award-winning documentarian: radio + music + photography
photo credit: Ahri Golden
I was walking with my daughter as she danced home on the sidewalk, singing, from preschool. With the sun bursting alongside a slight breeze, we sang together (she knows the lyrics to my songs because I practice them all the time as I wake up my kids, pick them up from school, cook dinner, put them to bed). One of our neighbors, who is not a parent, passed by and heard us singing together. He smiled. Sofia said, "Hi David!". He stopped and asked, "How do you raise children while knowing what is going on across the country and around the world? How do you stay positive?"
I'd say that my job in this life is not necessarily to be "positive" but to hold the devastation of the people in Boston, Texas, China, of the horrors humanity endures every day and at the same time hold the beauty, awe and poetry of precious moments when everything seems so remarkably simple, and in fact, is. One does not negate the other. They are not mutually exclusive, but co-exist within the experience of being human. The macrocosm of the world is happening within us. There are many parts and personalities inside each of us. Some get triggered at different times with different people for different reasons and I think it is just being in relationship with it all as true and a part of existence unfolding.
My purpose is to remain, as often as possible, present and connected to my children so they can grow, feel safe, loved, nourished, and nurtured. With this, my vision is for them to cultivate the skill of connection to who they truly are, and know, in their bones, that they are loved and, thus, can give love and create more beauty in this world, whatever that may be. I suppose this intention is positive, but not in a polyanna way. In a real way. In acknowledging that this fundamental phenomenon, the ability to love another and to see beauty even when there is tragic devastation, violence and pain surrounding, is a paradox and the human conundrum which offers us a choice.
Can we face, learn to live with, and soften into the suffering and turmoil both in the world and within? With that, can we know when it is time to get activated and muster the deepest well of our strength and creativity? From here, from this tension, I believe, is the core of creative source. Can we acknowledge the brokenness AND the pure beauty of life, the miracle that is this breath right now? Is it possible to choose the radical practice of giving and receiving love to others and ourselves so we can open to the capacity of what humans can become?
Today my heart is heavy as I reflect on the place of my childhood years from birth until age 8. It was Hingham, Massachusetts, a suburb south of Boston. I lived in a modest home right next door to my best childhood friend. Well, it wasn't exactly next door. There was a little forest grove between our homes with a path leading to each other. It was magical to feel the autonomy in what seemed to be a forest. Really it was just a few trees, but to the mind of a young child, it was a mythological world of imagining pirates and dragons, faires and queens sitting for tea time at the grand table of a tree fallen, naturally, in the space between our homes. No plastic cups, just pretend ones. No costumes, just pretend ones. That is what we kids did with time on our hands, un-scheduled. Those were the days when kids went out in the morning during summers and played, dreamed, invented from sunrise to sunset. Our parents were around, but not outside watching us. This way of life ingrained in me the same sense I try to create for my kids. It's not the same in urbanity, of course, but I do carve out slivers and tastes of what a slower, simpler life can provide in the midst of iPod touch land (my son recently bought one with his own, partially-earned, saved money). I do feel pulled to embrace the madness of the jet fast zeitgeist, or else be squashed by its allure. It is the art of holding boundaries to contain and utilize the innovation of the day.
Today after school, my son and his best neighborhood friend, who lives 4 houses away, both turning 8 years old this month, were playing basketball on the street, as their younger siblings drew chalk art on the sidewalk, which had a very similar molasses sort of feel to my experience in Hingham. An elder woman, age 87, drove up slowly with a gigantic, heartfelt smile, her sister's daughter was in the driver's seat. They stopped outside of our home and gazed with nostalgia. I asked if I could help her and she told me, "I raised my three boys in this house 60 years ago. Such fond memories. So much has changed and yet the street feels the same." At the very same time during this lovely interaction, unbeknownst to me in the moment, there was a bomb going off across the country, in what was my childhood home, in the place where I feel nostalgic, in the place where my dad ran the Boston Marathon.
The 8 year old boy who lost his life today in this senseless act of violence struck me deeply, not to mention the horrific news of people's limbs exploding off from their bodies. In a Rockwellian moment where childhood can feel so pure, so unadulterated, so timeless, there is another reality at play, simultaneously. Today I am experiencing a visceral sense of holding opposites, as if our humanity depends on feeling both the tragic pain of our world as well as the poetic awe of being alive, breathing, right now in this moment. To understand in our bones that everything can change in the blink of an eye allows for appreciating what is right here right now, together.
The RSA Animate short film, The Empathic Civilization, speaks to this idea that human beings are fundamentally wired to experience pangs of universal empathy. This characteristic bonds us to each other and what matters most as it relates to our survival: face-to-face, empathic connection, which is where our species is ultimately headed.
Another song is coming.... I can feel it.
Today is one of my days where Jay takes the kids and I do yoga or go for a long hike, then write and read at the cafe. It is my solo Sunday ritual that re-sets me for the week. Today I read an illuminating article in the NYTimes Sunday Review, What The Brain Can Tell Us About Art.
This month Barack Obama "unveiled a breathtakingly ambitious initiative to map the human brain" so we can more deeply understand the human mind, and what lives beneath the surface of everyday experience. This article tracks the origins of our modern cultural quest to reveal "the unconscious, instinctual strivings of people", which focused on the great works of Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele - the major artists of the modernist period known as "Vienna 1900". These revolutionary painters were the first to depict the idea that "insight into another begins with understanding oneself."
I was transported back 20 years when I first discovered these master painters. Klimt especially moved me and still does. It was 1994 and I was living in New York City. Multiple times a week I would go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to be with these paintings and write in my journal. I would walk or take the bus across the park from my Upper West Side apartment that I shared with five other young women, living with tapestries as boundaries between our private spaces, and walk, purposefully, up the stairs into the alcove. I would then sit on the floor and greet these paintings, like a close neighborhood friend. Tingles would shiver up my spine and through my hand as I wrote about the compositions and colors and what they would spark in my being. These paintings moved me so deeply each time, like electric waves inspired to focus and calm my senses. Today's article helped me further understand my initial instinct to love this style of painting and subject matter, which is connected to why I write songs about the human experience, and capture the essence of people through photography.
Nuances of internal life are an unseen, beautiful mess of contradictions and dynamic humanity. It is this state of being - to lift the veil on humanness - that drives me to capture and create. I am fascinated by the human capacity to empathize and be vulnerable. I'll take it a step further, that in doing so, in being empathic and vulnerable, we are poised to transform the places within that keep us from opening deeper to life. When we are safe to let go of the ways in which we strategize to protect ourselves, there lives within each of us, a treasure trove of extraordinary, moving, and utterly real aliveness. I am experiencing this first hand in my singing and songwriting, which has been, in the past and still to some extent, but less so, enormously terrifying to even broach, let alone pursue. Yet, as I do it more, I open and relax and allow.
The article states that "as we look at a portrait (or hear a song), our brain calls on several interacting systems to analyze contours, form a representation of the face and the body's motion, experience emotion, and perhaps, empathy. Along with these instantaneous responses, we form a theory of the subject's state of mind." And, it is this that the viewer or listener becomes connected to the work. It moves us, personally, relating to our own human experience. When art emerges from something true, something honest, something hidden from view, yet universal, we, as a witness, can come home to ourselves.
My paternal grandfather's family immigrated from Vienna during Klimt's influence in 1900, which makes me ponder my initial and sustained draw to the ways in which art, psychology and science come together. Perhaps the cells of my synapses are wired to connect back to these radical, original Austrian ideas, brought through into now, like a torch of evolution curiously unfolding.
Every time I think, "Who do you think you are to sing?", "You have no business to produce an album", "This is crazy." Every time these thoughts swarm inside me, I breathe. I notice the voices. They are young. They are wounded. I take them in. I try not to attach to them. I thank them for coming and let them know they are welcome. I mother them. I remind myself of how and why this part of me is emerging. This creative energy has been dormant since I was a little girl, aching to come alive for as long as I can remember. It was not ready yet. It is ripe now. When these feelings come, I sing the first verse and chorus of one of my songs, Trust Myself:
Melt the voices, inside my head
Gentle, it's ok
Tuck them to bed
Nurse the voices slowly
Let them be seen
All they ever wanted was to be free to be
I'm a primate
Re-learn to listen
To know what's needed right now
These lyrics help me rest inside the center of my fear. They bring the voices home so I can lean into my creative process and trust that everything is unfolding as it is, and as it must.
photo credit: Ahri Golden
Today, on my grandmother Margie's, aka Bubbie, 88th Birthday, 88 times around the sun her life has lived, I sent out the invitation to my upcoming event at The Red Devil Lounge. The sending is dedicated to Bubbie. I have a magnet on my fridge that reads "What Are You Waiting For?" and another that reads "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." I want to be 88 someday. I want to be able to look back on my life and feel a sense of liberation and fearlessness. I want to have created a body of true soul work (however that may morph over the course of my life) to pass on to my children and their children and their children's children. Just to know these moments happened and share with them that I felt deeply in my life and was compelled to create from that place. I think about the treasure it would be to have the journals and art of my great great grandmothers. This thought inspires me. If I am lucky enough to live into the eldership and matriarch of my family, as Bubbie has done, if I am blessed enough to witness my great-grandchildren, but ultimately, to appreciate now, and all of its imperfections and quirks and kinks, not in the past, not in the future, but the poetry of right now, then everything else that may come is gravy.
Dave and I met tonight to discuss arranging the music for two of my songs, Senses Are True and It Is What It Is. I realize how much this process is like radio production yet distinctly more creative, with limitless range of expression to support the subjects in each presentation. Tonight we talked about crashing cymbals to symbolize the sounds of ocean waves off in the distance. This sonic experience is intended for a bridge which conveys a sense of being taken over by the enormity of challenging times. And yet, when we allow ourselves to go there, to be taken by what is actually happening, the waves eventually pass, they calm, only to come again. To face what is terrifying is an incredibly liberating act. We become braver than we knew possible, where we learn to allow the wave to take us. Making music has been like that for me. From inside the belly of that which seemed impossible, has been a visceral freedom, a gift, a chance of pure expression and ease,...even if for just a moment, or hopefully more. To be with what is so gut-wrenchingly uncomfortable and not try to change it or push it away, but just be with it allows for something profound to occur. The human capacity undeniably expands and grows when we know we don't know.
In addition to our arrangement conversation, Dave and I talked about what it means to have a show. To get up in front of people to share something, vulnerably, from the soul. What it means to embrace the power of being a conduit of creative energy, as we all are, and at the same time hold a vision of those who will live far beyond this life, as if communicating with them in present form. We also talked about what it would mean to make it not mean so much and just take this tiny step forward into uncharted territory. And then, to acknowledge the skill of holding opposites all the time, without attachment to whatever it is.