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I’m writing this one while listening in headphones to Matthew E. White’s “Feeling Good is Good Enough” (from Fresh Blood), on repeat. For max enjoyment of this post, I suggest you push play too:

I was wavering on resolutions this year, so yesterday I just borrowed my friend Emily‘s. She’s doing 2 things:

  1. Sit upright for 10 minutes in silence each day
  2. Love myself like I would a child.

So.

Got up this morning.  Got angsty because of an email that I should have waited to check anyway.
Sat upright in bed. Closed eyes. First 3 minutes: Watched the swirly, dirty brainmakings go by. Whatever. At least I’m trying it. Maybe I’ll just be able to breathe deeper or something. Minute 4: Maybe I can multitask…include resolution #2. Climbed outside my body, sat in front of myself. Tried to see my own eyes. Nope. but I could feel my hair and my cheeks. Talked to myself, as if I were 10. “Your brain is working hard, huh?” We laughed a little. We talked for a little while.

WE. Laughed. WE. Talked.

Myself and myself went on the regular short morning walk with Chuck, wherein he reluctantly asked me to try to be ready at 9 in the mornings for this, which is our general agreement anyway, but I’ve been slacking. I’m usually pretty defensive about making time goals. But in the span of 1 second, the me that wasn’t in my body called a huddle and said something like, “Yeah, makes sense. You’re cutting into his piano practice. When you’re late, he probably feels rushed, and then this awesome neighborhood/nature/check-in walk that you both love to do isn’t awesome.” Coach Steph doesn’t seem to take things personally. Also, she adores me. And she’s super charming. So the me in the body just kind of shrugged and agreed, like hell yeah, 9am? Done.

“Sorry, Babydoll. I’ll totally do that.”

Super happy Chuck.

I swear to god she’s still sitting with me right now. She looks just like me, but I get the sense she’s happy all the time. She totally gets it. Like, she wouldn’t even say she’s happy, because that kind of word doesn’t apply when there’s no suffering as opposite. She’s just kind of… really good. She’s sitting here watching me correct my grammar and finding that hilarious.

That email was from the folks at Spacebomb Records. It was completely wonderful in objective terms, because it laid out the timeline for the RECORDING OF THE NEXT ALBUM (there’s your announcement!!), which head honcho and touring artist Matthew E White will be producing! They have this really groovy old-school house band situation (as you can hear), and their records make me soooooo happy!! <—-But Coach Steph told me to put all those exclamation points there, because Body Steph read that email and fell into a sort of inexplicable intimidation funk. I’ve had a crush on Matt and his horn/string arranging posse for some time, and it’s taken a lot for me to swallow my own arranging pride so I can learn from folks further up the chain.

But now it’s 11:11am, we’re on our 9th or so loop of “Feeling Good is Good Enough” (CS can just hear it. She doesn’t need headphones.), and with the aid of some potent 1-second team check-ins, Body Steph (BS) re-read that email with a similar exclamation-mark-eliciting feeling. So, here we go, kids… IN MARCH, IT’S ON!! BIGGEST RECORDING UNDERTAKING SO FAR.

Thanks, Em, thanks Matt, thanks CS (she’s looking like she’s all that. pshaw….).

Love,
BS

 

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“Lift it up with a joyous noise! Bang hearts against mountainsides til their battered and breathless and the mountains forever stained with LOVE from the masses. There’s no other way. Heads upward and Hearts OUTward we march into a new dawn.”–Tiffani Strawberripants
Thank you to @ISISAsheville for holding space for one brilliant human party that happened on New Year’s Eve in Asheville, NC. A bunch of people came together to hope, to cross streams with each other (Ghostbusters-style), to ride a wave, to make music for the things words can’t express.
Everyone in the room held a light of some kind.  See a list of some of the makers below.
My biggest takeaway:  that we are one, not separate.  Though it’s easy to adopt the belief that we can divide ourselves from one another, and build an intent to do so, due to beliefs, personality quirks, outward appearance, etc. …. it’s just not possible.  We affect each other every day, every second.  The server that brings your wine.  The guy that yells at you in traffic.  The bad cop.  The sweet old ticket taker.  We are in relationship.
Here were just some of the people that were in relationship on New Year’s Eve:
Jon Stickley Trio, possibly our Seinfeld alt-selves (albeit muy intimidating….egads!)
Georgia and Sarah, Symphony in our Minds
Millie and Krista, Jazz Muses, Angel-choir, “Woo! yeah” Team
Will, Multi-Instrumental Human Enthusiast
Caleb, Majestic Elephant of the Trombone
Michael, Hugely-hearted Hype-man
Julianne, UPLIFTER
Chris, Frequency Sculptor
Scott, Dad
Isis staff, Stewards of the Faith
Scott, Tom, & Jessica, real-life Patrons of the Arts & Humanity
Emily, Prophet of Fortune
Mary, Transmuter of Darkness to Light
Pamela Jean, Hope-Keeper
Scott, Manifester
Phil, Seer
Tiffani, Poet
Tim, Forever Brother
Chuck, Wise Man
And now, let us march into the new dawn.
Xo,
Steph, Conduit

(Cue music)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqODbP1T3nk

I feel it only fitting, at this time of year, when all is cozy and family and gratitude, to register the following:

one complaint. just one, about existence.

When i click “unsubscribe” on an email newsletter, I then sometimes have to log in to a website to make that happen.

But I just want out, not in.

Clearly, my affair with that newsletter has petered out. I don’t even care about it anymore, much less the more substantial realm of its web-habitat of origin.

Ok, obviously I was in a really whimmy place when I got involved with said habitat. A part of myself could envision living there, or visiting often enough that putting myself through the rigors of obtaining login credentials made sense. They were giving away a free voice lesson, or 10% off hand-felted worry dolls, so I persisted when my usual password was rejected by its state-of-the-art security system.  I was so committed that I tried 12 more capital letters and a $ sign. I can only imagine that I felt a certain delirious victory when I was finally let in… it’s the kind of dementia that renders one heedless of the limitations of human memory.

But, y’know, it happens, right? And I remember seeing a friendly notice when I was there that said “you can unsubscribe at any time.” Sweet–free stuff with no commitment! So, once out of my beer-goggle stupor, when I find it time to cut the tie, I reach for the handy unsubscribe button in the latest email installment, glib with with fond memories of our time together. It can be such a lovely parting.  Should I ever decide to revisit, the door is open.  aww.

Or SOMETIMES there’s no handy unsubcribe button. There’s a “manage email settings” link.  This thing is like 10 pages of paperwork preceded by a login screen.  It’s like trying to get a divorce in Arkansas. It’s like, “Oh no, you diii’ent!  ‘fyou wanna be like that, you can just come in here and MAKE ME unsubscribe yo ass.”

And dammit, what was that password?  And wait, was it my email address or a username? So many possible combinations.  I try several.  “For security reasons”, I am locked out for 20 minutes.

At this point, I reeeeeally want to get in.  It’s like crack. I bargain with myself: “I can’t believe these people would… I’m getting the hell out of here as soon as I… I just need to get in there one more–wait, they updated their interface… that might be really awesome… it wouldn’t hurt to just look around… if i could just”–and then, “ok, i don’t have time to wait right now, but I’ll definitely try again when i have time.” But by then, i am just fooling myself. i’ve fallen victim to the principle of effort justification, and I will never leave.

So what is my point? How will this post help your life and the lives of your friends and family? Dunno. You should all subscribe to my newsletter to find out.

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I spent way too much time on this.
Or as it turns out, just enough.
I designed and built this booth for Artsmarket 2015, a showcase and conference we participated in this week in Durham, NC to introduce ourselves into the Performing Arts / theatre scene across NC and surrounding states.
I put a lot of energy into its creation… gave it two video-watching chambers so people could have a singular, personal experience with the band’s story, and a PVC sound-conduit-contraption (like at a playground) to conjure the emotional conduit that is possible from one ĭd to another through obstacles.
What is cool about it for me:  this project started out as a total “not going to do this”.  (Really? Self-promote at a booth in a convention center?  Way more anxiety than a a tender artist’s ego is prepared to field…)  But then it became clear that we weren’t going to be able to do this thing, play for these people, without also preparing and manning a booth.  It’s just the way it’s done.  So then you picture yourself handing out brochures and candy and burned sampler CD’s, you wince, you ask yourself, “Do I want to play ball, or do I not want to play ball?” — because you don’t want to sit in a booth for 3 days if you haven’t decided to play some effing ball —  and then you obsess for a while about whether and how you’ll be able to shoehorn your whole self into an 8’x10′ booth, without singing, in a way that will magnetize.
So ok, I went and built a full-on installation.  And I don’t know if it was the time it took to put it together or what, but I got seriously invested in the why of it.  I thought about how people would experience it, how I would have fun showing them how, how all humans so much more similar than we are different, how they would understand our music better after being there. And at some point in the process, after sending Chuck back to Lowe’s twice for PVC joints and screeching a plastic mitre saw-box on the basement floor repeatedly, and after getting there and, eve-of, had forgotten my laptop power supply with video encoding still to do, and Spencer Conover of The Crown at Carolina Theatre rescued me with literally seconds to spare, I didn’t care much whether people even sat in the chambers to watch videos or gave a crap about the conduit — it just felt good to build it, and I knew I was bringing a giant hunk of love to that exhibit hall, so the physicality of it didn’t matter nearly as much as the sheer aura of the thing.
And then boom-boom-boom—montage-style, we loaded onto the dock, plomped down hefty bags of PVC, scrambled for clothespins and obnoxious-sticky tape and working sharpies, hid the last non-white item under a table, darted off to pee, ….  And then we began talking to actual people.
Holy cow.  These were true arts supporters… Presenters who write grants and plan and meet and strategize all year, every year to provide the most beautiful spaces for artists to do their thing in, connecting with people in the communities they love.  And who get together at things like this to reunite and revel in their common love of performance.  We wove in and out of their nest all 3 days.  I can say that we brought our own passion with us.  But we might not have bargained for the degree to which they brought theirs.   These beautiful laborers are artists of the most sweeping kind.
I hope my surprise doesn’t mean I’d been jaded in the past.  But regardless, I really got why we were all there… the greater picture. I’m thrilled to have been part of Artsmarket and thankful we were invited to play for these amazing people who are keeping the pathways lit.
Plus, I kinda feel like summer camp just ended, and I’m already planning my outfits for next summer.
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stephaniesĭd was asked by Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance  to improvise some songs as part of a fundraiser for their summer series.  Their dancers improvised with us.  Bowling ensued.  This “song”, tentatively titled “Maybe Foxes”, happened.

Camerawork by Michael Oppenheim.  Editing by Sekou Coleman.

https://youtu.be/-Sf96ouBOjE

When we become aware of terrible things in the world, we get scared.

But we might not know we’re scared, because our adult minds have worked very hard to replace scared feelings with angry feelings, which feel more manageable. And when we take our anger a step further and band together with other angry people, we end up talking a lot about what we don’t want, and less about what we do.

So then you have a lot of really scared people together, wearing anger suits, and so no one can fully reach each other to help take care of each other’s spirits, to help each other tune into our true voices and grow in our abilities to transform scared feelings to brave ones…because we’re too busy talking about how to get rid of the thing that we’re scared about.

We must take care of ourselves. We can be honest. We can take the time to listen to our own inner voices–and allow them to amplify. We can believe that our friends and family are resilient and adamantly creative, and rather than don an anger suit on their behalf when they are scared, we can direct them to their own inner selves, which at that moment are speaking to them with more clarity than we can ever possibly give them.

People will continue to do terrible things. Some folks are so stitched in to their anger suits that they can scarcely recognize their own voices. And it would seem that they could crush us.
But they cannot.

They are, simply…scared.

It’s an emotional day.  I can’t talk about details–it’s too much.  I assure you all persons in my life (including me) are healthy and whatnot.  But I had to say that to give you a context for why this BBC podcast about the song “Hallelujah” packs so much power for me in this moment:

(If you can’t play the audio from here, go to this link.)

The whole episode is wonderful and well worth a full listen (about 30 min), but the synopsis is that Leonard Cohen’s heartbreaking song, which he put on a record in 1984, was not only rejected by his record company, but was ignored for 7 years until John Cale recorded it, and still didn’t fully burrow into souls until Jeff Buckley heard that cover and covered it, in 1991.

The song, even played in snippets in the background, slayed me today. And may also be saving me. Like the man says in the episode, “…to really love some one is a true test of one’s deepest self….what love does is… it just shatters you… it just breaks you apart.  And that’s not a bad thing.” From my state of excruciating emotional pain, “Hallelujah” has taken me to a larger place, with a view I couldn’t imagine in the minutes before listening.  The pain is not gone. I’m just aware that it’s understood now, by something bigger than me, by every atom in the universe. That’s what’s saving me. And if not for Jeff Buckley’s cover of a cover, I would never have had this moment.

A person who has an impulse to cover a song does so from a different perspective than the original songwriter.  The covering artist first has an emotional experience with the song as a whole creation, connecting on such a level that they are impelled to bring it to life through their own body and voice. And in this way, there is no second-guessing. The episode explains how Leonard Cohen was tortured by the song for years – how he kept writing verses (80 of them) to try to get it right, even after he released “Hallelujah” on his album in 1984. I know this feeling.  I’ve made attempts to put “Lonely in Manhattan” on, maybe, 4 albums.  I’ve rewritten parts. I can’t get it right.  I overthink it. Is this the right word? Does that say what I mean? Does going minor on that part of the bridge undermine the whole thing? Am I a fraud? What does a song matter in the world, anyway?  Sometimes we songwriters put a tortured song on an album anyway, perhaps with the same weak hope of people in a troubled relationship who decide to have a baby. Maybe that’s what Leonard did. And luckily, someone else (John Cale) heard the faint call that Leonard’s version was emitting, and amplified it. And even luckier, young Jeff Buckley heard the amplified call amidst the early 90’s radio din, and tag-teamed for the finish. The cover artist knows the song is powerful. So that person is free of the headbanging in hotel rooms, wadded up napkins, failed recordings. The cover artist can let the song penetrate them, and sing it back to the world, with only celebration in mind. And in that way, the cover artist can make the song better. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jeff Buckley did.

I released my first album in 2003. I’ve made 5 of them since. There are sleeper songs on all of my records. Songs I love, but that have not been embraced. Maybe I pulled a Leonard and didn’t frame those in the right light, so they could really be experienced. Dunno. But to anyone who feels a spark with one of my songs, current or past, and is hesitant about making it their own: do it. Most of our stuff you can license through Creative Commons anyway (and for the material that’s not, your cover will kick my ass to get organized on that front).

Every time I write a song, I want it to be heard. Any songwriter who disagrees with that statement is probably lying. And I’m less attached than ever to the notion that my performances of my songs are the best that can be done. So bring it. Thank you for listening, and thank you to BBC, Leonard C, John C, and Jeff B for exalting my experience today to something that borders on … beauty.

Every parent must face the day when a child, of her own volition, chooses a path; when innocence is replaced with a knowing-of-the-world, when wide-eyedness squints into salacious desire to explore the underbelly of existence.  Today is that day.

“Hey Hey Hey”, born in 2007 (yes, now age 8–don’t judge–song lives can be roughly measured in dog years, SO HA), makes yet another onscreen appearance… this time in horror video game Until Dawnfor Sony Playstation 4 (PS4, for those in the know).

Benefits to the family:  1) the Sony people paid us some money.  2) there are voracious gamers all over the globe who are now googling “Hey Hey Hey.”  Some of them are buying Grus americanus.  3) Until Dawn is being called a “game-changer” by Paste Magazine, Forbes, Huffington Post and some other bigwigs for allowing players more control of the game’s outcome than previous offerings in its genre.  That’s cool.

So go, dear one – be the levity amidst the murderous gore. Be the flirty soundscape for a snowball fight between attractive characters.  Use what you got, girl.

We…got…somethin’…. there’s somethin’… there’s somethin’ here.

I was raised to look at all sides.  From as far back as I can remember, I’ve been eager to entertain every possible style of life, emotion, and perspective.  When I was small and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had a list that grew with every telling, as I learned of new occupations: ballerina, truck driver, doctor, teacher, court reporter, optometrist, psychiatrist, circus trainer, bride (that last one’s for real–and I would later appreciate the accuracy of including wifing in a job list).  I was an early actor: I could picture myself–and regularly practiced picturing myself–in every emotional scenario: crying at my own wedding, ordering employees around, sighing to the heavens while hang gliding, storming down a neighborhood street after being scoffed by some idiot at school (rendering me, to the slightly younger boys on my street, a hot and unapproachable older chick with complex problems).  When I was 6 or so, living in Colorado Springs and having learned about The Diary of Anne Frank, I placed myself inside the godawful vision of a house being invaded by Nazis. I knew, clearly, that I would say to one of the nicer-looking ones, “I just want to be your friend,” and he would know that someone cared about him, and then he would soften and leave my house, kind of reluctantly, like in The Sound of Music.

Early empathy.  A lot of perspective-taking.  A lot of objectivity.  This served me well, I think, for a long time.  My mom, for all her practicality and busyness with the task of keeping us out of poverty, liked to dream with me.  As I write, I’m struck with the thought that she might have doubted her ability to put nuts and bolts to these dreams, and/or was simply more interested in the dreaming as an activity in itself than in seeing a vision actualize.  But we tended to dream generally and broadly, asking, “…wouldn’t it be neat to…?” be wealthy, live in Europe, ride around in space cars of the future.  I spent a lot of my teenage years in Abilene, TX, dreaming with friends on their waterbeds while listening to The Smiths, or on the hood of a car by some abandoned railroad tracks we’d trespassed to.

There were classes at my public school that were ostensibly designed to lend some grip to these visions of the future, but despite my high marks, I didn’t really grip back. I kept knowledge abstract.  I don’t think I really saw the act of dreaming as the beginning of something. It was an end in itself… a really fun escape. A method of testing out intellectual theories.  Content for flirting.  Now, I know a bunch of 16-year-olds who are really making stuff happen. And I think there were kids around me who were doing that at my school. In fact, I know they were, because the second a lot of my friends graduated, they went on (from a school system ranked 49th in the nation) to become their dreams (fyi, there are 50 states in the nation). But for me, the jump from theory to manifestation remained kind of… intimidating, maybe?  Yes, I think so.  But also, I didn’t really want to make the jump.  I loved Possibilityland–I was good at living there.  As I was with ex-boyfriends, I didn’t want to leave behind anything.  Everything is valuable, beautiful.  And to set about dream-manifesting is to choose, to focus, to show partiality. Aiee.

Going to college was presumably the time one started to do something about all this dreaming.  I went to school twice–once in San Antonio (B.S. in Psychology), once in Chapel Hill, NC (Master of Social Work). These are the most general degrees I can possibly think of.  My brain must have been going, “Yeah, you don’t have to choose anything. Just think more about how to think!”  I wouldn’t trade my work in that field for anything–I am a meta-thinker and I love the hell out of knowing more about who I am by studying who everyone is. But it is that very drive–to know who I am–that has recently, perhaps belatedly, led me to desire to specialize.

stephaniesĭd has been my vehicle for understanding what is me, apart from what is everyone else.  Every time put myself in a highly focused situation, like practicing a difficult vocal passage, or confronting a songwriting dilemma, or performing for a pin-drop room vs. a chatty one, or summoning the bravery to contact a certain producer, I get to observe my own behavior in that situation.  It’s only when I’m that focused, over the semi-long term, such that one specific necessary task leads to another, that I can notice and be surprised by my own fears, turn-ons, skills, and weaknesses.  That’s the absolute best.  It’s like this addictive elixir that propels me forward, at the rate I choose to focus.  And I have to be partial–subjective, not objective–to do this. This often means treating my own opinions as cold hard facts, at least as far as my own pathmaking goes. For instance (be warned), on this last tour, I stopped singing during the show in 2 different cities, because a few people were talking loudly.  I get that people like to be social.  That’s the objective thing. But I also want to sing my words and melody for people. That’s the subjective thing. I decided that “music is meant to be heard” was going to be my fact.  This is a game-changer. If I stay in Possibilityland, objective and abstract and inclusive, I spout a lot of love and “peace” but miss opportunities for real understanding.  When you choose something, you choose away from something else. That’s just the way it is. But the rewards of taking a comb though a focused path are enormous, and actually make Possibilityland a more vivid place to visit when you return.

P-land is my hometown.  I return there often.  But now, in my travels, each time I reach a crossroad, I declare a major.

 

This one gets dreamier with every listen.  Thanks to Bahari from Manchester, UK for this one.  He sent it to me today.  If you can’t download it from here, go here for free download.

Enjoy!  — Steph