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.
Love,
Anne

A Story About Purple Hair & Pumpkins

When I was little, I’d draw pictures of people with different colored hair (purple, blue, green) and I remember the specific moment it occurred to me that it wasn’t “correct” to draw them this way because people don’t actually have purple hair (well, in those days they didn’t ;) ). I felt sad and it was a turning point for me where I wondered: could I continue to draw the way I liked?

Around the same time, my mom took me to an annual pumpkin decorating contest in our town with hundreds of children. I was young enough that I didn’t really understand what it was, but they laid out art materials in front of us (glitter, foam, felt, etc.) and I picked what materials I was attracted to, zoned out and just had fun decorating my pumpkin. Later, I found out, I won the contest.

Now this email is not about “winning” a pumpkin decorating contest (and probably pumpkin decorating shouldn’t be a competition anyway), but this email is about is trusting your instincts, accessing that zone where you do things a certain way just because you love doing them that way.

Being in a magical space is such a good feeling and also an opportunity to create things we, and others, love and enjoy.

In this case, it was a pumpkin :)

With songs, there’s definitely craft, a way to do it well. By using specific tools you can write more impactful and relatable songs.

At the same time, I always encourage people to get back to that imaginative space without rules, because that’s the space from which new ideas are born! When you aren’t telling yourself you “have to” do it a certain way, pure inspiration can come through! :)

In honor of the launch of Soul Songs School, I’m hosting an online celebration. If you want to be in that magical space with me, please join me this Sunday at 1pmEST and I’ll show you a fun process for writing your own theme song :)

Here are the details:
“Being in the Magic Space: Rituals for Songwriters and Other Creatives, Part 1″

Sunday, December 20th 1pmEST check your timezone here
Dial in number: (425) 440-5100*
Pin code: 775307# *long distance charges may apply
Or
Listen via live webcast

Opening of Soul Songs School!

I recently announced that I have some exciting news so here it is! (I’m going to be sharing my song recipes and I have an invitation for you so read on…. :) )

Some of you are music fans, some of you enjoy songwriting for enjoyment & expression and a handful of you have devoted your lives to writing and performing your own music.

Whichever group you’re in, I made something for you or someone you love. It’s the culmination of every creative threshold I’ve crossed by trusting myself and walking that path of trust. From my heart to yours, introducing Soul Songs School ™

What is it? Soul Songs School is an online songwriting course designed for soul-fueled songwriters and other creative artists who want to write from that deep place while mastering their craft. Soul Songs School is…

- a nurturing space for mining your creative gold

-a structured process to help songwriters create their best work!

-made out of a lot of love

Here’s how to participate: On February 4th, The Soul Songs Luminaries 6-Month Group Program begins! In it, you’ll receive online mentoring from me in a small group format, support from like-minded songwriters as well as writing & creativity exercises to support you in birthing and completing your songs!

To learn more about the program, simply email me info AT anneheaton.com and I’ll be in touch personally. Why did I make it? With 15+ years playing classical piano, a BFA from City College of NY in voice and having been offered a scholarship to Berklee College of Music, I had plenty of musical “knowledge” but I kept my spiritual/creative self slightly hidden. I let people see the results of my creative process – the songs – but didn’t let them see into my inner world.

Even when I talked about my songs on NPR or toured with Jewel and shared from the stage where my songs came from, I didn’t always fully reveal how they came to be. I grew up somewhat cynical so I was used to explaining things using an intellectual framework. So when it came to songwriting, which was a mystical and mysterious process for me, I didn’t want to own up to my woo woo beliefs ;) so I kept them hidden.

I now realize that the best part of the journey is the real story behind how the song came to be. There was always some magical element. Like for “Megan & Kevin,” I spent the day walking the hills of New Jersey when inspiration came. With “The Prayer of Saint Francis,” the prayer kept turning up in my belongings in the most unlikely of places. It’s like the songs came looking for me. I just had to be open and willing to use my tools to shape them in the world.

Over the past few years, I’ve shared my love for the creative process and taught a lot about songwriting craft. In Soul Songs School, I’m taking it to a deeper level, and as I said, I’m revealing my song recipes :) – ways I enter into the space where writing magic happens! If you want to be in that magical space with me (and write your own song recipes!), I’m looking for a few beta testers to be a part of my 6-Month Group Program for Soul Song Luminaries at an introductory rate in exchange for a testimonial and your feedback on the program.

If you’re feeling the pull to be a part of our group, simply reply to this email and we can explore if it’s a good fit. I’m feeling so much excitement and anticipation about who each of you will be!

Much love, Anne

PS: In celebration of the opening of Soul Songs School, I’m hosting an online celebration called “Being in the Magic Space.” You’re invited and details are coming soon!

My Grandpa Moose & Who Do You Think You Are?

Last Monday, on All Souls Day, I was thinking about my grandpa (“Moose” we called him) and how he always wanted to write songs. He had no extensive musical training though he loved a great melody and played a decent clarinet in the Army during WWII.

He once told me that he went to New York City to meet with a producer and show him “his songs.” I don’t think that meeting went well. It may have been a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” type of experience. He may have even felt embarrassed.

As I reflected on this, it brought a familiar ache to my chest.

I experienced a similar pain years earlier when I visited the New York Times building to do an interview to feature my newest album. I was excited, but at the same time, I thought: “Who am I to get to do this?” “Why should I get to?”

Could my grandfather have written great songs? I have no doubt.

Did he have any guidance or training? No.

Did this stop him from trying? No.

Did it lead to disappointment because had the desire and capability but lacked the know-how to make his dream come true? Probably.

Did he undoubtedly have a lot to share due to his rich life experience?  I’m sure.

Do I wish the songs he could’ve written (if he’d had the support) existed today? You bet I do!

In light of my recent work helping soul-inspired songwriters bring their best and most magical work into being, I often feel elated but, at other times, I feel sadness for those who didn’t get the opportunity.

On some level, I want to honor the lives of my ancestors by struggling with them in solidarity, but the truth is I can’t go back in time and help my grandpa write his songs. However, I can work with songwriters who are alive today.

I can honor my ancestors by creating and doing now what their circumstances didn’t allow for.

I know my grandfather wouldn’t want me to be imprisoned by the “Who Do I Think I Am?” way of thinking! He would be happy that he’d passed along his love for a beautiful, timeless melody.

What about you? Do you experience the “Who Do You Think You Are?” mindset in any part of your life?

Ancestors aside, I have to say that as a people-pleaser, it pops up a lot for me.

I’m a grown woman, yet I crumble when faced with it. I sort of contort my body so I’m shorter. I drop my head and I often stumble over my words.

Like when I hear the age-old joke about being an alum of the University of Notre Dame (over and over): “How can you tell if someone went to Notre Dame?” Punchline: “They’ll tell you.”

Yep, that built-in Someone Is Annoyed At You Because You (in this case I), Must Think You’re Better Than Everyone Else.

Silly, F-in, Bullshit.

Or, a recent person’s comment after one of my performances: “How’s it feel now that you’re not so important up on that stage?”

Um, fine?

Or, my dear father, a very kind man, who, years ago, innocently enough, when I was in high school (and wanting to feel self-sufficient) tried to sell my old text books so I could buy some new clothes, said: “We don’t sell our books in this family, we give them away! Who do you think you are?” (a fledgling entrepreneur who will go into hibernation for a while now? ;-) )

So…who do I think I am?

Well I’m a woman, I’m a human, I’m a soul, I’m a space from which many things arise (like talking, walking, singing, laughing, creating, hunger :) )

How about you? Who do you think you are? Or a better question might be: Who are you when you’re free of this question(?) which really isn’t a question but rather an implication: Don’t you dare be who you are.

The next time you feel the “Who Do You Think You Are?” mindset coming from either inside of you or outside of you, go ahead and ask yourself who you are and then ask yourself who you’d be if this way of thinking had no affect on you.

You’ll know.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’re willing, please leave a comment below.

Love,
Anne

When I Say Yes To Myself :)

Last June, I took a big financial leap and hired a coach to help me with a project. I didn’t tell anyone except my husband because I thought people would think I was crazy to spend so much.

It was a huge investment (2-3x the cost of a really nice family vacation -wow!) but I just knew I didn’t want to shortchange myself or what I’m here to be/do. I wanted a coach as a mirror & advisor and to make sure I wouldn’t hold anything back out of fear.

I’m here for such a short time on the planet-  I figured why not give it my best?

Despite being terrified, I signed up.

The next evening, my neighbor brought over an envelope and said: “I think the post person accidentally delivered this to our house because it has your name and address on it.” In the envelope, there was a check for a large sum of money (more than twice of what I paid for coaching) along with a note explaining that the money was to go toward the making of my next record.

I cried. This random gift (from a fan-turned-friend) was completely out of the blue and yet perfectly timed.

I’m not a “sit-on-your-couch-and-visualize-palm-trees-and-you’ll-win-a vacation” type of person but I do believe that when we take actions towards our dreams, the universe often responds with a high five :)

Similarly, last year I went on a retreat with a small group of women. We walked in the mountains, did yoga together, ate yummy dinners, and shared about our life’s work around a fire place.

But, I almost didn’t go.

A month earlier, I had told myself I couldn’t afford it until my osteopath friend Dr. Jan said she’d split the hotel room with me and give me a complimentary back treatment.  So I said, “Okay.”

Upon returning home, I wrote one of the most honest emails I’ve ever written to my list. In it (you can read it here), I shared about how I’d struggled with being completely open about my spirituality (because I wanted to people-please and always make a connection).

Within minutes, my email inbox was flooded. Email after email rolled in from people who related and shared their own similar stories. It was a reminder to me that when I take time to connect with myself, I’m much more able to communicate with others in a meaningful way.

I mostly write this to remind myself … to say yes to those little nudges, the big nudges and to what’s next.

As Pema Chodron says, “the days of the lone wolf are over.” How true that feels. We are here to help each other. Yet, oftentimes we must start with ourselves.

How can you say yes to yourself today, right here, right now?

I’d love to hear :)

Please leave a comment below if you’re willing to share.
Xo,
Anne
Ps: I have two upcoming shows in Chicago in November. There are a few seats left for the one in Barrington. Tickets are available here

AND Winterbloom is having a holiday reunion and playing 4 shows on the East Coast! We’ll be at The Rubin Museum in NYC Friday, Dec 4th, Circle of Friends Saturday, Dec 5th and 2 shows at Club Passim on Sunday, Dec 6th.