#iamnotahashtag 

It's been a long week.

I spent the bulk of it insulating and drywalling my restaurant in 90 degree heat.  It wasn't my favorite task, but the job needed to get done.  And if I've learned anything over the last 3 years at my building, it's that hard tasks come and go.

But cold beers are forever.

Anyway, while I was slinging rock all week, my mind started wandering.  For whatever reason, it landed on Ebola.  Remember the Ebola virus? It was once all over the news, and I'm sure it's still out there taking lives, but we don't hear about it any more.  Then I got to thinking about Zika.  Remember that one?  And AIDS?  

Then my mind drifted beyond incurable diseases and onto other big news items that just faded from public awareness.  You know them: the stories that were major hashtags for a few weeks, and then they went away.  Remember #bringbackourgirls, the movement to find the females students kidnapped by Boko Haram?  (More than a hundred girls are still missing.)  And remember #icantbreathe, the meme that went viral after Eric Garner was murdered by a police chokehold? And #takeaknee? #metoo? #jesuischarlie? #prayfororlando? #sandyhook? #covfefe?

I could go on all night.

The point is, nothing stays in the news for long these days, because we're just so inundated with new material all the time.   Life moves on quickly.  And in some ways, that's a good thing.

But in others, it's not.  The general public has the attention span of a gnat.  If you're the sensitive "heal the world" sort like me, that can be troubling.  I often wonder: how can I make an impact in such fast-paced times? How can I make real change in a world that likes everything in 280 characters?  What's the point of even trying to do anything if the public will be indifferent to your efforts in a matter of hours?

I think I'm learning-day by day-not to care what the public thinks.  

This process of building a restaurant has been in some ways therapeutic for me.  I used to care a lot about who liked me on Instagram, who came to my shows, who wrote press about me, what my rankings were, etc. I was spending an inordinate amount of energy on winning a spot in the race.  It was a losing battle.  And it wasn't a great use of time.

But what has been a great use of time is working hard everyday, plodding along, believing in myself, and believing my efforts are important. I've chosen not to place any of my self-worth in the hands of anybody but me. Me and my causes have stayed important to me for 38 years. And there's no hashtag for that.

Reader, it's a whirlwind world out there.  If you get swept up, consider joining me in trying to extricate yourself from it all. Whatever our projects are, let's keep focused and keep at them.  We are not as short-lived as the world we live in.  See you next Sunday. -Em

Originality  

I sliced through my left index finger with a jigsaw on Friday.  (Just another day in the life of a songwriter-turned-construction worker.)  I'll be fine, but the bandages make it hard to type. Get set for typos.

Anyway, today I took my kids to the park.  They love the slides and playing t-ball, and I love watching them go wild and crazy outside. There were a lot of other kids and parents there, and I overheard one dad talking to another.  He was saying that he was a musician in a cover band, and that he played a gig in Wrigleyville in Chicago last night.  Of course my ears perked up.  He went on to say that his band "played stuff that people actually like to hear, not like those blues musicians."

My heart sunk.  I went off to play t-ball with my kids.

It's a tough world out there for a songwriter. I've played dozens of shows where an audience member will actually ask me to stop playing my own songs and start playing cover songs or some other genre.  It's heart wrenching.  I used to bite my tongue and oblige, but in my older years, I've told them nicely that I won't do it.

(Whilst internally cursing, of course).

Don't get me wrong.  I've got nothing against cover bands. Sometimes there's nothing better than kicking back and listening to the songs we already know.  (Hence the reason I know every word to "Me and Bobby McGee").  But the world needs more than that. We need people to continue to create, to find their unique voice, to make sounds that we've never heard before, to push us beyond what we already know and make us think more deeply. Familiar is nice, but fresh is risky and exciting; it's where we expand our minds and evolve as people.

Clearly I'm biased towards original artists. What can I say.

The point is: there's room for everybody.  And that's true outside the world of music, too.  Reader, the world would be incredibly lame if we were all the same, all the time. Originality is so important. I hope you're out there being your wild and crazy self.  When you feel pressured to be a part of the cover band of life, may you feel bold enough to say that you won't do it.

(Whilst internally cursing, of course).

Get out there and be whatever genre you want,  and write your own original story. Enjoy the familiar, and embrace the new.  I'll see you next Sunday. -Em

 

 

Making The Right Excuses 

Being sick all week turned out to be a much-needed excuse to sit down more.  I wrapped up a few songs, made some good meals, and even managed to shower a couple times.  

How decadent.

I woke up this morning at 5 am feeling pretty healthy again, and I was actually disappointed.  I knew that as soon as I left bed, I'd spend another week pushing myself beyond my limit, both at the restaurant building and at home.  I'd knew I'd work to utter exhaustion again. I knew I'd have no good excuse to take more moments for myself, to reflect on my days, to quiet my mind and relax.

That's pretty messed up.

It's a sad commentary on my life that I actually enjoy getting sick so I have a reason to give my brain and body a rest. The truth is, if I rested more regularly, I wouldn't get sick in the first place.

I was mulling over my sorry state of affairs when my son woke up and started heading down the stairs.  He looked out the window, and I heard him squeal.  He had seen his first barred owl.  He had a dozen questions. "Why is it looking at me?" "What is its name?" "Can I fly with it?" "Can it sleep in my ROOM?!"

(I told him he had to buy the owl drinks before it could sleep in his room, but all my best jokes are lost on him.)

Anyway, it got me thinking about how important it has always been to me to take the time to wonder, to think, to meditate.  Lately, I've made zero time for any of those things.

Reader, if you also happen to be moving too fast to let your mind be curious and light, I invite you to join me this week in trying to be more conscious about giving your mind a chance to rest.  We don't need to make an excuse to do it.  In fact, we should be making more excuses in other parts of our lives to make more time for our mental well-being.  

I'll leave you with an Alan Watts quote that I used to love: "Wonder, and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the most important things which seem to distinguish men from other animals, and intelligent and sensitive people from morons."

Let's not be morons this week.  See you next Sunday. -Em

HFMD 

No blog tonight. I contracted Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, and the blisters on my hands are killing me. Stay healthy, Reader. See you next Sunday. -Em

Happy Father's Day 

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there!  It's going to be a short blog tonight because--this year for Father's Day--my husband asked that I take the kids away for the day.  Does that sound heartless?

I assure you: it's not.  I asked for the same thing for Mother's Day.

Having a one year-old and a two year-old requires a constant state of attention. I'm not able to mentally check out at any point. (Case in point, I turned my back for a hot second this week, and my one year-old ended up making snow angels with Cheerios.) 

Resting our brains make us more tolerant people.  (And the world needs more tolerant people right now.)  Focus is important, but so is allowing the mind to drift; most of my best ideas come from the times I've let my mind wander.  For me, the best way to ease my mind is to take long walks outside.

My husband likes to binge watch World Cup soccer.  To each their own.

However you do it, I hope you're able to give your brain a rest this week, Reader.  See you next Sunday. -Em

 

Turning Off and Tuning In 

I'm just getting home from yet another weekend wedding.  This one was in La Crosse, Wisconsin, celebrating my cousin Adam and his new wife, Molly.  I loved watching two gorgeous souls tying the knot in a gorgeous valley with gorgeous words and gorgeous music.  Everything about this weekend was gorgeous.  

And I really needed it.  Because things got UGLY this week at my restaurant. And I'm not just talking about the work load.

At this point in my life, I'm getting used to people firing shots at me on-line, but the trolling was fierce this week.  Some people love to hate The Norwegian project for some reason.  And on Wednesday, I snapped and fired back, telling any haters that--if they wanted me to get my restaurant open sooner--they could come by and pick up a damn paint brush.  

Not my finest moment.

Anyway, worse than me snapping was the revelation that the trolls had really gotten into my head. Their thoughts about me started to permeate, and I began to believe them.  ("This restaurant is taking too long. I'm too slow. I'm unskilled. I'm disappointing the community.  I'm the biggest fattest failure that ever failed...").

You know, the standard ego-crushing B.S.

And of course, I carried it with me up to Wisconsin.  My confidence was in the dumps at the wedding and through the reception.  I was drowning my sorrows in my third piece of wedding cake when a few women came up to me.  They said they just loved my music, and they've been listening to it for years. They were so excited to meet me, to tell me what my music meant to them.  They asked me for my autograph and my picture. 

I thought one of two things: either my husband paid for these women to boost my ego, or they were drunk.

And clearly they were neither.  But that's the power of letting negative voices live for too long inside your head.

Reader, I don't know what you've got going on upstairs. But I know that sometimes what we think of as intuition and introspection are actually inner punishment and self-loathing.  When the two get mixed up, it doesn't hurt to turn off your head completely, and listen to the people around that you trust, the ones who see things more positively and clearly.  If your lousy inner dialogue has gotten out of hand, tune into the folks you love, and start letting those words seep in.  Life's too short to hate anybody, especially yourself.

And with that, this big non-failure is off to write music.  See you next Sunday. -Em 

When Righteousness Isn't Right 

I’m on a plane, heading back to Chicago after spending a couple days in Dallas for a friend’s wedding.  I’m feeling a little tired.  Also a little hungover. 

And a little sheepish. 

My first impression of Texas was terrible.  When I got into the city on Friday, it was a miserable 103 degrees.  I didn’t like the smell of the asphalt. I didn’t like the giant houses behind giant strip malls where giant restaurants served giant portions of food.  And I especially didn’t like the alt-right billboards—covered in scripture and pictures of Jesus—as if quoting the bible somehow absolved them of their creepiness. 

Suffice it to say: it wasn’t love at first sight. 

I was feeling pretty righteous about my judgments until I unpacked my bags in McKinney and headed into town.  I’m a wimp when it comes to heat so I popped into the first store I saw: The Groove Coop. 

I instantly fell in love with every person in that store.  I stayed for 30 minutes and bought 8 vinyl records. 

Then I stopped at an Irish pub called The Celt.  The bartender showed up in a t-shirt that read: “Mom, Dad…I’m GAELIC.” I laughed and complimented her fashion sense.  I stayed for more than an hour and made a mental note to visit again. 

The rest of the weekend followed suit.  I made fast friends with another couple that flew down for the wedding, and we ended up museum hopping together. The wedding itself was the most beautiful service I’ve ever attended, with the bride and groom asking guests to donate to charity rather than give gifts, and the bridesmaids walked down the aisle with shelter dogs in need of homes. 

Turns out, I love Texas. 

Reader, it’s hard to get a good look at something at a fast glance. Taking time to enjoy, appreciate, and experience places and people that are different than us allows us to form a real impression, not a superficial one based on righteousness.

(Besides, it turns out that eating the giant portions and drinking the giant drinks was a lot more fun than casting aspersions on them.) 

Whatever you’re up to this week, I hope also you find yourself enjoying more and judging less. See you next Sunday. -Em

Happy Stinkin' Memorial Day 

My family decided to spend Memorial Day weekend in Green Lake, Wisconsin.  So yesterday, we packed up and headed north.  (Helloooo much needed vacation!)

But after about two hours in the car, I got a phone call from one of my tenants.  The power was out in my restaurant building. We couldn't troubleshoot over the phone, so we turned around and headed back home to Illinois to fix the issue.  (So long much needed vacation!)

Life stinks sometimes.

But mostly, it doesn't.  

In the thick of things, it's hard to see the light.  I definitely lost sight of the light yesterday.  But when I step back, I can see that--in the grand scheme of things--life is mostly great.  This week, I wrote a new song that I love.  At home, my daughter is learning to walk.  And at the building, my volunteers and I finished up installing pine flooring in the parlor area of my restaurant. (Somehow, I ordered the exact right amount of lumber.  See below: here's my friend Bob with the scrap material).  

Reader, whether this holiday weekend was good or bad, I hope you're able to see all you've got going for you.  When things aren't going your way, remember that the stinky times are grounding. They give us depth.  They shape our character.  They help us appreciate the good times.

AND they give us excellent material for writing songs.  This songwriting mama has material out the wazoo.  And with that, I'm off to write a little music before bed.  See you next Sunday. -Em

Off Trend 

I always said that--if ever write a book--I'm calling it "Off Trend." And because I'll never have time to write a book, a quick blog will have to do.

I just can't keep up with what's popular. And every time I've tried, I've been disappointed in myself.  Music, fashion, food, you name it: trends change.  Which means you have to continue to change in order to keep up with them.

And change is costly. It costs money.  It costs our environment (how many perfectly good 80's hyper-color shirts are in a landfill somewhere?).  And ultimately, it costs our happiness.

Now I'm not saying that change is a bad thing.  But changing oneself to fit in with the latest means living in a state of constant dissatisfaction.  My whole life, I've been aware of how untrendy I am. Though I've never felt it as much as I have recently.

I'm to the stage of my restaurant build-out where I have to pick light fixtures, furniture, paint, etc.  If you look around on-line or in stores, it's clear that industrial/mid-century modern styles are all the rage.  Edison bulbs, pipe shelving, low back couches: you've seen it.  It looks ok I suppose.  But if I go that route, I'll be out of style in a year or so when the next trend comes around.  What's a woman to do?

Not give a rip.  That's what.

Reader, if you're like me and lack the resources and time to keep up or care about what's en vogue, I invite you to join me in simply loving what you love.  If it happens to be what everybody else loves, great.  If it happens to be what nobody else loves, also great.  Being yourself and doing good things for others is timeless.  

I'm off to work a little more on yet another dorky holiday album, wearing my Salvation Army clothes and drinking my Aldi coffee.  This is me, and I love it.  I leave you with a picture of my friend Carolyn and I, nailing my lumber to the ceiling of my restaurant last week.  It's not conventional and certainly not in style, but I'll be damned if it doesn't make me smile, and we had a hell of a good time making it happen.  Hope you have yourself a great week.  See you next Sunday. -Em

 

Damn The Dam 

It's Mother's Day.  Which not unlike any other day, except that my kids (aka my husband) got me cards, and I drank champagne for breakfast.  Otherwise, it's the same as usual:

Pure bedlam.

Everyday last week, I thought, "Jesus, I'm barely holding it together."  Neither kid is sleeping through the night.  I'm working 10 hour days and making no money while still trying to keep a clean house, buy groceries, cook food, walk the dog, do the laundry, pay the bills, practice the piano, and somehow keep a smile on face and maintain order in my kids' lives.

Which is to say, I've been teetering on the brink of a breakdown for months.

It happened on Friday night.  

We went out to eat, and the bill ended up being much higher than I anticipated.  Money is so tight, and for whatever reason, I started to cry a little.  Then I started to cry a little harder.   I told my husband to drive us home quickly because I felt like I was going to blow.  After he and the kids went in the house, I got into the driver's seat, put my head on the steering wheel, and let the dam break.

I cried a tsunami of tears.

And even in the midst of bawling, I felt guilty.  I felt guilty that I wasn't able to rein in my emotions.  I felt guilty that I couldn't channel my sense of humor. I felt guilty that I wasn't more grateful for what I had.  I felt guilty that I wasn't home helping my husband with the kids.  

I felt the exact same thing every mother feels, all the time.

So I drove around for about 20 minutes, ugly sobbing.  When I was finally able to collect myself, I drove home.  I walked into the living room, and saw my 1 and 2 year-old running around with diapers on their heads.  It made me start crying again.  Only instead of run away to shield them from my tears, I let myself cry in front of them.  I've never done that before. The result?

They both curled up next to me and tried everything they could to cheer me up.

Reader, behind the scenes of every mother who seems collected is hot mess of a person who is amazingly good at tamping down their emotions.  And while some mothers are better at hiding it than others, suppressing emotions is a habit that no one needs to practice.  For Mother's Day this year, all I want for myself and my fellow mothers (and fathers doing the mom thing) is to know that you aren't alone.  It's ok to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, but when it starts to get to you, it's alright to share it.  The truth is, we're all barely holding it together.  Damn the dam that's holding back the floodwaters; sometimes it's good to let it burst.

And with that, I'm off to enjoy the bedlam.  See you next Sunday. -Em