Movement

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to another Thursday. (I’m pretty sure it’s Thursday, since that’s what my computer is telling me, but I was definitely certain for most of yesterday that it was Tuesday, and just a moment ago was completely convinced it was Friday today…time feels particularly wobbly this week, for some reason.) FAWM has ended – I wrote 19 songs last month, and I’m actually reasonably pleased with several of them. The songwriting class I’ve been in for the past two months has also wrapped up – I’m really pleased that my classmates want to stay in touch, and we have an email thread going.

Yesterday, I started private lessons with one of my favorite songwriting instructors at the Old Town School, Sue Demel. I’ve never taken private lessons before (though I’ve taken many group classes, including group classes that Sue was teaching over the past four months), and it’s a little intimidating to get that kind of 1:1 attention. But it’s also great, because I adore Sue and her enthusiasm for helping singer-songwriters find their most authentic singing voices. The goal of our work together is to get me ready to record an album this year – I bought a bunch of recording equipment recently, and my husband is taking a class to learn how to make the best use of it, and we’re both experimenting a bit in GarageBand and Logic – it might be a self-produced album, or it might be something I start at home and finish in a studio this fall if enough folks get vaccinated and things open back up a bit. One of my goals for today is to nail down my track list (I have done a lot of brainstorming on this, but Sue has encouraged me to make an actual decision so we can narrow the focus of what we’re working on in our lessons). I’m very excited, even though I also feel like I’m biting off more than I can chew – I’ve been writing songs since I was 10, and since I started keeping track in 2012 I’ve written over 240 of them. It’s time to get some nicer recordings done and out into the world.

In non-music news, my new role at work is going well. I’m one month in and learning a tone – I started taking over 1:1s with my direct reports this week, and that’s been great, although I’m already realizing things I can adjust there. I also did a Mental Health First Aid training through work this week, which was super informative.

I hope you’re all hanging in there and continuing to stay safe and healthy and taking care of yourselves and each other.

February Winding Down

Hello, lovely readers, and welcome to Thursday. Yesterday felt a lot like a Thursday to me, and today feels like a Friday, which means tomorrow will likely be a challenge. I have just been tired this week for no particular reason. Thankfully, the weather in Chicago is turning warmer and sunnier, and that makes things feel a little better (I like cold weather, but my joints have other opinions).

February is winding down. I have 18 songs posted on FAWM and, assuming I can get a song done for class this week, should round out the month with at least 19, which ties for the most songs I’ve ever written in a month (I also wrote 19 songs the first year I did FAWM). I got a bit overwhelmed by it all sometime last week and haven’t been writing or posting or engaging with the site in general as much as I was at the beginning of the month, but it’s still been a major source of joy in my month.

Work has been good, although I feel like I’m behind on a couple of larger projects. In reality I probably didn’t have super realistic expectations at the outset of these things, and I’m trying to be gentle with myself about it. I’m still definitely feeling a fair bit of burnout from being at the computer all the time, and am going to look today at when I can take a little time off next month to reset.

I’ve been quite achy this week, I think in part because I forgot to take my glucosamine supplements over the weekend, and also because of the weather shifting. I think that’s also impacted how much I’ve been writing this week, because it’s hard to really play an instrument very well when your elbows and hands ache. It’s also made knitting harder. Sigh. The good news is that in general I’ve been in a bit less pain in between shifts in weather and the times when I forget my supplements. Unfortunately this is just a really volatile weather time in the Midwest.

I hope you’re all hanging in there, friends. I am looking forward to the day when vaccines are more widely accessible and we can hug each other again. I’m still planning to wear a mask in public for the foreseeable future, but hopefully after we’re all vaccinated, hugs will feel safer.

Born of Stars

Hello, dear readers! I do t have a whole lot to write about this week – I’m feeling a bit under the weather and my brain is a bit foggy. But I wanted to share this with you.

Our big company kick off for the new fiscal year at work was this week. One of the components of that was a talent show, where a bunch of folks prerecorded submissions. This was mine – I wrote this song and recorded the video back in January.

Born of Stars – Alyxander James

Lyrics, for the curious:

Pen and ink
And paper combine
Alchemical fire
As you write the Big Bang
Worlds
Spring into existence
Ready or not
Connect the dots

Stop
Take a breath
Feel the magic in your chest
When you know
Who you are
You’re a being born of stars

At the top
You think about flying
Giddy with altitude
One with the sky
In this earthbound
Apparatus
There’s no risk
Just innocent bliss

Stop
Take a breath
Feel the magic in your chest
When you know
Who you are
You’re a being born of stars

Some love starts
With warm beverages
Held in nervous hands
As voices share secrets
And we slowly learn
To ask
If we can dare
For what they might share

Stop
Take a breath
Feel the magic in your chest
When you know
Who you are
You’re a being born of stars

May the Manticores Not Notice You

Greetings, dear readers! We’ve made it to another Thursday. I don’t know about you, but I feel like this week has somehow lasted two weeks already. Not for any reason I can pinpoint, but it’s been a long one.

February marches on, and FAWM with it. I am having a blast and just posted my 12th song this morning. I don’t have a whole lot else to write about this week, but I wanted to share one of the songs I’ve written that I’m really pleased with.

The backstory here: My D&D group records all of our games (we play via Zoom, because pandemic) so that our fabulous DM can write better recaps, and this week we realized we could upload the videos to YouTube and YouTube will spit out transcriptions, and the transcriptions sort of read like poetry. The lyrics for this song were a riff on something that was said in one of our last games – our DM posted the quote for us, and one of the other players said it sounded like it could be a blessing, and, well, I’m the bard in the group, so I had to do this.

This was my first time really experimenting in GarageBand, and my first time using my new audio interface (a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2) and a proper mic. The rest of my FAWM recordings have been voice memos on my phone, so this was a big step up in quality. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I had a ton of fun putting this together! I could have kept going and adding layers, but the spirit of FAWM for me is about generating material, not working on production, so I stopped here:

Adventurer’s Blessing, (c) Alyxander James 2021

The lyrics:

May the guards not notice you
May the manticores not notice you
May you be like a cool night breeze
May your passage leave no trace

Community and Celebration

Hello, dear readers! We’ve reached another Thursday. I hope you’re all safe and healthy, and for those of you in places that got hit with the blizzard over the weekend, I hope your heat is working. (Thankfully, ours is, but I know some of our friends have not been so lucky.)

I have been thinking a lot this week about community. But before I get into that, let me back up a bit.

A couple of years ago, I came across the idea of creating your own holidays – not just creating traditions for existing holidays, but making up holidays that make sense to you. I loved that thought. In an effort to be more connected to the changing seasons in the world around me, I’d been halfheartedly trying to follow the “wheel of the year” observed by a lot of neo-pagan traditions, which marks the solstices, equinoxes, and four points between each of those. The thing is, though…while some of the correspondences associated with these holidays made sense, a lot of it is based on an agricultural calendar for a climate I don’t live in, so it didn’t feel super applicable to my life.

Fast-forward to about six months ago: after toying with writing up some holidays off and on, I finally sat down with my husband and we came up with a list of holidays that made sense to us, using the dates of the “wheel of the year” but making the holidays themselves more meaningful. The idea is to be more attuned to time changing, and giving ourselves regular time to reflect. (I told my therapist about this in our session this week and she got so excited about the idea. I might make a zine about it at some point.)

We designated February 1 as Midwinter, and placed the focus of this holiday on honoring and connecting with the communities that help us get through the darker time of the year. For me, there are a handful of distinct communities I’m part of that have been doing so much to keep me grounded, both in the physically darker winter and in the metaphorically darker times we’ve been living through. I did a lot of reaching out on Monday to those people, both in my own observation of Midwinter and in an effort to step up my practice of telling people I love and appreciate them. It felt really great.

In therapy on Monday, I talked a lot about how I sometimes feel guilty for the fact that things are going well for me right now, when I know the world is on fire and a lot of people that I care about are struggling. But I realized a few things as we hashed things out in that session:

  • I am allowed to feel joy.
  • My joy doesn’t mean I’m minimizing what anyone else is going through.
  • The people in my life want to celebrate with me, just like I want to celebrate with them when they’re happy.

When I was younger, I ended up in some pretty messed up, codependent friendships (which I hesitate to even call friendships anymore, but I don’t know what else to call them), where me being happy was interpreted as me not caring about the other person’s pain, and I’m still hanging onto some of that baggage. But the reality is that in healthy relationships, you hold space for each other’s joy and pain. I realized I was holding myself to a different standard than what I’d hold anyone else to. Like, if I’m struggling and one of my friends has something amazing happen to them, I absolutely want to celebrate with them! And I know that they’ll still empathize with me in whatever I’m going through.

So here are some things I am celebrating right now, and I hope that you’ll join me in celebrating them:

  • I got a promotion at work! This is the good news I’ve alluded to in a couple of past posts, but it was officially announced to the company on Monday, so now I feel like I can talk about it here. I’m now a team lead – for the first time in my professional life, I have people reporting directly to me. It’s a big step forward for me, and while I am a little bit overwhelmed by it, mostly I am just excited to be able to support this team of rockstars that I work with.
  • FAWM is underway! And it’s been hugely successful for me so far – we’re four days in and I’ve written five songs. So far my practice of getting up early and writing before work is paying off – I’ve gotten a song done before starting work every day this week, and I also managed to write another last night after dinner. I’m really happy with how the songs are turning out in general, too, which is fun.
  • I’m just in a really good place emotionally right now. For those who might be newer to this blog, you may or may not know that I have a Bipolar II Disorder diagnosis, as well as a history of some pretty significant anxiety issues. I’ve been working with my therapist to see this things in a light that’s less pathologizing and more just a matter of regulating the energy in my nervous system, and I’m in a more stable place than I think I’ve been since…I don’t even know, way back in childhood.

What about you, readers? What are things that you’re celebrating right now? Or, if you don’t feel like you have much cause for celebration at the moment, what’s weighing heavy on you right now? I’d love to hear from you.

Oddly Energetic

Hello, dear readers! This has been a weird week.

I’m still sitting on the exciting news I alluded to last week – next week I will hopefully be able to make an official announcement about that. But, at least in part because of that, I’m feeling…oddly energetic. I am riding a wave of creative energy right now.

Some of this is also because it is almost FAWM – February Album Writing Month. I write about this every February – it’s a songwriting challenge where songwriters from around the globe try to write 14 songs in the 28 days of February. I’ve participated the past three years, and am getting very excited for year number four, even though my life looks vastly different now than it did even a year ago and I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to do it. I’ve been getting up early to journal the past couple of weeks, to get in the practice before February hits, as generally early mornings are my best writing time. (I am not a morning person, but often I have more interesting ideas before my mental filters have fully kicked in post-coffee.)

I’m very excited about songwriting in general right now. I recently acquired some audio equipment that should make it easier to make nice recordings at home, and I am dreaming of possibly recording an EP this year, even if I have to do it from my apartment. I’m also writing for the class I’m taking right now at the Old Town School, and the past couple of weeks have elicited some interesting songs that I’m really quite pleased with. I’ll share last week’s here, because it’s been stuck in my head off and on all week. The assignment was one I’ve done before, where we’re asked to think about writing as a collective enterprise. Our task was to ask a handful of friends to tell us their most memorable dreams, and turn those into verses. For the chorus, we were to ask a question of a vast concept or thing. The group of friends that I asked did not disappoint, and they community we are in together inspired the questions in the chorus. So here it is; enjoy!

Holier Than This – Alyxander James

Lyrics, for the curious:

You made yourself at home in our shared space
Our familiar interactions put a smile on my face
But something here between us feels different today
I can see you

Do you ever cry?
Do you believe in miracles?
What happens when we die?
Is it anything to fear?
In all these stories that we tell
Making meaning out of myth
What could be holy, holy, holier than this?

It’s been some time since we’ve seen eye to eye
But now we sit together on this rollercoaster ride
Nothing left to run from and nowhere left to hide
I can see you

Do you ever cry?
Do you believe in miracles?
What happens when we die?
Is it anything to fear?
In all these stories that we tell
Making meaning out of myth
What could be holy, holy, holier than this?

Not a day goes by I don’t wish you were here
No matter how much time has passed, can’t always stop the tears
But now I see you smile when I’m looking in the mirror
I can see you

Do you ever cry?
Do you believe in miracles?
What happens when we die?
Is it anything to fear?
In all these stories that we tell
Making meaning out of myth
What could be holy, holy, holier than this?

Exhale

Hello, dear readers! We’ve made it to another Thursday. I hope you’re all hanging in there.

I don’t know about all of you, but yesterday felt like exhaling after holding my breath for four years. As of yesterday, the United States has a new President and Vice President, and while neither of them were my first choice, and I recognize that there’s a lot of work ahead of us to hold them accountable to their more progressive campaign promises, I’ll take them over the former occupants of the White House any day of the week.

The past four years have been…a lot. Traumatic, even deadly, for many people. Even from my place of privilege where most of the horrific policy decisions didn’t impact me directly, I’ve spent most of the last four years feeling like a coiled spring with a stomachache. Today, my breathing feels easier than it has since the middle of 2016. Much of my body still feels like a coiled spring – it’s going to need some convincing that it’s safe to relax. But the difference in how my body feels is palpable.

In addition to the big national news, I got some really wonderful personal/professional news yesterday. I can’t post super publicly about it yet, but I’m happy to chat with people individually if you’re curious and want to reach out.

I’m going to leave you with this link where you can go watch Amanda Gorman read her poem, The Hill We Climb, at the inauguration yesterday. It gave me a lot of hope for the future, and also some hope for the present. It’s well worth the listen. (Also, Gorman has a children’s book coming out in September, and you can preorder that here or from your local indie bookshop!)

Deep Breaths

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to another Thursday.

I’m in a position where I feel like there’s a fair bit of news that’s going to happen, but none of it has happened yet, so I don’t actually have a ton to write about this week. This is gonna be a short one. That said, I’m going to focus on a handful of things I’m currently feeling grateful for:

  • My job, even when it’s stressful, is really great. I have never felt so affirmed in a work environment as I do at this job, and there’s a sense of stability that comes with that feeling that’s really necessary right now. The fact that my husband is out of work and we’re still doing okay financially is mind-blowing to me.
  • The Illinois legislature voted to end cash bail, among other things! This is a big deal.
  • I’m in a new songwriting class that started on Saturday, and I’m very excited for it. It’s a small group, just 4-5 students, which always makes for an interesting session. This week I’m struggling with the assignment, but even as I feel like songwriting is an impossible endeavor, I’m still looking forward to class and feeling motivated to keep trying, so that’s exciting.

Insert Clever Title Here

Hello, dear readers. We’ve made it to another Thursday. And, here in the US, we’re once again grappling with the ugliness of white supremacy. Yesterday a bunch of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, and (unsurprisingly to anyone who’s been paying attention) there was very little done by the police to stop them. This is in stark contrast to the militarized police presence that was around when people were peacefully protesting in defense of Black lives over the summer.

I honestly don’t know what to write today. I have nothing new or particularly profound to say about all of this. I’m angry and sad, but not shocked. BIPOC and queer folks have been warning the world that this was coming since before Trump was elected.

This is an issue for white people to take ownership of and to fix. We cannot ask the people we’ve been oppressing to save us from ourselves.

2020/2021

Hello, dear readers! Here we are, the last day of 2020, a year that has been… *gestures vaguely*…something.

Last Monday, on the Winter Solstice, I did a little looking back on the past year, on the goals that I set at the beginning of 2020, at how much progress I made (or didn’t) on those goals, despite (or because of ) everything 2020 threw at me. I made a similar post last year, so let’s follow that same format and take a minute to glance backward and look ahead, shall well?

Goals I had at the beginning of the year, and progress on those goals:

  • Write. Songs, yes, but also other things, poems and short stories and maybe even games.
    • I wrote 42 songs, including one spoken word piece and something for every card in the Major Arcana of a tarot deck. I did not write poems or short stories. I started noodling around with writing a game, got overwhelmed, and set it aside.
  • Read more, especially poetry and other things that inspire me.
    • I didn’t read more – I read 13 books, contrasted with last year’s 23. But I did read more Mary Oliver poetry, which was an excellent choice.
  • Make music often, as close to every day as possible.
    • I did not make music as close to every day as possible. But I still made music, and in a year that tried to totally derail everything, I’m calling that at least a partial win.
  • Do the work, in therapy and on my own, to be an adult that my inner child can be proud of.
    • This is lifelong work, but I have done a lot of work in this arena!
  • Take care of my body and my brain and my spirit.
    • This hasn’t been a resounding success, but…you know what? Fuck it. Given everything that 2020 was, yes, this was a success. I got myself medical care when I needed it, I have a better awareness of what I need to do to take better care of my body, I’ve continued therapy, I’ve found ways to learn and grow despite *gestures wildly at the year*.
  • Follow through on the plan to have my credit card paid off in June.
    • I did this! I had it paid off in May, actually. This was a very big deal.
  • Create more routine and space for ritual in my life.
    • I often feel like I have failed at this, but in reality I have established some important routines and rituals this year. They just don’t look like I thought they would a year ago.
  • Get a new, better-paying job.
    • I didn’t post this one on the blog last year, because I knew some of my coworkers read the blog and I didn’t want to cause unnecessary alarm. But I did this! I started my new job in March, four days before we went into lockdown, and it came with an approximately 60% salary increase. I am so much happier where I am now (which is not to say I don’t miss my old coworkers, but this job is a much better fit for me).

Other things that happened:

  • Took a mountain dulcimer class, a couple of mandolin classes, three songwriting classes, and a handful of songwriting workshops.
  • Tried Tai Chi (for a couple of months, in the Before Times).
  • Cowrote a song with someone I met on the internet. Also cowrote with my partner.
  • Bought a gorgeous new octave mandolin that I’m absolutely in love with.
  • Got married!
  • Hosted write-alongs for Song School friends the week that Song School would have happened.
  • Performed with my partner at a virtual open mic.
  • Decided to take an indefinite break from Facebook.
  • Bought a Nintendo Switch Lite and played many hours of Stardew Valley.
  • Played a lot of D&D along with a handful of other delightful games.
  • Established a number of (virtual) social routines.

Goals for 2021:

  • Keep writing.
  • “Yes, and…” opportunities at work.
  • Keep investing in the communities and relationships that allow me to thrive.
  • Try to internalize the notion that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be good or valuable.
  • Keep doing the work to be an adult that my past selves can be proud of.

May 2021 be a gentler year than 2020 was. May we keep finding reasons to hope. And may the lessons 2020 brought us not need to be repeated.