From Metromix Online NewspaperDon’t you love that post-concert feeling of euphoria?  I’m able to ride high on it for days. Close your eyes at any given moment and feel your heart racing, music pounding, and the heat from the crowd on your skin – a feast for the senses. The second best component, if you didn’t roadtrip to see the show (because there’s ALWAYS a roadtrip story), is being able to share that experience with your friends the next day.  You prattle on endlessly about every infinitesimal detail of the night, right down to how psyched you were when the concession stand guy accidentally gave you a free beer. So, why not write a concert or music review online?

Writing any type of music review can be challenging.  It’s managing a delicate balance of objective and subjective detailed observations churned in a sea of adjectives. I thought it’d be amusing to check out not only some album reviews from long ago, but to see what the general consensus is about crafting them.  First, a few, let’s say, awkward phrases that appeared betwixt the pages of Rolling Stone magazine in its younger days followed by my takeaway:

    • “What a milestone – fake leatherette!”
      Lesson:  If you’re writing an album review, praise the packaging/album art.
    • “Asphalt soup tastes like tar.”
      Lesson:  Stay on topic AND Asphalt Soup could be a super-cool name for a garage band.
    • “A little bit half-hearted – maybe largely because there’s so little melodic meat to most of the tunes.”
      Lesson:  Use highly descriptive, and most of all, appropriate adjectives when writing your review.
    • “…dull commercial rock on the order of noisy discombobulated freakout sh**.”
      Lesson:  Invoke emotion to create an image in the reader’s mind.
    • “Their music isn’t, how do you say, universally accessible, and the weirdness gets same-y, but no one else has posited a parallel universe in which the Sixties and the Nineties exist simultaneously, allowing for a peculiarly convincing brand of monolithic robotic swirl.”
      Lesson:  Same-y in a monolithic robotic swirl? I’ve got nothing.

Wow!  Those are review-writing confidence boosters indeed.  If you’re interested in reading a few hundred more train wreck reviews, visit http://goo.gl/1y1MpQ.  In the meantime, here’s some additional advice (some are obvious, but it never hurts to restate the obvious):

If your review writing is pre-planned, research the musicians. Even if you’re somewhat familiar with them, you never know what you may uncover that can enhance your piece.

    • Take notes using the voice notes feature on your smartphone. As you’re watching the show or listening to the mp3, record your thoughts during and after.  Remember how I said you tell a titillating story right after the show? It won’t be as difficult to recreate the excitement when you can transcribe it.
    • ACTIVELY listen to the music. Do the lyrics tell a story? Are there any subtle nuances you can pick up in the melody?
    • Use some music industry vernacular in your piece when writing the who, what, when, where, why, and how.
    • Use quotation marks around the title of songs; italicize album names.
    • If you’re posting the review to your website, add some pictures from the show to break up the content and help the reader “go there” with you. If you’re reviewing an album of a band either you or a friend has seen previously in concert, post those photos. It makes it more personalized than using stock ones.
    • Lastly and most importantly, make your review flow as if you’re telling a story. Set the scene by describing the anticipation of the crowd. Describe the over-the-top attire of what seemed like the band’s biggest fan. What were the acoustics in the venue like? How was the band’s spirits? You get the idea.

Nothing arouses the soul like music.  It can put you on top of the world or bring you to tears.  Don’t write a music review that’ll bring your audience to tears.  Follow the suggestions above.  If you’re interested in getting paid for writing music reviews, check out http://www.slicethepie.com. Happy listening!


Write, Play, and Paint Like No One Will Read, Hear or See It

TreesWe’re spiritual beings in a physical body and our journeys are very unique. Who am I to judge your interpretation of your life experiences as either virtuous or morally reprehensible? I’m all for living by the Golden Rule so don’t confuse what I’m saying for advocating moral depravity or complete anarchy in the name of art. We all fall down and every day is new day to start over. Whether the tumble was enlightening or pure hell is based on how the person going through it labels it – no one else. The focus here is, “your interpretation of your life experiences”. Throw caution to the wind–be so-called politically incorrect in your book; drop a few f-bombs in your song lyrics; proclaim your love for Jesus Christ across your canvas. Holding back to please the hoi polloi stifles your creativity. It’s your existence so express how you truly feel.

• “Jane” and “Mary” come from affluent backgrounds and suddenly lose their wealth. Jane emerges from the struggle spiritually awakened, grounded, and wealthier than before. Mary dwells in the depths of poverty and despair, succumbing to her plight. Is losing wealth good or bad? Whose story would you download to your Kindle?

• “Bob” and “Joe” are incarcerated for attempted murder. Bob is befriended by a group of men using the time for introspection and rehabilitation. Joe socializes with guys looking to become more proficient criminals when they return to society. While most of us can agree that Bob’s and Joe’s desired end-result of murder is a heinous crime, was the experience of going to prison positive or negative? Bob’s story is transformed into lyrics characteristic of a Christian rock song. Joe’s hard-driving lyrics include the phrase, “…die stupid bitch”. You tap your iTunes app and pick….

• “John” was born into a family that barely acknowledged his existence. He ran with the wrong crowd, yet, when he happened to be in the right place at the right time, a prominent woman in the art world notices his talent. Fame and fortune quickly follow. John grows arrogant and aloof, hoarding his time and financial resources because in his eyes, no one is worthy of either one. Would John’s works of art grace your walls?

Sinners and saints have stories to tell. No matter how twisted or sugary-sweet that story may be, someone out there can empathize with the end product of your self-expression. Kowtow to the masses no more. Anything can sell if it’s marketed right. Look at the Pet Rock. Does a song like Joe’s appeal to me? No. It’s not good for my psyche. Does it piss me off that he can make a buck from such misogynistic lyrics? A little, but more so because we have just enough anger and violence in the world that a song like that appeals to people at all. In and of itself, it’s Joe’s testimony and it isn’t causing harm to anyone else. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. And if you’re a parent, be proactive and vigilant to keep your kids away from it (lazy parenting is a pet peeve of mine. Don’t get me started).

So who are you creating for – yourself or everyone else? Should you write that Twilight-meets-Hunger Games novel because they’re hot genres now (are they still or am I behind?) when you’d rather write a novel based on the steamy romance you had in the summer of your youth? Ultimately, it’s up to you. My advice is to write, play, and paint like no one will read, hear or see it. Be true to yourself as an artist and the passion will shine through. In a world of nearly 7 billion people, your ideal audience is out there somewhere.

Kiss Your “But” Good-Bye

Schoolhouse Rock photo courtesy ofhttp://www.edadrian.com Ever feel like you’ve been “spinning your wheels” in a conversation; as if you were talking just to talk and no new knowledge was gained or bestowed, or a deeper connection established? The old adage says that people don’t remember the words that you say as much as the way you made them feel.  It’s a bit cyclical and that’s why the words do matter.  They create emotional responses which lead to the next set of words to follow. When you leave that person and time goes by, you’re left with an indelible image that will last until the next encounter with him or her.

I was watching a YouTube video about communication starring transformational coach and speaker Doc Barham.  He explained how the word “but” chips away at the connectedness of people during a conversation – how it negates the point the person is trying to make.  We all do it so much that it’s imperceptible.  Read the following sentences.  Imagine you said the first sentence.  The second sentence is the response you got from your conversational partner.  Focus on how it makes you feel in your heart.

  1. You: Don’t you just love the holidays – the lights, the festivities, the family gatherings?

            Him/Her: Yeah, BUT I hate skidding on the ice and shoveling snow.  Don’t even get me started about the family.  Did I ever tell you about last Christmas when….

2.  You: John has the worst attitude when it comes to being a team player. He never does anything outside his job description.

            Him/Her:  BUT you have to realize he’s got a lot on his plate already. Plus, his wife’s been going through medical issues for months now. 

Notice in the first example, you stated something positive that your “Negative Nelly” friend spun to the down side.  We all know at least one, so it’s easy to see how his/her “but” would create a wedge.  The second example, however, is less obvious due to your friend’s intention on being compassionate to John’s situation.  While the intent is good, the “but” still creates a jab at you and makes you feel negated. Both examples create disharmony.

In writing, this practice can be easily executed with a stroke of the Delete key or a click of your mouse.  In conversation, it’ll take time to streamline it.  Here are a few tips to get there:

  1. When actively listening, repeat/summarize in your mind what the person is saying and remember points of agreement. If there are no points of agreement when the person is done speaking, say something positive about one of the subjects he/she touched on before making your point.

         Him/Her: I hate organized religion. Those evangelists and so-called men and women of God are charlatans.

         You: Many people feel the way you do.  Jim and Tammy Faye Baker swindled millions of dollars from their followers  and Mother Teresa spent her life tirelessly serving the poor. There’s good and bad in everything.

  1. One of Doc’s tips was replacing “but” with “and”.

         Him/Her: I’m so excited about my cruise to the Caribbean this fall.  We got such a great rate.

         You:  AND the temperatures are going to be perfect that time of year.

The usual response might be, “I bet you are BUT you got a great rate because it’s hurricane season. Good luck with that”.  How would that make you feel?

3.  Pause where you would normally inject “but” and start a new sentence. This is the same advice those of us who grew up in the ‘80’s received from communication specialists when trying to eliminate “like” from our vocabulary, a-la “Valley Girl” (for those of you too young to remember, IMDB it). With practice, the pauses will close.  It’s more likely that your      conversational partner will remember the good feelings you created rather than the halts in your sentences during the exchange.

         Him/Her: I just got a raise at work this month.

         You:  (Pause) You said you’re mortgage is going up next month (insert the following…) so that definitely is a blessing.              Congrats!  

In this fast-paced society, we run on autopilot.  Flawless conversation and writing will never exist so let’s get over that.  All we can do is be more conscientious in both mediums and go in with the intention of being someone who is remembered for trying to find, at the very least, common ground if not elevating people higher.  Doc’s powerful message has given me a new tool to be a more effective communicator, but don’t feel compelled to call me out on it everytime I mistakenly use “but”.  We’re all a work in progress.  Did I just use “but”? Dang! Well, you know what they say about “buts” – everybody’s got one.

How an 84-Year-Old Iguana Taught Me to Make My Soul Grow

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta: 

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances anymore because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana. 

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow. 

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula. 

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK? 

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals [sic]. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow. 

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

I have a Ph.d in “Becoming” and all that I’ve learned so far is I think too much about the end result when it comes to creating. My personal examples include…

  • Countless blog posts that start in one direction and lead to no conclusion or “a-ha” moment at the end. Where was I going with this again? Delete; 
  • An amusing idea for my Ice Bucket Challenge video. Made it. Posted it, although it looked a lot different in my mind’s eye; “Alex Owens” I’m not; Note to self – download a video editing app;
  • An untitled sonnet that was supposed to make the reader’s heart dance. It’s more likely it would make the reader’s stomach turn. Let’s just call it part of my private collection;
  • Lyrics I wrote partially by drawing random cards from the decks of the party game Apples to Apples. I mused about how impassioned they would sound set to a melody akin to an indie garage band. My app didn’t have that musical option so I had to sing them to an ultra-synthesized ballad. Fun lyrics with an epic contrary outcome; Lastly,
  • Starting an abstract painting whose colors, after applied to the canvas, were too diluted for decorating my bare living room walls. I let it sit, came back to it and added to it.  It was satisfactory and now thanks to an artist friend, it’s gone from what was going to be a trash can liner to a work in progress.  

Cara Dawson – Yin and Yang of Soul and Spirit http://personaltao.com/gallery/art/soul-and-spirit/

Rather than reflecting on or comparing the pre-planning vision to the end result, I should focus on the act of creating and the energizing feelings that go with it.  Like any activity, practice makes…improvement.  It also tears down barriers, pushes limits, and furthers introspection. When you think about it, it could be gratifying to create an accidental masterpiece. Enjoy the process! I’d love to hear stories about your accidental masterpieces or share how you stay in the moment while creating. “You cannot find yourself in the past or future. The only place where you can find yourself is in the Now”.–A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle 

Lastly, any guesses on who “Alex Owens” is and what the amusing idea was for my Ice Bucket Challenge video? 

You Bring About What You Think About

220px-Dead_poets_societyThis week we mourned the loss of an icon – Robin Williams.  In one of his best known roles, Williams played English teacher John Keating in the movie Dead Poet’s Society.  Keating, when speaking to his class about the lives of poets, says, “They’re not that different from you, are they?  Same haircuts; full of hormones, just like you.  Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you; their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Carpe diem, making our lives extraordinary – you hear these phrases from motivational speakers, supportive friends, and maybe yourself when you’re fired up for a New Year’s Day-type life transformation.  What does it really mean?  For you, what does it look like? Create a vision board!  Scan pictures from magazines, the internet, and your own photos of your ideal life.  I created mine electronically in a Microsoft Publisher document and made it my laptop wallpaper.  I also took a picture of it to keep in my smartphone.  Lastly, I printed out two paper copies – one for my workspace and one for the refrigerator.  Why? So I can see it anywhere I go to internalize and visualize my goals constantly; to create positive energy in me and inspire me to go after what I want.  The Universe brings together what we think about most even when we don’t see how it could ever come to pass.  Don’t worry about that part. Just keep visualizing with both your head and your heart and the Universe will do the rest.

Once your vision board is complete, look at it as a whole.  Do the pictures elicit an emotional response in you?  Does your heart race? Are you getting butterflies in your stomach thinking about the possibilities? If not, change out a few pictures until you find the perfect combination.  By the way, you don’t have to make just one board.  I’ve got two because I thought of additional goals.

Finally, here’s where you can supercharge your visualization.  I tried this for the first time this week and it brought tears of joy to my eyes – bring your vision board(s) to life by writing down and speaking, in your head or aloud, the story of your ideal life as if you already have it!  While looking at your vision board, you may say/write something like this…

“Jane, you have it all! You have your dream guy who loves you.  You’re an inspiring artist and musician.  As a mom, no one comes close to you.  Jack and Jill are fantastic kids and you’re relationship is close.  Money comes to you easily so you’re financially free. You have paid all your bills and pay cash for everything.  Since you’re financially free, you’ve got time to read.  You read a book a week and absorb and retain your new knowledge effortlessly.  You also use your free time to volunteer at the hospital and the church and you donate to them generously.  Christ is at the center of your life.  Your relationships are healthy and your family and friends adore you.  Every year when you and the gang visit Bora Bora, the fun never stops.  This year, when you make a stop in Australia along the way, you’re going to do some surfing.  Jane, you are the picture of good health. You eat fresh fruits and veggies daily and work out 4 times per week.  Your six pack abs and toned bi-ceps would make any woman envious.  Yoga and meditation two times per week keeps you centered and happy.  It’s no wonder everyone you meet in your business wants to work with you and throw referrals your way.  You get so many referrals, you have to turn some people away.  In the spirit of giving back, you happily refer them to your fellow consultants.  You believe in karma – you get back what you give.  You make every day count by trying new adventures.  You know no fear – except when someone parks too close to your red Porsche 911 Carrera.  You have a beautiful life, Jane. Keep up the good work.”

What do you think?  Isn’t there an amazing difference between that and, “I will have a Porsche in the next three years”.  The more passion you put behind your visualization, the more positive energy you exude.  For those of you who already practice this, I’d love to hear about what moves you and what’s manifested for you since you created one.  Leave a comment and Carpe Diem.

You Can Have It All With An Attitude of Gratitude

GratitudeAlthough I write, I’ve not been one for keeping a journal in my adult years. I haven’t had a journal since I was a kid. You know – the little hard-cover diaries with the lined, gold-trimmed pages and the oh-so-impenetrable lock across the cover. I never kept one as an adult for fear of my now ex-husband or my kids finding it, reading it, then having me committed to a mental institution. Not just any mental institution – the kind in Vienna where they do countless studies on you, hooked up to electrodes, and dumping placebos down your throat while first-year residents and Ph.D candidates observe and take notes. Next thing I know, my case notes are published in
the latest edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. My pseudonym – “Jane”. My claim to fame? A new malady listed in the APA’s DSM-5. Funny how the mind spirals into the relm of the absurd. But I digress…

A few weeks ago, I found a happy medium between recording inane babbling and doing nothing – I keep a gratitude journal. It’s the best thing I could have ever done to keep me humble, centered, and in the now (which keeps me spiraling into the relm of the absurd). Even on my most hectic, negative days I can always find something for which to be grateful. How’d it happen?

I was looking online to find activities for me and the kids to do one weekend. One event listed was a group Ascension meditation session at a local bookstore. Being unfamiliar with this, I researched it more to see what it was about. Long story short, I started doing it and it’s changed my world. Then, from what the online narrator of the sessions said lead me to other meditation websites. These sites constantly talked about gratitude – being PROACTIVELY grateful – not just, “Oh yea, thanks” and “Glad I’m not homeless”. It was about heart-felt gratitude and feeling the flow of energy through your body when you say it and truly mean it. I received newsletters from the the meditation websites day after day and they continued to push focusing on gratitude while meditating. I would read my daily scripture or go to mid-day Mass and what was the topic? Gratitude. I had dinner with a friend, with whom I’d not yet shared my
new-found revelation, days after my gratitude pummeling. She happen to bring two books with her, proclaiming about one in particular, “You’ve got to read this”. The topic? Gratitude! It works. Wanna get started?

*Wake up in the morning and say, “I’m grateful to have woken up this morning”. Follow that with a few reasons why (say them aloud although it’s obvious…another day to make a difference; another day to hug my kids, etc.). Really feel it as you say it. Your mind races in the morning thinking of your task list for the day which may sometimes bring you down. Shut it down by imagining those ego-based thoughts on a computer screen. Imagine yourself clicking your mouse and reducing it, thereby silencing those thoughts. Continue looking around your room seeing things and people for whom you’re grateful. It’ll start your day on an energetic note.

*Your ego will fight hard to get recognition. Keep shutting it down with every step you take by speaking more grateful thoughts. Shut down, “Uugh, I’m not looking forward to this meeting” with “I’m grateful I’m going to be dynamic and powerful in my meeting today”. Even if you’re not prepared for the meeting or feel like it’s a lie, say it and own it. You’ll be surprised at the outcome.

*You can’t control other people, but you can control how you respond to them. “Negative Nelly” leaves the meeting proclaiming, “That was the biggest waste of time”. Counter with, “There were some good comments and helpful suggestions by John. What was your take on that”? Even if her response continues to be critical, listen and when returning to your desk, think of five to ten positive things for which you are grateful about “Negative Nelly”. Did she buy you lunch one day when you had no money? Does she throw referals your way? Does she tell you about great sales that you may want to check out during your lunch hour? There’s always something positive we can find in others.

*Your day is over. It’s been mentally exhausting trying to stay positive. It gets easier, but now you’re supposed to write in your gratitude journal? You think, “No way. Give me a martini and Modern Family. I can’t think anymore”. Guess what? You don’t have to because you’ve spent the last eight-plus hours being grateful for what your day brought. Just write down 10 of them. That’s it. After you write them down, re-read each one and say, in a heart-felt way, “Thank you, thank you, thank you”. I then follow that up with, “Thanks be to God”, but that’s your choice – Allah, Buddha, Mother Earth, whoever, or no one at all.

Researchers say that it takes 21 days to form a habit. I’m anxious to see what my 22nd day feels like. Can you commit to at least 21 days to see if it works? If it’s not for you after that, then stop; but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I got “Godsmacked” a couple of weeks ago and my life will never be the same and for that, I’m grateful. Let me know how it works out for you.