Saturday, November 23, 2013

etter to Strive in One’s Own Dharma Than to Succeed in the Dharma of Another

I love my job. It is, after all, my dream job. I have wanted to be a singer since I was seven. I am one of the lucky ones who got to do what she wanted. I love singing for a living, love writing songs, love traveling around the country with my sister. But at the height of my career, I found myself clandestinely purchasing Martha Stewart Living and reading it in secret in the back of the van, hiding its cover behind Rolling Stone. (I referred to Martha Stewart Living as my “porn.”) And sometime around the time I met Tom and we got married, I began having fantasies about having health insurance and weekends off. I began to wish that I didn’t have to rely on my wits so much. If I were someone with an honest trade, like a plumber or a nurse, I thought, I’d always have work to do. If I run out of ideas, I have nothing. This can make a person anxious, or at the least, give them Stiff Neck Virus. Stiff Neck Virus is my father’s term for what happens when suddenly your shoulders creep up to your ears and you have to turn your whole body in order to converse with the person sitting next to you in the car. I always seemed to get Stiff Neck Virus after a long weekend on the road or a plane trip where I had to lug my six-thousand-pound guitar. In 2004, Katryna took her second maternity leave, and I did a solo tour with Lisa Loeb and Carrie Newcomer called “Folk The Vote.” (It was fun, but apparently we didn’t Folk enough because George W. Bush won a second term.) On that trip, my friend Jill Stratton suggested that I become a life coach. “A what?” I said. But I was intrigued. I’d heard of Martha Beck; I’d even read one of her books. I went home, did some research, made some applications, flew out to Arizona, and within a few months was fully certified in her program. I had a full client roster, and I discovered an entire continent of myself. Day after day, week after week, I sat in my sunny office at home, talking on the phone to men and women about their lives, their careers, their struggles. I listened, challenged, questioned, probed, got excited about their successes and grieved with them about their setbacks. I loved coaching. And I began to think I could do it for the rest of my life. It was fun and creative work, after all. It was especially fun to help them with time management (er, consciousness) and forgiveness work. Most interesting of all for me was exploring the mind-body nexus—getting clients (and myself) to feel feelings in our bodies and using a tool called “wordlessness” to make sense of them; to stay with feelings and not run. As this is not my strong suit—I am the proverbial helium balloon, constantly floating up above as a thought takes me away from the present moment—it was great practice to work with others. But something nagged at me. There were many times when clients came to me with issues that were frankly above my head. There were many times when I wished I’d had more training. Should I go to grad school for social work? Divinity school? Become a “Master Coach”? But how could I get more training when I still had a music career, a writing career and a family to hang out with? After the birth of my second child, the director of my favorite yoga studio started coming to the children’s music classes Katryna and I run. “Oh,” I said to her one day. “I have always wanted to do a yoga teacher training. But who has the time?” “I will teach you privately!” she said. Yes! I thought. Not only is yoga teacher training on my Bucket List, this is just what my coaching practice needs! I will become even better at being present, being embodied. I will help my clients so much—not to mention fulfill a lifelong dream to create a daily yoga practice. This was IT! The next breadcrumb. And so for a year and a half, I met with her privately, went to several classes a week, practiced on my own in the mornings, read books on anatomy and medieval yogic philosophy. I learned to do a handstand, twisted my body till I saw things from an entirely different point of view, lost my baby fat, felt a new centeredness and groundedness. The training was half over. I looked ahead to an even more intense period of study and practice. Meanwhile, Katryna and I were writing a book for families, to teach them to make music with their young children; and we were also attempting to record our 16th CD The Full Catastrophe. Friday was our only day to work in the studio. Friday was also a yoga day. Every Friday, I found myself torn between my commitments. Usually I did both. My teacher assigned The Bhagavad Gita, an ancient text that tells the story of Arjuna, a warrior who is about to enter the battlefield but has suddenly panicked. The poem is a conversation between himself and his charioteer who turns out secretly to be the god Krishna. At one point, Arjuna begs Krishna to reveal himself—to get out of his disguise as charioteer. So Krishna does. But the vision is overwhelming—full of monsters and blood and gore and so much raw beauty and horror that Arjuna is overwhelmed. He wants Krishna to put his Halloween costume back on to finish the conversation. He simply can’t bear to see God in all His glory. It’s like staring into the sun: for us humans, this is a recipe for going blind. And so Krishna takes pity on his poor human charge, and resumes his disguise as charioteer. Towards the end of the poem, Krishna tells Arjuna, “One’s own dharma, performed imperfectly, is better than another’s dharma well performed. Destruction in one’s own dharma is better, for to perform another’s dharma leads to danger.” Something profound shifted in me as I read this. My dharma, for better or for worse, is my career as an artist: musician and writer. And, as I understand it, we don’t choose our dharma––which means vocation, among other things. It chooses us. All these months of studying yoga felt very much to me, in that moment, like my dharma. But teaching yoga––that belonged to someone else. Like Arjuna, I was avoiding the "battle" involved in the business of living by one’s wits, by one’s muse––in short, as an artist––by turning to alternative ideas about how to make a living. When I read the Gita, I related to Arjuna throughout; as wanting to get out of the battle, not go forward into my fate––of appearing to others (if not myself) as an aging musician who never had a hit, or of laboring to write a book that might not even make a splash. Looking backwards at my career, I alighted at my 23-year-old self. If could talk to that 23-year-old, who was safely working in a boarding school as an administrator, just married, with just a dream to be a folk singer, and I, Krishna-like, revealed to her what would be in store for her/me for the next twenty years if I chose this path, that 23-year-old would not have chosen it. That 23-year-old’s idea was to try this music thing, succeed at the level of the Beatles, with the plan that, if she failed, she’d go to Divinity school in her forties. Given a reasonable back-up plan, who would choose to stay in a “failed” career? Who would choose to strive so hard and so long for a goal (world famous singer/songwriter) and not achieve it? The problem was, I didn’t fail. We weren’t the next Beatles, but we have a very successful music career, landing in the gray area between world famous and sub-karaoke. Moreover, looking back, I would not change a single thing. I can’t say I have a single regret. I am so glad to have exactly the amount of fame and success I do have. Even the disappointments have made me who I am today. Every year, I am so glad I continue to make music, continue to perform. What a life I have had! Music chose me, wooed me, won me, in the end. And I am glad I didn’t know how it would turn out. I am so glad I had those big dreams as a young person. Young people need to have big dreams, and their work is to mine those dreams, work hard to reach for the big brass ring. It’s none of our business whether or not we succeed in wrestling it down, but it is our business to reach. We can't ever stand to know what our future will hold. It is too much, just as the vision of Krishna in the Gita is too much for Arjuna. We think we can’t possibly live through what we end up living through. But we do live through it, and if we are awake and kind—to others and ourselves—we come out the better for it. Yoga is a process of making one’s inner intentions match one’s actions. To make my inner intention match my actions, I needed to admit that as hard as it was to go forward as an artist, I had to because it was my dharma. Also, as hard as it is to keep showing up on stages around the country, I do love it. I do believe I still have much to give. And if I am awake, I notice that after shows, over and over, people say things along the lines of “Thank you for sharing your gift. Thank you for bringing your message to North Carolina/St. Louis/Winnipeg/Seattle––thank you for traveling so far to sing to us.” In other words, I got, post-Gita, that we are actually doing a service by sharing our music. I still often feel just so grateful that anyone pays any attention to us at all. It feels like a gift to get to make this music. I feel as amazed as Willie Mays when he found out that he could be paid to play baseball. Most days, I would pay to play. Good thing our manager won't let me.
Only by single-minded devotion can I be known as I truly am, Arjuna–– can I be seen and entered.
I went back to the studio. I needed to take a leap of faith in my music career: devote more time to it, even though it might not be remunerative. Rather than get a degree or a certification, I needed to take a hiatus from my life coaching practice. I needed to continue to give myself, my artist––my Willful Child if you will––margins to play in and explore. I needed to write for the sake of writing again. And I needed my IAP to cultivate single-minded devotion. (Not to just one thing; that's not possible for me. But whatever it is I am doing, being, whomever I am loving, I must do this with devotion, focus and attention.) Our book, All Together Singing in the Kitchen: Creative Ways to Make and Listen to Music as a Family came out in September, 2011. The Full Catastrophe came out in April 2012. Neither shot to number one. No matter. We are so happy with both projects, so delighted when people let us know that they read and use the book, listen to the CDs. And of course, making The Full Catastrophe proved to us that we still love making CDs, layering our harmonies in the studio, working with guest musicians. And our long-time fans repeatedly let us know that they love it; that they play it; that they are learning the songs and singing them with their families. We have a book that stands as a teaching tool and memoir, rolled into one. And we have another CD to represent a phase of our lives, of our career. Process, not product. This, to me, is success. And finally, since my yoga training, the first thing I do every day is a single humble sun salutation. I can officially say that I have a yoga practice. Excerpted from How to Be an Adult. To read more, buy the book!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Introduction, Part Three: Missing Owner's Manual

There Is Always Someone Who Can Help, So Ask Beware: this is a spiritual lesson as well as a practical one. There is always someone out there who can help you. If he or she doesn’t respond to your call for help right away, keep calling. Eventually someone will, and in the meantime, you will have made lots of connections. Ask questions. How to Be an Adult Golden Rule: If you want to do something well, find someone who is doing it beautifully (or at least adequately) and ask her how she does it. People love to give advice. They love to feel like they know something you don’t know. You aren’t bothering them. Figure out the channels. And thank God for Google. When we were your age, there was no internet! (At least, not that I nor any of my friends knew about, though of course, Al Gore and people at NASA did.) Today, finding out information is as easy as typing, “How do I change my oil?” into the search box.
And thank God (or whatever you think runs this ship) that we live in a world where we’re supposed to intermingle and get to know each other. Ignorance and abject terror are wonderful prods toward this end.
Speaking of God, I should let you know that I believe in God. I don’t mind at all if you don’t, but you should know this about me, because it informs all of the advice in this series. The older I get, the less confidence I have in the aging, creaky body that used to be able to leap from the top bunk halfway across the room unharmed, and more confidence in 1. the wisdom of those who have gone before me, 2. the wisdom of the ages, 3. what actually works, and 4. what I know resonates in my bones as true. All this fits into my definition of God. So if God talk bugs you, feel free to translate the “G” word to “the Universe” or “Truth” or “The Great Reality” or “Presence” or “Big Cheese” or “Yo Mama” for all I care. Or else—and I give you my permission—just roll your eyes when I bring up God.
Missing Owner’s Manual But regardless of your spiritual beliefs, you don’t need to suffer the way we did! Because Katryna and I have put everything you need to know into one handy volume, with each book highlighting a different delightful area of adultification. Within these pages, we address: time management (er…consciousness), goal-setting and goal-resistance, mental and physical health, jobs and work life, home, food, money, cars, insurance, getting along with others, voting, marriage, divorce, remarriage, and parenthood. Even though I probably would have ignored it, I wish I’d had a manual like this back when I was 21. When I went to the bookstore looking for how-to books, they inevitably intimidated me with their length and writing style. Things with numbers threw me for a loop. Some people really do have a knack for navigating their way through the world and finding out how it works as they go—like my friends Jenny, Susan and Giselle. But others of us would much rather spend our time reading The New Yorker or Ann Patchett novels and have someone else figure out the quarterly taxes. So for those of us who are artists or marchers to the beat of a different drummer, I attempted to create a series that speaks in the language we can understand: the language of poetry, humor, literature—a set of right-brained manuals. There is some concrete practical advice about money and insurance and stuff like that (think of this part of the book as the raisins in the cookie). The cookie part of the book is a series of how-tos in essay form, told through anecdote, in a way that is (I hope) palatable and memorable. A portable older sister, if you will. And like an older sister, it is full of partisan opinions. Other so-called adults will surely take issue with me on many of my claims, especially when I bash consumerism or blow the horn for the environment. I am sure I will annoy you at times; feel free to ignore me when I do. Also like an older sister, I will probably change my mind and do things differently a few years from now; after all, adulthood is not a static state any more than adolescence is. I’ve given you a lot of my own stories and life experiences because it’s the life I know best. When I had scant experience, I asked all my smart friends on your behalf. Thus, it’s the absolute best advice I can give you today. It’s the book I wish I’d been given at my graduation, or better yet, it’s the instructions my Latin diploma should have included, scrawled on the back like the Dead Sea scrolls.

Introduction, Part One

On the occasion of my college graduation, I received my diploma and immediately began to examine it. It was written, unhelpfully, in Latin, a language I studied for one year at age thirteen. Undaunted, I flipped it over in the hopes that somewhere among the ovems and the isimuses there would be some final directive, some code that would tell me what to do next. I’d been an English major in college, taking the advice of my favorite high-school teacher who told me the purpose of college was to read all the books you’d never get around to reading otherwise. So while my roommates were studying pre-med, pre-law and economics, I was immersed in Shakespeare, Elizabeth Bishop, and Samuel Beckett. In March, Jenny was accepted to medical school, Susan was off to Stanford Law, and Giselle had a job offer on Wall Street. When anyone asked me what I was going to do, I said something vague about bringing my acoustic guitar to England, where I was planning to become a famous folk singer. As the snow melted and the hackysackers returned to the green in the spring of my senior year, I noticed a consistent shortness of breath accompanied by a low buzzing in the back of my head. The approximate content of the low buzz was something along the lines of, “What the hell am I supposed to do now?” How, for example, was I supposed to find an apartment? What exactly was a down payment? Or a security deposit? For how long could I live solely off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and ramen noodles? What was the difference between a premium and a deductible? Were they really serious about that whole filing taxes thing? That just seemed mean. Hence the frantic fumbling with the diploma. There were no instructions on the diploma, just the smudged signature of the college president and some unintelligible Latin. So I did what any sensible, practical-minded person would do; I married my current boyfriend, David, who happened to be seven years older than I and, in my mind, a bona fide adult. This worked out well for a while. David was happy to deal with what I termed the “grown-up stuff”: security deposits, medical insurance, bill-paying, and yes, taxes. My twenties rolled by pleasantly enough: I started a rock band along with David and my younger sister Katryna, and we drove around the country in a fifteen-passenger van. Although in the early days of the band, I’d had to do a lot of what seemed like pretty “adult” stuff—booking gigs, putting together press kits, opening and maintaining a checking account—eventually, we hired a manager to do all that for us. Once again, I was off the hook. “Your job,” said our new manager Dennis, “is to write songs, stay in good shape, and rest up for your performances. Let me take care of everything else. After all, that’s why you pay me 16.67% of your gross income.” So I spent my days in a kind of prolonged adolescent summer vacation: writing, reading, shopping for clothes that would make me look like a hot rock star (and running up credit card debt), exercising like a maniac so I would fit into said clothes, and driving around the country performing at festivals, coffeehouses, theaters and rock clubs. It was a blissful existence. But nothing lasts forever, and by September 2001 the band had broken up, David and I had separated, and I was thirty-four years old—clearly an adult no matter how you did the math. I needed to learn how to function on my own and fast. To read more, or to order the book, go here. Or...just wait until tomorrow when I post the next part.

Introduction, Part Two: What We Learned About Life in 20 Years on the Road

What We Learned About Life in 20 Years on the Road Katryna first got the idea to write a book called How to Be an Adult after graduating college. She felt clueless, living with her sister and brother-in-law in a prep-school dorm and eating the prep-school’s free food, while trying to figure out things like how to get health insurance and how to pay her taxes on the non-existent income of a budding folk singer. She pronounced, “Someone should write a book called How to Be an Adult. How are we supposed to know any of this stuff? We all need a manual. Someone should write it, and since no one else will, I guess it’s got to be me. Except I don’t know how to be an adult, so why don’t you do it?” We had grand plans to research the topic, but we never followed through. Over the years, we’d revive the project and toss around some ideas, but mostly the concept of either of us writing a book about how to be an adult reduced us to fits of tearful laughter. Who would take a couple of folk singers as their models for responsible adulthood? But by my mid-thirties, I had observed two things. First of all, somehow along the way, like everyone else, I’d figured it out, mostly, and so had Katryna. It took years, and we made lots of painful and hilarious mistakes. But many of those mistakes were wonderful lessons. Secondly, what I hadn’t figured out (taxes, insurance, retirement accounts, bill-paying) were easily deciphered by the simple act of homing in on someone who clearly appeared to be a competent adult and asking that person how she did what she did. Believe me, if you ask enough people, someone will have a strong opinion on this topic and feel it’s their mission in life to sit you down and set you straight.