Thursday, May 18, 2017

the day I tried to live

I woke the same as any other day
Except a voice was in my head
It said, "Seize the day, pull the trigger
Drop the blade and watch the rolling heads"
________________________________

One more time around
(Might do it)
One more time around
(I might make it)
The day I tried to live
________________________________

Words you say, never seem
To live up to the ones inside your head
The lives we make never seem
To ever get us anywhere but dead

 -Soundgarden, “The Day I Tried to Live”



Pretty chilling to look back on these lyrics today. The day Chris Cornell no longer lived. A sad day. A confusing and scary day. A day riddled with nostalgia and mortality.

I’ve been thinking about mortality a lot lately. The impermanence of things and people, and how that relates to my life.

I got a phone call a few months ago. My father was in the hospital having undergone emergency surgery. I grappled a lot that day for understanding, and those that subsequently followed. 

Then came more news. A friend was diagnosed with a rare brain stem tumor. More stories of former coworkers embroiled in their own fights. Memories of friends, family and mentors affected by cancers beyond their control came flooding back. Talks with friends about depression and fear re-entered my consciousness. 

Tears. Disappointment. Futility. Fear. Resolve. And still….hope.

Understanding that people present themselves in one way, but may be struggling very mightily to find resolution and compromise in their own lives. I’ve always felt a morbid fascination regarding lives cut short, particularly those who are artistic and crave creativity. 

I read a particularly poignant post from an artist that I admire earlier today expressing her fear and understanding that to be a creator of art and music is to lean over the edge often. To live out all these emotions and depths of despair, emoting that realness in front of others regularly, and how coming down from that is a deeper plunge for soaring to great heights over and over again. Riding those crests of creation and destruction for the sake of their art. To be present and deeply IN IT, then to come back to earth after the performance is over and still have to deal with the reality of a personal life when you’re not on stage.

And aren’t we all on stage at some point? Putting on a show of sorts. At work. Within circles of friends. Even at family gatherings. Wearing masks and putting on a brave face when we’re scared out of our minds. 


Life is difficult. And confusing. And sometimes so illogical and heartbreaking. It is terrible and wonderful. It can be breathtaking and overwhelming in all ways. And yet, it is still yours.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

seismology

Several years ago, I made a radical shift in my thinking. I was stuffing down my innermost feelings and thoughts in favor of not “rocking the boat” in my personal relationships. The societal constructs were weighing on me, causing me to yield when I wanted to speak plainly. I didn’t want to be the emotionally volatile female and live up to some stereotype.

Then it happened. I was not-so-subtly accused of keeping my cards too close to the vest. Playing the poker face. Not allowing personal issues to visibly rattle me in the hope that it wouldn’t be viewed as a sign of weakness or failure. Emotional shutdown in conversation, and a totally distressed mess when I was alone.
____________________________

Fast forward to the present. I’m much more transparent. I say or write what I’m thinking. When I’m quiet, I’m processing. But now I run the risk of “oversharing”. At the heart of it, I want to make sure that whoever I’m talking to receives the message. It's unvarnished and honest. Slightly off putting. But I tend to pile on words (on words on words like an avalanche) when I’m feeling unsure about something. It’s complete and total raw vulnerability. And sometimes I worry that candid interaction will seismically shift that relationship. For better or worse.

I wear my emotions very openly now. They are definitely not polite. More often they’re crude, messy and, at first glance, contradictory. They can be overwhelming, to myself and to others. I express them to release them and not hold onto that repression. 

Of course, that’s what works for (and against) me now. But do my emotional bystanders get a say? What happens after you lay those thoughts and feelings bare at their feet? 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Let's be still

My shoe sank down in a messy mix of moss, mud and tree bark. I smiled. 

“It’s good to be back,” I said to no one but the low-hanging branches next to my face.

That feeling of packed dirt under my feet and a heady fragrance of budding trees, floral scents and a dank deep nose full of wet soil was familiar…inviting. Intoxicated, I pushed on through the strain of semi-dormant quadricep muscles and turned down yet another side trail.

I passed the beacon, a tree that morphs from season to season, covered in bursting vines that were reaching up toward the tops for a moment in the sun. I found myself surrounded by a thousand shades of green; stems, leaves, buds and flowering bushes taking root for spring. 

I arrive at a clearing. Where the cedars, hemlock and Douglas firs tower like giants. Old-growth reminders of my place among nature. I stand. Still. Listening to the chatter of birds and creatures signaling my arrival. Staring at the dew drops hanging on the ground cover. Waiting for the wind to tell me its secrets. This is my church. My sanctuary. The intersection of life.

Just one more moment. Stillness. 

I shift my pack and take a step forward.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Atonality

I think about things. A LOT. Analysis is my jam. Most of the time, I can channel that for good. Sometimes, it’s a crippling exercise in self-doubt and wondering about worth. Worth of self, worth of relationships, worth of material things, worth of experiences. 

I indelicately went on a diatribe that felt a lot like a lecture last week. A good friend shot a non sequitur at me after not having spoken (or in this case typed) for a few days. Being the emotionally-driven person I am, I read a whole lot into that without having any real reason to. And I responded pretty passive-aggressively as a result. What followed was a rather lengthy exchange of ideas and feelings, and some careful phrasing. Crisis (mostly) averted.

But this is the problem with typing to someone all the time. You can’t see their face while they’re writing. Or know what’s going on around them, who’s asking them for an inconvenient favor or what minor emergencies have created their current mindset. You can’t see their lip curl up in a smirk if they’re about to add an emoji or “LOL” on after the fact. You can’t detect furious fingers pounding out a message if they’re angry, upset, overly happy or feeling manic. Volume, pitch and speed are non-existent. Atonal typing is your frenemy.

Maybe it’s the distance I feel growing. Maybe it’s the changing of the seasons. Maybe it’s the fact that I miss this person’s face. Maybe it’s all of those things, or maybe it’s none of them. Ambiguity is uprising. Even though I fight it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

heavy



I'm having one of those weeks. No, not that kind. The GOOD kind.

What was weighty, heady, repressive and depressive as recently as a week ago, has morphed into a cutback that feels freeing, hopeful and filled with inspiration, rather than that panicky desperation that was starting to cusp on my vibe. Those are a lot of big words. In simpler terms: I'm happier than I've been in quite some time, despite the overriding mess we're all in from the top-down.

While it's my nature to be slightly skeptical of really good fortune, I'm making a conscious effort to run with it and not to look back. It's exhausting and limiting to hold on to what woulda/coulda/shoulda looks and feels like. I made choices; some really good ones, and some calculated risks. From my perspective, which is what this blogging thing is all about, it's those questionable and negative risk outcomes that still got me to this place where I feel my creativity, confidence and freedom on the upswing. It's about riding the crest of that wave to the point where you drop, and then how you react when you hit the surface: do you sink, remain stunned, or ride to the other side?

At the calculated risk of mixing metaphors, I see the light. My single focus for the past several months (longer if I'm being reasonably honest) has been to "get by" until I couldn't stand the constant pounding anymore. I paddled hard, I flipped the board and I came out on the other end of that swell with my adrenaline pumping. I found my balance.

Now, I can see the sets all the way back to the horizon line. And my mood is light. My vibe is right.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

An open letter

Dear Sir,

You threw your hat in the ring so many years ago, under the premise of hope and change. And I believed that you really believed. And you made me feel hopeful.

I watched you, world-weary and topped in grayscale, deliver a parting gift tonight. A sort of homecoming. I heard you, again, consoling us and inspiring us and asking us to do our part. To remember that we are all the same but different. To remember our roles. It was a call to arms. A gentle, but firm reminder. A moment to listen. A chance to enlighten.

I wonder, quite often, what you could have and would have done without so much resistance. I watched as you navigated heady winds and murky waters. You made hard decisions, and you bore the brunt of our frustrations. I asked, over and over, whether or not I disagreed with or understood your actions. I compromised because sometimes the occasion calls for it. I reacted both positively and negatively to propositions, and executive orders.

I listened when you spoke, and I appreciated your candor. I questioned your actions, but never extended that to your character.

You spoke tonight about active participation, about recognizing my role as a citizen of this nation. You encouraged me to keep an open mind about those who inhabit it alongside me. You asked all of us to step inside someone else's shoes in order to change our narrative. You voiced your call to action, that we don't stand by if we don't like what we see or hear or feel limited by. You told us to be the change. You expressed your hope to us. You still believed it. And I believe it, too.

You are a good man. Your devotion and love for your family and friends is evident. You lift others up Your passion for people and your ease in communicating that is boundless. Your decency and thoughtfulness shine. Your acceptance of those who are different from you is something to strive for.

You are not perfect. But you are my President.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for making me hopeful that I can do more.

Friday, January 06, 2017

stretch

I'm such a cliché.

A writer coming off of a long dormant stretch to break the silence after the turning of the season and the start of a new year.

[Cue the resolutions, epiphanies, big words.]

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? I didn't even try to write. For 8+ months. I thought about it, knowing how personally satisfying it can be to pull outside my exhaustion-inducing emotional turmoil and give structure to the chaos. To find the right "angle" that allows me to process my irrational and anxious thoughts with a more rational mind. A focus. A form of therapy without the annoying new age music and astronomical appointment fees.

Then came the guilt. I couldn't find a way to express myself with even a small amount of restraint or ability to reason. The repression of a thousand complex ideas, feelings, societal constructs, personal and professional pressures, all at once. The complete and total inability to find the smallest crevice to hook my line into to keep scaling upward; because it's always supposed to be onward and upward, right?

[Wrong.]

After the guilt, paralysis and ridiculously small amount of daily motivation (limited to getting out of bed, putting one foot in front of another and giving myself a mental and physical shove out the door), then came the pain. And the appalling lack of empathy. Strike that. The "fake" lack of empathy. Because I'm unfurling myself in front of you like a messy murder scene, I'll continue. I say "fake" lack of empathy because I pretended not to care. Intermittent numbness mixed with the futile hope to feel nothing, even while you gloated, celebrated, incited, and cast your judgment. Even when you reached out, tried to make me laugh, told me everything would be alright, and warned me not to fall into that trap. Especially when you responded politely, but lacked the ability to hear me even though you were listening.

[Wait for it…]

Last year, I hit the ceiling. I was ill-equipped to handle so much confrontational, divisive rhetoric spewing out all over the place all the damn time. The callous words and behavior on a daily basis. I am a tough bitch. (No, really.) But if there's one thing you should know about me, it's this: I am ruled by my emotions, and driven by instinct. On any given day for the past three months, I would say that I swung wildly between hope, despair, determination, and futility so many times that when I finally found myself alone, I wanted to curl into a ball and pray for everything to magically correct itself while I rocked myself to sleep.

[Pssst…I don't pray.]

All those shards of glass that I felt falling away for the past decade or so, as I found my footing professionally and as I took more chances personally, they started to disappear. But instead of getting swept up for someone's groovy mosaic table or crushed into gravel, instead someone took Liquid Glass and started puttying them back in place; little by little, day by day. (Yes, you can rebuild it!) Yes, as that glass ceiling started to fill back in, my heart started breaking instead.

[This is where I tell you how much it hurts.]


Here's the thing that's so hard to say and think and feel. I sat on the verge of true and total hopefulness. I was bearing witness to a historically significant and seismic social shift. I dared to imagine a reality that could lessen the pain of being told no, stay in your place. I looked forward, and upward, and my heart skipped a beat and then…Oh. My. God. What. Just. Happened? It was gone. And as much as I tried, I couldn't give a voice to what I felt. Betrayal. Defeat. Loss. It was personal. Because not being seen, heard or considered equally stings harder than most things in this life. And because being who I am means that reminder to know your place (woman!) is ever-present. It pervades everything. It presents itself innocuously enough, until it becomes unsafe, unsavory and violating.

[OMG, what is she going on about? Is she talking about the election? Can't she just get over it?]

It was more than that. And that's what it's all about. I had everything and nothing to say. I cried, yelled, screamed, punched (pillows), and drank wine. I conversed, debated, attempted to speak. But the words. The real ones. The ones I'm writing now…they wouldn't come out of hiding. They crawled inward and wouldn't be heard from until now. Because sometimes you really do have to "fake it 'til you make it". Because sometimes all you can do is wake up, put your feet on the floor and throw yourself on a commuter bus toward the city.

[Where does this story end?]

Thursday, April 21, 2016

When doves cry


“Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that's a mighty long time
But I'm here to tell you
There's something else
The after world

A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night”

- “Let’s Go Crazy”, Purple Rain (1984)


By now, if you know me at all, you know I write to purge and process my feelings. I wrote and cried and wrote and yelled and wrote when I heard about David Bowie’s death. It was like losing a godfather from an otherworldly place where everything’s funky and beautifully weird. At some point while I tried to make sense of my own reaction to his loss, I had this thought: “The only one who even comes close to him, that style, that fierce individualism, that genius wrapped in an unlikely package...is Prince.”

Now I’m faced with losing them both. And it doesn’t lessen the heartbreak or profound loss I’m feeling at watching my idols leave this earth one right after the other. Of course, they both transcended their place among us, treading with a fearless intent to cut their own paths and create in ways that simply did not exist before them.

If anyone exceeded Bowie’s uniqueness and eccentricities, however, it was Prince. He is a self-made, mind-blowingly mad musical genius. If his dancing, songwriting and vocal prowess weren’t enough to set him apart, he was a virtuoso guitarist of incomparable and often incomprehensible skill. There was an ease and deeply felt emotional connection between him and those six guitar strings. He created astounding solos, gritty textures and amplified soul that was pure magic. And he knew it. Over and over again he pursued perfection...because he knew he possessed the skill to achieve it both emotionally and technically. He could move mountains with those six strings, and he certainly moved us.

As much influence as Bowie had on my formative years and my acceptance of myself as a weirdo, Prince opened and blew my mind musically. There is a definitive before and after when it comes to listening to Prince for the first time. I was mystified by that diminutively fierce performer and found myself strangely attracted to his siren call. I was turning the corner on entering young womanhood in 1985, and Purple Rain was hitting on all cylinders. “Darling Nikki” became a particular point of fascination beyond the amazing bulk of the record and movie during that timeframe. It was so explicit, so raunchy. And buried in an Academy Award-winning and timeless classic album. Pure and unadulterated Prince, mocking and bold. I wore out two cassette tapes of that album, and the albums that followed. I have watched Purple Rain an embarrassingly excessive amount of times. And I will still hang on every single glorious note in the final musical sequence like it’s the first time with every viewing. I have no problem saying I believe "Purple Rain" to be one of the greatest rock songs ever written, a song that still brings me to tears - a personal, powerful and stunning masterwork.

Prince was a tour de force of sexual energy, rock and soul. He’s everything you wanted and needed him to be, aloof and awkward and yet charmingly capable of this insanely intimate connection. Many will point to his eccentricities, of which we have all heard crazy and humorous stories. But we forgave him for those because they were never manufactured or inauthentic. And that’s really what it boils down to; his performances, his art, his creativity, his skill. It was as authentic as it gets. A musician’s musician who walked his walk and who earned every single accolade because of his skill and soul. He did things HIS way, earning the ultimate respect of his musical heroes and contemporaries based on his own merit. His art lived and breathed solely of his making.

He knew he was special. And thank goodness for that. He shared his prolific creations with us and hoped we’d see and hear him. Prince always seemed like a man defiantly seeking acceptance to me, a fragile interior kept safe behind a blistering wall of talent. As if he was saying “Oh yeah, you still don’t think I’m the best? Lemme SHOW you just what I’m made of.” He lived his truth on the stage, and absolutely astounded me when I had the chance to see him perform live years and years ago. You don’t ever forget the moment the gleam sets in his eye and a smirk appears on his lips. Your face is about to be melted by a staggering guitar solo, and you are helpless to control your fangirl reaction.

I find now that I’m simply searching for the proper words to express how deep this loss cuts my soul. I feel lucky to have witnessed his magic, weirdness and unbelievable artistic talent in my lifetime. There are artists who contribute to the musical landscape and then there are those who change its course forever. This is what it sounds like when doves cry. Rest in peace, Prince Rogers Nelson.



Monday, January 11, 2016

The Man Who Fell to Earth




"Don't believe in yourself, don't deceive with belief
Knowledge comes with death's release

I'm not a prophet or a stone-age man
Just a mortal with the potential of a superman
I'm living on"
- "Quicksand", Hunky Dory (1971)


As a pre-teen Midwestern suburban girl in the early 80s, I had a hard time finding idols and inspiration. I still remember the first time I heard him, crooning in his distinct way on "Young Americans" as I flipped through the radio dial. At that point, the Young Americans studio album had been out for years, but I had just discovered him. I was riveted from the first note to the last. I first saw him in a music video just a little bit later, immediately transfixed and falling head over heels at the very sight of him. That was the "hit record" era; if he wanted to write them, he would and could. Though of course, his version of a radio hit would never be as simple as a hook and a melody. There was always a wink of an eye and a nod of defiance.

In between "China Girl," "Let's Dance," and "Modern Love," I was buying up old cassette tapes and educating myself in everything that preceded that period. I was 10 years old, and my eyes and ears were wide open. And I found my idol. Just when I needed him. That young Midwestern girl was bursting to express herself as an individual because she realized she was different from everyone else around her. She wasn't satisfied being one of the crowd. She found someone who was an innovator, who was weird and wonderfully at odds with the status quo, and who made her feel like she could go her own way.

Every album since then has become part of my own soundtrack, a precious reminder to be unafraid to explore myself fully and what I have to offer the world. As I grew and changed, so did he. It was personal and vital to watch him deliver complex, audacious work that went beyond the self-created boundaries we limit ourselves with. His example to live both a full creative life and a full private personal life is one I have strived toward over the years, one that allows me to actively pursue creativity without losing myself as a person in the process.

As I grew older, I realized that I thought of him less and less as a chameleon and more as an evolved maestro of his own microcosm. As I grew and my experiences expanded, I found his growth and expansion so compelling and complete. And that's just it, he committed to his artistry with an unusual approach and ferocity that elevated everyone around him - record producers, songwriters, musicians, vocalists, lyricists, visual artists, fashion artists, performance artists, video producers. His influence is everywhere. In all of us, and surrounding us.

He was more than an artist, but also just a man. What's so amazingly simple about Bowie and his decades of work is that it is a reflection of humanity - from its shiny surface to its deepest depths with all the complexity in between. Everything that was alien was so steeped in relatable humanity. He was a storyteller, a trader of dark secrets, an unflinching mirror that showed us we were all living with the power to reinvent ourselves. He was greater than rock'n'roll, and there will never be another like him.

His decision to leave us with a devastatingly fearless performance in the face of his own mortality is the greatest gift we could hope to receive. The poignancy, thoughtfulness and artistry behind this incredibly personal work is not lost on me. I feel privileged to have seen him perform live at various stages of my life. His soulfulness, relevance and unending innovation as a creator, destroyer and reinventor of sound and vision have forever changed me and the way I view myself and the world. He gave that girl, and this woman, hope and endless inspiration to be daring and brave. He will always be my idol and in my opinion, the greatest rock star who ever fell to earth.

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky. Rest in peace, David.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Artist Review: Beautiful Small Machines, The DJ Stayed Home

Artist: Beautiful Small Machines
Album: The DJ Stayed Home
Genre: Electro-Twang / Rock
RIYL: Arcade Fire, Blondie, MGMT, The Postal Service

The DJ Stayed Home

Beautiful Small Machines was formed in 2009 by Bree Sharp and Don DiLego in New York City. Sharp takes on lead vocal and lyricist duties while DiLego provides production and plays the lion’s share of instruments on The DJ Stayed Home, including guitar, bass, piano, drums, harmonica and cowbell, among “other nifty things he finds lying around.” But the cohesion between the pair comes in the form of shared songwriting duties, with a clear emphasis on intricate and cleverly crafted arrangement.

If Sharp sounds familiar, that’s because you’ve undoubtedly heard her solo cult hit “David Duchovny (Why Won’t You Love Me).” The duo previously collaborated on debut EP Robots in Love, but the release of The DJ Stayed Home is a notable step forward as Sharp and DiLego focus on sharp, clean production and engaging rhythms and melodies. The title track is a charmer, and rides that fine line of quirk and accessibility that’s helped along by Sharp’s ability to tell a compelling story through her honey-laced tone and lyrics.

“Bring Out Your Dead” makes use of some terrific and impactful percussive rhythm and a more assertive lead vocal. The inclusion of their previously released version of MIA’s “Paper Planes” is welcome, though their original work is ultimately more intriguing and dynamic by comparison. That’s not to say it’s not good, but this duo doesn’t need the recognition factor of sandwiching it in between two songs that are stronger than this cover.

“The Girls Are Here” is just a fun song, from start to finish, channeling something akin to The Go Go’s or Blondie. It’s the perfect song to put on before heading out on a Friday night, an amped up and instantly likable pop gem that finds Sharp pushing the edges out on a controlled but aggressive vocal. “East Side” again finds the duo combing the best of 80’s and 90’s indie pop rock, reminiscent of Juliana Hatfield or Belly. “In the Name of Revenge” takes us down a different path, a slightly sexier and darker place that works exceedingly well. And the closing track, “The Wretched Sound of City Cars,” moves even slightly further away from the pop that drives the front half of the record, and it’s a welcome departure that incorporates acoustic guitar and a softer touch.

At the core of the material on The DJ Stayed Home there lies an instant likability and charm that owes as much to Sharp’s vocal versatility to DiLego’s smart and creative instrumentation. The overall sound is infectious and tough to get out of your head once you start listening; that’s a testament to how well this duo gels as a songwriting partnership. What remains to be seen, however, is how far they can push this with their future material. I would love to hear them take even more risks because the potential and chops are clearly there. For now, however, there are a lot of wonderful moments to be satisfied with on The DJ Stayed Home.



Beautiful Small Machines website: http://www.beautifulsmallmachines.com/

(This originally appeared on Indie-Music.com at: http://www.indie-music.com/ee/index.php/blog/comments/review_beautiful_small_machines_the_dj_stayed_home)