Thursday, December 11, 2014

Still searching for my Corner of the Sky

I post a lot of motivational quotes on my social media sites and receive messages from people, thanking me for being so thoughtful. I'm glad they get enjoyment and inspiration from  my posts, but in reality, I'm not posting those quotes for them. I'm posting them for myself.


I've struggled with dark moods all of my life, and always felt as though I didn't belong; not in my family, not in my school, not even with my friends. I felt like the proverbial "bump on a log," never quite fitting in, never quite getting the joke, or getting it hours, days or even years later. Case in point: in junior high school, a classmate signed my yearbook, "To a black-haired blonde." I didn't understand what he meant at the time. Nearly four decades later, I came across his message while thumbing through the yearbook and it finally hit me: HE THOUGHT I WAS AN AIRHEAD. And like an airhead, I had no clue.

Oh, I know I'm smart enough. Okay, maybe I'm more savvy than smart.I have street smarts and maybe a smidge of common sense. I've done a lot of stupid things in my life, so maybe less than a smidge of common sense. I've lived a fairly charmed life and my career spans stints in the recording industry, public relations and broadcast news. I never underwent special training for the jobs I had; I picked them up intuitively and always met people who (knowingly and unknowingly) helped me succeed at each position. I made friends along the way, but still felt as though I didn't "belong."


When I dabbled in community theater while living in Hunstville, Alabama, I had the good fortune to be cast as Fastrada in the musical "Pippin." I didn't know much about the show before I auditioned, but was told my vocal style would fit the role, so I tried out. After the cast was selected, we got together as a group and watched a VHS version of the Broadway show, starring Chita Rivera as Fastrada, Ben Vereen as the Narrator, and William Katt as Pippin. When I heard his song, "Corner of the Sky," for the first time, my heart ached and tears poured down my face. This song perfectly described how I'd been feeling since I could form thoughts.



Nearly 25 years have passed since that experience, and while I've achieved success in my work and have a loving family, I still feel as though I don't belong anywhere. Sometimes, that feeling sparks a deep sense of loneliness that lingers for days, even weeks at a time. There's no logical explanation. It's been labeled "Depression," and I've been given medication to "even things out," but medication has never helped. It's dampened things down, turned me into a zombie, left me able to cope but not feel. Without medication, I feel very deeply, sometimes too deeply. I try to plaster on a smile (grimace) and embrace the routine that is my day. All the while, my brain works overtime, peppering me with criticism and blowing even the smallest mistake out of proportion (MISTAKE = FAILURE). 

I just started taking St. John's Wort to see whether it would help mute that critical voice and even out the chemical imbalance in my brain without turning me into one of the Walking Dead. 

Meanwhile, my heart still yearns to belong somewhere. 

I yearn to find my corner of the sky.





"Corner of the Sky" - Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
From the musical "Pippin"

Everything has its season
Everything has its time
Show me a reason and I'll soon show you a rhyme
Cats fit on the windowsill
Children fit in the snow
Why do I feel I don't fit in anywhere I go?

Rivers belong where they can ramble
Eagles belong where they can fly
I've got to be where my spirit can run free
Got to find my corner of the sky

Every man has his daydreams
Every man has his goal
People like the way dreams have
Of sticking to the soul
Thunderclouds have their lightning
Nightingales have their song
And don't you see I want my life to be 
Something more than long....

Rivers belong where they can ramble
Eagles belong where they can fly
I've got to be where my spirit can run free
Got to find my corner of the sky

So many men seem destined 
To settle for something small
But I won't rest until I know I'll have it all
So don't ask where I'm going
Just listen when I'm gone
And far away you'll hear me singing
Softly to the dawn:

Rivers belong where they can ramble
Eagles belong where they can fly
I've got to be where my spirit can run free
Got to find my corner of the sky



Monday, December 8, 2014

Two murders. One legacy.

December 8th is an emotional date for millions of music fans around the world. On this date, not one, but two icons were cut down in the prime of their lives and careers.

December 8, 1980. New York City. Mark David Chapman walks up to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, as they leave their limo and head toward their apartment building. Chapman pulls out a gun as they walk past, and shoots John five times in the back. He's rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, where he's pronounced dead.

(John Lennon: October 9, 1940 - December 8, 1980)
(Photo: John Lennon Archives)

December 8, 2004. Columbus, Ohio. Former Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott is performing with his new band, Damageplan, when Nathan Gale storms the stage and shoots Darrell in the head three times, killing him instantly. He then continues to fire from the stage, killing three more people and injuring seven others, before a police officer manages to shoot and killed him.

("Dimebag" Darrell Abbott: August 20, 1966 - December 8, 2004)
(Photo: Supern4ut/Flickr)

These two have been remembered across every social media platform today, but as I read tributes, I noticed something. Many of those who were remembering John didn't mention Darrell, while those remembering Darrell seemed to feel the need to justify why they're not paying homage to John.

As far as I'm concerned, these two extremely talented musicians share a similar legacy: creating groundbreaking music that helped change the landscape of their respective genres. Both were struck down way too soon (John was 40; Darrell was 38). Both were branching out on their own, following careers with wildly successful bands (John: Beatles; Darrell: Pantera). 

The Beatles wanted a Revolution. Pantera wanted to Cast a Shadow*

Both bands inspired musical revolutions of sorts, and the deaths of both men continue to cast tremendous shadows in the hearts of their legions of fans.

Give both of these men their due. 
Mourn them equally. 
Celebrate their legacies fully. 
Blast their music loudly.

But, please, don't feel as though you must mourn just one and forsake the other. The world is big enough for both, and your heart should be big enough, too.


*Note: I took liberties with this song title to make it fit the sentence structure. The exact song title is "I'll Cast a Shadow"

Monday, September 1, 2014

Is it writer's block... or something else?

I've suffered from? with? writer's block since March. I have a "to do" list of stories to write, as well as work on my second novel. However, every time I sat down to my computer and opened a blank document, my mind went blank and remained that way until I gave up, shut down my laptop and walked away, silently berating myself about my lack of motivation or downright laziness (depending upon what day it was). 



I know I'm not the only one afflicted with writer's block. People have written about this affliction for centuries, which made me wonder what causes it? I took to Google to find out. Maybe by researching and writing about this, I might find some way to break through my inability to create, and maybe even help someone else along the way.

Here we go.

According to the Random House Dictionary, "writer's block" is defined as "a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play or other work." The website "Grammar.com" says "the expression 'writer's block' was coined and popularized by American psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler in the 1940's"



So, we know the meaning and apparent origin of the phrase "writer's block;" now, on to what may cause it. Google has more than ten pages of links containing possible explanations, as well as ways to overcome it. I decided to begin with a post on Yale University's website. As I read the post, I realized this pertained to the writing of term papers. You can read all of the tips by clicking on the link, however, two causes and solutions caught my eye:

Cause

  • You're anxious about writing your paper

Solutions

  • Focus your energy by rehearsing the task in your head
  • Consciously stop the non-productive comments running through your head by replacing them with productive ones
  • If you have some "rituals" for writing success (listening to classical music, etc.), use them


Cause

  • You are so stressed out, you can't seem to put a wordon the page

Solutions:

  • Stretch! Stretch as many muscle groups as possible
  • Breathe deeply. Close your eyes; fill your chest cavity slowly by taking four or five short deep breaths. Hold each breath until it hurts, and then let it out slowly
  • Use a calming word or mental image to focus on while relaxing. If you choose a word, be careful not to use an imperative. Don't command yourself to "Relax!" or "Calm Down!"


The University of Illinois at Urbana offers a broader explanation of possible causes and tips to overcome writer's block. The article also illustrates "Weak strategies for dealing with writer's block," and offers more effective ways to get back on track. The bullet points are below - click on the link above to read the complete article.

Here are the "weak" strategies:

  • Using trial and error
  • Insisting on a "perfect" draft
  • Waiting for inspiration
  • Using words looking for an idea

Here are the "strong" strategies:

  • Taking notes
  • Freewriting/Brainstorming
  • Piecework
  • "What I Really Mean Is" (WIRMI)
  • "Satisficing" (satisfy + suffice)

A website called "io9" offers this ambitious headline: "The 10 Types of Writer's Block (and How to Overcome Them." Here's the list. To read each explanation, read the story by clicking on the title.

  1. You can't come up with an idea
  2. You have a ton of ideas but can't commit to any of them, and they all peter out
  3. You have an outline but can't get through this one part of it
  4. You're stuck in the middle and have no idea what happens next
  5. You have a terrible feeling your story took a wrong turn a hundred pages back and you only just hit a dead end
  6. You're bored with all these characters, they won't do anything
  7. You keep imagining all the reasons people are going to say "your story sucks," and it paralyzes you
  8. You can't think of the right words for what you're trying to convey in this one paragraph
  9. You had this incredibly cool story in your head, and now you're turning it into words on your screen and it's suddenly dumb
  10. You're revising your work, and you can't see your way past all those blocks of text you already wrote

Then, there are others who believe "writer's block" doesn't exist or is a poor excuse for some other, underlying problem. At the website "Writing World," David Taylor starts out claiming he doesn't believe in writer's block, then goes on to describe what looks suspiciously like possible causes for writer's block and suggestions as to how to overcome them.


So far, I haven't found anything to help overcome my particular brand of "writer's block," real or imagined. So... maybe there's another type of malaise plaguing my creative mind. If there's a bright spot in all this, I guess by researching this topic and posting the results, I've technically written something.

Perhaps all is not lost, after all. I'll leave you with these wise words by the extremely prolific Stephen King:



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams' death sparks global "group therapy session" on Facebook -- AND IT'S AWESOME

Robin Williams (1951 - 2014)

Earlier this week, we learned about Robin Williams' untimely death, apparently by his own hand. Immediately, a number radio and television talk show hosts (national and local), as well as a few "high-profile" people, took to the airwaves and social media to criticize Robin for taking his own life, throwing around words like "selfish," "thoughtless" and "coward." One Seattle-area talk show host even said that he could understand someone committing suicide because he/she had no access to mental health care or treatment, but couldn't understand how someone like Robin Williams, who could afford to pay for treatment, would resort to suicide instead. (Note: this is not a direct quote, but pretty close).

Meanwhile, others  rushed onto social media to express shock and sadness over the news, and to share their favorite memories of Robin, along with which of his many film roles resonated most strongly with them. They also shared their own struggles with depression or experiences with friends and loved ones they had lost to suicide. Some posts were extremely brief - a line or two. Others were long enough to be considered blog posts.

What happened next is astounding.

People who shared their struggles and experiences found response after response from others who had faced similar struggles and experiences; or words of encouragement from those who have never known the suffocating pull of depression. Some responded by sharing their favorite uplifting quotes, or a simple gesture, like the word "Hugs" or a heart symbol (<3). 

But they responded.

Since Monday, Facebook has been one global "group therapy session." People have been surprised to learn some of their most successful colleagues and  friends have faced demons ranging from addiction to depression to failed suicide attempts. They've learned some of the personalities, artists and musicians they respect most have lived with the heartache of losing a loved one. However, everyone who shared a painful secret learned one important thing:

THEY ARE NOT ALONE.

Below, I've re-posted some of the most touching status updates and posts from this week (with the posters' permission).  If something resonates with you, please feel free to share it. If you feel like joining this conversation, please use the "comments" section below.

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE IS HURTING AND YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO, CALL THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 800-273-8255

No matter how much you're hurting, please know this:

  • You are loved and needed by someone, whether you realize it or not.
  • You are surrounded by others who may not have walked in your shoes, but want to hear your story and find ways to help you regain your footing.
  • And most importantly:  YOU ARE NOT ALONE.


A few Facebook posts that generated much conversation and incredible sharing:

Jon Horton:
So we have come to a time in our society where suddenly everyone is talking about mental health issues. It took someone we universally love, to become the victim, before the public at large, takes notice.

Look at your Facebook feed. Yes that one that defaults to the Top Stories instead of the one you really want to see. Post after post has a picture or scene or quote from Robin Williams. Many people are screaming for people to acknowledge that Mental Health is to be taken seriously.

For some of us, it's a daily reality. Whether it is depression, or bi-polar, or anger, or anxiety, or pondering ending the pain like Robin did.

Awareness... It takes a celebrity committing suicide to make us look inside as a society, all the while never considering that stranger, acquaintance, buddy, best friend, soulmate, may be in just as much pain, just as much fear, just as much closeness to the edge, may be in the same situation.

We all need to be there for each other... Mental health situation or no.

If someone who brings such joy, is in such pain, something is wrong.

We need to ask ourselves, are we kind? Do we consider others before we consider ourselves? Do we focus on others instead of the person in the mirrors?

If you have the bandwidth, to use today's term, to reach out to others, why don't you? Are we scared that we might catch something? Are we afraid that the person might make a negative difference in our lives? Or consider, the fact that we might be the difference in saving one.

Be kind to one another. Don't be afraid to listen. Don't be afraid to share.
And if you, yourself, is the one in pain... Don't be afraid to share your feelings. Just telling one person can be the genesis of change... The beginning of the healing... The start to the journey.

We only have one life. Take care of yourself. Take care of the ones you love. Take care of each other.

The smile you see may be the cover for intolerable pain. See beyond the smile. See the person. Be there. Tell them they are never alone.

Because, as Robin said, the fear we express is the fear of dying alone, when, instead, our greatest fear is that those around us will leave us feeling alone.

You, are not alone.


Meg Jarrell:

Reading many of the posts from my friends the last 24 hours has been hard. I've seen words from so many people I l care about that have struggled with or continue to struggle with depression that it seems to be everywhere. My heart breaks for them, but I'm trying my hardest to see the bright side of the equation too. The side that applauds their bravery and honesty in sharing their fight.

So instead getting sucked into my sadness, I'm working hard to find hope that when they face darkness, they will know they're not alone. The hope that if I can help, they'll be brave enough to reach out and let me know. And if I can't, that they find someone who can.

When did life get so hard?


Kevin Miles:
Depression is often a tunnel of overwhelming despair that is too long and too dark to see the light, even if you know it's there. 

If you know someone you care about who is in that tunnel, don't assume you know the depth of their pain. 

Do everything in your power to help them get the help they need and do everything you know to make sure they know they matter.



Michael Keeves:
I Am A Safe Place. 

I declare that if any of you need to talk or fear you may be dealing with depression, I am here for you. I am a safe place. 

I encourage all of you to declare this. 

All we have is each other. 

#Iamasafeplace


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Vacation = Eye Candy time

My day job is on hiatus next week and so am I. I still have 32 days of PTO (planned time off) to use before the year's end, so I chose to use five of those days to sit at home, catch up on some writing, reading, and "eye candy" time, or as I prefer to call it: "research" for my next novel.

So far, my "research" has included the following:

"Coriolanus" - movie - "EC" subjects: Gerard Butler, Ralph Fiennes and James Nesbitt (reciting Shakespeare)


"Daniel Deronda" - mini series - "EC" subject: Hugh Dancy ( as George Elliot's tortured hero)



"Paris Je T'aime" - movie - "EC" subject: Rufus Sewell (albeit extremely briefly)


"Zen" - series - "EC" subject: Rufus Sewell (older and hotter. Plays a sexy Italian detective named "Aurelius")


"Kidnapped" - series - "EC" subjects: Jeremy Sisto, Linus Roache, Timothy Hutton (yes, yes, and yes)



My "research to-do" list includes:

"Dark City" - movie - "EC" subject: Rufus Sewell
"The Very Thought of You" - movie - "EC" subjects: Joseph Fiennes, Rufus Sewell
"The Escapist" - movie - "EC" subjects: Joseph Fiennes, Damian Lewis
"Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead" - movie - "EC" subjects: Tim Roth, Gary Oldman

... and that's just the beginning. Stay tuned.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sharing: Robert V Taylor's "Wake Up Call" regarding: FEAR

I receive weekly posts from Robert V. Taylor, an internationally respected thought leader, author, motivator, Episcopal priest and all-around genuinely nice person. I've had the pleasure of working with him on a number of occasions, including for an unforgettable "town hall" type discussion involving Robert, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, my friend and KING 5 New Day Northwest host Margaret Larson, and a group of students from the greater Tacoma area as part of the city's "Be the Spark" campaign in the spring of 2011. Click here to watch a portion of that discussion.

"Be the Spark" Discussion - 2011

This week's post struck a nerve with me, because I have been working to release myself from the fear cage I've been locked in for nearly twenty years. I've savored brief escapes here and there, but always seem to end up locked firmly behind the fear bars again. Robert's weekly "Wake Up Call" posts share a brief story or observation, usually from his personal experience, then ask a couple of simple but well-thought out questions, to get the conversation going in our brains. 


How many of you are also trapped inside a fear cage? Let's look for the key together.


FREE OF YOUR FEAR?

What we do with our fears is more telling than the fear itself.

Something clicked with my three year old nephew. Always fearful about the pool he was willing to go in with me a few weeks ago. As we splashed about his reluctance gave way to comfort and soon he was playing water games with the other kids his age.

We could have chosen to stick with trying to get his toes in the water but instead he chose to wade in the water.

The following week he took his first swimming lesson and now he relishes every opportunity to be in the pool. His delight about the water is infectious.

Splashing in the water and laughing, my nephew reminds me that what we do with any of our fears is how we discover freedom from them. How will you choose to live beyond your fears and who might you trust to walk you through them?

Call-to-Action:

  • What fear do you need to wade through and beyond?
  • Who will you choose to walk through your fear with?

Notice how each time you move beyond a fear you shed a limitation and discover new life.

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Share this link with a friend for their free subscription to Wake Up Call!

www.robertvtaylor.com

Monday, June 23, 2014

Memory Lane: my stint as Publicity Manager for MusicMasters Records & working with some of jazz's biggest legends

I fell down a rabbit hole of sorts today. It began when I saw a post from Classical KING-FM promoting a performance by Stephen Hough. I remembered doing PR for a few of his albums when he recorded with MusicMasters and Musical Heritage Society back in the 80's. Seeing Stephen's albums got me looking for other recordings I had the honor and pleasure of helping promote. I couldn't find all of them - MM went out of business years ago - but the ones I did find have some great memories attached.

MusicMasters was run by a man named Jeffrey Nissim. His family owned Musical Heritage Society (a mail order classical and jazz company). Jeffrey was pretty hip and really enjoyed helping revive and nurture careers, from up-and-coming singers like Dawn Upshaw, to living legends like the incomparable Miss Peggy Lee. As Publicity Manager for MusicMasters, I GOT PAID for rubbing elbows with the likes of Miss Peggy, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Ruby Braff, Louie Bellson, as well as attend the 1988 Grammy Awards (Louie won a Grammy for Best Jazz Recording that year). I sat in between Dr. Ruth & members of Earth, Wind & Fire, and walked the red carpet from Radio City Music Hall to the afterparty at the Hilton, alongside a young Irish band called U2, before enjoying an amazing performance by percussion legend Tito Puente.

The biggest surprise, though, came when MusicMasters obtained the rights to previously unreleased recordings by Benny Goodman, uncovered in the Yale University Library. Not only did I get to travel to Yale with Jeffrey and others, he included my name in the full-page Billboard Magazine ad promoting the deal. I may still have that ad somewhere among my things. Daily chats with Miss Peggy Lee as she recorded "Peggy Sings the Blues," is also a tremendous highlight, along with being able to work with Jazz PR legend Phoebe Jacobs. What a trailblazer. I read she passed away in 2012 at the tender age of 93. She was incredible and never had a problem with working with a 24 year old "little girl" <- Dizzy Gillespie's nickname for me. 

Here are just a few of the albums I had the honor of helping promote:

Peggy Lee - Peggy Sings the Blues - I love this photo of her. We brainstormed a number of cover ideas for this album. I think this turned out classy and dreamy at the same time. Phoebe taught me how to "speak Peggy." For example: I called her at the studio to see how her recording session was going, when she sighed and said, "Those mean clouds are hiding the sun today, Suzie." I learned that the best reply for this comment was to send an arrangement of sunny yellow flowers to the studio, along with a kind note.  She'd call and feign surprise and gratitude for "such a thoughtful and sweet gesture." There was also "Peggy speak" to arrange a delivery of her favorite tea and sweets. This may sound or seem demanding, but it really wasn't. Miss Peggy was very sweet, always gracious, and that Voice. She had it to the end.


Benny Goodman - The Yale Archives - All I have to say about this CD is wow. Wow, wow, wow. What a find and what a coup for MusicMasters Records.


Dick Hyman & Ruby Braff - Manhattan Jazz - This is one of my favorite albums of all time. Two friends who know each other so well, their music weaves together naturally. This is just Dick and Ruby, doing their thing. Perfect music for a cocktail hour or a contemplative evening at home.

Benny Carter & Dizzy Gillespie - In the Mood for Swing - I love the cover photo of Benny Carter and Dizzy Gillespie for "In the Mood for Swing." If you look at their faces, you can catch a glimpse of what each man was like as a child. Dizzy still had that mischevious grin and twinkle in his eyes. Benny emanated an air of the "good boy" who got in trouble nonetheless, because of his buddy. That's exactly how they were whenever I saw them together. Dizzy's sense of humor preceded him like a force field. You had to pay attention to Benny, or his quiet humor would float over your head, sending Dizzy off into peals of laughter as you try to figure out what just happened.


I can't believe they're all gone now. Well, gone in body, but their spirits and souls live on through their music, as well as some wonderful memories.