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routine/ritual



Do we create structure in our lives to give them a shape? Do we fear that without a routine or framework of some sort, we are at risk for losing track of all that is relevant and as a result, getting nothing done to support those things? Or would we be more aware of what matters if we didn’t worry so much about staying on a specific track. What’s that saying — “not all who wander are lost” — and that other one about going off the beaten path and finding something better? Yes, okay. But that immediately makes me think of Picasso saying that inspiration likes to find us working.

I’ve always craved and needed order to not feel at loose ends. I’ve never thrived in a messy environment, and I’m constantly organizing this and that, whether this and that is a bookshelf or an abstract concept like space or hope. I always want to know what the elements are so I can sort them and get rid of what isn’t essential, or at least put everything in its proper place to try to control the inevitable chaos. I also know that how I spend my time is in many ways what makes me who I am, and I have to be careful with my days. I like to be disciplined but being dictatorial makes me miserable. Where is the line?

I do think there’s a sweet spot between the two, floating between the hypervigilance and the lackadaisical. Not that many of us can run around all willy nilly all the time, and not that many of us would even want to after the novelty wore off, but I can tell you a way in which I’ve changed since I first wrote about this topic of ritual/routine a year ago (on January 8): I threw away that productivity planner I had (I just make a regular to do list now) and I’m so glad I did. Lo and behold, I didn’t quit doing what I needed and wanted to do, but I have been working on being more flexible in the way that I do it. I didn’t miss the added task of writing down the things I’m grateful for, but I’m somehow more mindful that I have an embarrassment of riches in my life because I am more naturally taking the time to just think about them. Maybe writing all of those things down for that period trained me to do it in shorthand. Or maybe I’m just a year older and have let go of some ridiculousness that I was holding onto and I’m letting myself enjoy life more and am quite into it, thank you very much. I’m learning that if I don’t schedule spontaneity completely out of the picture, which allows for not only creativity in work but in every aspect of life, I might even be more everything I want to be if I develop cultivating free time as a skill because it makes me happier. Meditation, time spent in thought or prayer, and taking more time for nurture seems to have an effect.

I do still, however, have a pretty regimented routine. But I think it’s the increased time for personal ritual that has given that routine a more polymorphous quality. Among my many blessings is that my work allows for that. Among my many blessings is the ability to remain curious about life and the world around me and how I can better relate to it. Among my biggest blessings is the providence that is returned to me when I can be open. I believe it’s much easier to receive when we’re ready to.

May we all live openly.

Happy Wednesday, Y’all.

AM

PS. I do love a list. For some great ones, check out this piece on Susan Sontag in Lithub today. And here’s Umberto Eco’s beautiful book on the subject.

And here’s a great Murakami quote about the discipline of writing, also from Lithub:

Cultivate endurance.

After focus, the next most important thing for a novelist is, hands down, endurance. If you concentrate on writing three or four hours a day and feel tired after a week of this, you’re not going to be able to write a long work. What’s needed for a writer of fiction—at least one who hopes to write a novel—is the energy to focus every day for half a year, or a year, or two years. You can compare it to breathing.

–from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

growth

I apparently began 2018 thinking big thoughts. The title from January 3 last year is growth. Tackling such a concept was a bold move. But bold is a relative term, just as growth is, its meaning shifting in shade with the context in which it is presented.

It seems we cannot help but grow if we’re participating, and I certainly did my share of stretching in the past year. But I am now presenting myself with the task of figuring out exactly how and where it occurred. Was it outward growth, as in the type that would occur from my edges? Was it from reaching toward something external? Or was it inward growth, as in the type that would occur in my center from reaching to my own depths, feeling around toward something more truly me? Did I do both? Is there such a thing as one without the other? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Look up a year from now and you’ll probably be different from how you are today, even in the most subtle ways. Maybe how you got there isn’t the point, but it might be at least some of it, if only for learning’s sake, in case you want to do it again.

I can reach for something that is out of my grasp. But if I haven’t made an alteration in my center in order to accommodate an outward change, will it last? I can decide to exercise every day in hopes that I will be healthier and look better, but if I haven’t made that decision because I’m interested in doing my best for myself, hence the need for being healthier and looking better, will the decision stick?

A year ago I wanted to learn how to get more done, be more organized, be friendlier, get more sleep, develop healthier eating habits, just be better overall. I reflect and see that I did some of those things, those external things. But when I think about how I got to them, I land right in the middle of 2018, when I hit an emotional wall and had to get simultaneously severe and really gentle with myself. Everything about where I was demanded that I look at how I’d gotten there. Everything about where I was demanded that I learn one really hard lesson — do not ignore your inner voice.

Now, my inner voice is complicated. I often want to ignore her because she doesn’t always tell me the things I want to hear and she can be mean to boot and even sometimes seemingly insane. But some time around the fourth of July she got loud enough that I had to reckon with her. If she had real hands she’d have taken me by the shoulders, pushed me down into a chair in the middle of an empty room, locked the door, and lectured me until I couldn’t tune her out anymore. I started listening in a real way, and the loudest message I got was, do not ever accept less than you deserve ever again.

That was tough to hear and it still is, because it requires that I stand up for myself, set limits in my life and relationships, give myself the gift of time and space — in essence, it requires that I send all the love I possess to my own soul first before I go scattering it about over the sources that I think need it. That’s hard for anyone. For someone who was raised in chaos like I was, it’s damn near impossible. Children of addicts are told to ignore what they see, hear, and most importantly, what they feel. But so what? I knew it wasn’t negotiable. I didn’t want to walk around feeling at odds with myself anymore. I didn’t want to demand so much of myself without ever giving any nurture to the place where all the demands’ needs are met — my heart, my brain, and my body. I didn’t want to deny truths of any sort anymore, even if the world makes it incredibly difficult to be honest, sometimes most of all with ourselves.

So I spent a ton of time in therapy. I exercised a lot. I tried to rest and sleep more. I tried to laugh as much as possible. I cried more than I probably have during any other calendar year. I did some really hard emotional healing, I have way more to do, and came to terms with knowing there isn’t a finish line in that particular marathon. I let myself feel and told myself that it was okay. I meditated. I wrote. I got really sick of turning the rocks over. I reached inward. But guess what? I’m better than I was a year ago. I’m ultimately happier and I like myself more. So I suppose that’s growth even if I can’t measure it with some yardstick made for tangible things — human beings waver in their progress, sometimes it’s two steps forward one step back or even two or God forbid, three — but I feel better, more relaxed, happier, more open, more quick to laugh and cry and even sometimes more calmly speak my mind (still working on equanimity but we all have our challenges). And best of all, I have more love inside of me, probably because I finally know the real stuff has to start with me. That’s pretty bold indeed.

Happy Wednesday, Y’all. And may 2019 hold plenty of reaching in whatever directions we wish.

AM

vanguard

When I was twelve years old, my Daddy made a cassette recording of our family singing and playing music together. My sister and I have both spoken about his recording us when we were young, that he had a reel-to-reel recorder set up in the house, and that playing music at home and in public when we were children was a regular part of our lives. But by the spring of 1985, things had ramped up. Sissy was emerging as a real vocal talent and her desire to make singing her life’s work was growing. We recorded several songs on her jambox and Daddy put a label on it, as if it were a real record, with one word on it. The word was VANGUARD. I didn’t know what it meant then, so I went straight to our dictionary, as was my custom.

 

Vanguard: 1. the foremost part of an advancing army or naval force. 2. a group of people leading the way in new developments or ideas. 3. a position at the forefront of developments or ideas.

 

Hubris.

A little grandiosity never hurt anyone, though. At least when it comes to making art.

 

+++

 

My sister and I completed our touring cycle for “Not Dark Yet,” on Saturday. There is a marker there for us, not only because we both returned home musically in a way by doing the project together, but because we made the record at all, because we went through the process hand in hand, and because it brought us closer than we have possibly ever been. The release and subsequent activities plus touring came with the same old set of thrilling victories and astonishing hardships as our individual releases have, but we each found more gratitude within them, mostly because we were together. Now, having completed that process for at least the time being, my mind turns to what comes next.

 

We sat close to the stage for the 1030PM performance of The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, a group which is not filled with youngsters, at The Village Vanguard last night. They were so incredibly adept at their jobs — they are masters, really — and clearly took their work seriously. Who knows what each individual member had on their minds as they sat and worked their way through tunes that could simultaneously make me think of traffic and the ocean at the same time — I know my mind will sometimes wander to inexplicable topics during a performance — but as each one stood to take a solo, they gave it their every cell. They sweated, turned red, and turned up. I smiled like an idiot through the whole thing and can’t recall the last time I was so happy seeing live music.

 

I said on the cab ride home that the cruel joke of life is that you’re old by the time you figure out how to really do a thing. It doesn’t take only 10,000 hours. It takes openness, a willingness to turn up no matter what, even when all of the possibilities for stardom are dead and gone, even when you don’t have a thing to gain but knowing you’ve put yourself forward in a way that shows the world the heart you’ve got. If a tree falls in the forest, yes, I believe it does still make a sound. And I believe that if a horn player blows the best solo of his life in front of an audience of 98 people when he is considered past his prime, it still got played and it’s still the best solo of his life.

 

I am forty-five years old and am just learning how to sing and write. My job is harder than it has ever been. But seeing those players last night made me appreciate how much I appreciate learning and trying to get better at whatever I’m pursuing no matter the form, and appreciate how exciting it is to know there is always a way to gain ground, even if it’s just the slightest difference that isn’t perceivable to anyone but me. That is new, THAT is what comes next, that is the dangling carrot that is making art, and that is the vanguard.

 

Happy Monday.

AM

 

 

availability

 

When I return home from being out of town playing shows, I often want to batten down the hatches. I can’t wait to cook so I can eat something I made instead of something from a restaurant, I relish the comfort of my own bed and bedding, I want to immediately unpack my suitcase and launder my clothes, to put all of the little things I carried with me back in their proper places, like eggs in a nest. I want to close the door and not open it for a while. I want quiet. I want stillness.

 

I am not agoraphobic. I like the world, getting out in it, and even quite enjoy meeting new people. But there is a limit. I do extend, but always find myself pulling back, protecting, struggling to find a way to replace what has been spent. As an artist, that’s difficult. Artists spend our lives mining inner territory, making things out of what we find, and offering those things to the world. Once we let them go, there are no conditions on how we will allow them to be accepted. Once we’ve given, we can’t take back. But what comes with that giving? How much is enough? After we’ve done it, are we allowed to limit what is known about us to the art that we make? And are we allowed offer the art only and not have to then expound on it through incessant talking about it, endless cutesy social media posts, and revealing, soul-baring appearances?

 

I think there’s a very good reason why some artists become reclusive and defensive. When one offers everything they can muster from that mined inner territory and allows it to be consumed by anyone who wants to give it a passing glance and, let’s face it — possibly little to no respect, there is a need to keep some things safe and unknown, a need to keep some things highly personal.

 

Why must we always be so accessible? I’ve always, despite putting myself in a position to expect such, been a bit taken aback by an unknown person approaching me for a conversation, photograph, or to recount a story to me in a situation that isn’t in context with my job, as if I am a friend. There’s a paradox at work — I offer myself through my art and if I am successful, I make the audience feel as if they know me. If they then want to act as if they know me, I am taken aback and wonder why they think so. I’m thinking quite a lot about this as I have just completed work on a memoir of my childhood — with any hope people will read it and will then know more about my family than they probably ever wanted to know. I will, in turn, then have to deal with everyone knowing, and acting accordingly. How am I going to live with that?

 

I nod and smile a lot. I pose for photographs and sign things and sometimes absorb what I know probably aren’t meant to be offensive or inane comments, and then I go cover up and bolster myself to do it again in whatever way. I am so lucky to be able to make art for a living and have always considered myself so. I am thankful. I am not supposed to tell you that sometimes I don’t feel like giving more than I decide to. I’m not supposed to tell you that sometimes I don’t want to be asked for more. It’s just one of those push and pull things. And the older I get, the more I find that I have to do a lot of giving in so I don’t give out.

intuition

 

Defined as “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning. A thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning.” The etymology says it comes from the latin word intueri, which means consider.

 

While reading the definition I was surprised to find the word feeling at almost the very end of the second sentence. When I think of intuition, feeling is the first thing that comes to my mind. What is it to intuit? To feel, right? We hear about gut feelings all the time. Isn’t that what intuition is? Something inside of you nudging you toward or away from something? Take this road and not that one. Trust this guy. Don’t trust that other guy. Don’t go down that dark pathway. Don’t answer that email just yet, think about what to say a little bit longer. Sleep on it. Say yes! We use our intuition all the time. We get funny feelings about things just because we do. But are we tuned in as much as we could be? Is it possible to trace the origins of those feelings, that intuition?

 

I told myself that I wouldn’t make any new year’s resolutions that were about producing tangible results this year. No goals have been set for new records, new books, improving my physical body except that I plan to give it more rest than is my natural tendency, no big plans to learn how to knit or even grow roses. What I planned to do, and what I’m working hard at learning how to do is to improve my mental health, to strengthen my relationship with myself and my center, my intuition if you will — to tune in to that inner voice that I sometimes ignore because either I or someone else tells me it’s wrong — so that my actions are aligned with my intentions. I have begun to meditate every morning (mostly every morning, sometimes it’s afternoon before I get to it but I try for the AM), to give myself at least 10 or 15 minutes to be quiet, to reflect, and then to do some quick writing about what comes up. I try to go back and look at what I’ve written through the day. I’m learning to visualize my third eye. I’m learning to breathe (God, it’s hard). I’m learning to take my time and am trying to get used to acting instead of reacting. Of course I’m still a quivering mess quite often, but I’m making progress, however small. I haven’t pursued Buddhism but who knows, I might. I’m still trying to figure out how non-attachment works — I get it, but do I get it for me? Regardless, the most rewarding part of all of it right now is the tuning in. Tuning: “bring into a state of proper pitch.”

 

If I can learn to bring myself into a state of proper pitch, and to better feel and therefore understand my unconscious reasoning and honor it, well, I think I could stay out of the ditch most days. Sounds like the best resolution I’ve had yet.

 

By the way, I’m reading Mark Epstein’sAdvice Not Given: A Guide To Getting Over Yourself.” I love it. It’s all about the ego and how it gets us in trouble. Check it out.

 

Happy Monday.

AM

color

I did the yearofcolour.com thing this morning. My friend Kay, who has a brilliant knitting blog called Mason Dixon Knitting posted hers on Instagram yesterday and I thought it was such a cool reflection. She said that her colors were drab. Knowing that my closet is pretty monochrome and could be considered less than festive, I wanted to see how my year of color looked according to the photos I’d posted there — the tool somehow takes your pictures and analyzes them. Would it be black, grey, and white like most of what hangs on my clothes rail? As it turns out, the answer was no.

I’m intrigued by color as something we react to in a sensory and emotional way. If I think too hard about it, I can begin to be emotionally affected by color by imagining that they themselves have feelings about how much light they can absorb and reflect depending on, sometimes, what light they’re in. Do colors get sad when they’re closed into a dark closet or suitcase because they can’t send themselves out into the world? Color fascinates me and references to it in my everyday language provide endless ways for me to describe my environment both internally and externally. But do I see a different shade of pink than the person who is standing beside me? When I tell a guitar player that I’d like his tone to have more blue in it does he or she think I mean grey or purple? Do you think I’m crazy if I say a sentence is red? Do I need more time with a therapist? Could be…

So what do I see when I look at the circle of dots that appeared in a browser window after I gave this interesting lure by Makelight (and of course I subscribed to their newsletter because it looks like they’re doing something creative though I’m not exactly sure what yet) that I know is gathering data about me permission to look at my Instagram photos? I suppose it could be read as a sort of Rorschach. The first thing I see is the grey in the middle — grey for the winter sky, for the project that I finished last year but has not yet been put to rest, for the way I feel about my professional trajectory at the moment, for the sofa in my apartment, for some of the hair growing out of my now 45-year-old head, for the answers to most philosophical questions. I see more than 10 shades of blue, which must be for my sweet son John Henry, the hue of our eyes, the denim jacket that I sewed patches on for him, the way I feel when he’s away from me for too long. I see just as many splotches of red. Red for heat — we’re a passionate bunch around here though we do try to be measured, red for heart, yes, always red for heart. I want more red. I want more heart. Pink — a color I’m warming to and find sneaking into my wardrobe little by little most recently in the form of velvet ankle boots that make me swoon. There’s black. Black is definite, certain, secure, never ending, solid, and allows no questions. I like black. White is there as well — the color of possibility, also never ending — the fresh, blank page, the brand new start, the dewdrops on blades of grass, the cloud you want to float away on, my sweet almost 12-year-old chihuahua, clean sheets, starched napkins at a fancy restaurant. Black isn’t even a color, they say. Black is the absence of light. When there is no light, everything is black. White is the blending of all colors, but is colorless. But we know black and white are colors, physics be damned.

A few weeks ago I picked up what looks like a fascinating book that I can’t wait to dig into. The sides of the pages are dipped in the appropriate shade for the information the page holds and I just love details like that. But what I love most, so far, having just thumbed through it a bit (I can never resist doing that with a new book even if I can’t begin reading it immediately) is this, by John Ruskin: “It is the best possible sign of a color when nobody who sees it knows what to call it.” When I look at my year of color, I don’t know what to call it but good, and I don’t know what to say about it but lucky, lucky me.

down to believing

egg #2

It’s hard to believe that my first album came out in 1998, almost seventeen years ago.  I’m not even sure I can take that in.  All of those songs, all of those shows, all of the time spent writing, recording, trying to get it all just right…

All of the miles traveled, the inhuman wake up calls, the jokes and the laughs, the sights seen, the wondering if I would ever see a girl again (as surrounded by male musicians as I have been), the utter tedium of the road, the utter adventure of it, too, the broken strings, the broken hearts, the tears of joy and sadness and relief and exasperation, the leaving it all on the stage, the sweat, blood, and insecurity of it all.

What a gift.  What an honor.  What a triumph and a heartache.

It’s not an easy thing to get up and propel yourself to make art every day.  We’re supposed to make it look easy, we creative types.  We’re supposed to make it look like anyone could do it, and truth be told, most people probably could given the right circumstances and inspiration.

Which begs the question, what is it to be inspired?  What makes someone sit down at the piano or hold their guitar and feel like they have something in them worth saying?  I guess artists are a self-centered bunch.  We always feel like we have something worthwhile to say.  It’s our job, really.  To hold up things to the world, to show, to shed light, to share, to join, to induce feeling, and then relieve it somehow.  To get to the very essence of what it is to be human.

I’m happy to still have something to say, and to still have the job, no matter what form it takes in my life.

I guess you could say I’m just so proud to be here (thanks Miss Minnie).

“Down To Believing” means a whole lot to me.  Thank you for letting me share it with you.  Thank you for still letting me share at all.

Love,

Allison

december 14, 2014

I’ve never quite known what to do with myself during the holidays.  As I’ve said many times in my life, when you have no parents alive in the world you’ve got no one to answer to and nowhere to go for Christmas.

I can tell that people hate it when I say that.  They bristle noticeably in reaction to the bluntness of the words that are designed to remind me, and yes, sometimes even them, of the trade off.

Because sometimes my friends complain about their parents.  At times I stay silent when they do, at times I don’t, but the more tuned in ones always look or sound a bit remorseful when they realize they’ve bitched and moaned about something that must seem like a luxury to me.  I don’t want them to.  I get it.  Families can be a pain like no other.  But there is an altogether different kind of pain you get when yours is gone and you have to figure out, for the rest of your life, how to build another one.

I get into the spirit of this time of year really easily.  It’s happy.  I love it.  It’s emotionally loaded for sure, but I’ve gotten used to the lack of tradition surrounding my own holidays.  At the end of the day it just makes me want to celebrate another year lived and to give whatever I can of myself to those that I love.  One of my favorite things in life is to give a gift that is meaningful and thoughtful, or that might have been created by my own hand.  I spent hours yesterday embroidering sweet little hearts onto sets of linen napkins for those close to me who I know would understand such a thing.

I hardly notice anymore that neither my Mama’s or Daddy’s name appears on my gift list.  And that still doesn’t sit well with me.

I was reading the paper this morning when my eye caught an ornament on my tree, a little red haired angel that I bought six years ago almost to the day.  I bought her to represent the baby that I lost just before Christmas that year.  I don’t know when the pregnancy slipped away, but I knew she was gone on December 13th.  I took a minute to breathe and think, sitting as still as a stone, holding my paper, lost in that place that time travel takes you to to.  I then looked for what sparkly things might represent the other parts of me that have flown away, and there were none.  I have no box of ornaments that were passed down to me from the tree we decorated when I was a child.  A lot of things got lost back then.  So now I’m making my own heirlooms.  I quickly reminded myself of that.  And then I did what I do a lot.  I got out my needle and thread.

Just their initials in the red thread, of course.  The red thread that binds us together.

Thank you to those who have kept their red threads tied to me.  I have spent countless December 25ths at others’ tables, decorating others’ trees, waking up somewhere other than home.  Family comes in a million different ways and I’ve experienced at least fifteen or twenty of those.  But my son John Henry is now four years old, and what I do know, more than anything, is that I want him to always know where his home is, who his red thread is tied to, and to always feel the love and spirits that are kept alive and connected in it and through it.  I made the simple heart ornaments with the red initials for him, too.  They are part of his story, they are part of his home, they are part of his Christmas, past, present, and future, just as they are mine.  And they will go in the box of ornaments that I hope to pass on to him one day, that I won’t let get lost.  Because now I have him to answer to.

Happy Holidays Everyone.

Love,

a.FullSizeRender

Blues for Dixie #2

31 August 2014

 

I just got back to the city a couple of days ago after spending a few weeks down south in Tennessee and Mississippi.  I wrote a bunch of songs in Nashville and also caught up with some of my oldest and best friends.  It occurred to me, like maybe never before, that Nashville is home to me.  No matter where I go or hang my hat, it always calls me back.  My people are there, and the songs are there.

 

I recall a conversation I had with a few songwriting friends about what state names sing the best.  I decided that they were Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, maybe sometimes Texas if it’s coming out of the right mouth, and California.  I’ll be singing about some and maybe all of those places next week at Joe’s Pub, on Wednesday, September 10, at 730pm.  Come join me.  It’ll be fun.

 

Allison Moorer

 

 

love,

allison

makeshift may 15, 2014

There is an Eastern legend called the red thread of destiny, or fate.  The myth is that there is a red string tied around the ankles of people who are destined to meet or aid each other through life in some way.  It may tangle or knot, but will never unravel or become untied.

 photo 1

Interesting that I chose to sew with red thread this week, and am drawn to it constantly.

I didn’t get to sew for as long as I wanted today, but still a stream of people came in to see what I was doing in the window with my red thread and turquoise jersey.

Later this evening, a group of women gathered on 7th street at the home of Lisa Fox for a potluck dinner to celebrate Makeshift and community.  Lisa’s home is the defacto clubhouse for a sewing circle of six women who come together as often as possible to stitch, talk, and slow down for a minute together.  I am happy to say that I am part of the group and these women bolster me in a manner that is rare.  They are smart, soulful, experienced, talented, and most of all, full of heart.  They are tireless in their individual searches for what really matters in this life.  We share losses, victories, questions, laughter, warmth.  We share our lives together when we are brought together by thread, no matter what color.

I work the red thread for them this week, and for every woman who has stood behind me, beside me, or pulled me along in this world.  For all of my many blessings, I count this one of connectedness among the greatest.

photo 2