Good Sense, Bad Creativity 

I've been writing songs as long as I can remember.  

As a teenager, I only let my mom and dad listen to the songs; theirs was the only opinion I had the guts to hear.  Then in my early 20's, I started sharing my songs with more people, eventually playing them around Chicago. Not only was writing songs a cathartic (maybe even religious) practice for me, but sharing them with others seemed to do something for them, too.  I wrote about heartbreak and lust and city life, and these concepts resonated well with others.

Oh, to be young.

Then in my 30's, I didn't often have "relatable" things to write.  Themes got more personal.  I wrote about seeing my dad's ashes after he died. I wrote about my daughter being born with a rare syndrome.  I wrote about finding mouse bones in my hair while I was renovating a building into a restaurant, and I wrote about my relationship with the guys running the black barbershop next door.  Unsurprisingly, most of my fans didn't understand the songs.  They missed the good old days of me writing about my late nights in Chicago with handsome strangers.

And every now and then, I try to will myself to write songs that people want to hear.  I try to package up the words and music in a way that seems "right" to the listeners. And the end result?

Lame tunes that don't stir up a single emotion in me.

Pablo Picasso famously said, "The chief enemy of creativity is 'good' sense."  And man, his words feel so true.  Because while we may need to learn the skills of HOW to make something, deciding WHAT we make is not something that can be taught, and there's no right or wrong to it. Creativity is fraught with bizarre, imperfect energy.  What we make is not meant to be good or to make sense for others: it's meant to be what it is.

Reader, if you're a maker of ANYTHING--from oil paintings to dinner--I remind you that making things 'nice' isn't always the best way to make things.    Push boundaries.  Be true to your emotions.  Let your art be spontaneous and honest.  This next year is going to require innovative, original solutions from all of us as we try to pull ourselves out of our divisive ways during a still-surging pandemic.  New ideas will need to be born to respond to our unique problems.  So let's keep our creative juices primed by allowing ourselves to create from a place free of judgement and full of courage.

I leave you with a picture of my 5 year-old son, John.  His creative idea today was to a make a stain-glassed mitten, hang it in the window, then have me take a picture of him holding a clementine in front of it, pretending to be a pirate.  Does any of that make sense?  No.  Is it one-of-a-kind, classic John?  You betcha, and I saluted him for that.  May you have this kind of courage and freedom as you create this week.  See you next Monday. -Em

 

Surface Fixes 

I have a tendency to fix major problems with surface solutions.  Those broken eyeglasses? Tape them.  That burn on the wood floor? Get a rug. That broken heart?  Have a scotch.

And while these fixes don't solve the problem, they temporarily make it better.

That's been the theme of this whole year at my restaurant: I temporarily made a lot of things better.  When we found out that we would be forced to close our dining room, we turned our restaurant into a market.  We accomplished this feat as quickly as building the set of a high school play.  And while we may have fooled the public, behind the scenes, it was a mess.  The 5,000 square foot basement became an enormous catch all for junk upon junk upon junk. Broken shelves got more broken.  Faulty equipment gave out completely.  But as long as the plan was working, I let it all go.

This week, I didn't.  

I got right in there.  I have a sore back as I type tonight, and it feels great.  I threw out clutter.  I organized storage.  I built a workshop, mended shelves, and made an equipment plan.  No more surface fixes for me this year.  I'm ready to tackle the big fish.

Reader, if there's any issues that you've swept under the rug, consider staring it in the face and giving it a go.  I can't tell you how much more buoyant I feel after pushing myself this week to truly heal the problems that I've previously only bandaged.  Looking forward to more of the same next week.  See you next Monday.

 

Points of View 

I've never purchased a new piece of furniture.  Not only because I've never had the money, but also because I spent 12 years living in Chicago, where the couches, tables, and chairs left in the alley by former tenants seemed fine enough for me to use.  I'd give those wares a good cleaning and move them into my apartment without thinking twice.

I have a good friend who was disgusted by my alley acquisitions.  She eventually had a hard time coming over. See, I would look at my studio spaces--decked out in found furnishings--and see a beautiful display of funky styles from various eras, existing serendipitously in my living room as a result of my resourcefulness.

She saw filth and germs.

And we laughed about how we could both be looking at the same room and feel so differently about it.  We chalked it up to having different points of view.

I miss laughing about different points of view.

Reader, watching the storming of the capitol this week rocked me to my core.  But what made it even harder was hearing the points of view from my conservative friends after the fact. Many of them saw the rioters as patriots.  Many of them saw justice being served. Many of them saw victory.  And initially, I started to question my point of view.  

What am I not seeing?  Do they know something I don't?  Some of these people were wearing 6MWE (6 million wasn't enough) t-shirts, referring to Jews in the Holocaust.  Some arrived at the capitol with zip ties for handcuffing.  Some called out congresspeople by name with guns in their hands.  These people are acting like assholes. What am I missing? 

Clearly, I'm missing a lot.

Dear Reader, I'm having a difficult time finding words for how dark these times feel to me. And I don't have a sense of optimism as we go into 2021, but I do have resolve to continue to keep my eyes open and my guard up.  These are crazy times.  People believe only what they want to believe. That's very scary.  I feel in my gut that it's time for us all to be very alert

I leave you with this picture of the field next to my house on Wednesday night.  It was so ominous, much like the events of the week.  As much as I like to see the bright side of things, I feel like we have a long way to go to come together and see each others' points of view, and it's important to be honest about that fact while we continue to try.  See you next Monday. -Em

 

Hunt Carefully 

I awoke this morning to a forest full of hoar frost.  It was as if every twig of every tree was crystalline. And even though I've seen this phenomenon before and understand the science behind it, there's always something magical about it when it happens.  

Later on, I saw three deer amble through the woods.  They didn't seem scared of me at all. Between the deer, the hoar frost, and today being the 8 year anniversary of my Dad's death, I decided that it was all a big sign, meant to remind me that life is short. and I should keep going.

And so that became the truth.

Reader, it's a funny thing: we generally find exactly what we're looking for.  And sometimes, that's wonderful.  But sometimes, it's not.  If we go looking for problems in our relationships, we usually find them. And if we go looking for loving acts in our relationships, we usually find them.  If we look for justice in the world, we will find it, just like we would if we were searching for injustice. Today, I looked for magic in the woods, and I found it. What would have happened if I looked for sadness?

You get the gist. 

I plan on hunting more carefully in 2021, and I invite you to do the same.  Look for the good; I bet we'll find it, every time.  

My restaurant is closed indefinitely now until indoor dining resumes, and I plan on spending more time intentionally seeking out what I'd like to see.  Here's to a new outlook. I'll see you next Monday. -Em


Crazy Measures 

Today, I'm hosting our restaurant's staff holiday party in the woods behind our house. With COVID-19 still on the rampage in Northern Illinois, we figured an outdoor gathering was safest. It snowed last night, and we hope our staff dresses warmly.

But if they don't, we dug a hole in the ground, built a rocket stove, filled the hole with water, and are attempting to give them a hot tub.

Crazy times call for crazy measures.

Reader, I'm keeping it short because I'm anxious to spoil my employees.  This has been the rockiest year of my life.  Far and away. I've learned three big lessons.  First, I've learned that people are the most important thing in my life, and I've learned to tell them that I love them every day.  Second I've learned to ask myself regularly what I can control, and what I cannot.  Finally I've learned that we actually can meet insane challenges by coming up with insane solutions.  

Wishing you a safe, healthy, & happy New Year, and I'll see you on Monday. -Em

Team Recklessness 

It was one thing to lead a reckless life when I was on my own.  

I used to take off on a solo concert tour and sleep in my car every night.  I'd eat bar olives for dinner and drink a scotch for dessert.  I would write songs on a ukulele while I was driving and then use tour money to make albums that few people would buy.

(Ah the good old days).

But it's another thing to lead a reckless life surrounded by a team.  The risks I took alone only impacted me.  But now as a mother, a wife, and the de facto leader of a 21 person restaurant crew, any crazy choices I make will either elevate or incriminate all of the people around me.

Those poor, wonderful fools.

As the year comes to an end, I can't help but feel grateful for the humans in my life.  At the restaurant, I have asked a lot of our team.  In June, I asked them to show up in our woods to build 6 harvest tables and an outdoor pavilion.  And they grabbed their hammers. In October, I asked them to stop everything they were hired to do and instead help me construct an indoor market. And they built the sweetest little store I've seen. This past weekend, I asked them to bundle up and serve our customers outside in the bitter cold. And they looked like beautiful eskimos out there, delivering martinis.

Then there's my family.  This fall, I asked my kids to spend their precious Sundays filming a kid's cooking class for other children.  And they rolled up their sleeves and were spectacular little bakers (most days).  This winter, I asked my mother to turn her house into a warehouse for jars, boxes, and labels for the market.  And she is now living in what looks like a bottle factory.  This past weekend, I asked my husband to help me put together an event for kids.  And he went above and beyond, dressing up as Kristoff, the Nordic Disney prince.

At any point, these people could've said no.  Maybe they even should've said no.  Instead, they followed me into the fire, and now that we're on the other side--a bit burned and only a little worse for wear--I can say that having them by my side made me work harder than I've ever worked in my life.  I would've done anything not to let them down.  They gave me their best, so I gave them my best.  That intense respect and commitment to each other is absolutely priceless.  It makes the risks riskier, but it also makes the successes so much more sweet.

Reader, I may not blog next week; I'm hosting an outdoor holiday "party" (distanced of course) for my staff.  We've all been through so much this year. If you're lucky enough to have had friends or colleagues by your side through it all, cherish them.  It takes a really special person to stand by us through all of our insane struggles and bizarre solutions to them. I know I cherish mine.

See you next Monday. -Em

 

 

Creating the Magic 

Being a kid during the holidays and experiencing all the light-hearted magic is wonderful. 

Being an adult during the holidays and creating all the light-hearted magic is HARD. 

This week—both at home and at work—I devoted my time to getting other humans into the holiday spirit.  We decorated the house.  We made ornaments. I made the kids give some of their toys to others.  I made Christmas cookies at work, and I bought presents for all of my staff.  

And I’m exhausted.  But my heart is full. 

Reader, if you’re having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit this year, it helped me to get generous.  Not with money, but with time and energy.   

God knows I need to redirect my energy. 

I’ve become bitter this year, watching how politicians have abandoned my industry and my employees.  It has consumed my mind to think about how my restaurant has been forced to close for indoor dining since October 3rdwith no relief in place. 

But bitterness is a waste of energy.  Focusing on how angry I am has done nothing to change my situation.  Truly, nothing.  Yet focusing on how I can do the most good?  Well that’s been a bit of magic for me this week. 

Wishing you the same vibes. I’ll see you next Monday. -Em

Earning Your Beer 

Growing up, my parents had very few rules for me.  I was allowed to do almost anything. I was allowed to cuss.  I was allowed to drink underage.  I was allowed to wander off unattended down miles of railroad track, and I was allowed to stay out late with boys.

(Not that there were ever any boys.  I was usually too busy wandering unattended down the railroad track.)

But I wasn't allowed to lie.  I wasn't allowed to gossip about people.  And I wasn't allowed to be lazy.  Those were the three enforceable rules of our home, and I've carried them into our household today.

I got to thinking the other day about how my family prized being hard-working. Dad used to say he loved sitting down at the end of the day, knowing he had put in a hard day's work.  And I agree: a beer doesn't taste as good if you haven't worked up a sweat and earned it.

Now I've worked harder than I've ever worked this year.  Between fighting for the restaurant, my music career, and my kids' education, you would think that I might feel like I've earned the damn beer.  But something terrible has happened. 

The proverbial beer doesn't even sound good.  I'm craving work. And now I think I've become a full-blown work-a-holic.

Reader, even though being hard-working is good, there's a balance, and I'm not nailing it.  Too much is too much.  We have to know when to punch out at the end of the day.  As we all head into the holidays, let's be sure we're striving for balance.   I'm going to spend the final weeks of 2020 resolving to seek more equanimity in 2021.  It might not happen, but it's something to shoot for.

And I'm starting right now by putting aside my computer and enjoying my kids.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Concert this week 

You know what I miss most in this year of Covid? 

It’s not just the usual family gatherings and hugs, although I do miss those.  It’s not visiting theatres or restaurants or live concerts, although I REALLY miss those.  And it’s not even the money that I made before I was unemployed, because let’s be honest: there was never much to miss. 

But I miss connection like crazy.  Real shared air, shared experience and closeness and the reciprocal boost of energy and understanding that came with it.

Reader, I’m keeping it brief tonight. This Wednesday, I’m playing a concert online, and I hope you’ll come to it. Any donation gets you in, and the link is here. I haven’t played a show in a while, and I’m looking forward to singing for you all.  No, it won’t be the same as sharing a show in the real world. But it’s the best we can do during these times, and the best we can do is still worth doing.

Please send extra love to a restaurant worker this week.  We are so tired.  It’s hard to be in the hospitality industry when circumstances make it hard to be hospitable.  I'll see you back here again next Monday. -Em

Bob Hope 

The ringing in my ears came back this week.  I haven't heard it much since my dad died.  It's usually a sign that I'm under a lot of stress.  

No joke.

I'm carrying 20 employees through a pandemic at a restaurant with a dining room that is forced closed.  I've never been more afraid and am fighting for every dollar they get.  I'm working about 90 hours a week while getting paid $90 a week, just trying to get the team through this closure. The weekly payroll feels like a weight on my shoulders. This is the scariest time of my life. I've been having nightmares of being eaten alive by snakes and crocodiles.

Such pleasant times.

Anyway, I had what I believe was a panic on Tuesday.  In the middle of it, I found myself physically convulsing, and then doing something I haven't done in years: I asked the heavens for a sign.  Not for a big sign. Not for help, or even to have my load lightened. Just for something to tell me I'm on the right track.

Yesterday, I got it.  And the sign was Bob Hope.

When I was little girl, I grew up just down the street from a house with a very tall and odd-looking statue of Bob Hope.  At the time, I didn't know he was a famous actor and comedian.  I just thought Bob Hope was a made-up character, meant to instill hope in everybody who drove by.

A few weeks ago, I was out by my first house, and I drove by that Bob Hope statue again; I saw that the owners were having an estate sale. The thought crossed my mind that Bob Hope would be getting a new home, and I'd never see him again.

Then on Sunday, I was driving home to my current house.  Just a few doors down, here he was: Bob Hope.  My new neighbors must have bought the statue at that estate sale.  Bob Hope is following me around apparently.  In fact, he's even closer now than he was before.

And that was all I needed.  I burst out laughing, and felt instantly lighter.

Reader, whether you believe in hippie signs or not, I hope you can find something that makes keep going this week, something that reminds you of the bigger picture and of your place in this world.  I believe it's worth looking for.  We all need to know we're on the right track.  It helps keep us light in these very dark times.

With that, I'm off to an early bed. Hoping my unconscious mind doesn't allow me to be consumed by crocodiles tonight. I'll see you next Monday. Keep hope alive. -Em