Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Music Mondays in Hollywood

"Welcome to Hollywood! What's your dream?"


Every time I walk down Hollywood Boulevard at night, surrounded by cheap souvenir shops, clothing stores specializing in stripper attire and discounted suits and bars of every persuasion, I can't help but think of that line from the opening moments of Pretty Woman. But as cheesy as it can be, I love what Hollywood represents. Believe in your dream, work your butt off, hopefully catch a break and you'll get your chance to be a star.

I've mentioned The Hotel Cafe in previous posts, and it's exactly the kind of Hollywood place musicians go to work at making their dream happen. I hadn't been out to see any live shows in quite a while, so when my pal Tammy suggested we check out a line-up that included one of my favorite Hotel Cafe regulars, I couldn't resist. And Hollywood on a Monday night is a lot more tame than a weekend, and therefore more enjoyable since you're not fighting off crowds everywhere you go.

After a nice dinner at The Geisha House (where I not only tried my first sushi roll but got a splinter in my thumb from the chopsticks), we went to check out some new music and appreciate an old favorite. Here's a rundown on the acts we enjoyed.

The Smoking Flowers
Cool alt-country duo from Nashville. According to their website, they call their sound "Southern Gothic folk." I call it awesome. The lyrics were gorgeous and Kim Collins, the female half of this duo, reminded me of a young Loretta Lynn. Tammy and I met them after their set and they were both SUPER nice. They're got a new album coming out soon and are hoping to come back to The Hotel Cafe later this spring for a CD release party. They're definitely worth a listen.

Courtney Marie Andrews
Even though she's American, she sounded a little Irish when she sang. Her music had kind of a Tori Amos meets Florence + The Machine with a touch of early Sarah McLachlan vibe. I'm interested to see what the recorded versions of her songs sound like because her guitar got a little lost behind the keyboard and drums she had backing her. Not completely sold at first blush, but not without potential.

Angel Taylor
She's got a really strong voice, which she featured by starting her set solo on piano. My first impression was that she's a classic case of an artist with a great voice but nothing unique in terms of musical direction. That said, anyone who pulls out a cover of my favorite Bonnie Raitt song ("I Can't Make You Love Me") and does it justice is fine by me. Her cover of "Creep" by Radiohead was far less inspiring, but I enjoyed her original song "When I Come Home" and some of her other lyrics were interesting ("Girl on the piano bench singing my tears away..."). During her set, she mentioned she will be a contestant on new season of The Voice. She's funny and self-effacing on stage so she'll make great TV.

David Ryan Harris
David is a longtime Hotel Cafe regular who many people know because of his long standing role as touring side man for John Mayer (You might have heard of John somewhere...). All kidding aside, I've heard John say many times during his own shows that David has more than enough ability to be a successful solo artist in his own right, and he shines in a venue like this. David's strength is telling very human stories with his music. Simple melodies, strongly visual lyrics, great guitar work and a voice with incredible range are all he needs. He's working on finishing a new album, and if his preview of  "Shelter" is any indication it will be another phenomenal record. Plus David always throws in a few crowd favorites at every show. Check out iTunes for "Still Be Loving You" (written for his mother) and my all-time fave "Pretty Girl."

So now you have ideas if you want to discover some new music. Find an artist you like and support them -- they need your help to make their dream come true.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The New Plan

I've become frustrated with my life lately.

Wait, let me rephrase that. I have a great life in so many ways I don't want to sound ungrateful for everything I have. My frustration is really about my inability to DIRECT my life more effectively. For a while now, I've been drifting from idea to idea, project to project, just sort of dabbling in things without a true purpose. I make lists of all the things I want to accomplish -- all the fantastic ideas I have -- and here they sit, stuck on a list, while I get distracted by all the little details of life. Some of those details ARE important, but many are nothing more than excuses not to pursue the things I want.

Lately, the cycle of my day has been fighting to get out of bed, pushing myself through a work day, coming home and working on lots of random "things" but not accomplishing very much, then spending some happy time with the people I love trying to forget about my frustration and falling into bed still thinking about it. Not a cycle for success, to say the least.

In trying to understand where my efforts break down, I kept coming back to organizational issues in my day. I had wonderful lists of things to accomplish, but how was I organizing the TIME I applied to those ideas? I went back through days I've had recently that I considered "successful" versus those that were not (keeping a diary helped tremendously with that process) and mapped out how I spent my time during those days. The process involved some frank conversations with myself about my strengths and weaknesses in terms of motivation hour-to-hour during the day. What I soon realized is that I wasn't accomplishing more because my day wasn't structured in a way that played to my strengths.

This flipchart has absolutely NOTHING to do with the structure of my day

So I set out to divide my day into sections of time based on a realistic assessment of my energy and motivation levels and put the things I need and want to do each day into those time buckets. Now I envision my day in these 5 stages.

It's more than just getting up and heading to work or out to start the weekend. For me, my most creative thinking happens in the morning, but until now I haven't taken full advantage of that energy. Most mornings, I get up, have some breakfast, check Facebook, check the web feeds I follow, read e-mail, etc. and then head to work. From now on, most of that "stuff" is getting parked in another portion of my day because I don't need creative energy to do it. Mornings will be my time to create when I have a clear head, before everything that happens during the main part of my day clouds my priorities and muddies up my thoughts.

I was initially tempted to call this section "Work." I guess that shouldn't be a surprise since we spend a huge portion of our lives working, but I stopped myself for a couple of reasons. I wanted this structure for my day to function 7 days a week, and luckily I don't work on the weekends. I also wanted this portion of the day to reflect all the things I'm doing to move my life forward. It might be job related, or it could be completing a list of tasks needed to plan a vacation. The difference here it that my efforts are not purely creative, but they do advance the rest of my life agenda. And on a lighter note, "Work" also doesn't end in "-ing" and I wanted some nice symmetry in my naming structure.

We all get to that point in the day when our energy starts to wane. In my case, it normally starts about an hour before I leave work, yet I still have a big chunk of my day in front of me and I don't want to waste it. Dedicating some time to getting re-energized will ensure I have the motivation to finish the day strong. When I was maintaining a better exercise regime, I always found a quick cardio session right after work got me back in the swing of things. Some days, a power nap might do the trick. Maybe it's a cup of coffee or some quiet time. Whatever it is, the goal is to chase away the afternoon lag and get ready for the rest of the day.

Most of the social aspects of my day happen in the late afternoon and evening, so this category just made sense. These things don't take much creative or mental energy, and they're usually enjoyable, so they work better in the later part of the day when my overall energy level is starting to level off (I used to try and create during this portion of the day -- no surprise why I wasn't getting anything created). Social outings, time with friends and people I love, Facebook and other social media, website feeds, reading, TV, etc. And of course, the occasional hockey game.

If this plans works like I think it can, I'll have plenty of things to look back on at the end of each day and feel good about. Giving yourself a pat on the back is important. It's also critical to check in with yourself about what worked and what didn't during the day so you can plan on how to attack it tomorrow. It's like balancing your checkbook -- what did I spent? What did I get in return? If the numbers balance, it's been a good day. If you're in the black, so much the better.

The OCD portion of my personality was tempted to allot actual TIMES to these blocks (e.g. Awakening is 2 hours) but I realized that is also part of my problem. Each day has different demands, so the amount of time I spend in each segment of my day needs to remain flexible in order for the system to work. The key is simply to integrate each component of this plan into my day.

Writing this post was my "Awakening" for the day. Time to get going on the rest of the plan.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Searching For Something? Stop Seeking And You Will Find It

During the week before Christmas, I was frantic. Trying to wrap up things at work, packing to go back home to the East Coast, finishing last minute gift arrangements -- and desperately trying to get my Christmas cards addressed.

I'm normally pretty good about keeping my address book updated during the year. I even have a special address list for Christmas cards built into my contact file. But I was running around like a mad woman looking for one address in particular, one that was printed on the return envelope of a thank you card I'd received from a friend. I remembered putting the card in a pile of paperwork I was sorting through on a business trip in early December. The pile of paperwork was gone, but the address wasn't updated in my contact file. Had I thrown it away by mistake? Left it at the hotel? Stuck it in the corner of another purse I was using?

I hunted and hunted and just couldn't find the darn thing. At 3 AM before my flight left for Philadelphia, I finally gave up looking and planned to contact my friend and ask for the address again.

I have a pile of books I've been meaning to read for quite a while, and on my longer plane rides the past couple of months I've packing a book to pass the time. When I boarded the flight to Philly I slept for the first couple of hours, then woke up with two more hours in a plane seat, unable to sleep. So I pulled out the latest book on my list -- the one I had taken all the way to Cleveland for a business trip and never opened.

As I flipped open the cover, a smile of recognition came over my face. Inside was the envelope I'd been desperately searching for -- right where I put it AFTER I finished the other pile of paperwork so I wouldn't lose it.

Sometimes we get so busy in our lives we forget the things we need are right under our noses. The next time you're frantically trying to find something, stop looking and relax. It will find you right when you need it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Confessions of a Sick Mind

All kinds of crazy things go through my mind when I'm sick with a cold. Maybe it's the drugs. Maybe it's the way my psyche handles feeling out of sorts. Either way, it's nutty and I'm confident enough in myself to share my nuttiness.

Here's a small sample of my brain waves from the last 24 hours. Enjoy while I go back to bed...

  • If there was a nasal use approved version of Drano Pipe Snake available, I'd buy stock in it right now.
  • Green is a beautiful, natural color. Just not when it comes in the form of snot and mucus.
  • I'm glad engineers are making progress on self-driving cars, because driving and sneezing/blowing your nose are ideally NOT activities that should be done together.
  • No makeup and Eau De Vicks Vapo-Rub is very sexy.
  • When your local pharmacy drive thru has a wait longer than Taco Bell at 2AM on a Saturday, you know you're surrounded by lots of sick people.
  • When it's 70 degrees and you're wearing a coat, you MUST be sick.
  • Do germs have feelings? If so, they're probably offended we refer to our colds with terms like "rotten" and "nasty." Maybe if we used words like "cute," "cuddly" and "nice" the germs would treat us better.
  • If gravity can make parts of my body sag when I DON'T want them to, why can't it drain my nose when I NEED help?

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Year, New Outlook

In the last few years, I've never seen the New Year holiday as much of a cause to celebrate. Instead of being a chance to look forward to the opportunities the next 365 days present might, it's always felt more like a mulligan for all the things I DIDN'T accomplish.

The truth of the matter is that no new year -- or any other stage of our life for that matter, starts with a completely clean slate. We always carry over some remnants of our previous experiences into the new ones. This year, I'm finally at peace with the idea that it may not be a bad thing.

I've always believed who we are is the sum of our collective experiences -- successes and failures, adventures and routines. If you believe that everything in your life happens to you for a reason, there really never is a need for a clean slate, because sweeping away all the old things takes away a huge part of what you are. Instead, the new year is a celebration of the next annual chapter in your life story. It's the next stage of your evolution into the person you will ultimately become.

So this year, for the first time in a long time, I'm full of excitement about what the coming year will bring. There will be a lot of challenges to face and some big changes ahead, but I'm ready. I'm just getting started a couple of weeks late, but that's OK. Better late than never, right?

Here's to a fantastic 2012!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hot And Cold

I just got back from a really wonderfully holiday vacation on the East Coast, surrounded by friends, family, my favorite sport (that would be hockey) -- and some really chilly weather.

I was feeling nostalgic walking the streets of Philadelphia yesterday, bundled up against the cold holding gloved hands with my boyfriend, walking to lunch at a local pizza place. The crispness of the air and clear sunny sky made me feel happy and alive. I realized I missed winter.

This morning, back in Los Angeles, I checked the weather forecast. Then checked it again. It's January, right?

 I know this is sunny Southern California and all, but maybe Mother Nature could tone it down just a little. Then again, I can put the top down on the car later....