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...


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

Week 5 Of Quarantine: Letting Go For Dear Life 

Nothing surprises me anymore.

I went from picking fresh daffodils outside of our house one night this week, to shoveling the front walkway of 3 inches of snow the next morning.  I had to laugh, watching those giant Charlie Brown snowflakes falling down in the middle of April.

At some point, all we can expect is for things to not go as planned.

This week was hard. An old friend passed away, our finances went haywire, and my kids' homeschooling went out the window.  And I noticed that the harder I tried to hold onto my original plans, the more I got upset.  For me, there's little that's more stressful than trying to hold onto something that's moving beyond my control.

Which is just about everything these days.

Even more frustrating than losing control was losing the calm mind that I've been experiencing all month. Lucky for me, I'm stubborn.  And I wasn't about to let that stress back into my life.

So Saturday morning--for the first time in my life--I figured out how to use my determination in a different way. When plans changed, I forced myself to stop.  I didn't move forward.  I didn't try to push or manipulate the situation.  Instead, I pushed myself by mentally saying goodbye to what I thought was going to happen ("so long, dear sweet plan #1"). And then I greeted the new plan with fresh eyes and acceptance ("hello, you new weirdo plan, you.")  

 It didn't feel natural.  It didn't feel good.   But it did work.  By Saturday night, I was back to feeling the same peace I've been cultivating all month.

Reader, there's a time to hold on, and there's a time to let go.  Both require effort.  If you're also struggling to hold on during this time, I invite you to join me in escorting out the original plan and welcoming in the bizarre new one.  Grasping at old realities doesn't fix our new ones.  The worst thing we can do when our best-laid plans go out the window is to jump out after them.

Who knows what this week will bring; I'm ready to have to loosen my grip, yet again. See you next Monday. -Em



Week 4 of Quarantine: my alter ego is Rumplestiltskin 

I might be cracking up. It might not be a bad thing.  

My dreams have been vivid since we've had to shelter in place.  This week, I had a string of those terrifying dreams where you're being chased, but you can't run.  You need help, but you can't scream.  You're being hurt, but you can't wake up. The dreams take you hostage, and you feel like a helpless mess.

I'm a little frightened to fall asleep lately.

Every night for the last 8 days, I've woken up at about 2 am, a victim to my unconscious mind's nightmares.  What's felt worse is that the dream state doesn't wear off for several hours.  I feel like I'm still bound up by something until about 4:30 am.

So this week, in the wee hours, I've left bed in a bizarre headspace to sit down at the piano to write.  To my surprise, writing has been effortless. But the "voice" that's writing the songs doesn't feel like mine.  The words don't sound like mine. And the stories that are pouring out onto paper are definitely not mine. 

Or are they?

Today I'm looking at my piano at the 9 songs that somebody wrote in the middle of the night. And apparently it was me. Though I feel like I can't claim them. It's as though my alter ego is Rumplestiltskin, coming into my house every night, but instead of turning straw into gold, he's turning out beautiful music. And I wake up in the morning and get to take credit.

(No I'm not taking any fun drugs).

Today, I'm sitting here trying to reflect on how this could be happening.  Here's my best guess.  

The subconscious mind holds more than we'll ever know; the conscious mind is such a terrific gatekeeper and doesn't often let us see our own secrets.  Something about my mind being "bound up" by dream state is making room for a deeper voice to come through.  The voice is so natural.  It's imperfect and more honest.

And I love it. Even if I am losing it.

Reader, these are bizarre times.  I don't know how they're transforming you.  But whether you're an artist or not, if you're sheltering in place, it's a great time to observe ourselves, since we have less interference.  Last week, I noticed my mind being free of distraction.  This week, I feel an emergence of something deeper. Who knows what next week will bring. Maybe I'll be levitating by then...

All this to say: let's not miss out on this rare opportunity in our lives to get know ourselves a little better.  We're a lot more interesting than we think, if we can learn not to think so much. See you next Monday. -Rumpstiltsk-Em

Week 3 of Quarantine: the death of Monkey Mind 

Something changed in me this week.

Usually, I'm restless.  I worry about what others think about me. I crave being understood.  I'm anxious about making the right decisions. I feel guilt. I feel fear.  And I even feel envious of others who don't seem to feel these heavy, distracting feelings.

(For those of you thinking I just need a drink, you're incorrect: booze is no match for my unsettledness).

But when I woke up on Tuesday morning, my restlessness seemed to have dissipated. Overnight. As if by magic. Poof.

Bye bye, Monkey Brain.

The concept of Monkey Brain was first introduced to me by a friend who explained it to me while we were walking in a department store.  I was asking why he thought most shopping aisles have an end-cap section.  To which he replied: "because the store knows we all have monkey mind." Meaning, the store puts attractive items in prime spots because they know our capricious, fanciful natures will tell us we can't leave the store without the shiny thing on sale.

Through the years, I've been aware of my Monkey Mind, that whimsical, unevolved part of my mammal make-up that's operating on full steam when I feel out of control.  But something in this quarantine period silenced it.  I feel at peace this week.  I feel calm and focused.  I sit here wondering why, and it's a simple answer:

Because (outside of media), there is nothing in front of my face telling me I'm missing out, that I'm wrong, that I'm not enough.  There's little to distract me, aside from the spring flowers in our woods.  There is just my little family and our home.  

And apparently the little we have is bringing out the most in me this week. 

Reader, for the first time in everybody's life: there is NOTHING to miss out on, except the present.  We're all inside in our homes.  It's a great time to work calmly, get things done, and enjoy.  I'm off to enjoy a little walk with my old dog, Hank.  See you next Monday. -Em  


Week 2 of Quarantine: too hot out of the gate 

This week, I tore down the posters for all the concerts & events that we missed hosting at my restaurant since the quarantine began, including what would have been a nice rosé wine dinner last Friday.  I downed a bottle in its honor. 

Then I got to work. 

I filed applications for every SBA loan our country is offering.  I applied for grants.  I helped my employees w/ their unemployment claims. I planned out family dinners. I made a daily home schooling schedule for my kids, including a big focus on literacy, math, and music.

(Full disclosure: my lesson plan has devolved into around-the-clock gym class. I'm rolling with it). 

I wrote and charted 4 new songs.  I watched the first non-kid movie that I've seen in months ("Inside Llewyn Davis" was a winner). I cleaned every room in the house. I organized the damn freezer. I taught the kids how to make bread, cookies, & play dough.

Amidst the flurry of initiative today, my son put his hand on my arm.  He asked to whisper in my ear.  So I put my head by his mouth and he said, "Hey Mom, could you slow down and hold us a little?"

And there it was.

Reader, there is such a thing as too much initiative. No sense burning out just yet.  We're going to be holed up for a few more weeks at least.  This isn't the Quarantine Olympics, and they aren't giving prizes when it's over. To all of you still working your jobs out there, thank you.  To all of you suddenly at home with a lot of free time on your hands, let's not forget to enjoy the opportunity to not be on our A-game every second of the day.

With that, this non-medalist is going to hold the kids a little.  See you next Monday. -Em


Week 1 of Quarantine: the end of bullying 

I just spent a week doing things I never thought I'd do.  

After laying off all my employees (and myself), I filed for unemployment.  It didn't take long, and it didn't feel good.  It was a reminder of just how fast everything can change.  Last week, we had a humming restaurant.  This week, all the lights are off, and all of us are sheltering in our respective places.

I also made the tough decision for our restaurant not to remain open for take-out and delivery, despite the government calling it an "essential service." The decision was based on two realities.  First: I couldn't ethically make it work in my mind to tell my staff to work during a pandemic so that others could stay home as instructed. We have diabetics on staff, staff members with ailing parents or children, staff that have pulmonary issues.  As essential as brunch can seem, it's not worth spreading a disease that kills people.  I'm still not certain why the government considers to-go grub essential.

Second: my restaurant just doesn't have the infrastructure in place to give staff enough hours to survive that kind of pivot.  Only .05% of our sales come from take-out. If I thought I could have done something to make ends meet, I would have. But I just couldn't pay staff what they would have needed to make it through this strange time anyway.

So after turning off every light, all the heat, and emptying our fridges at the restaurant, I then proceeded to try home schooling my kids. It hasn't been effective yet. I've just been too distracted, mentally beating myself up for my decisions, wondering if they're the right ones or not.  I've been spinning my wheels all week, moving quickly, but not actually getting much done.  I've been worried about my staff, worried about my restaurant, and worried about my family's financial future, as well as their health as this virus spreads.

Basically having the same worries as every other person on the planet right now.

Reader, if anything gives me solace, it's this: everyone's world is upside-down right now.  Not just mine, not just yours.  We're all facing problems we've never faced before. There isn't a right move, and we won't know what will come of everything until it's "over," at some undetermined time in the future.  The only thing that's certain? 

Beating ourselves up isn't helping anybody.

So today I focused on enjoying the kids.  We built a snowman.  I made hot chocolate. They colored.  We sang songs.  I got in a pillow fight. We built a tent.  We then proceeded to destroy the snowman, because it just felt good to destroy something.

But at least it wasn't ourselves. So I count today as a win. Internal bullying and self destruction have come to an end.  Finding the best in the uncertainty starts NOW.  

See you next Monday. -Em