#1 Tool for Finishing Songs, Creative Projects or Anything :)

A few years ago, I wanted to write a letter to the Afghan man who had lost 11 members of his family (8 of them children) at the hands of a US Army sergeant who broke into innocent civilians’ homes at night and killed them. I felt I had to do something. I wanted to tell this surviving father that I was deeply sorry. I wanted to offer something, but I got lost in the minutiae of it. I thought, he probably doesn’t speak or read English so he couldn’t read my letter. I also became afraid that he’d be angry with me or that a letter would be insignificant in the wake of what he was facing. Then, I thought I’d waited too long. Essentially, I gave up.

This email is a promise both to myself and to you that the next time I have an idea that won’t let go of me, I will act on it.

A lot of my ideas I do follow through on. Years ago, after my grandmother died, I was so bereft in her absence that I began visiting an 88-year-old woman named Alma in a senior center in South Bend. Alma’s family lived far away and she was lonely for them. I figured: “I’m a sad granddaughter, she’s a sad grandmother, we’re a good match” :) Alma and I had visits every Saturday until she died a few years later.

There was, of course, the initial hump to get over. I had the idea, but there was no “visit a senior program” that existed where I lived, so I had to just wander into a senior center and look for someone who looked like they might want a visitor.

In other words, I had to get past the weirdness, self-doubt and possibility of someone saying I was a security breach ;) . “Whom are you here to see?” “Um, not sure yet, someone who might like a visitor?”

In my daily life, I have my ideas about how things should/will go and they don’t always go as planned (of course). For example, this week my youngest was having problems at camp and I had to pick her up early. Then, my daughters’ swimming lessons (for which they were SO excited) were cancelled.


I love paying attention to what happens AFTER things don’t go according to plan. On this particular day, we ended up making indoor and outdoor obstacle courses instead of swimming. Pretty awesome.

My process with songwriting is similar. I make plans for what I want, follow through on my initial ideas, but I also stay open and adapt when those ideas morph and change.

I call it “The Tell & The Ask” and it’s helped many songwriters create & complete their visions especially when they feel stuck or confused about how to proceed.

Feel free to experiment with this and let me know how it goes for you! I always love hearing from you.

When we take action on our ideas (like if I had written a letter to that Afghan man) we actually have better stories to tell, better songs to write. We all have better things to make when we create better lives.

I’m all in favor of writing songs about the injustices in the world, but what’s the next step? What about also writing about the mending action you took or quirky loving thing you did? Go do that thing and THEN write your song. I’d like to hear that song :)

Some days it feels like we live in a very intense time and world but, we are powerful beings :) and our intentions matter.

So let’s put our visions out there, make them real and all the while, stay open to them even changing for the better!

Feel free to leave a comment below.


What If You Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything?

I love this time of year. Like clockwork, my body remembers.

As a kid, I’d get out of school, and my brothers and I would go straight to my Grandma Rosemary’s house in Ottawa, Illinois. We’d run in the sprinkler, go to Pitstix pond, eat ice cream and just hang out. When we returned home 2 weeks later, my mom always said that we were so much calmer, so much slower moving, we were nice & easy.

But wait, I still want this kind of a summer vacation! There’s a biological part of me that’s confused every year when this doesn’t happen.

Is anyone with me on this? Do you still, on some level, expect your summer to be the way it was when you were 7?

Now that I’m an adult, I don’t have this same let loose time right as summer begins, but I still feel the longing. The longing to do nothing, or nothing much. And I can also feel like I don’t want to do the things I’m “supposed to” (any Gretchen Rubin “Rebels” out there?) even if they’re things I usually like doing.

So, last week, I decided to make a list of what I would do if I could do whatever I wanted the first week my daughters were out of school.

Here’s what I wrote:
1. Drink iced coffee. As much as I want.

2. Walk barefoot in grass. Wander.

3. Draw with crayons with my daughters. Maybe make a vision board or just do silly self-portraits.

4. Make bead necklaces (only if I feel like buying beads, otherwise not).

5. Decorate the house (maybe)

6. Watch one kid cartoon movie cuddled with kiddos. Later watch something grown up I like while they are napping.

7. Cook or order out healthy food! Get fruit smoothies!

8. Reflect on the day, write about it.

Wow, did that ever feel good. As soon as I got the words on the page, I felt a sense of elation. What soon followed was the “You can’t do that” voice, but alas the elation had already convinced me to at least try some of it.

So, what happened. Well, I still had to work, but miraculously some things shifted so we made our way through the list little by little with some deviations (one day we started the day with a tea party and THAT was pretty awesome)

What does your list look like? What would be on it? Please share in the comments below!




How Do You Get Back Up On The Horse?

How do you get back up on the horse? It’s a funny expression since most of us don’t ride horses as part of our daily lives, but a question I ask myself a lot as an artist and entrepreneur.

When life calls me away from my work in the world (as my 5-year old daughter’s recent hospital stay did), how do I begin again?

While my daughter was in the hospital and later when she was mending at home, everything came to a screeching halt. Of course, I was solely focused on her well-being so I didn’t really think about it.

But after she recovered 3 1/2 weeks later, I found myself feeling a little lost and historically from that place, I can get down. What will happen to the dreams I had for the year? Can I make up the time?

Part of me wanted to immediately jump back in to doing what I love, but the other part felt too depleted to be a good mentor or even a decent friend.

I considered that doing what I love might be the only path back to doing what I love well. I also considered that maybe people would understand I wasn’t at my best and that maybe, just maybe, that would be ok?

I decided to do a little of both, rest and host the weekly Soul Songs Luminaries group just a few days after we got home from the hospital. I had my reservations though and I told the group I was afraid I wouldn’t be very helpful and that I was relying on them, their intuition & wisdom to carry us.

Guess what happened? It was probably one of the best sessions yet. All the songwriters shared breakthroughs they’d had in their rewrites or recordings. It was so cool to witness.

This experience reminded me that everything is not up to us in the “carrying water from the river to the village” sense. So much is in the intentionality.

In this case, the Soul Songs Luminaries had been together for 3 months already, so a container for growth and beauty had already been established, along with a level of trust and momentum so even when things didn’t go exactly as planned, they continued to unfold.

Similarly, as I was sitting down to write this newsletter, I had the thought that I should wait until I had something more inspiring to say, until I was in a better place, but then I remembered it’s okay to be in the middle, in a spot where I don’t have it all figured out, trusting that something may be relayed in my showing up as I am right now.

What about you? Where can you show up in your life today without certainty, without knowing how it’ll go?

And if you did that more regularly, how would it change things?

I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to leave a comment below.


image courtesy of crocodile creek’s barnyard tower puzzle :)


How Kind Are You To Yourself?


Think it’s crazy to decide on a Monday to go to Central America on Friday for the weekend? Me too. But then I did it anyway. Here’s why…

I was in that grey place. I’d been in it for a while. It didn’t matter that I did my morning meditation, or that I took a walk or brewed my favorite coffee before work, I still was not feeling good. I was functional. I could get myself in an inspired zone to connect and teach but I couldn’t sustain it. I had the winter blues and I wanted them to go away for my sake, the sake of my family, my clients and anyone who would ever listen to me play a song (if I’m bleak, what then?)

So, at the last minute, I went to one of my favorite places, Costa Rica. I walked in the mountains, listened to birds & did yoga in an outdoor pavilion. I talked with a group of retreating women. I got a massage, slept, ate home cooked meals and 60 hours later, I flew home.

One of the things I realized while there is that I have a lifelong obsession of trying to do more with less (the more out of less idea is fun when it’s a creative challenge, but oppressive when it’s an internal mandate). And, I realized that within me lives romanticized storylines around the role of the martyr. Notions such as If I succeed without a lot of help, I’ll be a heroine or a “good girl” OR If I don’t need too much (and I manage to have a full cup without really filling it), I’ll somehow have accomplished something amazing! It’s silly, really, and a construct of my ego even though I didn’t intend to create it.

Whether I was born this way or it developed out of notions of what makes a good person, a good mom, or even an early-life admiration of well-known people like Mother Theresa, I’ll never know. But I do know that trying to do less with more (or creating martyr-like circumstances) when one has other options is not the best way I can be in this world.

In admiring people like Mother Theresa, I was picking up on a truth: That nothing is more loving, energy-producing and happiness-creating than service to others (in fact, I think it’s the only thing that makes us truly happy), but this service doesn’t exclude us!

Self-care is a real buzz-word these days. I prefer to think of it as letting my true-self lead. Going where I’m called to go on the level of my soul, giving myself what I need, allowing the flow of life to go through me instead of trying to control the flow of giving and receiving based on ideas about my role or definitions of what makes a good person.

What about you?

Are you great at taking ongoing care of yourself? Or do you tend to do one nice thing for yourself and then see how long you last?

What can you gift yourself this week that, in turn will gift the world?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts :)

Please leave a comment below.

What The Streets of Rome (& Espresso) Taught Me About Structure

(Lincoln logs courtesy of my daughter Helen, age 2)

 My first husband was an architect. We talked endlessly about public spaces that were created with people in mind – with the idea that people would enjoy themselves in them – from the curving stone paths of Rome (& piazzas where folks sip espresso while admiring a fountain) to the tiny restaurants that line San Francisco’s Mission District, Somerville’s Davis Square or Quebec’s Old City.

We talked about how good it felt to move about in these spaces and how different it felt to walk around big box retail and its adjacent parking lots.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about structure and how it affects us (both in terms of space and time). I think about it as a mom too because educators often say “children crave and benefit from structure!” so I try to understand what that really means.

I grew up on the North Shore of Chicago where it was critical to excel at academics and to do as many sports and extracurricular activities as possible in order to get into “a good college.” In junior high, I switched schools so I’d be “better prepared” for high school. In high school, I arose at 5:30am to start my day, completed my classes at 3:30, ran track, volunteered at a local organization and then stayed up long past midnight writing papers.

I believed that hard work would equal happiness (a.k.a. feeling bad now = feeling good later).

While there were many good things about about my education, there was also an accepted “norm” that forcing things to happen was necessary and that doing, learning, accomplishing more, more, more was always better.

Today, I don’t give up my happiness in this moment for a future goal, which doesn’t mean I don’t do the dishes, I just do them differently, as joyfully as I can (and not when I’m exhausted).

I also ask myself: What kind of structure would’ve served young me better?

Would I have learned more deeply if all my time wasn’t consumed with activity?

Would I have had more energy if there’d been equal focus on my internal landscape as on external outcomes?

As I ponder our big box retail stores and think about whether they were designed for us to be inspired by them or more with the idea of ensuring that we purchase a lot of things while keeping costs low, I think I know the answer. And they are successful in that.

But what happens when we apply this way of thinking to our internal life, when we are so focused on a bottom line or a specific outcome that we lose the ability to see the beauty that surrounds us in each moment?

In terms of the structure I create for myself today, I realize that I often do much better work when I get up and leave in the middle of something and watch a bit of a movie. Or if I take walks every few hours to clear my head before returning to my desk.

My structure looks more like freedom. What about you?

For me, having windows of time to work and write while my daughters are at school and eating oatmeal with them in the morning, these rhythms not only fuel my songs and my teaching, they fuel my life.

When I make feeling good a priority, I regain the beauty in my life whether I’m lying on the beach or not.

If I have no other goal than to make my day into the equivalent of a beautiful song, chances are that not only will whatever work I do be more vibrant, I’ll also be happier :)

What about you? What structures have served you best?

Which ones haven’t?

If your day were a work of art (maybe it already is :) ), what would it look like?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.