This is 33

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to another Thursday. There’s definitely a part of my brain that thinks it’s Tuesday, because the beginning of my week was a departure from routine, but it is, in fact, Thursday.

It is also my birthday today! I kind of forgot it was coming until about a week ago. I didn’t really make any plans. I’m working today, which is fine. It looks like it’s going to be pretty warm out, so I’ll likely be hiding in my apartment next to my air conditioner for most of the day.

I don’t know how I expected to feel about turning 33, but right now I’m feeling pretty neutral about it. I like the number 3 a lot, so it feels like a fun age to be. I wonder when or if I’ll start to have particularly negative/existential crisis feelings about getting older. Mostly, as someone who’s dealt with mental health issues for most of their life, I’m just glad to still be around. I didn’t know how to picture myself in my 30s when I was younger. (I wonder now if some of that was tied up in gender stuff, that I couldn’t see myself as a grown woman, but I didn’t know there were other options, and so everything was just a hazy blank space.) My 20s were pretty tumultuous, and so I was glad to leave them behind when I hit 30, even as I watched a lot of my friends wrestle with feeling like they hadn’t done enough to be in their 30s yet. I imagine I’ll have a similar experience at 40, but who knows? A lot can change in a few years.

Right now, I’m just glad to still be here.

I started writing a new song a couple of days ago. It’s not going the way I’d like it to, but it’s the first songwriting I’ve attempted since FAWM ended in February. I haven’t gone this long without writing a song in years. So even though I’m somewhat frustrated with this song’s progress, I’m glad to know I haven’t completely lost my ability to write.

My coffee pot just beeped at me to let me know that the coffee is done brewing, so I think I’ll leave this one here. Cheers to another trip around the sun – thanks for coming on this journey with me!

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.

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.

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?

Deep Breaths

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to another Thursday.

I’m in a position where I feel like there’s a fair bit of news that’s going to happen, but none of it has happened yet, so I don’t actually have a ton to write about this week. This is gonna be a short one. That said, I’m going to focus on a handful of things I’m currently feeling grateful for:

  • My job, even when it’s stressful, is really great. I have never felt so affirmed in a work environment as I do at this job, and there’s a sense of stability that comes with that feeling that’s really necessary right now. The fact that my husband is out of work and we’re still doing okay financially is mind-blowing to me.
  • The Illinois legislature voted to end cash bail, among other things! This is a big deal.
  • I’m in a new songwriting class that started on Saturday, and I’m very excited for it. It’s a small group, just 4-5 students, which always makes for an interesting session. This week I’m struggling with the assignment, but even as I feel like songwriting is an impossible endeavor, I’m still looking forward to class and feeling motivated to keep trying, so that’s exciting.

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.