as peace and joy fill your heart.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
One of my favorite things has finally arrived: a New Year! A Clean Slate! A Fresh Start! Pondering and goal setting can happen every day you are alive, but it’s fun to have a socially-accepted excuse to nerd out on visioning exercises and create goals for the upcoming year.
Although I do have a few New Year’s Resolutions myself (do my devotionals every morning, get active for 20+ minutes a day, and take my vitamins), the thing I am most excited about this January are My 3 Words. This is a concept I learned about from entrepreneur and blogger Chris Brogan. He encourages readers to “pick any three words that will guide you in the choices you intend to make for 2016. They should be words that let you challenge yourself as to motives and decisions. They should be words that help you choose your actions wisely.” This concept is a little less strict than New Year’s Resolutions and more motivating because your 3 Words act as guideposts rather than hard and fast rules you can break (which I am great at doing). If you have an aversion to New Year’s Resolutions, this could be a fun exercise for you! Anyway, the words I chose for 2016 were: Listen. Create. Share.
Listen: To my body (eating and sleeping at regular times are not as easy to do as one might expect), to my spirit (recognizing when I need quiet time for prayer and reflection), to Paul (one word: marriage), to my friends (checking text messages while visiting with my friend is not really listening), to people who seem “different” than me (it’s through suspending judgement and actually listening that we begin to realize our connections and similarities to each other, which is a step towards love), to the beautiful sounds of the Earth (when’s the last time I really listened to a bird call?), and to my mind (paying attention to the fleeting thoughts that might someday morph into a song or an speech or a book, if I would only capture them on paper).
Create: More s pace (choosing my commitments wisely and leaving time for transitions and rest; blank space is fertile ground for the best things in life), music (obviously), a manuscript or a blog (I plan to write a book someday, but unfortunately I cannot just imagine this into existence), a healthier planet (in the face of climate change I am realizing that I am woefully under-educated about the health of our environment; I plan to seek out information about global warming this year… I also want to use the earth’s resources conscientiously), more wealth through hard work and less waste (a dollar saved is two dollars earned), and more love, peace and trust (being present with others, practicing mindfulness, and doing devotionals).
Share: My music (I believe our songs can help heal each other – but we have to share them first!), my time (being present and not over-scheduled means that my time spent serving and loving others will have more impact), my resources (wasting less on myself and in my business means that I can donate more to people and organizations who badly need resources), my experience (sometimes I forget how little the topic of disability is discussed in our culture; I plan to speak up more often this year when faced with inequality), my love (indeed, the world needs each of us to share love).
What are YOUR 3 Words? If you feel inclined to share, please leave a comment at the bottom of this post… I would love to know what your plans and hopes are for the coming year!
Happy New Year, everyone!
Obviously at the beginning of a New Year, there are lots of dreamers and creative types writing about The Meaning of It All. I am no exception, as I find myself asking what I want to accomplish in 2016 regarding music. I am relatively new to this field as profession, but I get the sense that eventually many artists start to feel like they are banging their heads against a wall. They’re playing lots of shows but not getting more recognition, working like crazy at their art but getting paid the equivalent of $3.75/hr (I should know, as I just did my year-end book-keeping). So how does one avoid burnout or prevent resentment from taking up residence in one’s heart while pursuing a career that seems almost doomed to be stunted, save for the unlikely “lucky break”?
I don’t claim to have all the answers about musical burnout, but I have given it quite a lot of thought over the years. Fun fact: I once wrote a song about this very concept for The Murder of Crows. I called it Bird Song (listen to it here) and although the tune had many layers of meaning for me, one of them was simply acknowledging the possibility that “making it” in music may always be just out of my grasp due to the extreme odds in general and the complicating factor of my disability. “Bird, why do you sing? Fate has clipped your wings.” (I still choose to sing despite the stacked deck, because music makes me happy). Anyway, here are a few of my musical musings:
DON’T LET CYNICISM GET THE BEST OF YOU
Even though it is sometimes difficult to do, I have always tried to keep the focus on sharing my music with others for the purpose of spreading joy and healing. I truly believe that our songs come from the soul’s highest knowledge. Many artists I have talked to (myself included) feel like their songs come from “somewhere else”, and I think that’s because writing music involves tapping into a sort of cosmic, universal energy (love, God, collective wisdom, etc). I certainly feel like writing and performing can be a spiritual or mystical experience for the artist because it taps into this powerful energy; it can be felt playing music in your bedroom by yourself, at a cozy coffee shop gig with 10 people in the audience, or at a massive show with thousands of fans… It’s all the same energy at work in different settings.
What’s humbling and amazing about music is that other people can benefit from the message or melody of your songs, too. Music can bring comfort, joy, release, or just a sense of happiness to those in the audience regardless of the venue or audience size. Some of the sweetest and most heartfelt responses to my music have been at random dinner gigs or tiny shows late at night, or even while busking on the Lakewalk. So to me, the main point of creating music is to share it with others in as many contexts as possible. When your music touches another person’s heart, the world can become a kinder and more beautiful place. The goal of playing music simply doesn’t have to revolve around amassing followers, money, or status. This is hard to remember sometimes in a world so obsessed with “success” but this thought has grounded me again and again.
THE HAMSTER WHEEL OF SELF-PROMOTION
For example, the only reason I ever met Alan Sparhawk is because he happened to hear me playing with Charlie Parr during an impromptu jam at a Farmers Market. I didn’t even realize Alan was there listening that day. So when he called me a couple weeks later asking if we could talk about doing a project together, it felt surreal. Even now, five years later, when we play shows I often find myself marveling at the mystery of it all.
However, one small detail has to be mentioned here – Alan would never a seen me and we wouldn’t have formed a band if I wasn’t out in the community, playing music whenever possible. Action is key; going through the motions is truly half the battle. If you want to be a musician, play as much as you can – open mics, bars, dinner gigs – all experience is good for honing your craft and getting your name out there. Because as cliché as it sounds, you have to start somewhere. Fate will not be able to find you if you are hiding away in your room; it will seek you out in the field as you fight for what you love.
A LIFE OF MUSIC, WITHOUT THE STROBE LIGHTS
Even if that lucky break never comes, I believe it is possible to have a fulfilling and even financially feasible locally-based career in music if you play your cards right (feasible ≠ loaded, let’s be clear). Music can be a significant source of income in many different contexts – one can teach lessons, play for people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities (these places often have budgets for entertainment), write grants to bring music into the schools or to work on an awesome idea you have, gig like crazy and get a part-time job to make ends meet. The point is to be creative and find a way to make music your career.
In these alternative music-as-career scenarios it is important to keep your vision clear with a healthy dose of gratitude and realism regarding your current situation. Have fun! Enjoy the ride and focus on the positives of each and every show… there are always positives to be found if you look for them. One way to ward off negative thinking is to avoid comparing yourself to others who are “making it” nationally when you are playing locally. It is so easy to fall for the “grass is always greener” mentality, but it’s not healthy for you and its messages are usually distorted anyway.
First of all, most people who “make it” in music are suddenly faced with a whole new set of problems that are annoying and frustrating in their own right… Life will not be magically fixed by fame. Second, the vast majority of people who “make it” nationally are discovered only after years and years of grueling work and tiny local gigs just like yours. Duluth’s beloved Trampled By Turtles had been playing for a looooong time before they ever got featured on national television. So it’s not fair to feel that anyone has it easier than you or that your path is somehow doomed by comparison. Just keep trucking and if your music does end up taking you somewhere awesome, remember to write home!
Perhaps a local music career isn’t as glamorous as touring the world whilst playing for hundreds of adoring fans every night, but at least you are staying connected with that creative part of yourself and sharing the songs of your soul instead of wasting away in front of a computer at a 40 hr/week job you hate.
Even if you can’t leave your day job for financial reasons (I hear raising kids costs money), do yourself a favor and stay connected with your music if at all possible. There is an open mic that would love to hear from you! Keeping in touch with your creative side does your heart a world of good, and allows you to maintain your musical skills should you ever have the time to play more seriously. So many of people come up to me when I am busking on the Lakewalk with an expression of regret as they tell me they “used to play, but the instrument just collects dust now.” They are so afraid to start playing again because they feel too rusty… that doesn’t have to be your fate! Even if you have never played or haven’t touched your instrument in years, it’s never too late to (re)introduce yourself to music. The joy it can provide you and bring to others is well worth the first few months of learning and working out the kinks.
No matter where your music takes you or how many people hear your songs, remember that your music is valuable. Remind yourself often that each life you touch through music is equally meaningful and important – because every person matters.
SET GOALS ANYWAY
I am a big fan of goals and dreaming, so I am not trying to imply that you should cower in the corner instead of reaching for the stars when it comes to pursuing music. I simply think that perspective can be your best friend or your worst enemy as you navigate musical performance.
For example, I do have some tentative goals in mind for 2016 to keep myself moving. They are a priority to me in that I actually want to put time and energy into them, but I realize that one has to have a light grip on goals like these or else there is a risk of strangling the joy out of music. But here they are, in no particular order:
1) I want to spread the music from my solo album to a wider audience this year. I recently sent 100 CD’s off to a company called Tinderbox to be mailed out to college radio stations in the states I have selected. Over the next couple months I will be following up with these stations and hopefully making more musical connections in different states.
2) I am hiring an assistant specifically so that I can book more shows in town and on the road… I am hoping to book at least one DIY two-week tour this summer so I can get an idea if touring is something I could handle more often. One challenge of being a performer with a disability is playing shows out of town… But with the proper support I do believe it is possible.
3) Next summer I would like to record another solo album, this time it would consist of live-looped Christmas carols. I just love playing them and they work really well with a looping pedal.
4) I plan to continue collaborating with Alan Sparhawk in our atmospheric alternative duo, The Murder of Crows. He is very busy with his main band LOW, but somehow we have managed to keep making music whenever time allows since we first met in 2011. Playing with him has taught me so much and allows me to connect with music in an entirely new and wonderful way. We recently started recording again, so hopefully we’ll be able to share some music with you soon!
THE LEGACY OF A MUSICIAN
When it’s all said and done, it will not matter whether you or I were ever famous. What will matter is that we tried and that we learned from our successes and our failures. It will matter that we created, and that we shared our soul’s wisdom with others. It will matter that we loved people and treated them well. It will matter that we cared for the planet and those in need. Rather than fame or fortune, may love and beauty and hope and healing be our legacies as musicians.
Best of luck in all your musical endeavors this year, Friend… Remember that I am cheering for you!
Seeing as how the busy-ness and abundant foodstuffs of the Holidays are only a few weeks away (well, 6, but lately time has been FLYING), my good friend and I decided to embark on a 10 day cleanse & reflection period together to nourish our bodies, gather our wits, and weed out some bad habits. Anyone who wants to join us can hop on board… We still have 7 days to go!
So what is this “cleanse”, you might ask? Well, basically we decided that we wanted to eliminate some foods (read: mostly beverages) that have a grip on us, spend less time on our smartphones (more on that later), and devote energy to pursuits that we care about (in theory) but never make the time for in real life. So we met at Lake Ave Restaurant on Tuesday night to hash out our strategy (plus we had to indulge in wine and dessert one last time). Our cleanse is somewhat based on the Four Winds Holistic Cleanse (in truth it’s only very loosely related… like a great uncle through marriage). The Four Winds Cleanse is awesome but is for the Zen Masters among us. I’m more of a white belt in the area of self-control, so I caved on my second day when I tried it a few years back. But the intent is there in our modified version — slow down, reflect, eat less inflammatory foods, drink lots water, and take care of ourselves!
So here are the ground rules:
GOOD FOOD: We’re focusing on eating lots of vegetables and fruits and eliminating the nonessential stuff like added sugars, alcohol, and caffeine. So here’s the list of foods that we agreed were off limits: No chicken, red meat, pork, shellfish, clams, refined sugar, grains (except wild rice and quinoa), potatoes (except sweet potatoes), corn, coffee, dairy (except plain yogurt), alcohol, carbonated beverages, and chocolate.
Because I am a meat-itarian we decided to allow fish, plain yogurt, and eggs… I am literally the worst vegetarian on the planet and the one time I tried to give it up ended in me having dreams about stealing meat and eating it in a dark corner where no one could see me. So I am not ready for an animal-free cleanse, yet (maybe never). Most of these suggestions are from the Four Winds Cleanse that I mentioned earlier, just in slightly less restrictive forms.
Almost three days have gone by on this cleanse and I can tell you that giving up sugar was quite a shock at first. I was STARVING (and sad) the first day and exhausted the next. But I wasn’t surpised, many people experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit sugar cold turkey. Probably this is because we eat so dang much of it! According to data from the U.S. in 2008, people are consuming 76.7 grams of added sugar (not naturally occurring in fruits / vegetables) per day, which equals 19 teaspoons or 306 calories. According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amounts of added sugar people should eat are only 6 teaspoons (25 g, 100 calories) for women and 9 teaspoons (37.5 g, 150 calories) for men. So on average we are consuming 2-3 times MORE added sugar than is healthy for us. Sugar is being linked to all sorts of health complications, and our cleanse virtually eliminates all added sugars. It also focuses on anti-inflammatory foods that are easy on your body. There’s lots of information out there on the anti-inflammatory diet — if you haven’t read about it but suffer from chronic illness like arthritis or have a history of heart disease, you might want to read up on it. But this cleanse isn’t only about food! Read on…
LOTS OF WATER: We’re trying to drink 8+ glasses of water a day (actually for me it’s 4+, as I am the size of a nine year-old). After all, water is good for your whole body! And we don’t always remember to drink up… in fact the average American only drinks 2.5 cups of water daily. So imbibing a little more H2O seemed like a logical goal of the cleanse!
FITNESS: Our aim is to work out for at least 20 minutes, 3 times a week (again, I am a newbie… you may be prepared for higher intensity or frequency when it comes to physical activity). I’m sure you don’t need to be told that working out is good for you… It’s just that pesky little practice of transforming knowledge into action that often gets in the way of fitness.
This is a huge area of struggle for me, so I’ll let you know if I have any breakthroughs this week! I can say that getting a FitBit this January did help me realize just how little I was moving on a daily basis. And I do try now to reach my “step” goal (it registers large movements in my wheelchair as steps) — but true heart-pumping workouts still feel like pulling teeth to me. Any suggestions?
CONNECTING WITH SPIRIT: Another daily goal for the cleanse is to meditate, do a devotional, or practice yoga daily (whichever floats our boats that day). Meditation’s power to transform the brain is hardly debatable at this point and yoga has its own litany of health benefits. But beyond any healthy boosts these practices provide, we also just want to make more time to pause and nurture our inner spirit. Otherwise life can fly by pretty quickly!
GRATITUDE: We are aiming to write down three things we are grateful for each day. Why? Because it has been scientifically been proven to be good for you to appreciate the blessings in your life. In one gratitude study, “researchers asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”
Don’t have lots of time for writing? There’s a simple app I’ve been using called Attitudes of Gratitude that makes this task easy and quick!
READING FOR PLEASURE: During the cleanse, one of our goals is to read more books for pleasure. We ultimately decided to read a few simultaneously so we’d have something fun to discuss, rather than just complaining about how much we miss coffee. We picked “Through Time into Healing” and “Messages from the Masters” by Dr. Brian Weiss and also “Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God” by Rainer Maria Rilke).
The point of this piece of the cleanse is to build in some pleasure. After all, it’s about nourishing yourself! Obviously if you’re not into reading you could aim to work on another oft-neglected hobby, or try a new one!
LESS PHONE TIME: This is a biggie. We are attempting to limit phone use to less than 2 hours a day, and to keep them stowed away for 30 minutes upon rising and 2 hours before bed. Oddly enough, this has been way harder for us than we expected. You may be surprised to learn that a recent study found the average smartphone owner uses their phone for 3 hours and 16 minutes every day. Another study found that, in particular, young women averaged 10 hours a day! Increased phone use has also been linked to poor fitness, a fact which is common sense in some ways but also easily overlooked.
Perhaps you are reading this thinking, “I don’t have a problem with my phone – I can turn it off whenever I want!” But I would challenge you to do some unofficial research before you declare yourself to be free from a smartphone addiction. Awhile back I installed an app on my phone called Phone Usage Timer and was appalled to learn that my own phone use over the last 30 days averaged 4 hours and 42 minutes a day… that’s getting into seriously unbalanced territory! I am tired of having my phone permanently attached to my hand… What other awesome things could I be doing with my life and the people around me if I wasn’t always checking social media or answering emails all day long? If you (like me) need some help avoiding the technological black hole that is your phone, you may want to install the app FocusOn, which allows you to block apps and even certain time-sucking websites like Facebook for a specific amount of time or on a schedule of your choosing. So far I really like it!
ACCOUNTABILITY AND DAILY IMPROVEMENT:
One key ingredient that has always been missing when trying to start something new was accountability. So this time around, my friend and I decided to create a shareable spreadsheet on Google Drive so that we have to record our progress and thus stay accountable. Here’s mine from the first 2 days:
As you can see I am not batting 100… But I have kept up with the food, water and reading goals, so that makes me happy! You gotta start somewhere, right? Luckily there are still 7 days left of the cleanse (and of course the rest of my life) to make progress — in this case, the goal is a closer alignment of my values with my daily actions. The journey towards congruent living is never easy or without setbacks. But as motivational author Brendon Burchad reminds us: “We must remember that the power to direct our destiny comes only from a mindset that makes us willing to struggle through learning, effort, and growth. You have a clean slate every day you wake up. You have a chance every single morning to make that change and be the person you want to be. You just have to decide to do it. Decide today’s the day.”
I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of living for enrichment of self and others. As I’ve written about before, enrichment is all about making your life “rich or richer, especially by the addition or increase of some desirable quality, attribute, or ingredient”. This looks different for everyone and varies during your lifespan. When you’re a baby, enrichment might be passive as you benefit from the love and physical care of your parents in your relatively helpless state. As a child, enrichment can be both passive (the good food your mom cooks you) and active (the awesome games you make up as you run around outside that nourish both your imagination and your physical body). As an adult, enrichment is often an active pursuit – how can I live in a more healthy way so that I can enjoy this experience in my body as much as possible? How can I keep learning to expand my mind? What fun activities can I pursue just because they bring me joy? These are all questions I ask myself often at this stage in life (and a huge motivation for the cleanse). As we experience illness or approach death, we may once again be the beneficiaries of passive enrichment – a good meal fed to us with compassion, having someone provide us with dignified physical care, receiving comfort from our friends and family. It makes no difference where we are on the life continuum — enrichment matters for everyone because everyone can appreciate enrichment.
So maybe you aren’t the kind of person who feels a cleanse would be enriching to your life – that’s totally fine! But if you do feel that a lifestyle change or a shift in focus might do you good, then seize the day! The first step is to take some time to figure out what it is you REALLY believe in and what you desire for your life. Then you can begin to look for ways to fulfill these goals and express your values in your day-to-day experience. And of course you’re invited to join in on the cleansing fun this week… the more the merrier!
“This must be our day to define the best of who we are and what we will stand for. Tonight, in the glow of gratitude for our free will, let us write down the words and phrases that describe our ideal identity. Put them on beautiful paper and in ink. Carry them everywhere. Look at these words, memorize them, verbalize them—become them. The more we align our actions with this identity, the more free, motivated, and whole we shall become. Life will feel brighter and more our own, more deep and satisfying. Destiny will smile on us and we will be welcomed into the gates of heaven as people of purpose and integrity.” – Brendon Burchard
So as time always seems to do, it marched on boldly and now here we are planted squarely in the month of November… How October flew away so quickly I will never know! But, as you may have guessed, the seed that was my album concept which I started nurturing almost a year ago has finally come to fruition! The CDs arrived in the mail early last week, and that same day I received confirmation that my album is also up on iTunes… So I guess big ideas can be brought to life after all!
But of course no undertaking is the work of just one person. I would have been at a loss without the expertise of sound engineer Jake Larson (Sacred Heart) and graphic designer Shawn Stigsell (Stigsell Creative)… It turns out three heads are better than one! What’s more, the album wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for your generous support — so thank you once again for your kindness! I am hoping to have all the CDs mailed out to those of you who contributed to its creation by the end of November.
I was also blessed to have two extremely different but equally enjoyable CD Release shows last week. The first show was at Bulldog Pizza and Grill on Tuesday, November 3rd. It was a jubilant family party with lots of kids in attendance (including 4 of my youngest fiddle students), some seriously excellent local talent (go see John Seguin, Ann Kathryn, and Jen West… they are all fabulous!) and a laid-back atmosphere that truly made me smile. Ken and Sue (the owners of Bulldog Pizza) have been nothing but generous towards me and my music — they even offered to give free root beer floats to the all kids that night just to amp up the festive vibe. I was still aglow on Wednesday morning.
Because Tuesday evening was so sparkly, I was extra happy when Thursday night’s show at The Red Herring Lounge also went swimmingly. Four Mile Portage had a really fun performance that even included members of the audience square dancing. I sang three numbers with them at the end of their set — including a banjo/fiddle cover of “Bird Song”, a tune I wrote for The Murder of Crows. Afterwards I played about 10 songs, mostly from the new album, only with a twist — Alan Sparhawk sat in with me on his baritone guitar and improvised along with the traditional melodies. It was so much fun (and quite meaningful) to play with him again after his long stint of touring… I will be forever grateful for his creative influence and for helping me to expand my musical boundaries! Last but definitely not least, the Brass Messengers took the stage for a super enjoyable musical romp. By the end of the night, this raucous 8-piece brass band was walking around the bar, mingling and dancing with the audience members… while playing! IT. WAS. AWESOME.
Now that such a big project has been launched, it’s important for me to remember that my album creation isn’t DONE — in fact, its life is just beginning! I had the great fortune of a favorable first review in the Duluth News Tribune on Thursday and it gave me a boost of motivation to spread the word about this project. My focus of the next couple of months is about getting lots of ears listening to these tunes — I am so happy with the way it turned out, and I genuinely want to share this music with you! You can order a CD or download card of “All the Roads That Lead Us Home” here; it’s name your price for a limited time. The album is also available for digital download in the U.S. at these online stores: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and CD Baby.
Anyway, this past week was quite the ride! I am looking foward to the next chapter of this album journey – I’m planning to send out CDs to radio stations around the country, submit my tracks to music blogs for review, stock local shops with albums, and play some tunes at my third CD Release show at Beaners Central on Saturday, November 21st! I am excited to discover what other roads I’ll be traveling down this coming year… I’ll be sure to keep you posted along the way!