Screaming into the Void

Hi, friends. I hope those of you here with me in the US, in particular, are hanging in there. It’s a heavy week. Regardless of who ends up winning the presidency, the fact that the race is this close is a damning indictment of this country. I am personally feeling pretty discouraged by the number of people who decided to double down on white supremacy and hate and a flagrant disregard for science.

I don’t honestly have a lot to say this week, but I thought I’d share the song that I wrote for my class last night, because it feels timely and it’s something to fill out this blog a little bit. For the assignment, we were supposed to read (or watch) something science-related and use that to help us tap into a sense of wonder about the world as we wrote this week. I learned about flying lizards, and then wrote this song.

Dragon, (c) 2020 Alyxander James

Lyrics, for the curious:

Today, I am afraid
But is this any way
For a dragon to behave

Longing to be free
From heaviness and grief
I must remember how to breathe

Open up my chest
And let my ribs turn into wings
Remind me I can fly
If I remember why I sing

How long have I been
In need of oxygen
To light my fire again

Open up my chest
And let my ribs turn into wings
Remind me I can fly
If I remember why I sing

I will stand before
The men who swing their swords
Let them hear me roar

Curious Soul

This is going to be a short blog, this week – it’s the end of our quarter at work and I have a ton to get done today. But I wanted to share the song that I wrote for my songwriting class this past week.

The assignment was to write our own “deep cut” – the B-side or song from an album that superfans would know but wouldn’t be the one to get tons of radio play. I don’t know if I succeeded in that, but I like what I came up with regardless. I pulled a bunch of old lyrics from a handful of songs written over the past six years or so – this is one of those songs I’ve been trying to write for a long time – and reworked those concepts into something new.

Eternal thanks, as always, to Steve Dawson and my songwriting classmates from the Old Town School of Folk Music for their brilliant suggestions that I tried to incorporate into this draft.

Curious Soul, (c) 2020 by Alyxander James

Here are the lyrics for the curious:

There’s a twirling child in dresses and dance shoes
Nose in a book and their head in the clouds
They dream about flying and rescuing damsels
And magical wardrobes that wait to be found

There’s a lonely child who always sings
An empty school playground their favorite stage
At home in their room they write songs in a diary
Pouring out heartache and joy on the page

I’m building this wondrous body, creating my home
Something more suited to housing my curious soul
I dress it up in ink, in wool, and in leather
I know this act of creation is a holy endeavor

There’s a teenager longing for tattoos and freedom
Counting down days to when they’ll spread their wings
Fists full of anger and hurt in their eyes
Cautiously hopeful they’ll make it to spring

There’s someone awake late at night in their dorm room
Afraid that they’re sinful and broken and wrong
They reach for their laptop, and type a confession
In tears over secrets kept hidden too long

I’m building this wondrous body, creating my home
Something more suited to housing my curious soul
I dress it up in ink, in wool, and in leather
I know this act of creation is a holy endeavor

There are days when I look in the mirror
And see fragments of faces that used to be me
I thank them for all of the lessons they brought here
And hope that they’re proud of who they came to be

I’m building this wondrous body, creating my home
Something more suited to housing my curious soul
I dress it up in ink, in wool, and in leather
I know this act of creation is a holy endeavor

Happy Moments

Hello, dear readers, and apologies for the late blog today – I overslept this morning and time got away from me.

First off, some good news – I got the results of last week’s MRI back yesterday, and everything looked normal. So that’s a relief. I still need to get labs done (I tried on Monday, but once again, my veins didn’t cooperate), but I’m taking my wins where I can get them.

The weekend was definitely a mixed bag – it was largely positive, but also included a migraine and a lot of worrying about what the MRI results might be. The highlights of the weekend were my two D&D games on Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday, the Body Love Open Mic hosted by our friend Talia. My husband and I performed together for possibly the first time? Certainly the first time in a long time. And it went pretty well!

The second verse got kind of garbled on this Zoom recording, but you get the idea.

So that was fun. We were definitely nervous, but it felt good to try out a new song on an audience for the first time in a while.

I don’t have much beyond that this week – I hope you’re all hanging in there and taking care of yourselves and your communities. And if you’re in the US, I hope you’ve got a voting plan!

Taking Time

Hello, dear readers – we’ve made it to another Thursday. I don’t know about you, but my week has been a bit on the sleepy and unfocused side (although I think I’m generally being more focused than I was last week, so that’s something).

I mentioned last week that on Sunday I was going to participate in a Body Love Creative Writing Workshop that my friends Eli and Talia were putting on. I’m so glad I did! It was a lovely workshop that helped me to feel more connected to my body, and the exercises we did helped me to look at some of the difficult relationships I’ve had with my body in new ways. I ended up getting a song out of it, too, that I’m actually pretty happy with. Since I don’t have much else to talk about this week, I figured I’d share my rough cell phone recording of the new song with you all:

My Body Takes the Time It Needs

Here are the lyrics:

My body takes the time it needs
When I am walking down the street
It won’t be hurried past the trees
My body takes the time it needs
Oooh…

My body takes the time it needs
Reminding me to bend my knees
Allow my legs to carry me
My body takes the time it needs
Oooh…

I’ve been ashamed of my slow pace
My steady, plodding gait
But I am learning to have grace
My life is not a race

My body takes the time it needs
To laugh, to cry, to heal, to grieve
To feel the sun, the rain, the breeze
My body takes the time it needs
Oooh…

My body takes the time it needs…

Anyway, here’s to letting our bodies take the time we need, particularly right now. Keep wearing your masks and washing your hands and socially distancing, and keep hanging in there.

Daydreaming

Hello, dear readers, and happy Thursday! At least, I’m pretty sure it’s Thursday. I ended up needing to take some sick time Friday and Monday, and it’s thrown me for a bit of a loop in terms of time. But then again, as we see in this lovely McSweeney’s article featuring Frog and Toad, “Time means nothing now… It is just the thing that happens between snacks.”

It’s been a fairly uneventful week, aside from the sick time (which, other than me feeling under the weather, was also pretty uneventful, actually). My big project for this week has been trying to get a better system together for keeping myself on top of the things I need to get done at work and at home. I’ve tried a couple of different to do tracking systems recently, but I think I’ve finally settled on Todoist as my solution, at least for the time being (in conjunction with my beloved paper planner, because sometimes things aren’t quite real until I’ve written them out by hand).

I’ve also been daydreaming a lot, specifically about actually recording some music this fall. My husband got a new laptop not long ago and has Logic installed on it; we’re hoping to learn how to use that effectively to make some nice recordings at home, since booking studio time during a pandemic feels too risky. I have a pretty deep backlog of songs at this point, and while a lot of them don’t need to see the light of day again, it would be nice to be able to share the ones I’m proud of with people in such a way that I don’t feel a need to apologize for the sound quality (like I tend to now, when all my songs are recorded on my phone).

I’m going to keep this one pretty short, but let’s end on a high note, yeah? Here are a few things I’m looking forward to in the next week:

  • I’m playing a couple of different D&D games right now, and they’re both SO much fun. They’re honestly the highlights of my week right now.
  • On Sunday, I’m doing a “Body Love Creative Writing Workshop” that some Song School friends are putting on. I’m excited for the chance to write and to explore being kinder to my body.
  • Next week I’m joining a tarot-based game that a friend designed and is playtesting, and I am super excited to see what he’s come up with.

Keep hanging in there, everyone. Keep washing your hands and wearing your masks, stay hydrated, tip service workers as well as you possibly can, protest and petition and donate where you’re able.

Obsessed

Hello, dear readers! I’m pretty sure it’s Thursday. Time has felt particularly nebulous this week.

On Friday, my new octave mandolin arrived, and I am obsessed with it. I’ve played almost every day since it arrived. It’s beautiful and everything I wanted.

Here’s a video of me playing “Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór,” one of my favorite songs to play on mandolin. I’m a little rusty, but i love how this instrument sounds.

I don’t have a lot of other news this week, but I’d like to leave you with this article. It pulls no punches and is a hard read, but I believe it’s important for framing our conversations about racism.

I hope you’re hanging in there. Wear a mask when you go out, and take care of yourself and your people!

Highs and Lows

Hello, dear readers. We’ve made it to another Thursday.

I feel like this week has been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I’ve been anxious and tired, and my allergies are pretty bad right now (cottonwood season gets me every year).

On the other hand, I managed the very exciting achievement of saving up and paying for my dream instrument this week. It should arrive this weekend, and I am over the moon about it. It’s a new octave mandolin, and it’s SO PRETTY:

I’m so excited!

We also managed to get wedding invitations finished and emailed out this week, so that felt like an accomplishment.

I am going to keep this short again, but I want to leave you with this article from the Washington Post that I found challenging but helpful this week. If you’re white, please take the time to read it and sit with it a while – educating ourselves is important, but anti-racism is not an academic exercise. Dismantling white supremacy and the systemic oppression of Black people requires action, and not just in the moments when the Black Lives Matter movement is front and center in our social media feeds. This is lifelong work.

Victory in Uncertainty

Happy(?) Thursday, dear readers! How’s everybody holding up?

The week here has been a bit of a mixed bag. I’m still wrestling a bit with some leftover queasiness from last week, and the realization that we really don’t know what the future holds right now is steadily sinking in.

However, in the midst of all this uncertainty, I did have a major victory this week – I paid my credit card down to $0 for the first time since we moved to Chicago 7.5 years ago.

Some history on this: I had paid it all off before we moved, but when we got here, we we both very much underemployed, and, well…we had to eat. I leaned on the credit card because it was the option we had. Then our job situations improved, but I was in the habit of using the credit card, and…it got out of control. By August of 2017, I had accumulated nearly $16,000 in debt. So, I made a plan, and since September of 2017 I have been aggressively paying down my debt, dedicating about a third of my monthly income to credit card payments.

I had some setbacks, for sure (retail therapy is a hard habit to break). I originally thought I’d have it paid off in two years, then by the end of 2019, and finally it was clear it was going to take until June of 2020. However, I was able to sneak a couple extra payments in thanks to the pandemic stimulus check and my new job, and I am now debt free a month ahead of where I thought I’d be.

It’s a surreal feeling, but mostly, I feel like I can breathe again, and that’s a really great experience. I recognize that I am privileged beyond measure to be able to achieve something like this during such stressful and uncertain times, and I don’t want to take that for granted.

The other fun news from this week: I started playing the mandolin again, and am taking a class online at the Old Town School to get my playing back up-to-speed. I’m remembering all the reasons why I fell in love with the instrument almost 9 years ago, and am a little sorry I put it down for so long (I haven’t played much in probably 5 years now…been focusing much more on guitar). It’s the only instrument I can play where I can pick it up and just noodle around and make up melodies that sound nice.

I hope you’re all hanging in there and finding your own victories (big or small – they all count) to brighten up your days.

What a Time

Hello, lovely readers! I’m a little over halfway through my first week at the new job, and things are going well, at least on that front. I like my coworkers a lot, I’m learning, the commute is easy, and the office is great.

It’s also possible that my second week will be working from home, because, well, COVID-19.

I’m okay, but we’re getting at least one email a day from leadership updating us as to the company’s policy. Thankfully, working from home is possible for me (although it’ll be weird to do all my onboarding and training remotely). I have a pretty good chance of job security.

My partner works at a museum. We don’t know if they’ll end up closing. We don’t think there’s much chance that he’d lose his job if they closed for a while, but who knows what the pay situation would be. It’s scary to think about, but ultimately, all we can really do is take it one day at a time.

Despite the global pandemic, there have been some bright spots for me personally this week, so let’s end on a high note:

  • I left my job of 6.5 years on a high note, and got a lot of sweet well-wishes from colleagues.
  • I started my new job and seem to fit in well here!
  • Wednesday night we got to see some of our favorite musician friends, Heather Mae and Crys Matthews, play a show. (Support your favorite independent musicians, folks – it’s a rough time out there with shows getting canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.) It was so great to see them – I am consistently blown away by the talented, fabulous people I’m so fortunate to know.

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.