Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Gift For A College Grad

(Full disclosure: I don't reveal much about the plot of The Giving Tree book, but I do say a few words about the story. Please be advised that you may want to read the book first before reading this post. Also, please be advised that you may want to read this post before reading the book. Just sayin'...)

My little sister is graduating from college this weekend. (I guess she's not little anymore, but she'll always be "little sister" to me.) Graduating from college is quite an achievement in and of itself, but in our family, her accomplishment is especially important because she's the first sibling to graduate!  
I started out on the right foot, attending my first year on a full-ride academic scholarship. Then I dropped out to tour in a rock band. (To this day, I still think I had my priorities straight. Ha.)

Dia, the sister below me in age, never went to college.  (She also had her priorities straight.) So, although Dia and I consider ourselves smarter than a cookie without a college degree, we are still super proud of our younger sister for finishing. 
I've been looking for the perfect graduation gift. I decided to give her a book, a book that isn't known for its difficult vocabulary, worthy of a college grad's intellectual stamina. It's just a simple book that made me feel very deeply when I first read it many years ago. 

I remember my band was on tour and we stopped in a Barnes & Noble. I picked up a book called "The Giving Tree", mainly because of the bright green cover and hand-drawn illustrations.

By the time I turned to the last page, my mascara had smeared halfway down my cheeks. I quietly put the book down, proceeded to run through the store like a loony, covering my runny nose, while trying to find the ladies' room.
What a beautiful story. Ugh, it chokes me up even thinking about it. Shel Silverstein is one of those wise authors who is skilled in hiding adult topics in children's books. He makes you accidentally learn important life lessons when all you thought you were in for was light entertainment.
Inspired by this purchase, I decided to design a new necklace. At first, I thought that I wanted to make a traditional looking tree, using tones of burnt sienna for the trunk and branches. Then I decided I wanted to make it look a bit more imaginative, closer to the tree in the book. So I made the trunk a deep, hunter-green.

I added my own touches, curling the tips of the branches, dusting the whole piece lightly with a mossy-brass talcum powder.

I added the hanging apple, because the first thing the tree gave the boy was the apple. Then I finished the design with a black patina to give it that "rustic" and "antique" vibe I love so much.
My favorite part of the tree is the heart on the trunk. I carved it into the clay just like you would carve a heart into a real tree. 
This is the finished design. I'm very proud of The Giving Tree necklace:

You can order "The Giving Tree" necklace  HERE.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Wrong End Of The Telescope

A new girl friend complimented my denim shirt. I'm so used to being around guys, her comment on fashion caught me off guard. Thankfully, I didn't reply with my gut response, "Ugh, this thing is in need of some serious ironing! And look at all these loose threads just hanging everywhere like jungle branches."

I simply said, "Thank you," and smiled.

Why do I have such a difficult time accepting compliments? On a related note, why do we tend to focus on the negative events of our pasts instead of being appreciative of all of our successes, big and small?

In the comments for the previous post, Spider said:

"Do you guys from M&D actually know how great you were and are?! Maybe not in the moment, but retrospectively? From a musician's musician... I am still amazed every time I have a listen!"

Thanks Spider! 

That comment made me think. After my band broke up and we were dropped from our label, for awhile, it was too easy to focus on the negative aspects of those experiences, magnifying the bad parts and squeezing the good parts almost out of existence, kind of like looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

Dia told me to listen to one of our old records. I listened to "Here, Here, and Here" front to back. It's been almost 4 years since I've group texted my old band, but I texted them all after listening to our record:

"Good job".

I agree with Spider, stop to realize how GREAT you are. Do I sound corny yet? I don't care. We focus on all the teensy, tiny mistakes (o.k. we all probably have made mistakes that are a little larger than teensy, tiny.)

Negative truths: 
  • Our band broke up. 
  • We spend less time together. (Except, I still spend a lot of time with Nick because he's my boyfriend, and Dia because she's my sister. Duh!) 
  • We stopped touring. (Obviously. No more galavanting across the country without a care in the world.)
Positive Truths:
  • From my experiences with the band, I learned how to sleep comfortably in small spaces, function on less than 3 hours of sleep, and drink three shots of whiskey and sing perfectly on tune for an entire set. (All valuable life skills, the last one I can no longer manage in my old age.) 
  • I traveled all over the world with my best friends, while most teenagers stayed cooped up listening to lectures from their economics professors. (I actually enjoy doing this. Nerd alert!) 
  • I met new friends all over the country. (Even experienced a couple young loves along the way. Hey, it gets lonely on the road!)
  • I recorded albums I am proud of with incredible producers who taught me that even little old me has something to teach these seasoned pros. (I've been known to be a garage band wizard. So much for humbleness. Ha!)
  • We basically vacationed for months at a time in beautiful, remote locations along the Oregon coast and in the mountains of Park City, Utah, making music, drinking coffee, and appreciating nature.
  • I use my experiences to record new music in the comfort of my own home in our own studio. It's cheaper and there is a lot less pressure. 
  • I can be a homebody and focus on new loves like yoga and nutrition. 
  • I spend as much time as I want out in the sun with a nose in my book and an icy beverage in my hand.
  • I have grown some roots which means close friendships and familiar faces in all of my local haunts.

Bottom line: We did some cool ass shit, and life is only getting better!

Life is a continuum. The point is to learn from the past, don't dwell on it, appreciate it, and keep doing amazing things. 

I don't know all of you personsonally or all of your accomplishments, but I want to tell you right now.
"Good job".

Accept compliments, realize accomplishments often.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Don't Sell Yourself Short

I always think of myself as a guitarist, but people usually ask me to sing or write songs with them instead. I'm not complaining. I love doing those activities as well, but I'm still waiting for the day when someone calls me up and asks me to play guitar on their record.

I haven't done a huge amount of singing with other people aside from Dia. You always hear about siblings being able to harmonize naturally. I'd have to agree that family members do have that extra special touch when it comes to singing together. I don't know that it has anything to do with genetics though. I think it's more of a comfort thing. 

My friend, Jimmy, asked if I'd sing back up along with another lovely lady for his record release show. I said "yes". Of course I wanted to help out my friend. Also, I wanted to experience how singing with someone new would feel.

Since I've known that I was going to be helping Jimmy out, I've been practicing quite a bit on my own, trying to get comfortable with his material. 

As the day of our first practice drew near I began to feel a bit anxious. Am I going to be able to find the pitch when everyone is playing together? Is Jimmy going to like the harmonies I came up with? Will this new girl and my voices mesh well? 

All of these uncertainties coupled with stage fright had me rethinking my agreeing to sing during his show. 

Fortunately, I didn't back out of my commitment. I attended the first full band practice. Everyone in the room looked like they rolled straight off stage at a rock concert. I stayed hidden in the corner of the room after nodding hello to everyone when I got there. 

I heard them start playing one of the songs that I was supposed to sing on. I jumped up from my seat and stood behind an unoccupied microphone. I felt totally self-conscious. I had to close my eyes to focus on the words, pitch, and tone in a group full of serious musicians.

We practiced at the guitar player's house. His pretty girlfriend sat and listened on a fancy one-armed couch in the adjacent dining area. She held a glass of red wine in one pale hand, a wine bottle in the other she generously shared whenever anyone's glass emptied. She's a singer too, a good one. 

I thought I got through the songs o.k. No pressure. Sheesh! No one stopped mid-song to wag a finger at me and tell me I was doing it all wrong.

I had to slip out early as the band continued, so I waved goodbye to my boyfriend who plays drums for Jimmy. 

Later that night, over dinner, Nick told me that my singing inspired both the guitar player and his girlfriend, the wine caretaker. I almost choked on my fruit punch. "Yeah, they really dug it," he said. 

Spaghetti and steamed peas never tasted so good.

The next day Jimmy invited Maria and I over to his place to work on our vocals without the distractions of the band. Maria and I chatted about Atwater Village and over-priced farmer's markets while Jimmy took his guitar out of its case and tuned up. 

As Jimmy started the first song, I sat up on the edge of my seat and stuck my hands in between my knees to keep them from shaking. 

Some of you are probably wondering why I'm so nervous since I've been singing for almost a decade. Firstly, I took a three year break from music. Secondly, these were new people, not the five members of Meg and Dia who I consider family. Also, I think I've mentioned this several times before on my blog, I will NEVER not be afraid of performing.

Immediately after we sang the first lyric, I realized I could have skipped all the "doubting myself" crap. Mine and Maria's voices sounded fantastic together. We even worked out a bunch of new parts that I think will really add to Jimmy's set. I memorized all the words and never drew a blank. Also, I think I've found a new hiking buddy!

Singing those songs with Maria like a champ felt like a big accomplishment, a step in the right direction for my self-esteem and musical aspirations.

If any of you ever feel like I did, not knowing if you are up to a challenge, or good enough, or whatever, I challenge YOU to believe and trust in yourself a little more.

I think you'll be surprised.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Focus On Your Own Story

My sister, Dia, and I talked the other day about our different musical projects. If you haven't heard, she's about to tour to promote her new record. I told her I sometimes compare myself to all the cool stuff she's doing, and I feel behind. I told her that if I did put together a band, we'd probably play small shows in bars in Echo Park, and I'd feel funny inviting her to my tiny shows because she's going on these big tours. 

She said that she would think that a rock band playing a small show in Echo Park would be the coolest thing ever, and she'd love to come. 

I reminded myself not to compare my journey with everyone else's journey. I need to respect the process of personal improvement.

I may not be touring in a bus this summer or releasing a record that a movie producer made, but I'm the best guitar player that I've ever been, and I'm damn proud of that. My journey is quieter and less glitzy, but I'm learning to love it all the same, while at the same time being inspired by my sister's accomplishments.

Each day I turn on the old amp, press the appropriate pedals, stick in the headphones, and play the same songs over and over. Each day, I'm happy with the outcome, because even though I'm not Jack White (yet!), I'm much better than the Meg from yesterday. 

Speaking of yesterday, during my yoga class, this new girl kicked ass. Later during the class, the teacher asked her if she was a gymnast and she said yes. She had these great tattoos, a perfect pony tail, and her pointed toes in her handstands were the bees knees.

I found myself, struggling to balance in my poses, and I couldn't help constantly peeking over at this girl. I couldn't help thoughts like, "she's so much more experienced than me," and "she's so far ahead".

Thankfully, I managed to turn my attention to my own journey on my mat.  I let myself feel inspired by her talents rather than intimidated. Then I turned my attention inward, focusing on my breath. (I think that yoga teachers say 'focus on YOUR breath' to keep us from focusing on more advanced students in the class! haha.) 

I calmed my mind and did the poses the best that I could at that moment. I stopped thinking about the future and how I'd like to be able to do the splits three ways and every imaginable arm balance. I simply thought about the task at hand, breathing into the present moment. 

And it was one of my favorite yoga class experiences to date. 

Did I kill it ability wise? No. Was I particularly flexible that day? Not at all. I simply experienced each pose to the fullest and appreciated the moment, the process, the journey, my story.

I'm fond of Dia's story. Her story is great. I'm lucky to have been part of the early chapters, and hopefully I'll be part of some futures chapters as well.

I love the story of crazy yoga girl and her perfectly pointed toes and sculpted biceps. 

But their stories aren't my story. 

They are on chapter 37, and I'm still on chapter 6, and that's o.k. 

I'll play each note, hold each pose, sing each song, and type each word to the best of my ability, and I'll give that moment everything I've got. And then I'll do it again the next day. 

I hope you know how important your story is, but mostly how important it is that you do it your own way and in your own time.

It doesn't matter how far ahead everyone else seems to be. 

Focus on your own story. I am.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Baby Steps

I recently read this article by Bryan Baker, an acclaimed guitarist. In it he says,

"From the ages of 12-18 I practiced nothing but scales for 12 hours daily with no breaks, with no time for anything, and slept for 4 hours nightly. For 6 years."

After reading that article, I had a mini-meltdown. I said to myself, "What?! I've been doing this all wrong. I'm going to dedicate the next 6 years to the guitar, and only eating and sleeping will interrupt my practice time!"

The next day I planned on practicing for twelve hours. Well, after much grinding of the teeth and furrowing of the brows, I made it to 4 hours, and then I caved to watch "How I Met Your Mother". As I watched Ted Mosby be his charismatic self, I wondered if this sacrifice was worth the reward?

The second day I didn't practice at all, because I was too burnt out from the previous day.

I needed a new plan of action, a philosophy for practicing my craft. Thankfully, I stumbled upon this article by Adam Rafferty, best known for his funky finger style. I found gems that felt good to me as I read, such as:

"It’s cool to imagine the life of an artist, but gang, let’s get real. We are all human. We all have limits.

Practicing for hours and hours might make you feel like you are living up to this myth of the musical super-hero, but you can injure yourself physically by overdoing it and end up having to stop playing for months."

Later in the article he goes on to say,

"Practicing mindfully and correctly is much more important than simply racking up mindless hours of practice time.

Don’t believe all the BS stories about 'so and so’s endless practice.' It’s just a story which is used to sell you stuff.

What you are not hearing is the endless stories about musicians with carpal tunnel syndrome that go along with them.

Never practice past the point where your body is telling you to stop. It’s not weight lifting, and a hand injury can totally put your playing out of commission.

It’s ok to say  'I’m done for today.'

I practice many hours a week, but I take time off and rest, and stretch, and sleep enough, and breathe deep and drink enough water.

If anything ever twinges, feels tight – I stop playing and rest up.  Often I want to “keep going”  but I know to stop if the body says stop.

In other words – I know when to call it a day."

I think that this is sage advice! He continues with a few words about "ego":

"Anytime I try to 'be the best' there’s a problem….

'I' becomes the focus rather than 'the music'. Then comes tension, competition, worry, shortness of breath, and all that ego crap.

Get 2 people functioning like that, team them up on stage, and it becomes a pissing contest.

When I am focused on the music, groove, beauty of melody and sound, my body always feels fine.

Everything’s ok and in balance.

Whenever the EGO takes over, the body feels tight, and nothing feels good musically.

So – be a giver, rather than a taker

Dunno if this applies to you, check it for yourself!  If you feel tense, scared and short of breath – really take a look and see….are you working on music or are you working on being great?

(Feeling like you suck is also the EGO….)"

Whatever your craft it, it's important to make sure you are enjoying the journey just as much as the dream of where you'll finally be someday, otherwise, what's the point?

I stopped pressuring myself to be the best. I stopped listening to my ego.

Sure, practicing is challenging sometimes, and I don't quit just because it's challenging, but I do make sure that I'm enjoying the process of learning and growing. If I need a break, I allow myself to take one!

Without external pressures, I can take little, baby steps each day that lead me closer and closer to my goals. I'm happy because I can tell I'm improving, but I'm not killing myself in the process.

You don't need to take these huge leaps in progress. If you consistently step up to the plate each day and improve little by little, you're a success in my book.

I've learned two things:

1) I don't have to hurry.
2) I have plenty of time to improve.

Since, I've implemented this new mindset, I diligently practice an hour a day in between writing blogs and making jewelry. I enjoy the time I spend with my guitar, and I'm giddy with excitement because those 16th notes I've been tapping near the body of the guitar are getting bloody fast!

Happy playing, writing, singing, drawing, painting, and dreaming!


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Lost Your Passion?

It's very possible to lose your passion, find other passions, and maybe return to your original passion later. I think I knew all along that music has always been a passion for me. I just lost it for a bit. I wasn't quite sure if music was what fulfilled me anymore. I was very confused. So I stopped playing for awhile to dabble in other hobbies and activities.

I know what you're thinking. How can you be confused? You've been playing music for a decade, you must have known you loved it. But that's just it. After you've done something for a decade, all that time gone by makes you wonder, is this what I want to be doing for the next decade?

This is a quote from Kaki King (my girl crush/guitar idol!):

"A lot of life happened between this record and the last one. There was a lot of serious doubt, a lot of fear, wondering if I wanted to do this anymore. I didn't know if being a musician was how it was going to be for me. I've been playing guitar since I was 4 years old, I've known no other life, so the question became is this really what I'm going to spend the rest of my life doing?"

This really hit home with me. It made me feel much better to know that someone like her was feeling the same things.

Recently, I decided to start taking guitar lessons again. To say that my teacher is a Jimi Hendrix fan is an understatement. We can't get through a lesson without learning a Hendrix riff. During today's lesson, as I watched him slowly play through each lick in "Wind Cries Mary", I noticed a tiny tug on my heart. It was as though someone misted me with a spray bottle of joy.

 It was a clue! 

I blurted out dreamily, "That's just beautiful." My teacher seemed a bit confused, since I don't usually say much when he's vamping out on Hendrix. Then he seemed ecstatic that he'd finally convinced me of the godliness that is Hendrix.

Sometimes a single guitar lick or an arpeggio reminds me of a memory. As I continued to watch my teacher's fingers dance over the neck of the guitar, I visualized a seedy bar Meg and Dia played at in Seattle several years ago. I remember I wasn't yet old enough to drink, but the bartender there let me sit up on the counter and order a meal. I remember feeling grown up, eating my cob salad and sipping on a Sprite next to old these men with their white whiskers and glasses of whiskey.

The stage was a short staircase down to the right of the dark bar. It had those tacky, red-velvet curtains. There weren't a whole lot of people at that show. Honestly, I don't remember much about the performance, if we played well or not, what songs we played. I just remember how it felt like home. That grimy, dirty place felt like home. Now that I think back, I think the reason it felt like home is because I was on an adventure. I was somewhere new, playing music for strangers. The excitement of the unknown is what feels normal to me.

I settled back into that memory during my guitar lesson, connecting the music my teacher played with memories from my past. The music felt SO right in my whole body, leading me to the memory that felt right, helping me to understand what emotions and feelings feel right. Now I can continue my search to find them again.  Ding! Ding! Another clue.

The other day I had a friend come over who I've been writing songs with lately. It's been awhile since I've tried to write, so I start off each session a little unsure. I write a small melody and line here and there before he comes over, not daring to show him once he arrives. After I dig up the courage to show him, my idea ends up turning into a song. We always say after we finish, "I think we've got a song!" The cool part though is the process. Feeling that sense of, "hey, we made something here, and it sounds great!" It feels good. There's not many other times that I feel like that.

Another clue to my passion!

You've got to keep your eyes and your ears open to realize when your passion pulls you toward it. Sometimes you may lose your way, but it will find you again. Don't worry. I think it's important to constantly check in with yourself and ask, "Am I still on the right path? How does my heart feel when I choose to go in this direction?"

Have you ever experienced a return to your lost passion through clues?