Internal Progress

I video recorded myself playing piano and singing two songs the other night and then watched it. And I was able to not be too overly critical of myself. Which is huge progress. My perfectionist streak which I’ve battled for years to channel into productive paths has gotten in my way a lot, as has stage fright that rose up sometime between undergrad and grad school, so the fact that I didn’t cringe or shy away from myself is a very big deal.

The songs were two I worked on with my voice teacher last year – a Joan Baez song and one from the musical The Scarlet Pimpernel, so I knew I had certain nuances down before I even started playing. The next step will be to record myself playing my own music, and at that point, I can let the perfectionist out a little for tweaking purposes.

Music is so important for healing. I’ve said it often that it is the one area I’ve felt a lack in my life since leaving undergrad. So I’m glad I can introduce it into my life again.

Cristofori’s Dream by David Lanz

I don’t pay for the Premium package here yet so you’ll have to  click the link to hear the song. Play it while you read. Last week I dug the song out from my messy sheet music binder, and I’ve played it a couple of times since.

My uncle had a decent-sized New Age piano book collection that he kept at my grandparents’ house with other piano music because they had a baby grand, and I loved going through and trying to play all his sheet music growing up. This song was one that I could actually play decently, which was great because it was one I fell in love with. So I photocopied it at the library (10 cents a page!) and played it over and over again at home on our ancient upright piano that was always flat, but flat consistently so the keys were fairly in tune together just almost a 1/2 step lower than it should be. Then in college, I actually arranged it into a flute duet and performed it with a friend of mine, letting her take the first part so I could come in with the harmonies that I loved so much. I haven’t touched it much in recent years, with my piano being at my mother’s house for so long, so it was really nice getting it out. Certain songs are like old friends.

I posted a long time ago about the creative process being able to stop time, and this song, for me, is one that immediately puts me in that space. It is meditative, contemplative, and it takes on the emotional undercurrent of whatever I’m feeling at the time easily and lets me process. So that even when I’m sad or angry, it soothes.

What are the creative processes that you have that put you into a calmer, more present state of being?

Beginning to Refill My Creative Well

I have begun the work on refilling my creative well, which is the last part of me that really needs healing. Physically and mentally, I’m back to my former self. So yay for that!

Earlier this week, I started a new abstract painting with no plan in mind, just letting myself play with the paint. It will be interesting to see what happens with it. I love doing that, but I also have a really difficult time knowing when I’m done with a painting when it’s not of a particular subject matter.

Musically, I’ve begun playing the piano and singing a lot more. My baby loves to either sit in her little toy chair next to me or right on my lap while I play, so that’s been a huge boon in the process. I found the box that held my personal songs that I’ve been working on and plan on cracking into that today. That same box also held all of my flute music, so I will be bringing that out for the first time since we moved hopefully this weekend. Baby steps. I’ve also begun listening to more music again, mostly jazz and classical around my daughter to foster brain development for her, and I’ve found having it on in the background is helping my brain too.

Writing-wise, I’m still primarily just posting here and little snippets on my personal page (mostly political and social stuff there mixed with personal) and getting back on track with morning pages. I haven’t been able to journal at night with the baby’s schedule, and I am having a difficult time writing fiction. I think playing music is helping me get back in touch with the writing, and I may focus on writing poems and songs and “pieces” for a while before delving back into fiction.

And before I can really develop a plan for where I want to focus my creative energies moving forward, I have to figure out the survival part of things. Which I have definite possibilities that will hopefully be firmed up soon.

In some ways, with everything going on in the world, it seems crazy to be focusing on this stuff, but at the end of everything, it’s the creative spark we all share that will let us evolve as a species.

Now Is The Time – a poem

Now is the time

To rise up and sing,

To raise your voice strong

And let the sound ring.

Feel the movement of your life,

And the rhythm of your heart,

The dance of your soul,

No better time to start.

 

Now is the time

To make yourself whole,

Listen to the music

Of your body and soul.

The melody you live,

Your heart keeping time

To the beat of the earth.

Nothing is more sublime.

 

Now is the time

To let out your song.

Join in the symphony

To which we each belong.

Let our harmonies blend

And ring out like a bell.

Let the chorus grow,

Let the sweet sounds swell.

 

Copyright 2016, Kat Micari

Sound of Silence

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zLfCnGVeL4

I’ve been opting for silence more and more lately, which is a departure from my usual habits. In the past, I almost always have background noise of some kind, either music or podcasts or, if I’m just doing busy work with my hands, TV/movies of some kind. What I chose to have on varied depending on my mood and what I was doing. But as my life is getting more and more hectic and as I find myself progressing in this pregnancy, I find myself seeking silence in my work or daily life when I have the chance, whether it’s my day job or doing chores or even working out.

It’s nice, in a way, that I’m comfortable enough with myself to truly be by myself on occasion. I don’t know if that was always the case when I was younger. My inner doubts and demons were easier to soothe with music than anything else, and it let me get the job done. And I guess I must be needing to snatch whatever moments I can to ground and center and listen to myself these days. I’m sure I’ll still continue listening to music and podcasts and watching things (especially since we’ve just unearthed our CD and DVD collections from storage), but I think seeking the silence is allowing me to tap even deeper parts of myself, which will help my creative work and personal growth immensely.

Almost in opposition to that, I have a piano tuner coming out Monday to tune my piano in our new house, and on Wednesday evening, I’ll finally have time to sit down and play. It’s been months, so I’ll have to take things slowly, and with my work schedule and trying to unpack taking up a big chunk of my next two months, I won’t have any option but to do things slowly. But I am so excited to make music a regular practice again. And maybe living more in silence with myself will allow my own music to come out more easily. It’s the one area in my creative life that I feel lacking in still, so it’s more than time for me to work on it.

Bad Creative Habits

Bad habits. We all have ’em. And they wreak havoc in different areas of our lives. But when it starts crossing over into our ability to create to the best of our ability, then it can severely hamper our growth as artists and individuals. I tend to notice when I get into a pattern of behavior. It may take a while for me to fully acknowledge it, and then to take action against it, but I keep bumping up against the bad habit until I do. So I wanted to make this post pointing out some traps I constantly fight against, and also to go through the various disciplines I have experience in both doing and helping others do so that maybe it will assist you on your journey. This post will deal with the general “life” bad habits, and I think I’ll get into more specific ones (writing, art, music) in later blogs

  • “Ooo, shiny syndrome” – I suffer from this greatly. This is where the new project or potential project always holds more allure than whatever project you are currently in the midst of. And yes, it’s important to be planning ahead while still accomplishing the current work or else you could find yourself with no creative work at all to be doing, but the risk of battling “ooo, shiny syndrome” is that you wind up with these really great half-thought out ideas that never go anywhere or become realized. And some people actually try to make a living selling just ideas, or garnering support to realize a dream (you’ve seen these ads on Craigslist, I’m sure – “I’ve got this amazing idea for a novel! I just need a writer to put in the hours to write it on spec!  And then we’ll turn it into a movie where film crew and actors donate their time for free now, and we’ll all be rich when we sell it later!”) Not the way I operate. So, the way I battle this bad habit of putting off the hard work I should be doing because the dreaming and scheming is more alluring is to negotiate with myself – I give  myself a little bit of time for the fun work AFTER I do the hard work as a reward.
  • Needing everything perfect – This is one that a lot of my friends fall into. Many of us creatives have rituals we set up for ourselves: always drinking coffee or tea out of one mug while we write, always playing certain music while we paint, always lighting a candle and laying out inspiration in a certain way, always going to the same coffee shop or sitting in the same spot in the park, etc. The problem is that eventually the mug or your music player breaks, you can’t find your matches or lighter, and your favorite coffee shop closes, leaving you feeling betrayed and unable to do any work. This is something I’ll get into a little later more deeply, but essentially, you’ve come to believe the magic of creation can only work in one certain way and you get stuck in that rut. The tools you thought were helping you are now a hindrance. So to get through this bad habit, mix up your routine. If you always write at home, try writing at a coffee shop. If you only listen to one type of music, force yourself to work in silence or to listen to a completely different genre. Make the magic work in the midst of both calm and chaos, because life is a mixture of both. It will allow you to work steadier.
  • The deliberate distraction – Another trap that I’ve noticed many of my creative friends get into is the deliberate distraction, which can be somewhat constructive (all the dishes HAVE to be done before I can sit down and create) or wasteful (I’ll just check all 8 of my social networking sites before I get cracking on this story). Or you sit down to write and decide instead to spend six hours creating the perfect playlist or inspiration board for your book but then that book languors for years and years unfinished, because you’re always tweaking the pre-writing. Essentially, it comes down to a fear of beginning. I’ve experienced this in my past but have worked beyond it because I’ve had to with looming deadlines and being a parent. If I have twenty precious minutes to write or paint, I have to jump right in rather than dipping my toe in. Again, giving a time limit here is a good thing. Tell yourself “I’ve carved out this hour to write. I will allow myself twenty minutes to make a playlist and then spend forty writing.” Or make yourself write with a pile of dirty dishes and leave that social networking unseen. It’s not the end of the world.
  • The addiction – This runs the gamut from hard chemical substances to substances we consider “ligher”, media consumption, sex, certain foods, even things we think of as “good” and healthy like meditation and outdoor activities. Anything done to excess can (and frequently is) an addiction, and, as creatives, I really believe we are at a higher risk of becoming addicted than those that are not. I think the reason for that is that we are constantly straddling the line between the outer world in which we operate with each other and our own rich inner worlds, which can be very difficult to balance. We have a lot more personal demons we wind up fighting because of the way we’re hardwired. I wrote about it a couple of years ago a bit when Philip Seymour Hoffman died. Also, many of us are living lives that are stressful beyond anything we’re meant to be coping with, and so we reach for tools to help us cope or to become more spiritual or to access our inner worlds easier and diminish the noise of the outer, and what frequently happens is that the tool that was meant to help us has trapped us and made it so we’re unable to do the creative work that we love to do. My general rule of thumb that I apply to my life is to think “can I imagine going a month with this? A week? Does the thought of going even 24 hours without <blank> fill me with a kind of dread?” And if I feel any kind of qualms about it, then I really examine my relationship with that particular thing and if I have a problem, I’ll work to get a better relationship with it. It might take me a couple of months to implement, but at least I’m being honest with myself about the problem. I really started thinking about this a couple of months ago when I was beginning a big creative project for work and I felt like I really needed a glass or two of wine or a generous pour of bourbon on hand to start the process. For some reason, when I first start sketching ideas out in the preliminary stage, I find it extremely helpful to loosen up with a moderate serving of alcohol as part of the process. Being pregnant, I couldn’t do that for my last two projects, and it surprised me how difficult I found it to begin. I obviously overcame that initial need and my projects have been their normal standard, but it was very difficult. I don’t want to get to the point where I rely on alcohol to create. I also noticed that I allowed myself to get hooked into a Facebook addiction when I was feeling lousy with my iron deficiency back in December, where I would hope to take advantage of my son being in the bath to get a little writing done and would instead just scroll and scroll down my feed. I noticed the addiction by the end of January, and I am only just implementing a “check Facebook once a day” rule on myself. I will be strict on this for the next month, just to get myself in the habit, and then see what happens from there. Because while social networking has become an important part of keeping up with my friends who live far from me as well as keeping myself in people’s eyes as far as my creative work goes, it becomes a massive time suck that could be better spent being creative.

Are there any general bad habits inhibiting your ability to create that you have that you can add to the this list? Do you find that you fit in to any of the categories here? Any tips for getting out of your own way to do the creative work you love to do?

The Healing Power of Music

Friday night, I found myself alone at home, which is a very rare occurrence. So I tried something while meditating. A handful of times over the past couple of months, I’ve felt moved to sing during meditation sessions. No words, just an open vowel sound, the melody usually sliding and chromatic. But I’ve had to be quiet because my son is usually sleeping in the room next to me. This past Friday, though, I was able to really open up and be loud. And I got really loud.

It was incredible. I’ve never felt harmonics like I experienced Friday night before. They kept building on each other as I opened up my sinuses and airways more, until it felt like there was a chorus of voices coming out of me instead of just one. And I ran through the full gamut of emotions, where at times it felt almost like keening or a banshee wail, and a moment later it went to joy and almost laughter. And at the end, I felt something that had been off internally start to shift back into proper alignment. I have no words.

So… I’m excited with where this will take me creatively and musically. I’m excited about my shifting gears again and unlocking more inner potential. I don’t know where the road I’m on is going to lead me, but it’s been a really interesting journey thus far and I’m glad to be on it.

“The Water is My Daughter, I Skip Like a Stone…”

This song has been in my mind lately, all while driving to the ocean and since. It’s fitting, because this Bette Midler album was one my mom, sister, and I would play and sing along to when we did road trips growing up.

I love the lyrics. “My body’s at home, but my heart’s in the wind” describes how I am a good percentage of the time. A space cadet, always able to cross into the realms of the subconscious. It took a long time, maybe not even until I had my son, to really be able to be fully present and in the moment with frequency. And the way the sea and any body of water has always felt like coming home… I don’t know. The song just speaks to me.

And for those music purists out there, I know Tom Waits did the original. His was not the one I grew up on, but it is beautiful too. Here is a link to that version.

Music is a Gift

My husband recovered our digital music collection from our old hard drive last week, and it is the greatest gift I have gotten in a long time. We thought the collection possibly lost, as the old hard drive overheats quickly and our new hard drive had a fall in the summer from our toddler and has since been sitting in a recovery shop (they swear they think they can fix it). So since summer, I’ve been relying on the few CDs not in storage and on the albums my husband and I each had saved to our laptops or listening to Internet radio. It was not enough.

Almost every plan I have made lately that would have energized, healed, and/or rejuvenated me has fallen apart, due to situations outside my control. I’ve been understanding and tried to calmly take it as it comes, but I’m severely scraping the bottom of my barrel. I described myself the other day as currently heartsick and soulweary. Suddenly having access to over 19,000 songs (2 people x 2+ decades) that I thought possibly lost to me forever, being able to sing along to old favorites or listen to project-appropriate music or have a really good dance party with my son, soothes me at a time that I really need soothing. Not that I’m suddenly complacent or numb, but the music is a balm that makes it easier to work through what needs working. And I always have something that needs working.

Unlocking My Voice

I had my second voice lesson this past Friday, and it wound up being a really profound experience. I won’t go into the specifics of what my vocal teacher (coach? trainer?) had me do in case they are his secret methods, but after trying several things, he had me start aiming for my third eye, and that was the key to getting out of my own way.

My current project I’m working on has me super tense, with nervous energy pouring out of me, so I came into the lesson scattered and unfocused. It could’ve made the session a disaster, but instead I think I’m so worried about other things that I didn’t have time to worry about singing, making it easier to just follow directions. And when I found where I needed to go vocally, it was like doing a really good meditation. I was flying but absolutely grounded simultaneously. My head and sinuses were literally buzzing afterwards, and I joked about it being a natural high. I felt relaxed and energized, soothed by the music and the place I was in. It was just pure bliss, and the music had come so easily. My instructor was pleased because he thought it was going to take at least another two months to get to where I got on my second lesson, so having gotten there, we can fine tune other areas now.

I haven’t been able to quite duplicate the thrill of that moment in practicing the past couple of days, but I am feeling relaxed and focused each time I do practice, so I think I’m on the right track. Inevitably I’ll take a step backwards (‘two steps forward, one step back’ is the general rule for creative growth), but I’m happy. Providing I don’t make myself sick finishing my work project, which is a very real possibility, then I’ll have my next lesson in two and 1/2 weeks. We’re going to start recording the sessions, so hopefully once I’m brave enough, I’ll post a bit on here and you can hear me.