Caring Too Much 

I've been told I'm a deep feeler that cares too much.  Which is true I guess. I cry when I see roadkill.  I cry when my kids pick me a flower.  I even cry when I see an old barn that has collapsed, just thinking about all the work that went into it. 

(Don't ever ask me to watch animal movies with you: you won't be able to hear the dialog over the sobbing.) 

Anyway, my deep feelings got the better of me today. While sitting at a stoplight in my car on the way to work, I looked outside and felt despair and sadness.  Everything got to me.   Billboards for junk food. Litter. Yard signs for elected billionaires that don't give a damn about neglected communities. Elderly women trying to walk down sidewalks while snowplows throw chunks of ice at them. 

And me driving by, helpless, caring too much about it all. 

Or so it felt in the moment. 

After I settled down, I realized that--as powerless as it feels--caring is powerful.  Yes, caring means crying and anger and frustration and disappointment. But it also means change and compassion and potential and hope. We can't change everything, but we can change a little. 

And that's something. 

Reader, it's Martin Luther King day today, and I'm so inspired by how much that man cared.  If you too find yourself caring alone, please remember: you're not alone.  There are a lot of us out there.  You may feel lost in your emotions like I do.  I think sometimes we just need to acknowledge our emotions, normalize them, and then keep trucking on in the direction of the change we want to make. 

With that, this deep feeler is off to pick up some trash outside her restaurant.  It's something. I'll see you next Monday. -Em

The Point 

There was a shooting at my old high school this week.  It rocked our community. So many people—myself included—were scared and upset. 

As we all tried to talk about it one night, what struck me most was how much anger and ego were brought into the conversation. Everyone wanted to place blame. And at the end of the discussion, there was no deep understanding of each other. There was no plan of action. There wasn’t even unified sympathy. 

There was only righteous indignation. 

Historically, I’ve been just as guilty as anyone when it comes to trying to get my point across at all costs. But something happened last week. 

I realized that a bunch of people trying to get their points across get very little accomplished. 

Reader, it’s sad to me all that we humans have lost since the advent of social media. I feel like we’ve elected to abandon the art of sitting at a table for the hours required to actually listen and make progress on a topic. So often these days, people make quick jabs, and then move on. 

I’m on a mission this year to talk a bit less, and listen a lot more. I don’t think I want to live in a world where my desire for being right outweighs my desire to do the most good. Sometimes, the point of discussion is not to make one. 

With that, I’m off to take a cold walk and clear my head. I’m up north, and it’s a beautiful night for observing. I’ll see you next Monday. 

-Em

Don't Dwell 

Happy New Year, Reader.  On January 1st, I took a cold winter's walk with my new rescue pup, Franklin.  We got a few inches of snow here in Illinois, and strolling outside was a great time for thinking about the year we left behind. Having thought on it, I've decided to make only one resolution this year: 

Don't dwell. 

Or maybe more rightly: move on quickly.  The more I considered the past year, the more I realized that the only thing keeping me from being happy most days is my tendency to hold on to emotions, both the good and the bad.  Last year, I wrecked countless perfectly nice moments by remembering mistakes of my past, then allowing myself to wallow in them. 

No more.   

In 2022, when I make a mistake, I'm going to sincerely and swiftly apologize for it, then move forward. Likewise, if I do something good, I'm going to bask in it for a moment, then move forward.  If I miss somebody, I'll remember them, then enjoy the ones I'm with.  Life goes far too quickly to hold onto feelings, and I don't want to miss any more moments replaying emotions that aren't relevant. 

In related news, I got a telescope for Christmas, and I plan to spend a lot more time looking outside of myself and into the sky. Because there's nothing quite like being reminded of how small we all are to help us make the most of every minute we're here.  See you next Monday. -Em

The Difficulty of Separating Art & Self 

Christmas was a fluffy blur.  Our family exchanged presents.  We cooked food.  There were cookies galore.  And I created a lot of magic for our two little kids.  I poured everything I had into making the holiday special for others. 

Which is a classic Emily move.  I give too much, and then I'm beat.  Now once again, I need to fill my own damn cup.  It's nice to be taking the time to write a blog again.   

Anyway, tonight I've been reflecting.  Last week, I got a few bad reviews of my restaurant's winter market.  The reviews tanked me more than usual.  I've tried to bulldoze my way past my emotions, telling myself it's ok not to please everyone.  But it's hard.  It dawns on me that the reason it's hard is because of how personally I take criticism about the things I make.  Attacking my artistic endeavors has always felt like a personal attack. 

Which begs the question: is our art an extension of ourselves, or can we separate ourselves from our art?  

For me, I think the answer is: sometimes we can, sometimes we can't.  It all depends on how close we are to what we've created.  I have ZERO connection to some things I've made. Then there are other things I've made that feel so close to me, like they're actually in my bones.  And those are the ones that hurt when someone puts them down. 

I guess the winter market was in my bones. 

Reader, if you're like me and you find yourself feeling dejected over what someone else thinks about the things you've made, take heart.  You're not alone. But let's not hide our creations (or worse, stop creating altogether) for fear of what others will say.  We don't create for praise or to validate who we are.  We create to bring our vision to life. And in the end, that vision must be greater than another person's opinion of it.  Honor it, and the rest disappears. 

With that, I leave you to play the piano.  This week, let's keep on keeping on.  Don't be derailed by the ones who don't like what you're doing.  May we go forth as confidently as my two kids having a break dance party under a Christmas tree in the park tonight.   

I'll see you next Monday. -Em 

Where It's All Going 

Almost seven years ago, I bought a building on the west side of Rockford.  For years, I spent most days alone, rehabbing the space into a restaurant.  Some days felt bleak. I was frequently lonely and lost.  More often than not, I wondered what the hell I was doing it all for. 

Fast forward to this past weekend.  So many friends and neighbors and staff members filled the alley outside the building for our second annual Snømarket.  I must've taken a thousand photos in my mind. I wish I could go back in time and show those pictures to the old me, the one who didn't see where it was all going. 

Reader, I'm keeping it short tonight because I'm on fumes.  But I'm happy.  If you find yourself wondering where it's all going in your life, take heart.  Somewhere down the road, you'll know.  It may not be what you wanted at first, but it will be where you needed to go. 

Merry Christmas, and happy holidays.  See you next Monday. -Em

Snømarket! 

No blog tonight.  I'm busy building Snømarket (my restaurant's outdoor winter market).  If you live near Rockford, Illinois, please stop by The Norwegian this weekend!  We're open from 3 pm to 9 pm this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Outlets 

I've become a real nag. 

Not by choice.  But by necessity.  At my day job at the restaurant, I nag. 

"Don't forget to drop silverware to Table 46!  Pick up that orange juice glass at the server stand!! Who forgot to water the damn poinsettas?! "

Then I drive home for 9 blissful minutes.  And once again, I commence with the nagging. 

"Did you make your bed? Stop hitting your sister! You're not allowed to blow your nose on my coat.  Why are you still hitting your sister?! "

I've started to hate the sound of my own voice.  I don't want to have to be in charge of these things.  But nevertheless, I am; therefore, I nag. 

It makes me fearful of what I've become. 

And then I remember: I have an outlet.  I have a place where my voice isn't used to put things in their place.  A place where I choose what I want to say.  A place where I actually enjoy saying it. 

The ol' trusty piano bench.   

Reader, everybody needs an outlet.  To some people, it's a punching bag.  To others, it's a notebook.  Some see it as a mountain trail. Others find it in a blank canvas. Whatever it looks like to you, don't forget to escape to your happy place.  If it goes too long, you wind up like me: forgetting that we are not what we do all day long for necessity sake.  We are what we do by choice.  

With that, I plan to start looking around to plan my 2022 songwriting sabbatical.  Whatever you're up to this week, I wish you moments of escape from all you do for necessity sake.  You are more than what you have to do to get things done. I'll see you next Monday. -Em

How To Be Bad At Things 

It was a week of firsts again for me.  First time in a wetsuit.  First time paddle boarding.  First time spending substantial time in Lake Superior in November. 

(First time falling over and over again in Lake Superior in November.)

As an overachiever, it's hard for me to start new things.  Especially because I know I'm going to be bad at them.  And nobody likes being bad at things.  I like to be great at things.

But man, life is going to be pretty boring for me if I stick to things I'm good at doing.

Besides, there's no such thing as being bad at something you've only just started.  When it comes to beginning a skill, there's only new, and then there's experienced.  Not bad or good.

So the first time I fell in the lake and got back up again, I made a conscious decision to stop qualifying my abilities. After all, I wasn't a bad paddle boarder.  I was just a person out on the water learning to paddle board by trial and error.

Lots and lots of error. But I was new to the damn sport, so I was bound to fall.  And when I looked at it that way, I was able to enjoy the rest of my time on the board.  Simply because I stopped caring how "good" I was doing.  

Reader, if you're a fellow overachiever, don't let being new to something stop you from trying it.  Life is a lot more fun when you permit yourself to be a beginner, to learn, and to go easy on yourself in the process.  I hope you have a great week, and I'll see you next Monday. -Em

 

Out Of Tune  

This week, I hit the studio, and we started mixing my new record. Listening back to one of my favorite songs, I cringed.  My vocals were all over the place.  Sometimes I was sharp, sometimes flat, and sometimes I just plain sang the wrong note. 

So I asked my producer if I could sing it again. 

This time, I sang it perfectly.  I nailed everything.  Great vibrato.  Killer high notes. Big belting low notes.  You know: the works.  I felt like a pro again, like a real singer. 

Except listening back, I hated every perfect note of it. 

I missed all the gritty bits.  The scratchy high notes.  The parts I ran out of breath. They were the good stuff.  They sold the story by making it believable.  In the end, that rough pass was the one I nailed. 

And the perfect pass was more cringeworthy than all my mistakes combined.  It sounded fake.

Reader, there's a time to prove we're good, and there's a time to be good at being authentic, at being our flawed selves.  Nobody wants art that's immaculate.  They want art that makes them feel something real.   I don't know if it helps to read, but being pitch perfect in life isn't always something to strive for.  Sometimes it's enough to get up and be the best damned you that you can be. 

With that, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving this week, and I'll see you next Monday. Get out there and be out of tune. -Em

The Ham-On Soup Phenomenon 

Amazing stuff happens when you don’t have much to work with.  Cobbling together odd bits created some pretty original things for me this week. 

On Friday night, I played a show with the few musicians that I could find. At the last minute, an unprecedented trio of fiddle, piano, and drums was born, and the show was incredible. We laughed.  The audience laughed.  The sound we made together was unlike anything I had heard before. 

At my restaurant, we decided to make some food specials out of what we had on hand, just to free up some freezer space. My supplies were limited and traditionally didn't fit well together.  But I made a soup out of ham stock and scraps of salmon belly.  Low and behold, ham salmon soup (aka "ham-on" soup) was created, and it was surprisingly smoky, briny, and delicious. 

And on the home front, the kids and I were running low on art supplies, so we decided to make pictures out of leaves and tape.  The result?  Stained glass window oak leaf art installations all around the house. 

Reader, so often, I see my limitations as a weakness.  But it's nice to have weeks where I remember just how much is invented when I don't have what I think I need. 

Wishing you a week of creative solutions to your limits.  See you next Monday. -Em