write. play. repeat.

from joy to joy to joy

There is No "There" There.

I loved Julie’s post today over at Writing Roads about the Phases of the Writer, so please go check it out. ( I have particularly experienced 1, 3, and 5  a lot lately!) It ties in perfectly with my thoughts on cyclical creativity, and the process of writing, and with this post I wanted to write today.

Something that is hard to grasp as a writer (or any creative person) is that there isn’t a destination at which you will finally Arrive and someone will declare you Finished.  You don’t “become” an artist in the same way that you can go to school for a set amount of years and become a doctor.  You won’t master all the tips and tricks, figure out a great writing routine, and then be on autopilot for the rest of your career.   Instead, there will be highs and lows, constant learning, adjusting and readjusting. This process in ongoing, forever and ever amen.

Does that sound like it sucks?

It doesn’t.

Once you realize, I mean really, really internalize that idea, you are free.  You can look at those nights where nothing is coming, or the days when you can’t stop working, and just take them in stride rather than seeing them as a reflection of your worth as at artist. The big lesson here is that  having an unproductive day (or week) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be an artist.

This can be really hard for us to believe.  Most of us are way better at believing something negative, something that implies we are no good, than something that is redeeming and hopeful.

Have I mastered this idea yet? Certainly not, but I am way more comfortable with it than I was when I started this blog and really started looking at my own creative process.  Now when there’s a drought, I’m not completely wrecked for weeks and worried that I am washed up.  I just try to find some other ways to get inspired and wait for the rain.

Locked In With Your Fears

I recently started doing Morning Pages again, for the first time in many years (with any regularity).  I have used mornings as my most productive writing time for a while now, but it’s been years since I did this exercise in the way intended by  The Artist’s Way. If you are unfamiliar with Morning Pages, here’s a link to a brief video interview with Julia Cameron where she discusses them:

Julia Cameron – Tarcher Talks

Ok, now that you know what I’m talking about, let’s continue.   When I did MP in the past, my dreams were extremely vivid.  Often, my pages in the morning started as sort of a dream journal, because I just couldn’t shake what had happened in my sleep and needed to pour it out somewhere.   I did not connect the two things (vivid dreaming and MP) until this week.

Last night I had one of Those Dreams.  You know the ones that practically knock you out of bed when you wake up?  The ones that make you think, “that can’t possibly just be my subconscious clearing out the recycle bin of my brain.  That was a message” ?   Yeah, one of those.  So I wanted to share it with you today.

The Initiation

There was a huge house party in one of those homes like you see in Hollywood movies – some giant Californian cliff-side mansion, with walls of windows and dozens of rooms.  It seemed as though we were all celebrating something, like a wedding, but the celebration was going on for days.  So many people that I knew were there, including musicians and artists I met many years ago but have not seen recently.  In addition, to the wedding, there were also smaller celebrations going on because some of the artists were going through rites of passage of some kind.

Along with a young man, I am led down some stairs into a hallway with a few doors.  We are guided into a room with no windows, a small dresser & bed in the back right corner.  I can’t see the boy very well but I feel like we know each other in some way, he feels almost fraternal.  When the door closes behind us, we can see that there are several other people in the room.   It’s hard to make out their faces because it’s so dark, but they are wearing tunics in bright colors — Red, Green, White, Yellow — and have face paint on in tribal patterns.  They are also each carrying a piece of fabric that matches the color of their tunics.

I understood that each of the colors represented something:  Green was death, yellow was embarrassment, white was illness, etc.  The people were physical representations of Fears.  This was our rite of passage.

The Fears began to taunt us, and gently hit us with their fabric,  gradually the taunts and attacks became more aggressive and sinister, though they never physically hurt us.  The situation got more and more frightening until the boy and I huddled on the twin bed together.   Eventually we realized there was nowhere we could go to escape (we knew the door would be locked) and that the best we could do was hold each other and let it come, knowing it would stop eventually.

Suddenly, it was over.  The door opened and light streamed in, and we saw that the people representing the Fears were fellow Artist friends of ours.  Everyone smiled and hugged us, clapped us on the back and welcomed us back upstairs to the party.

Talk about some strong metaphors, huh?!

Looking back, it seems like a perfect initiation for the person wanting to live a more creative life.  All of the things you fear WILL come up, you WILL have to face them.  Being an artist doesn’t mean not having those fears (or internal editors like I have!) but it does mean facing them and continuing on anyway.   If you can be locked in a room with your fears and still want to carry on creating, you are on your way.

Thursday Poetry: Introduction to Poetry

Today’s poem is by poet Billy Collins. I adore his style and often read his poems whenever I need a lift.
This poem is perfect for the former frustrated poetry teacher or student. It serves as a reminder that poems are not only meant for deconstructing and analyzing. First and foremost, they are meant to delight us.

Wishing you delight on this day!

Introduction to Poetry


I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Why Aren't You Famous?

I’m going to get a little ranty for a bit, which is something I don’t like to do, but I feel like I need to clear some air on the matter of my (lack of) fame.

I get asked this question, or a variation on it, more than you might think.

I understand that people mean it as a compliment, as in, you are so good, I wish that everyone knew about you! and so when people ask that, I always thank them for saying so, because I know their intention.  It’s very, very sweet and the people who say it usually are, too.

But, on the way home from the show, I think about it.   And it always strikes me as a funny question.

First of all, how am I expected to answer it?  I mean, of course people can’t think I know the exact reasons why I’m not famous.   If I did, wouldn’t I have followed the necessary steps to become famous?   I know that being famous seems easy these days because of things like American Idol and cases like Justin Bieber (and that new kid who was just discovered on YouTube) but for most people, it’s not simply a matter of posting a video online and waiting for Ellen to call you.  Though I would welcome a call from Ellen, personally. She’s hilarious.  You hear that, Ellen?  I’ve got my cell on.

Secondly, why do people assume that fame is the ultimate reward?   Why has our culture trained us to believe that famous = good ?   Looking at the celebrities we have these days, very few are people I would consider good or worthy of being role models from a distance.  I say from a distance because I don’t know any of those people — I only know what media outlets want me to know about them, which is far different from being their personal friend.  Which brings me to another point…

Almost nothing about being famous sounds appealing to me.   Cameras following me everywhere, strangers analyzing my diet, my appearance, my style choices, my dating choices…I am supposed to want this?

Perhaps people feel that getting famous for doing something is a validation, that it gives them permission to continue doing it.   I am not waiting for permission from someone else (or a lot of someone elses) to do what I want to do. I don’t need a record label or talk show host or reality judge to tell me that what I am doing is ok for me to do.

Here’s the thing:   I do want to be well known and well-loved, but I’d also like that to be on my terms.  I’d like to entertain and inspire lots of people.  I’d like to be able to continue having conversations and connecting with people on a personal level.  I’d like enough money to live a lifestyle I’m delighted by and to free up more time to do the work I feel I’m here to do.   Some of that fits with the current model of “fame” in our culture, but a lot of it doesn’t.

So here’s my short answer.  I’m not famous because the money would be great, but I’d like to be able to go to the grocery store in my jogging pants whenever I felt like it.

[edit: Immediately after I posted this, @bellisimagoddes on Twitter posted her quote of the day, which I think is perfect, so I’m adding it!]

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” — Joseph Campbell

Falling in Love with No

I’ve talked a lot about creating space for your creative force, about opening yourself up to inspiration, moving forward despite fear… all of those things are really critical for living a creative life.

Even more recently I’ve started talking about boundaries, specifically my lack of them.   I want to stress that while I try to remain constantly open in a lot of ways, the reason I feel able to do that safely is because I am falling in love with No.

I tend to be very free and expressive with my emotions and my time.  I  like to get excited, I like to hear about other people’s projects and want to give, give, give to make sure it happens.  At the end of the day, after encouraging and pushing and cheering my creative pals on, I find that I have very little left for my own pursuits.

Not too long ago, I felt really, really burned out in a number of ways and had hardly written anything longer than 140 characters in months.  I had no energy, no drive, no time.

Well, I said to myself, this sucks.

(I am really eloquent when I talk to myself.)

In looking for solutions, I thought about how so much of creativity is about YES.

  • Saying yes to ideas, no matter how silly they seem.
  • Saying yes to leaps of faith, knowing pursuing a dream is more important than the risk of failure.
  • Saying yes to things that delight and excite you.
  • Saying yes to things that resonate with you.

I’m good at Yes.   Yes comes easily to me.  It’s fun, it starts conversations, it takes me in unexpected directions.    No is harder.   No disappoints people.   No creates boundaries.  No is often seen as selfish.

Living a creative life, however, requires saying no, too.   If I am to have the time and space I need to write, sculpt, sing, and whatever else I need to do, I absolutely must extend myself the same courtesy that I would anyone else working on an important project.

Lately, I’ve socialized a lot less.  Normally, I’m a social butterfly and I love to see my friends and party with them, but I was giving my friends a lot more of my time than I was giving my creativity.   I needed to balance out my schedule and get back to discipline, stat.

I started with setting up a system for saying no to certain types of performances (as I mentioned last week).  I’ve also started saying no to some collaborative projects that I normally would have jumped to be a part of.

It’s important to me to go out into the world and experience things, to give back to others, to push my friends to pursue their goals, but I need to balance that with making time for my own stuff.

By saying “no” to things that don’t directly serve my creative work, I am giving myself permission to make my creative pursuits a priority again.   Rather than a negative thing, those instances where I say “no” are actually a positive affirmation that I am choosing to focus on my life’s work.

What could you start saying No to in order to say Yes to your creativity?


In my last post, I talked about how, for the past year, I have actively sought out meaningful performances rather than gigs.  I’m not playing as often, but when I do play, I generally feel great about it.    Most of the time, these are paying gigs.  Sometimes they pay less than what I’d normally ask, but they make up for it in other ways.   Recently, I was extremely touched by a performance, so much so that I am still thinking about it days later.

Last weekend I played some music for the 13th Annual Old Timey Seed Swap which is put on by a fantastic organization called the Southern Seed Legacy.   My audience was made up of farmers, cultural anthropologists, professors, students, home gardeners, and a few farm dogs.  I sat on the porch of a log cabin from the 1800s and sang some of my favorite Irish & Appalachian ballads, as well as some originals.

There wasn’t a traditional seating area or stage, and most folks didn’t applaud after each song because they were too busy picking out plants or seeds to take home, but I wasn’t bothered by that.  Almost everyone caught me eye as they walked by and smiled, or stopped me later (as we were in line for some awesome BBQ) to say how much they enjoyed the music.

The most meaningful part of the day actually happened at the end of the Seed Swap.  One month ago, Dr. Robert Rhoades, the founder of the Southern Seed Legacy and true custodian of the Earth, died after a long fight with cancer.

I never met Dr. Rhoades, but this was my second visit to Grove Creek Farm, and I can say that the place rings with the sound of him, it is full of his fingerprints.   I feel I know him a little just by exploring this place he took such care with.   His daughter, Daniella, took me aside and asked if I would be willing to play a song to honor his memory after a small award ceremony.

We gathered around a bonfire as the rain started to fall again, huddled in raincoats and galoshes,  and one gentleman was kind enough to provide an umbrella for my guitar.  Around the circle, former students, colleagues, and family members spoke about Bob and how he touched their lives.  They, too, were full of his fingerprints, in a way.  Each of their lives had been somehow changed, just by coming into contact with this extraordinary man.

And for his part, according to his friends & family, he did not think of himself as extraordinary.  He simply followed his passions and beliefs relentlessly, and was so devoted to his vision that others couldn’t help but be pulled in, too.

While we all looked at the fire and two people held umbrellas above me and my instrument, I sang Stephen Foster’s song “Hard Times Come Again No More”.  I hadn’t picked this out ahead of time, because I didn’t know we’d be having this spontaneous memorial ceremony.   It came to mind because it mentions cabins, which Dr. Rhoades had a collection of (no really) and because it talks about remembering those who struggle while we are celebrating.  It just seemed right to me.

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more. – Stephen Foster

After the song, Dani gave me a big hug and told me I could not have picked a better song to close the circle.  Apparently, he loved that song.

I drove home that night thinking about the influence one person can have on so many others.  I thought about how we are creating experiences and moments for people even when (maybe especially when) we don’t know it.  There is so much joy in ordinary days, and so many tiny ways to ease the suffering of others.

Music can celebrate community, open and close sacred ceremony, solidify important moments, and express the full range of human emotion.   I was reminded of all of that last weekend.

Meaningful Performances, Not “Gigs”

Gotta getta gig.  Gotta keep gigging.  Had any good gigs lately?

The word “gig” has the same connotation as the word “job” for me.   It’s something you do to get by, something you do just for the money, not because you love it or find meaning in it.

If you have a “job”, chances are you need to do something else in your free time to instill more meaning into your life.  Conversely, if you’re in a “career” instead of a “job”, if you find joy and purpose in your work, you probably feel better about spending the largest portion of your day doing that work.

For a musician, a gig takes many shapes.  Some of them include:

  • Playing Jimmy Buffet covers all night at a beach-side bar during tourist season.
  • Competitive open mics that last for hours and may or may not get you a weekend slot.
  • Taking the stage at 1 am during a “battle of the bands” for a $50 bar tab.
  • Coffee shop shows that pay a small amount, but no-one can hear you over the smoothie blender and steaming milk.
  • Any show where anyone yells “Free Bird!” at you.

When you start out, it’s natural to take as many gigs as you can get.  You want exposure, you just want to play and have people listen.  You also hear lots of people tell you that you have to “pay your dues.”  I think that’s fine, as long as you are still having fun.   If it starts to feel like crap to get up every day and drag your stuff down to a smoky bar where they never remember your name and you have to beg the bartender to get your pay from the office…it might be time for a change.

I’ve set up a small system whereby I can decide whether or not to accept a performance at the drop of a hat, without feeling guilt or shame about it.   (I am a recovering guilt-addict, which we can talk about another time.)

Christine Kane taught me about the Pro-active No, which is what I used to set up my system.   It goes like this:

I only accept free shows under the following circumstances –

1. Is it for a charity that I respect, admire, and want to be part of?

2. Does it make up for the lack of pay in significant exposure and/or guaranteed merchandise sales?

3.  Do I respect and admire the people involved with the event?

If a show does not meet two out of three of those requirements, it’s pretty easy for me to say no.  If it meets all three, it’s probable that I will accept it.

I’ve also changed my language about performances.  I hardly ever use the word “gig”, and I also speak about booking shows in terms of “accepting” them (as you may have noticed above) rather than “trying to get” them.  I don’t “try to get gigs” anymore.

I won’t say that this has resulted in my phone and email box instantly blowing up with requests for me to play amazing paying performances every day, but you know what?   Even though I have played fewer shows so far this year than I typically would if I were “trying to get gigs”, I’ve made significantly more money with my music, and I’ve had much, much more gratifying experiences.

In my next post, I want to talk to you about an absolutely lovely experience I had last weekend.

Thursday Poetry: Mending Wall

Thursday Poetry is on Friday, again!

I really need to spend some quality time with my Google calendar again so we can re-establish our relationship.

Anyway, coming out of yesterday’s post, I thought I should share Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” with you today, in case you’ve never read it, or you haven’t read it since 8th grade English class.

Mending Wall


Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Out here with no walls.

Last week, there was a small feature about me on the Ourstage blog.   Being written up there was a nice surprise and it really made my week.   The post itself also got me thinking.

The post draws attention to the fact that I am out there, way out there, for you.  This made me wonder why this isn’t a more common approach, and also made me think about why it seems so natural to me.

I love to communicate.  I love to connect.  Every word I write, every performance, every post, status update, answered question — all of it is an effort to connect with you.  I want to be heard, and  I want to hear your stories.   I want you to know I am listening, because you find ways to let me know you’re listening to me.

Robert Frost wrote,

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

I am one of those “somethings” — I don’t ever want there to be walls between you and me.  Yes, I have personal boundaries, but I wouldn’t feel as though I was doing my job as a creative person if I shut myself away from all of you.

So thank you for reading, for listening, for laughing and sharing with me. Let’s hang out here with no walls together.

Make, make, make!

I keep coming back to the idea of cyclical creativity.   That, rather than “blocked” or “not blocked”, there can be times when we’re just naturally feeling more like creating than others.  Sometimes, I’ve made sure that there’s nothing specifically impeding my momentum,  and I’m still showing up to the page every day, but nothing feels like it’s really there.    Other times, there isn’t a way to get ideas down fast enough.    I try not to take those down times as an indication that I am any less of a creative person.  Rather, I’ve started thinking of my creativity as a cycle like any other of the many cycles our bodies and lives continuously go through.

Right now I’m at a Creativity High Point.   The other day, while messing around with some plants in the garden, I started thinking that my creativity cycle seems to tie in pretty strongly with the seasons.

Everywhere in nature, things are yelling, “Make, make, make!”

Mating season, growing season, buds and leaves and babies are everywhere.  The sun is out, and hibernation is over.  I feel like my Winter hibernation is over, too.   I’ve done the introspection for months that I need to draw from, now I can turn outward and figure out how to express those thoughts and emotions in songs, and stories, and poems (and gardens, and food, and crafts!)

Do the seasons affect your creativity?   Or have you noticed any other type of creative cycles in your own art?