Thursday, July 31, 2008

Morning Pages

So, I've been seriously considering doing morning pages again. If you're not familiar with them, they are one of the two essential tools to unlocking your creativity advocated by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist's Way. Cameron's theory is that if you write three pages of stream-of-consciousness longhand first thing in the morning, you will unload all of the crap that is covering up your best ideas. I have two main reservations about engaging in this process again. One is that after years of not writing (because I type everything now), my hand hurts when I write longhand. (Also, typed journals stored on my laptop take up so much less room!) The other reservation has to do with Tony Robbins's idea that you should wake up and consciously force yourself to think about everything that is positive in your life in order to get the ball rolling in the right direction. I did morning pages for long enough to know that a good deal of what I wrote about was negative. Now, maybe that was just who I was back then. Or, maybe without direction I have a tendency to think negatively and my thoughts have a tendency to spiral downwards. I like Tony's exercise because if I'm not in a good mood, it always changes my mood for the better. So, my fear of doing morning pages again, of tapping into my subconscious, is a fear that I'll dig and dig and negative, dark thoughts will be all I find. I have convinced myself that thinking positively is something I need to make myself do consciously, not a natural inclination I need to uncover.

But, my question is this, how can I be truly creative if I am actively directing my thoughts? In order to uncover my unique creative voice, I have to write and tap into my subconscious somehow. How could I do that without wading through some (or a lot of) darkness? And then, how would "thinking positively" fit into my lifestyle?

Julia Cameron says of creativity:

"Creativity is a spiritual force. The force that drives the green fuse through the flower, as Dylan Thomas defined his idea of the life force, is the same urge that drives us toward creation. There is a central will to create that is part of our human heritage and potential. Because creation is always an act of faith, and faith is a spiritual issue, so is creativity. As we strive for our highest selves, our spiritual selves, we cannot help but be more aware, more proactive, and more creative."

She says of morning pages:

"You should think of them not as "art" but as an active form of meditation for Westerners. In the morning pages we declare to the world—and ourselves—what we like, what we dislike, what we wish, what we hope, what we regret, and what we plan."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Question to Ponder...

How much should the arts be publicly supported? In times of economic difficulty (like now), should public money be used to fund public art displays (and by that I include dance, music, etc - all the arts), or should other societal problems (like funding health care for the poor, for example) come first? In other words, how much responsibility should the gov't take for funding the arts, as opposed to private support?
(submitted by Suze G.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Learning to Sleep

What gets in the way of good sleep?

light, noisy neighbors, back pain, fear of crushing cat, arm pain, residue caffeine in system, dreams about car accidents and getting fired and deceased loved ones, creaking bed, disappearing blankets, cold feet, toe-biting kitty, anxiety about work and/or getting up early or anything else, hunger, upbeat music


What supports good sleep?

hot bath, massage, feeling calm and peaceful


I'm having a lot of trouble sleeping lately. I mean, I fall asleep reading and watching movies during the day, but then I try to sleep in bed at night and I can't get to sleep and/or I wake up several times during the night. And then I'm tired the next day and fall asleep during the day again. I can't seem to end this cycle. It's so annoying.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

I just posted my last comment about this week's challenge. I guess it's officially over, but I have to tell you, I'm totally hooked on trying new things. It's so much fun!

Next Challenge - Read without falling asleep....

I have a heap of books I've been meaning to read, so for my next challenge I'm going to try to finish at least one of the following books in the next week. I realize this may sound like a small challenge, but for some reason I have the annoying tendency to fall asleep while reading, which makes it very difficult to get very far. Here are the books that are calling my name:

Middlesex - Eugenides
If on a winter's night a traveler - Calvino
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle - Murakami
A Fine Balance - Mistry
The Moor's Last Sigh - Rushdie
Doctor Zhivago - Pasternak

My hope is that focusing on this will help me find a solution to my falling asleep problem and help me get back into the habit of reading more. A few of these books are partly read and I've read at least one chapter of all of them at one time or another.

Have you read any of them? What books are sitting on your shelf waiting to be read?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Getting to Know You

1. What's the weather like where you are today?
2. How many cups of caffeine have you had so far today?
3. What are you wearing today?
4. What books are you reading?
5. What was the last good meal you ate?
6. Where did you go on your last walk?
7. Are you listening to music right now? If not, what would you like to be listening to?
8. What kind of computer are you using?
9. What kind of chair are you sitting in?
10. If you had no obligations right now, what would you choose to do with your day?

(me - 1.sunny, 67F, slight breeze; 2. one apricot ceylon tea latte; 3. black and white striped skirt, yellow tank top, black cardigan, black flip flops; 4. Giant book by Tony Robbins; 5. The moussaka I had at Persimmon last night was pretty good; 6. I walked with a co-worker up to the Embarcadero Center to get another tea latte; 7. No :-( Brahms 3rd Symphony, 3rd mvmt.; 8. Dell PC; 9. grey office chair on wheels; 10. something outside, somewhere pretty, in the sun.)

Challenge input

So the highlights of my week have been eating new foods, walking new routes, visiting new places, and learning new things -- all things I've done as part of my Challenge. I'm planning to continue the Challenge through Sunday, so I'm just curious to know if any of you have ideas for me. What do you think are some new things I could try? What else could I do that would be out of the ordinary? Any ideas? I'd love to hear them.

Happy Friday!


"The most common misconception [about creativity] is that we would have to leave our current lives in order to pursue our dreams. It is easier for us to use our jobs, families, financial situations, time obligations, etc., as a way (or ways) to keep us "safe" from the anxiety caused by stepping out of our comfort zones into the creative process. When we allow ourselves to be thus thwarted, we deny ourselves tremendous joy. The most effective way to confront blocks is to form creative cluster groups in the lives we’re already leading." - Julia Cameron

"A rare experience of a moment at daybreak, when something in nature seems to reveal all consciousness, cannot be explained at noon. Yet it is part of the day's unity. - Charles Ives

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Tonight after work, my friend Jennie was asking me the Questions just for fun and when she asked me what I'm excited about in my life right now, I realized that this experience of trying to collect new experiences has really changed how I feel about my life. I told her I was excited because I realized that every day I have so many options, so many different possibilities for what I can do with my life on so many different levels and in so many different areas, and that feels really exciting to me. I feel like I'm on an adventure and I wonder what's going to happen next, what options are going to present themselves to me. Whereas before I think I often tried to avoid new experiences, trying to choose the fastest, easiest route -- the one that required the least thinking, now since I've been purposely seeking out new options, I find that just in general, I feel more open to new experiences. I feel less bothered when someone interrupts my usual habits and more likely to say "yes" when someone suggests something that feels a bit outside of my comfort zone. So, I think that's a good thing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

In case you're interested in following my "Challenge" adventures, I'm writing notes in the comments of the Challenge post.

Question to Ponder

If you could use a machine to increase your creativity and your ability to learn, would you? And, would this be more like weight training or steroids?
(submitted by Ian F.)

Monday, July 21, 2008


According to Tony Robbins, in his book Awaken the Giant Within*, it is really helpful to get up every morning and instead of wallow in self-pity that you have to get up for work and wish that you could go back to sleep, he suggests you ask yourself the following questions:

1. What am I happy about in my life right now?
2. What am I excited about in my life right now?
3. What am I proud about in my life right now?
4. What am I grateful about in my life right now?
5. What am I enjoying most in my life right now?
6. What am I committed to in my life right now?
7. Who do I love? Who loves me?

Doing this will help you put your focus in a good place -- and hopefully set you up to have a great day. :-)

(*which is proving to have a lot of really great stuff in it, despite that bit of extreme advice I told you about a few days ago)

Sunday, July 20, 2008


It seems to me that the best thing we can do to keep life exciting is change up our routines a bit. If we continue to do the same things over and over, how will we ever come up with new ideas? How will we keep our lives creative and interesting? How will we avoid feeling like life is boring or depressing? We take the same route to work, we eat the same foods, we talk to the same people, we go the same places, we have the same conversations, we use the same words to describe our lives ("I'm a secretary.") or to address our loved ones ("Hello, dear.") or when we get angry ("I'm so stupid!" or "S/he's so stupid!"), we sleep on the same side of the bed, we complain about the same problems, we use the same coping mechanisms to assuage our boredom, etc. We live our lives in a way that is not fully conscious, doing many things just out of habit, and part of that is defining ourselves in habitual ways that are not current with the moment. Does that make any sense? We come to expect that our life is only as wide as the box we've chosen to view it through. When we make little changes (and big changes), we allow ourselves to widen the box a bit (or a lot).

This week I'm setting up a challenge for myself and I'm inviting you all to join me. Every day this week I vow to do something I've never done before and/or learn something new. This could mean listening to a piece of music I've never heard before (live or on recording), going to a new place (a restaurant, an art museum, a part of town, someone's house, a park, etc.), learning a new word or learning about a new subject, learning something new about a person I know or talking to someone I've never talked to before, learning a new skill, etc. etc.

If you'd like to join in the fun, feel free to write about your adventures in the comments here. That could be very inspiring for those of us looking for ideas! Also, if you feel like it, I'd love to hear about ways in which you already try to keep your life fresh and exciting!

[Uh... and since this is the internet and all, I guess I should make it known that I only endorse legal activities, like the kind of stuff that doesn't hurt anybody, including yourself...]

Friday, July 18, 2008

Getting to Know You

1. Name a way in which you changed/improved your life this past week.
(Feel free to answer this alternative question for #1: Name something annoying you had to deal with this week.)

2. Name something you'd like to change/improve in your life this coming week.

3. What's the last delicious food you ate?

4. What's something delicious you'd like to eat soon?

5. Name something exciting you did recently.

6. What's something you're looking forward to in the near future?

7. If you could travel to anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?

8. What's the next best thing you could do to traveling to that place without leaving the city where you live?

(me: 1. I started a new way of making TO DO lists at work that are proving to be much more effective; (answer to alternative #1: I had to go to the DMV on Monday. That sucked. And, I have to go back tomorrow. Oh joy.); 2. I would like to get back into the habit of eating well and I'd like to stretch my body more; 3. I had 3 really ripe and flavorful plums last night; 4. I would like to eat more delicious fruit; 5. I started looking through some of the arias my new voice teacher recommended, sang through them, and started translating them... Also, I've been reading a book that's pretty exciting; 6. I rented some episodes of "The Family Guy" that I haven't seen and I'm really excited to watch them tonight; 7. I would like to lie on a warm, sandy beach on a tropical island; 8. Hmmm, I could buy the ingredients for pina coladas and buy tropical flowers and hang out in my apartment in my bathing suit, maybe take a dip in the bathtub... Or, I could go out to a Tiki bar and drink tropical drinks... Or, I could bundle up in really warm clothing and go to the beach! Or, I could find a book or movie about people lying on a beach on a tropical island and live vicariously through them.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Not Dead Yet

Please note that the discussion about the Question to Ponder is not dead yet. :-)


Thank you to everyone for participating in a very interesting discussion!!


Also, note that I updated my MySpace site with some "new" songs. Susan is playing on most of them.

Process vs. Product (revised)

It just occurred to me that one big difference between some of the "motivational/inspirational" authors I've read is related to process vs. product. Some of these "guys" are all about results, while others are more interested in what is happening along the way. That isn't to say that the author who says you should judge your success based on what kind of results you are getting isn't interested in your quality of life. Nor is it saying that the author who is more interested in the creative process or "living in the moment" doesn't hope you achieve some external measure of success. But there do seem to be a lot of books that mostly fall into just one category or the other.

What about you? I'd like to say I'm more of a process person than a product person, but honestly that's not really true. I like to have things I can point to and say, "I did that." At the same time, I do actually enjoy the process of working on my craft, of working on things generally. In the end, maybe it's about having a balance between the two -- creating a life that's enjoyable moment by moment and working towards a few things you can be proud of, point to, and say, "I did that." How about you? Do you enjoy the process of working on your craft? Or are you mostly interested in the end result? Or is it a bit of both?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Practicing Piano...

I love making music with other people. Singing in a choir, playing violin in orchestra, singing while someone else is playing piano or guitar, singing duets or trios or quartets, etc. are some of the greatest joys I've known in my life and how I've come to know most of my best friends. It's just so much darn fun! But... I have to tell you that one of the most exciting moments in my entire life was the moment I realized I could sing and accompany myself! Not that making music by myself replaces the joys of making music with other people -- not by any means -- but the idea that I could experience so much joy without having to wait for other people to become available was thrilling! It started with learning that I could "fake" my way through pop songs (read chord symbols and arpeggiate - or play by ear). Then, I learned it was pretty easy for me to write my own songs to play and sing. But, my piano skill is limited, so the joy of playing and singing often gives way to feelings of frustration for not being able to play more interesting, difficult lines -- and for sounding clunky and ungraceful. Some of my very favorite music in the world to sing and listen to is German and French art song. I have always loved the combination of beautiful melodies, rich harmonies, and exquisite poetry. I have always wished I could play and sing these wonderful pieces myself, but the piano parts are so intimidating, so difficult, that I have always been embarrassed by my feeble attempts. I can pretty confidently tell you I can play and sing "The World Feels Dusty" by Aaron Copland, from his Emily Dickinson songs, but not much else. I have worked on "Heart, We Will Forget Him" from the same set, "Nacht" (Strauss), "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" (Mahler), "Sure on this Shining Night" (Barber), and many others, but usually I only play them when I have a craving to hear them, I stumble through, get frustrated by my lack of skill, and then quit. However, just recently I started practicing "Die Mainacht" by Brahms. I decided I would thoroughly and methodically work on it for as long as it takes -- every day -- with the aim of playing and singing it well. (Incidentally, it has been in my head almost non-stop since then.) I can ALMOST play it. Oof! But, it's SO frustrating. Sometimes I just feel like I don't really know how to practice piano. I mean, I know how to dissect things and practice the trouble spots. I know I need repetition. But, I swear there are times when practicing too much makes it worse. It's like I become more awkward and uncoordinated the more I focus on trying to get things right. This is not something I have experienced playing violin or singing. I don't know what it is about piano, but I swear there have been many times when the first try playing through a piece was better than any of my subsequent attempts. I know there are several pianists who read my blog. Help!! :-)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Question to Ponder...

"Is a musician an artist?"
(submitted by Jake C.)

Let's Pretend...

Not too long ago I was talking to a friend who told me that she often imagines she is really fat when she sings. Doing this makes her feel more grounded, helps her breathe better, and leads her to find a bigger, more solid sound. She obviously isn't changing the size of her body with her imagination, but her imagination helps her to achieve what she believes would be easier if her body were different. This isn't the strangest visualization technique I've heard from a singer. As singers, since our vocal mechanism is internal and difficult to control in the same way as an external instrument, like a violin or piano, we are often searching for some sort of visualization that leads us to a better sound. In the midst of this conversation, I mentioned that sometimes in auditions, I have actually pretended I was someone else. I used this technique not for vocal reasons, but for help with my confidence. I figured that if I identified myself too heavily as someone who wasn't confident, I should try some method acting and just play the role of someone who was -- usually a specific person who epitomized energy, charisma, and confidence to me. It helped tremendously -- and it was fun! My imagination obviously didn't turn me into another person, but it helped me to find the parts of myself that were more capable of exhibiting confidence and charisma. Our minds can do so much to limit us when we have limited ideas of what we think is possible. On the flip side, we can use our imaginations to stretch our ideas of what is possible. Visualization can be useful as a way of expanding our realities or just as a way of rehearsing for future events. Pretending can be a fun way to try on modes of living life that we aren't normally comfortable with -- also stretching our imaginations as to what is possible.

Have you used visualization in your life? Have you ever chosen a theme song of the day to help direct your mood/confidence?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Burning in Hell

As I mentioned before, I've been reading the book, Awaken the Giant Within, by Tony Robbins. I've just come to a chapter in the book in which I feel wary of some of the author's advice, so I thought I'd voice my uncertainties here to see if you readers have opinions about the matter.

So, here's the deal... It's Chapter 6, which is titled, "How to Change Anything in Your Life: the Science of Neuro-Associative Conditioning". In this chapter he says, "If you and I want to change our behavior, there is only one effective way to do it: we must link unbearable and immediate sensations of pain to our old behavior, and incredible and immediate sensations of pleasure to a new one." Step One tells you to "decide what you really want and what's preventing you from having it now." Step Two tells you to "Get Leverage: Associate Massive Pain to Not Changing Now and Massive Pleasure to the Experience of Changing Now!"

A lot of the advice in this chapter is quite sound, makes sense to me, and seems quite useful. But, some of it is quite troubling to me. For example, the best way for me to stop drinking coffee, according to this chapter, is for me to associate drinking coffee with getting esophageal cancer -- to visualize myself getting such amazingly terrible acid in my stomach that my acid reflux problem comes back in an awful way and quickly progresses to full out throat cancer. [I know this is what he means, because he gives a similar example, using cancer, for someone with another problem.] Is this really a healthy way to think? Will I really be building a healthy, fulfilling life by conditioning myself to develop intense fears of all the behaviors I want to discontinue? Quite possibly... I have to admit, since I went through this step of the process, I have not drunk any coffee -- and frankly, the thought of it repulses me at the moment.

Another aspect of this advice I'm having trouble with is how to apply it to a wide variety of examples. How do I apply this if what I want is to make a career of singing? Or, what if I want to stop thinking negative thoughts? What's in the way of my making my career singing? I guess it's that I never audition for anything. So, I guess I need to associate massive pain with not auditioning? -- like, the longer I go without auditioning, the hotter the seat underneath me gets until it's a burning flame under my butt? And, what's in the way of stopping myself from thinking negative thoughts? I think it's those damn negative thoughts. Or, maybe it's not enough positive thinking... So, I guess I need to associate massive pain with not thinking positive thoughts? -- like, if I go five minutes without a positive thought, my head will explode? Oh no! I'm so happy!!

What do you think about all this, dear readers?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Getting to Know You

(for those of you who are new to my blog quizzes, write your answers in the "comments")

1. What is a song you've had stuck in your head this week?
2. What's a poem or quote that inspires you?
3. What is a piece of music you haven't listened to before, but would like to?
4. What is a painting/drawing you love to look at?
5. Name a pretty place you've been to.

(me: 1. Phydile (Duparc), 2. Poem - "The Journey" by Mary Oliver, Quote - "Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." ~Harold Whitman, 3. Wagner's string quartet, 4. almost anything by John Singer Sargent. The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit is a favorite. It's hanging in the MFA in Boston. It's huge. The girls look *so* real. It's amazing., 5. There are so many pretty places in San Francisco... Somewhere on a hill in San Francisco.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Another re*mind*er

You may remember a post I wrote in December 2006 about mindfulness. In that post, I wrote:

"One great lesson I learned from *The Miracle of Mindfulness* was the idea that one doesn't need to separate oneself from others in order to have time to oneself. By thinking that all time is one's own time, one is free to experience fully every moment one spends alone or with others."

I was thinking about this today in the context of my day job. I have recently committed myself to spending a lot more time and energy on musical/creative work and so that is on my brain most of the time these days. Unfortunately, I have found that while I'm at my job during the day, I am totally unfocused and find myself daydreaming and thinking about how I wish I was doing other things, like practicing. Part of the problem is that, because of my awakened interest in my life's true calling (which is music - singing, of course), I have become much less able to focus on the work I do for the organization I work for (which, for the record, I still think is a really awesome organization doing really great and important work). But, another part of the problem is, I think, that I fear that if I put energy into doing a good job at work, I'll have less energy for the things I want to do before and after work. Deep down, I know that in the resisting of the work I need to do for my job, I am wasting my energy. By thinking I have to divide my time -- and divide myself, I am causing myself unnecessary mental hardship. In reflecting more about this, it seems to me that as long as I choose to work this job, I have to see it as an important part of the fabric of my life. I have to see where/how it fits in to my life plan -- to fulfilling my musical/creative goals.

Can you relate to this struggle?

Procrastinator's Exercise

I lifted this exercise right out of Awaken the Giant Within. I hope -- if you're in need of it -- that you find it useful. I don't intend for you to share your answers with me. This is for your private use.:


First, write down four actions that you need to take that you've been putting off. (leave room to write under the items)

Second, under each of these actions, write down the answer to the following questions: Why haven't I taken action? In the past, what pain have I linked to taking this action?

Third, write down all the pleasure you've had in the past by indulging in this negative pattern. (For example, getting quick pleasure from eating sugar...)

Fourth, write down what it will cost you if you don't change now. How does that make you feel?

The final step is to write down all the pleasure you'll receive by taking each of these actions right now. (Make a huge list that will drive you emotionally, that will really get you excited: "I'll gain the feeling of really being in control of my life, of knowing that I'm in charge. I'll gain a new level of self confidence... etc."


Do you procrastinate? What helps you get going again? Do you see procrastination as a major obstacle for you? -- in your creative life?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Kick in the Pants

Just a few days ago, I picked up a book by Anthony Robbins called, Awaken the Giant Within. I haven't progressed very far into it, but just thought I'd share a little of his wisdom with you. I first became familiar with Tony Robbins when I bought another book of his called Giant Steps at least a decade ago. One thing from that book has actually stuck with me for all this time, so I feel reasonably confident that at least something in this new book will be useful. In Giant Steps, he suggests that if you are stuck in a (mental) place where you have a lot of things you need to do, but you just can't get yourself to do any of them because you feel totally overwhelmed, the best thing to do is ANYTHING -- pick up a piece of paper off the floor, do a load of laundry, alphabetize your book collection... whatever! He says (from what I remember) that once you start doing things and accomplishing things, you will get yourself on a roll and in a positive frame of mind that will set you up for success and get you to the frame of mind you need to accomplish all of your other projects.

Here is one snippet from Awaken the Giant Within that I found interesting:

"Everything you and I do, we do either out of our need to avoid pain or our desire to gain pleasure... What is procrastination? It's when you know you should do something, but you still don't do it. Why not? The answer is simple: at some level you believe that taking action in this moment would be more painful than just putting it off."

There are a couple of things I have been procrastinating doing for a long time and it occurs to me at this moment that by putting them off, I have been wasting a ton of energy. I am actually a habitual procrastinator. This is what Wikipedia has to say about procrastination. It's pretty interesting. This is pretty interesting, too: Getting Things Done. As is this: Structured Procrastination.

Last night I had my first voice lesson in almost 3 years. She kicked my butt. I needed it. It was good.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Little Motivation

"I have learned, as a rule of thumb, never to ask whether you can do something. Say, instead, that you are doing it. Then fasten your seat belt. The most remarkable things follow."

"The creative process is a process of surrender, not control."

"Each of us has an inner dream that we can unfold if we will just have the courage to admit what it is. And the faith to trust our own admission. The admitting is often very difficult."

- Julia Cameron

"Let me make this clear: there are no secrets. None. There is no new information. What it took to be successful a thousand years ago is exactly what it takes to be successful today... People change their lives when they want to, not because I want them to... Life is your own damn fault. Your thoughts, your words and your actions created your circumstances. Don't like them? Fix them."

- Larry Winget

"If you want more, you have to require more from yourself."
"You're only lonely if you're not there for you."

- Dr. Phil


Here are some links to interesting articles about how to stimulate creative thinking:

How to Increase Your Creativity
Give Yourself a Whack on the Side of the Head
Top Ten Ways to Increase Your Creativity
Seven Steps to Increase Your Creativity

My favorite tips from these articles:

"Take a nap."

"Take a break and go for a walk."

"The more often you do something in the same way, the more difficult it is to think about doing it in any other way. Break out of this "prison of familiarity" by disrupting your [habits]."

"Encourage really, really bad ideas: If you are only coming up with good ideas you aren’t being creative... Bad ideas often lead to really great ideas."

What are YOUR favorite ways to get through creative blocks?


Hi readers!

I'm going to make an effort from this day forward to blog every day (!!) and to focus my blog on issues relating to music and creativity. I am hoping to start taking more action on projects I want to do and so I'm hoping to use this blog as one of many tools to help me make progress on my goals. I hope you find my posts interesting and useful and as always I invite you to comment! Thank you to Susan for suggesting I do this!

More soon!