Picking Your Creative Company

My mom LOVES art museums, kayaking, and reading really good books, but she doesn’t particularly love sunbathing so I don’t ask her to go with me to the beach. I could ask her and then feel bummed out when she doesn’t want to. Or, I could not go at all. Or, I could go alone or with someone who does like the beach. Pretty friggin simple, right?

Yes and no, as I haven’t always been so savvy when comes to other, less tangible, things.

When I was in 5th grade, I wrote a short story. It was fiction. It may have been about alligators – I can’t remember, but I was VERY excited about it. At the same time, I had the sense it wasn’t quite finished. I wanted someone to read it. I chose to share it with my friend Penelope (this is not her real name) who laughed at me and said “You wrote a story? Oh. My. God. Why? That is so weird.” She only said this after I had actually handed it to her so she wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to read some of it so she could make more specific fun of me. For whatever reason, she was kind of like that.

So why did I give it to her? On some level, I knew she was a bad choice but I was hungry for creative feedback. I could’ve chosen one of my nice friends, but I had the feeling that my nice friends would just say it was great no matter what and that wasn’t what I wanted either.

Since Penelope was smart and opinionated I thought she could shed some light. But I forgot that she liked to sit in the balcony seats of the Muppet guys commenting on what everyone else was doing. (For more on the Muppet guys, go here).

Lesson learned. Looking back, I realize I benefited greatly from this experience because it helped me pick my creative company more wisely.

As a adult, I call friends who also like to make things or, I go on writing retreats where we sit in a circle and listen to each other. I’ve also created and fostered this kind of nurturing environment in the Soul Songs Luminaries Artist Mentoring Group. It’s a beautiful thing to witness someone in the process of making something or birthing a song. It’s amazing, but the company is really key :)

What about you? Are you good at choosing your creative company? Did you ever sabotage yourself by asking the wrong person to look at your creative work or hear your idea? What’s the best creative experience you’ve ever had with another person or group?

Please, feel free to leave a comment below :)

Love,
Anne
PS: I can’t wait to share with you the new upcoming interview series “How The Song Came To Be!” It’s going to be amazing!! Stay tuned for more details in the next few weeks!

Living In The Gap

A few years ago, I was about to leave for a tour of the West Coast when I saw this movie about how flying was one of the worst forms of pollution. It really impacted me so I decided I’d take the train from Boston to Seattle instead. (Back to this in a minute).

As a kid and teenager, I often felt there was a gap in between what I’d learn and what was actually happening. For example, we might learn in class that there were unsafe hormones in our milk and then that same milk would be for sale in our cafeteria. Or we’d learn that being a good person meant being charitable, and then we’d have a meeting about whether to donate money to a tutoring organization and I’d be outnumbered by ‘nos’ from other students & teachers. I was confused by this.

I’m living in this gap now and it feels more pronounced than ever. I don’t want to buy gas anymore, but I am still buying it! I tell myself I’m doing the best I can (We have an electric car and an older hybrid), but I’m still not completely off the stuff. This is not a good feeling.

(Back to the train ride). The ridiculousness of it wasn’t lost on me. Frank, my musical partner, would fly out a few days later to join me and Mai Bloomfield would fly in from LA to open the shows. How much of a difference did it make if I took the train?

I felt cynical about it but I discovered one thing: I was willing to make a change. I learned I would take two extra days out of my life to get to my destination. One month pregnant, in coffee-withdrawal and suffering from morning sickness, I met Americans from all walks of life over leisurely meal conversations in the dining car.

Fast forward to last week. I was watching the PBS Neil Degrasse Tyson “Cosmos” show. He was reminding viewers of the consequences of global warming and I got all riled up. I started to think about how many times I’ve said I’m going to make a real change and then what I’ve actually been able to implement. There it was again, that gap.

I said to my husband (or rather yelled :) ), “Am I supposed to turn down gigs or amazing teaching opportunities to work with young songwriters because of the pollution the airplane makes?”

He said no. What then? I started to think about what I could do. Should I pay the carbon footprint? (Btw, I did this, it was only about $5, which seems too low, right?). Should I increase my $15 month donation to TreeSisters, an organization that’s planted 1 million trees so far and is about to embark on a journey toward 1 billion trees, to offset my flights? Sure, easy enough. Should I look into more opportunities to teach where I live? Probably.

Is that enough? What other changes should I make?

I kept going around and around in my head. Deep down I knew all that was required of me was research, decision-making and implementation so why did it feel so overwhelming?

Maybe it’s the continuous stream of bad news coupled with the number of choices we have in responding. Maybe it’s because people are and have been in immediate crisis in Puerto Rico, Houston, Florida, The Virgin Islands, Mexico City and beyond. Maybe it’s because I feel helpless to make a significant impact. That’s when I realize that what I need most is to have thoughtful & heart-centered conversations with other people grappling with the same thing.

Here’s my attempt to start that conversation. I’m not looking for advice, but I am curious about your personal process so I’ll start by sharing my obstacles and some good tiny things.

Some of it feels embarrassing because it’s so small, but here’s goes nothing. Let’s start with the good things, shall we?

Good things
- Joining a CSA was one of the best things I’ve ever done for our family. We ate more healthy greens, fresh veggies and supported one of our local farms. Local food sourcing feels critical right now.

- When I bring my own mug places (instead of using plastic or paper cups), I always make friends. (“Oh I love your mug, it’s so pretty” “Why thank you”). I also often get free coffee :)

- Carpooling. An excuse to have more kids in the car and it always feels like a special occasion. I don’t do this nearly enough, but I’m doing it more and more.

- Taking positive actions. I notice that I personally prefer doing something positive as opposed to resisting. For example, I’ll sign a petition against gun silencers or make a phone call to save health care, etc., but I prefer donating to planting trees because it feels like it can happen no matter what!

- Writing something on the topic, like say, a song.

Obstacles
- Physical obstacles.
I can’t ride my kids to school on my bike pulling a chariot because the road is the equivalent of a highway and we could die.- The apparent enormity of the problem. When I drive past the oil refineries near Gary on Lake Michigan and I look at the pollution spewing out of them, it’s easy to think: “What does it matter if I ride my bike, use a mug, go cold turkey on plastic, carpool?”

Or, if I look into my email inbox, there are emails from charity:water, NRDC, Sierra Club, MOAS etc. I don’t know how to show up in a big way for any of these organizations as little old me.

One more example. I just watched the Bernie Madoff movie and one part really struck me. The part where the brothers say there will be no trial because it’s putting the whole banking system on trial and the banks won’t let that happen. It’s overwhelming to think that our whole system is “off” in some way by always having to grow bigger, eat up more of the market, expand, fill up natural spaces, etc.

– This one is embarrassing, it’s the Who Am I To Be Doing This? line of thinking. I’m busy, I work hard and I’m an artist. It’s not like I even have predictable income, so why should I be the one to make changes? I know I’ll feel better, more empowered, and happy to be part of the solution but don’t Oprah and Al Gore take planes? Sometimes this one manifests as “I can only really help if I have a lot of money so once I make more money, I’ll help more.” Ah yes, this is so very embarrassing, but there you go.

The good news is when I figure out what I can’t change right now (like the fact that I can’t bike my kids to school), I can then move on to things I can change.

I recently tried to plant a tree in my yard. It died. I can get over myself and try again :) . And/or I can ask someone for help.

What about you? How do you navigate the gap? Do you have struggles when trying to make practical changes for the environment?

I’d love to know :)

If you’re willing, please leave a comment below letting us know what your good things and obstacles are. How do you make decision and take small steps?

Much love,
Anne

Other People Don’t Exist To Make You Happy :)

One evening as I was driving, the sentence “Other People Don’t Exist To Make You Happy” popped into my head. Although those words could’ve sounded harsh, I felt profound relief. It’s not that I consciously thought other people existed to make me happy, it’s just that sometimes I acted as if they did.

A little background first: I’m one of those people who, on some level, doesn’t understand why she’s not still friends with all her buddies from grammar school (though I still have a really good friend from grammar school who lives outside Seattle and she’s awesome). From an early age, I believed that true friends would be friends for life (remember that song?: “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold”). I took that shit seriously ;-)

In a way, it makes sense. Who better to stay friends with than those who knew you when you were open, innocent, and your main motivation was having fun playing? Also, usually you don’t know that relationships can end when you’re a child, so you’re fully in with both feet!

I recently re-watched the movie Stand By Me, which I initially loved and cried profusely at.  because it seemed to be the standard-bearer on what it means to be a good friend and I wanted to remember what had resonated so deeply. Was it the boys’ loyalty for each other? Their understanding? The fact that they cheered each other on no matter what?

In the moments where I may feel disappointed that a friend is not able to “be there” for me, or perhaps is no longer able to regularly keep in touch, or even when I remember friends I’ve permanently lost along the way, I wonder things like: Was it my fault? Did my friend lose me or the other way round? Are there just “seasons of friendship?” – that with some people, we’re only meant to be friends for a little while? Was it deliberate or an accident?

In these moments, no matter the details, I find it’s so helpful to remember this mantra:

Other People Don’t Exist To Make Me Happy

- A friend and I were in the middle of discussing launching a project together and she set up a meeting for us to talk together to her (it turns out) bullying business partner and when he behaved badly, she never called me to say she was sorry or address it. In fact, she never called me again: People don’t exist to make me happy

- A childhood friend I tried to reconnect with as an adult (because we had adored each other as kids) and now coincidentally were living on the same street, but she was too busy: People don’t exist to make me happy

- A friend I have who holds me at a distance: People don’t exist to make me happy

When I do this, I feel a heck of a lot better. When I’m not thinking of what I can GET from a friendship, I’m seeing instead that there may be circumstances that don’t allow the person to give (things that I really should be giving myself anyway!). I end up having compassion and loving these people MORE than I did when I had an expectation of them. Well, hot damn! That feels good!

As embarrassing as it was to find out that I had this hidden expectation, I was glad to know I did because now I could ask Where did it come from? Oh (I know!) it came from flipping what was subconsciously drilled into me:

You Exist To Make Other People Happy (Aha!)

Through every rule or societal norm I was pressured to follow or uphold, through any friend or family member I somehow got the idea I was supposed to take care of, anytime I got the message from any school or misguided person that I should dull my light (Never do it!), whenever I believed other people don’t know how to take care of themselves so I must do it, I was believing this.

And therein lies the cycle. If I exist to make other people happy, they must exist to make me happy. This must be the agreement that was made though we never actually made it. And now that I know it’s out there and I accidentally opted in, I can opt out.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I will create happy circumstances for some people (And I really want to! Sharing joy seems like one of the best parts of living). And I’m sure other people will bring happiness to me (and I will appreciatively receive it!). That said, people don’t exist to cater to my emotional needs, it’s not a given or even an appropriate demand, it’s codependent and I feel a whole lot happier not carrying that expectation of myself and others.

Try it next time. When someone disappoints you, say “__(Insert name) doesn’t exist to make me happy” See how it feels. I hope other people will do this for me. If I’m not measuring up, they can say “oh Anne doesn’t exist to make me happy, she might and she might not. She’s a person and she’s got her own life purpose. I wonder what she’ll do next?”

“Fly free little bird!”

As always, I LOVE hearing from you. How have your expectations of others and yourself around happiness played out?

Please leave a comment below.

Peace,
Anne
Ps: Here are the details on two upcoming NYC & Boston shows!

Saturday, May 6th, 7pm a co-bill with Natalia Zukerman at Music on 4 in New York City (A House Concert on the Upper West Side). This show is by reservation only and will sell out. Tickets are $25 and can be reserved through musicon4 AT earthlink.net or 212-662-2320. Refreshments, wine and beer will be served.

Saturday, June 24th, 8pm Club Passim, 47 Palmer Street, Cambridge, MA / www.clubpassim.org / $20/$22 Tickets are available here

Your Best Friend….YOU :)

Hi friends,
It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’m at the beginning of a creative, more quiet period and one of the things that comes up for me when I start writing deeply, is that I discover some of those forgotten places in me that are asking for love: “Would now be a good time for you to pay attention to me and give love?” Most days, I hope my answer to this question can be: “Yes, now’s a good time, I’m listening :)

However, in reality I don’t always listen or know the best “how-to” to being good to myself. I’m always a work in progress.

Today, I’m writing to you from a forest in Costa Rica where I’m resetting and spending some time with family. Yesterday in our morning yoga class, the instructor wished us peace, health and the fulfillment of our desires. She suggested this could happen by God, or The Universe or angels/guides “or by your best friend…YOU.” I barely caught it when she said it but I loved it. It reminded me of a post I wrote last year about self-care, the allure of being a martyr, and a last minute trip to this very same place! You can read it here.

This year I had the desire to send you a similarly themed love note and hopefully make you chuckle with a Before & After picture pair (I’ve added them to the bottom of the blog post here)

My question to you this morning is how can you be your own best friend today?  What would that look like? How can being good to yourself inform how you treat others?

As always I love to hear your thoughts! Please feel free to leave a comment below.
Love,
Anne

#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.

But…

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.

Love,
Anne