Creativity Abounds

I am dashing this post off on Thursday morning before I really dig into my work day. I am working from home today (I’ve been dealing with a lot of body/joint pain as the weather shifts, and it’s been exhausting, so I’m giving myself a little break from major activity, and I hear the internet at work is spotty, so I will probably get more done here than I would there, anyway), and am currently enjoying the morning sunlight and the glow of the Christmas lights we have strung around our living room windows. It’s peaceful.

The past week has highlighted how much I love being creative. Here are three ways that’s shown up:

  1. Last Thursday, while I was volunteering in the library area at the Old Town School of Folk Music, I finally finished the sweater I’d started working on over a year ago.  A couple of weeks before I’d been panicking a bit, because I wanted to get it done by Christmas, and I was in what felt like a bit of a black hole with the knitting – I’d knit and knit and knit and it didn’t seem to get any larger. Suddenly, though, it was done, and I got it sewn together, and it fits like a dream and it’s the most successful sweater I’ve ever made. I’m so excited to show it off at Christmas (and I’ve worn it a couple of other times already). Now that I finally have that project off the needles, I feel a little lost as to what I want to cast on for my next big thing. In the meantime I’ve started a new pair of fingerless gloves to replace some that got a hole torn in them last winter (I’m going to repair the torn ones, but I want a non-patched pair, too).
  2. On Saturday, my partner and I attended a songwriting workshop with one of our favorite teachers at the Old Town School, Sue Demel. (Sue is just one of my favorite people, period.) In the workshop, we went over a chapter from Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, the chapter on “Multiplicity,” and Sue talked us through how we could use Calvino’s insights to improve our writing. We did a bunch of writing exercises in the workshop, and each left with at least one verse. After the workshop, I was once again volunteering in the school’s resource center, and I got a chance to work more on my lyrics. I managed to get I think four verses and a chorus worth of lyrics out before the end of my shift. I haven’t had a chance to go back and finish it yet, but I’m excited about the unexpected places it’s been taking me.
  3. On Sunday, I got together with my D&D group for the first time in a couple of months. I hadn’t fully realized how much I missed these friends and our shenanigans until we were playing together again. I love collaborative storytelling so damn much, and I’m glad to have people in my life who are just as into it as I am.

On My Mind

I nearly missed getting this blog written today – I meant to write last night but then suddenly wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to go to bed. I’m still not feeling great, but I wanted to get a blog out anyway, so here we are. These are some of the things that have been on my mind this week (that are mostly unrelated to the consistent undercurrent of the world being on fire and US politics being a horrifying shitshow):

  • This stellar HuffPo article: “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong”. As someone who struggled with weight fluctuations for years and who has, in the past, had an extremely disordered relationship to food, this resonated so powerfully. I’m so lucky to have a doctor now who respects me as a person and doesn’t write all my problems off as being “because you’re fat.” Not everyone is so lucky.
  • This speech Anne Hathaway gave when accepting an ally award from the HRC. I am not about giving cookies to allies just for being decent human beings, and I have my reservations about the HRC, but I think Anne Hathaway provides a good example of how to do allyship correctly. Also, there were pieces of this speech that made me cry, so…that’s a thing.
  • Songwriting! Last Friday my partner and I went to an all-day songwriting workshop at the Old Town School, and it was fan-fucking-tastic. On Sunday we’re gathering again to share our homework from the workshop. I got one song that I think I actually rather like out of what I’ve done so far, and I have some other ideas percolating. This was the most writing I’ve done since Song School, so that felt good. Also, on Saturday I’m taking the stage at Silvie’s here in Chicago with over 40 of my fellow Chicagoland musicians to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Acoustic Explosion, which is the Monday night show I’ve played a handful of times a year for the past few years. I’m so excited for a night of music with this community I adore.

That’s it from me for this week, but once again, I’d love to hear from you, dear readers! What’s been on your mind this week?

I have been super distracted this week.

Some of this is probably the continuation of holidays – having so many extra days off has me feeling a little discombobulated about what day it is. (Which is not at all a complaint, because the days off are lovely. Just an observation that it’s hard to keep track of what day it is when I’m out of a routine.)

I’m also fighting a bit of a cold, which has had my whole head feeling stuffy, including my ears. This is also disorienting, because I have to focus harder than usual to hear and absorb auditory information.

It hasn’t been a bad week, though. The weekend was fun – lots of time with friends, and I was able to make it to my LGBTQ+ rock ensemble class at the Old Town School. This week has been pretty laid back. I worked Monday and Tuesday, and then yesterday went with a friend to the Art Institute, which I’d only ever been to once before (and not under the best of circumstances), so that was a lot of fun.

Tomorrow my partner and I are both taking the day off to go to an all-day songwriting seminar/workshop at the Old Town School. I have not been writing much at all since getting back from Song School, so I am looking forward to that and am hopeful that it will give me some solid inspiration and motivation to get back in the saddle.

I hope your weeks are all going well, dear readers! I’d love to hear about what’s making your weeks fun in the comments.

Song School, and Returning to Reality

Hello, dear readers! You may remember that I took last week off from the blog because I was busy unplugging at Song School.

The week at Song School was…well, pretty incredible. We made new friends and connected with old ones, we got some writing done, we learned a ton. I don’t have adequate words to describe the experience (largely because I am exhausted and struggling with re-entry into real life), so here are some pictures.

The St. Vrain

The St. Vrain

Friends!

Friends!

Group sing in the St. Vrain

Group sing in the St. Vrain

Performing

Performing

Singing with friends

Singing with friends

It was truly an amazing week, and I left feeling like my head was full to bursting with new lessons learned and my heart was full of gratitude.

Re-entering real life has been a struggle. Going back to work this week has been rough and overwhelming. But I am so glad we were able to go. I am also glad to be back to sleeping in my own bed.

Follow Through

This has been a long week already, and I’m glad it’s almost over – work has been frustrating, and I’m super ready for a vacation. Thankfully, we leave for Song School in just over a week!

On a personal level this week has been an exercise in follow-through. A fellow Song Schooler on Facebook organized a songwriting challenge for this week in preparation for school, and I decided to join in – writing a song a day for seven days straight. I know that I can do this, because of all the writing I did in February. But it’s still a challenge. I’ve been having trouble with mornings for a couple of months, and my evenings are often full, so I was definitely nervous leading up to this week. So far, though, I’ve managed to get up at my first alarm every morning this week and sit down to write.

I didn’t finish the song I started this morning (in fact, I think I’m going to set it aside and start fresh with a different idea after work today), but if I do manage to finish a song today, I will have hit my 2018 songwriting goal. For the whole year. On August 2. Each of the past two years I have written 20 songs. I decided that this year I’d be outrageous and set a goal of 40 songs. I’ve written 39.

It is a weird and wonderful feeling, following through on a goal all the way to completion. This is not something I’m super familiar with. A lot of my plans are hatched when I’m hypomanic (hi, Bipolar II brain), and they fall apart when I come down, which is really defeating. The fact that I set what felt like a totally ridiculous goal that I’d have toil at all year and probably wouldn’t actually achieve, and that now I’m going to hit it two thirds of the way through the year…it’s pretty unbelievable.

I don’t know that I’ll be able to repeat this in future years, but I’m not thinking about that yet (or, at least, I’m trying not to think about it yet). I’ve been fortunate to have the time in my schedule this year to make writing more of a priority, and I’ve worked hard to actually write on a regular basis (with the help of classes at the Old Town School, in particular). It feels good. And I’m looking forward to coming away from Song School with some fresh inspiration to keep going.

Music, Music Everywhere

It’s a musical time of year.

Monday night, I had my first gig in about four months. I was nervous, but I actually ended up having a lot of fun. There were some magical moments where the whole room went silent while I was playing, which was super gratifying.

The downside of Monday night gigs is that Tuesday is a work day. I didn’t get home until about midnight Monday night, and I struggled to wake up Tuesday morning. It was worth it, though.

Tuesday night I had songwriting class. Usually I end up writing my song for the week’s class on Sunday or Monday night, but I was weirdly on top of things last week (knowing I wanted time to practice for Monday), and had written my song on Wednesday. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to remember it. Thankfully, I had a quick voice memo recording on my phone to refresh my memory. I love my songwriting class – I love the community of songwriters that I am part of. They’re good people. Class is always a highlight of my week.

And somehow, we are now only a couple of weeks away from Song School! I am excited and nervous and am planning to sit down this evening to start making lists to help mitigate the nervousness. We met so many wonderful people and had such a fantastic time last year, and I can’t wait to be back in Colorado.

I’d love to hear what is bringing you joy this summer, friends! What fun are you having these days?

Falling and Floating

It has been, on the whole, a very decent week…with one or two large caveats.

Saturday, I had an afternoon volunteer shift at the Old Town School, where my partner and I were also going to catch a show that evening. When I got off the bus, it hadn’t pulled all the way to the curb, so I had to step onto the street. When I went to step onto the curb…I sort of missed. My toe caught on the edge, and I went sailing forward in what felt like slow motion – I kept thinking I could catch myself, and then there was the awful moment when I realized I couldn’t, and I crashed, hard. I landed on my bad knee, ripped a hole in the palm of the fingerless glove on my right hand, and hit my head. The travel mug I had been carrying and the water bottle that had been in a pouch on the side of my backpack both went flying.

I was pretty shaken up, and my knee hurt like hell, but I managed to get up and hobble to the school, where I texted my partner (who was at the March for Our Lives), and then, like the millennial I am, posted about it on Instagram.

It was horrible, but before too long, the day started turning around. I got some ice from the cafe for my knee, and no sooner had I gotten downstairs with that than a friend showed up with a gluten free cupcake for me. My partner came and met me for dinner between my shift and the concert, and that was lovely; the concert was also a lot of fun.

Monday I had my first gig in a couple of months, and I was able to try out some of the material I wrote during FAWM. I managed to actually look at the audience more than my lead sheets for the first time ever, so that was a big win.

The rest of the week has been fine, and I’m going to the doctor today to get my knee checked out. (Also, if you’re thinking, “didn’t he just fall a month ago?” You are not wrong. Gravity and I are not getting along these days, apparently.) The fall was a bit of a nightmare, but it could have been so much worse – I could’ve cracked my head open, I could’ve broken something else…I landed a few inches from an iron fence. And I have good people that have been checking in on me and taking care of me. It was an unfortunate situation, but a good reminder that my people are the best people.

Here’s hoping I can stay upright for a while!

February Lessons

March has arrived, which means FAWM is officially over.

February was an interesting month, and it taught me a lot. Some of the lessons I learned this month:

  • Inspiration is more likely to come if you give it a space to show up in. I didn’t feel super inspired every time I sat down to write, but it happened enough of the time to convince me that scheduling writing time is actually a really good idea.
  • If you want to write 14 songs in 28 days, you need to sit down and write songs. Showing up and putting in the work is how we get better at things. The more days I got up early to write, the easier it was to get up early to write.
  • I’m an overachiever. I’m sure some of you who know me are rolling your eyes at me, because obviously. But I really had convinced myself that I wasn’t, and I was a little surprised by how quickly I was shooting for a ridiculous stretch goal and how easily my brain can turn “you wrote 19 songs instead of 28” into a feeling of failure.
  • I actually write better under time constraints. The key here, I think, is structure. Open-ended songwriting sessions meander a lot because I am easily distracted. Sitting down to write when I know I have to start getting ready for work in an hour helps me focus.
  • Plans get derailed sometimes, and that’s okay. One of the reasons I didn’t hit my stretch goal of 28 songs was that I was dealing with the spasmed muscles in my shoulder and neck, which made it hard to write (it hurt to look down for any length of time) and play guitar. It was discouraging. But I still hit (and passed) the actual goal. Even if I hadn’t hit the goal, though, I think the fact that I showed up and tried something new is worth celebrating.

I’m pleased with my progress and like a fair number of the 19 songs I wrote last month. I’m excited to polish some of them for a gig I have coming up later this month!

Ride It Out

I mentioned last week that I was making unexpectedly excellent progress on writing for FAWM. I’ve continued to write, and I hit my goal of 14 songs in the month of February on Sunday, the 11th. (Favorites so far have been posted here.)

I don’t know where I’m finding inspiration. I am trying not to ask too many questions. I’m just going to ride this out as long as I can, and find out just how many songs I can write in 28 days.

On Thursday night last week, it snowed a whole bunch here in Chicago, and my office was closed on Friday. Which was a good thing, because thanks to whatever wonky position I slept in, I woke up with my right shoulder/neck muscles spasming.

As you might imagine, this was super discouraging and not at all conducive to writing, not to mention super painful. But I pushed through and wrote anyway. As of this writing on the evening of Wednesday, the 14th, I’ve only gone one day this month without writing. I’m really proud of that.

This weekend we have a friend coming to visit, so I may or may not get any writing done, but that’s okay. I’m happy with where I’ve gotten to so far, and excited to see where I end up by the end of the month!

Productivity

We are a week into February, and thus a week into February Album Writing Month. I’ll be honest, when I signed on for this mad endeavor, I did not expect it to go all that well. I’ve averaged about 20 songs a year since I started writing again in 2014 – less than a song every two weeks. Writing an average of a song every two days felt pretty much impossible.

But last Thursday, on February 1st, I woke up and wrote a song.

And I’ve gone on to do the same thing every day since. In fact, since I wrote multiple songs on Saturday and Sunday, as of this writing on the morning of Thursday the 8th, I’m up to eleven songs.

I have no idea what’s happening or how. I am not asking questions. I’m just getting up and writing and riding this creative wave as long as I’m able to.

I have been less productive elsewhere in my life, although I did a fair bit of cooking last night and washed a whole lotta dishes. (I’ve actually been pretty cranky this week, about most things aside from the high of finishing songs. I’m not really sure what to do about that.) But at least I’m finding things to write about!