On Beauty and Strangeness

Beauty and Strangeness
drop to the sand

come, get the ropes
(who are, after all, not mild
but militant)

I don’t think I am old yet,
half asleep,
not
all at once
but steadily

I know I have already lived



Words found in Mary Oliver’s book of essays Upstream and rearranged to my heart’s content. I found the words, but was careful not to copy any phrases or pairs of words. Each word is its own island set in the fabric of this poem.

On Desire (revisited)

In honor of the last day of my daily writing challenge, I am reconnecting with the same topic I wrote about on the first day: desire. Here’s the original post. That day, I asked an important question. Can desire be trusted?

Here are a few things I’ve learned about desire this month:
1) Desire is not the same as disintegration. I can fully desire something while keeping my values, self, and identity intact. In fact, I can use desire to live life with more integrity.

2) I trust myself.

3) I can’t control most things, and desire is just one of many things I can’t control. That’s okay.

4) Desire is not an action. Desire is a guidepost. To desire something is not an automatic decision to pursue that thing. The decision stands in the way of action. Desire can be heeded, and it can be brushed aside.

5) BEING OUT OF CONTROL IS NOT DANGEROUS. BEING OUT OF CONTROL WITHOUT A SUPPORT SYSTEM IS DANGEROUS.

6) Yes. A line can be drawn between joyful attraction and dangerous obsession. And there are so many different kinds of love, that this binary doesn’t really exist anyway.

I wrote last month that “I might be running away from my own stubborn refusal to allow my desire to take up space.” That was true. I don’t want to tell some false transformation story here. I’m not much better, a month later, at letting my desire run free and do its thing. I’m still scared of it. I’m still scared to laugh a full belly laugh because someone might take advantage of my joy. I still feel cautious about showing too much interest in strangers, out of fear they will rope me into some complex plot to drain me of all my money and energy. But something has shifted. I wouldn’t have been able to write that list a month ago, and I owe that to my daily writing. Sometimes it was hard as fuck to force myself to write, but I combed through my values, behaviors, and experiences in a really unique way. I wouldn’t have been able to do this in any other format. For that, I’m grateful.

Thanks for following along this month. If you want to get to know me on other platforms, please consider following me on Instagram, joining me on Patreon, or subscribing to my YouTube channel. I’m gonna switch back to poetry now. At least for a bit.

On Performing

Before I leave for my sister’s college graduation in about a week, I’m playing two live shows. Tonight, I want to write about the songs I’ll perform this week, what they mean to me, and the work it takes to perform them well.

The first performance is a songwriter’s showcase that I’m hosting at a local eatery. The second is a full-on “Siena” show, where I’ll play a set of original songs with my band. The band and I have one rehearsal together before the big show. Amazingly, one rehearsal is usually all we need to sound really confident. We’re all great players, and the songs are familiar. There’s me on piano and vocals, Jordan on bass, and Chris on drums. I write most of the songs, and there are a few we’ve written together.

I’m feeling a bit uneasy about the shows, since I was away for a month and wasn’t able to rehearse regularly with my band. The only reason I feel uneasy, though, is because I care so much. I want the shows to be top-notch.

I think I’ll actually change my language when I talk about them to be more positive. Stop using the words “uneasy” and “nervous.” So. I feel excited about the shows. I feel motivated by the shows. And I feel focused on the shows.

I need to do a lot of work to get my voice ready for the gymnastics I’ll pull in the live performances. I always go for difficult acrobatics when I’m playing live – when I get inspired I want to be able to just go for a run or a high belt and be able to not only pull it off, but bring out the emotional high in the music with finesse. I’m always stretching my limits. Often, I nail it. Especially when I’ve been practicing more regularly. Sometimes I don’t. I think I have a lot of potential as a vocalist and have just barely started to tap into it. It’ll take a lot more practice to be able to carry out the vocal visions I have in my head. The piano parts can always use work as well (improving my confidence with improv, getting my runs faster and cleaner) but it’s the voice I’m focusing on.

The Set List:

Breathe: this song is dear to my heart because it expresses longings. It is honest. It also looks to nature for inspiration, which is a common theme in my songs.

All of These Years: written for my sister, looking back through our childhood and being grateful for our connection. An offering to her letting her know I’m proud of her.

Human: it’s a song working through why I play music. The chorus goes:
we play to be connected
not for the empire
not for the racist shit we built

we play ’cause we are hurting
not for the glory
not for the fame or followers
we play ’cause we are human

Sea Painter: music from what I call my “middle phase.” Experimental, sonically-focused, strong images.

MeYouUs: song I wrote about my experience with PTSD, before I knew that it was PTSD>

Dragon: about an abusive relationship. Important to play because it shows the nuance and self-blame that comes along with abuse.

Carhartt: a fun teenage love song, about a guy who used to wear carhartts a lot.

More Than Us: a song about the squirrels that used to run around in our ceiling.

You Are The Best Thing, by Ray LaMontagne: Super soulful and delicious. Somebody once said that they like our version better than Ray’s.

You: an epic love song I wrote for Chris, when we were going through a really trying time in our relationship.

Overheard in a Cafeteria About a Father: an extremely poignant song. You’ll have to hear it to understand it. I’m recording it for the album I’ll release in 2022.

House in a Field: a dreamy tune. I recorded it for my debut album, then decided to completely revamp it. I changed the arrangement, produced it and recorded it with Chris in our house, and had it mixed and mastered by two of the best in the business. Then I made a dope music video for it.

California: a rare lighter song. One of my goals is to write more fun songs about being joyful, like this one!

He Loves Me, by Jill Scott: oh man. Jill Scott is such a powerful songwriter and poet. I just LOVE this song by her. It’s an honor to sing it, and the band and I have SO much fun jamming on it.

Meteor: this is the most-requested song at my shows, and has almost 600 views on YouTube, which I think is pretty awesome. I’m working on a music video for it right now (if you’ve been following my blog this month, this is the one that my grandma filmed).

Some songs I didn’t mention but we might play: Down, Winter Woods, Pretty, Lullaby for Corduroy (a lullaby we literally wrote for our cat), Holding Hands in Public, Havana by Camila Cabello, and Every Time I Hear That Song by Brandi Carlile. We only have 1.5 hours, so we definitely don’t have time for all of these. We can just gauge which ones we’re feeling in our rehearsal on Monday. It’s cool to have this many songs prepared, because we can just pick and choose which ones we want to perform at gigs. One of my goals though is to expand our set list in the coming months. Learn some new covers and add some new original songs. The only problem is I can’t record songs as fast as I write them. So right now I’m performing songs live that are mostly not recorded yet…. Oh well. All I have to do right now is focus on putting on a really good show. I can figure out the rest later.

On Resistance

Tonight I really didn’t want to write anything. I’m exhausted. I was lying in bed, back in Rochester, getting ready to fall asleep, when I remembered that I hadn’t posted yet. When I realized I would need to crawl out of my warm, soft bed and walk downstairs to get my computer, this clear determination overtook me. I knew I needed to do this. There was no choice. I made this commitment to myself, and I had to keep it.

I’m proud of myself for actually doing it. For honoring this promise to myself. I usually force myself to stay consistent with important things: practicing piano, practicing voice, flossing, working out, and drinking water. But this particular instance of discipline felt more automatic. That certainty I felt, that I was going to do this thing no matter what, is what I want to feel with all of these habits. I rarely feel that conviction with practicing. For some reason, I don’t feel that sense of accountability to myself with piano and voice practice. Practicing always feels like a choice. Writing my 28th post tonight felt like an inevitability. How can I make practicing an inevitability in my life? What is a more exciting and reachable goal than just “I want to get better at playing music”?

On Trying

This is how my mental illness influences my musical work:

I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, caused by repeated traumas. Thankfully, the traumas ended when I was 20, but the damage had been done. The symptoms took years to surface, suddenly popping up without warning. Even then, I lived with the symptoms for over a year, not understanding the severity of what I was dealing with.

I wrote A LOT of songs during that period, before I had a label for my mental state. Most of the songs were shit! But some of them were golden, and I’m recording them for my second album. Now I see how the illness was manifesting itself clearly in each line of music – I just didn’t have a name for it yet.

Now, I feel that music is an expression of more than just emotions and intellect. It’s my body/spirit as a whole. This “embodiment” shows up incessantly – those of you who have seen my live shows know that I perform with my entire being. I often write lyrics about body sensations and deep knowing.

In the process of learning to function/live with PTSD, I’ve had to integrate my body with my experience of the world. My body is in a constant state of high alert, even when I am physically safe, and I am still learning to accept that. I’ve worked so hard. Therapy, body work, dance, meditation, and medication. A LOT of breakdowns that interrupt my relationships. The alternative to this hard work is living in a constant state of dissociation and fear.

PTSD doesn’t ONLY happen in people who have been to war. It happens in some people who have experienced any kind of trauma.

Symptoms I’ve experienced include:
-severe anxiety
-uncontrollable flashbacks that bring me right back to the trauma
-avoidance of things that remind me of the traumatic event
-difficulty maintaining close relationships
-being easily startled/frightened
-overwhelming guilt/shame
-angry outbursts/aggressive behavior
-hopelessness about the future

On Comparisons

I’m on the plane from Philadelphia to Rochester. It’s a tiny plane. I’m listening to the acoustic version of Aurora’s Cure For Me on repeat. I’m turning over everything in my mind, over and over, jaw clenched, vigilant. Should I not have posted stuff that meant so much to me, in such a raw form? Do I really want to make my thoughts public in this way if I can’t deal with push-back? Then, mixed up in all these questions is the eternal one: what do I live for? 

Before the plane took off, I tried listening to an interview with Brittany Howard. But I started grinding my teeth with such intensity that I had to stop 20 minutes in. My heart was racing, and I felt my chest tightening, pushing me forward into an unknown space. I felt so much pressure to be AS GOOD AS HER. I don’t wake up every morning living for music. How can I be as pure of an artist as Brittany Howard? How can I be as sure as she is? Is there something wrong with me? There must be something wrong with me. I’ll never make it. I shouldn’t even be doing music.

The astounding thing is that I reached this conclusion so quickly. I went from being inspired by a fellow artist to imposing judgements on myself as a musician in just a few minutes. This type of self-doubt happens every week or so. It never stays for long, but it often stops by to visit.  

The hard facts are that Brittany Howard is a seasoned musician in her 40s, and I’m an up-and-coming artist in my 20s. I’m on my own path. If tonight I couldn’t handle listening to a musician talk about her process without seizing up, that’s okay. It’s just how it is tonight. I’m okay with turning off the interview for now. But comparing myself so intensely to other people is not something I want to continue in the long run. I want to celebrate each artist’s journey, and celebrate mine. Separately. I want to be inspired and influenced by other artists. I want to honor them. Without simultaneous judgement on myself. Without making it about me. 

Back to the questions I’ve been contemplating: I do often feel as if I’ve revealed too much in this blog. Like I’ve removed my turtle shell, and now I’m walking around without it. In my quest to be honest, I may have compromised my own feelings of safety and security. It’s a tough line to find. But I’m glad I’ve challenged myself to find it. In the process, I’ve learned so much. It has given me a chance to fumble around in the dark for myself and find my core, even when that core was being compromised. 

You can see that in these last few days of daily writing, I’m thinking more big picture. Here are a few truths:
-I want to tell people less. I want to reveal myself only as I’m ready to, to people that I trust to hold my truth. I want to be a graceful woman.
-I’m ready to get back into songwriting again as a serious pursuit of self-expression.
-For awhile, I was afraid of writing a new song because I was afraid it might be bad. What a classic way to stop yourself before you even start. Being afraid to fail.
-I just want people to hear me and understand me. Enough of this bullshit of wanting “connection through music” or whatever the hell I keep saying in all my shiny marketing tactics. I just want to be understood. As Odetta sings “I gotta be me, baby, hit or miss.”

I haven’t managed, in this month of writing, to answer the question of what I live for. I’ll be answering it for my whole life. I hope that’s okay. I can’t wait to get back to my partner, my house, my routines, my live shows, and my sweet sweet sweet cats. 

On Banana Bread

My grandma can only eat unripe bananas because of this special diet she’s on. So, when the bananas got too ripe for her to eat, I made banana bread. Yesterday was tough for me because, the night before, I had a PTSD-related panic attack. The next afternoon, I was still dealing with the residual effects of my nervous system getting completely overwhelmed. Baking is often the only thing that keeps my body regulated on days like these.

I used Ruth Reichl’s recipe for Devil’s Food Cake, and totally revamped it to create an incredible baked treat with no added sugar. The sweetness comes just from the milk, butter and bananas. The whole thing is almost gone – my grandma and I have devoured it over the past 24 hours. I will admit that this banana bread was pretty much what we ate for dinner last night.

Here’s the recipe:

1 cup milk
2 tbsp almond flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cloves
2-3 overripe bananas
½ cup butter (1 stick) – softened or at room temp
3 eggs
1 ¾ cup flour
1 tsp almond extract
2 tsp vanilla
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Optional: replace half of the butter with ½ cup apple sauce

Preheat oen to 350 F.

Heat milk in a small pan until bubbles begin to appear around the edges. Remove from heat.

Put almond flour and all three spices into a small bowl. Feel free to go overboard on the spices. I always do. Slowly beat in warm milk (I just used a fork). Let cool.

Partly mash the bananas with a fork. Then cream the butter into the banana mash mixture using the same fork. Beat in the eggs, almond extract, vanilla, and apple sauce if you’re using it (again, all you need is a fork). Add milk mixture.

Mix remaining dry ingredients together and gently blend into butter mixture. Do not overbeat.

Turn into a well-greased 8×8 square pan, and bake 20-30 minutes, depending on how gooey you want it. 25 minutes creates a perfect, moist bake, but you could underbake even more for more gooeyness.

Eat it with your grandma!

Also, yes, I understand the irony of my grandma not eating overripe bananas but then eating them in a banana bread. Who cares. YOLO.

On Limits

When I hit my limit, I often can’t believe how little I could handle. So the next time I push myself past my limit. And then my body puts me in my place and shuts down. Maybe eventually I’ll learn to trust my body every time.

On Love

This is my 22nd consecutive post! That means that after today, I have 8 more days of this daily writing challenge. Pretty proud of that. Today I want to write about something that has befuddled me for along time: “romantic” love.

Specifically, I have to admit that love isn’t what I thought it was! I have heard some ridiculously varied opinions over the past few years of what love should/could be. The one that really gets me, though, belongs to Lori Gottlieb.

Lori Gottlieb wrote this article in the Atlantic way back in 2008, then fleshed out the thesis into a full-fledged book: Marry Him: The Case For Settling For Mr. Good Enough. I read the book in 2018, and it shook me to the core. Not in a good way.

I was 23. I had been with my boyfriend for a little shy of a year. He was a drummer, and I was a songwriter, and we did wild things like trip on shrooms together and go jazz club hopping in New York. It was going well. We said “I love you” because we felt that way, and we were monogamous, but were we actually committed to each other? I didn’t even trust him to have a bandaid at his place if I accidentally cut myself, let alone trust him with my life. When faced with the decision to move back to Rochester and continue building our relationship, or stay in Boston and break up, he had to think it over for a couple of months. Meanwhile, I waited in agony for his decision, and almost broke up with him in the process. This was all very normal 23-year old stuff.

But then I read Lori Gottlieb. And I started freaking out. I was absolutely terrified by this idea that Lori casually called “settling.” In my mind, I was completely screwed. In my mind, I had to choose: do I want romantic, head-over-heels, obsession? Or do I want a partner who is basically a glorified business associate? And Lori’s opinion? Go with the glorified business partner.

Looking back, I’m not surprised that I felt scarred after reading Lori’s book. Here’s an excerpt from her original article in The Atlantic:

Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go.

-Lori Gottlieb

So yeah. Doesn’t sound very pleasant, does it? Choosing infrastructure over “true love”? I wasn’t obsessed with my boyfriend at the time. It was a calm relationship, not an exhilarating one. It gave me room to grow. But it was built on conscious decisions and choices, not on infatuation. Up until that point, I had been in MANY relationships in which I was completely infatuated. I thought that was where it was at. I would sacrifice all of myself to make the relationship run smoothly. I would stare at the person’s face while they slept and obsess about about having kids with them in ten years. My sense of self completely disappeared when I was with them. I felt I was destined to be with them, and felt a sense of connection so strong that everything else in the universe melted away when I looked into their eyes. I would match my breathing to theirs when we lay next to each other because the synchronicity felt so thrilling. Writing it now sounds creepy af and incredibly unhealthy, but that’s what love was to me at the time.

And because of all the movies, books, and culture I consumed growing up as a woman the US, I saw this obsessiveness as the pinnacle of romantic love. Wild passion and disintegration of self was true love…right?

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong. None of these relationships could ever become sustainable partnerships. There was the Swedish chef who didn’t reeaaaally want to move to the US, when I didn’t reaaaaally want to move to Sweden. There was the Nicaraguan jewelry maker who was only in town for the summer. There was the wannabe writer who wrote really bad prose about fighting in Iraq, which he had never experienced first-hand. There was the drunk dishwasher who took shots of Jack Daniels before every shift. There was the boy who sexually assaulted me when I was a minor. There was the obsessed-with-himself film score composer who may or may not have had a colossal crush on John Mayer. There was the tortured genius who consistently told me I was bad at everything. I was fascinated by these people, and totally into them, but the relationships were not only unhealthy and sometimes abusive, but also built on intense, ever-shifting emotions. They were volatile, and would never give me what I really wanted: a traditional partnership. And kids.

So yeah. I stayed with the drummer, who I wasn’t completely obsessed with and who didn’t have a first aid kit, because he was kind, super attractive, intelligent, and earned my respect every day. We had a lot of potential for a really solid partnership. I’m still with him, and we’ve built a strong relationship together over the last few years.

Is he perfect? No. Am I perfect? Hell. No. Is our relationship perfect? Nooo. Is our relationship what I need and desire? Yes. I don’t think I’m stuck in a binary choice like I thought when I first read Lori Gottlieb: business partner or infatuation. Now I think love is somewhere in between, a potent mixture of trust, decisions, desire, and learning to get your head out of your ass.

As you can see, I don’t have any definitive thoughts on this topic, because it honestly confuses the hell out of me. My sister told me a couple months ago that she believes that she can manifest a partner who is 100% compatible with her. I asked her incredulously if she really thinks there’s a perfect life partner out there for her. She said yes. She just has to meet him at the right moment. I am genuinely looking forward to seeing if she finds that person. I hope she does!

In my experience, though, nobody is truly compatible with me. INCLUDING ME. I am not even compatible with myself!! It’s taken years of work to even BEGIN to integrate all of the disparate parts of myself. So am I missing out on perfect, or is my sister holding out for something that doesn’t exist?

On Real Conversations

Tonight I actually forgot that I was supposed to write a post. I worked so hard today, doing way too many things with way too much vigor. I wrote a vision/outline for a new podcast I’m starting in January, sent the stems (raw audio files) for a live album I recorded at a festival in September to two different mixing engineers, started editing my new music video, and got my Pfizer Covid booster shot.

Now, with a headache and feeling woozy from the vaccine, I’m just going to quickly write about my ideas for this podcast. My friend Ben Albert, a fellow booking manager and creative business person in Rochester, NY, started this really awesome community called Rochester Groovecast. He wants to expand his idea into a Collective, including to a diverse bunch of artists, podcasts, articles, and creative showcases.

For my podcast, I imagine interviewing artists of all kinds: musicians, visual artists, craftspeople, designers, videographers, specialty food makers, dancers, actors, writers, etc etc etc. It’s an endless list. I want to have honest conversations with these people that reveal the strength, challenges, purpose, vulnerability and joy of making music/all other art forms. I want to disassemble romantic myths about the artist’s creative process.

I’ve already made a schedule for who I want to interview each month for all of 2022. Sometime this weekend I’ll start asking the artists if they’re down to do it! Nobody gets paid, including me, but I’m hoping I can provide something useful for these creators, even if its just a media/press link they can add to their portfolio. And, someday, I’d like to get sponsorship so I can pay myself for my time, and potentially provide each interviewee with a small stipend.

I want the podcast to be a place for people to go to feel less alone. I imagine building a community around art and creating art. I envision the podcast as a real space, uninhibited by social media algorithms or marketing guidelines, kind of like how I’m approaching this blog format. I want to be unafraid, or at least unabashed. I want to encourage my interviewees to be unabashed right along with me.