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Daughter of a Bitch (A Mission Statement) July 19, 2013

Posted by craftlass in education, life lessons, people.
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My mother was an educator. I don’t mean that was her job or even career, though it was how she always earned her money. She was one of those amazing people who lived to teach instead of teaching to live.

That was about all I knew when she was still alive. I knew her resume, knew she was a high school salutatorian who never got over losing valedictorian by a tiny fraction of a point, that she had gotten her PhD with a dissertation on something to do with Chaucer, that she had once taught college but had moved on to high school by the time I came along. I knew that her days were filled with students and her evenings were, well, often filled with students, parents, and other teachers. If she was home, she was grading, writing lesson plans, or, when she’d finished her necessary work, she was plotting how to make education better for every student in her school, state, nation, and perhaps even world.

That’s not to say she wasn’t an active parent to me. Oh, no. My dad was the quantity time parent, a “Mr. Mom” before that movie existed (even with his full-time high-pressure job, which blows my mind), but my mother swooped in with quality time in regular intervals. Her intimidating intellect and passion for great thought translated into some pretty cool mother-daughter activities, at least now that I look back with the realization that most moms don’t actually speak Old English, let alone think Beowulf is a bedtime story a small child might enjoy hearing (since I couldn’t understand, it wasn’t scary, but I loved the weird sounds she made and the poetry of it all). She took me to visit places of great history, here and abroad, and usually taught me far more about them than the poor tour guides who got stuck with us. Almost no vacation was allowed without an educational component, even our winter trips to thaw on Caribbean beaches always included visiting the markets to meet locals and learn their oral traditions of story and song. When I discovered Shakespeare on my own due at the age of 7 to the 27 copies (yes, I counted) of his Complete Works she had on a shelf and childhood boredom, she didn’t swoop in to teach me about what I was reading, but let me form my own questions first and then answered them without an ounce of patronization. I didn’t often have her attention, but when I did, it was her full attention.

Did I resent that she would often have to miss my activities due to work? Sure. I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight and saw many of my friends had moms who were always around and unfailingly cheered them on. I had yet to learn that quality time is superior to quantity time, too. Looking back, though, I don’t just understand, I am so grateful that I had a mom who forced me to learn independence from the beginning and mixed it up by building great memories when we were together. Don’t get me wrong, if I needed her, she was there in a heartbeat, but my first thought in a crisis has never been, “Help me, Mommy!” She was my last resort, the great weapon I’d unleash on a world that I thought had done me wrong.

She was far from perfect. Her temper was epic and, as I grew older and became more and more like her (read: stubborn), we clashed even more than most mothers and daughters. She pushed me just as hard as she pushed herself and I often cracked under the relentless pressure. I sometimes felt like I was one of her trophies, but one that could never be polished enough. That I definitely resented full-time.

So, when she was hit by a drunk driver and died in a foreign land that prevented not only a goodbye but kept me from the knowledge that she was dead until almost two days later, it was a very confusing experience. The grief of losing her so unexpectedly mingled with a sense of being free for the first time in my life to just be myself. I was 15 and in full rebellion mode. I worried that it was possible that I had wished her dead, even. Stupid thoughts, yes, but natural in the midst of crisis. I used that new-found freedom, though, even reveled in it. I spent a long time barely thinking about her outside of those random moments where it would hit me that she really was gone and I’d allow myself to feel the loss for just a little while.

Cut to 2013: She’s been gone for well over half of my life, a life that I have built into one I never would have expected to have back when she was around. Along the way I have become friends with many educators, even a few with PhDs of their own. I, a high school and college dropout, seem to regularly wind up in long conversations about education and how to improve it, conversations that echo my childhood dinner table. While talking to a professor friend about how I had found my mother mentioned in some recent scholarly works as an expert in the field of Chaucer (a huge surprise for me), my mother’s choice to switch to teaching high school came up and my friend pointed out that my mom got to leave the competitive world of high academia when she did made that move. I immediately replied that my mom would have relished the competition, then realized I wasn’t qualified to answer for her. I had no idea who she was, really. I only knew her as my mother and as a resume. That’s the worst part of losing a parent before you are an adult yourself.

So, I called the person who stood right next to her through all of her choices, my father, and asked, “How did Mom feel about academia, was the competitive atmosphere any part of her decision to leave, and did she struggle with that choice?” It led to a lot of discussion. He revealed that she was pretty sure she would succeed in academia and she knew she’d miss the opportunity to spend a lot of time in research, but that she felt a calling and saw teaching high school as far more challenging than publishing. She did once tell me directly, when I first realized she had been a professor, that, “In college, minds are already set in their ways, and many students can no longer be reached. I wanted to change that, and that meant getting to kids when they were younger.” Still, finding out that her life-changing choice had been easy was revealing. She could have been a star, with piles of scholarly works bearing her name. Instead, she toiled away endlessly in the dark caves of public education, trying to convince the kids she encountered who had never tasted opportunity that education and hard work was the path to a better life and pissing off parents, teachers, administrators, school boards, and the teacher’s union along the way because, to her, all that mattered was the kids. She thought tenure was a travesty, that teachers should always be available to any student who wanted to learn more regardless of what time it was, and that education was the only way to make a better world for everyone. She climbed her way into being a principal so she could create change for even more students and I remember clearly her pride in finding ways to get lazy teachers out of the classroom despite not being able to fire them due to the system she had to operate within. She missed teaching, but the kids needed more from her. She got a lot of threats from every direction, to the point where I was only allowed two years in public school due to fears that I would experience retaliation on her behalf, despite her love of and deep belief in public education. She never wavered on her mission and it truly was a mission.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I understand a good part of who my mother was as a person and what drove her to be that way. More importantly, I feel like we could be friends now, something that even two days ago I never would have thought. She’s been gone for over 20 years, but she’s not gone at all. Not in the “she’s in heaven looking after me” or “her spirit will always be with me” ways, but through imparting those values in her only child. I suddenly understand why I always choose the most difficult path open to me. I’ve often wished that I could be a “normal” person who can focus on things like having security, who didn’t prefer stress and struggle to ease, and who doesn’t feel the pain of those with less privilege with such acuity. Today, I’m letting all of that go, not in my old apathetic this-is-just-who-I-am way, but with purpose and as a choice.

I’ve always been my mother’s daughter, but now I’m determined to BE MY MOTHER’S DAUGHTER.

No, this doesn’t mean I’m going back to college anytime soon or aiming to work in the school system, that would not be true to who I am or the talents I possess. Nor does it mean that I’m going to start screaming the moment someone angers me (that part of her was a big lesson in how not to live). I’m just going to make an active choice to embrace the uncomfortable parts of being me and use them as fuel instead of fighting or bemoaning them.

I’m going to stop rebelling against the imaginary mother I’d concocted out of the haphazard memories that are all you have when you lose a parent during that time when you’re not really supposed to get along with your parents and do my best to live up to the woman who actually was my mother instead.

I’m going to use the same issues that have held me back to drive myself forward.

I’m going to recognize that her less savory behavior towards me was not due to disappointment but rather the potential she saw in me and desire to see it fulfilled. Even with expert educators, their own children don’t come with a manual. She did the best she could and that’s a whole lot better than a lot of children get.

I’m going to do what I can to become someone my mother would be truly proud to call her daughter, because there could be no higher honor in all the land.

Despite the amount of effort I know this will take, I feel a sense of peace within me for the very first time, all because a friend made a comment that sparked a question I couldn’t honestly answer.

Life may be too short, but it never stops bringing surprises.

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Singing in the Wind July 24, 2012

Posted by craftlass in beliefs, current issues, people, women's rights.
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When I decided to apply for, and then got, a grant to go to The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) courtesy of Surly Amy and those who supported her grant campaign I was expecting a weekend of hearing smart talks that would make me a better thinker and meeting people who lived up to the “amazing” part of the title. I didn’t expect to step into a tornado of what feminism really means, people who would do just about anything to keep whatever privilege they were born into, and whether or how people should go about changing things.

See, I’m new to the skeptic circles, even though I’ve been one all my life, to some degree. I wasn’t really aware there was a community built around it, I’d only read some of the blogs and never imagined there were meeting of skeptics all over the country. I had heard of TAM itself and thought it sounded like something I should check out for the past few years but was otherwise mostly ignorant. I just like to think about things and like meeting others who do, too. TAM was my very first experience in the real world of this community. Sure, I’d read about harassment issues a little but had no idea how big of a line was being drawn. The first day or so I was out there my ears were filled with exclamations of, “You don’t listen to any skeptic podcasts?!?!” and, “You don’t know who that is? But he’s a celebrity skeptic!”

Frankly, I’m usually pretty busy and, while I love to find new information, I mostly just catch articles people tweet about when I take a break, sheer luck of the draw. I also worked in music for too long to care at all about celebrity (with one notable exception: I seem to keep embarrassing myself by being starstruck by Starstryder, Dr. Pamela Gay, who impressed the heck out of me the first time I saw her talk and has made me understand difficult concepts I thought I wasn’t smart enough to comprehend. That, my friends, is a woman who should be earning more than Oprah and have stars with her name on sidewalks all over the world! At the very least, she should be a household name that every little girl dreams of emulating when she grows up).

After I announced that I got a grant and was going I was asked privately by a tweep, “Aren’t you scared to go to TAM? I’ve heard there’s a lot of harassment there.” The thing is, not much scares me. I’ve lived in bad neighborhoods in New York City, spent a chunk of time in the real Jamaica (not just the touristy bits), and worked in an industry not exactly known for treating women like actual people. Heck, I spent my early 20s mostly trundling about the country as the only woman with various bunches of men who were pretty much strangers to me when I first traveled with them. The vast majority of my experiences were fantastic and I’m glad I jumped into them with a big splashy cannonball even if my choices might appear to be a bit foolish.

Well, TAM worked out that way for me, too. I met a lot of great people. I learned a lot at talks and in conversations at the bar afterwards. I made connections that I’m so glad to have and might even have some really cool opportunities coming my way due to being there. My life would be quite different right now if I hadn’t gone out of fear. In fact, the only time I was harassed at all it was by someone at the hotel for another event and one of the male speakers actually stepped in to help me before we’d ever introduced ourselves.

On the other hand, I experienced a lot of vicarious harassment that was dealt to people I really like and respect, including my marvelous benefactor. I saw the effects of trolling, judgment, and people rather casually inflicting pain on purpose in many ways. How do you help someone who has been torn down, over and over, even by the very people she is constantly standing up for? A person can only absorb so much hatred without ill effects no matter how strong. I’ve experienced it myself, I’ve seen it happen to others, and I’m exhausted by just thinking about it.

From what I understand, Amy came up with the idea to create grants for women because there is a disproportionately low number of women attending or speaking at TAM. There is a lot of discourse about whether the James Randi Educational Foundation (the group that puts TAM on) should adopt a harassment policy for this pinnacle event in the skeptic community. The result of the community’s conversations and JREF’s lack of movement on this turned out to be a lower female attendance this year. I completely understand why some women stayed away. I also think it’s hard to take a stand without showing up unless you are a big enough name that people notice (which is true of certain women who didn’t go this year and I completely support their decisions). However, the best way to defeat –isms like sexism and racism is usually to show up. I might be wrong when it comes to TAM, as it does cost quite a lot and hurting an organization in the wallet can work, but I’m also glad that I was one of the women who went and talked openly with all sorts of participants about the problems. These conversations dominated the weekend. No matter what people were talking about the subject always seemed to turn to harassment issues. This is a good thing.

I honestly believe that most people want to do the right thing and genuinely would like a harassment-free environment. The reason that denialists and bigots of all sorts are so vocal is they would otherwise be drowned out by the cooler and more knowledgeable heads that outnumber them (this also applies to the Tea Party). Many people don’t even have an informed opinion about harassment until they have talked to victims of it or experienced it first-hand. They are ignorant due to accident of birth and upbringing and can have their heads turned by learning about what women (or gays or any other group of frequent targets) go through all the time, no matter what community they exist in. This last group is the one that needs to meet people who have experienced problems and often those types do learn how to be more thoughtful in their words and actions. It’s a giant group effort of making people think and even people who identify as “critical thinkers” need more to think about. Should a community that prides itself on looking for hard answers be better informed on all of this? Yes. How can we make that happen if we don’t speak to them and make it clear that all people must be treated as equals?

In the midst of all this, my gibberish-inducing hero Dr. Pamela Gay stepped up to the microphone. Seeing her on the list of speakers was a major reason I applied for the grant and she had warned me the night before that this was going to be a very emotional talk. It was listed in the program as “Make the World Better (Ask if Anyone Minds Later)” and that sounded right up my alley. This very accomplished speaker admitted she was a bit nervous about this talk but as soon as she opened her mouth you could see strength and resolve take over. Her introduction was cursory, then she exploded into, “The past few weeks leading into TAM have been absolutely insane. Looking around the internet there have been terrible sadnesses and awe inspiring goodness. We live in a world that sometimes seems like nothing but extremes.” With that, she was off and running, giving examples of how crowds of perfect strangers banded together to right wrongs and support other strangers, yet peppered with the realities of harassment in several segments of society, especially science academia and the skeptic community gathered before her. It was the bravest and most honest talk I have ever seen at a conference of any kind. They gave her a microphone and presentation equipment and she gave us all a blast of how we can be responsible for making the world the way it is, good and bad. Now, run off and read the full text, this will be here when you get back.

She got a long standing ovation. I’m pretty sure she’s also gotten some backlash because that is what happens when you are brave, strong, and willing to call people out even if done in a most delicate and gracious manner. Be part of the ovation or go think long and hard about why you’re not.

I don’t know about you, but at a moment when I’m questioning why I’ve sacrificed almost all my personal stability to struggle as an artist, I really needed those words. What feeds me most is hearing people talk about how my music has changed their perspective on issues I care about or taught them something while they were entertained. I have a giant stockpile of music that no one has heard yet and some of it might be controversial enough to cause me problems with all sorts of haters. Granted, that worries me less than questions about how to afford all that recording, but it does cross my mind. I don’t care anymore, though. I want to change the world so that those who come after me can live in an altogether better version of it. Heck, I want to live in a better world now. I want to participate as actively as I can. Won’t you join me?

***

P.S. There is no way to say enough about how grateful I am to Surly Amy for making it possible for me to go. This was a life-changing event made possible by the kindness of strangers, an embodiment of how we can affect the lives of others. So, please, if you have the money (they’re not expensive) and don’t outright dislike ceramic jewelry, please go find a beautiful SurlyRamic to buy for yourself or someone you love. They are very high-quality and there are plenty of creative and fun designs to choose from for all.

Also, a new group that I am very enthusiastic about, Secular Woman, is trying to give grants to at least 10 women to get to SkeptiCON this fall. If you can, please donate to this excellent cause.

While I’m at it and you have your digital wallet out, if you want to support my efforts in a financial way, please make a donation or go buy some of my music on my Bandcamp site (other sites take over 2 months to pay me for your purchase, FYI. Bandcamp pays me nearly instantly. It rocks).

We CAN All Just Get Along, We Just Have to Try July 12, 2012

Posted by craftlass in beliefs, life lessons, people, relationship.
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Being who I am, if I restricted myself to socializing with people who agree with me on most things, I wouldn’t have a social life. Even worse, I would be stuck, like so many people are, in a bubble. Still worse, I would spend my life being so much angrier than I am. Oh, I’m angry about a lot of things and find plenty more to be angry about every day, but for the most part my anger is directed at media, politicians, religious leaders, group-think, and generally people who use their power to harm or oppress.

I cherish my friends who might seem on paper like people I could never get along with. For example, two women who I absolutely adore are Catholic. One is more in-line with the Church’s positions on things, one is a bit of a maverick, but they both know my opinions on their religion, that I was raised in it, and left the second I could for very good reasons. I have the utmost respect for both women and value their opinions on many subjects, even ones we will never see eye-to-eye on. We also have a lot in common, that’s how we found each other online and bonded. I met both in-person at different NASA Tweetups (now called Socials) at Kennedy Space Center and we just clicked like we had online, which deepened our relationships immensely. With one of them I’ve had many long debates on the things we disagree about and enjoyed every bit of them.

The thing is, if you don’t have calm, rational debates with people you disagree with, how can you truly hold a position? If how you feel about something can be broken down just by hearing the other side then maybe you didn’t believe it in the first place. If someone simply disagreeing with you makes you want to lash out, that’s your problem and you need to work on your own issues. You can’t educate anyone if you attack, either. Once a person is in a defensive position it’s very hard to learn anything or even fully comprehend the attack.

The wisest, kindest, and most thoughtful priest I ever knew took me aside when I was in 2nd grade and getting into major trouble in my Catholic school for deeply questioning the faith I’d been born into. He listened to my concerns and answered with, “Unquestioned faith is no faith at all. Keep questioning everything.” While I have wound up without a faith, his wisdom still resonates in me. I apply it to many aspects of my life and it gets me through moments of indecision and second-guessing.

Why, yes, I did say that one of the best lessons this atheist learned in life came from a priest. See? Even people you disagree with can add a lot of value to your life if you just give them the chance to speak their minds. They challenge you, give you perspective, and keep you out of that damn bubble.

The only things I require of any friend or potential friend are an open mind, respect for both our similarities and differences, tolerance for each other’s flaws, and a sense of humor. Okay, the last part is actually the most important. Laughter can get you through just about anything!

In the end, not only do I celebrate the differences between many people and me, but I keep coming to the same conclusion: We have more in common than not. All people, no matter their affiliation or background, have more in common than not, when you get down to the real person hiding behind whatever labels society may affix to them. Travel is the greatest teacher of this, but just getting to know your neighbors can give you a great lesson in it.

Of course there are people I like more than others and people who I will never get along with. That’s the nature of life and being human. That doesn’t mean I or anyone should ever be purposefully rude or unkind to any of them and it’s not that hard to be tactful and polite while staying true to yourself.

I’ve never been a big joiner, I prefer solo sports and video games, working for myself or a small business, and keeping my options open in every way. I’m sort of a loner with a talent for socializing that hides my anxieties about it. Still, I believe in inclusion and never taking gossip to heart, I’d rather try to get to know someone before making up my mind about him or her. Gossip is poison in the form of a giant game of Operator, only it’s not a game at all, and we can all get sucked into that trap far too easily.

Maybe that’s why I don’t like joining groups much. From what I can tell, most operate with a social structure that breeds gossip, divisiveness, and hurt feelings when someone is left out or the group forms a hierarchy. It’s a shame, as people can do more good when joined together by a common cause, but then all of these things start flourishing and can turn even the most noble group into a monster that resembles a high school cafeteria more than an adult venture.

On the other hand, I do love being surrounded by intelligent, thoughtful, and interesting people of all kinds and working together to make good things happen. It’s the only way to effect real change. All of my music, at it’s essence, is based on that. I might be writing about space or science or religion or politics, but at the core of every song is a human story inspired by the people I’m so lucky to have in my life. This very blog post was inspired by a multitude of individual conversations with a few different people.

I love people. All people. We’re amazing. We have thoughts and feelings and the capability to explore everything from ourselves to the universe surrounding us. We’ve come a long way in just a few million years! We also have a long way to go as long as we don’t blow everyone up. You can choose to be part of the effort of advancement or you can stay mired in where we are now, because you have a human brain that can make decisions.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” – Bob Marley

So, my advice to everyone everywhere (including myself) is to be a little less quick to judge, a little more open to listening to anyone, a bit more polite to all, and to learn about a topic from all angles before deciding on your own opinion. Getting to know who people really are is the most effective way to reduce the amount of anger and hatred in this world, and doesn’t that benefit us all?

If Love is Just a Dream… May 16, 2012

Posted by craftlass in music, people, relationship, writing.
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Those words began a journey that has lasted over a decade and taken so many twists and turns the whole story would take many posts to tell.

Actually, it begins before I heard them for the first time. In 1996 I was only 19 and living down South, doing odd jobs for and living on the road with a favorite band, when I came home to the New York City area to visit friends for Thanksgiving. I was mad for a local band called Native that all of my crowd loved and a guy somewhere between acquaintance and friend played guitar in, I always missed hearing them when I was elsewhere. Since I had road tripped up, I had my car and a few of us decided to take advantage and drive up to Westchester to see them play. My friends were all friends with the band and someone introduced me to a guy named Dave who I didn’t recognize. Next thing I know, I’m rattling off about an African drumming course that I had taken the summer before and how much I love drums and was learning about them. He mostly listened and seemed interested, so I kept yammering. Imagine my embarrassment when he walked onstage and got behind the drums! I had no idea he was Native’s drummer even though I had seen them play many times.

The band gave me a copy of their new-at-the-time cd and I passed it on to a friend in the business who in turn got them a series of Memorial Day weekend shows with Max Creek. As luck would have it, I moved back to the area just in time to see those shows and rapidly became friends with the whole band, especially my now-domestic partner (their percussionist) and that drummer, Dave “Hollywood” Thomas. Dave fascinated me, not only is he a drummer who had played in many bands but he is a huge geek and talented prolific writer of just about anything. He’d spent years researching and crafting an excellent screenplay about John Ford and was in charge of the band’s monthly newsletter, the Marmfington Times, as well as the songsmith behind many of the best Native songs (rather rare for a drummer). I started helping the band out with bulk mailing and the Marmfington Times right away, which made Dave and I not only bond but discover we make a great team. He hired me to type his screenplay into his very first computer and it gave me real insight into how lucky I was to work with someone so talented.

Over the years we’ve played in bands together, started and ran a record label, and generally turned to each other for anything, even if just an honest critique of whatever we are doing separately. I don’t even remember half the projects we’ve done together. He’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had, steady right through the great and the awful in life. He’s also my favorite person to argue with as every screaming match we’ve ever had makes us better artists, writers, businessfolk, and people. He challenges me constantly. I like that, at least from him.

He’s an actual genius in every sense of the word.

Considering his original songs number well into the hundreds I was really surprised one day when he called me up and said something like, “I have this music and this lyric for them, ‘If love is just a dream, I want to dream forever,’ and I don’t know where to go with this, but I think it might be a hit song if finished. Can you come over and help me?” Well, those requests are rare and you just have to jump at them. I rushed over after work and I believe we worked on the song until I had to go back the next morning.. Now, I was a baby songwriter back then and had never collaborated with anyone. What the heck was I doing creating a song with one of my favorite writers?

I did have one advantage at the time, though – I was working at a major label and listening to tons of songwriter demos coming in for our artists as well as carefully watching everything about how a song went from demo to full-blown release, many to platinum status and top rankings in Billboard.. I spent my spare moments picking the brains of my colleagues about what they looked for in songs for their artists. This was just before Napster was originally launched and the revolution in the music business began in earnest. My colleagues pretty much decided what the vast majority of the world would be listening to. It was a far better education than any college program could dream of being!

I consciously applied those lessons to what would become “Just a Dream” and Dave and I decided we should make a demo of the song so we could try to sell it to a pop artist to sing. After all, it’s very much a love song and also quite different from any of the musical projects we were working on (although one band we were in performed it for a brief time). I usually avoid writing traditional human love songs, hasn’t most of that been covered already? This one felt different, though, and too beautiful to not exist. Plus, you know, you really don’t get to write with someone that good every day.

Another lesson from my job that we applied was making a top-quality demo. When Dave invested in recording gear for what had been simply Native’s rehearsal studio we tapped some of the most talented people we knew to come play on the demo. The biggest coup was getting Catherine Russell, one of the best vocalists of all time and backup singer for the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Paul Simon, to come in and sing it. After all, even a great demo won’t get your song sold without solid vocals and I was not up to the task back then.

Actually, she sang it twice. Her vocals completely disappeared from the hard drive. She’s always busy as hell but she did come back and the performance was even better.

Then we did nothing. The song just sat on a hard drive. I left my job. Catherine finally got the record deal she deserved and the chance to focus on her own music. iTunes stormed into being and many of my old contacts lost their jobs. Life moved on. I recorded an album that never came out. Native broke up and Dave moved on to other projects, including a couple of bands, writing a play that’s caught a lot of attention, getting his movie scripts read and optioned all over Hollywood, and even developing a comic book. We started a label and focused on business collaboration and other people’s music together. I eventually quit music entirely due to exhaustion and frustration with all of it and tried to find another career.

Fast-forward to 2012: I’d semi-reluctantly become a singer/songwriter again, put out two singles and an EP, found minor (but amazing) success as an artist, and developed a loyal and incredibly supportive audience. It was all completely unexpected and absolutely wonderful! I dug out what backup discs I could find for my old album, figuring I could just re-sing my vocals and release it at last (I still love those songs and how well they came out, other than my raw youthful attempts at singing the oft-difficult melodies I like to write). At the back of the box there was a disc of rough (or, in music-spelling, “ruff”) mixes that had a couple of bonus tracks – versions of “Just a Dream” as I had originally sung it so Catherine would have a melodic reference. I called Dave in excitement and asked, “Do you remember this song? Do you still have the multitracks?” Luckily he’s a digital packrat and indeed, he had it all. We decided to record yet another set of vocals – this time, my own, with the intention of releasing it. Thus, on a cold and rainy winter night in New York City we opened up this time capsule of sheer beauty and collaborated on music itself for the first time in years. We reworked the melody and harmonies to suit my style, arguing the whole way and enjoying every bit of it. We shared the bittersweet sting of listening to the gorgeously perfect guitar work of Native’s late guitarist, Mike Jaimes, who had originally brought us together so long ago and lent his brilliance to our beloved song. We reminisced while working hard towards the future. These sessions were amazing in every way.

On Monday we did the final mix, which was a whole different sort of rebirthing for me – I hadn’t engineered at all in many years and had an absolute blast getting my hands on ProTools again. We worked together, swapping out who was at the controls from time to time, molding something pretty into something that takes our breath away. Neither of us could have done it this well on our own, talented as we may be. From near-beginning to end, this was a true collaboration and the result is far greater than the sum of our parts.

This song may seem out of left field to those who know my released music and I may not (yet) even know how to play the guitar part so I can perform it live, but I don’t care. I’m proud to have been part of almost every aspect of it and even more proud to release something that Dave spawned.

If you’ve followed this whole story you might have worked out that the week after Memorial Day this year will be the fifteenth anniversary of Dave and I working together. We’re incredibly excited to announce that we’ll be celebrating in the best way possible – releasing this fantastic song so you can hear it at last! It will be our first release together as writers and artists and we hope you’ll join the festivities we’re now planning and give it a good listen.

Follow me on Twitter (which I use by far the most), Facebook, and/or Google+ or sign up for my mailing list at Reverbnation if you want to be among the first to know about release plans as they firm up, or check www.craftlass.com as June grows closer.

Darkness Falling May 7, 2012

Posted by craftlass in people, relationship, SpaceTweeps.
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3 comments

Depression is a nasty beast. There are so many species of it and I think few people can lead even a medium-length life without being attacked by at least one.

During 2009-2011 I went for the longest stretch of my life without it. It was glorious! I was able to be the sunny and thoroughly productive person I had always longed to be. I made lots of new friends, found a new calling in life, and wound up involved in many projects I am very proud of. I went on crazy adventures without fear or hesitation and did things I hadn’t even bothered to dream of because they seemed so out of reach. Life was good.

Then one day last August I realized something had changed and I had lost my hope. Hope is a powerful thing. It gets you through bad times, illuminates good times, and just generally adds a sheen of goodness to everything and everyone. Most importantly, it gives you the courage to have faith in people, which is pretty much a necessity.

So, here I was, with a wonderful life I couldn’t have imagined, and I suddenly didn’t want anything to do with it. I had plenty to look forward to – I was gearing up to head on a dream tour of Europe with some of my favorite people and was in discussions for cool plans after my return. Yet, for some reason, a darkness was settling into my heart again and I couldn’t find a way to push it out. I felt trapped inside my head and was panicking over how to get back out.

I tried to just keep living my life the way I had. I failed. Everyone experiences depression in a different way, mine is to become even a bigger loner than I already naturally am. When I get that way I find that being around people makes me far lonelier than actual loneliness ever could. A few years ago it was really easy to give in to that as I lived alone and had few friends. I could set up my little fortress of locked doors, silenced phone ringers, and an avoidance of email. Healthy? No. Objectively I know it’s bad to retreat from the world on many levels, including the fact that it prevents getting better, but I hate sharing my pain while I’m experiencing it and when my mood gets that low it’s impossible to share anything but pain.

To top it all off, the thing that compounds my depression the most is the knowledge that I’m hurting people by retreating from them. It’s one of those vicious cycles that is infamously hard to get out of. I have so many apologies to make that I can’t find a good place to start.

So, I left for Europe depressed. I fell further while there, even while having some of the best moments of my entire life. I came home wanting to find a way to change almost everything about my life and not seeing any path to doing that. Then my worst fears in life came true and rock bottom dropped to a new low. My physical health toppled until I couldn’t do anything even if I wanted to (which, if you know me at all, is pretty much the opposite of how I live under even the worst circumstances. I’m all about energy and activity, even when everything else falls apart) and that made my mental state hit a dangerous level. The only tried-and-true solution for making myself feel better is exercise, particularly dancing in any form. Without that I am truly lost.

My partner tried to make me feel better but that mainly just made me feel guilty he was stuck with this lump on a couch instead of the woman he fell for. He deserves better. A few friends demanded that I keep them in my life no matter how hard I tried to push them away, even if it just meant listening to me cry and complain and reject any attempt to cheer me up. They deserve better, too. At the time I was resentful about people “bugging” me, which says everything about how far I was from my true self. I wish I could find an adequate way to thank these friends! What level of gratitude could be enough for reaching into the bowels of someone’s personal hell and dragging her into the light again? There are no words, no gestures, nothing that could express how I feel in a meaningful way.

Obviously, I am feeling a lot better now. I can write about this from a far more objective viewpoint. I have a long way to go to get back to where I was a year ago but what matters is I have good days now in between the bad ones. Why am I writing about it? I see a lot of my friends going through the same thing right now. I wish I could be strong enough at this point to be their support. It’s impossible to help someone when you are lacking the strength to help yourself. Maybe, just maybe, by sharing a little of what I was going through and why I disappeared from the internet and my local life will at least show other people that they are not alone in this no matter how much it feels like that. I won’t say there is nothing wrong with being depressed, it sucks and there’s no way around that, but it’s also not exceptional. It’s part of many people’s lives. Some have full-on clinical depression, some have situational depression like I have been experiencing. The reasons are less important than the emotions.

Our brains are mysterious and wondrous things. We’ve come a long way in understanding them but there are still more questions than answers. Therapy and/or drugs are helpful to some but destructive to others (I’ve always been in the latter group). We have to muddle through and find our own ways to combat these sorts of problems in life. I’m a long way from figuring out my own but I am here to tell you right now that things would be different if a few amazing and patient people hadn’t gone out of their way to show me that the loneliness and worthlessness I have been feeling is just an illusion. I’m starting to believe them, slowly.

Never doubt the power of simply sticking around.

Since I’ve started to communicate again I’ve found a lot of different reactions to my reappearance. A few people stopped responding to me and a lot of relationships have permanently changed. Then there are the people who acted like no time had passed at all, who welcomed me back and showed me I was missed but immediately went back to treating me exactly like before this rough patch. They’ve turned a potentially painful process into a joyous one and made me want to be me again. I may not be out of the woods, I may even face the deepest of depths again, but for the first time in my life I am certain that there will always be a ray of light at the end of a tunnel of any length. Becoming social again is overwhelming every time but at least a lot of the tidal wave this time is of the positive variety. Being around people I’ve loved all along and fully enjoying their company is the most refreshing experience I’ve ever had.

I repeat: Never doubt the power of simply sticking around.

As American culture gets lonelier and more selfish, life gets harder. Friendship in particular is becoming more superficial (for examples, just look at Facebook) and we are often told to value our selves and our families almost to the exclusion of anyone else. We collectively admire most the people who create success “on their own” even though that is never the true story. We care less and less about those less fortunate even as more of us join those ranks. Even most of our social groups divide us more than unite us, as they make us look at the world as “us” and “them”. This is poison to us both individually and as a society. Depression and malaise grow and bring everyone down, including those not experiencing them directly and those who profit off other people’s woes.

Maybe an individual can’t change the path we’re heading down, but you absolutely do have the power to make at least one person’s life better. Use it.

Heroes July 20, 2011

Posted by craftlass in NASA, people, politics.
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As a musician, you’d probably think my heroes would be the musicians who inspire me. While I give them credit for making me the artist that I am, my musical heroes tend to be more the technical and business people who created the ability for me to be a truly independent artist. The engineers at ProTools and the wizards behind Audacity, for example, especially the latter, since they do it in an open-source way that gives me the ability to record a demo on my laptop wherever I may be without spending a dime. This is important since I’m a classic example of struggling artist, especially since I’m still sort of a newbie at being on this side of the microphone. Then there are the people at Bandcamp, Tunecore, and Reverbnation who create the opportunities for us independents to have many of the marketing advantages of major players in the industry. These people have enabled an outright revolution that is making the world of music a far better place. Despite my lack of love for major labels I also admire the people who do the real work of getting their music out, the assistants and “little people” who go about their duties with passion and vigor without getting any of the credit or even a big enough paycheck to live in the cities they have to live in to do their work or usually even a simple, “Thank you.” I was one of them once, and it’s the hardest work in the industry. Makes being a musician feel like a piece of cake even when I’m working 16 hour days or exhausted from traveling and promoting myself.

As a space geek, you’d probably think my heroes are astronauts. Don’t get me wrong, I admire them beyond measure, but the real heroes are the people who toil endlessly to get people, satellites, and robots off this planet. You may never know their names but you benefit from what they do every single day of your life. In the next few weeks many of them (those in the shuttle program, of course) will be out of work and they’ve known this was coming for months and years yet continued to put their best efforts in and show pride in what they do. Whether writing software, training astronauts, interpreting data into something usable, designing systems, building, or any of the million duties that are required for success, every single one of them is an imperative piece to the giant puzzle that is spaceflight.

Watching people I admire, even love in many cases, lose their dream jobs and do it with a smile and gratitude they even got to be a part of this for awhile has completely changed my perspective on heroes. Sure, there is bitterness as well, but the grace with which most are accepting their fates is something beyond admirable. Some of them will never be able to sell their houses and move where jobs are available. Some of them will lose everything they’ve worked for all these years, serving the American public in a concrete way politicians could never understand. I have never seen so many houses for sale that will probably not find a buyer as on the Space Coast. It’s easy to look at numbers and dismiss them, after all, what’s thousands of jobs lost in an economy that has lost millions of them? Getting to spend a lot of time in an area that likely won’t recover anytime soon, no matter what the national economy does, provides insight into how disjointed America can be. We are not just two nations occupying the same plot of land as some would say, we are thousands of micro-societies with unique problems and things to contribute to the whole.

When the shuttle lands tomorrow an era that has been an integral part of any greatness America can claim to have will be over. No matter how quickly we can get new programs going the end of this era will also signal an end to a community of the best and brightest we have produced as a nation. They span the nation, most obviously in Florida and Texas but also in hundreds of towns you would never think of as being enhanced by the shuttle program. Some will move into different areas of space work, others will have to move into fields they have never wanted to be part of because there just isn’t enough room for them in a scaled-down space industry. Their training as NASA or NASA contractor employees is incredibly valuable to many industries but many of those industries are ones that simply don’t contribute to our society in the ways that truly matter. I wish we could keep them working for the greater good instead of helping to line the pockets of the already-wealthy. Even worse, they will no longer be working as a team.

Do I think NASA should be a jobs program? No. Is there bloat and waste in the agency? Absolutely. However, the way to fix that is not to push out the very people who can take us to greater heights as a community, a nation, and even the global community of humans. As citizens of one of the few nations with the resources to embark upon these grand adventures in science and exploration we are responsible to be angry on the behalf of heroes.

But first, just find yourself a shuttle worker today and say a heartfelt, “Thank you.” A small gesture, to be sure, but one they could use a whole lot more of.

I’m thrilled to add this has been cross-posted at the Space Tweep Society blog at http://www.spacetweepsociety.org/2011/07/20/heroes/

Musings on Creativity and the Power of Positive People August 8, 2010

Posted by craftlass in music, people, Twitter.
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I was looking at my web site and clicked through to my blog. Wow, how is it possible I haven’t posted in so long? Admittedly, most of my writing brain and time has been going into music these days, but sometimes you need more than 140-characters (re: Twitter, the only social site I like) and sometimes it’s nice to not have to worry about rhymes, meter, etc.

So, here I am, with a blog probably no one bothers looking at anymore and so much to say!

This past year has  been so amazing! So many things I would never have thought possible have actually happened. A year ago I was lost, had quit the career I’d spent most of my adult life building, was a bit scared of meeting new people, and never thought I’d even consider playing music in front of strangers again. Now I’m almost a full-time musician with wonderful new friends right here in my lovely little town and across the globe. One of my favorite friends lives about as far as possible on Earth yet we’re closer than I am to most people I’ve spent thousands of hours hanging out with!

More talented and informed people than I write plenty about the power of the Internet and the social possibilities it presents, but what I’ve learned is a bit less academic. Talking to people who are actually doing things, trying to make the world or even just their own lives better, makes you a better person. Rather than “the power of positive thinking” maybe we should concentrate on the power of positive people. No matter how strong of a person you might be the people you are surrounded by (in real life or virtually) inevitably exert an influence on your way of thinking.

Until the Internet really took hold, who you were associated with was largely a matter of circumstance. You played with the kids in your neighborhood, socialized with people you worked with, got to know people purely because they hung out at the same places, and so on. My world (with wonderful exceptions, of course) always seemed to consist of people who focused on how hard life is, how unlikely risks were to pay off, and how everyone is “out to get you.”

I spent most of my childhood through 20s depressed. The most damaging part was no amount of excelling at something meant I was actually talented to my mind, there would always be someone better. My bedroom was filled with ribbons and trophies from various activities and playbills from my theater work and dancing, yet I was convinced all of my dreams were out of reach. Luckily, that feeling didn’t stop me from trying, but it weighed on my brain like a truck and made it easier to give up on some things that were not only passions, but things I actually rocked at.

So, what made the difference? Well, two things. One day I decided that I could look at my life as a series of overwhelming obstacles or I could appreciate that the hard times made me better prepared for whatever comes next and therefore I should have hope. I can’t change my past but I could change my perspective on it and use it to make my current and future life better. Suddenly, the world seemed a lot warmer and brighter than ever before, and I found myself smiling a whole lot more.

One of the great secrets of life: Smiling=meeting more people=more chances to find the good ones=more smiling. Therefore, the first thing brought me right to the second.

Suddenly, my town of mostly young adults who party too much for my older taste revealed a whole bunch of people of all ages who had similar mindsets to mine. They were always there, I just needed to change to find them.

Meanwhile, I found Twitter and my social network suddenly spanned the globe, mainly consisting of incredibly smart and upbeat people who are contributing to the world in so many amazing ways (if someone tends towards the negative there I can just unfollow them, too, which is one way Twitter is superior to traditional social venues). They inspire me daily. Most importantly, they inspired me to write music again.

I used to believe that art sprang only from depression and my newfound lack of depression would kill my writing. It’s done the exact opposite. My brain is constantly flooded with ideas, rhythms, melodies, fragments of compositions that swirl away, demanding release. Even better, when I do have down days and find myself lacking in the willpower to keep up my disciplined attacks on writing and rehearsal, my friends, acquaintances, and dear fans lift me up and remind me why it’s important to keep putting in the effort instead of nagging me about how hard it is to have a career in music. I live the hard part, I don’t need to be how difficult it is! Positive encouragement and reactions are the finest fuels for motivation.

So, if you stumbled across me and what I do and you’ve ever sent me a message or bought even a single track, thank you. It’s a cliché but you truly are the reason I work so hard and I’m endlessly grateful to have these reasons. They’re a far better incentive than any paycheck could be!

Now, I just need to work on getting the non-musical writing momentum up…