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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Me, Nurse, 500 words

I haven't been able to quite get ahead of the rabbit since the tour.  Much to say about the tour, speaking of which, but the thoughts will have to stay in my head a bit longer while I keep chasing that rabbit...

In the meantime, I just submitted my application for nursing school (proper).   Had to write a personal statement.  It's a 500 word synopsis of my journey over the last couple years.  Thought I might as well share.

At 29 years old, I stood in a glass-walled corporate boardroom on the 45th floor of a skyscraper, staring at the expanse of lower Manhattan stretched out before me.  It was surreal – not only the view, but also the situation I found myself in.  In a few short years I had worked my way up to an executive position and was living the charmed life that accompanied it. Yet, as I surveyed what was around me and assessed what my life meant at that moment, I knew I was not where I needed to be. 

It all seemed too perfect to give up.  On paper everything was right.  But years of stubbornness couldn’t shake the gut feeling that it was, in fact, all wrong.  Eventually I realized the literal ivory tower I was standing in didn’t have meaning for me.  The corporate goals and rules of success didn’t motivate me, much less bring me joy.  Through the guidance of good friends, research and soul searching, I realized the key component I was missing: I want to help people.

Part of it was ingrained in my upbringing.  My grandmother was a bush nurse in East Africa most of her life.  It was commonplace for her to be serving in war zones and the wake of natural disasters when I was a kid.  Giving of yourself for the sake of humanity was an unspoken standard that was established.

Nursing never occurred to me as a profession when I was younger.  I can admit now I was much more concerned with conquering mountains and breaking down barriers.  My focus was to blaze my own path.  I wanted to distinguish myself from family traditions or anything traditional for that matter.  I wanted to be different.

I realize now, a big part of that same spark that is inside my grandmother is also inside me.  As I continue to sift through my experiences over the years, evaluating what has worked and what has not, the one fact that remains is that I want to make a difference in people’s lives.  That is what makes me tick.  Applied to the real world, for me, this means I want to have a tangible skill – something I can contribute to humanity that’s practical.

After following what is without a doubt a winding, yet interesting and adventurous path, it has turned out to be a giant circle leading me right back to the beginning.  I admire and respect my grandmother so very much for the work that she has done.  And the more I learn about and get involved in the healthcare industry, the more amazing men and women I meet who are just like her. 

Both my aunt and my cousin followed her path.  They are both incredibly happy with their career choice, along with numerous other friends and colleagues I continue to meet who are kind enough to give me a window of access into their professional lives and calling. 

I want to work for and with people I admire.  In my experience, it is an excellent litmus test to determine where your skills and potential truly fit.  I’m excited and humbled at the prospect of joining their ranks and becoming a nurse. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I wrote this???

As the preparations for the summer tour swing into full gear, there is much to do!

I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to use this opportunity (a full band tour) to get my charts in order.  For those of you who don’t know the term, a chart is, very simply, a written out version of a song.  The problem is, when I wrote all of my tunes, they were already in my head to begin with, so if I already knew them all by heart… why go through the painstaking work of writing them down?

Unfortunately, this was the logic that prevailed until just a few weeks ago.  (I can hear Ann Ruckert - den mother of aspiring musicians everywhere - groaning from here!)  But lately I suddenly felt inspired and motivated.  Or rather, I just didn’t want to be embarrassed when I have to present my set list to the rest of the band.  See, this will be my first time playing with two of the band members and, you know, I don’t want to come across as a complete hack.

Just to clarify, we’re not talking about simply penciling in words on a page here.  We’re talking note for note, tempo, ‘is that a quarter or an eighth rest in the 12th bar, and why is there an extra measure on the second ending?’… it’s brutal.  But in order for real musicians to realistically be able to play with you, it has to exist.  If not, I say, “a-one, a-two, a-three…” and expect them to read my mind. (Or stare at me blankly.  I don’t recommend this approach.  Tends to create awkward silence on stage, which is frowned upon overall.)

Alas, I set off to re-familiarize myself with the notation software I have.  (Sorry Ann, I really just can’t do the hand-written thing.  I’m left handed.  The ink smudges.  And I make way too many mistakes.)  I’ll admit - it was extremely slow going at first.  The first few made me wonder whether I was really up for the challenge.  But then the funniest thing happened –

When you are creating a chart you have to stop, observe and analyze every little detail of a song, and as I went through my songs centimeter by bloody centimeter, I had an epiphany:  I really like my songs!

You may be scratching your head right now saying, ‘Ummm, yeah. I hope so doofus.  You wrote them, remember?’  But here’s the thing.  I wrote all of these songs at least two years ago minimum.  I’ve played them over and over again, gig after gig, to the point where they lose their umph.  At least for me.  I really don’t know how the superstars do it, playing their megahits night after night for years on end.  In their head, I’m pretty sure they’re making mental notes about when to pick up the dry cleaning.

In my ears, at least, my original songs had gotten a little stale and I was really much more motivated to play covers in public.  But it turns out, I remember now not only how much work I put into these songs, but the more I listen and study, the more I actually think they’re good.   Who knew?!?

No plans for a worldwide arena tour anytime soon, but I think I’m ready to start playing these songs again with the energy and excitement they deserve.

More details to come, but you can check out the tour dates here:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Top 8 Things I Adore

Enough with the navel gazing.  All quasi-inspirational gleams of lint have been uncovered and it’s time to quit ruminating on the emotional challenges and upheaval, and just get on with it!

So, in the spirit of gettin’ on, I decided to make a list of 8 things I adore.  These are listed in no particular order, and I reserve the right to extend, edit and apologize as needed.   (And, yes, it’s 8.  I feel the need to rebel against round numbers today.)

1. Shoulder Rub – I could expound on the tension and physiological trends of my body, but let’s just suffice it to say, the way to this girl’s heart is through her shoulders.  I melt, and worship all skilled massage therapists. 

2. Cuppa Joe – Potentially pure addiction, but my friends know there needs to be some coffee readily accessible when I come to visit.  Add a newspaper and some time to kick back and I’m one happy camper.

3. Impromptu Picnic – This is a new addition, but we went to a local park a few weekends ago armed with fresh seafood from across the river, and I realized as I sat sprawled out, stuffing my face and enjoying the sunshine and kids playing, it couldn’t really get any better.

4. My Family – This isn’t your average group of doctors, lawyers and Indian Chiefs here.  My family is one of a kind – intellectuals, theologians, doctors, general servants and savers of mankind.  They set the bar pretty damn high, but I love ‘em for it.

5. Southern Gospel Music – It follows on from the family somewhat.  Being a big part of my childhood, there’s a real gut nostalgia feeling.  But it’s also incredible harmony and emotion you just can’t replace (if you can get past all the blood and dying).

6. Rain – There’s just something about it.  I've always loved it, ever since I was a kid.  Whether I’m walking in it, splashing through it or enjoying it from the dry side of a window.  Magical, peaceful, a beautiful moment for reflection.

7. Mashed Potatoes – Favorite food of all time, hands down.  Whether I’m sick, hungry, or just in the mood for some home cooking, nothing compares with a serving of good homemade mashed potatoes.  (Be forewarned - don’t you dare try and serve me anything that came out of a box.  It just gets my hopes up and I can’t handle the disappointment.)

8. The Airport – I love to travel.  But I also love that feeling when you arrive at the airport: the bustle, the sounds and faces of the world, all wandering through the halls together excited to be going somewhere.  And when you arrive, that feeling of walking out of those sliding doors to greet a brand new destination.  Thrilling!

Ah, makes me smile just thinking of these things... much better. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Just an average kind of gal

Do you ever have those moments when you realize just how squarely you reside in the land of mediocrity, and feel… disappointed?

I have a hard time listening to my own album.  I cringe because I hear and focus on everything that could be better about it.  It doesn’t match my vision of singer/songwriter creative genius unlike the world has ever seen.  It’s just ‘okay’.

See, in kindergarten they told me I could be an astronaut or the next president if I wanted, and the problem is, I believed them.  Maybe it’s the eternal optimist in me, or the bootstraps can-do attitude.  (Don’t get any crazy ideas here – pigs will fly around the time I start voting Republican.)  But I do believe in the human spirit.  And apparently that translates into ridiculously high standards for myself.  I should be able to do it all and be the best at everything!  (Putting your thoughts in writing is the best way to realize your own ridiculous-ness, as proven time and time again in this blog.)

And then it hits me right between my ordinary eyes on my strikingly normal forehead, that I’m just average.  Should I be okay with this? 

Insert ad to buy my album:  It’s great… really!

 I think part of the issue is that I truthfully know I can do better.  And there’s really no excuse for not reaching your potential.  It’s like trying to hold in a cough in church – you’re just annoying everybody with those dainty little unproductive grunts that are just as loud in a giant, silent sanctuary.  Just get on with it and go whole hog! 

Insert funny analogy:  You know I’ve been trying to get back on the exercise fitness bandwagon of late.  And between my fair skin and my lack of training, and an unfortunate closeness of my capillaries to the skin, within 5 minutes of jogging, I tend to look like I’m dying.  Like Santa Claus, but in distress.  It’s embarrassing, but I can’t let that prevent me from ever exercising again.  And I don’t.

So even though the old adage has proven itself more true every day – ‘the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know’ – and I feel like a smaller more insignificant spec on this earth with each passing day, I have to get over myself and keep trying.  Live my life, as average is at may be. 

And I have to quit being so negative.  You know there’s a fancy psychological name for this.  (There’s also a fancy psychological name for students of abnormal psychology such as myself who self-diagnose based on the myriad of symptoms they have to read and digest.)  It’s called cognitive restructuring, and it has to do with the fact that the messages we ‘tell’ ourselves are, it turns out, incredibly important. 

Therefore I, the uncertified doctor with zero credentials, prescribe a tall dose of restructuring my cognitive.  I’m not ready to become a cranky old biddy just yet. 

I think I can, I think I can… chugga-chugga chugga-chugga choo choo!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Me & My Gold Star

My name is Britt and I'm a people-pleaser.  Yes, admission is the first step.  It's downright silly when I stop to think about it.  And quite aggravating when I ponder how much it drives my instincts.  It can be a lovely quality for those around me, I'm sure, but not necessarily something I aspire to in myself.

I had to make a tough decision about my work this week.  Thankfully I had someone around willing to gently point out the fact that I was being an idiot.  Because I knew firmly in my gut the decision I should make.  Yet my instinct was to not let someone down.  Of course, this someone is a service industry employer who doesn't know me from Eve.  So why do I feel loyal to someone I haven't even started working for yet??  Go figure!  I mean, my parents definitely brought me up to be polite and considerate of other's feelings, but it's not like they said, "Though shalt pucker up whilst facing the derriere."  And my brother definitely didn't inherit the trait, so I can't blame parental conditioning.

Being a student again, I've noticed, has brought this bad habit back full force.  I'm 30 years old for chrisssakes.  Yet, you'd think my next meal depended on me getting an A.  Teacher's pet.  It's disgusting, really.  I got 98 / 100 on my last psychology exam.  My professor was kind enough to verbally commend me on my performance.  And so the addiction is triggered - I need another gold star - this time a little bigger and shinier!  So rather than be complacent or satisfied that I'm doing well in the class, what do I do?  Work harder to make sure I get 100 / 100 the next time.  I wouldn't want to let the prof down, you know?  (And I did.  100/100.  No heavenly angels started descending in song, I assure you.)

I'd like to say I have some kind of uncanny drive.  And I do consider myself driven and ambitious.  But reality is you can't please everybody.  It's just not gonna happen.  So the priority has to be you.  What do you need?  What do you want?  What are YOU trying to accomplish?  (The pangs of guilt are creeping up my toes just writing such selfishness!)  Truthfully, I'm afraid those aren't the questions I'm usually asking my 'driven' self.  Instead, I'm often being driven by a desire to make everybody happy.  

Not the healthiest approach.  You do have to look out for yourself.  And objectively, I recognize that.  Especially in the creative / music world, one is required to regularly perch one's self out on a limb - we're talking precarious, unstable, hanging over the power lines twigs here - every time you perform or promote.  Not everybody is going to love you.  Anyone in their right mind knows that is reasonable.  So you have to get over it.  Do what feels right to you - what speaks to you.  And quit trying to please everybody.  Ultimately, people-pleasing just waters you down as a person, when what makes you stand out, or even - God forbid - 'sell' is uniqueness.

Doesn't have to be a bad thing... right?  You're happy about this... right?

I've really been enjoying this blog lately - different specific outlets and context, but the struggles are the same.  It's been so encouraging to know I'm not alone in the trenches.  Check it out: Birth of a Play(wright)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My old friend Edisto

I had the chance to spend last week in South Carolina.  It was a lovely little getaway with an old friend. 

Ahhh, SC, I oft struggle with my affinity for thee.  While I’m embarrassed of your norms and find it difficult to tolerate your politics - Appalachian trail adventures are just the tip of the iceberg, let me tell you - oh, how I love that warm salty air that sticks to your skin like an involuntary perfume the moment you cross the border into the Lowcountry, leaving a sweaty sheen and sparkle in your (now burning) eye. 

I miss the weather.  That’s a fact.  I don’t miss the stinking cockroaches.  Also a fact.

But what else is it that makes me long for that strange little place called Edisto Beach, SC?  It is truly a fascinating destination when you take a moment to stand back and look objectively.  And by fascinating, I mean Rocky Horror Picture Show fascinating… that moment when you’re not sure whether to gasp, laugh or just stand agape.  Beyond the distracting idyllic scenery is one of the most unique communities I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.  

My intention, however, is not to get sidetracked with stories of all the various and sundry characters that call Edisto home... like the drug lord restaurateur or boat captain with his own ‘commune‘ of women, or maybe the Episcopal organist who tends bar at the local watering hole.  I digress.  It’s so very tempting.   You really can’t make this stuff up.

If I’m completely honest, I think part of me misses being a big fish in a small pond.  I’ve never really thought of myself as a small town girl, but I have been raised in those types of places, so it's part of my patchwork.  I love New York City for many many reasons, but I found it to be one of the loneliest places I’ve ever lived.  That sounds like an oxymoron when you’re surrounded by 8 million of your closest friends, but my sense of community was severely lacking. 

By default, small towns like Edisto, on the other hand, place your choice of comrades in the dozens, so inevitably you all kind of end up hanging out together.  (This can be quite annoying when it becomes abundantly clear how quickly everyone knows that you went to the doctor or had a fight with your boyfriend or picked your nose…)  But it’s a blessing when it leads to a weekly jam session with earlier referenced cast of characters at said watering hole.  An assortment of folks from all walks of life who stumble together because they just want to play some music.  

Whalin’ at Whaleys – our self-appointed title for the event – didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.  It was winter, the tourists were long gone and we didn’t have anything better to do.  I wasn’t the ringleader.  In fact, I didn’t have much experience playing outside of church prior to this.   And it drew me in like a drug.  I couldn’t get enough.  

True community, true musicians, and a true desire to do nothing but share and play great music.  No pretense, no politics – just pure unadulterated joy.  I think I’ve spent most of my music career since then trying to recreate that magic. 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Props to Pops

I had the chance to sing at my Dad’s church last Sunday.  It’s the first time I’ve done that in a while.  Logistically it just wasn’t possible much when I was in New York, but it's a fantastic place to perform.

That sounds very heathen of me saying ‘perform’.  Thankfully my missionary grandmother - who would be on the fast track to sainthood had she gone the Catholic route - doesn’t read my blog, because for some reason in the Christian music world you’re supposed to give all glory to God, be a pure vessel with no ego or thought to how you sound.  Kind of like professional athletes.  (That’s a funny mental picture, Bill Gaither and Lebron James.  If you don't know Bill Gaither, look him up.  An icon in the world I come from.)

In any case I think it’s a bunch of hooey to pretend like you don’t care how you sound.  Of course you want to sound good, even if you want to spread a message in the process.  And if you don't sound good, people are preoccupied with when you're going to stop inflicting pain on their ears.

So, at the risk of being a heathen, I can tell you that outside of church I have yet to find that devoutly captive audience of 100+ people.  At least not yet.  Maybe that day will come.  But usually I’m competing with drinks, conversation, or the couple making out at the bar.

Playing in church always has the nostalgic feeling of a homecoming because that’s where I started, that’s what I know and it’s a scenario that plays to my strengths.  After all, knowing your audience can go a long way.  And when you grow up amongst them in the pews, you learn what flies and what doesn't.  The imposing glare of little purple-haired old ladies who have been given the authority to inflict pain and embarrassment on you as needed will teach one this quite quickly, I can tell you from experience.  Don't let those wigs or dentures fool you!

Admittedly, I’m also lucky because I’m playing in my Dad’s church, which means I am THE preacher’s daughter.  Actually now that I think about it, maybe that’s why everybody’s so nice and complimentary - uh oh...

Alas, it puts me in an ideal situation because, not only am I the home team favorite, but the tradition is that Dad and I actually work together to tailor a song (or two) with his sermon.  Often this means I learn a tune for the occasion but there’s give and take both ways.  I’ve written songs that he’s tailored a sermon around too.  The end result is that my music performance is truly integrated into the service - hence the rapt attention - placing added significance and attention to the meaning of the songs.  This is a feat challenging to accomplish outside of this setting, let me tell you. And when it happens, for the performer, it is such a splendid occassion.

But here’s where I have to give props to pops.  For promotional and PR purposes, it’s convenient to refer to myself as the preacher’s kid and he, the Southern Baptist preacher.  And I must shamefully admit, I let people conjure up their own images of what that means.  It’s fun, imaginative and makes a good back story.  But my father is far from the typical Southern Baptist minister.  He has let me be me, despite all the mistakes I’ve made along the way, and laid a foundation for me to live on both sides of the proverbial heathen / secular fence.  This is where I could easily digress into church lingo that I have to be reminded not everyone understands.  But let’s just say there’s no Footloose drama going on here.

The stereotypes frustrate me, especially as I get older.  Either I'm a Pollyanna Christian who must have conservative values and right-wing politics, or I'm a Liberal Heathen who by necessity must discount the entire institution, its people and all it stands for.  I'm tired of running away from one stereotype or the other.  I live them both and I don't fit entirely in either one.   

I’ve been allowed and encouraged by my parents to live my life.  And I’m sure my father has caught some grief for that over the years.  (And I’m leaving Mom out of this for now because in truth she deserves a blog post all to herself, but she gets equal credit here.)  Reality is, the foundation I was taught was one of open-mindedness, acceptance and love - in a Christian environment no less!  Why does that seem like such an oxymoron these days??

I was taught to live my life with integrity.  I was taught  that there is not a pre-determined path of where that is supposed to lead me.  I never realized how difficult it was for them to carve out this undetermined path and let me out of 'the box'.  But looking back, boy, am I damn appreciative of that!