Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"I am a person who _____________ ."

I woke up yesterday morning and worked out.

That statement probably doesn’t mean much to anyone but coming from me it means a great deal. 

It was the first time since I was obsessed with this ridiculous (but awesome) Jane Fonda VHS tape as a teenager that I have gotten up in the morning and really moved. And not only did I move but I did deliberate things to build muscles that today are sore enough to make me feel like I was hit by a truck.

I truly want to be healthy. I truly want to feel good. I even like (reasonably) early mornings well enough. My mom and I have both had the goal for as long as I can remember to do a push up. She’s worked real hard at for a while now. I haven’t. 

I don’t actually believe that I’ll ever be able to do a push up.


closer to the truth is that I’m terrified of the body that would be able to do one, because it wouldn’t be mine.

My body has stayed roughly the same since I was in fourth grade. It has grown in weight since then and my knees are not so painfully knobby, but for the average observer there are no real ups and downs. 

I know I’m lucky. If I eat as badly as possible (and as a teenager I pretty much ate as badly as possible—anyone else binge on Jiffy peanut butter, PB Captain Crunch and Aunt Jemima’s on Wonder Bread in the middle of the night? Anyone??) or if I eat like a saint (at least compared to some) my body will look the same. 

People assume that slender people are healthy. People assume that I'm healthy. It’s been a weird thing feeling the need to assure them at times in my life that I really wasn't. Where the heck does that come from??

I'm not unhealthy; I can climb a flight of stairs but might get winded doing so. I could probably run for my life if I had to but am really crossing my fingers that I won't have to. I like healthy food, though many of the things I like best to put in my body (coffee, alcohol and honey greek yogurt to name a few) aren't. 

I started playing a game in the last year or so. It's called "I am a person who __________" and the game is to fill in the blank. The goal is to fill it with things you want, and notice even with small somewhat meaningless things how much resistance there can be to a statement. 

I played it one day by wearing a belt. I never wear belts. I put one on, declared "I am a person who wears belts," laughed out loud and went out into the world to do errands. It was weird, but I rocked it. It felt good. I got home and my mama called. I answered the phone and there was silence for a few seconds. "Shawnee?" she finally asked. She didn't recognize my voice. That's the power of play.  

In general "I'm a person who likes change." I love new places, new experiences, new people, new songs, new clothes, new understandings of myself and my world.

But I'm terrified of changes in my body.

My body is the one I've had forever. It's familiar; I know it inside and out (well, not a lot of the inside but some). Even the parts I'm not super stoked on are better than the unknown. If I could suddenly have the body I "wish" I had I doubt I'd be able to enjoy it. Because it's not me

The voice that would be able to say "I am a person who works out (or does yoga, or runs, or even stretches for god's sake!)" has not been willing to speak, not even a whisper.

But I woke up yesterday morning and worked out. 

And guess what? Just like that a 20 year streak was broken. A hard and fast rule in my psyche was demolishedIt wasn't perfect. Certain things were difficult and painful, and my body was subject to many awkward and compromising positions. 


I did it, and that's all it took. One action, one morning in May, and I am now a person who works out.  


That's power, and that's beauty, and really, it's just plain fun.

I bought work out clothes. If I can move tomorrow morning I will most definitely get up and do it again. I'm excited to work with my body and see what happens. 

And if I can change that big one so easily...what else is possible?

Now read out loud and fill in the blank:

"I am a person who ___________...."

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.