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“I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody”.~Pete Seeger

I found out last night around mid-night that Pete Seeger had passed away. I thought to post something on social networks in the way of paying my respects but the more I thought of it, the more I realized I needed to honor his passing with more than a cursory RIP.

 

As I thought about him and what I might say, I realized Pete Seeger has had a greater impact on my life than perhaps any other performer I can think of.

Pete Seeger changed my life not just as an artist but personally. From my early teens when I volunteered at ‘The Hudson River Clear Water Revival Festival’; to working and living on the actual boat, ‘The Clearwater’; clearwaterto fashioning most of my life as a traveling troubadour. I suppose, I imagined myself as some angst-ridden, Woody Guthrie meets Bob Dylan; but really it was Pete Seeger who taught me the meaning and virtue of living my truth.

I am most grateful for the handful of times I got to meet him. Most especially those opportunities when I was child. When I look back, I’m amazed now by [what was] his patience, kindness and generosity of spirit. No question was too small or too big. He always seemed to have time for all of us. The only times I ever saw him angry was when he encountered defeatist, negating, cynicism. That pissed him off.

Later, as an adult I remember being asked to perform at a demonstration. Pete Seeger was to headline. It was a miserable, cold rainy, Upstate New York day.  Pete showed up with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. Eager to rally the people and fight the good fight. Every opportunity he was given to bring people together (no matter what the cause) brought him joy. He love to galvanize and empower people.

pete on stageI had the honor to sing behind him that day with maybe half a dozen other singer-songwriters as we joined him on Woody Guthrie’s, “This Land is Your Land”. Backstage I said hello and he had no recollection of me, but he was kind, and warm, and gracious. It seemed everyone wanted to meet him that day. He was in his eighties, surrounded by perhaps 20 or 30 people all clambering to get a word with him. I remember Toshi trying to get him to leave because she was worried, he was getting too tired and it was really cold. But Pete was determined to stick around, he considered it his duty to stay until anyone who wanted to talk with him got a chance.

bonfirePete Seeger never had any faith in the ‘powers that be’. He believed, heart, mind and soul that the power was, and always would be, with the people. I believe to him, creating meaningful change in the world was like building a bonfire.  Start with a few twigs, set the spark, and blow on it, till it catches. Then keep blowing and adding wood, till the fire is raging. Because if you’re going to take the time to build a fire, then build one to be reckoned with; and never forget, all fires start with the tiniest of sparks but one spark is all it takes.

05-01_PETE_SEEGER_H_108_02WEB-e1390894992509When I think about what he’d say to us now, now that he’s gone, I imagine him saying something like this, “I appreciate your love and concern but don’t waste too much time crying. There’s still too much work to be done”.

Goodbye Pete. Thank you for everything you gave to us. Rest in Peace.

There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into sun” Pablo Picasso 

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a blog. For whatever reason, I just didn’t feel the need to check in. Sometimes, I need to just checkout. imagesRegardless, of the fact, that it’s been drilled into me that silence on the internet = death. I still can’t embrace the ethos of just writing, so I don’t disappear.

So, what have I been doing these long months? I’ve been busy doing something I’ve never done before in my life. For the first time ever, I’ve been focusing, in earnest, on something other than music. These past 6 months or so I’ve been focusing on my jewelry collection.

I’m kinda old school when it comes to focus. I have to do one thing at a time. I’m the opposite of a multi-tasker. I’m pretty sure this is because I’m mildly dyslexic and it was left undiagnosed as I a child. Make no mistake, they knew I had a reading disability. It’s just, no one could figure out what kind of reading disability, let alone help me with it.

blogThis meant, that as a child, I had to come up with painstaking systems to learn how to read and write. It’s too long to explain in detail. So, just imagine if you will, every time you need to read something, you have to read each word individually, and then string the words, one by one together, breaking the sentence down by sections, till it flows like a whole sentence. Once it flows, read that sentence five times till you understand it. Now do the same thing with next sentence. Then go back to the first sentence and read it in relation to the second sentence. Now read both sentences three times together till you understand both sentences and how they might be related. Now, keep doing that, always doubling back on the last sentence. If after doing this you still can’t understand a sentence, move onto the next sentence; till finally, you’ve read a paragraph, then a page, then a chapter, then a book. Every book was a daunting and arduous task. There were rare occasions when, as challenging as it was, I did enjoy a book but mostly, books just meant work.

blogNeedless to say, while technically I did read most of what was required in school, my comprehension was mediocre at best. This problem, prompted a second system I had to create. That system required analyzing classroom discussions and asking questions, in such a way, that I could garner enough information about the book, to piece together all the jumbles parts, (that I had just kind of skipped over, to get through the book); without revealing how much I may have missed and didn’t understand. Ultimately, these strategies paid off, because I wound up going to college and becoming a Philosophy major. This baffles a lot of people but I’m pretty sure the reasons for this were two-fold.

First, the topics of philosophy fascinated me, God, the meaning of existence, the nature of reality, morality, etc. Second, I think my logic was, if I have to do all this reading anyway, (which is really hard), then I might as well read something worth reading. What I loved the most were the class discussions; and they were beyond a necessity, given all the jumbled parts I had to skip over. image-brain-questionsIt’s also one of the few majors where [barring Logic 101] questions, rather than answers, are what constitute engagement, and there is very little in the way of a definitive right answer; just a whole lot of interpretations. Given my learning strategies, this was like heaven in an academic discipline. Ultimately, as an adult I became an avid reader. If there is one thing I am grateful to my ex-husband for, it is the gift he gave me, of teaching me how to enjoy reading.

I tell you all this because I wanted to give you a picture of just how, (and why), I can be so intensely single minded. Perhaps, help you to understand why I can’t; plan a tour, record a new CD, develop a product line, continually re-book local shows, work social networks,  simultaneously plan and implement promotional strategies, write blogs, write songs, make jewelry, do home spun video’s, do whatever I can to endear people to me, (when I’m not particularly endearing), respond to e-mails and text messages, and work a day job all at the same time.

I like goals and end games. I like to work on something and see it completed and until it’s completed it’s difficult for me to really focus on something else. This causes something of a perception problem in terms of an on-line presence, particularly in the realm of “active and engaged” singer-songwriter. Since, I’m beginning to see, that there is no end game on the internet. It’s just a continual stream of consciousness, a continual spiral of the next thing, and the next thing, and go back and improve the last thing, and the next thing….

Unknown2Honestly, the hardest hurdles for me in the past few years have been trying to find a goal – or even a destination – to take my music. I need an end game. And the entire industry just looks like one big money pit to me. I see very few opportunities, [for genuinely independent artists] that will garner an artist any real or meaningful visibility, let alone leverage. The most disturbing development to me, is seeing so many artists and musicians, who are beginning to look, more and more, like politicians, and less, and less, like anyone I believe in or trust.  This single-mindedness spills over into my identity as well.

All of my adult life I’ve had one fixed identity. It has never varied. I am a singer-songwriter. I sing and write songs; anything else I have ever done was not me.it wasn't me It was me (the singer) acting like a teacher. It was me, (the songwriter) acting like a house painter. It was me, (the musician) acting like a cocktail waitress. Whatever I was doing, it wasn’t me. It was just the stunt double I ushered in to do whatever needed to be done to survive.

In this time, there has only ever been one exception to this rule. Because, I am also a professional Tarot card reader and when I’m doing that. I’m not acting. Then again, when I am doing that, “I” don’t exist and “I” don’t matter. Not to sound completely trite, but the truth is, the only way to read tarot cards well is to “be a vessel” and make your ego disappear.

mythic tarotReading Tarot cards professionally, over the years, has given me a unique perspective on the human psyche. Through it I understand, without judgment, a myriad of things I don’t think I would have garnered insight on. Those insights have become invaluable to me as a songwriter. It’s helped me to better understand the human condition, universal hopes, dreams and desires. I’m beginning to see how those insights may also be the reason I am learning how to diversify my notions of what constitutes “my identity” .

It gets driven into us that we can only be one thing at time. When in fact, becoming something else, may ultimately complement the first identity, so both identities walk in tandem, seamlessly, rather than in contradiction, or cancellation of one another.

In full disclosure, originally, I started making jewelry just to make more money. That was it. Make some pretty things, hock them at my gigs, and walk away with a little extra cash. Of course, I always strove to make beautiful jewelry, and (even at the start) my jewelry had “a look”.

The Stefanie Fx Collection: Keychain

The Stefanie Fx Collection: Keychain

A look, I’ve come to realize, that is intricately linked with my spirituality, which I’ve also discovered, is intricately linked to my music. A friend of mine who, shall I say, is more capitalist minded than I, took one look at my jewelry and said, “Stefanie, I’m sold. This is brilliant. This is a Brand”. A brand?…Hmm, why he’s right! It is a brand! It is a brand! I then set to work at building my “brand”. This wasn’t too difficult to do since, toss a stone; and you’ll find a singer-songwriter, actor or celebrity developing, a product line [i.e. a brand].  But recently, I’ve come to realize my jewelry is so much more than a brand. It’s more than a brand because I make it myself.

assembly-line1It’s not a T-shirt I designed, and then tossed to a silk screener to make. It’s not a pendent necklace I designed, and tossed to jeweler to caste. It’s not a fragrance idea, I described and tossed to a perfume maker to mix and develop. It’s not just a product I attach my name to, and make available, so you can feel like your part of my tribe; and forward my cause, which for most artist, is themselves.

Every single piece of jewelry I sell, I make with my own hands. I string the beads, my fingers touch and arrange and rearrange, each and every bead in each and every design. There’s energy in that; and I only use natural stones, and there’s energy in that too.

Stones1I’m beginning to see my jewelry, as if each one is a song. The most beautiful thing about it is, metaphorically, I have the ability now to write a completely unique and individual song for each and every person who wears the jewelry I make.

Red Jasper necklace and earring set: The Stefanie Fix Collection

Red Jasper necklace and earring set: The Stefanie Fix Collection

It’s like I can string a song around your neck and everywhere you go people will see it. And it’s not my song. It’s your song, your melody, and your version of what is true and beautiful. Each piece is unique; and even on those occasions when I make more than one of the same design, no two are exactly alike (because I’m using natural stones), and stones are like people. All made up of the same molecules but each one, forms in its own unique way.

My last blog was about artists and musicians finding ways to survive in the “new frontier” where, eventually, no one is going to be willing to really pay for music. When I wrote that I was coming up with the idea of a brand. What’s astounding is, you can come up with one idea that follows convention; like create a product line or a brand.

crossroads_fullBut if you’re willing to take it a step further; you may just find that you can use that conventional idea to come up with something way beyond anything the original idea had to offer.

All my life I’ve been a singer-songwriter, one cause, one direction. Anything else I put my energy toward, felt like energy being taken away from what mattered to me most. As soon as I allowed myself to see that giving time, and even priority to my jewelry does not, somehow make me less of a singer-songwriter, I was free. I can do that in good conscious because I’m making something, other than music, that I believe in. And that realization changes everything.

I feel good about selling you that jewelry because I make it, with my own hands. And I can take that money and go sing my songs, and make my music, and now, I can give that music back to you. It’s a business model where I invest in you, as much as you invest in me, symmetry.

focusWhen you grow up with a learning disability that no one knows how to help you with, you have to come up with unique strategies, to successful master rudimentary tasks, that are seemingly effortless to other children. There were a lot of times when I was a kid, that I wondered if “learning disability” was just everyones  polite way of saying, “stupid, retard”. Actually, I didn’t wonder it, I knew it.

I also know now, that while I still don’t appreciate what that did to my self-esteem. I do know, it taught me that you fail hundreds of times before you ever succeed, even once. I do know, it taught me how to remain driven, determined, and focused when something was hard or even, seemingly impossible to do. Because there is nothing, absolutely nothing, you aren’t capable of learning. I do know, in those hundreds of times when you’re failing, people will doubt your abilities, dismiss your efforts, and assess your worth, based on paradigms that may or may not be relevant to the way you need to something.

brickwall1In spite of all the New Age gurus who will tell you the contrary; resistance isn’t always put before you to tell you that you’re going in the wrong direction. Sometimes, resistance is put before you because you need to come up with a solution to a problem no one has taught you how to solve. It is at this junction, where finally, you’re only recourse is to rely, utterly and completely, on your own imagination. That is the moment when you step out of the confines of what you’ve been taught is possible; and leap into the world where you create the possibilities and truly become, the author of your own life.

Find out more about Stefanie’s Jewelry: The Stefanie Fix Collection on Etsy

 “I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s just so fuckin’ heroic.” ― George Carlin

flowers concreteA couple of months ago I saw a video on Ted Talk of “Amanda Palmer: The Art of Asking”. The video had been circulating among many of my peers just as SXSW was beginning here in Austin. It was the subject of a number of discussions I encountered that week and in the couple of weeks that followed. Here’s a link:   . The issue she’s addressing in her presentation, in the coming years, is going to be true for everyone who is creating original intellectual property.

It’s obvious to me that Amanda Palmer is a driven, compassionate, smart, savvy and thoughtful woman. Everyone I know found her talk inspiring and at the same time a little distressing, because most of us understand that Amanda Palmer has a confidence and self-assuredness that few of us possess. As I watched her talk I knew, (like so many of my peers) I couldn’t do what she’s done. Not because I lack the savvy, or even the talent, but because I simply don’t have that kind of personality.

images (2)From the conversations I had with other musicians I think many people walked away thinking, “She has an amazing story. I wish I could do that but I don’t know how” Which leads me to believe that perhaps they missed the point. Part of why Amanda Palmer has achieved what she has (and make no mistake, it is truly remarkable) is she is absolutely clear with herself about what she really wants.

She said, “Everyone is asking the wrong question. Everyone is asking how can we get people to pay for music?” For her the right question was “How do we let people pay for music?” She’s right. We are asking the wrong question. But I’m going to take it a step a further because the question she came up with was the right question for her. It may or may not be the right question for you.

images (1)I think there are two questions. The first question is “What do you really want?” If you can answer that question honestly then you’ll come up with the right question for you; and just as importantly, hopefully come up with a creative solution to that question. As I watched and listened to her I realized that our obsession with “making a living from our music” is a goal we’ve been fed; but it may not be what we really want.

Because of how the music business has been structured for the past fifty years or so, many of us may incorporate the myth that we have only succeeded professionally, and we are only truly validated as artists, if we are able to make a living specifically from our music. The fact that that’s no longer a particularly realistic goal doesn’t change the power that myth has to convince us it is achievable.

downloadBare in mind the over arching structures in place within the music business have a lot to gain from you believing in that myth; because the engine (as least to my eyes) that is driving the vast majority of dollars circulating in the music business is not the [artists], music itself anymore, but all the services that are being creating that musicians are being asked to pay for. CD duplicators, recording studios, pay to play competitions, on line music distributors, graphic designers, tons of web base services, i.e., mailing list services, gig finding services, data configuration services, web review services, web design services, crowd funding services, web-radio placement services, social networking services, as well as conventional PR and radio promotion services, and let us not forget the almighty music conferences. All, or none of which may be worth your investment. Which keeps bringing me back to the same question, what do you really want?

cdmailorderThey’ll lead you to believe that you have to do these things (go to conferences, pay for premium web base services, crowd fund your next project), if you want a viable career because they will tell you [for example] it demonstrates you’re dedicated and serious about your work.

I’d argue, the only thing that demonstrates you’re dedicated and serious about your work is finding viable, financially sound solutions, that allow you to keep doing it and SXSW, Folk Alliance, CMJ, Kickstarter, Sonicbids, and using premium based web services may or may not have anything to do with that equation. It all depends on what you really want?

If you want to be a viable, national, touring singer-songwriter (like say, Ryan Bigham) there’s a good chance Folk Alliance can’t help you with that. If you want to be a relatively obscure, singer-songwriter and make a modest [read: poor] living touring house concerts then Folk Alliance probably can help you with that. If you want to be a major pop star there’s a good chance Sonicbid’s can’t help you with that. _MG_0493

Perhaps you’d be better served to hit the L.A. party circuit [read: network] in search of TV and movie cameos, and music placement. Ultimately, you’d still need to look for a major label. Major labels do still exist and they are still responsible for the majority of national and international acts that most of us have heard of; though they’re not particularly interested in finding the next Wilco or Radiohead. They’re looking for the next Justin Timberlake, Green Day,  Beyonce, or Keith Urban. So don’t go there if you can’t produce for the masses like that. Those folks are all great at what they do and I doubt any of them ever used any of the “pay to play” DIY services I’ve mentioned.

Success_Next_ExitAs inconvenient as it may be, there’s no formula to success and there is no one left to impress. There is no one trajectory that will guarantee you that your approach will get you where you want to go. You could copy what Amanda Palmer did step by step and never garner more than $1000 via crowd funding, if it’s not really the right platform for you. And I’ll remind you crowd funding is not going to work for everyone and that doesn’t mean you suck or you’re doomed.

My primary concern with Crowd funding is that it may fund a project but ultimately, the model keeps the majority of artists still starving, even after they’ve managed to raise tens of thousands of dollars to make a CD.  I think this is because it’s still fashioned on the same myth; that enough exposure for an artist, through project creation somehow, magically produces financially viable careers but I’m not really sure that’s true anymore.

starving_artistIf I thought I could raise 1.2 million dollars via crowd funding I’d work my ass off to do it; because with that kind of cash anyone could sustain a career and Amanda Palmer did work her ass off.  But the majority of artist that I know (personally) who successfully raised anywhere between, $5000-$25,000 also worked their asses off. Once, the CD’s were made, and all the copies and incentives were delivered to their supporters, all of them (without exception) were right back where they started financially. They were also, for the most part, exhausted and left to figure out how, or if, they were going to be able to afford to tour. Let alone put out another CD.

My point is not to dismiss crowd funding but to recognize its only one solution to one problem and it will work remarkably well for a certain percentage of artists. However, if it’s not a platform that’s going to work for you, don’t despair and don’t waste your energy trying to make it work for you. There are other solutions and you will find them if you keep exploring the possibilities.

525077_608082955872215_1216074529_nYears ago I had a friend named Michael Nesbit. Michael was and still is a wonderful singer-songwriter. Michael also had a talent for making Etch-A-Sketch art. He made really wonderful and elaborate pictures with Etch-A-Sketches and he started selling them at his shows. It got to where during his shows there was a like a ‘gallery’ of his Etch-A-Sketch pieces all set up around the room and the audience members could buy them when the show was over and people did buy them.

Was he really “making a living from his music” in a way, kinda-sorta, but not really; which begs the question does it matter? Does it make his accomplishment somehow less miraculous? It was just a fabulously creative solution to the problem of being a broke-ass, touring folk singer. That’s what I’m talking about. Michael’s approach required that he abandon the myth of “making a living from his music” and embrace the solution of making a living with his music. Granted it doesn’t have the profit margin of say, your own clothing or fragrance line but it was a viable solution to an immediate problem, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Crowd funding is one kind of solution. Patronism.com is another kind of solution; product line development is another kind of solution. Like what Michael did or another example; Kinky Friedman recently launched his ‘Man in Black Tequila’. If you’ve seen him perform lately he sets a bottle of it on the stage right next to him when he plays, [where] his tequila is prominently featured all night long. He’s using his music to sell his tequila (not the other way around). As a result, I’d venture to guess he doesn’t give a damn whether or not anyone is paying .99 cents a download for his music.

All my life I thought what I really wanted was to ‘make a living from my music’. Some years I have, some years I haven’t.  I realize now, what I want, (and what I always wanted) is a life style that affords me the time, and freedom, to create my music and put it into the world. No where in that sentence can you find the words,  “make a living from my music”. Now, (after how many years?), I have finally answered the first question.

yadin-tarasFor me, the answer to the first question, what do you really want? Is a lifestyle; then what are the models that can afford me that lifestyle? [There is my second question.] Then it came to me, Surfers! Yes, Surfers. Those folks obsessed with catching the perfect wave. The vast majority of [hardcore surfers] have structured they’re lives so that they have the time and freedom to surf. Some open surf board shops. Some make surf boards. Some offer surfing lessons and some work their asses off six month a year and take the other six months off to surf and the list goes on. Ultimately, they fashion their lives around doing what they love, with absolutely no presumption they will ever make a living as professional surfers. They are serious and dedicated about surfing and they prove it by living it.

images (4)We as artists are going to have to figure out what works for us; and each one of us may come up with completely different approaches. It just comes down to being able to ask yourself what you really want. If you can answer that specifically, and honestly, you’ll find the right question for you, and hopefully a solution. As for me, well, I just dusted off my bikini and I’m heading to the beach, because I’m on the look out now, in search of the perfect wave.

“Don’t wish me happiness – I don’t expect to be happy it’s gotten beyond that, somehow. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor – I will need them all”. ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

2013-year-of-the-snake-designThe weekend before last marked the beginning of the Chinese New Year. Ordinarily, I can’t say I’ve ever paid much attention to Chinese New Year’s, mostly because I’m not Chinese. However, its significance was called to my attention through a couple of coincidences. For one thing, I didn’t even realize it was Chinese New Year’s when I arrived at my friend’s house for dinner that night. We were talking about Feng Shui and she alerted me to the fact.

imagesOddly, on my way to her house I decided to stop and buy us both flowers. Needless to say, it’s not every day I bring a friend flowers; let alone, have a second bouquet in tow for myself.  But we had both been experiencing some challenges as of late, so on a whim I thought, “Sometimes a girl just needs flowers!”  I found out (after the fact) that giving flowers and decorating your house with flowers is one of the traditions of Chinese New Years.

The reason we were talking about Feng Shui is that over this past year I’ve attempted to Feng Shui my entire home and my friend was the person who had first suggested it. I began my Feng Shui experiment this past summer. Arguably, from my novice perspective my Feng Shui is still a work in progress.  However, it wasn’t long until I began to see some startling results and it seemed like things were really looking up. Then, just around American New Years (December/January) things that seemed like promising opportunities [at first] weren’t really panning out and I was finding myself, a little disappointed.

ChinaChinese civilization is so ancient, sometimes I think American and even European comprehension of its (varied) rituals is almost impossible for us to understand.  That said, truly ancient customs have always spoken to me more genuinely than more contemporary ones. And the more ancient the custom, the more ‘coincidences’ I tend to see, in terms of the timing of those rituals, aligning with the rhythms and changes I see occurring in my and my friends lives.

It’s been my experience that New Years in Western culture has always lacked any firm investment in respecting and reflecting on the past in a meaningful way. This may be why the whole “New Years Resolution” thing has never really resonated with me. It always felt like so much posturing with little follow through. Our lives, and in particular, the changes we take the time to make thoughtfully, usually unfold over time; rather than in a single declaration of immediate intent.

It struck me as interesting that on the eve of this Chinese New Years I should have some clarity about what I want and hope for in the coming year. I was also doing some reflecting on recent events in my life and what they might mean. bird talkThe inner dialogue of those reflections went something like this, “Jeez God, what do you want from me? I Feng Shui. I pay my taxes. I try to be a good person. What am I doing wrong here?” As you can see, when left to my own devices, I’m a very deep thinker.

One of the over arching themes the evening I was having dinner with my friend was the notion of courage. What is it? What does it mean to us? Who has it and who doesn’t? The next evening I went out with some other friends and the same theme of courage came up again. I began to realize that courage, (in myself and in others), really matters to me.

destiny-courageI got home that evening, to my Feng Shui-ed abode and had something of a revelation. I decided it was time for me to, (stop apologizing), take a deep breath, and truly own my own courage. To look around me and take the time to acknowledge, respect and support all the people in my life who have it, (and most of them do). I know now it’s an essential element [at least to me] of living a meaningful life.

You can’t expect to move your furniture around and have everything magically start coming up roses. Something I’m beginning to understand about Feng Shui is that it isn’t magic. It’s seems more like reflective, energetic, physics (if there is such a thing?) rather than some magical, (world of Disney), barrier that keeps bad things away. main-physicsI believe it shifts energy and [by proxy] your awareness of that energy, so that no matter what you’re confronted with, you respond more appropriately. Once you’re doing this there’s bound to be something of a domino effect in both directions.

Perhaps, the Feng Shui felt as if it was working in my favor at first, because it opened up opportunities I thought I wanted, but opportunities are only valuable when you choose the right ones. Which means it’s my responsibility to respond to them correctly. In some ways, I think it’s kind of like the ultimate, physical manifestation of “be careful what you wish for”. When I think about it in this way, then the “see-saw” effect I experienced after making those changes in my home may mean the Feng Shui is working; because things don’t happen in a vacuum.

10038-see-sawIf you’re attempting to balance and harmonize your environment with nature; than a sew-saw isn’t really a bad metaphor.  Because life is pretty much like a see-saw and we only find ourselves in perfect balance for an instant. Its how we ride the waves up and down that determine how often, (and how aware we are), when we are in perfect balance.  And if courage is important to me, then [it seems to me] the Feng Shui might bring both energies, positive and negative, [in relation to courage] in to my space.  Because it’s up to me to distinguish one from the other; and then call upon my courage to make the appropriate choices based on those distinctions.

In retrospect, I realize the Feng Shui helped keep me more balanced when I was confronted with adversary and disappointment. Conditions and situations that, in the past might have caused a lot of drama, (even if only, in my own little head), just seemed to pass with little more than a sigh; which translates to almost zero energy wasted on unmovable factors (i.e., negativity). Feng Shui can’t make things that suck not happen, but I’m pretty sure it helped me gain a perspective so that when things did suck, they seemed to suck a whole lot less.

grey-wolfThere is no way to live a life of courage and not expect to encounter obstacles. In fact, without obstacles we wouldn’t really need courage. It’s been my observation that what distinguishes cowards from the courageous is not strength, or guts, or nerve, or even noble endurance. It’s the ability to look, dead in to the eye, of that which you don’t want to see; and without compromising your principles or values; nor doubting your own truth; nor trying to change that which stands before you; honestly and deliberately acknowledging it. And then, figure out a way to navigate in the direction you were meant to sail; and not let yourself be distracted by the power that those obstacles have to hurt or disappointment you.

Cernuschi_MuseumAccording to the Chinese Zodiac we are entering the year of the snake. Intuitively, I believe this to mean it’s about shedding old skin and leaving behind outmoded patterns and ideas, reinvention, regeneration, transformation and change. I was born under the year of the snake and for most of my life I’ve considered myself to be an extremely fortunate person, who has never been particularly lucky. But luck is just that, the turn of a wheel or the flip of a coin.lucky_bamboo

So, on the first day of Chinese New Year I went out and bought myself some lucky bamboo. This (as I understand it) is not a Chinese New Years tradition. It’s a symbol of good luck throughout the year. I am hoping it will bring me good luck, but I didn’t buy it just for that reason. I also bought it to be reminded, quite simply, that luck exists; and if we have the courage, and respond appropriately, sometimes a little luck is all we need.

On Angels Wings

“We are each other’s angels and we meet when it is time. We keep each other going and we show each other signs”. ~Chuck Brodsky

The holiday season is upon us. Like most people, I’ve always marked the beginning of the season with Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is perhaps one of my all time, favorite holidays. It’s also one of the few American holidays’ where I’m willing to overlook the truth of history and just embrace the myth. Mostly because to me, the message of Thanksgiving speaks more to who we want to be and who we have become; rather than who we have actually been.

It’s about sharing and gratitude, generosity and family. All who come to America are [through Thanksgiving] welcomed and embraced as old or new Americans regardless of religion, class, color or creed; ‘the myth is the message’ so to speak; and that’s a message I can get behind. The only downside to Thanksgiving, at least for me,  is it also signify’s the beginning of winter. I’m grateful that doesn’t hit me like it used to since, living in Austin, the notion of winter is little more than a joke.

Every now and then I get some romantic notion of a memory, that never actually happened; (when I lived in the Northeast), of being snowed in and spending warm nights by the fire. But in reality I can’t ever remember being in a house that didn’t feel cold and drafty; mine or anyone else’s for that matter. All the fireplaces and central heating in the world couldn’t keep me toasty. To me winter was like a chill that set into your bones and didn’t leave until well into May.

When I was a kid, New York City was a lot different than it is now. Back then you could walk down Fifth Avenue in mid-town and literally, have to step over homeless people who were huddled on the sidewalk; or lying on subway grids trying to keep warm covered in newspaper and flattened cardboard boxes. I have always wondered why anyone who was homeless would stay in New York. I could never figure out why they didn’t just start walking till they got to Florida because that’s what I’d do. At least, I think that’s what I’d do. Since, I have no idea what homeless people have to struggle with.

Never the less when you grow up seeing such glaring dichotomies it’s hard not to become complacent and jaded. When you are forced to view that kind of suffering and inequality on a daily basis, you will either be overwhelmed by compassion (and your own powerlessness to help them in any meaningful way) or (as an act of psychological survival),  just shut down completely because there isn’t much beyond dedicating your entire life to helping them, that would even make a dent.  And yet, sometimes it’s the smallest gestures that remind us of our greatest humanity. Not because we intended to do something great but because the notion of greatness, or decency, or humanity never came to mind as part of the gesture in the first place.

I’ve always been a very picky dresser. When I shop for clothes I tend to shop for the long haul. I have very clear and concise parameters; it must fit me in a very particular ways and it must, absolutely must, make me feel a certain way; regardless of what it may actually look like.  Shopping for clothes can take me hours, sometimes day’s, even weeks when I’m not liking the overall fashion trends. And, as I’ve gotten older, it’s become more difficult because I’m so petite that I have to shop in the Juniors section; and somehow not emerge looking like a grown woman who doesn’t  realize she’s no longer nineteen. I also tend to get attached to the few things I do buy. If I were a wealthier woman I’d buy two or three of the same thing at one time. I get that attached.

I have always been this way and for some reason, when I was teenager, I went through a phase where I took to wearing oversize men’s clothing. Luckily, it was a short lived phase. I would buy most of it at vintage, used clothing stores. I had one long, ratty, oversize men’s coat I just adored. I wore it through many a cold winters; till one day my mother told me it was time to get rid of it. It started out as a fairly ratty coat. Apparently, there were degrees of ratty and this ratty was just too ratty, and my mother decided it had to go. We agreed to go shopping for another coat after Christmas.

God bless my mother’s patience. While my mother and I are more alike than different we are notably different in the picky department. I am, she’s not. To her it’s only a coat; just pick one for God’s sake. Not me; I’m like Goldilocks….this one’s too soft, this one’s too rough, this one’s too big, this one’s too small…finally after what I’m sure was hours, I found a coat and I decided to wear it out of the store. We walked outside and were immediately hit by a blast of the blistering, cold winds that rip through city streets. I was holding my old ratty coat and I turned to my mother and said, “What should I do with my old coat?”

There, on the sidewalk right in front of us was a Christmas tree that had been left out for recycle. My mother said, “Why don’t we hang it on the tree and leave it for someone who’s homeless to find?” I thought this was a fitting solution, as I loved that coat and couldn’t bare the thought of just throwing it away, no matter how ratty it was.

So, we hung the coat on the tree and then my mother reached into her purse and took out a few dollars and put it in the pocket of the coat. She gave me a coy, little wink and said, “Something a little extra for whoever finds it.” As we walked away she turned back to the tree and said, “Merry Christmas!”

I have never stopped wondering about who might have found that coat. I have always hoped that whoever it was; when they put it on, felt as if it fit them just right. I have never stopped imagining what the expression on their face might have been, when they reached their hand into that pocket, and found that money. It has always been my hope that at least for a brief moment they felt as if perhaps, they [still] had a guardian angel watching over them.

It is these small, sometimes, seemingly trivial things we do, that we carry with us and serve to remind us, not only of how much we have; but what we have to give without even trying. Because, there really is always something we can find and that alone is reason to be grateful.

 “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” - Leo F. Buscaglia

When people ask where I’ve been in terms of touring it’s actually easier for me to tell them where I haven’t been. Mostly, because I’ve been almost everywhere in North America; the only states I haven’t been to are North and South Dakota, Montana and Alaska. Otherwise, just pick a place; I probably been there.

Up until three years ago you could have also added New Mexico to that list. Which is one of the reason I chose it when I decided to start touring again; it was one of the few places I had never been that I’d always been intrigued by.  Now, each time I go back there I fall more deeply in love with the place. 

New Mexico is a place that soaks into you slowly, over time.  There are other places that can do this too (like Louisiana and Alabama) all of which have their own sort of  “language” and undercurrents which you feel at first, almost like a resistant wind, but as it grows more familiar, becomes a comforting breeze.

Well sort of, personally, I’ve never really felt that “comfy breeze” in Louisiana or Alabama but I have definitely felt a “language” and an energy that is unique to those places. I have rarely heard these “languages” when I’m in large, metropolitan cities or urban sprawl. There’s too much action, and noise, and commerce, and chaos to distract you, (though I’d make an exception to this in New Orleans), where you feel it around every corner; soaked into the buildings, and the concrete, and the alley’s.

I don’t claim to understand the “languages” I hear, but when I go to New Mexico,  if I’m quiet enough, and still enough; it feels like a song, faintly heard from a distance, that I can’t quite make out the words to, but is none the less, life affirming and re-assuring.

I have found no answers out there, but in some ways just being in a place where I can faintly hear the song sooths me just enough to formulate, what feels like, the right questions. I am often struck with a sense of gratitude when I am there; gratitude for freedom, and life, and how beautiful and perfect the natural world is; and in particular, gratitude for the gift of my own, unbound lifestyle which I have chosen or perhaps, has chosen me.

Being a Jewish girl, [originally] from New York “unbound” isn’t exactly considered a ‘family value’; more like an anomaly most of your  family has spent decades trying to understand; while at the same time hoping you’d just shake it, like a manageable illness you just needed to overcome.

From all my travels,  the only tangible thing I can assert with absolute conviction is that I am happiest when I feel free. Its little moments and brief encounters that often have the most profound effects and serve as reminders to me of this truth. One of those encounters, [this tour] came in the form of a man named George.

I was playing in Santa Fe on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. George sat down under a tree, swaying as I sang while watching me intensely. When I took a break and went to the bar to refill my water. George came up next to me and passed me this note:

We “spoke” briefly, by way of note passing and hand gestures. He said he could feel the vibration of my voice when I sang; and he could understand the words because he reads lips; and he told me “it was beautiful”. The hand he drew on his note is American Sign Language and it means “I love you”. He didn’t tell me that, don’t ask me how I know a little ASL I just do.

I recently took a brief class on the Kabbalah, according to Jewish mysticism we connect to the Divine through music. I see that same idea running through almost every religion and spiritual practice I know of. Writing and singing my songs is something that has always felt a lot like praying to me. So it was enlightening to discover [the possibility] of why that is. After my encounter with George it’s difficult not to believe.

For the most part I perform solo/acoustic; I’m hardly projecting at the level of vibration of say, a rock band or even a string quartet. So, it is moving, and meaningful, and life affirming to feel as if, perhaps my songs, my voice, my words, my path, tap into the ‘greater song’. That song I can faintly hear, but somehow is soaring through me, and all living things, imploring us to connect.

Even now I wonder, what my voice feels like to someone who can’t hear it; and how or why is can be felt (and not heard) and still be experienced as ‘beautiful’.  Just as curiously, I can’t help but wonder if I am truly capable of emanating beauty through me in that way, when in actuality, aren’t we all capable of it? Or is it mere [human] egotism that make me want to believe that is even possible in the first place? Like I said, I have found no answers out there, but sometimes when I am very still, and very quiet, (and I can faintly hear that song), I am soothed just enough to feel as if I am asking the right questions.

“Wit lies in recognizing the resemblance among things which differ and the difference between things which are alike.” Madame de Stael

When I was fourteen years old my parents had the idea that I might feel more connected to my Jewish heritage if they scraped together their hard earned cash and sent me to live on a kibbutz in Israel for a summer. My parents were concerned because I didn’t seem to be identifying with Judaism in any meaningful way. It was just a fact to me, like being White or Black or Indian or Asian.

I was thrilled by the idea of going to live on a kibbutz for a summer. Not having anything to do with getting in touch with Judaism; I just liked the whole idea of the communal thing. I imagined myself waking in the morning to coffee, with cream freshly milked from a cow, and food stuff, (figs and nuts and apples and olives), grown and raised on the kibbutz; all lovingly served on rustic wooden tables, in tiled floor kitchens, with holy land sunlight streaming through the window, over looking a beautiful orchard.

Going to live on a kibbutz for the summer required an interview with the head of the Zionist organization that sponsored the program; this is the question that barred me entrance, “How do you feel about inter-religious marriage?”

I was stunned.  I was fourteen. Who has a definitive opinion about something like that at the age of fourteen? I couldn’t figure out how that was any of his business. What’s that got to do with figs, and nuts, and communally living in harmony with nature? I found myself racking my brain for the “right” answer all the while knowing, somewhere deep down inside that the “right” answer, was the truth (whatever that truth may be).

As you might have surmised at this juncture, I wasn’t the most sophisticated thinker at the age of fourteen. So, I told him, “If two people love each other, I don’t see why it should matter what religion they are”. Bong! Wrong Answer!

So it would seem, the chosen people would not be choosing me to “represent”. I’m pretty sure this was the first time in my life that I began to identify and ponder the notion that I was a blood descendant of Jesus, who (like me), was Jewish and (like me) was not inclined to provide the “right” answers just to gain the favor and privilege of the powerful rabbi’s and Romans of his day.

My first experience with antisemitism was when I was 8 years old. We had these neighbors who would generously invite me to join them and their children on some summer afternoons; and they would take us to The Yacht Club. I loved the Yacht Club. It was like heaven to me. The water from the Long Island sound was filtered (unlike the public beach my family belonged to) so there was no yucky seaweed or jellyfish. And you never had to bring towels, or beach chairs or anything. It was all there and best of all, they had Magic Waiters!

These magic waiters would come to you, as you sat on a chaise lounge, dripping on your clean, white towel and you could order a soda and when he/she arrived back with your ice cold beverage all you had to do was sign this little slip of paper and magically it was yours. There was no asking your Mom for money, or waiting in lines, jumping up and down on the hot concrete  because you forgot to wear your flip-flops.

I begged my parents relentless to join the Yacht Club and they would always reply, “We can’t join the Yacht Club we’re Jewish”. I always thought it was some kind of excuse. And then one day, it happened. I was playing with my friends in the water there and another friend, that I went to school with, slid down the slide, jump up out of the water and [without an ounce of malice] said, “Stefanie! What are you doing here? I thought you were Jewish?”

I was mortified.  When something like that happens you feel really stupid. Did I really think I, and my family, would be privy to that kind of opulence? To suddenly realize what my parents had been saying; that there were places we weren’t welcome and didn’t belong. I had never really understood there was any major difference between us (Christians, Jews, Black or White) because I didn’t make those kinds of distinction. Apparently, the world did and I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

There was a box I belonged in. My parents kept telling me about this box but I didn’t understand. I can honestly say, when that happened it was my first realization that no matter  how I defined myself, no matter what I did, or who I became, there was a box that other people would put me in. The box was mine whether I claimed it or not.

For most of my life I just ignored the box, mostly because the whole notion of the box just pissed me off. I wasn’t concerned with heritage, or religion, or history, or anything that had the power to define me. I simply didn’t want to be tied to anything or anyone that could tell me who I was without my consent.

Then again, there’s that history,  millions of Jews, going back thousands of years. My blood, my relatives, my ancestors, who when faced with slavery, pogroms, oppression, discrimination, antisemitism, and ultimately the horror of systematic extermination; (all of whom, no matter how they defined themselves), were met with the same gruesome fate; simply by the truth of their blood.

When it comes to shit like that, no one cares how you define yourself. Myself, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Ann Frank, Albert Einstein, Emma Goldman, Eli Wiesel, Jerry Jeff Walker, Kinky Friedman, Natalie Portman, Mother Mary and Jesus [himself] would have all be on the same train, headed to the same place; and nothing we had ever done, would have distinguished us or saved us; which makes the question of how one defines oneself almost ludicrous in that context.

Nevertheless, as the years went on and I did define myself, I didn’t think much anymore about organized religion one way or the other. It was just another fact about the world that I didn’t have much interest in. On some levels I began to believe that all these distinction, [religion, ethnicity, and nationality] are just divisive and serve to tear humanity apart rather than bring us together. But now I’m not sure I believe that anymore.

This past month for the first time ever, I decided to host a Passover Seder. I’m not really sure what inspired me. Since I haven’t been to a Passover Seder in years; and the only thing I had to go on were my memories of doing them as a child every year with my family. My friends were thrill. Of those invited only three had ever attended a Passover Seder before. The only Jew in attendance was me.

My parents were overjoyed and to help with the festivities; my father put together a “Passover care package” which arrived via UPS bless his heart! I made copies of the Seder book he sent me, and lit the Shabbat candles, and served the special Passover wine. We dipped the parsley and ate the haroset-matzo sandwiches. I struggled through the prayers in Hebrew and then repeating them in English, as I had been taught. And, as in my family, we went around the table and all my friends read the story of the exodus of the Jews from Israel.

But it was my friend’s children who intrigued me the most because they asked questions Jewish kids would never ask. Like, “Why did the Pharaoh want to kill the Jews if they were already slaves?” Jewish kids don’t ever ask why people want to kill them. Jewish kids just know that occasionally folks just take to doing it. Christian kids want a reason.

After the Seder I brought out all the traditional foods I remembered eating on Passover; Matzo ball soup, potato latkes, my friends even tried the gefilte fish with my fathers homemade horseradish (an a acquired taste at best). What moved me was how open my friends were to all of it  For the first time in my life I experienced being Jewish not as something that separated me, and alienated me, and made me different, but as something ancient I was connected to. And now I was taking that connection and connecting all these people I love, not just to this ancient ritual, but to me and to one another. I credit my friends for this realization because it was them, not I that were so embracing, accepting, and genuinely curious.

What my family doesn’t know is that whenever they would make me go to synagogue (and to this day), when I witness the unveiling of the Torah, I well up inside and it takes everything in me not to cry. I am viscerally moved and I never understood before now, why.

It’s the ancientness, the ceremony, the blood; this ritual that goes back thousands of years which perhaps is not just intended to connect us to God, or our history, or our heritage but to one another; and it doesn’t really matter if who we’re connecting to is Jewish, or Christian, or Muslim, or Hindu or Buddhist, or Naturalist, or Atheist or Agnostic. What matters is we’re connecting.

We are given a choice, we can use these things to connect and share with one another, or we can use them to divide and fracture us; but either way it’s up to us.

Next year I plan to host another Passover Seder and as  is the tradition of Passover, all will be welcome at my table.

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