Journey

The Vulnerable Artist – Or How I Overcame the Fear

I mentioned an EP in my last post…. I’m working on an EP. It’s going to consist of 6 cover songs reimagined by myself and my producer Willie Green, called The Homage EP, and it’s the first solo project I have ever released – I’m crazy excited. But also terrified. As I have mentioned, I ran into vocal troubles recently. That occurred right at the point in the recording process where the songs had been rewritten, instruments had been recorded, vocal parts had been arranged, and it was time to hit record on my voice. This was when I had to put everything on hold! I had no idea when I would be able to get back at it, I felt betrayed by my own body, insecure in my own abilities, and scared for the future of my career if I was going to go losing my voice at key turning points. But after months of recovery and strict diet and focus on being well (detailed in the last post), I went back into the studio last week. I’m SO AMAZED and EXCITED by the progress but my whole journey has now been tinged with self-doubt.

I constantly worry myself about my voice and this project. For a while there I consistently told myself terrible things. “Who do you think you are doing covers?...” “Just write your own songs or no one will care…” “Why highlight the vocal capabilities of someone who’s struggling with their voice?....” Why are you wasting so much time, money, and energy?....” “Don’t get too excited or you’ll just be let down by how it turns out….” And my favorite after listening to each track as it progressed- “That sounds terrible, everyone will hate it.” That last one is so not true, you guys will love this project, but that’s honestly what I’ve told myself. I’m my own worst enemy sometimes.

I don’t think it’s a surprise to find an artist with self-doubt or anxiety about their work – and it’s these thoughts and feelings that have driven me to share this journey because I do not believe I am alone here. Artists are unique in that they are constantly going within, exploring the very depths of themselves and their world, feeling all the feelings, and working to express those feelings to the world. It’s an incredibly vulnerable feeling – exposing our truths like that, and it can be terrifying and exhausting.

I obviously could not allow myself to go on thinking like that or my voice would have never healed, my work would never have been completed, and I would probably have eventually given up on this singing dream and settled for something less difficult. These feelings of self-doubt kill creative flow. They stop the process of creation in its tracks. But instead of allowing for all of that, I’ve developed some coping mechanism that I use to deal with the artist doubt. I want to share them in case you ever find yourself doubting anything about yourself – artistic creativity or otherwise.

First things first,

  • Stop allowing yourself to talk to yourself that way! You would never let anyone else talk to you that way so why should you get away with it? Talk to yourself as you would expect someone who loves you to talk to you. Imagine your closest family member, mentor, best friend, or partner engaging with you about this particular doubt – I’m pretty sure if you love them and they love you, they’d be pretty nice and soothing about the topic – imagine their words.
  • Similar to the above suggestion, replace negative mantras with positive ones. It seems easy but it’s actually quite difficult! It’s so easy for us to constantly tell ourselves negative things that it sometimes feels silly to tell yourself something positive. When’s the last time you looked in the mirror and thought “Beautiful! “I’m looking great today!” “Cuuuuuute!” or something else positive? Try it! It feels kitschy, but it works. Same goes for our art – even if you don’t yet necessarily believe it, what if you thought “This is some amazing work,” “This rivals (insert favorite artist of the genre’s) early work,” “This will inspire millions!” instead of the usual doubt. Next time the negative comes in, try to replace it with the positive and see what happens to your artistic flow and process.
  • Allow the thoughts to exist, don’t judge them, but don’t let them linger, either. One thing that we constantly do is pile on negative feelings on top of negative feelings. When we feel doubt, sometimes our next thought is “Stupid! Stop feeling doubt! You're being weak!” or something ridiculous like that. This blame game is an additional waste of energy and time – energy and time that could be spent creating. So when the thoughts bubble up, as is normal and will happen, let them. Even though you’ll eventually work to replace them with positive thoughts, that doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up for having them in the first place. Let the thoughts stand; acknowledge them without judgment; then work to send them on their way. But trying to force them out, pretend they don’t exist, or beat yourself up are not going to work.
  •  Do. Yoga. Or running or biking or dancing or swimming or weight lifting or karate or ANYTHING physical. It’s important. Not just to your health and wellness but also to your connection to your breath (the epitome of flow), your mind-body connection, and to get you out of your head. It will also help you develop a disciplined practice in something that will naturally help you connect in a more disciplined way to your creative process. Have a regular practice in anything physical that you love doing and watch the ideas flow right from your heart into your work.
  • Acknowledge the fear but don’t let it hold you back – Sometimes we have the fear and it stays present in our minds despite the work we do to release it. If this is happening (honestly, I listen to my voice every day and have something critical to say that I’m scared my listeners will catch) it’s fine. Thoughts are thoughts, feelings are feelings, they exist and sometimes can’t be controled, but draw the line at them being thoughts. Do not let fear drive you to actions. Do no let fear keep you from releasing your art into the world, do no let fear make you tell everyone who looks at or experiences your art that it’s “not very good,” do not act from fear. It’s easier said than done but try to act from truth and instincts, rather than fear.
  • Share your work with loved ones who care for you, first- they’ll tell you the truth and ease your mind about your own brilliance. It’s hard to share your art with the world so start small. Show it first to someone very close to you who’s opinion you value, and who’s love for you will keep them honest and open. What will probably happen, instead of whatever disastrous outcome you’ve invented that might occur, is a little bit of number one up there – a calm, soothing, open discussion of your fears that are relieved by the support of those you love. It’s good practice for sharing with the world and you might end up with some useful feedback instead of just judgment.
  • Manifest – We often forget the power of our thoughts. If we’re constantly thinking “this is terrible, everyone will hate it, etc,” guess what order you’re placing with the universe? Instead, allow your daydreams around the subject to be epically wonderful – instead of seeing the worst possible outcome, imagine the best ever. This doesn’t mean set yourself up for disappointment but allow yourself to enjoy the daydream of winning the Oscar, getting the Pulitzer, winning a Mac Arthur grant, finding fame, or whatever else amazing things can come of you making this work. It’s from these powerful thoughts that the greatest creations are set free.
  • And finally – Know you are not alone. When we experience overwhelming feelings like doubt, fear, anxiety, depression, or other emotions that block the flow, we sometimes feel ashamed and alone. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I’m sharing this with you to prove that. You’ve got me. I also bet that there are artists and colleagues all around you that doubt themselves at some point. Hopefully this blog can help you to understand that these sorts of hiccups are all part of the artistic process. Dive into your process, feel and live your process, share your process and the flow will come right along with it.

 

These simple practices have become my life. As someone who wants to spend my life creating, open, and vulnerable while also staying well and not reverting to the usual artist comfort tactics of drinking, smoking, or not sleeping with worry, they work for me. Next time you feel mired in doubt or fear, or creatively blocked, try one! Adopt one of the above practices into your life and see how it goes! My next post I’ll offer up some resources full of ideas and practices like these that have truly opened me up, got me flowing, and helped me to create this project that I can’t wait to share in early 2015!

 

And 'Wellness for Artists' is Born!

This weekend I cheated on my voice. I had a love affair with a few glasses of wine and some cheese. It felt amazing! But my voice and I have already talked it out and we will slowly be rebuilding trust over the next few weeks - I vowed not to cheat again (for the next few weeks). What the hell am I talking about? Welp - the biggest driving force behind this blog and my desire to share with you guys was something major that happened on my artistic journey this past summer. After having ruminated about the next step in my life, I had decided to take the leap to full-time teaching and singing. I decided to leave my Ah-Mazing job as the manager at Sacred Brooklyn, took the huge risk away from a steady source of income in a family like environment, and went with the hunch that I could convince people to let me teach them things I love to do while freeing up time to pursue my artistic dreams. After committing to this plan, going freelance, and booking gigs as a summer camp teaching artist, yoga teacher, kids yoga teacher, and after school program teaching artist, something rocked my world that I was not expecting- I lost my voice. I didn’t lose it like when you’re sick and your throat hurts, I lost it like there was an ongoing vocal problem that I’ve probably had for years that was suddenly showing up in my inability to speak loudly or sing. It lasted about 2 weeks, the hoarseness and exhaustion around just speaking, and my singing voice was completely gone for about 4 weeks.

My best friend, Linz has had vocal issues so I learned about these things at a young age and it was my number one fear that I had developed nodules or polyps on my vocal cords. Once that’s the case, you usually need surgery to correct them. As a newly freelance, uninsured teaching artist, I found myself anxiously looking ahead to impending surgery that would not only cost a WHOLE bunch of money but also keep me away from my profession and making money for over 6 weeks. It seemed impossible.

I cried.

A lot.

Silently.

But after I stopped freaking out, I got proactive. I decided that if this was the first of such symptoms showing up, I could probably take it as a warning sign from my body and modify my life to make things easier for my vocal cords. (Truthfully, I didn’t arrive at that on my own, I was actually wallowing in self-pity and ran to my acupuncturist, Lindsay Fauntleroy of Oceans and Rivers– I told her that I had manifested vocal problems through my own self doubt about my voice and she immediately offered an alternative way of thinking about it – taking a lesson from my body was much more in my control and useful than dramatically blaming myself for something that I didn’t even yet know was unfixable.)

Anyway – I did my research, talked to some doctors, made some appointments and made some changes. I immediately cut out coffee, knowing that vocal problems can come from too much acid in your stomach attacking the cords from underneath. To tell you today that I successfully quit coffee is a miracle. If you had asked me 5 months ago if I’d ever quit my favorite thing, I would have laughed at you. But I did it – I needed less acid and I was drinking acid all day every day. Caffeine is also drying. So I cut it. Next I started drinking way less alcohol (still drank some, I’m human,) and focused on drinking more water. Again, hydration is the key to a healthy set of pipes. Then I started talking to my friends and colleagues openly about the problem. Though I was scared to admit that I had a problem at all (especially in the vulnerable arena of creating art, it’s hard to tell your colleagues that you’re operating at less than 100% while also trying to get hired for gigs), it helped to hear other people’s stories of vocal problems.

It turns out I most likely have vocal fatigue, a problem that is fixable with careful lifestyle choices. I still have to see a specialist to confirm but the last few months of changes have so drastically improved my situation that I can’t imagine I actually have nodules (knock on wood!!)

Changes I’ve made in my lifestyle and diet –

  1. I steam my vocal cords once or twice a day – I fill a bowl with hot water, put in a few drops of eucalyptus oil, and inhale deeply for about 15 minutes. This was suggested by a few people and it turns out is a staple practice for many professional singers. It offers softness and flexibility in the throat and voice box.
  2. I cut the following from my diet – sugar, alcohol, fried foods, bread, seafood, anything refined, dairy, tomatoes/ acidic foods, and anything too spicy. All for a variety of reasons but mostly to appease my acidic stomach, deal with mucus/ phlegm, and stay hydrated. This list looks small typing it but it’s got some of my hugest vices and loves in my food-related world. I would have laughed at you suggesting I quit coffee months ago but would have been rolling around on the floor if you had asked me to give up sugar and dairy. No cheese, no ice-cream, no candy, not too much fruit, no honey, no nothing fun!!! But I’ve made the adjustment and though I cheat here and there, I’ve settled into my new diet.
  3. I take scheduled silent time throughout the day. I used to take any open time in my day to chat on the phone or hang out – and while I do still do these things, I’m much more aware of how much I’m talking throughout the day. I thought I was doing something wrong as a singer, but there’s talking to be considered as well. As a teacher, I talk more than the average person and often to rowdy groups of children who would love to make me yell – I refuse to yell in class and I refuse to talk on the phone for hours a day. I rest, meditate, and relax my throat actively once a day.
  4. I’ve been losing weight. This helps everyone’s health in general but is mostly due to number 2 up there.
  5. I made this whole situation a teaching moment for the kids in my musical theatre classes and I explained to them every change I’ve made in the classroom. One colleague of mine sent me a link to a speaker you can wear around your waist like a fanny pack with a Madonna style microphone you loop over your ear so I wouldn’t have to work to project as much in the classes– I bought it immediately. I introduced it to the class and explained exactly why I need to use it (which coincides with why we warm up our voices before singing) and I remind them often that I will not shout and need them to quiet down. I also remind them of my own issues when I hear them screaming or making terrible choices with their voices.
  6. I’ve started voice lessons with an incredible singer who has the power and stamina I want to develop. She’s got some interesting methods that I’m staying open to as I explore the limitations and range of my voice.
  7. I took a break from singing for a few months – Though this was torture, I put my EP on hold (more on the EP later!), stopped singing with the band, and generally took it easy.
  8. I. Drink. So. Much. Water. That will heal me – water.

This list is extensive and some days I’m lazy and skip a step or some days I feel like I’ve earned a cheat. On those days I let myself have it! Cheating is an important part of the process and an important part of developing lifelong sustainable habits. I don’t love that I have a huge list of restrictions but they are just for now as I heal and find what’s right for me – eventually I’ll ease into a more moderate relationship with all the things (sugar, my dear friend, I’ll be back just in a more mindful and healthy way!)

When I have a serious craving for something I am not allowed to eat, like pizza or fried chicken or ice cream, I simply ask myself – “Lauren, do you prefer a moment spent with ice-cream or a lifetime spent singing and sharing your art?” The answer is a no brainer. So I’ve created this blog to share with you as I develop habits that will bring together my lifestyle, my chosen professions, and my journey for wellness. I’ve always wanted to work with artists on their general wellness – I believe guitar players need more hand, wrist, and shoulder love, writers need to get up and walk around more, actors need more self-love in the face of constant auditions and rejections, singers need all the habits I’ve listed above and more, touring artists need help feeling grounded, we all need more sleep, and we can find this all through healthy choices that we integrate into our unique lifestyles. Many a singer will be up all night at a gig, but maybe together we can develop the habit of taking a yoga class beforehand and cutting the whiskeys off after just a few. Together we can learn how to afford delicious, healthy, whole, nourishing foods on our tight or sometimes non-existent budgets. Together we can overcome our dependency on feeling ALL the feelings and wallowing in the darkness that we believe creates the best art. As I strive to be well, these simple habits being just one list of many self-care practices I hold dear to my heart, I hope to spread the wellness through our whole artistic community.e84738f0333b697da8e81030e0a2968c

A Journey Worth Sharing

Phew! I’m blogging again. It’s been quite a while and so much has changed! I’m writing because I feel drawn to share my story and path with you as I explore the world of yoga and wellness and how it relates to my life as an artist. Hopefully you can find, in my stories, some inspiration, some laughs, and some humanity from a wellness ‘professional’ and ‘artist’ who’s just trying to live up to both of those titles one day at a time- so here we go! A few years ago I had recently graduated college as a young adult – it had taken me a few more years than my peers and I had worked hard to pay my own way through it. I was proud of what I had achieved. Working the events job that I had held most of my college years, I had been honored with a promotion up to manager. I felt lucky to have a job with a good salary and benefits in a broken economy, had a staff like family (some of my best friends and greatest inspirations to this day were met working there and one fellow member of the management team was really family), and I worked with fancy celebrity and society types. I was living with my boyfriend of many years, had a supportive, loving relationship, and should have been happy. But I wasn’t. With any of it. Though I was proud of what I had created, my pride was based more on how my life looked and seemed than how it felt. I needed more from my life and I knew it though I didn’t know what that meant.

In comes Sacred Brooklyn, a Bed-Stuy based hot yoga studio at which a friend of mine taught. I went there for the first time to go to a Prison Yoga Project fundraiser – I had followed the work of the San Francisco based Prison Yoga Project for years and was glad they were coming to Brooklyn. I walked into Sacred and felt an instant vibration that I can only now tell was a signal from the universe that I needed to be exactly where I was when I was – I needed to practice yoga at Sacred Brooklyn. I fell in love with everyone there. I loved seeing many faces of color, many people of all shapes, sizes, and ages, and the owner having a beer at a party (signaled to me that these people were “normal.”) It was the first yoga studio I had walked into that I didn’t feel intimidated by. They had poles for pole dancing in their main studio!

I had practiced yoga for years since moving to NYC but hadn’t yet found a deep sense of community in any one studio. I had also never tried hot yoga. It didn’t interest me much but I was so drawn to the community at Sacred that I was willing to give it a try. My first class was with Chichi, a fact that I now know to be hilarious because Chichi is notorious for extremely difficult classes, and I hated it. It was hot and sweaty and gross and weird and I felt like the heat was really holding me back from being able to do most things. But Chichi gave me a pep talk about coming back, giving my body time to adjust to the heat, using my 2 weeks intro as much as possible, and he got me. This also happened to be the first day of their very first January 30-day Challenge. After recovering my breath in the lobby, I remember not knowing what the hell my hand was doing as I asked the front desk for a pen and basically stood back and watched from outside of myself as I signed my name on the poster on the wall and accepted the challenge. On my first day of trying it, I had just committed to 30 days of hot yoga in a row.

I excitedly and exhaustedly ran home and checked my schedule. Events hours are crazy so I needed to be really careful about making sure I made it to a class a day all month – this meant some 7am classes and some 8pm classes- whatever it took. I went back the next day and the next and the next and suddenly things started to happen for me. Emotionally, I opened up – so much so that I remember this one time my boss laughed at me and jokingly asked me to drop the challenge when I had been tasting a stolen wedding cupcake in the kitchen after a particularly difficult interaction with the mother of the bride (I could write an entire blog about dealing with the mother of the bride but anyway…) and it turned out to be a mint chocolate chip cupcake – my favorite of all flavors ever. I cried real tears of joy down my face, ruined my makes up as I exclaimed “Oh my God, the universe knows exactly what I need right now – it put this cupcake in my hand!”

Physically,  I also went through it. I was sore all the time, discovering new muscles, constantly drinking water to work against dehydration, losing weight, getting more flexible, tired yet energetic, and sweatier in general. I only made it like 15 or something days through the challenge – I got really sick at one point and the doctor ordered me not to go that night. But even just attempting to do such a thing, and being a part of Sacred’s community started to change me. As I practiced on that mat every day in front of that mirror, I made some serious decisions. Faced with my own silence, movement, and reflection, I admitted to myself I wasn’t happy. I knew that happiness was in my own hands and that it wasn’t just general depression or unhappiness but it was based on real problems I had with my life. I wasn’t happy at work – I loved many things about it but ultimately it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t happy in my relationship – again, I loved many things about him and us but there were some serious things that I desired that were missing. I wasn’t sure how I felt about living in NYC anymore – I was craving something more peaceful. By the end of attempting that 30 day challenge, I had signed up for an additional month at Sacred, given my job notice, decided it was time to leave my home and boyfriend, and made arrangements to move out to Montauk for the summer.

To make an already long story somewhat shorter- that was the beginning of a huge shift for me.

This is a story that focuses around Sacred Brooklyn, yoga, wellness, heart opening, reconnecting to my desires to serve our community and create art, and getting back to the basics of my own happiness. It has been a ride – I moved to Montauk and came back homeless and jobless – I couch surfed and worked odd jobs until landing back at Sacred as their Managing Director (an irony that is never lost on me). I moved to a beautiful classic brownstone apartment in Bed-Stuy to be close to work. I now have a completely new sense of home, community, friendship, support, collaboration, and love that I had never experienced before in Brooklyn. I have since become a yoga teacher, teaching at Sacred and other places, I’ve become a teaching artist teaching 4 – 13 years olds singing and acting. I sing in a few bands, am working on an EP, directing a children’s play, writing, and I teach children’s yoga as well. I also teach yoga at Riker’s Island, inspired by the work of the Prison Yoga Project and others that I have worked with to go in and make a difference where it counts.

I live every day towards my life’s dreams and goals, have taken huge risks along the way, and feel the fruits of those risks ripening every day. I want to write and share this journey with all of you out there who feel creativity driving them at their core. This blog is also for those of your who feel a desire to be well and balanced in this city and lifetime, and a hope that there can be more out there than meets the eye. I employ many many tools to stay balanced, focused, joyful, in my flow, and well on this journey and I’d love to share some of those tools and resources with you! Yoga is more than just breath and movement, creativity is more than just sitting down to create – both are lifestyles; they involve flow, intimacy, risk and most of all, a desire to connect with yourself fully. As I learn to live a balanced, open, abundant, creative life, I hope that in sharing with you we can all move towards abundance of flow through creative wellness!