Sunday, February 26, 2017

Guiding Star Week #8: Back At You

Hey, remember me?  I'm your Guiding Star plan. You know, the one you started 2017 with. Remember those early days of January?  Remember how you were all excited about new attitudes, and renovated goals? Remember how inspired you were to finally live the life you know is waiting out there for you?

I know, you got distracted. By your job, the weather, the world. You forgot about me, didn't you? It's okay.  I'm very patient, and a little persistent too.  Because I'm standing in front of you today, asking a favor.  Shouldn't take you more than 30 minutes and get this - you don't even have to leave your computer. Did I mention you'll feel great when you're done?  See, the favor is for me AND for you. Ready?

Now is the time to check in.

There, in the distance, that's your life.

I do it monthly and I call it a report.  I give myself a grade for every section. You don't have to use grades, you can use 1-10, thumbs up or down or emojis.  Doesn't matter. This is life, not grad school. Find a system that works for you. I write a brief (usually brief) comment on each section.  Then I send it off to my Buddy.  You do have a Buddy, right? This year I am doing my report on the 5th day of every month (I put a reminder in my calendar).  Here are some examples from my last report:

Hat: Abundance Lover - A. Off to an excellent start.  I embraced all of the travel (3 days in DC, followed by 6 days in Paris, followed by 2 consecutive days in NYC). I embraced all of the family time.  I embraced auditions, teachings and coachings. I embraced all of the actions brought on by Trump’s election.  I embraced making music for 2 difference cancer patients (both acquaintances) in one day. It’s sloppy, but I’m embracing the abundance.

I used to be a really tough grader, until my Buddy asked me why I was so hard on myself. Good question, right? She helped me realize I WAS tough on myself and that attitude wasn't helping. That said, just to show you I don't give myself high grades all the time:

Here are two of my 2017 Goals and this month's comments:

  • Attend 1 blogging seminar/conference - B. I have researched and have my eye on a couple.
  • Attend 9 dance classes - C. Nothing yet. I intend to get on this in February

See? I don't get to every goal every month.  

Look at these goals from past years:
  • Perform 2 of my compositions in public – B.  Continue to work on a song.
  • Clear out material stuff – C. Wow. Did I go through an entire month and not throw anything out? I guess I was busy with my mental stuff!  
I always end my report with a note to my Buddy. Here's this month's:

I couldn’t wait to do this first report of 2017.  I thought this year would be dark and negative.  So far, I am completely wrong.  The Slogan and Touchstones are with me daily.

Try writing a monthly report. Go ahead! What have you got to lose?

Walk through those chains.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ugly Came to Town

I have a sad story to tell you.  It started last September right here in my neighborhood, the quintessential American melting pot.  We have homeowners and we have renters. We have families, we have couples, we have singles.  We have African-Americans, we have Irish-Catholics, we have Norwegian-Americans, we have Muslims, we have Jews.  We have retired people, we have business owners, we have white-collar administrators, we have blue-collar workers, we have stay-at-home moms, we have graduate students, we have college students, we have kids.  We have people who have lived here their entire lives, we have people who are living here for a few years until they can find a house to buy, we have people who have lived here for a decade, we have people who will be moving out in a few months. You name it, we got it.

It's not going well.

There's a high level of distrust.  It's not fun.  The ones suffering the most?  The kids.  So last fall, when one set of kids of a certain ethnic group started to taunt another set of kids of another ethnic group (because kids will be kids), things went too far.  Punches were exchanged.  To the credit of the parents, they tried to work it out.

They failed.

The police were called.

In this instance, I was on the sidelines, receiving information after the fact.  That's how these things seem to happen.  I'm rarely a witness to the actual event. Which means I have to rely on those telling me their version of the story to be truthful.  Truth, as we know, is a slippery slope.  Remember Rashomon and its cousin, the Rashomon Effect?

This event bothered me deeply.  Confronting the ugly truth that everyone doesn't get along is, to say the least, unpleasant. When it happens down the street, between people you see every day, the unpleasantness grows. When you know it is unlikely that the participants will agree on anything, hopelessness appears. When hopelessness appears, it all starts to fall apart. Should I get involved?  How involved should I get?  What difference can I really make?

I found a partial solution, at least for the one thing I could manage - my personal feelings.  The solution?

I wrote a song.

Truth be told, I started to write a song, which I then worked on, in fits and starts. In fact, I was berating myself for not getting the song finished when I recalled reading this:

"Actually, 'Hallelujah' had taken him five years.  He drafted dozens of verses and then it was years more before he settled on a final version.  In several writing sessions, he found himself in his underwear, banging his head against a hotel-room floor."

At least I wasn't in my underwear, banging my head against the floor.  Reading this gave me permission to let the song appear as it wanted to appear.  I continued to visit it, usually 20 minutes at a time, sometimes on the train, sometimes in a coffee shop, usually in the morning, usually in my studio.  

Then November 8 happened.  

Suddenly this song seemed even more relevant and even more important. Now I had to finish it.  

I extended the deadline into January, knowing the song and I needed time to work together. Eventually, the song appeared. Not all at once, still in pieces, but in the end it appeared.  As did the perfect (and you know how infrequently I think anything is perfect) place to sing the song in public for the first time.

The song is titled "Ugly Came To Town".  Here are the lyrics:

Ugly came to town
In her tattered, satin gown
Sashaying down the middle of Main Street.

Hate strolled up beside her
Like a big old nasty spider
Beady eyes and a smile oh so sweet.

They held each other's hands
And danced their crazy dance
Their mission here was just about complete.

Ugly takes the throne
Hate grabs the microphone
Time for his first meet and greet.

Now hear Hate's suggestions
As he veers around the questions
Masking his tracks like a pro.

Ugly trains her stare
On the back of
Dreaming of her glitzy condo.

Don't let it slip away so easily - Oh no.

Ugly's got her throne
Hate's throwing stones
The blind ones lean into their glow.

Their hands to the sky
They don't see those eyes
Cold as deep winter's snow.

There in the distance
Ready for resistance
The ones who always choose to go high.

They refuse to give in
To Hate and Ugly's spin
These citizens will not say good-bye.

Stand up, stay proud
Be the voice in the crowd
That will not be denied.

Put on your gloves
Do the work of Love
Hope will never die.

Don't let it slip away so easily - Oh no.

Ugly made her appearance at a party on January 20, 2017, the night before the Women's March on Washington.  Here's the video:

If that isn't working, look here .

I could think of a myriad of reasons why I SHOULDN'T post this video of this song.  They include:

It's nowhere close to perfect. It's not even any good. I'm afraid of exposing this part of me to the Internet. I might offend someone. It isn't that good.  I'm not sure I'm saying what I want to say. I'm wearing my moccasins.  The video is of poor quality. You get the drift.  I know you do - you think the same thing about your work.

I can also think of a myriad of reasons why I SHOULD post this video. They include:

I can show others how to use your personal creativity to help make sense of a difficult situation, my creativity might make a difference in the world, I feel better because I have expressed my personal feelings,  I don't need to judge my work; I need to put it out there, now is the time to speak up and finally, if not me, then who?

In the end, the Shoulds won.  In this case, that's a good thing. 

I think.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

From The Archives: The Only Thing

we have to fear is fear itself.

(This post originally appeared on Creatavita on March 6, 2015.)

Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke those words almost 81 years ago on March 4, 1933.  It was the first of his four presidential inaugurations.

Boy, is that ever appropriate these days, on so many levels.

First of all, the world. If you pay attention to most media sources, you'd think that Destruction and Chaos have camped out at your local Starbucks and are waiting for the perfect opportunity to rob you of all your possessions. Recently, I had someone tell me that the world banking system was going to collapse within the next 6 months. She shared the source of this news with me, which was, of course, a video making the rounds on the Internet. I had to point out to her that the video was initially published in April of 2014. And it is now March of 2015. Last time I counted, that was more than six months.

This article from the March 2015 issue of The Atlantic does an excellent job of explaining our unnecessary fear.

I'm not saying everything is hunky dory in the world; indeed, bad guys and problems abound. But they always have and they always will. You can't change that, but you can change your attitude.

Turn off the news, walk away from your screen, or if you're going to sit at your screen, watch the Hanover Eagle Cam. It's much more breath-taking than Facebook, especially when both of the eagles are there.

You know what I do every morning? I don't let my feet hit the ground until I think of three things for which I am grateful. They can be as simple as the fact that I am breathing, the sun came up again and my bed is warm. This way, I start every day with positivity. Establishing the habit has taken, oh 730 days, but it has made a huge difference in my life.

Then there's the fear of taking a chance. I'm surrounded by people who are asking “should I go to that audition or the other one?”, “what if they don't hire me?”, “should I send my manuscript to that publisher?”, “should I leave the job I hate even though it pays well?” and on and on. The real questions that are being asked are:

What if I'm rejected


What if I fail

Here's the truth. I'm not sure what will happen. But I do know this. You are destined to be rejected and to fail by the very act of not acting. When you don't take that leap of faith, when you don't put yourself out there, failure is guaranteed.

If you've done your preparation, heck, even if you've done a portion of the necessary preparation, I am here to tell you – GO. LEAP. JUMP.

The only way you'll find out is if you act.

I speak from experience. Lately, I've been doing quite a bit of leaping, jumping and facing fear. In January, for the first time in my life, I did an entire solo cabaret. I sang and played the piano for the entire program. Was I scared? Yes. But I did excellent preparation, including hours of mindful practice and a trial performance for friends. That was key. I sat by myself before the show started, allowed myself to be scared for 2 minutes and then I was done. I walked out on that stage, I leaped and the sold-out house loved it. So did I, because there's nothing like facing your fears and having them run away.

The following week I started taking an audition class. What?!?! Why are you taking an audition class? Because there is always more to learn. What a humbling experience. I'm the oldest person in the room by decades. I'm supposed to know what I'm doing. But there's a big difference between telling someone what to do and doing it in front of a group of people who are just as focused as I am. I have fallen in this class, but when that happens, I get up and do it again. It's exhausting, it has challenged me to the core and I love it.

I'm taking this audition class because I've returned to the world of auditioning, a world I haven't visited on a regular basis for a good 15 years. These days, you'll often find me schlepping up and down the Northeast Corridor with my audition binder, changing from travel clothes to audition outfits in public bathrooms, hanging out in coffee shops or hallways with mostly twenty-somethings and giving what I've got today. Is it scary? Not anymore. If anything, it feels a little awkward. But I'm facing those fears and once again, they're running away.

I'm not telling you this so you think I'm amazing. I'm not telling you this so you email me or post a comment telling me you admire me. You can do that if you want, but the truth is, I'm rather ordinary. I'm telling you this because I want you to know that you can do it too. You can take that chance, whatever it may be. You will get scared, you will have setbacks and you might question your sanity, but you can do it.

The last fear I want to write about is the fear of growing old. Now, if you're under 30, there's a good chance this makes no sense to you. Good. Until recently, it didn't mean bupkus to me either. I'm quite happy about that.

But if you're one of the ones who are afraid of growing old, I have news for you. Just like every other human who has lived before you, who is living with you now and who will live after you, you are growing old. We all are. From the day of our birth, what happens? We get older.

You have a choice. You can embrace the beauty of being older, like not caring as much what others think or doing the things you've always wanted to do but were too, ahem, afraid to do, or you can whine away your days complaining about the aches, pains and difficulties. Yes, they're real, but they don't have to stop you. That's a choice you are making.

Get out there. Take a chance. Leap. The sun is shining. Life is short. Make the most of it.

Because like FDR said, the only thing we have to fear.....

Joan of Arc, Notre Dame, Paris