Forced Perspective 

I was all thumbs this week.

We reopened my restaurant.  By the time the weekend was over, my staff and I had completed a litany of mortifying mistakes, including burning dozens of cinnamon rolls, breaking an espresso machine, and serving meat to a vegetarian.  After 3 months of quarantine, our once seamless dining room dance around each other had turned into a series of accidental body checks and spilled mimosa flights.  But the strangest part?

None of it was mortifying.

In fact, it was the opposite.  We laughed a lot.   We shook off what went wrong.  Customers were (for the most part) understanding.

And we owe it all to a deadly virus.

Reader, as tragic as tragedy is, it certainly does have a way of forcing us to have perspective.  After all: in a world that's hot with racial tension, political fury, and a raging pandemic, what's a few burned pastries here and there?  Overall, I'm counting our restaurant reopening as a resounding success.  Nobody got hurt, physically or mentally, and our outdoor seating area was a hit.  Looking forward to a week of more of the same.  Wishing you this same forced perspective; see you next Monday. -Em

A Different Kind of Discipline 

It's been a hard, hot couple of weeks.  Not even coffee is reviving me lately.  

Between building our outdoor patio at the restaurant, finishing up new album prep work, and being a mom, I'm zapped.  I've tried to combat the fatigue with my usual will power and self-discipline.

I am the Yoda of self-discipline.

Give me a diet, I'll follow it.  Give me an assignment, I'll move mountains to complete it.  Anything you throw at me, I'll knock it out of the park eventually.

But apparently, I'm not very disciplined at being kind to myself.

Reader, I wonder why it is that we can work our bodies til they're sore, work our minds until they're foggy, work our hearts until they're empty, but we can't work to carve out time to care for ourselves?  I just worked seven 10-hour days in a row, but I don't know how to take an hour to read a book.  What on earth is wrong with me?! (Besides the fact that I'm a self-punishing maniac). I'm honestly not sure.  But I do know one thing:

I'm so ready to be just as regimented about taking a break as I am about working.

And with that, I'm off to bed.  I just got a new book that I can't wait to dive into, and I've got a song I'd like to finish. I look forward to opening my restaurant this week with planned breaks every now and then.  

If quarantine taught me anything, it's that life is too short to do nothing but work and pay bills.  See you next Monday. -Em

 

 

Mom First 

No blog for me tonight.  The kids needed a little extra time with their mom.  No apologies.  I'll see you next Monday.  Have an incredible week. -Em


 

Big Dreams, Small Skills 

We just spent the weekend at my restaurant building an outdoor seating pavilion.  Our staff is sunburned, bruised, and gassed.  I can barely lift my arms today.

Feels great.

I don't know if it's everybody or just me, but I've always found myself pushing past personal limits.  Not just physically (because who doesn't love a good endorphin rush) but mentally too.  I've had nights of songwriting that were almost painful. The morning after, my apartment would look like a writer's crime scene: balled-up paper everywhere, cracked pencils, pillows on floors, instruments all over couches.

The tell-tale signs of a person past the edge.

I've been reflecting on it today, wondering why I'm not good at letting enough be enough.  First and foremost, I know I'm just a neurotic weirdo. Plain and simple.  But more deeply, I think there's something that happens within a person when their vision exceeds their abilities.

In my head, I can feel perfectly crafted songs.  I see whimsical buildings and paintings.  I can taste well-balanced food.  Unfortunately, my skills don't usually know how to get me to the vision.  And that's when I work like a feverish maniac.

So what's to be done when our vision is beyond our skillset?

Keep. At. It.

Reader, if you too find yourself with a dream in your head that your talents can't match, it would be a shame to diminish the dream.  Instead, I think we have to generate a lot of shoddy versions of the masterpiece in our minds until our skills improve, and we can achieve it.  Write the weak songs.  Build the imperfect furniture. Paint the lame paintings.  Just keep going.

With that, I'm off to keep building.  It's not going to be as good as what I planned, but it's the work I need to do to get better at woodworking.  Hopefully, it'll be done by next week.  I'll see ya then. -Em

 

Out of Quarantine 

As of today, our state has entered into Phase 3 of reopening.  Our daycare is still closed per DCFS, so I'm still home with our kids. My restaurant is allowed to open for outdoor seating, which would be wonderful.

If we had outdoor seating. 

So in the coming weeks, I'll be simultaneously building outdoor seating, parenting, cleaning the restaurant, and trying to make another album.  Sounds like a lot.  I'm sure I'll be worked to the bone, dog tired, and collapse into bed each night.

But all I feel is gratitude (and a bit of guilt) that these are my only daily trials.

Reader, the state of the world bowled me over this week.  Seeing the video of George Floyd calling for his mother in heaven while a police officer put his knee on his neck brought me to tears, over and over.  How miserable is it that--if that video hadn't surfaced--we white people wouldn't get such a firsthand feeling of how Black Americans feel, everyday. 

Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Brenda Russell famously wrote "None of Us Are Free (if one of us is chained)."  The first version of the song I heard was sung by Solomon Burke. I listened to it again today.  Today, every word hits hard.  And it should.

When will it hit us that we are the same? The man under a knee is me and my kids and my family and my friends.  When we live in a world where black people are so clearly hurt (economically, socially, mentally, physically) everyday, then we are a part of a world that condones the treatment of all humans this way.  I can't help thinking: what if it had been you or your children under that knee, or jogging down that street, or selling those CDs, or any of the other instances where black humans were killed?

Empathy and understanding and active planning and then changing.  That's how we start making it better.  Protest, yes.  Loot local businesses, no.  I'm ready to listen and work.  I'm ready to work to the bone, dog tired, and collapse into bed each night (I've got a lot of practice).   Out of quarantine, into the fray I go.  -Em

 

Week 10 of Quarantine: creating without commentary 

Owning a restaurant during COVID-19 has been interesting.  The news we receive from the government changes weekly, sometimes daily.  Two weeks ago, we were told we couldn't open until June 26th.  Last week, we were told we could open in some capacity on June 1st, though we won't receive any guidelines until tomorrow.

I'm getting whiplash from it all.

Rather than respond quickly to the news, I've decided to wait until we have concrete information, and move from there.  So, back to house work, family time, music, and food experiments I go.

One of the things I miss the most during this quarantine has been feedback.  Not just on things I create, but being able to share in the creations of my friends, family, and staff in ways that really can't be accomplished via Zoom and social media.

I miss asking a friend what they think of something I've written, then making adjustments, and in the end, making something better. I miss telling my bartenders their cocktails need a little more citrus, and them creating an improved version of the drink. The critiques and suggestions we give each other make such better end products, and we get to share the fruits of our labor with the ones we love.  

Plus, we get to stroke each others' egos, which we all know feels great.

But here we are, creating without commentary.  It almost makes you wonder why you create at all...

Almost.

Reader, these times will never feel natural to me.  Every cell of my body wants to interact with my friends.  This past week, I wrote a song that I liked a lot, and I also made some halloumi cheese from fresh milk.  The first thing I wanted to do was get feedback on the song, and ask the chefs at my restaurant how I could make the cheese better.  It's human nature to want to share what we make.

But that's not the point of creating.  When I write and cook, I feel a deeper connection with myself.  The practice feels almost religious.  There is something very personal about bringing something to life.  It dawned on me today.

I create for myself, I share for others.  

And there will be time for sharing soon enough.  Until then, I'm going to try to keep creating for myself, regardless of commentary. I hope you're able to do the same.  When this quarantine time ends, I look so forward to tasting and seeing and listening and holding everything you've made during this time.  I leave you with this picture of the cheese I made (I think it might need salt).  I'm looking so forward to enjoying our creations together in the real world soon. -Em

 

Week 9 of Quarantine: Breaking Character 

It was an industrious week.

On the restaurant front, our staff made a few video cooking demonstrations, and we started a big clean-out for reopening.  On the home front, I planted the rest of my garden (helloooo rhubarb and concord grapes). And on the music front, I wrote a few new songs to see if any of them would help round out the new record.

Then I looked at my website for the first time in a long time, and I realized it needed some updating.

It's been 5 years since I've had pictures taken of myself. And with a new album on the horizon, I figured it was time.  So I called up Mindy Young, and--keeping on our face masks--we walked out into the world to take a few pictures.  Nothing glamorous, just two women trying to capture the city-at-night feeling of the new album.  

I thought it would be awkward.  I haven't worn make-up in years, let alone entered into a photo shoot. But I slipped into that shoot like it was a pair of old brown shoes.  It was easy and comfortable and a lot of fun. 

When I got home, I felt instantly guilty and questioned myself. (Isn't that just like guilt to swoop in and ruin a good time?)  I wondered: can I really walk around claiming to be a down-to-earth humanitarian and still enjoy getting my picture taken?

Yes. Yes I bloody can.

Reader, I gotta say: I'm tired of guilt. The jig is up, and the illusion is shattered.  I'm not just a woman who puts all of her efforts into helping others. I apparently also like to have my damned picture taken.

As I evolve during this quarantine, I'm finding tremendous relief in breaking character.  If you also find yourself having a hard time holding yourself to the persona you've invented, I invite you to join me in reinventing it.  It's a waste of time to beat ourselves up for stepping outside of a role that we didn't need to hold in the first place.

With that, this mama is off to make a little supper.  Go easy on yourself this week.  I'll see you on Monday. -Em

 

Week 8 of Quarantine: I Am The Glue 

Well. More jarring news this week. The governor ('govnah,' as we call him) has said that the earliest restaurants will open is June 26th.  I was certain we would be announcing to the public that my restaurant would reopen on June 2nd.  But here we go again: change of plans.  Rather than panic about it, I'm trying to evolve a bit emotionally and take it in stride.

So I've started to think about my next record.  

I've got 36 tunes that I've written since my last album.  Most of them aren't going to see the light of day...they're just rubbish (I'm not sandbagging; they're actual garbage).  But some of them feel true, and I'm trying to sort through them all to make a collection that hangs together.  

The older I get, the harder it is to make records.  Mostly because of my commitment to making something authentic.  You would think that--as we get older and become more self-actualized--it would be easier to make records.  

Not so.

What makes it hard is that I've had so many experiences that have shaped me differently.  In the earlier days of putting together an album, it was easy. I just picked all the tunes about a common topic like grieving the loss of my dad, becoming a mom, getting over a lost love, or capturing stories from my hometown.  But these days, the topics of the tunes are all over the place. 

Yesterday, I spent so much time looking through my old notebooks that I started to get dizzy.  I found blues tunes about stones and bluegrass songs rife with political trash talk and swanky soul numbers about booze and bars. 

My mind was racing last night. How do I make something cohesive with all of this?  What's binds these tunes together?  

It came to me this morning.  Glue. Glue is what holds things together. And I am the glue.

Reader, it's easy as a creator to have a crisis of identity.  We want ourselves to be one slick, easy-to-brand thing.  But that would be false.  We're all of our experiences.  We are concurrently skipping stones and singing the blues while talking political trash and tapping our toes while waltzing into late-night dives and being over-served.

All at once.  It's all us.

With that, I'm off to sift through more songs with a bit more confidence. I leave you with this picture of my Mom. Happy belated Mother's Day to all you mamas, especially you, Joan Hurd. See you next Monday -Em  

 

Week 7 of Quarantine: Voluntary Evolution 

A thing I never thought I'd say: I'm making wine out of our weeds.  

Tonight, the kids and I collected enough dandelion heads to make dandelion wine.  I'm using a depression-era recipe, which seems only fitting, considering the times we're in.

And oh...what times they are.

I've been thinking a lot about these times.  I imagine years from now, my kids will ask: "Mom, what was it like for you during the quarantine while you couldn't play concerts or work at your restaurant?"

To which I will reply: "I made you pick dandelions, and we turned them into alcohol."  

And we'll all laugh and laugh.  

But I got to thinking a bit more.  As much as I love that I've written a lot of music, grown vegetables, finished house projects, and baked more banana bread than any person needs to, I'd like to get more out of this quarantine than a simple accomplishment of tasks.  That's only one kind of work. I'd like to actually walk out of my home when this quarantine is over as a slightly different, better version of myself.

Don't get me wrong: I like who I am. I've become a relatively well-adjusted person through the years, just by having lived life.  I've evolved as a result of my experiences and hardships.  

But there are some parts of me I wish I could change today, right this moment.  Namely, how quickly I become vulnerable and feel my efforts are futile when I'm insecure at work.  Now, I haven't felt this way very much in quarantine, but I know I'll feel it again as soon as I'm out in the world, I'll feel that futile feeling again.  So how could I change during this time without external pressures forcing me to change my ways?

It struck me today while picking dandelions: I'm going to have to change on my own.  I'm going to need to elect to evolve, without practice or cause directly in my face.  I'll need to make an internal game plan for how to respond when I feel vulnerable at the restaurant or playing a show.  And I'll need to do it during these times in isolation.

I'm up for it.

Reader, the hardest kind of change to make is the one you don't need to make.  Changing when you're "getting by" as is and evolving when things don't feel dire is counterintuitive.  Still during the final three weeks of quarantine, I'm going to try my best to use this rare stretch of time to do a little self-work, some strategizing for how to emerge from this time with a little more depth of awareness and confidence.  Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

A beautiful bloated-on banana-bread-drunk-on-weed-wine butterfly, but a butterfly nonetheless.

See you next Monday. -Em

Week 6 of Quarantine: The Artist's Responsibility 

The weather was less shifty this week, and I got ready to plant a garden (pumpkin patch, here I come).  The daffodils and wildflowers are popping in our woods, and I felt inspired to write a lot of songs. 

This quarantine has been a great time for artists to create.  I've written 2 dozen tunes since Illinois was ordered to shelter in place.  Some of the songs are unremarkable, but some feel like the muses were working through me. If that's ever happened to you, you know: 

When the muses use you, it feels like magic. 

The magic disappears, however, when we start trying to direct the muses.   And that's what happened to me by the end of the week. 

I've been glued to the news in recent weeks, wondering how our government is handling this pandemic, wondering how other Americans are handing it, wondering how the world is handling it. Some days I'm irate, some days I'm grateful, and some days I'm full of sadness. Because I'm so full of feeling, it seems like I should be writing about those feelings during these times. 

And yet, when I sit down to write, I don't feel called to write about my government rage.  I don't feel called to write about my sadness about the casualties of the virus.  And I really don't feel called to write about my financial uncertainties. 

Instead--for a reason unbeknownst to me--I'm writing songs about the moon, celestial events, and the colors of flowers at dusk. 

It got me thinking about an artist's responsibility.  Because I can write songs, doesn't that mean I'm responsible for penning tunes for the times?  As a creator with a conscience, it sure feels like I should. But then why does it feel so unnatural?  The answer hit me this morning: 

Because artists are not journalists.  We're not historians.  We're not even storytellers.  We're creators whose sole responsibility is to follow inspiration, regardless of its relevance, accuracy, or goodness. 

Reader, if you're a fellow artist, take heart in knowing there is no right way to make, during this quarantine, or ever.  Listen to what calls you.  In honoring that calling, you're honoring your craft. 

With that, I'm off to write another unforced tune about God-knows-what.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em