There is a very plain word which describes this revolutionary new system I’ve been putting into place in my life. “Routine”. I know – it’s not very exciting and it doesn’t really seem revolutionary at all. The word occurred to me this morning as I was exercising. I thought “this is what normal people do all the time”. I’ve always seen the word “routine” as a bad word – as bad as the word “normal”. But here I am waking up at the same time every day to do my morning ritual, then scheduling my office and meal hours. I started on March first and it’s been two weeks now. The only one part of the daily plan that I have yet to implement is the 10pm “Relax” time. So far I have continued working each night until I was too tired to go on any longer and then finally put myself to bed. I think I’ll get around to the relaxing part eventually. (maybe once taxes are done) Routine. There is something peaceful about it – and something maddening as well. Surely the schedule is helping me make sense of the otherwise shapeless hours which make up my daily life. I’m feeling a little bit more in control – and I’ve been quite productive! Part of me wants to be constantly on the road where I have no control over the circumstances and timing, where the scenery changes each moment and there are new faces and names to learn each day. Part of me thrives in that environment. But there are other parts of me – parts that crave that elusive thing called “home”, parts that really want a routine, that enjoy having a little control. I am the constant balancing act of all these parts and my pendulum has been swinging in one direction for a very long time. Now I’m at the other extreme – the extreme called “normal” and (at least for now) I’m feeling quite at home.
We crawled up the fat belly of the Ozarks at twilight, listening to the reckless, stompy singalongs of native sons, Mountain Sprout, just to catch the mood. The fog thickened as the winding road took us higher and closer to Yonder Mountain Harvest Fest.
I was wrestling my own heart and having a hard time taking my own advice. (“two minds made up, both belong to me…”) Upon arriving, the rain had already turned every step to thick mud and I was stuck in it from the start, spinning my wheels. (this happened both literally and figuratively). My inner vision was as foggy as the horizon.
Moments like this always make me wonder – am I mimicking the environment or is it mimicking me? Am I manifesting this weather or is the weather stirring up my personal storm? Or is it all unrelated? The winds began to pick up and I shivered as I passed a car with the radio on. Paul Simon crooned, “You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away…”
So on one of the great old mountains, surrounded by ominous clouds and banjo music, I found myself slipping.
It wasn’t the weather, but I will spare you the details, as I always do when it comes to the specifics of my pity party.
Walking like a ghost, I stumbled on a young band of boys playing in a tent. I listened and I heard some wisdom carried by a warm voice, so I stayed. A lyric needled through my fog – “It’s not where you are, it’s what you find.” I felt a little lift, a sip of fresh air, and started looking outward instead of inward. Maybe I will find something.
I held on to this thought but the weather persisted. Later I was backstage (in a larger tent) getting ready to sit in with some friends. I heard the announcement that things were shutting down. The storm was gonna hit hard and fast; “40-60 mph winds”, they said; “take shelter in your vehicles”, they said. “we’re gonna have to evacuate this tent”, they said. I had no vehicle nearby and I overheard my friends discussing how they didn’t have room in their vehicles for all the “extra” people that were there. (I was one of those “extra” people). Splosh! My heart sank.
In hindsight, it was ridiculous for me to feel so scared and lonely. It was the slip sliding that made me forget to look up and around me. God had not suddenly abandoned me to be carried away in a storm! My friends were not about to close their doors saying, “sorry! No room for you!”. How did I go from enlightened, trusting, brave and unshakable to this quivering, cowardly, frail little thing? Slip sliding.
My friend Amberlee (who was dressed up like a bee and who also didn’t have a vehicle) called me over to sit beside her on a tarp on the ground. She put her arms around me. I said, “where are we gonna go?”. She looked at me thoughtfully and said “Just be.”. I took a breath, and a moment later I realized her joke. (she said “Just BEE.”) and we both started laughing out loud. For such a cheesy pun I probably laughed too hard, but it felt good. And that’s what shook me out of my funk.
My husband Randall, drummer Loren and our friend Ryan suddenly showed up (“we found you!!”), a kind fella let us all into his RV, the storm came and passed (nothing compared to the threat), the lights came back on and the music started back up again.
I said something in my first “Happiness Project” entry about being more consistent in my practices. But consistency isn’t truly possible. The practices build a strong core that draws me back into balance when I’m out of whack. But I get by with a little help from my friends.
-This is Amberlee, Andrew (from Wookiefoot) and I, waiting for the storm
(Day 1 of a five week long tour/ Month 2 of my “Happiness Project”)
I am a constant traveler but I don’t travel lightly. I carry God with me.
Today, once again, I am on the road and as I embark on this outer journey I am, as always, carving inward roads as well. The calendar and the map agree where this vehicle will deliver me each day. The route and the distance had been calculated before these wheels even began to roll.
I could go passively along, put my body in the seat and numb my mind with entertainment, news, or any mundane thing. I could use these captive hours of transport to keep busy – to stir the bees of ambition and let them buzz about their constant work. I could focus inwardly and mirror-gaze myself into hypnosis, for better or worse. I have done all of these things.
But I believe in change. I didn’t always, but I’m trying to keep believing that I can change. I’m practicing becoming who I am born to be. I am seeking answers in the pursuit of happiness. So I’m setting my intention for this tour (and from here forward) to draw nearer to God – to bring Him into my daily experience with mindfulness.
That is what I mean when I say I am carrying God with me. I do believe that God is always with and in and all around me. So, how do you carry the air? How do you bear the weight of God?
1) Pick Him up like a babe – Adore him.
(Worship just means paying attention – have you seen these autumn leaves?! Praise comes naturally.)
2) Put Him on like armor – Take courage, be strong and fearless, knowing all things are possible.
3) Drink His presence like medicine – Instead of whining or turning to the left and right seeking comfort in physical things, turn and look up.
4) Lift His words to the top of your mind – Elevate! Meditate! (Remember.)
5) Carry on a constant conversation – Pray like a river flowing always towards the source. (I love using The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle to keep me steady)
Like precious cargo, like a key in my pocket, like a torch, like a memory, like a tune, I am carrying God with me.
I got a little behind on my blogging recently because of illness. But I’m still on course with my Happiness Project and it’s a new month. The focus for September was marriage. For October I’m focusing on spirituality, while trying to continue practicing all of the things I learned last month.
Doing a happiness project through a bout of sickness is a great way to really test the strength of one’s convictions.
But happiness has more to do with perspective than position. Perspective is painted by your words. In my opinion, words are losing their meaning in our culture. People just say shit all the time – they are constantly talking. Everyone is “so busy”, everyone is “sick”, everyone is “stressed out”. The Bible says “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”. Words have power. If you think about something often it will spill out of your mouth like a fountain and if you repeat something out loud often it will take root deeper and deeper in you. It works in both directions.
Listen to yourself – just observe the topics and the tone that frequent your conversations.
I recently signed a “no complaining” contract so I’m learning the art of rephrasing. Here’s what I have discovered:
The first step is silence.
Don’t say it when you think it. Then the opportunity for rephrasing becomes possible. You have to catch the falling jar before the milk is spilt.
There is always a better way to say what you are trying to express. Twitter is actually a great way to practice the rephrase. I was not a fan of Twitter for a long time, but my manager really encouraged me to tweet more frequently. As I started doing it I realized it’s a good exercise in positive observation and careful wording. I look around me, think of all the things I could possibly share about this particular place and time, (maybe even take a picture), weed out any that sound like whining, whittle it down to fit 140 characters and post. What I thought would be a time-waster actually turned out to be enlightening. I even started posting #twaikus (twitter haikus) which is a great challenge for a wordsmith.
(BTW, you can follow me on Twitter @fiddlebird!)
There is always time to stop and rephrase. Rephrase your words and you will reshape your mind. One step on the long journey to happiness.
(photo taken on our wedding anniversary at a poorly attended show in a less-than-romantic situation… repainted in rainbow hues, enjoying a bottle of champagne, smiling – its all in how you look at it!)
People often ask me about life (and love) on the road. Some say emphatically (as if it’s an obvious observation) that it must be so hard to be married on the road. Others, with the same assuredness tell me how wonderful it must be – “how lucky you are!” The reality of it is that it’s both. And I always feel lucky, even when it’s hard.
Some say, “My husband/wife and i would drive each other crazy if we were together all the time!” But we’re not really together all the time. He’s driving while I’m sitting in the far back of the van; he’s chatting with the promoter while I’m talking to fans at the merch table. Often I see him at the end of the night and ask “how was your day?”.
We meet in the middle of the music – I can always find him there.
We’re celebrating our 6th wedding anniversary today in the middle of an east coast tour. Last night at a dive pub in Hartford, CT we had a toast on stage with a shot of Cafe Patron at midnight. Today we are in the van for 4 hours on our way to Wilmington, DE for a show at World Cafe. It’s not all that romantic, but it’s nothing short of beautiful. This is the reality of love lived in the day to day and we find small ways to celebrate all the time. Today is special so we will have chocolate and champagne and our own hotel room.
These have been the best years of my life and things are getting better all the time. We are learning to love every day because we are in it for the long haul. It’s not any harder or easier than love ever is.
In honor of our anniversary I thought I’d include here the lyrics to the newest song The Ragbirds been playing lately:
Your heart’s an extraordinary drum keeping ordinary time.
What a lucky rhythm that we keep between your heart and mine.
I might lose mind trying to rhyme with a kiss
How lucky to find you are as crazy as this
You drum on my body, on the steering wheel
And I—– know exactly how you feel!
(your heart’s an extraordinary drum)
Is heaven like a hospital or is it like a parade?
Will time still keep rhythm? Will anybody count the days?
Well, it’s over my head and that’s all I can say
I feel heaven shining when that drum starts to play
(your heart’s an extraordinary drum)
At the same time I began my Happiness Project this month I also started a 6 week course with my mentor, Cari Cole. (I’ve always been an over-achiever!) I honestly thought these things would go hand-in-hand, and it turns out they do.
To help me apply some of the things she has been teaching me, I picture the landscape of my life.
1.) Cari advised me to treat everyone (in my life that means fans and strangers but also the sound guy, the show promoter, bartender, crew, band mates, opening band, etc) as if they are a guest in my home. It’s not just about being nice – I’m always nice (well almost always) but I’m shy, distracted, self-conscious. The breakthrough is in the concept of the space around me being my “home”, wherever I am. When people walk through my front door I don’t act shy. I try to make them feel at home. I make sure to introduce people, show them around, offer them a drink. Applying this attitude to my daily environment is revolutionary and it’s working! Try it for yourself. The people I love being around most do this naturally.
2.) To have a stunning soul-garden you have to weed out all complaints. At the beginning of her “Step up to the Spotlight” Artist Development program Cari has each student sign a “no complaining” contract. I don’t sign any contract lightly. And this is not an easy task. It helps me to think of my soul as a garden I am tending to. Negative thoughts are little weed sprouts. If you pull them out right away they won’t grow into ugly, full-blooming complaints, strangling the peonies and cluttering up the landscape. A good gardener just pays attention, and takes pride in the breathtaking scenery he creates.
(makes me think of my favorite Seth and May song “Tend Your Mind”)
3.) Visualize the scene you want to paint yourself into. This sounds fluffy and some people tune out with this kind of talk. But those who practice this mindset understand its power. Especially if you are like me and have a tendency to bully yourself with criticism. I’ve been on stage – in the middle of a song – and this voice will say “You have no business with this microphone in front of you!”. Worse things even, that I won’t mention here. (that voice is the “bully” I sing about) So I chase these thoughts out, but if I don’t replace them with better thoughts, they jump right back in.
Taking time daily to visualize myself beautifully, successfully, and effortlessly performing to a large, eager, happy crowd – this is strong medicine. It’s changing me. Sometimes I just can’t do it, but on those days I just move on. (It’s ok to slip, just keep climbing!)
My home is all around me, my garden is a joy to tend to, and my horizon is orange-rimmed with light and promise.
I am happy right now.
I know l, I know, “Good for you”, right? Why brag about it? Because I am practicing happiness and it’s working – and that’s exciting. And like every person who has had a breakthrough (think of those commercials: “I just lost 100 pounds and you can too!”, “I just got my college degree with three kids and a full time job and you can too!“) I am just buzzing with the feeling that “if I can do this, anybody can!”
In the Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin mentions among the criteria for happiness the “atmosphere of growth”.
It’s all relative to where you are, but if you feel like you are growing then you will be happier.
I started my “Happiness Project” officially on September 1st and my focus for the month is on my marriage. I made a list of intentions which I haven’t shared because the details are private and they aren’t important to the big picture. It’s the process and results I want to share. The point is, I fall short of my intentions regularly but it doesn’t make me feel bad because I can see improvement overall. It’s the atmosphere of growth that is bringing me joy.
Celebrating the small successes along the road of growth encourages more forward momentum. It has been 15 days and I am making real progress. Most importantly, it feels like a sustainable pattern.
So, besides focusing on my marriage, what am I doing to “practice happiness”?
–Exercise. I am not a naturally athletic or outdoorsy person (In other words, am naturally averse to exercise) This is new for me. I’ve tried many exercise plans before but never stick to it. Here’s the difference this time. I’m mixing it up daily and I’m having fun!
Riding my bike takes me back to being a child again. It’s something Randy and I love to do together (so it’s double points) and he often suggests we go for a ride. I’ve also been dancing more, running, waking early to use the elliptical in the hotel workout room, and I practice yoga (which also helps with my singing)
Music helps a LOT! Here’s a link to a workout playlist I created on 8tracks.com.
Using a free app called Nexercise, I earn points for exercising which add up to rewards. Also seeing my progress (and my friends progress) helps me stick to it. The app keeps track of my speed and distance so I can see my improvement. Even housework counts!
–Blogging. This is making me happier. (Thank you for reading, by the way! : )
I am happiest during the periods of my life when I keep a journal, but blogging adds two extra benefits. First, obviously, I’m sharing my feelings with more than just a white page. Second, there is more accountability to keep it up. My readers keep asking for more.
In my next blog I’ll talk more about the things I’ve been practicing to keep forward momentum and growth in my career.
Seeing, measuring, sharing and getting rewarded for improvement expand that “atmosphere of growth”.
Life feels very circular but if you look more closely you realize it’s not circles, but spirals. I’ve been hurled through enough terrifyingly downward spirals that I’m making it a daily, conscious choice to project upwards.
When people ask me how I am I say “getting better all the time.”
“Pursuing happiness, and I did, and I still do, is not at all the same as being happy – which I think is fleeting, dependent on circumstances, and a bit bovine. If the sun is shining, stand in it – yes, yes, yes. Happy times are great but happy times pass… The pursuit of happiness is more elusive; it is life-long, and it is not goal-centered.”
From “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” by Jeanette Winterson
This book drew me to it. Maybe it was the irony of encountering the question-of-a-title in the midst of a happiness-focused project. “Why be happy…?”.
I have already mentioned in my last post the idea of improving my marriage by becoming happier. That’s one reason. In her book “The Happiness Project”, Gretchen Rubin mentions lots of other reasons – like being kinder, more charitable, more likable, more able to handle life’s challenges.
Last night we performed at a 45th wedding anniversary celebration party in a hangar on Beaver Island. Before our show began our dear friend Joddy Croswhite approached the microphone with his usual reverence. With a voice like an ancient priest he shook his long white beard as he chanted. After a moment of improvisation, he sang an accapella song that really spoke to me. It was originally sung by the Chenille Sisters and I’ve been humming it all morning.
“May I suggest, May I suggest to you, May I suggest this is the best time of your life?”…
My favorite song to sing (amongst all my own songs) is called “Good” and it carries a similar message. It is all about realizing that this is as good as this life gets. Right now, this moment, as I sit alongside my band mates on a ferry crossing Lake Michigan’s wide blue middle – I am happy.
We don’t need goals or reasons. Happiness pursues us too. We just need to notice.
I think that the pursuit of happiness is only really working when you realize that every moment is it. I’m only just beginning, but this is it. This not the end, but this is it. We have already arrived. And tomorrow we will arrive again. Until we finally arrive. Happy.
THE ALTER EGO “Happiness Project” #4
Living a life in the public eye, to even a very small extent, gives me a sense of bettering myself for a higher purpose. If I couldn’t share my grief in a song and know that the song helped someone else who was grieving, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. The process has strengthened me. I am not just living and reflecting on my experiences for my own benefit. I am living and sharing this life with others. People may not know the personal stories behind the songs – they don’t need to. The catharsis is in the writing and the joy is in the sharing. It is not so important to me to be understood, but to be heard is everything.
There are people hearing my songs, reading my writings, and looking at the pictures I post as I travel. Because I know that, I know that I am not on this road alone. There are even others documenting my life from the outside – the tapers, video guys, photographers, journalists, djs. They send me evidence that what I did the previous night was real – little souvenirs – images of my own face smiling, my own voice singing, my own words quoted in black and white. Sometimes the “me” that wakes up in the morning all crooked and disturbed, looks at the souvenirs of “me” from last night and is reminded – “Oh yeah! That’s really me.”
In my “Happiness Project”, I have one advantage that a non-performer doesn’t have: I have an alter ego – and that’s how I can envision (and actually practice) being the person that I want to become.
On-stage I take on the joyful, light persona of that alter ego – my best self. “Ebird” is brave, easy-going, always smiling – an ageless fairy creature out of childhood visions. She has been around the world and sings with a wisely wide perspective, songs about hope and love, songs that challenge and inspire. Don’t get me wrong – I am not pretending to be someone else. I am merely projecting the spirit of my true self through my own songs and the image that those songs suggest. Every performer does this – some more consciously than others. I am happiest on stage and so my joy comes naturally.
But it’s not “Ebird” that stays up all night working, finally coming to bed with a mind full of worries, dumping my anxieties and insecurities on my poor husband who’s trying to peacefully read a book. Out of love for him, if for no other reason, I need to get more deliberate about practicing happiness. To “Be Erin” means to “Be EBIRD” – my projected happy self. She is no less “me”. She is me, fulfilled.
This is the first of what will be a series of video blogs where I break down some of The Ragbirds songs and perform them solo, with stories. Inspired by “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin I’ve been sharing my own process of the pursuit of happiness in my recent posts. But for me happiness is intrinsically and inextricably tied to my music. So to expand on the word pictures I will be painting in my written entries, I will also be overcoming my fear of video cameras to share some songs with you. Enjoy!