Inconvenient Inspiration 

Last week was full of frenzy and chaos.  We reopened my restaurant.  I couldn’t have been more proud of our crew.  It was a long, hard, hot week in the kitchen, and the team put out incredible food to hundreds of people. 

I was moving a mile a minute and felt like I didn’t have time to breathe. From the grocery store to our kitchen and back to the grocery store again, I was in a dead sprint most days.  

And of course, that’s when the muses struck.   

Reader, I have no idea why I get the urge to create when I don’t have a moment to spare; it seems to be a theme in my life.  One thing I do know as an artist: when the muses call, you stop what you’re doing and start creating (lest they stop inspiring you). And so, with a million things to do last week, I wrote a song, started a poem, and painted a 7’ by 7’ mural for the side of my building.   

I’m not even certain how I’m awake writing a blog.  

Whatever you’re up to this week, if inspiration strikes, I hope you follow it, no matter how inconvenient the timing. As I sit here and type with heavy eyes, I feel truly lucky to be alive and able to work and make things.  I wish you this same exhilarating gratitude.  See you next Monday. -Em

Thirsty Souls 

What a gorgeous day.  

I spent the bulk of it working to get my restaurant ready to reopen next week, but I managed to squeeze in an hour or two with my kids.  We hunted for Easter eggs and played hide and seek, and for a moment, the world felt really perfect. I was on a high all afternoon.

Reflecting on it tonight, I can see that the perfect feeling came from how damned hard this past week has been.  I've been exhausted and spiritually run down. In the same way that a cold glass of water tastes better the thirstier I am, this day sated me in a way I can't really put into words.  

But my soul sure must have been really, really thirsty.

Reader, just a reminder: we are hungry beings, and not just for food and water.  Nourishment takes so many forms, and today--weird as it sounds--my soul got its fix from an Easter egg hunt.  If you notice yourself feeling depleted this week, ask yourself what you need, and then go after it.  It's important to work up a mental thirst, but then it's important to replenish.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

We're All Gonna Die! 

Last week, my kids were on spring break from school, and I decided to take them to the Field Museum in Chicago.  I figured it would be good for them to get a little more education in their lives.

(Also, the Avengers exhibit at The Museum of Science and Industry was sold out).

My kids are fascinated by dinosaurs, so we spent the bulk of our time in the dinosaur exhibit.  If you've never been, I can't recommend it enough.  The museum does a great job of making you feel like you've gone back in time billions of years.  They walk you through ancient oceans and volcanoes and forests, teaching you about how various organisms came to be, and also how they died.  The museum explains the 5 known "mass extinctions," and also explains that there will undoubtedly be another one.

Needless to say: the questions from the kids on the car ride home were intense.  

As dark as it sounds, the idea of death and the passage of time really calmed me down this week.  It's not the first time this has happened; the staff at my restaurant knows that I bring it up a lot, because it eases my stress about day-to-day frustrations. Reader, during times when we're inclined to magnify our worries--it often helps to zoom out, step back, and keep in mind how short our lives are. 

(Cue Kansas singing "Dust In The Wind.")

I leave you with this picture of Sue the T-rex, just as a reminder: we're all gonna die!  So enjoy every moment this week, and please don't sweat it all so much. See you next Monday. -Em

Open Mindedness 

One of my resolutions for 2021 was to be more open minded.  Since the beginning of the year, I've been trying to expose myself to fresh ideas in all realms of my life. 

(Did you know pirate metal is an actual genre of music?  Who knew).

Anyway, this week, I decided to expand my food horizons. My restaurant crew and I took a class on lacto-fermentation.  It was so inspiring. I'm currently waiting for the results of home-made sauerkraut, mushroom kimchi, and brazil nut cheese.  

Let's hope my stomach can handle the bravery of my newly open mind.

I'll tell you one thing for sure, Reader: experimentation and open-mindedness are a great cure for the doldrums. It's been a mentally taxing week for me, and learning new things has a great way of shaking things up and keeping up my energy.  If you're looking for a boost this week, try doing something you've never done before.  Plant new plants, listen to fresh music, hike a new trail.  We're only stuck in a rut if we choose to be.  

With that, my energized self is off to clock a little time at the piano. See you next Monday. -Em

 

Improvisation 

My team and I hit a lot of roadblocks this week at my restaurant.  We didn’t have the right tools for projects or the best food for recipes or enough money for equipment.   

And when I focus on what I don’t have, it’s enough to make me want to quit. 

But instead of giving up because of our lack of the “right” or the “best” or “enough” of things, we rolled with it.  We worked with what we had.  We made do with old tools, sub-par ingredients, and make-shift equipment. (Who knew paper straws could come in handy when installing tile flooring?) 

Reader, this week was a big reminder for me not to give up on anything just because my resources and circumstances aren’t ideal.  Sometimes the best innovations come from not having much in your favor. 

I hope your week is filled with this kind of resourcefulness.  I’m so grateful for the people in my life, reminding me how to improvise.  See you next Monday. -Em

Bumper Sticker Wisdom 

I was a rigid kid.  I laid out my world in self-made black and white guidelines. I remember the day I decided I’d never put bumper stickers on a car or get any tattoos.  I didn’t want to commit to being a walking advertisement for any one thing.  Because what if I didn’t endorse it later on? 

Today, I’m a tattooed woman with a bunch of bumper stickers on my car.  So much for rigidity. 

Anyway, I’ve got bumper stickers on the brain because they led to an epiphany for me this week. Have you seen the COEXIST bumper sticker?  It’s fairly iconic, comprised of the symbols of a lot of major religions.  To me, the meaning is: exist at the same time with those who believe differently than you, maybe even those you dislike.  

On Wednesday, I saw the COEXIST bumper sticker just as I was leaving my restaurant.  It’s been a trying time at work, and my anxiety has been on the upswing.  The more I try to calm it down or pretend it’s not there, the more anxious I become.  I was at the beginning of a panic attack when I saw that bumper sticker.   

And I felt like the sticker was telling me something different: coexist within YOURSELF. 

Now maybe the revelation felt bigger in my head, and maybe I won’t be able to describe it perfectly in a blog, but I’ll try. 

We don’t need to wipe out all anxiety to enjoy ourselves.  We can be tense and also have happiness.  We can be grieving and still have belly laughs.  We can be angry and still care for others. There is no need to have just one singular emotion or feeling at one time.  They can all exist within us.  Just acknowledge them all and make room for the more useful ones. 

Reader, rigidity is for the birds.  There’s nothing bad or good about emotions…they’re a part of our lives. Attempting to eradicate my anxiety has only made it worse.  I’m going to attempt to follow my personal interpretation of the bumper sticker this week, and hope it’s a little less stressful.  I leave you with this picture of the deer in the field by my house…just because it calms me down. I’ll see you next Monday. -Em

Hoarders & What We Save For Later 

I have anxiety in cluttered spaces. Rooms with lots of knick-knacks bring out my claustrophobia.  (Which is a damn shame because I really love a good knick-knack.)  Lots of my friends hold onto items because they think they'll use them later.  My dad did that. And while I can respect that kind of resourcefulness, having lots of stuff lying around just makes me tense.

Although I gotta hand it to dad: anything I ever needed was usually up in our attic.

Anyway, this was an interesting week for me as a songwriter.  A couple months ago, a melody came to me while I was waking up one day. I wished I had the words to go with it, but there was really no story that seemed to fit with those chords.  And you know, if that melody had been a knick-knack, I would have thrown it out immediately before it had a chance to gather dust.  Instead, I wrote it down and put it in a notebook.

Then yesterday--after a hard conversation with a friend--words started pouring from me so easily and quickly that I had a hard time writing them all down.  So I pulled out the notebook with the melody, and a powerful song--that started weeks ago--was completed in a matter of minutes.

And all because I wasn't too quick to toss out that melody.

Reader, I'm in no position to judge anybody, but I learned a lesson this week: providing there's a little organization involved, it pays to hold onto some things, especially if they could be a part of your creations as an artist or musician or writer.  While they may not have immediate use, those little bits and pieces of inspiration may come in handy later on.  Sometimes clutter really pays off.

With that, I'm off to keep writing.  I got a little good news this week: one of my tunes is a semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition.  While that kind of recognition doesn't make or break my relationship with music, sometimes it's just nice to have a little boost to keep you going.  See you next Monday. -Em

I'm A Creep. I'm A Weirdo 

I took a solo vacation this week.  From Wednesday to Saturday, I rented a small stone house (with surprisingly nice acoustics) in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. I loaded in my instruments, made a lot of food, and spent hours every day at the piano.  Outside, the snow was falling peacefully.  The hills were rolling.  The waterfalls were frozen and stunning.  And with everything being so damned beautiful out there, I was certain I would create equally beautiful and peaceful songs. 

Nope.  I wrote angry, pounding, dissonant songs with lyrics so cutting I’d be afraid to meet me in a dark alley. 

And I truly have no idea where the songs came from, but apparently, my muses needed me to know that I’m miffed about a lot more than I knew. 

Reader, I’m going to keep it short tonight because I’ve written a lot this week.  Please let my crazy songwriting excursion serve as a reminder: we have so much more going on beneath the surface than we know.  As busy as life gets, we absolutely need an outlet to express ourselves, not just to express what we think is on our minds, but maybe more importantly: what we don’t even know is on our minds. 

And I guess my mind had a LOT of creepy stuff in there that I've been suppressing.  I’m relieved it’s finally out in the open..in song form. I’ll see you next Monday.  -Em

The Power of Helplessness 

My restaurant is still closed, and the renovations continue.  Last week, I drove to Wisconsin, picked up the all the pieces needed to construct an 8’ x 8’ walk-in cooler, and drove them back to Illinois in a snowstorm. I called in the staff to help me load them into the kitchen area.  And then it dawned on me. 

I have no clue what the hell I’m doing. 

(It’s an all-too familiar phrase for me; I’ve always jumped into projects before I’m ready.  Damned unearned confidence.) 

But the job needed to get done. So I tore apart the packaging and searched for some written directions. All I found was a single-page diagram with no explanation of what any of the pieces were or how to put them together. I felt powerless. So what did I do? 

I got hot with rage and blamed the person who wrote the diagram. 

Reader, when we feel lost, it’s easy to let our fear spin into a fury.  It feels almost like we’re back in control; it’s even a little empowering. But it doesn’t change anything.  I still had no idea what the hell I was doing. 

After about an hour, I let go of the rage, and leaned into the helplessness.  I made a few phone calls to people who might know what to do. I did some Googling.  I bought a few tools, and I calmly started to tackle the cooler until it was built.   

My restaurant team made a resolution for 2021: when we have a problem that makes us feel lost, we brainstorm a way to fix things before we react.  We don’t run from our feelings, or blame somebody else for them.  Solutions will come from coexisting with helplessness and working through it. 

I leave you with a picture of my brand-new walk-in cooler.  I’m really proud of it.  Whatever you’re working on this week, I hope you’re leaning into it. See you next Monday. -Em 

Scratch Your Own Ears 

In 2006, I adopted my dog, Hank.  He was a 3 month-old border collie mutt that was a brownish blackish puffball with big eyes and a calm demeanor.  He looked more like a toy than an animal.  I used to walk him down the streets of Chicago, and he would stop traffic.  I remember being late to meetings because so many strangers wanted to pet my puppy.

As he grew, he became far more intelligent, playful, and even empathetic.  But as a full-sized dog, strangers didn't want to pet him anymore.  I remember him being confused when we would pass people on the sidewalk, and zero ear scratches were given.

(I learned then that canine depression is a real thing.)

Anyway, I often think of Hank's confusion and how it resonates with me.  This week was my birthday, which just happens to fall 2 days after my 4 year-old daughter's birthday.  As you might expect, we had a giant party for my kid: I got her a piñata, presents, and I even made a 6-layer rainbow cake.  For me?  Well we ordered a pizza so I didn't have to cook.  

Happy birthday to me.

And don't get me wrong.  I wasn't expecting more, and I tried to enjoy my day.  But it got me thinking about how much energy and attention goes to the young--who will barely remember things like birthdays--and how that attention fades as we age.  We get used to the idea that we're less relevant the older we get. The phenomenon seems to run rampant in several walks of life: I once had a talent agent in Nashville tell me I couldn't 'make it' as a recording artist past the age of 30.

Apparently--in Nashville--one's outward appearance affects their singing abilities.

Reader, I'm not sure what causes us to find youth adorable and age unremarkable.  As far as I can tell, the older we get, the more interesting we become.  Our personalities are defined.  Our character is honed.  Our experiences are richer and our emotions are tempered.  Do we need a people to fawn over us to make us feel special?  Absolutely not.  But should we will remember to continue to care for ourselves more as we receive less care from others?  

Absolutely.

I leave you with a picture of this absurd cake I made for me daughter.  I threw her one heck of a party, because she's young, and she needs it.  Tonight, I'm booking myself a songwriting retreat, because I'm old, and I need it.  When the world stops scratching your ears, you gotta learn to scratch em yourself.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

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