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.

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?

Bursting at the Seams

Hello, dear readers!

I am having a really great week. I can’t talk publicly about all the reasons why just yet (feel free to reach out if you’re curious), but here are a few:

  • Last Friday, I ended up writing a song with a fellow FAWMer. I wrote the lyrics, sent it to them for music, they sent it back, I recorded the melody and guitar part, and they added harmony and ukulele. It sounds FANTASTIC, and I am so excited about it. You can listen to it here.
  • Over the weekend, a friend from the Twin Cities came to visit, and it was so fun! They are a very easy houseguest and it was a relaxing weekend for everyone, I think.
  • As of this morning, I’ve completed my personal FAWM challenge of writing a song for every card of the major arcana in the tarot. I’m very excited about that.

More to come next week on the rest of the excitement. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you – what’s making your week brighter?

Write Write Write

I am writing this on Wednesday night. It is the 12th of February, and so far I’ve written a song a day all month. If I can make it two more days, I’ll “win” FAWM by the time the month is only half over!

I’m actually rather liking a lot of what I’ve written so far, too. Few things feel finished finished, but that’s fine. I’m signed up for “Finish Your Damn Songs” at the Old Town School starting in March, and there’s no rush, really, as I can’t imagine I’ll be trying to record this tarot project until at least late next year.

Every year, FAWM reminds me how great it is to be part of this worldwide community of songwriters. When I started writing songs, I mostly did it for myself, but the longer I do this thing, the more I believe that songs are meant to be shared. They’re a powerful tool for connecting with people.

It’s been an exciting week for other reasons, too, but not ones I can talk about yet. What I can talk about is the fact that we have a good friend coming to visit this weekend, and I’m very excited for that. They’re a low-maintenance houseguest and a delight to have around.

Once again, I’m going to leave you with a song I’m happy about from the past week of writing. This is the song for XIII – Death, which is not always about death (it’s often more about endings birthing new beginnings), but I leaned into the archetype for this one. It features some kind of spooky harmonica, too, so that’s fun.

Surprisingly Productive

So…I’ve had a shockingly productive first week of February (by which I mean: I’ve had a really successful first week of FAWM). I’ve gotten up at 5:30 to write four days in a row now. I’m 6/6 days/songs written.

I don’t expect that I’ll write a song every day all month. That feels bonkers (and also, we have a friend coming to visit next weekend, and while they are lovely and encouraging I don’t think I’m going to get a lot of writing done when there are three of us in our one-bedroom apartment – it’s hard enough when it’s just me and my partner). But I am really excited about how the month is going so far.

I’m trying to participate more in the listening and commenting on FAWM this year than I have in the past. As a result, I’m making some friends. I’m probably going to do a collaboration on a song with someone whose songs I’m really digging but who I’ve never met, which is just a cool think about the internet.

This year for FAWM I’m focusing on this 78 Songs project I’ve been “working on” for about four years with little success. I’m trying to write a song for every card in a tarot deck, and up until this year I had maybe half a dozen done. I decided to use this concentrated songwriting time as a catalyst to get some traction on this project. So I’m starting with the 22 cards of the major arcana. Since there are 22 and I only really had the first one done, I started working my way through a week or so ahead of time. As of today, I’ve gotten through XI – Justice, which means I’m over halfway there!

I’m going to leave you with my favorite of the songs that I’ve written so far. This song is for VII – The Chariot. I did not think this was going to be a 5 minute song, but here we are. This was largely inspired by a conversation I had with a friend. It was later pointed out to me that it’s also very queer, and I’m a little embarrassed and very amused that I didn’t realize it on my own. Anyway, here’s a song: enjoy!

February Reflections

It’s the final day of February, and I’m tired. But it’s been an interesting month. Here are some highlights:

  • FAWM, obviously. Unless I miraculously get something done tonight, I’m ending the month with sixteen new songs, plus two that I co-wrote with my partner. I’m pleased with the majority of my songs, and I’m really happy with how our co-writes came out. Collaborating was a new experience for us, and neither of us was sure how it would go.
  • I started seeing a new therapist. It’s going really well.
  • I had some really good times hanging out with friends – I didn’t let FAWM completely take over my life. We had a visit from a Minnesota friend, a birthday party, and I got to play D&D. I am frequently reminded how great my people are. I’m a very lucky queer.

I’m looking forward to getting our apartment back under control in March, and hopefully sleeping more.

14 Songs

I hit my goal of 14 songs for FAWM on Monday. Fourteen songs in eighteen days – I’m pretty pleased with those numbers. There’s still about a week left in February, so we’ll see how many more I can get done before the month is out.

Things I’ve learned or relearned so far this month:

  • Showing up is the hardest (and most important) part. I learned this last year during FAWM, and while I haven’t put it as much into practice as I’d like, I’m getting there. I think creative folks can easily fall into the trap of waiting around for inspiration to hit and avoid doing creative work because it just doesn’t feel like the right time, but the thing is…if you want inspiration to show up, you need to show up first. The times I have been most prolific have been the ones where I set aside an hour specifically for writing, and then just wrote. Sometimes I hit dead ends, yes – but not as often as I expected to. More often I found that inspiration caught up with me and I was able to write some interesting and unexpected things.
  • FAWM is fun on its own, but it’s way more fun if you know people from outside the internet who are doing it. My partner has been participating this year, as well as some other friends, and it’s so great to have a little community of people I can run into in my day-to-day life and gush with about this bonkers thing we’re doing.
  • One of the best ways to get unstuck if I feel like I can’t write is to experiment. This month I have written in a total of three guitar tunings, used a slide for the first time, and written a song on the mandolin (or, well, on the ‘ukulele, but it’s currently tuned like a mandolin…). Switching to something that’s outside of my comfort zone is a great way to let a song go to unexpected places.

And now, here’s song number 14, which is one of my favorites from this month: