creative

the art of making art + ignoring the dishes

the art of making art + ignoring the dishes

A couple weeks ago, I spent an hour on Instagram Live, talking with fellow makers about how I’ve managed to raise children, live in community, and also keep creating music. Let me start by saying I am not amazing, nor is my situation unique. It’s not at all unusual to be a working parent. I think the unconventional nature of the music business makes it seem less conducive to leading a balanced life with family than other types of work.

You may feel like you need to set it aside once you start a family, because you feel a little selfish taking time to make art, especially if it’s not generating much or any income for the family. Or you may just be so freaking tired all the time that you can’t fathom having the brain power to make something good.

Well, let me encourage you if I can? I have five kids who are now 11 and up.  I didn’t start working in music as a vocation until my firstborn was three-years-old. I was SO tired for a LONG time.

I could talk for dayyyyys about all of this, but I have songs to write! So I’ve tried to recall + summarize the tips I shared in our Live chat.

pilgrimage

Last night I arrived home from Masterpiece Project 2017, an arts camp for teens where I spend one week each summer facilitating a songwriting studio for 10-15 students. Each year has its own theme which we explore together via a camp-wide collaborative project. This year’s theme was “Pilgrimage.”

Through film and song and words and drama and photography, we talked about Journey. The path. The detours that turn out to be the path. Internal conflict. Interwoven paths. Reflecting back and imagining what might be ahead.

It’s resonant from where I stand in this middle part of life, with the accumulation of days growing behind me and still craving more adventure. I can actually count decades now, and say things like, “Remember 20 years ago when Princess Diana died?”

But even this one day, today, was its own micro-pilgrimage from waking with a neck-ache and no agenda to this very moment where I sit in the dark on my back patio, listening to dogs bark and crickets chirp. I have a small glass of red wine and a bit of dark chocolate I was too tired to eat last night.

The in-between hours of daylight included a 90-minute, unplanned conversation with my daughter in this same spot, where we talked philosophy and faith and relationships. There was a trip to the Y where I was surprised by tears (mine) on our way in, and sat instead on the side steps to the building. My daughters found me and sat with me, too. We traveled across town to a church I’ve wanted to visit and were soothed a while by the gentle tone of the pastor’s voice and the truth on his lips. We ventured into Panera to feed our bodies and Target to acquire tools for the upcoming school year. And now here I sit, reflecting.

Today and for the past week I’ve fought hard to stay present and emotionally-armed as I am reminded at every turn of a painful detour in my life. My friend said a week ago: “The detour is the path.” It’s been bouncing around in my head ever since.

And making me angry, too. I mean, some detours could be avoided, right? Some detours become necessary only because people are selfish and put up roadblocks that affect everybody on the road. Right?

Yes.

So what? Here we are. What are we going to do about it? Here I am taking this unexpected route, a route I didn’t see on the map, and have no knowledge of or interest in. Taking this route is going require re-arranging and will make me miss some beautiful things I’ve looked forward to. I’m tired and my pack is heavy and the view ain’t that great.

This detour hurts. A lot.

Caspar David Friedrich - The Wanderer

Caspar David Friedrich - The Wanderer

Sara Groves sang in "Painting Pictures of Egypt": The future looks too hard and I wanna go back.

It's so true it hurts my heart to even listen to it. You get it.

But you know what?

We're doing it. We’re moving along. We woke up this morning, and we put some clothes on our bodies, and we said, “Okay, now what?”

Life is story, and in all great stories, the protagonist only grows when the writer allows them to walk through a fire of some kind. We develop, BECOME, more real, more fully human, when our surroundings become suddenly unfamiliar, and we feel out of sorts even in our own skin.

I adore my little back patio, but sitting here doesn’t make me stronger. You don’t read about patience and magically become patient. You live stuff that makes patience necessary, so you get better at it.

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I don’t have anything new or revolutionary to say, just still teasing it all out, this idea of being a pilgrim in progress towards something Marvelously Other than what we’ve seen.

I’m a whiny pilgrim. I'd like to watch “Gilmore Girls” and sleep on my special, chiropractic pillow and have all my favorite people live closely in a town of tiny houses near the beach. Because that’s my small mind’s best attempt at conjuring a picture of heaven. (I'm pretty sure it’s close.)

I foolishly sang, “I haven’t been asked yet to walk the hard road,” knowing it was a matter of time. I don’t want this stupid hard road. Neither do you. But I know this: A road is a means of travel and connection.

The hard road is not a grave.

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There are no roads to nowhere when you’re listening for the voice of the Maker like a whisper on the wind. When the route gets washed out in the mudslide, we (God + us + our loving people) will innovate another way. We will. We’ll feel sorry for ourselves for a minute. And then we’ll get up, clear some debris and innovate another way.

It'll sometimes feel like hiking barefooted off-trail on rocks, but it won’t feel like we’re doing it alone. Not if we pay attention.

And we’ll make up some decent songs along the way.

Keep going, little pilgrim...there’s beauty around the bend.

All photos by wonderful Lana Kozol, Masterpiece Camp Photographer

All photos by wonderful Lana Kozol, Masterpiece Camp Photographer

This one's for the mothers (& all creative caregivers)...

Repost from a while back...in case you could use a reminder. :)

Mother and Child, 1902 - Pablo Picasso

Mother and Child, 1902 - Pablo Picasso

DEAR FELLOW MAKER,

I’m not the best at responding quickly, and you know why.  I know you know, because you have the same issue, which is why you wrote to me.

There are embers glowing inside you that won’t.go.out even though you have a tiny human or two (or five) to care for and really don’t have spare minutes for artistic flame-fanning.

You have a few domestic goddesses in your life and a few childless superstar artists in your periphery, and as my poet-friend Beth Ann Fennelly wrote:

“I want membership in both clubs.”

If we dedicate heart and soul and all our waking hours, we may at best become “Honorary Members” which feels sort of like a southern “bless-her-heart.”

At least, that’s how it feels most days, because you have:

1. no homemade bread on your counter, OR

2. no new song/story/painting to show for yourself. 

And that, my sisters, is why I write now to YOU.

Because you need to hear the truth.

Which is that on the first day of recording vocals for Feed Your Soul, I cried on the couch in front of my producer 10 minutes before I had to sing.

The truth is I came into the studio 16 hours after making the 10-hour drive to Nashville with four kids, two dogs and 12 stressful situations on my mind.

And also?  I’d watched the Grammy award show for the first time in years and gone to bed both inspired and utterly devastated.

Devastated, because I was reminded what is possible when artists dedicate themselves AND most of their time to their creative work.

Crushed, because even IF I have the talent & skill to make what I'd like to make, I most certainly do not have the hours or money to do that WHILE also raising a (healthy) family and participating in my local community. 

It’s not so much a desire to compete as a desire to contribute to all that beauty that leaves me sometimes aching over my limitations.

So.  That’s reality.  I fully admit it, while admitting also that I chose this full, peopled life and would choose it all over again.  Hands down, I’d take the young marriage, pregnancies, adoption, move to North Carolina, and our community relationships…all these things that made it unlikely (at best) for me to ever be in league with the Jack Whites or Florences but always & forever in league with six other members of the “Most Fascinating & Hilarious Humans on the Planet” club.

I’m saying this for you, sister.

For you, who just know you were born to make something but don’t know where to begin or how to stay awake to do it during those rare hours of quiet.  

You weigh your desire and ability out on a kitchen scale against love for home and family and “normal life” (whatever that is).

I don’t have the practical answer for you and your specific situation, but I have enough experience to say:

You can’t do EVERYTHING, but you can do SOMETHING, and that SOMETHING feels so small and insignificant that it can’t possibly matter, but it CAN and it ABSOLUTELY DOES.

You think if the WHOLE WORLD doesn’t see it or hear it, then it doesn’t really COUNT, but that’s a LIE.

Everything you make, everything you cultivate, everything you tend…it counts,

because you were entrusted with those things by Someone who chose YOU for the job and is paying very close attention, not to charts and likes but to souls.  Yours in particular.

Listen.

I wrote “Held” when I had a toddler, during a time when little else I wrote was very good.  I didn’t have a publishing deal.  I was a little lonely.  But that song started to count the minute I wrote it (for my friends), not after Natalie Grant sang it.

Since then, everything I’ve written and recorded has been done in WEAKNESS and FATIGUE and UNCERTAINTY.  The songs have been written in teeny, tiny margins.  They have been few and far between, just a handful a year.  They matter to whom they matter, and that will remain a mystery to me.

And I, too, have to remind myself of what I know is true.  (“Be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”) We all do.

So that’s what I came to do.  To remind you what is true.

You have been given something marvelous.

You must invest it, whatever it is.

Whatever it is, it COUNTS.

YOU count.

In it together,

christa

thoughtful gifts for songwriters...

ITBMW_Art Well, friends,

Before I get to the point, if you haven't yet gotten your free download of the Christmas single (cover art above) I recorded with my pals Jess Ray & Taylor Leonhardt, I want to make sure to give you that link, so go ahead and CLICK HERE. Merry Christmas!

Hopefully you're ahead of me and have finished all your gift planning for the Christmas celebrations. If not, and if one of the outstanding recipients happens to be a songwriter/music-maker, then this is for you.

My friend, Taylor, and I were talking about how sweet it is when you find a gift that truly adds to a life without also being a burden in terms of clutter or maintenance.  I googled "gift ideas for young filmmaker" the other day, because I have one of those in my house, and I thought I'd put together something like that for us musical types, in case you're googling "gift ideas for songwriters" (probably not on the most searched list, but still...).

Here are a few that came to mind, in no particular order.

I apologize for not taking time to add pretty pictures and poetic descriptions. As I mentioned, I'm not done with my own preparations yet! May update in time for next Christmas?

Instrument or Accessories

I almost didn't include this, because it's obvious, but if it's time for new strings or a travel case or cables or boom stands? Easy.

Journal & Pen 

I'm partial to ordinary composition books these days. Less intimidating, less guilt if I don't fill it, slim & lightweight. But, I've loved many a fancier journal in my life - so just choose something soft that lays flat when opened. Then find a nice ink pen to wrap with it. Voila. (I do have this Moleskine journal now in my store, but I promise that's not why I mentioned journals.)

Books

I know not everyone enjoys reading, and there are artists who make great work without reading a lot.

But if you CAN enjoy it, I say it's one of the very best things you can do to fuel your art.  For me, any books that come highly recommended and are well-written, fiction or non, will make me happy.

But here are a few I've especially appreciated as an artist:

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art – Madeleine L’Engle

Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg

The Artist's Way - Julia Cameron

Steal Like An Artist - Austin Kleon

Show Your Work – Austin Kleon

A Million Little Ways – Emily P. Freeman

Songwriters on Songwriting – Paul Zollo

Writing Better Lyrics - Pat Pattison (okay, this one I have not yet read, but a number of my writer friends have & have highly recommended it)

 Subscriptions

American Songwriter magazine - I love this magazine so much & only wish I had time to read every issue cover to cover

Tickets

There's almost nothing more helpful to a performing artist of any kind than to actually GO to see live performances. If cost were no issue, I think most of us would be attending a lot more shows and watching less Netflix.

Give your loved one tickets to concerts, and not just the big productions. Those are great fun, but most of us aren't ever going to have the resources to pull off that kind of show. Find tickets to a house show with a reputable artist performing or an intimate local venue, so they can learn by watching & be inspired.

Give tickets to theatrical productions & arthouse movie theaters. Most people will spend money to hit a mainstream theater a few times a year, but it feels risky to a lot of people to try an independent film. Because those films are often so interesting and provocative, get two tickets so you can go together and then have dinner & conversation after.

 Host a House Concert

If your writer is interested in sharing their work publicly, help them out by graciously planning a concert in your home and inviting your neighbors, friends and family. It'll be a gift for you, too!

Does it sound scary or difficult? It's totally do-able, and my friend Matthew Clark has this great house concert resource page for you. Check it out!

Yeti Blue Microphone 

I love this little guy for capturing work tapes or even rough demos. We've also used it for broadcasting live online shows. I love it because it doesn't require me to be a techie and it's the best affordable USB mic I've found so far.

Headphones

I've used Bose and Audio-Technica. Again, I'm not a techie, so definitely do some research, but something other than earbuds is super helpful for recording and listening to mixes.

Scholarship to Masterpiece Project

I work at Masterpiece Project as a songwriting studio leader one week every summer and cannot speak highly enough about this place. It's exactly what I wish I'd had when I was a teenager, a safe intimate environment to explore art and make friends under the mentorship of faith-based professional artists.

If your artist is rising 9th-12th grade, this would be a fantastic Christmas gift that won't end up on their bedroom floor with dirty socks.

Demo Recording Session

For a beginning songwriter, one of the most exhilarating experiences is to have one of your songs recorded professionally. Demo production can range from $200-$1500 depending on complexity of recording and reputation/demand of the particular producer.

If it's a new/young/aspiring songwriter, definitely find someone in your local area who will do it on the budget end of the scale. Make sure you hear samples of their work before hiring.

Portable PA

This has been the handiest thing I've purchased in the past few years. I use the Fishman tower system, but I've heard good things about the Bose, as well. Perfect for small venue performances. If you only need 1-2 inputs, you won't even need a soundboard.

Soundboard

For performances with multiple vocalists or instruments, use a mixing console like this one from Yamaha with your PA.

Music!

You can't go wrong with iTunes gift cards. Or vinyl for the young/audiophile crowd. Or physical CDs for the non-digital car. And maybe give them some music that has stood the test of time that they wouldn't ordinarily seek out. I was heavily influenced by music I found laying around my childhood home, music popular before my time...Patsy Cline, The Beach Boys, Dire Straits, Roy Orbison. Help your writer get acquainted with the greats of the past OR greats from genres other than their first love.

Time

If your writer is a grown-up, one of the best gifts I can think of is dedicated time.

Is she a mother? Take the kids away from the house for a day and let her write in peace!

A married man? Give him an evening a week to himself & a place to create.

Or get crazy and find a place on the beach where you can go together - but go your separate ways during the daytime.

Macbook

Enough said. It's true, not all artists love Apple, but it's a good bet.

This Calendar

I don't have this, but someone is getting it for my young filmmaker, because he's interested in making actual progress toward goals, and I've heard great things about this helpful tool from Jon Acuff. Check it out.

 Professional Photos

If he or she wants to share their music or book shows, this is going to be necessary. Find a good local photographer who has some experience with artist photography (different from wedding or baby portraits) & book a session.

Website Design

You don't have to have a pro do it nowadays, at least not to start out, because there are some good build-your-own sites. But if they are getting busy with music work, this could be an amazing gift. OR, simply buy a domain with their name so they can use it whenever they're ready!

Skype Songwriting Mentoring Session(s)

Finally, I love to encourage up-and-coming songwriters. It's one of my passions to come alongside others who are using their gifts.

If you have a songwriter in your life who would benefit from conversation and feedback on the craft of songwriting or the life of music-making, I'm happy to offer a limited number of session times as I have time.

Please email me at christa@christawellsmusic.com to discuss the possibilities. Fun!

 

So, there you have it. My quick brainstorm on thoughtful gifts for songwriters. Have more ideas? By all means, share them below!

Love,

christa

 

 

 

 

 

 

You're wrong about your age.

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I felt old when I was 25.

I guess it started when I became one of the first to get married in my friend group before I was even 21 and suddenly felt separated from my former dorm-mates who were getting apartments together off-campus. After having my first baby, sleep-deprivation and semi-confinement to the house added to my sense of removal from culture, the working population and my own generation in general.

I’ve always felt like an outsider, like many of you – like most of us? – but now I was an OLD outsider.

At the ripe age of 25.

So when this fresh-faced musician approached me looking for reassurance that he hasn’t yet passed his expiration date, I totally got it; the anxiety you feel when you have exactly zero momentum, zero accomplishments, zero opportunities in sight.

The funny thing is, I do remember being eager to turn 22, the magic age when you’re finally taken seriously as a grown-up with some valid life experience and opinions.

That eagerness to age didn’t last.

And if you feel over-the-hill at 25, then of course you’re going to cry in the shower the morning of your 30th birthday.

Of course you’re going to describe yourself as “early thirties” when you’re 34.75 years old because “mid-thirties” is basically the same as dead.

And you're likely to approach 40 sighing an apology to the world for no longer being relevant and salting every conversation with “getting old ain’t easy.”

UGH.

But I think…you've been wrong about your age.

You’re wrong because you think that number has to mean a certain thing that's been advertised by a youth-centric media.

You think that the number of your years is the limit of your potential.

It is not.

Your age is not written in Sharpie on your forehead, nor is it remotely the most telling thing about you.

Listen.

Those numbers – or rather, the conventional assumptions about those numbers -- are not the boss of you.

There is no need to walk through life like heavy-lidded prisoners in ankle chains, when we have legs ready to run, feet wanting to dance and minds able to innovate and imagine.

Yes, yes, the human body wears out eventually. That’s why we start signing up for 10ks and eating kale.

And so also can we fight the stereotypes that trap young(er) & old(er) alike.

Still in your youth?

Why don't you go blow those clichés about teenagers out of the water by showing up not because you need the volunteer hours but because you’ve learned early to care for others?

What if instead of being fascinated by who "they" are, you find out who YOU are, and instead of doing what "they" do, you do what YOU do?

Devastate expectations by asking your elders what the world looks like through their eyes.  And listening to their answers.

Added a few years to your youth? (I like that framing.)

How great!

How about stepping outside your comfort, so that through discomfort you can step into a more vibrant & generous life?

Keep engaging with the world in the ways that move & excite you.

Stir up curiosity & admiration for the generations coming after you.

Keep being YOU, with all your affinities and quirks, because (p.s.) your license to be you was handed to you in the womb and it does not have an expiration date.

(Note to grown-ups: Life is short enough. Need we shorten it further by inserting a margin of 40 years to be bored, irrelevant and grumpy?)

Like you, I occasionally worry that my best is behind me, that it might be too late to try again.

Like you, I have felt I needed to wait for permission to add my voice to the important conversations.

But you know what?

photo credit: MaryAlice Joyce

I just had one of the best nights of my life, without anyone's permission and with a few years added to my 20s.

Musical friends helped me put together a release show for my recent COVERS ep at The Pour House in Raleigh. Not only was it incredibly fun, but the consensus is it was one of the best performances I’ve ever been a part of. I was a decent singer & songwriter in my 20s, but…I feel like I’m only now getting to really know my own voice, literally and figuratively. Quite honestly, I’m better now than I was then.  Don't be afraid, dear 25-year-old! More good things to come for you!

That night a guy and a girl happened into The Pour House “randomly.” They hadn't heard of any of the artists in the lineup and said it was one of the best “randoms” they’d ever experienced. In conversation we realized we are 10-15 years apart, which surprised them. Their enthusiasm about the music affirmed again to me that we are wrong to assume people are incapable of valuing our contributions because of the numbers.

 

Are you doing the work that is yours to do?

Are you doing it with joy & care?

 Are your thoughts and voice continuing to develop in substance & beauty?

 Is your work meeting someone’s need?

Are you still here, breathing in your mortal body?

 

Then welcome. There is always room at the table for one more choosing to live this way, at age 6 or 92.

This is not a statement about earning potential, nor is it an exercise in sentimentalism.  This is about the community of humankind, all of us learning to see & cherish each other because it is right & it is good & it is in our best interest to do so.

We begin to change the harmful, marginalizing system of age-ism (that travels both directions) right here in our own minds by internalizing the fact that our true worth does not ebb and flow with the hours.

Neither youth nor wrinkles have the power to diminish a reality which didn’t originate in the flesh but in the unfathomable love of the Maker who's devoted to what he makes.

You were BORN LOVED and SHALL REMAIN SO.

Every year added to your life is just a little more time to practice believing it.

That's what I think.

cnw