Give it Light

What is calling you?

What are you waiting for?

How many years will pass you by?

…Fifteen years ago, I was working in musical theatre, auditioning, performing, singing, dancing, and teaching.

And then I stopped.

I buckled down to pay the bills with an office job; I went back to school.

The years flew by, and one day I realized that my musical life was stored in a large heavy box, lodged behind stacks of other heavy boxes in the darkest corner of our basement.

And those Minimalists would tell me that, if I hadn’t opened the box in the last fifteen years, it was time to chuck that box into a dumpster.

Then, a few weeks ago, just beneath the duct tape stretched across the cardboard flaps labeled “my musical heart,” the box cracked open, beaming one small pinpoint of light.

A choir festival…

The invitation reminded me of my choir festivals from high school. There would be three days of intense rehearsal and then a concert on the fourth day.

A summer choir festival! It sounded like the perfect opportunity to see how I liked singing with a choir again—a short commitment, and, here was the key: no audition required.

I signed up.

And then I agonized over my decision.

My brain protested and thought of every reason why it was a bad idea: It was a full-weekend commitment, I wasn’t sure I remembered how to read music or harmonize, I wasn’t sure I even liked choir music, and, oh yeah—it had been fifteen long years since I had sung in public.

I had to talk myself through dread and anxiety right through the drive to the first rehearsal, walking into the building, and putting on my name tag.

I was barely coordinated enough to pry open the metal tab on my mustard-yellow packet of music—but whether or not I was ready, here I was.

The conductor got right down to business. We warmed up and quickly transitioned to learning our first piece of music.

…When I am nervous, my voice gets stuck in my throat and comes out as a muted squeak. I had to breathe deep and stay focused on the conductor and blending in with the people around me.

Luckily, my fellow altos were friendly and kind. Most of them had sung with the group before.

After the first rehearsal, I still wasn’t convinced that singing with a choir was the solution to my vocal nerves and distress. It was only my determination to meet my commitments that made me return for the second rehearsal.

And then…on the third day, my heart opened. I knew I had made the right decision.

It was the sound of rehearsal (my favorite sound!)—the sound of people singing, blending, and supporting each other—

It was the sound of the language of music—like traveling back to my homeland and reconnecting with family…familiar and heartwarming—

Pianissimo

Decrescendo

Eighth notes, quarter notes, and a sixteenth—

Breath

Phrasing

Rest

It took me three days to acknowledge that music is not only good for my soul, it is critical for my soul’s survival.

…The fourth day wasn’t any easier, though. It was Concert Day, and my hands were so sweaty, I spent most of my energy trying not to drop my binder…but I sang. I had learned the music better than I had expected. I harmonized, and I blended. For the first time in years, I felt part of something beautiful and transcendent.

***

…If there is something in your life that you want to try for the first time or try again, I encourage you to take the small step.

Push past the fear and dread—

Listen to the voice in your heart and give it light.

It is never too late.

Everyday Beauty

Whenever I take pictures, I’m most likely to take 100+ pictures of a shoreline at home or sunlight through the trees…

Like this small harbor shot…

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…or this shot from our bike ride on the 4th of July…

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But I also love the unexpected color and light that happens–

When an everyday intersection strikes you as beautiful, and then you look up even higher to discover two rainbows…

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Replenish

April was a busy time for me if you couldn’t tell. I wrote only one post—spending most of my days on lists of things that must be done.

It has all been positive vibes though, and sometimes, when you put your eyes to the sky and ask for help, the universe sends you exactly what you need: connection with friends, quality time with family, a walk somewhere familiar…and a walk somewhere new.

Instead of creating over the last few weeks, I’ve been feeding my soul and nourishing my heart.

—And I realized that this is all part of the process. We cannot create all the time. Sometimes we are only observing and learning…replenishing.

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Much-Needed Inspiration

Peeking out of my Facebook feed, amidst too much real news and politics (it is clearly time to clean up my newsfeed), two stories about street art caught my attention this morning.

Check out Jim Bachor’s pothole mosaics featured on CBS News (just ignore the other news stories while you are there) and the Audubon Mural Project.

How cool are these artists? They each had a vision, and they used their creativity to beautify their cities…and maybe even inspire some contemplation about the world around us.

Love it.

 

The Spark of Childhood Memories

As a snowstorm worked its way across the country this weekend, I was taken back to my favorite memories from childhood. We only got a dusting here in Atlanta, but early Saturday morning, I could hear kids in the neighborhood laughing and screaming as they played outside.

For me, a snow day began with the strategic layering of clothing: long underwear, jeans, turtleneck, sweatshirt, and then ski pants and a puffy jacket. Each foot wore two pairs of socks, a plastic baggie, and boots lined with fleece. Of course I wore mittens, a hat, and a scarf too.

My brother and I would step outside to play, moving at the warp speed of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

With our backs in the snow, we’d sweep our arms and legs to make angels. We’d roll onto our stomachs and crunch the snow in our mittened hands, testing it for density and stick. The best snow would stick together for the perfect snowball, which could be rolled across the yard to make the ultimate snowman.

We’d build forts out of the huge mounds of snow lining the freshly-shoveled driveway. I liked to carve shelves and buckets out of the pile. Then, we’d pack snowballs, stockpiling them in our forts for a snowball fight with friends.

Those were the best days. Playing hard. Sweating in my snowsuit even though it was minus-something degrees out.

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It is fun to tap into those childhood memories. Even though they were many years ago, time-traveling through them is a vivid experience.

And maybe that is why, Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, recommends childhood memories as an inspiration point for writing.

“Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can.”

She goes on to describe how to branch out from there. Beyond, “just sit and write,” as some authors advise, Lamott provides tangible exercises for writing. She also shares anecdotes from her life. Reading Bird by Bird is like taking a writing semester with Lamott as the professor (Oh, to dream!).

There is a reason why Bird by Bird is one of the most recommended books for writers. If you’ve already read it, it may be time to read it again. And if you’ve lost your will to sit and write, start with the spark of a childhood memory.

Finding an Answer

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a resolution is defined as follows:

“the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.”

and

“the act or process of resolving: as

  • the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones
  • the act of answering : solving
  • the act of determining…”

I bolded the words I just love in this definition: finding an answer, simpler, and solving.

This definition seems so much friendlier to me than the self-torture goals most of us set in the New Year. Nowhere in the definition does it mention deprivation, starvation, or rigorous workouts.

Yes, this is a good time of year to review what is important to us. It is the time of year to reset and take better care of ourselves. It is the time for long walks, journaling, and meditation.

I hope you will give yourself a resolution for more joy the answer of creativity.

If you need scientists to tell you how good creativity is for your brain and your health, read Study Says Making Art Reduces Stress, Even If You Kind Of Suck At It.

If you’re waiting for permission and validation to create your art, listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast #204. (And let’s just revel for a moment in her conversation about immersion with Mark Nepo. I think immersion is my favorite word for the year ahead. What will you immerse yourself in this year?)

If you feel that you’re too old to start, read/watch Hollywood Reporter’s Creative Until You Die. (language warning on these clips!).

Instead of “no pain, no gain,” give yourself a resolution that will bring you joy. If one hour a day is too much of a commitment, start small. Try one hour a week or one hour a month. …One hour just for you, to let your brain wander, dream, and solve problems.

Sign up for a class or workshop, write in your journal, set up a creative space just for you.

It’s time to play and create.

Happy New Year.

My Favorite Things

I made my annual trip to the mall yesterday. I’m not much of a shopper, and I avoid the mall as much as possible. If I can buy all my Christmas presents at local stores or online, I consider it a personal achievement. However, there are always a few gifts that force an excursion to the mall. (Cue: feeling of impending doom.)

We had been there for about two hours when I turned to my husband and said, “If I die and go to Hell— ”

“—which you know you are,” he said.

“Yes, well…Hell will be all this.” I nodded my head towards the crowds of people around us: the slow walkers, the slouching teenagers, the screaming children, the angry mom with the baby carriage steamrolling straight towards us, “It will be a mall just filled with humanity.”

Needless to say, I’m not big on crowds. And I was not feeling the holiday spirit in that moment, nor was I feeling very creative.

It is difficult to feel creative this time of year. There aren’t enough hours in the day. You’ve probably set aside your creative projects to take care of the cooking, baking, shopping, and wrapping.

If you’re feeling drained creatively, it is important to remember that an important phase of creativity is observation. It is watching and listening. It is remembering and reflecting.

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So, in my own effort to connect and breathe, please allow me to share my favorite observations and memories. Here are a few of my favorite things:

  • The sound of ice skates swooshing around an outdoor skating rink.
  • White lights wrapped around every tree in sight.
  • Tapping our toes to Christmas music.
  • The scent of pine, cinnamon, and vanilla.
  • Christmas carolers.
  • Mittens.
  • Hot chocolate.
  • A purple sky and the crisp smell of a pending snowfall.
  • A frozen tree shimmering in the moonlight.
  • A quiet night of snowfall. Is it is so quiet, I can hear snowflakes land.
  • Listening to Holy Night at a Christmas concert. Holding my husband’s hand.
  • Candles lit in church.
  • Sitting with my family around the fireplace. Sipping coffee, talking, sharing, and laughing.
  • Walking into my grandparents’ home and seeing them at the top of the stairs, ready with a warm hug.
  • Pans of lasagna.
  • Pizzelles.
  • Tea in treasured teacups.
  • Seeing my nieces and nephew discovering lifelong friendships in their cousins.
  • Walking with my family through the woods on the day after Christmas. Snow crunching under our boots. Our dog running ahead…happy trot. Exploring.

I hope you will take time to reflect on your own favorite moments.

Take a step back.

Take it all in.

Observe and breathe.