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

Callings 

This week, my restaurant hosted an art show for a woman named Beverly.  Beverly is in her 70's, and she just started painting 2 years ago.  But she felt a calling to paint.  And now--in a later chapter of life--she's finding a new purpose. 

It's inspiring. 

And it got me thinking about our calling.  I used to think humans were meant to find just one.  Now I'm rethinking it. 

I've felt a lot of callings. Teaching, songwriting, parenting, running a restaurant...each filled my heart and mind with joy, wonder, and a sense of meaningful sacrifice. Lately, I've been feeling a call to do more. 

Namely: to create more job opportunities for the people in my neighborhood. 

The only thing that's been holding me back is the fear that it's too damn late to add in something else to an already full plate of callings.  But Beverly's show lit a fire in me.  And I've spent the week putting together a business plan for a grocery store that I hope will create more jobs here.  Whether or not it takes off, it feels good to answer the call without being held back by the fear that I'm too late for it. 

Reader, if you too feel your heart being pulled in a direction of meaningful purpose and sacrifice, best to see where it leads.  It doesn't mean you need to abandon all you've done before now.  It just means you're meant to listen.  We're never too old to answer a new call. 

See you next Monday. -Em

Friendship 

No blog tonight.  I'm helping a friend with a writing project.  More on friendship next week. See you next Monday. -Em

The Basics 

It was a week of extreme highs and lows...in all walks of life. With good news and bad news coming so close to each other, tensions ran high around my house, and at my restaurant.  Some very hard issues arose. 

Without going into it, let's just say the problems of this week were complicated.  And my initial response was to come up with complex solutions to tackle them. 

And I wound up making matters worse. 

So here's my takeaway from a complicated mess of a week: the more difficult the issue, the more important it is to return to the basics. 

After shit hit the fan at the restaurant, my crew and I ended up tackling our worst problems by revisiting our fundamental mission statement together and letting it guide our decisions. We sat in a room together and went through a group training on our core beliefs. 

After my husband I got into it at home: we faced the challenges in our marriage by trying to identify the traits that define our family values.  It was so much easier to talk about the small stuff when we remembered the large foundation that we had built. 

And on the music front, I fixed the production problems on my upcoming album by stripping away the bells and whistles and remembering what I wrote the songs about.  I let the bare songs themselves make the production decisions for me. 

Reader, I don't know what this week will hold, but I just thought I'd share the revelation that--no matter how far we think we've come--getting back to the basics of who we are is never a bad way to face all the complicated matters that vex us. 

With that, I'm off to write a little music.  Wishing you a wonderful week. -Em

For No One 

People are out there doing amazing things. 

This week alone, I witnessed three friends accomplishing incredible feats, for little to no audience.  One stood out. 

A couple weeks ago, a chef at my restaurant said he wanted to make ratatouille for a night menu item.  I said 'great,' and thought little of it. 

On Wednesday, he astounded the hell out of me.  After spending several hours cutting vegetables, he laid them in a color-pattern into a hotel pan (which took a few more hours).  He baked them in his own red pepper sauce.  The end result was even more beautiful than what the rat made in the damn Pixar movie. 

And I'm one of only two people alive who got to see it. 

Reader, if you're a fellow creator, just a reminder: we don't need to impress anyone else to make something of value.  We can do wonderful things, just for ourselves.  Feedback from others shouldn't change how good we feel about our creations. The reward is in the making, not in the praise. 

(Although let's be honest: praise is pretty great too...providing it doesn't define you). 

With that, I'm off to continue writing songs that most people will never hear.   I wish you a week of not giving a rip about what others think or don't think of all that you work for. See you next Monday. -Em

Horizons 

Well if the world's got you down this week, here's a touching story that may give a bit of hope for the future. 

I went up north with my family for 36 relaxing hours this past weekend.  We camped right on Lake Superior, and it was great. On Saturday morning, my son invited me down to the shore for a "presentation." 

Knowing my 6 year-old, I was fully expecting a series of ninja kicks and violent cartwheels. 

Instead, he sat me down on the rocks and started having a conversation with our dead dog, and my dead father (who he never met).  It was startling.  He looked out at the waves and told Dad and my old dog Hank how sorry he was that they couldn't be there with us.  He told them he loved them, and that he'd never abandon them... 

It was adorable, in a creepy "Sixth Sense" kind of way. 

Reader, as much as I wish I could take credit, I have no idea where the kid got it from.  I don't talk like that, and neither does my husband.  He just kept talking and talking to dead folks with an empathy I can't comprehend.  I asked him why he did that, and he said, "Well how would you like it if I didn't talk to you after you die?  You'd be so sad." 

Gulp. 

Sometimes I worry about what's to come.  And then moments like this happen and I feel a bit better.  I believe that the empathy of future generations will truly make the world better than it has ever been before.  I can't get over just how much bigger my kids' heart is at his age than mine has ever been. 

So take heart.  Even when we can't see it amongst our peers, there are good things on the horizon. See you next Monday. -Em

Pickles  

It was a bizarre week that ended with an equally bizarre but important revelation. Here's what happened. 

On Friday afternoon, I found myself sobbing to a triage nurse.  Stabbing pains radiated in my chest.  Pain shot through my left arm.  My face felt like it was on fire, and my lips were tingling. 

I thought I was having a heart attack.  I thought I was dying. 

Turns out, it was a panic attack.  Which should have made me feel better.  But it made me feel worse.  The nurse asked me what I was doing for stress management, to which I replied, "I'm going to work harder so I can stay on top of it all." 

Even as I said the words, I knew they weren't the right ones. 

Anyway, as soon as I was sure I would survive the night, I made a pact with myself.  No more shoving my feelings aside.  No more giving too much of myself.  Most importantly, no more ignoring my needs.  I went to sleep, vowing to make this change. 

The next day, I felt exhausted, but I made it to the grocery store.  As I was walking down an aisle, a jar of pickled cucumbers caught my eye.  And the strangest thing happened. 

I salivated.  The muscles on the side of my neck became tense.  I licked my lips like some cartoon character version of myself.  Normally, I'd just ignore these cravings, but remembering the vow I made after my anxiety attack, I started  throwing several jars into my cart.  I even popped open one jar and began eating pickles before I was in the checkout line.  

One jar didn't make it to the car before I had eaten all the pickles, slammed the juice, and was cracking open another one for the ride home. 

As soon as my savage pickle episode had passed, I found myself much more energized (albeit embarrassed and gluttonous).  I wondered how long my body had been craving salt, sugar, and electrolytes in general while I just ignored the urge and kept fueling it with small scraps of food leftover from my kids' lunchboxes. 

By the time the weekend was over, I felt I had learned a big lesson from pickles and anxiety attacks. 

Reader, we are beings with needs.  Our bodies have needs. Our souls have needs. Even our egos have needs.  There is no sense ignoring what it is that we need to stay energized and healthy.  If you too find yourself with needs this week, listen to them. That need to get outside?  Listen to it.  That need to take a trip? Listen to it.  That need to sing or drink water or paint pictures or WHATEVER it is for you?  Listen to it. For far too long, I didn't listen, and it landed me in a bad spot this week.   Lord knows we can't be good for others if we are ignoring the cries from within. 

(And I'll never again ignore the screams of my heart...or the screams of a pickle.) 

Please take good care of yourself this week, and I'll see you back here next Monday. -Em

Bit Parts 

I spent the bulk of my week preparing my restaurant for the 10th Annual 'Tour De North End:' Rockford's biggest bicycle race.  Each year, hundreds of riders flood Main Street, stopping at businesses and collecting stamps.  At the end of the race, bikers turn in their stamped cards for a chance to win a Fat Tire Cruiser. 

It's insane.  But a hell of a good time. 

The race was set to take place on Saturday, and I was prepared to work a 16-hour shift that day.  Building up to the event, I spent hours making hand-pies for the bicyclists to eat.  The job was important, and I was important by default. 

The morning of the race, we hustled to get the outside bar put together.  Our plan was to serve beer radlers to the riders and make a little money for our business.  Setting up the bar would take a lot of work.  It was an important task, and it was important that I tackle it. 

Finally, we had to create a way to take money outside.  We'd need a way to accept both cash and credit cards from riders so that they could pay for our stickers and other merchandise.  It was such an important system to create, and it was important that I handle it. 

Then I got sick. 

A wave of nausea came over me on Saturday like I haven't had since I was pregnant.  I could barely stand without wanting to vomit.  I began to panic.  "WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO," I thought. "I'M TOO IMPORTANT TO BE SICK RIGHT NOW!" 

Apparently not though. My staff sent me home.  The event went forward without me.  And hundreds of riders stopped into our restaurant.  They ate food, drank beer, and paid for merchandise.  The staff had a good time, and I was hardly missed. 

In the end, I wasn't as important as I thought. 

This week made me check my ego. And it was oddly comforting to realize I'm really not as pivotal as I think I am.  Here I thought I was the leading lady in the whole production.  In the end, I learned that I had a bit part. 

And that's ok. 

In the words of Louis Prima, "life goes on without me."  Reader, as stressed as we can be about the things that are seemingly under our control, none of them are so crucial as to stop the world from turning.  If you too find yourself stressing your role on this earth (and perhaps over-inflating your significance), remember: while we all play a part, the show will always go on.  No need to stress so much. 

With that, I'm off to bed.  If you were a part of Tour De North End this weekend, I hope you had a great time.  I'll see you next Monday. -Em