Sunday, October 19, 2014

Day 9&10~ Live Through Fear

I don’t have any good fears to claim the day I traveled. It was an eventful day, involving me losing my phone during last boarding call leaving Austin and getting it back just in the nick of time, then heading out to catch the shuttle to my rental car without remembering that I had a suitcase to pick up at baggage claim. The day was actually marked with a genuine fearlessness and enthusiasm, and welcomed, very much so.

I’ve noticed the pattern of expecting everything to go wrong, but mine goes beyond outside forces. Usually it’s expecting that I’ll be the one to mess it up, and I’ve caught myself being struck by literal cold chills or a hot face as my brain scans the radio waves for possible disasters and finally catches onto one. It doesn’t matter how far fetched the story or how slim the odds, I will find some possibility or another that I have done something horrible and should’ve known better.

A little at a time it’s getting easier to not believe these stories, and to not let them consume me, especially when there’s nothing I can do about it. Worrying is my brain’s version of fidgeting; it’s hard for it to sit still.

My first show of the tour was in Easthampton, MA, which is beyond charming. Luthier’s Co-op is way cool, too. It’s a luthier’s shop with a bar, not to mention a bar with a whole lot of local goodness on tap. I decided during date night dinner with myself and my rain boots prior to the show that I would write a set list. Then I decided that I would stick to it.

I have never once in my entire career written and stuck to a set list for a full length set that I can remember (and only have a couple times for shorter ones). I used to write set lists in order to arrive at a gig feeling as prepared as possible, but it usually backfired as I’d get a look at the venue, and the people that may have been there early, and decide that I’d gotten it all wrong. Every set list I’ve ever written felt just plain wrong when it came time to play.

That night was no exception. I got up there, looked at the first song on the list and cursed myself 100 times over. It’s an intensely personal song, and practically a cappella, which made me tremendously nervous beginning my set in a somewhat lively room. But I took a deep breath and started singing. And something marvelous happened. That room quieted down to silence. The tendency is to try and get the attention of an audience by being louder than they are, but inviting them into my quiet space was pure magic. It felt wonderful.

It’s such an interesting thing with music, because it’s such a powerful creator of ambiance. It sets the mood of a room, and when I watch artists perform, whatever song they are playing is exactly the right song for that moment, for that time and place. How could I be thinking about any other song in the world but the one they’re offering to me? On the contrary, whenever I’m up there deciding on the spot what song is exactly the right one to play at that moment it’s impossible to choose it. You just can’t, not when you’re trying to fill a space rather than create it.

I let my audience at Luthier's know what I was up to, with the whole fear thing and finally following a set list, and proceeded to give a really great performance. Playing the songs as they were written on that list completely freed me from the worry that I’d made a bad choice and allowed me to put my whole heart into what I was doing. It was a huge shift for me. It told me that these were the songs that are important. These are the songs that deserve my attention, my nurturing, and my trust. These songs are my gift. These songs are my soul. These songs are what inspire me to spend weeks away from home in order to humbly share them with one tiny corner of the world at a time. I have no business being out here on the road if I don’t fiercely embrace them, and believe wholly in their integrity.

This was possibly one of the best things I have ever done for myself. Amen.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Day 8~ Live Through Fear

I made a pizza crust. Why on earth I should be so damn scared of baking is beyond me, but I am. Cooking” is play time. “Baking” is high pressure science. One is successful no matter what you do, the other is a maze to traverse, a secret code of ancient runes to decipher, a calculated number of steps, each one a taunting opportunity to mess up. That shit is STRESSFUL.

But I’m determined. We do real well at our house, producing a very small amount of trash on a weekly basis, but most of that trash is plastic packaging from food, which doesn’t sit well with me when I know that with a little effort and planning I can make a lot of those things from scratch. 

Pizza is a staple of my dinner repertoire. You can put anything on it and it’s delicious, plus it supplies dinner as well as lunch for one of us the next day. I don’t even need sauce to work my magic. It’s all about the dijon. Yes, seriously. So good. 

When I launched this month of facing fears this was seriously at the top of a very short list of specifics I had in mind, the mind that you’re learning so much about these couple of weeks that we’ve spent together so far.

So what’s under this one? To me it’s an obvious fear of failure, the risk that I might invest an hour of my time and 4 cups of flour into something that turns out terribly. And you know what that makes me wonder? If I’m that stingy with my time (and my flour) how am I treating investments of time and resources into, say, my career?.....???

So I nailed the dang crust. it was more like round focaccia bread with toppings, and it weighed about 6 pounds, but by jove it was pizza. It was good. And I made it.

My mom asked if I might want a flour mill for Christmas. The question caught me a little off guard, but after considering the idea for about two minutes I decided that it would pretty much be the greatest gift ever. It’ll make my kitchen feel a little more like home, and me a little more at home in it. A mother’s touch is good for that.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Day 6 & 7~ Live Through Fear

I've had every chance to leave, but I'm afraid of being wrong
I'm afraid to face the music I've been making all along

One of the best things we can ever do for ourselves is just to honor where we are. That song was written about needing to let go of someone whom I had made a very public show of wanting and never "got." I thought songs and adoration would win him over in the end and they just didn't (thank God I'm not still waiting for that end). It was so hard to let go because I wasn't defeated until I admitted that I was, and that was an impossibly scary thing to do. (But guess what—I did, and I'm fine now, a wiser and happier person because of it.)

For each next step of my career I get clear on there's often a huge stab (or dull, growing roar) of frustration and shame that I haven't done it yet. Time to face the music. When it's an easy task it's actually worse. When it's difficult I at least feel justified in having been afraid, but either way it's real easy to get down on ourselves. I mean, look at all these other people who of course have done that already. They are professionals.


I've been wanting for a while to switch my email list provider, as the one I've had for many years makes it all too easy for people to sign up without even realizing they're signing up, and then just ignore me rather than unsubscribing. It's not important to me how big that list is, but I want to feel good about who's on it. Definitely a case where quality wins out.

Mostly it's just a commitment deal for me, a “make your decision and let's MOVE.” So, thanks to y'all for holding me accountable this month I made that decision. And I moved. I'm not the most computer savvy person in the world and it took me several hours to figure out the basics of the new layout. I kept my cool, I stayed patient. I reminded myself that I am a relatively smart and capable human being and that I could figure it out, also that I had a very computer savvy person in the next room to ask for help.

Part II to this was going through my old list, one name at a time and culling out a whole lot o' people. It felt amazing. Yes, it took a long time to do, but every address that made it onto that new list was inspired and encouraging, while every one left behind felt like glorious spring cleaning. I had finally moved past holding onto numbers for the sake of numbers. I had moved past being afraid that I would hurt someone's feelings, or miss out on a potential super fan (who just hadn't realized it yet...?!?).

I was trying to build up from a foundation that I didn't feel good about at all, that was not sturdy, that was uncertain and somewhat unintentional. It was a constant reminder that I was too afraid to go back and fix it, to make it right. I didn't want to admit that I still needed make changes back at square one. Sure, the train is moving. But it's my train.

I think I can? I know I can.     

Friday, October 10, 2014

Day 5~ Live Through Fear

I really feel like I've spent a lot of my life riding with the brakes on, with motion coming more from easing off of them for a few moments at a time rather than actually putting my foot to the gas pedal. I get it. Play it safe, don't let the car get out of control. After all, they do say that dreaming about driving is symbolic of your life. Makes sense, seeing as how almost every one for me has dysfunctional brakes and I just can't make it stop.....Make it stop! Let me just THINK about this for a minute! This applies to just about every aspect of my life, except for people. I'm pretty all in when it comes to people. Think later, if I need to.

I've made about 10 paintings ever. I've kind of loved every one. I'm proud of them. They make me giddy and excited. The first one I ever did was carried around all night after its completion and showed to anyone I came in contact with. I was beaming.

A brand new medium like that makes me feel like a child “discovering” the simplest things for the first time. (Look at this chocolate smeared on the wall Mom, it's beautiful!!!) When I was first starting guitar I didn't take any lessons, and was resistant to letting anyone even show me anything. I wanted to discover it all for myself, afraid it would feel like cheating if I didn't. (Note to Self: for the love of all that is good and holy let people show you things!) The first time I found a chord progression that I liked, for just a moment I was astounded. How could I possibly be the one to discover this?? With all the guitar players in the world and then little old me.....

Of course I didn't discover anything, except eventually how to best express myself through the discoveries that were mostly already available to me. With a new medium you are absolutely an explorer, with fresh eyes and a thirst for magic in novelty. When I go to write a song I can be fairly sure of what will come of it. I put color to canvas because I have no idea. I'm also scared of having no idea. What if it's not good and I don't like it?

With songs it's no big deal. They don't actually exist in a tangible form until you put in a moderate amount of effort to make it so, making erasing the evidence real easy. You can also pull them apart if there's a line you like, or a chord change you can use for something better down the road. It also doesn't take any resources, just a little wear and tear on the strings, and the fingers. Par for the course.

Painting takes a few things. I don't want to “waste” a canvas, or paint, especially since I always dump out too much. No take-backs with painting, at least not when you've got a very small threshold for patience, like me.

Censoring art? Not creating because you might not like what comes of it?? Ugggggggg ick, uh uh. I'm not ok with this concept at all, and yet I do it. I've learned to overcome it with song writing—song comes first, no matter what I may have to deal with after I've gotten it right—but even a small canvas and inexpensive paint has apparently had me cowering in a corner.

In case you're wondering, I do kinda love what I made today. I didn't know what it would be and it changed as I went. Perfect. And perhaps not really the best metaphor for life, but I understand it anyway.  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Day 4~ Live Through Fear

So we have this chard patch......

It was the first thing we ever planted in our first garden, over three years ago. We did something right, or wrong, because it never went to seed. Ever. The chard just kept on growing. Even when the bed got completely overgrown and the bases of the plants began looking like the gnarled trunks of an old growth forest, it just kept putting out leaves. We're pretty sure we must've sold our souls to the devil at some point, though neither of us can remember it. Faust's Chard, we called it.

We made up our minds some time ago that Faust's chard had to go. The bed needed to be entirely reworked and started from scratch. It was still growing, but there was nothing healthy about it. We weren't eating it anymore, and the chicken wire was doing its job so the girls weren't getting any more of it than they could snag putting their heads through the holes.

But pulling up the plants meant admitting defeat. Pulling up the plants would be taking life away that was still hanging on, like a champ, by a thread. We practically feel defined by our chard. It was once something we gave on Mother's Day as a big, beautiful bouquet of lush green leaves. It was once a daily ritual to collect a fistful of stems for the evening meal. We still talk about it, but as the strange overgrown oddity it became as it continued to linger like a living graveyard by the back fence.

Like I've said before, fears are usually about something deeper, but provide us with an easy excuse to stay on the surface and not have to look those things in the eye. As I pulled at the chard trunks today I was amazed to find that some of them were made up of nothing more than stringy fibers, while others were inches thick of hard white flesh that broke off at the ground. As I tossed them into a massive pile of fibrous decay I respected them as though they were my elders. They had a real good run, and I was the one to pull the plug.

One of my dearest friends said to me over and over again on her deathbed, “Life goes on Shawnee, life goes on.”

It does. My chard will return to the earth and grow something else anew. As, one day, will I.