Song School 2022

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to Thursday! We have almost made it to the weekend.

Last week there was no blog, because I was in Lyons, CO at Song School! It was an absolutely incredible week. Some of the folks we usually end up hanging out with couldn’t make it this year, but we were able to reconnect with a bunch of old friends we hadn’t seen since 2019, and we made a bunch of new friends as well. There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by a community of like-minded, creative humans.

This year, rather than camping, we stayed at a tiny house resort across the street from camp (because I didn’t want to have to figure out a battery for my APAP machine or worry about that battery exploding in the heat of the tent). It was adorable:

Planet Bluegrass (the host of Song School) continues to be one of the most beautiful places on earth:

I started off the week deciding I was going to do things that scared me, so I took performance classes with Amy Speace (who is absolutely brilliant and if you’re unfamiliar with her music, please go listen to her album Tucson right now). I volunteered to play my song in the first class and have my performance critiqued (although “critiqued” sounds harsher than it was; it was more a gentle nudging toward greater authenticity), and I learned a TON – and then I found out I’d gotten one of the last performance slots for the open stage on the last night of Song School, so I had all week to integrate what I learned. On the last day of class, we each stood up and sang a few lines of Amazing Grace (or Happy Birthday, for those who didn’t know the words), and then our classmates assigned us three attributes based on their immediate impressions of our performances – two that had positive connotations and one “shadow” word, which we then worked to turn into something we could use to ground ourselves when stepping on stage. The words the group came up with for me were kind, sincere, and reserved, which were turned into the persona of Kind, Sincere Bear. I cried. It’s nice to be seen.

Some of you have seen this on Facebook already, but the classes with Amy were honestly life-changing. Historically, when I performed, even if it was going pretty well (maybe especially if it was going pretty well), I tended to dissociate. I’d step on stage and mostly leave my body.

This performance wasn’t perfect, but I’ve never been so present in my body while playing in front of people. I’ve never had so much fun on stage; I’ve never been prouder of a performance. I will be forever grateful to Amy for the tools she gave me this week, and to all the other friends who made this week so incredible.

Lyrics:

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 are born of stars

At the top, it feels like flying
Giddy with altitude, one with the sky
In this earthbound apparatus
There’s no risk, just innocence

Stop, take a breath
Feel the magic in your chest
When you know who you are
You are born of stars

Some love starts with warm beverages
Held in nervous hands as voices spill secrets
And you slowly learn to ask
If you can dare, for what they might share

Stop, take a breath
Feel the magic in your chest
When you know who you are
You are born of stars

And because I know you’re all wondering – Nova did great at the boarders. We drove all the way home on Friday (which was my husband’s birthday), leaving Lyons at around 6:30am and arriving at the boarding facility just before midnight. The report card from the facility says that Nova was “so sweet” and “the life of the party” at group playtime. (We have a popular kid, apparently…she didn’t get that from either of her parents.) I will leave you, as always, with a few pictures of our girl, who will have been with us for a WHOLE YEAR as of Sunday!

Rest and Reset

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to Thursday! I’m a little late writing and posting this today; it’s my first day back to work after an extended long weekend, and I have been working on getting my bearings again.

My four-week intensive class wrapped up last Thursday night, and in honor of that, I took Tuesday and Wednesday off from work (in addition to Monday’s holiday). The time off has been a bit of a mixed bag. Mostly, I’m so used to having so much to do and such a regimented schedule that I felt a little aimless and drifting without things on the calendar. Still, I managed to rest and have some fun, so that was good. Here are some of the highlights of the week:

  • On Sunday, we had a four hour Zoom hangout with my best friend who lives out in WA. It had been way too long since we’d talked like that, and it was absolutely delightful.
  • Monday we went to my in-laws to have ribs for dinner; it was delicious (and it was great to see them)!
  • Tuesday was a busy day:
    • That morning I met with my academic advisor and got a better sense of what’s going on with my degree program (when I entered, the partner school that was offering the concentration courses had just announced they were discontinuing that program; thankfully, my school is going to pick them up and the program will there), which was a relief and gave me a little more of a sense of direction.
    • I got my hair cut, which always makes me feel like a new person.
    • Nova and I went for a lovely walk with my parents, including a stop at a little riverside bar to rest on the shaded patio before heading home.
    • That evening, I got to play D&D!
  • Yesterday, I was struggling a bit – I had nothing on the calendar, but because of the intensity of the last month, I kept thinking there was something I must have been forgetting, so I had a bit of a hard time relaxing. But I did end up having some fun – I recorded some guitar tracks for a couple of songs, and finished listening to the audiobook of Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad, which I’d started on my trip to New York back in May.

I will leave you, as always, with a few Nova photos from this week:

At Last

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to Thursday! I am all mixed up about what day it is this week – I’ve been fighting a cold all week and ended up taking a couple sick days from work and so my routine is way off. (Thankfully I tested negative for covid over the weekend.) I’m on the mend but still very stuffy and occasionally getting hit with coughing fits. It’s not my favorite thing.

However, in happy news, I finally got my PAP machine on Monday! It’s technically an APAP rather than a CPAP – the machine adjusts the amount of air pressure based on what I need throughout the night. This has been great, because I was really worried I was going to feel claustrophobic if I had constant air blowing at me all night long. I’m still not sleeping great, but that’s largely because of the cold and not because of the machine. In fact, the machine is super quiet – my husband noted it’s eerily quiet in the bedroom now because I’m not snoring all night. Nova has not really reacted to it at all, which is great, but I guess she’s used to seeing me wearing stuff on my face.

I’m also wrapping up my first semester of seminary this week! I just have one class session left tonight and then I’m done. It’s wild to think it’s been a whole semester already. I just ordered my books for my summer classes, and I’m looking forward to continuing to dive into this program.

Last week I recorded the beginnings of a song I’m hoping to release this year. This inspired me to finally get a website launched for my music! There’s not much there yet, but if you want to keep up with my musical happenings, you can find me at https://alyxanderjames.com.

I’ll leave you with your weekly dose of Nova – here are a few pictures of her enjoying the sunshine over the weekend:

Vacation

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to Thursday! And apologies for the late blog today – I am on vacation this week and taking advantage of the opportunity to sleep in and take my mornings more slowly than usual.

It’s been a great week off so far! I ended up taking a quick, last-minute trip to Chicago to see some friends, which was absolutely delightful, even if the travel part was a little overwhelming. It felt great to be able to hug my Chicago friends and catch up with them a bit. I was only in town for approximately 40 hours, but I’m glad I did it. I’m trying to keep plans for the rest of the week pretty minimal.

I started recording a song yesterday with our home recording setup. I’ve handed it off to my husband to play around with in the music production class they’ve been taking. I’d love to get at least one song out into the world this year.

I also got a call yesterday about finally getting set up with a CPAP machine! So that is happening Monday morning. I’m a little nervous about adjusting to sleeping with it, but I’m determined to make it work.

I’ll leave you with the video my husband took of Nova greeting me when I got home from Chicago on Tuesday. Even though I was only gone a couple of days, she was apparently pretty sad – I hadn’t been gone more than a few hours at a stretch before. It’s not letting me embed the video here for some reason, so here’s the link.

It’s a Blog!

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to another Thursday. I am struggling a bit this week – I have a lot of things going on between work and school (not to mention the rest of my life), and I’m having a hard time holding it all and prioritizing which balls I need to keep in the air and what I can allow to drop for a bit. I will be fine – I have therapy this afternoon and I know that none of my problems are all that big – but I am tired and my jaw is tight and I’m just a little overwhelmed.

I wasn’t sure what to write about this week beyond the overwhelm, but I thought after showing off how my new electric mandola looks last week, maybe I should share how it sounds, too. Last Friday I took the day off with the intention of spending the morning taking some assessments for school and the afternoon doing music as a chance to kind of reset my brain. The assessments ended up not taking very long, so I was able to record one song I’d already had pretty much figured out and then write and record a whole second song that afternoon. Here’s that second song:

Awake with You by Alyxander James

This was an experiment in GarageBand – it’s not perfect and listening to it again there are definitely things I’d change. But I’m pleased with it overall for not really having a clue what I’m doing.

Here are the lyrics, for the curious:

Today was another hard day
I know you’ve had a lot of those lately
Everything feels like a mess
Been a while since you knew it’d turn out okay
Now you lie in bed
With the day on replay in your mind
Wondering whether the tension will ever unwind

But I will stay awake with you
I will stay awake with you

I am not going to say
That life will look better tomorrow
And I am not going to tell you
That every day you’ll be subject to sorrow
No one can say
What’s waiting for us down the line
But whatever it is, I’ll be right by your side

I will stay awake with you
I will stay awake with you

oo

I will stay awake with you
I will stay awake with you

I’ll leave you with this photo of a Very Good Doggo looking intently at something unseen by the humans in our apartment.

Searching for Focus

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to Thursday. I am all sorts of confused about what day it is – I ended up taking Monday off because I was fighting a headache most of Sunday night into Monday morning, and that always throws the rest of my week for a loop.

It’s been a decent week, but I have been struggling to focus. I got my homework for the week done early. I should have started working on a paper that’s coming due in a couple of weeks, but I didn’t. I need to make sure I have enough sources for the paper I want to write, and even that has been an uphill battle in terms of focus and prioritization. I’m enjoying my classes, but I’m still trying to figure out how to keep my life relatively balanced between work and school and play (and no, I will not be giving up play while I am working and in school – that way lies madness).

I’ve been increasingly excited about music, thanks to FAWM – I haven’t finished any more songs than the one I wrote on the 1st, but I’ve got some snippets of things down that I’m trying to find time to work on. And a couple of days ago I got a new electric mandola, which I’m super excited about and having tons of fun with in whatever down time I find.

Eastwood Airline Electric Mandola

I’m aware that bringing a new instrument home in the middle of when I should be working on homework was a questionable decision, but I don’t have any regrets at the moment.

I’m taking tomorrow off to catch up on homework and hopefully get some music time in, too. So I’m looking forward to that.

I think that’s about all I have to say this week. As always, I’ll leave you with a picture of Nova:

The inside-out ear just slays me

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to Thursday! I hope your weeks are going well. I’ve been feeling tired and a bit overwhelmed, myself, but not to the same degree that I was last week (this is probably because I had Tuesday off from work this week).

FAWM has begun! I realize every year that it has totally changed my perception of the month of February. In the MIdwest, it can reasonably be argued that February is the hardest month of the year – it’s cold and dark (even though it’s slowly getting lighter), and you know that winter is going to continue for at least a couple more months. But because of FAWM, February is genuinely one of my favorite months of the year.

Because I ended up having Tuesday off this week, I was able to actually get one song written, which was my goal this year. Between work and school I don’t know if I’ll get anything else written, but I wanted at least one on the board, so I feel good about getting that done. And it’s incredible to be able to listen to the songs other people are creating! There’s so much talent in the world. It’s inspiring.

I don’t have much else to write about this week, so I’ll leave you with this: Nova went to the groomers on Saturday. When I went to pick her up, they let me know they were going to make a TikTok of her later – “She was very good…just, you know, awkward.” I think they really captured her essence here.

And finally, here’s a picture of Nova napping yesterday that made me laugh:

Sleepy baby

Ow

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to another Thursday. Congratulations to us – we’ve made it this far.

I am rather out of sorts this morning. I’m dealing with a TMJ flare-up this week that’s got my jaw aching pretty badly…badly enough that it kept me awake or kept waking me up for most of the night last night. When I got up this morning I pretty much immediately ate a muffin and then took a muscle relaxer and a prescription-strength dose of ibuprofen to try to get back on top of it. It still hurts, and now I’m a little out of it while I try to work. But I’m not really sure what else to do at this point, short of attempting to strap a heating pad or an ice pack to my face. Sigh. Thankfully the meds did take the edge off, so while it’s distracting, I at least have the brainspace now to think about other things.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster week aside from that. On Saturday we went to see Vance Gilbert, one of our Song School instructors and an all-around gem of a human, perform at a local coffee shop. Vance was the first Song School person we’d seen in person since right before lockdown hit in March of 2020. It was so good to see him and hear him perform! Going to the concert meant leaving Nova alone for the longest she’d been by herself since coming home with us two months ago. We were nervous, but she did great. She was very excited to see us when we got home, but she didn’t destroy anything or get into anything she shouldn’t have!

Monday was rough, although the last couple of days have been better. Last night I got to play D&D, which is always a highlight. Work has been busy, but manageable. Tomorrow we’re getting our piano tuned, so that’s exciting (I’m planning to take Nova on a long walk while that happens).

But first, I need to get through today. The muscle relaxer is a pretty mild one, but it’s strong enough to make me a bit drowsy, so today is going to be interesting. I’m already struggling to keep my eyes open and focus. But I’m sure I’ll manage.

I will leave you with this photo of Nova from earlier in the week, doing what I’d like to be doing right now:

Snoozy pup using her paw as a pillow

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.