Life as Pinball 

The summer of 2008, I lived in a small but tidy apartment in Chicago.  In addition to being a songwriter, I was working for the City of Evanston as an event coordinator. I paid my limited bills on time, took my dog for long walks on the Lake Michigan beach, and even had time to spare for parties, concerts, and small vacations.

Fast forward to the summer of 2019.  My two toddlers have left my house a shambles. I'm typing with notes to myself written on my hand like a kid in middle school.  My dog gets walked about 5 minutes a day. I wait to pay my bills until the second they're due, and I can't remember the last time I've been to a party or concert.  Vacations are going to the grocery story and the community pool.

Sometimes I wonder: am I going backwards?

In the States, we seem to have an idea that there is one clear life trajectory: that we are born, choose a direction, go to school, amass wealth, retire, and die.  There is a start point, and an end point, and the movement in between should be a straight shot.  And while that may make sense on paper and in our minds, I have to imagine that--more likely than not--most of us will change courses, direction, and our definition of success several times throughout our lives.  We veer.  We ricochet. We stall. We redirect. We hit walls and bounce back.

Life is a game of pinball.

Reader, there is no such thing as a straight shot.  If you too feel a bit knocked about, take heart in knowing this songwriter feels the same.  Weeks never look the same. Goals change.  Circumstances force us to pivot.  This week, I plan on letting go of the expectation that life should be anything less than all-over-the-place.  

And with that, I'm off to who-knows-where this week.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

For What It's Worth 

When I was a kid, I used to hate money.  I remember wishing we could just go back to the barter system.

As an adult, I still hate money, and I wish we could just go back to the barter system.

This week, I did.

As a new business owner, a musician, and a mom of young kids with medical bills, it hit me hard this week: I'm not going to be able to make it through the month of June financially.  My property taxes are just too high this year, and I don't have any savings; all of my income is wrapped up in my hometown restaurant.  I'm faced with either closing down my business and selling my building, or finding another way to pay my taxes.

So I found another way.  The way kid Emily would have wanted.

I bartered my wedding ring for my taxes.  

My husband and I talked it over, and we decided it was the right decision.  It dawned on me this week that life boils down to prioritizing what matters, and using our resources for all that they're worth to achieve what we know is important.  

So what's important to me? Family, friends, music, and this restaurant.  If a ring can be bartered for one of the most important things in my life, then it's worth a lot more than just the money my husband spent on it 5 years ago; it's worth another year of happiness as we pursue our small business dreams.

Reader, if you're facing any tough choices this week, I hope you too are able to be guided by your priorities.  It's not easy, but it's empowering.  I hope you have a wonderful week, and I'll see you next Monday. -Em

 

Hungover and Contemplative 

Albert Einstein once said, "The only source of knowledge is experience."

That man was onto something.

Reader, I'm going to keep it very short tonight.  (I spent a long weekend in Chicago at a bachelorette party at a Cub's game, and I'm still feeling a bit tired from the lack of sleep and the excess of alcohol.)  But I'll tell you my takeaway from the week: life has more meaning when get out in the world.  Every bit of fresh air we breathe, every bit of sweat on our brow, every time we step outside of our comfort zone--we come away with a little more knowledge about ourselves and the way we interact with our surroundings.  As much as I'm not a Cubs fan, I'm glad for the experience.  (If for no other reason than it helped me to remember how much I love a good sunset, and to learn how much I don't enjoy Wrigleyville.) 

I hope you're making enough time to experience life this week, too.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em 

 

Pushing Through Nostalgia 

I'm missing out on today by missing what's gone away.

That's the mantra I made for myself yesterday.  Rhyming helps me remember things.  Super nerd, here.

This week, I found myself reminiscing until it became painful.  I longed to be with my Dad, who's been gone for 6 years; I longed for my Grandma Ruth, who's been gone for 7.  I longed for my days as a touring songwriter, and I longed for my little Chicago apartment.  I longed for slow Saturday mornings with a cup of coffee and nothing to do.  I longed for debt-free existence, having very little to my name, and being proud of my lack of materialistic tendencies.  I even longed for my old body, without its wrinkles and maternal battle wounds.

And when vanity started rearing its ugly head, I put the kibosh on all that damn longing.

Reader, there is a rosy hew that hovers around most things that have gone from my life.  And this week, I almost let it diminish the light of today.  That's not to say that looking backward isn't relevant.  Of course it is.  But to dwell there is foolish; it leads to dissatisfaction with the present, and the present is pretty satisfying.  The sun, the spring, the people I have in my life right now: that's where I need to live. The moment we believe our best days are behind us is the moment we stop truly living, and we miss all there is to be grateful for today.

Including hectic lives and mom-bods.

With that, this frenzied wrinkled songwriter is off to paint the office of her restaurant.  Merrily.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Dog In A Downpour 

A doozie of a rainstorm moved into town on Saturday morning while I was working the outdoor market. In the middle of it all, I looked across the market to a neighboring vendor's tent, and I caught the eye of a dog hiding under a table, waiting for the storm to pass.  The dog and I looked at each other a long time.  I couldn't help but think:

I am that dog.

This week, a lot of things deteriorated. I flooded my kitchen at home.  I flooded the dining room at my restaurant.  Two shelves in my commercial kitchen collapsed, breaking almost every bowl I own.  A bar stool fell apart.  My bar printer broke.  My dog got sick, I got in a heated argument with an old friend, and my kids' commitment to their tantrums was godlike.

(Truly. They deserve medals.)

Most weeks, I tackle these kinds of problems by putting my head down, forcing myself out into the tempest, and braving life's storms with exaggerated optimism and illogical stubbornness.  And most weeks, it works pretty well.

But others, it pays to be the dog in the downpour.

Reader, when the lousy weather moves in, sometimes, there's no shame in just riding it out and waiting to make the next move until the storm passes.  Nothing I did this week seemed to make an impact on my problems.  In hindsight, I should've saved my energy and waited until the chaos died down.  Next time, I will.

Or at least, I'll try.

With that, this old dog is off to bed.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

The Pushers 

Last week, I had a hard time getting things done.  I felt lethargic and uninspired.  I didn't write much music, and the food I made at my restaurant was mediocre at best.

I blame the pollen count.

Lucky for me, I've got a pusher in my life. Her name is Jen

Jen is the new chef at my restaurant, and she is truly remarkable.  Just when I think I can't accomplish something, Jen nudges me.  She encourages.  She tells me she thinks we can do it.  

Case in point: I've been dragging my feet on participating in our local farmer's market.  I wrote the organizer, and told her I just didn't think I could make it happen this year.  But then, our new chef sat me down and told me to buck up, and 'let's make it happen.'  And so with Jen prodding me along, we rallied and pulled together a farm stand and some product to sell. 

And we had a marvelous time doing it.  

Reader, I can't stress how wonderful it is to have pushers in your life.  Surrounding ourselves with people who inspire us to be more is one of the smartest decisions we can make.  I hope you've got a few of these friends in your life, and that you're keeping them close.  I know I am.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Vulnerably Strong 

A few months ago, my old friend Jimmy asked me to teach a songwriting workshop at The Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.  Which is a huge honor; the school is my happy place.  

But putting together the curriculum was challenging.  If I've never mentioned it before, songwriting is a religious experience for me.  It's a daily practice that is incredibly hippie and personal.  

I sit at the piano.  I start by quieting my mind of self-conscious thoughts, and then I picture a song floating above my head.  I believe it's my job to channel that song from the sky and put it on paper.  So I start playing the piano and singing as hard as I can.  I blurt and sing and pound and blurt some more until I feel that I've sincerely captured a piece of a song.  Then I build on that piece until I've written a full-fledged song, a song that I believe fell from the sky.

How the hell am I supposed to teach that?

On Saturday, I found out.

The workshop was this weekend. At the recommendation of some friends, I decided that the best way to teach the class was to channel a song right in front of them.  I've never laid myself that bare in front of strangers before.  I was terrified to be so vulnerable while people watched.   My hands were quivering and sweaty.  I had a hard time breathing. But I committed to it, and I blurted and pounded and sang my little heart out.  The result?

The class had no problem doing the same.  I watched them create some of the most beautiful spur-of-the-moment music I've ever heard.  We all got vulnerable together.

Reader, this week, I had a lot of gentle reminders that there are times in life when it takes strength to being vulnerable.  Putting ourselves out there requires tremendous courage.  Life is too short not to take chances.  I hope you get the opportunity to take some this week.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Better Things 

Yesterday morning--with a hundred better things to do--I rented a 12-person van and drove my restaurant staff into Chicago.  On the drive in, we wore matching Farm & Fleet shirts, drank coffee, and sang The Cure way too loud (funny how coffee does that).  My plan was to drop them off at The Heritage Wine Gala at The Ritz Carlton; they would sample more than 500 wines, and I would work in the lobby.

But then yesterday afternoon--with a hundred better things to do--I walked around the Wine Gala w/ them, talking to vineyard owners, farmers, and other restaurant owners in the area.  I tried some incredible barrel-aged wine, ate some fancy cheese, and got to know my staff a lot better (funny how wine does that).  My plan at that point was to take them to a nice restaurant called Lula for dinner; we would eat quickly, and then get back on the road.

But then last night--with a hundred better things to do--we sat for hours at Lula, trying absolutely amazing food, sampling cocktails, and laughing about work (funny how cocktails do that).  We shared plates and stories until we'd all had our fill and slowly ambled back to the van.  We drove home content, chatting and giggling about who knows what.  All I know is:

Sometimes it's better not to do the better things.

Reader, I hope you have a tremendous week.  I'll see you back here next Monday. -Em

Big Picture Thinking 

This week, I let a lot of small things get to me. 

I hate when I do that.

Not only because it's a waste of time, but also because those things are just not going to matter in the long run.  This week, I got visibly flustered by such ridiculous events as: running out of paper towels at work, burning toast, spilling grape juice on the couch, and losing my favorite chapstick.

Yeah.

Reader, I'm going to keep it short tonight.  My friend Mike passed along a picture of me, from one year ago today   I'm sure I had a dozen little things getting to me back then, too.  Only today, I don't remember a single one.  So many things have changed, and none of the little hiccups mattered.  If you too are finding yourself getting wrapped up in the minutia, let's zoom out. Whenever we're able to think about the big picture in the heat of the moment, the small stuff just naturally slips away.  

With that, this songwriting mama is going to slip into a glass of wine and a cooking magazine.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em

Out From The Shadows 

I wrote a blog last week, but for some reason, it didn't post.  I guess it was gobbled up by the internet.  Alas, those deep thoughts have been lost for good.

Such is life.

Anyhoo, the big news of the week is that a man named Pablo Korona released a documentary about me this week.  The video went live a few days ago, and it already has more than 16,000 views on Facebook.  And while most people would be beaming with pride, I've acted like a human ostrich, sticking my head in the proverbial sand and staying out of sight, avoiding incoming compliments like a grown-up playing dodgeball.

Real mature.

The older I get, the harder it is for me to be in the limelight.  In the past few months, I've turned down countless gigs, class opportunities, and interviews with the media. I still write music.  I still like people.  But for some reason, I haven't wanted to stand out.  All week, I've been trying to assess why this is the case. It finally hit me on Friday:

I'm just not as confident as I used to be. 

I don't know how I lost my confidence.  Maybe it happened slowly overtime.  Whatever the reason, I want it back.  

Reader, life goes too quickly to feel insecure.  If you happen to be at a similar stage in your life, one where your confidence has been rocked, let's make a pact to get it back. We don't want to live with regrets about opportunities we didn't take, or times we didn't allow ourselves to feel excited about our own good fortune.  We absolutely cannot spend a single moment of our precious life slinking into the shadows.

With that, I leave you with this great documentary; Pablo just added it on YouTube moments ago.  It's about me!  And I'm going to force myself not to hide from it!  I hope you enjoy it! (Exclamation points give me confidence!)  I'll see you next Monday. -Em