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?

Sound of Silence

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.

Creative Projects In Progress

Writing – I made a significant leap forward in my graphic novel draft this morning while my son was playing by himself. I am now fully into the climax, which is exciting. I may actually finish the first draft this week, barring any unforeseen draws on my time.

Painting – I now have four small gouache paintings in progress, and I’ve managed to throw several more layers onto each over the past couple of days while my son watercolors. It is an activity we can do together for twenty minutes or so. I’m getting close to being finished on two of them, but the other two will require a lot more detailed work. I love working in watercolors and gouache, but it is a time-consuming medium for me.

Music – I transposed an exercise for my flute and played it through along with several other pieces on Saturday, which made me very pleased with myself. I’ve been much stricter with myself in recent months of actually practicing scales, and this has greatly helped my technique build back up. My voice lessons and singing more have helped the musical shaping while I play flute too. And yesterday, I got to go and play my piano for the first time in over a month, which was this huge stress release for me. I have my first voice lesson in over a month this Friday, too, which I’ve been practicing for. My vocal instructor has been traveling and I’ve been busy. But I’m excited to move forward with him this spring and see where it will take me.

I’ve also been settling into my full-time hours at work. I actually have some extra hours banked, which means I’m trying to keep myself around 30 hours a week for the next couple of weeks to make up for it before we go into really crazy times for the rest of April. I am really excited about the things I will get to create for this next project, though, so that is a plus. Thus far, I’ve done a decent job at balancing work and family time, I’ve made a concentrated effort to keep a regular meditation and exercise routine up, and I’ve even squeezed in a little bit of socializing time. I’ve been less good about keeping up with household/organizational chores and paperwork, but if something’s going to slide, I’d rather it be those things anyway. Less important in the long run, in my opinion.

Anyway, progress on most fronts, which gives me satisfaction. And hopefully I’ll have more to share with you soon.

When the Music Muse Strikes…

Almost two weeks ago, I woke up at 3AM with a song fully formed in my head – melody line, half the lyrics, chord progression playing out. It has been nearly a decade since this last happened, which is exciting. It means I’m tapping into my musically-inclined side of my creativity more. I repeated the melody and lyrics to myself, sleepily, and after tossing and turning for a while, went back to sleep. I’m of the firm belief that an idea worth keeping will remain in the morning.

I spent the next day wrestling with the lyrics a bit, adding the middle verse that was lacking. Later that week, I used my flute to figure out the notes for the melody line and wrote it down on staff paper. Today, finally, when I was able to get my piano, I laid out most of the chords. Now I just need to tweak and have time to sit with my music software to relearn it (at least a couple of months from now), but in the meantime, I have a new song!

It’s a very simple song, but bluesy and sexy and unlike anything I’ve written before. The simplicity of the melody line and chord structure very much will depend on the instrumentation in the solo sections, either done in a traditional jazz style or in a dreamlike electronica style, or I could do a version of each someday. The title of it is Come to Me.

As far as all my other writing and art projects go, I’m chipping away. Last week was an awful one as far as my freelance work goes, which I may blog about later this week if I have time, but I am trying to carve out what little time I can to keep myself happily creating.

Being in Hot Demand and Dealing with that Pressure

I now have paid creative and freelance work lined up through at least the end of August. So much so that my husband has stopped looking for a regular full-time job and is just riding out this temp job so he can be around to be primary caretaker for our son this summer (picking up extra money working weekends for my father), and will start looking for full-time work in July for wherever we decide we’re relocating to this fall, if we decide to make that happen. Kind of crazy, considering how tight things were for a while this winter.

So half of the work I have lined up is indeed in my previous field, which I’ve mentioned before I wanted to attempt to see if I want to get into again or not. This is the opportunity to try to decide if what I loved about it weighs more than what frustrated me about it, and if I can balance working in this field while still being the parent I want to be. I lucked out with the pay being higher than I anticipated (not the highest I’ve ever been paid but pretty close), and between those 3-4 projects and the work I’m doing for the local shop, we should be set.  In the meantime, I’m finishing up my last contracted job while easing into working for that local shop (and they can’t wait for my availability to open up more) and decided yesterday to work with the place giving me the job in my former field this summer in a lesser capacity on two other projects this spring to get a lay of the land and make some more contacts.

I think I mentioned before that somehow things line up for me when I can determine what it is I actually want. Synchronicity, maybe, or a touch of luck. The path to get to where I want isn’t easy, in any way, and it is never the path that I imagine it will be, but I get there nonetheless. And I realize that I am a cautious decision-maker, agonizing over the options that lay before me, but I think it’s because I recognize the power I have to shape my own life and my tendency to barrel ahead once a decision is made. So before I go at a dizzying pace, I make sure my choices are right for me.

But because of all of this work lined up and because I’m working long hours and letting certain things slide, the pressure has been building inside me. I have growing mommy-guilt at having to rely on more TV than I want over the next couple of months until my husband leaves the temp job. I have a daunting amount of work and projects looming over me, including prepping for the 2014 Buffalo Small Press Book Fair. We just had to deal with the stress of buying a new car, including discovering our title for our old car still lies in CA even though we moved in 2009 (thankfully, the dealership we’re going through accepted a check for the trade-in amount and is just holding it for us until CA comes through). I don’t know when I’m next going to have an actual day off. I need a freaking vacation, and I had hoped to get to Vermont (with a fast day trip to Massachusetts to dip my toes in the Atlantic Ocean) for a few days in April but that is such a slim possibility at this point.  Last week, after working more than 40 hours at the one contract job, I came home to stay up late to finish my first project for the shop, and all while I was doing the work, my brain was screaming “I can’t!” at me. And I had to laugh at myself, because obviously I was doing the work, so I could, but the mental protest was noted.

Everything I do to handle my stress starts to slide when I get busy. First, I stop journaling nightly and it falls to once every two weeks, if I’m lucky. Then meditating at night gets shifted to only a few minutes of deep breathing while I’m sitting or laying in bed. My morning routine goes out the window, and I begin to skip doing Morning Pages and working out (I’ve slipped to about four days a week on each when it’s been almost daily since December). As I’m the fittest I’ve been right now since high school (and healthier as I’m eating less processed and sugary foods than I did as a teen), and as I need to count on my body to not give out on me, I need to make sure I don’t drop down further than this. But the biggest thing I let go is playing my piano and flute. I’m managing to play my flute once a week, which is all that is keeping me from devolving to a weepy mess, but tonight will be the first time I’ve played piano in over a month.

My piano is not in my house, and so due to first having a sinus infection and then having our car die a slow death, I have been unable to make the 20 minute drive to get to it. And now, I am wound so tight it feels like I have a metal snake curling around my internal self. I’m giving off sparks from the tension I feel. For my family, it means that I have very limited patience and can snarl at a moments notice, with only a slight provocation. At work, the patience is still low, but I hide it by becoming super sarcastic and snarky. I start swearing like a sailor, and, funnily enough, yesterday found me doing so with a touch of Irish brogue, saying “fecking”, usually followed by one of the professions that I’m working with – “Fecking _______ (profession plural)”.  Maybe I’m just getting a jump start on St. Patrick’s Day? Anyway, tonight, after working a couple of hours with the new company, I will be going to play my piano. I will feel myself unwind, soothe my inner beast, and probably leave with a slightly scratchy voice because it’s been so long since I’ve played and sang at full voice.

Part of me hates admitting that I need this level of unwinding. It feels like a weakness to me. But it’s so necessary for my sanity and the well-being of all who are forced to put up with me, so now that we have our new car, I need to get back into making the trip out at least every two weeks, and hopefully weekly. I need to get my flute playing back to twice a week. And I can’t wait to move in the fall and be able to have my piano with me again so I can play multiple times a week. I miss it.

I Always Go Back to the Music

Yesterday was a really rough day for me.  I was a bit of a roller coaster as my day job (which I leave in 2 1/2 days!) had a farewell luncheon for me and another coworker who is moving and our VP said some very nice things about me (I’m very hard to replace, but evidently not so difficult to replace to want to pay me more money), but then I found out that nepotism at it’s worst has been going on and that chafed me.  That coupled with things being really busy job-wise and the stress of packing and moving just pushed down on me.

So I emailed my husband and warned him I might need to cry when I got home just to relieve the pressure, but then I also realized I hadn’t played any of my instruments or sang (beyond nursery rhymes for my son) in over a week.  After dinner, I had my husband wrangle my son and played the piano and sang.  I pulled out my “Les Mis” piano book and belted melancholy showtunes and voila, no tears necessary!

My music has always been my biggest stress release.  I can remember being an angsty teen and going to my flute and playing with the tears just streaming down my face.  When I’m at my darkest and saddest, the music pulls me from the abyss.  One of my friends in grad school used to send me to an empty classroom with a piano if I got too cranky or weepy.  Because even though I KNOW I need the music, I get so busy doing other things that I sometimes block out the urge to play and sing.

What kind of stress-release do you all have?  Beyond music, I like to bake and do handcrafts.  I find it soothing.  My husband likes to do dishes when he’s  angry or distraught.  And no, I don’t piss him off on purpose just to get clean dishes, but it’s a thought.  A lot of members of my family turn to food for comfort, which isn’t healthy and is something I’ve had to break myself of.  My sister rides her horse.  There seems to be some trick about keeping the hands busy and occupying the mind just enough to take you away from the stressful situation but that isn’t TOO taxing on the brain.

Checking In with All Things Creative

I have two blog posts queued in my brain: I’ve been nominated/tagged to answer some questions and one that’s a list of helpful tips I’ve learned in readying “Penumbra” for release.  But my brain doesn’t want to play ball right now on the whole thinking front, so I figure I would just check in with myself and all of you on my various projects and plans.

Writing“Penumbra” is finally released.  It felt like pulling teeth at times to get this out, but it is done.  It really does seem like my work has just begun, though, as I now have to try to get word of it out and about.  I’ve decided to NOT release a print version, given how short the story ended up being (less than 13,000 words), but instead I’ll save it for an eventual collection.

I’ve begun the early research/inspiration stage on several short stories.  I have a series of twelve short stories that I’d like to write and release for free over a twelve-month period, but I want to have at least four of them completed before even committing to a release date.  At the end of the year (whenever that starts), I will release the collection as both an ebook and a print copy, including an extra short story that ties them all together.  But there might be a couple of short stories that need to be written before I dive into that long-term project.

While I’m making notes on short stories and deciding what needs to be written first, I am also diving into my graphic novel project next week.  Again, I don’t want to talk to much about specifics, because this is a project that is still a couple of years from release.  I’d estimate myself at about 1/4 way through the first draft, and I just really need to power through.

Art – I have finished the inking on two of my eight illustrations for my poetry collection.  This is taking FAR longer than anticipated because of how detailed I am getting, and since I am starting a two evening per week long-term freelance project, I’m not really sure how long it will take me to complete these darn things.  But progress is being made!  Next week, I’ll post pictures of my almost finished (except for white highlights) “Sword of Truth” illustration.

I’m very excited about my next couple of long-term art projects that I’ll be making and releasing under the Kat Micari name.  Not looking forward to setting up an Etsy and DeviantArt account, just because it’s one more thing to worry about maintaining, but that is the price for being an independent business-minded creator.

I have been woefully remiss in my daily sketching, however.  I need to make this a habit.  Something to work towards still.

Music – I have played music all but one day in the past week, for at least twenty minutes each time!  I am already calling it my “Sacred Time”.  I am, quite frankly, impressed by the tone I am able to draw out of my flute after all this time has passed.  My son occasionally sings along while I play, which is adorable.  My fingers are a little stiff this week because of the constantly shifting temperatures and weather, but my piano playing and singing is progressing along as well.  I’m looking forward to really focusing in on my own music starting next week.


Status Update On All Things Creative (and Some Not-So-Creative)

In an effort to continue to hold myself accountable, I am recording how I have begun 2013 thus far, and I must say it hasn’t begun that auspiciously as we’ve gone from bad head colds to lingering sinus issues to two-year molar teething, which all equals severe lack of sleep.  But I can make baby steps, and here I will put them down.

  • I am making good progress with the line edits on my novella and should finish right on schedule at the end of next week.  This is good because we’ve signed up to share a table at a Small Press Expo in Buffalo, NY in April, so I now have a hard deadline to aim for.  And I will reach it.
  • I have been making not-so-good progress on my illustrations for my poetry collection.  My holiday gifts are actually STILL not completed (our final celebration is this Sunday with family & I need to ship out a few things still), so I will be picking up where I left off in early December this coming week and will hopefully finish by the end of the following week (I’m aiming to be done 1/24 but may need one more week depending on how detailed I get).  Again, I have a hard deadline to have this finished by April.  Two books sitting on the table will be much more interesting than one.  And I may also then be able to sell some prints of the illustrations from the book.  Money is good, as is getting my name out there as much as possible.
  • Music… oh my music.  With my husband and I working split shifts, and us living in an apartment complex, I don’t get nearly as much time to play as I’d like.  But this week, I’ve begun practicing piano scales as often as my son gives me time to.  I am self-taught on the piano (I picked it up when my older brother started having lessons, and then I learned flute which reinforced music theory, etc), and I play well enough to accompany myself as I sing, but writing my own music is a slow and laborious process, so I figure I would take the time to learn proper fingering on scales and chords, which is something I’ve never done.  So baby steps forward on the music front! 
  • Morning pages – I’ve been doing them at least four times a week lately.  An improvement, but I really want to make it a daily practice.  Also, I cheat sometimes and don’t do them in the morning because I’m running so late for work.  It doesn’t have quite the same effect if I do them at lunch time because by then my brain is already too wired.  But I’ll take what I can get.
  • Things I need to work on – meditating, sketching, and exercising at least a little bit every day.  It seems like right now I can manage to do one a day, but not all three.  I plan on changing that tonight, but they say it takes 21 days to make something a habit, so this is going to be tough.

Outside of the creative work, I am going to be getting back into my no-processed food eating (at least at home) this coming week.  This, unfortunately, is another time-taker, but for my health and the health of my family, I need to plan out healthy snacks.  For example, I’ve recently tried two homemade cracker recipes that came out really good, so I will try to make those as frequently as I can as an alternative to the soy or canola oil laden store bought variety.  I’m certain that the reason we all got so sick with colds over the holidays is due to the plethora of processed and sugary foods.  Garbage in equals garbage out, after all. 

Also, we made great strides in getting organized, but we still have a ways to go, so I am continuing on that front wherever I can.  We’re using some Christmas money to buy some toy organizers for the boy, and I need about two hours to finish organizing our art supplies.

And finally, my husband and I are going to have a long discussion this weekend about our business goals for the coming years.  We know what we want to achieve, but we need to create an actionable list of how to achieve those goals, and we need to decide if we realistically can do it with our time and money constraints.  This could be a tearful, emotional conversation or maybe not.  That will probably depend on how much sleep our son lets us gets these next couple of nights.