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

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.

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!

Sleepy Week

Hello, dear readers! It appears we have made it to another Thursday. Since we had Labor Day on Monday here in the US (which meant a long weekend for me), I’m a little bit extra discombobulated about time right now.

I’ve been extra tired this week. A lot of this, I think, has been the weather, which has been pretty consistently overcast. I also haven’t been sleeping great – staying up later than I should and having weird and unsettling dreams when I do go to bed – which is not helping anything. It hasn’t been a bad week, though. The long weekend was nice. I had two D&D games, a couple of other regularly scheduled virtual hangouts with friends, and my first songwriting class of the new session at the Old Town School (via Zoom, of course). And Monday we used the extra day to put together a LEGO set, which was a lot of fun.

I wrote a song for class this week that I’m pretty happy with (I might post it here next week – I want to let my classmates hear it first), I got to play another session of my friend’s tarot-based game last night, and work has been pretty chill, so all in all it’s not been a bad week. I’m just very sleepy.

On that note, I think I’ll sign off for the week so I can focus on drinking my coffee and trying to wake up a bit more. Stay safe – keep wearing your masks and social distancing and washing your hands. I know it sucks, but the pandemic isn’t over. Keep hanging in there!

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.

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.

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.