Christmas 2020

Hello, dear readers! It’s Christmas Eve, so I’m not even going to apologize for posting late – I’m off work, I slept in, it happens.

It’s obviously a weird holiday. We’re connecting with family and some friends for virtual celebrations throughout the weekend. It’s very weird to not be in Minnesota right now, and I’m missing a lot of people pretty fiercely.

But yesterday the plumber came and fixed the clog in our sink that had kept us out of the kitchen for days, so this morning I made actual breakfast and we can clean things up and make actual food for Christmas, so that’s something. We’re going to put up our tree and wrap presents. It’s slowly but surely coming together.

I hope that your holidays are as full of peace and light and joy as they can be right now. If they’re not full of those things (heck, even if they are), I wish you the space to be able to grieve what you’re missing this year.

Dream Collecting

Hello, dear readers! For once, I am writing this blog on Wednesday night instead of Thursday morning; here’s hoping it posts when I tell it to.

My week so far has been a bit of a mixed bag – I woke up Monday feeling very sniffly, and Tuesday morning I woke up with vertigo (which happens occasionally, usually if my allergies are particularly bad). I seem to be mostly on the mend, though, and tonight (Wednesday night) has been lovely – we had tacos for dinner, and I had my last session of songwriting class for 2020. The class has been absolutely magical, thanks to our inimitable instructor, Sue Demel, and a whole cadre of brilliant classmates. I’ve taken this particular class with Sue a few times now, and it’s always a joy – this third time around was no different. Every week I’ve been completely blown away by the songs my classmates have brought in! It’s inspiring to know that such beautiful creative work is happening week to week.

This past week our assignment was to be “dream collectors” – we were to ask friends and family to tell us about their most memorable dreams, and turn those into a song. In the past I’ve posted on Facebook to source this, but I’ve been off Facebook for a month now and am apparently not ready to go back yet, so I asked one of my D&D groups instead. They gave me the most beautiful, haunting, heartbreaking, weird, wonderful material to work with, and I really like what I came up with, so I thought I’d share it here. This is a rough draft and it’s still changing and settling into itself, but I’m pleased enough with it as it is. Enjoy!

Time Has Changed – (c) 2020 Alyxander James

Lyrics, for the curious:

You were a stranger
But your face was familiar
And I trusted you more
Than my own reflection
In a corner booth
Over Moroccan stew
It was an effortless connection

I opened my eyes
And you disappeared
The thin light of day
Spilled through the curtains
A lonely ache
Filled up the space
The emptiness a burden

Time has changed
Time has changed
Time has change me

I’m happier now
Than I knew I could be
I’ve grown stronger
And wrestled my demons
But still there are days
When the ghost of your face
Disrupts my sense of freedom

Time has changed
Time has changed
Time has change me

Time has changed
Time has changed
Time has change me

Midweek Musings

Hello, dear readers – welcome to another Thursday.

The past week is a bit of a blur in my mind. On Friday, I had an appointment with a rheumatologist out in the suburbs. A few hours before I needed to leave, I panic-rented a car – COVID numbers are out of control in Chicago (like they are most places in the US right now), and I didn’t want to spend an hour or more of my day trapped in a Lyft with a stranger. Of course, because it was so last-minute, I didn’t have the option of renting the car for just the day, so we unexpectedly ended up with a car all weekend.

The rheumatology appointment was disappointing, but the rest of the weekend was pretty nice. Sunday in particular was great – we went to our favorite breakfast spot in our old neighborhood with a friend and picked up some delicious food, and then later in the day we went back up to our old grocery store and loaded up on a ridiculous amount of food.

Tuesday was the tenth anniversary of my husband’s and my first date, so that was exciting. It was a low-key day, but it was nice to take a little time to acknowledge that hey, we’ve been together a long time.

Last night I had songwriting class. The song I wrote this week was unlike anything I’d ever done before, and I was super nervous to perform it, but I think it went well. It was a good reminder that vulnerability is often worth it.

This weekend I’m looking forward to the possibility of three D&D games and some other little chances to connect with friends (virtually, of course). It amuses me, sometimes, that my initial response to the pandemic was to pack my schedule with regular virtual social events – I am very much an introvert and would probably not socialize this much outside of lockdown. But I’m also increasingly aware of the importance of community and connection in these wild times, and I’m super grateful to have multiple little communities that I can connect with regularly.

Keep taking care of yourselves, friends. Wash your hands, wear your damn masks, stay in when you can. And check in on each other (virtually or at a safe physical distance). It’s the only way we’re going to get through this.

A Little Gratitude

Hello, dear readers – we’ve made it to Thursday. I haven’t had a bad week, per se, but it’s definitely been an anxious one, between the increasing number of COVID19 cases in the Midwest, and the upcoming election, and… *gestures at the general 2020 dumpster fire*. I don’t expect that to ease up any time soon, so in an attempt to counterbalance that, let’s do a little gratitude list this week.

  • I had to do my final presentation of my big quarterly stretch project at work to our leadership team on Monday, and it went well! I was feeling very behind in the past couple of weeks and wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off, so the fact that everything came together in the end was a nice little boost at the start of the week.
  • Also, Monday was my Grandma’s 93rd birthday. We have a complicated relationship, but I ended up getting to chat with her on the phone for a few minutes in the evening, and that was nice.
  • Last night I started a new (online) songwriting class with Sue Demel, who is one of my favorite people. This is my third time taking this particular class, and it always draws out really interesting material. I’m very excited to see where the next eight weeks take us.
  • I have spent an inordinate amount of time this week creating a character for a spooky D&D one-shot that I’m playing with some friends tonight, and I am SO EXCITED. D&D has been one of the major bright spots in my life lately – I love collaborative storytelling so much, and I have the most wonderful people to do it with.
  • I dropped off my mail-in ballot at the nearest early voting site on Sunday, and got the notice this week that it was accepted and my vote will be counted. Terrified as I am about this election, I appreciate how easy it is to vote in Chicago, and I appreciate the abundance of resources online that helped me to sift through the ~65 judges we were voting to retain (or, in several cases, not retain).

Hang in there, everyone. Keep wearing your masks and physically distancing (I know it’s hard and we’re all tired of it, but the pandemic doesn’t care and it’s not over). Keep checking in on each other. And if you’re in the US and you haven’t voted yet – please, please, please vote. If you need help making a plan, send me a message.

Missing My People

It’s Thursday, and I almost did not blog this week. I’m taking the week off from work, because this was supposed to be the week of Song School, and I figured I’d keep the time I’d requested back when the summer looked more optimistic.

It’s been really great to have the time off, to rest and reset. But it’s also been sad – I miss Song School so much. We’ve been doing our best to recreate parts of the experience at home.

Song School canopy in the living room!

We set up the canopy that’s usually outside of our tent at Song School in our living room – because we have no overhead light fixture, it just barely fits. We initially did it to be funny, but how it’s transformed the space has been pretty magical.

Zoom writing hangouts

We’ve also been hosting some Zoom hangouts with people from Song School. Every morning this week we’ve set up some quiet time to hang out and write for an hour, and it’s felt so good. Just seeing the faces of some of our Song School friends has helped to ground me in time and space in a way I feel like I haven’t been since the pandemic started. It’s nothing like the real Song School, but it’s been a better substitute than I thought it was going to be. We’ve had more people show up than we expected, too, which has been fun.

We also hosted a little Zoom song circle on Tuesday night (and we’re planning to again tonight), which was fun – it’s great to hear what people have been working on.

It’s hard to not be able to hug these people we love so much, to be in a place where we can’t listen to the river or see the stars. But seeing some of their faces, even just over a computer screen, has brought me so much joy even in the middle of grieving the loss of this incredibly important week in our year.

Tomorrow morning we’re hosting an extra writing session (Song School would be wrapping up tonight, if it was happening), and then we’ll fall into our familiar weekend rhythm before I start working again on Monday. I’m glad I took this time off (it’s also the most extended break I’ve had since Christmas, and I’m only just realizing how much my brain needed that), and I’m hoping it leaves me in a better place for diving back into “normal” life…as close to normal as we get these days, anyway.

Learning is Hard

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to another Thursday – I don’t know about you, but I’m finding that keeping track of what day it is during this pandemic is not getting any easier over time.

It’s been a week. Last Friday I got totally overwhelmed by work – I just couldn’t get on top of my cases, and I felt like every time I figured out one thing, something else went wrong (or I turned out to be wrong about the earlier thing I had thought was taken care of). It made for a very frustrating end of the work week, and I was dreading getting back into it on Monday.

Monday was also hard. I continued to feel like I was drowning, and actually had an anxiety attack partway through the day. Thankfully, as the day went on, my team stepped in and helped me with a few things, and that made a big difference. I’m still learning that I can ask for help here.

The last couple of days have been a little better – I feel like I’m getting a better handle on things and doing a better job of asking for help when I need it.

Despite work being overwhelming, there have been some bright spots. Friday night was the second session of a D&D game that we decided to move from every other week to every week, and that was super fun. I’m looking forward to getting to know these characters and the world we’re exploring better.

I love that we have a weekend routine of sorts that gets us out of bed now. On Saturdays we have virtual brunch with a friend in our old neighborhood, and it’s a really lovely way to set the tone for the rest of the weekend. We’ve also been rewatching the Star Wars films with some friends on the weekends (via conference call), and that’s been delightful. We started with the original trilogy, and then moved on to the prequels – we were going to watch Episode III this past weekend, but Episodes I and II were so much worse than we remembered, we gave up and skipped to Episode VII, which I think was the right choice.

I also talked with my parents over the weekend for the first time since…well, since we started staying home, so about two months. We’d be texting regularly, but historically I used to call them when I was commuting or walking between places, and since that’s not really happening right now, I’d lost my mental trigger to pick up the phone. It was good to catch up and I think we’re going to try to do that more regularly now.

And the second session of my mandolin class was last night, which was also delightful. I didn’t practice as much during the week as I intended, but I’m managing to keep up. As an extra fun little challenge, I’ve been transcribing any tablature our instructor sends out into standard notation so I can get better at reading sheet music.

Anyway, I hope you’re all hanging in there. What a weird time it is to be alive. I have a lot to be grateful for right now, and I’m trying not to take that for granted.

What Day Is It?

Greetings, readers, from my home to yours. (I really hope you’re all at home. This is what we need to do to keep each other safe right now.)

It’s a weird time. The fact that I am working helps give me a bit of structure, but I’ll be honest, I’m having a hard time keeping track of my days. Everything’s sort of blending together. I missed my usual 9am deadline for posting this morning because I kind of forgot it was Thursday.

I’ve gotten my first two support tickets at my new job, so I’m actually doing work now instead of just reading about how to do work, which is a nice change of pace. I’m learning a lot and ending pretty much every day exhausted from the amount of information I’m taking in.

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Chicago, so after work I ordered a pizza for pickup. As I walked to the restaurant, I was…alarmed by how many people do not seem to be taking the social distancing thing seriously. It was a toss up – some people that I passed were considerate and moved to the opposite side of the sidewalk or the grass so we could maintain 6ft of distance…a lot of people did not. I went pretty quickly from enjoying the beautiful weather to just being really anxious.

There’s a musician acquaintance of mine who lives in northern Italy. He’s been posting about some of his experiences in English for his American friends. The posts are incredibly sobering. I worry about him every day…and I worry about us, here in America, because we’re just not responding well to this crisis.

I’m worried a lot of the time right now. I worry about my nephew, who has asthma. I worry about my mom, who’s a nurse and at an age where she’s probably more vulnerable to this thing. I worry about my friends and family members who are out of work right now, or who are still having to go to work rather than working from home. I try not to worry too much about myself, but I’m allergic to many things outside right now, and every time I cough or sniffle I have to suppress the urge to panic.

But I’m also trying to find the light in all of this. We’re connecting with a lot of people virtually. Last weekend we had virtual brunch with a friend that we have regular brunch with every couple of weeks via Google Hangouts. I played Monsterhearts 2 with friends on a Discord server. We had a little song circle with Song School friends in California via Zoom. We’re in frequent contact with family and friends and I feel really held by the communities I’m a part of, even as I do my best to hold them. If anything good comes of this mess, I think it’s going to be a greater sense of connection. I am so grateful to live in this time where physical isolation doesn’t have to be social/emotional isolation. While it is hard to balance not being glued to a screen reading the news and using that screen to stay connected, I think it’s worth it.

I hope you’re all hanging in there (and staying at home). Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. If we’re going to get through this, it’ll be together (from our own places of residence) or not at all.

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.

I very nearly forgot to blog this week.

Yesterday was hard. Not because of anything that happened, really, but the whole day felt Sisyphean. I got out of bed late; it took what felt like eons to talk myself into going to work. I spent a lot of the day dealing with a pain flare-up. It was hard to be in my body. I got home and managed to get a few things done, but I was in bed before 8:30.

This morning I woke up still feeling pretty achy, so I made the decision to work from home. This meant that even though I made the questionable decision to crawl back into bed after turning my alarm off, I still had time to shower and take it a little easier getting ready for my day.

Now I’m sitting at my kitchen table with my coffee and my work laptop, getting ready to dive into some work projects, and I suddenly realized I hadn’t written a blog post yet, so here we are.

It’s been a long week, for sure. But here are a handful of things that have kept me going:

  • I finally saw Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker on Friday after work. I know some people found it disappointing, but I really enjoyed it. I cried, I laughed, I held my breath, I occasionally rolled my eyes. It was a fun ride and I found it a satisfying conclusion to the series I was raised on.
  • Saturday we got breakfast with a friend who lives in our old neighborhood. When we moved, we decided to set up a routine of breakfast dates every other weekend, and I’m so glad we did. I am trying to be more intentional about making time for friends. We have such a great constellation of friends and communities here, and I think when I’m struggling I sometimes lose sight of that.
  • I made it to Tai Chi class for the fourth week in a row. It feels good to be doing something to move my body aside from all the walking I do.
  • I wrote three songs last week. I’m getting increasingly excited for FAWM!
  • This weekend I have a couple of things scheduled with friends that I wish I saw more often, and I am very much looking forward to those.