Friday, March 28, 2014

from one relationship to another.

A week ago, I went to see Southern Soul Assembly - a musical collaboration of southern rock/blues artists Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi All Stars), J.J. Grey (Mofro), Marc Broussard and Anders Osborne.  

I know what you're probably thinking - even you huge music fans - huh?  Who is that?  I hadn't heard of them either, nor had most of the music-lovers in my life.  

This concert came about, as many of them lately do, because of Jacob.  His next level knowledge and commitment to seeing concerts has forced me to question what I thought was a healthy and sincere love of live music.  Every week, I sit in annoyed anticipation of what new artist(s) I've never heard of will be coming to town - I can almost guarantee that he's heard of them, loves them, and is dying to see them live.  

There are far worse boyfriend problems to have, I know, and Jacob has proven time and time again, he knows good bands and good concerts.  I almost always end up apologizing for my resistance somewhere between the second and third songs. Southern Soul Assembly was no exception.   The show was awesome.

Like, "I feel like I'm in my friend's basement drinking canned beer and everyone can sing and is playing random shit on guitars and telling stories and making fun of themselves," kind of awesome.

image jjgrey

After his iPad malfunctioned at the start of the show, Anders Osborne was forced to sing the songs he knew from memory, which according to him, wasn't that many.

"I did too many drugs," he laughed with the audience, "I can't remember shit." 

J.J. Grey started to play one song when someone from the audience yelled out, "Slow, Hot and Sweaty."  He paused, put down the guitar he was playing, and said, "Oh, alright," fulfilling the fan's request.

There were lots of self-deprecating, funny stories told about wives and kids and traveling together.  But mostly the night was full of amazing musical moments that made for some serious head-nodding, toe-tapping, and for a handful of middle aged women standing in the front, a whole lot of booty-shaking.

Despite not knowing a lot of the songs I heard, I left the show with a huge smile on my face and a pep in my step.

In fact, I likened the evening to those blissful first months of a new relationship when you're first falling in love; when every conversation is flirtatious and fulfilling, every date is more exciting and fun than the last. 

Which each song, the adoration between the musicians on the Soul Assembly Tour seemed to grow.  There was no competition, no disagreements, no egos - their energy and chemistry was sky-high. I pictured the four of them trying to end a phone conversation and imagined hearing a lot of, "No, you hang up!"  If they all weren't so cute and talented and entertaining, I'd want to roll my eyes at them.
There truly is no other feeling quite like the "new relationship" feeling.

What musician wouldn't want to experience that kind of love fest on stage? 

I had to wonder, though, if like settling into the day-to-day normalcy of a stable relationship can feel like a let down, if these musicians returned to their regular gigs and thought to themselves, "Oh, you again?"

My desire to "chase the new" is what started this blog in the first place, so I know that worry and the anxiety that comes from worrying that I might wake up one day and realize that all I've done with my life is the same old, status quo.  The same is true of relationships - I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss that "new relationship" feeling that ceases to exist after being with the same person for a long time.  Maybe that's one of the reasons I'm 33 and not married?  

On the other hand, there's something about someone who knows you well -someone who knows the song you're going to play before you play it and knows every word by heart. 

Just one day after the Southern Soul Assembly, a few of my girlfriends and I went to see George Strait at Phillips Arena.  This country crooner's performance couldn't have been more different than Friday's show - from an intimate venue in Center Stage to a sold-out Phillips arena; from new guys jamming on multiple instruments, to one guy, with one guitar playing a perfectly timed show full of his greatest hits.

There was part of me who wished George Strait would do something crazy or bring a special guest out on stage to play "Baby Blue," but besides a Tom Petty cover that wasn't very well received, he pretty much played the same decades-old songs he's been playing since he started.  I knew every word and sang along.  Loudly.

That too, was awesome.


In relationships, my job, my life, I struggle with the constant desire for things to be new! different! better! - like the Southern Soul Assembly.  I never want to stop trying new things and challenging myself personally and professionally, but sometimes the classics - the same old - are comforting and exactly what I need.

Just like a George Strait song.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

required reading.

The last time I admitted to reading a novel in the "young adult" genre, I felt a little like I was confessing it to you; like I'd done something wrong. Up until then, I'd proudly avoided all of the Harry Potter and the Twilight books, only to fall hard for the Hunger Games trilogy.  I devoured the books as quickly as I could get my hands on them. 

This enthusiastic post is also about a "young adult" book that I just read.  But this isn't a confession and I feel no embarrassment.  In fact, I'm here to tell you that if you haven't read Wonder by R. J. Palacio, you should read to the end of this post, make a comment about how brilliant I am and then immediately go read it.

It's just that important.  It's just that good.  If it were up to me, every school should make it required reading.


My cousin Anne told me about the book when was in Atlanta a few weeks ago.  It's her oldest son, Will's, favorite.  She started to tell me what the book was about, but stopped short, saying she wanted me to read it without any prejudgments.  But I could tell by the way her she lit up when she spoke about it, this book had made some kind of impact on her.

Considering I've looked up to Anne since I was a little girl and did whatever she said and wanted to be just like her, it came as no surprise I ran right out to get the book.

If "Teenager Anne" tells your 8-year old self to tease your hair like a teenager and spray it with Aqua Net, you do it. 


If "Adult Anne" tells your 33-year old self to read Wonder, you do it.

So I did.

It took me just three nights to read it - which I did while Jacob was beside me reading, The Wolf of Wall Street, which I'm sure made for a humorous scene - him laughing a plot lines involving Quaaludes and strippers and me fighting back tears, my heart literally breaking with sadness and then swelling with hope for Auggie, Wonder's main character.

Without any hesitation and absolutely no shame, I encourage you to read this book, share it, talk about it with your kids, nieces, nephews, neighbors.  It will make you appreciate the struggles we all face both as kids and adults, regardless of the circumstances we're given; it will make you want to be kinder, or at the very least, consider giving others a break every once in a while, for we're all doing the best we can, after all.  

I always joke that I owe Anne everything for teaching me everything I know about hair - and now I can thank her for introducing me to a book that in just three short days, has changed my perspective and softened my heart.  If only I could go back to middle school and do things differently - both for my hair and my attitude.   

This book is what you're getting for your next birthday.  I hope you like it!  Love, Aunt Steph

Friday, March 14, 2014

wide open spaces.

So you know how I'm always talking about how my biggest challenge in life is defining what it is that I want to do and how the only thing that I do know that I want- to write a book - just feels impossible sometimes and I have too much self-doubt and not enough motivation and all I need is someone or something to help me finish what I started? 

Well, I think that I found it:

Amtrak's Residency Program for Writers

The program started as an innocent suggestion of writer Alexander Chee, who admitted in an interview that he loved writing aboard a train and that Amtrak should offer a residency program. 

From there, a Twitter firestorm of writers who agreed with Chen - so much traffic, in fact, that Amtrak created a program that will choose 24 aspiring writers to take long-distance trains to work on their projects.  I can't think of an opportunity more well suited for me.


Honestly, I thought about not telling anyone about this amazing program, for fear you'd all run immediately to their site and apply, therefore instantly diminishing my own chances.  But I also need some accountability here - so if I tell you I'm applying, I'll actually have to actually apply.

So far my personal experiences with train rides include a summer jaunt around Europe with a bunch of girlfriends and then falling hard for a Mountain Man on our romantic trip from Yosemite to San Francisco.  It's only fitting that the next installment in my crazy life should involve finishing my book aboard a train, am I right?

I probably won't have to tell you what I'm doing this weekend -thinking of clever ways to get noticed by Amtrak.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers. And after trains, libraries at night, especially empty ones.
- See more at:
Where is your favorite place to write?
I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers. And after trains, libraries at night, especially empty ones.
- See more at:
Where is your favorite place to write?
I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers. And after trains, libraries at night, especially empty ones.
- See more at:
Where is your favorite place to write?
I still like a train best for this kind of thing. I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers. And after trains, libraries at night, especially empty ones.
- See more at:

Friday, March 7, 2014

sacrifice the icky.

I always feel inspired during the season of Lent.  While forty days and forty nights doesn't sound like a long time in the grand scheme of things, (tell that to the guy who gave up beer), positive change can happen and bad habits broken, all as a result of small, six-week sacrifices that are made to help us feel more connected to God.


A girl I know on Facebook posted Wednesday that she has elected to give up things that make her feel "icky," like, "candy, soda and Facebook."  While I was intrigued that Facebook was among the things that make her feel "icky" - I mean, what are her friends posting anyway? - I like the sentiment of removing the noise, or the icky, so that we might focus on things that matter.

I also like the idea that at the end of each day, my friend will know if she has succeeded in sacrificing her icky by simply asking herself if she ate candy, if she drank soda, and if she checked Facebook.  If she can answer, "no," then she will have succeeded. 
If you've spent any time on this blog whatsoever, you know getting rid of the icky has been my struggle for years.  I've made repeated vows in this space to stay more present, be more balanced, choose more love.  But unlike my friend, there is no measure of success with these promises, and seemingly no way to be held accountable.

I wanted to choose love.  And sometimes, I did.  And other times, I was a bitch.

I wanted to stay more present, so I went to yoga.  I cleared my mind, centered myself and focused only on my breath . . .and then my thoughts would shift to my grocery list or the next vacation I wanted to go on.

The intention is very much there, but my execution needs some serious work.

At the start of the year, I promised myself, and anyone reading, that this would be the year that I would finish the book I've been longing to write since the blog began in 2009.  "I'll write," I said, "Everyday for an hour." I have definitely written more, but not everyday.  Now it's March, and I'm afraid I have to tell you that I'm still nowhere near close to my goal of writing a book. 

I mean, I have the material - much of it lives here on this blog.  Some of it exists in emails I've written to myself and in notebooks lying around my house.  I'm certainly not struggling for ideas - every time I turn off my light to go to sleep, or am taking a shower, or am out running, great, hilarious anecdotes come to me and inspire me that this will happen.  "I can do it!  I can be a published author!  

Yet when I sit in front of my computer, with all of my notes and emails scattered around me, all distractions turned off and/or tucked away, all of those good ideas seem nowhere to be found.  Instead, all I can hear are loud, doubtful voices inside my head saying, "This will never happen," "Who are you kidding?," and the worst, "Nobody cares about what you have to say!"

This kind of self-doubt makes me feel unmotivated and anxious - it makes me feel icky.

Why not, like my friend is doing with soda and candy, just give up the self-doubt?  For Lent?  Forty days and forty nights of thinking positively about myself and my abilities.

Is that even possible?


Apparently these feelings mean that I'm in good company - one quick Google search of "self-doubt" and "writing" yields pages upon pages of results from those who experience (suffer?) the same.

Writer and documentary producer Robert Hughes once said, "The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize."  Well if that's true, then I might be the best damn writer there is.  

Most of these sites offer suggestions on how to break through the self-doubt.  Among my favorites:

Fake it till you make it and keep writing.  Find a way to ignore the voices that tell me I can't and just keep writing.  That seems almost as elusive as "choosing love," but I'm going to try it anyhow.

Set easy goals. I thought I did this when I said I'd write for an hour each day - but with no accountability to anyone, it's an easy promise to break.   I've been sticking to a once-a-week blogging schedule, and I'm going to try to up that to two.  I cannot believe that I used to blog everyday and now twice a week seems like a challenge.  What happened?!

Call on your cheerleaders/biggest fans/accountability partners. The reason this blog happened is because of you and if the book happens it will be because of you also.  Just like I hope you'd remind me of my giving up chocolate for Lent if I went in for a Hershey bar, I'd like to think I can count on you for encouragement and accountability when it comes to writing.  I'm boldly asking for your help, your reminders, your sharing of this blog with your friends if you think it'll help.

How do you deal with self-doubt in writing and in life?  What icky are you sacrificing for Lent this year?

Will you help me?