Gratitude on a Sunny Thursday

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to Thursday, which I keep thinking is Wednesday…which is, I suppose, better than thinking it’s Friday. I hope you’re all hanging in there.

As of a couple of days ago, I’m officially two weeks out from my second covid vaccine and therefore as immunized as I’m going to be for the time being. It feels good to feel like I can start making some plans with (also immunized) friends again. It also feels weird. I am definitely going to need to relearn how to be social in person, and I’m sure my limit for how many people I can tolerate being with for an extended period of time has changed over the past year of isolation. (I’m an introvert, so that wasn’t a huge number to begin with…I’m a bit nervous about going back to group activities, to be honest.)

My tattoo is healing up nicely, though it’s in a very itchy stage right now. I can’t tell how much of that is the tattoo itself and how much is the hair growing back on my arm, but I’m trying to be careful about not absentmindedly scratching at it.

I don’t really have a lot to talk about this week, but let’s end this with a little list of things I’m grateful for right now:

  • I am grateful for my job. It’s still mindblowing to be in a place where I feel both challenged and appreciated, where I feel like my value is being recognized. It’s wild that I’m in a leadership position and enjoying it (not that it’s easy, but that it feels like a good use of my skills). It’s wild to have a degree of financial stability I have not had since moving out of my parents’ house.
  • I am grateful for my friends. I’ve had a lot of really great conversations lately that remind me that my people are the best people. I’m grateful for their trust and their insight and their love. I’m so glad I don’t feel like I have to carry everything on my own, or pile everything onto my husband or my therapist, but I have whole communities of people supporting me.
  • I am grateful for music. In the past couple of weeks, I rediscovered how much I absolutely adore P!nk. In college, I went from listening pretty exclusively to contemporary Christian music to dipping my toes into the waters of other options, and P!nk was one of the first artists I heard that really connected with my angsty, troubled heart. I hadn’t kept up with her music after graduation, really, but in diving into her newer stuff, it’s been a delight to see that, even though I am not an angsty college student anymore, her music still connects. We’ve both grown since then. I have immense respect for her as an artist. My current favorite track is this one (in case the link doesn’t work, or you don’t use Spotify – it’s the last song on her 2019 album Hurts 2B Human; the track is called “The Last Song of Your Life,” and it’s beautiful), but her newest singles (from the current year) are also incredible.

That’s it from me this week – keep taking care of yourselves and each other.

Brief Morning Musings

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to another Thursday that I almost forgot was Thursday. I am dashing this off before starting my workday with a two hour training, so it’s going to be fairly brief. I feel like I need a little reminder to smile on this grey Chicago morning, so I’m going to share a few things that are making me happy lately:

  • Preacher’s Kid, by Semler. This album came out recently and I’m kind of obsessed. If you, like me, grew up a church youth group kid and are now an adult with a lot of religious trauma/baggage, this is an extremely cathartic listen. It also holds a lot of space for hope, and I appreciate that. This album has made some serious waves in the world of Christian music since its release (it was topping the Apple Music charts in that genre for a bit), and it’s just giving me a lot of hope for the future.
  • The arrival of spring in Chicago. I love that it’s warming up and things are starting to get a little greener and there are crocuses and we can often have our windows open…even though I’m allergic to basically everything outside, and have been a sniffly mess for days, something about this return to spring always makes me feel a little more alive.
  • Trader Joe’s gluten free cinnamon coffee cake muffins. I just learned about these recently from a friend and bought some last week and OMG they are life-changing. I let my partner (who is not gluten free) try one, and have confirmed that they are just good muffins, period. I ate the entire box of four in under 24 hours and have been dreaming of them since. haha
  • The new sweatshirt I got from Peace Coffee this week. We’ve been ordering from Peace Coffee since…sometime last fall, I think? Anyway, they’re great, and this sweatshirt is SO SOFT and delightful. The sleeves are exactly the right length and it just fits surprisingly well and it made me happy all day yesterday when I was wearing it.
  • My new glasses. My old pair kept trying to leap off my face at inopportune moments (like, anytime I went down stairs, or was walking down the sidewalk wearing a mask like a considerate, sane person), so I decided to get what I thought would be a backup pair…but I really like them and have been wearing them constantly since they arrived. They are very gay.
Do these glasses make me look gay? I hope so.

The Apartment is Alive with the Sound of Music

Hello, dear readers! We’ve made it to another Thursday. This will probably be a relatively short blog as I’m writing this before work on Thursday morning, and I have a pretty packed workday ahead of me, starting with two hours of management training (which, don’t get me wrong, I am immensely grateful for as a new manager…it’s just a lot first thing in the morning).

It’s been an exciting week on the music front in our household. Last week, I was poking around the Old Town School‘s music store website, and I noticed they had a used Seagull guitar in their lineup that I had seriously considered buying back when they were in production, but hadn’t had the money to justify. In a bit of a snap decision, I went ahead and bought it. It needed some minor adjustments (I put lighter strings on it and learned how to adjust a truss rod for the first time), but now it’s in good shape and will make a great travel companion – it’s smaller and lighter than my main guitar.

I’ve decided her name is Gladys.

The same day I got the guitar, my partner was looking at gear online for the home recording class they’re taking. Long story short, we now also have a MIDI keyboard and…A DIGITAL PIANO. We are both very excited to get the apartment in a more orderly state so we can get it set up (it’s here and ready to go, we just need to clear out a couple of things first).

I’m so excited about my private lessons I’m taking in preparation for recording right now. Yesterday was our second session, and even in the first week, I’ve learned so much. I have 13 tracks picked out to record, and have started a spreadsheet with details on all of them. It’s all very exciting.

We also heard this week that Song School is hopefully going to happen in August, so we are going to be keeping extra alert for when we can get vaccinated. I miss our Song School friends so much, and I really, really hope we get to see them this year.

In non-music news, I’m feeling really good about my new role at work, and am just endlessly grateful to have landed where I did when I did last year. I hit one year with the company on Tuesday, and while on the one had it feels like I just started, on the other, 2020 was at least a decade long. I could not have gotten through last year nearly as well without this job.

That’s it from me for this week – I hope you’re all hanging in there and taking care of yourselves and each other.

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.

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

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?

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!