music, story, writing, yoga

This just in: The answer is in the music

“Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., writer and physician

On Sunday I sorted through several years of blog posts looking for a story to use for my storytelling class. I found it. Below is an expanded version of an experience I had with one of the students who was non-responsive during the class. It’s a testament to the power of music in every phase of our lives.

I started a busy week of yoga teaching at New York Methodist Hospital. I went to the Geriatric Psychology Unit. Because it is an acute care facility, I always have a different group of patients whom I work with in a small group class. Their cognitive and physical abilities vary widely.Their illnesses are both fascinating and heart breaking to witness. My mind can’t help but go to the thought that some day I and / or the people I know and love may find ourselves in this same situation of loss as the years tick by.

Ruth was one of the students in the class. Though she could hear me speaking, my questions didn’t register in her mind. There was a piano in the room where I was teaching the class. After class was over, Ruth slowly shuffled to it and she played a church hymn that she probably learned as a young child. Every note was perfect and she played with emotion. Her shaking hands steadied. Color came back to her cheeks, and for a moment she seemed truly alive. I was astonished and asked Caroline, the recreational therapist, why Ruth could play the song perfectly but not answer me when I asked, “How are you?” Caroline had a very simple answer. “Music is the very last thing to go from the mind. Reasoning, logic, math skills, speech, and even emotion can be gone, but music sticks with us until our very last days.”

I’m certain that there’s a very sound, neurological reason for this. Maybe musical ability is stored in an area of the brain that is not affected by the loss of cognitive ability from aging. But I think there’s a more mystical, maybe even spiritual, reasoning. It provides a beautiful and powerful justification for making creativity and the arts a very necessary part of our lives at every age. We are literally and figuratively wired for music. When everything else falls away, and I mean everything, we can take comfort in the idea that music will become our final voice to the world.

Holmes’s well-articulated concern has been a part of my life for a long time. I don’t want to spend any time getting ready to live. I want to live now, this and every moment. I don’t want that music stuck in me, never to reach the ears of others, whether it’s actual music or the work I’m meant to do with my life. My electric piano arrived this week, and I’m starting on my childhood dream of learning to play. When I sit down to practice my simple beginner scales, I think of Ruth. And Holmes. And the great continuum of humanity that has shared and reveled in music since our very beginning. I try to let the music come through me rather than from me. Somewhere out there is a cosmic symphony playing along. I just want to tap into it.

Ruth passed away a few weeks after she played her hymn on the piano for us. I’ll never forget that hymn, nor the lesson she taught me by playing it. Her music lives on in me, which is the most any of us can hope for.

creativity, story

This just in: The magic of stories

Photo by Holly Clark
Photo by Holly Clark

“Stories make potential futures tangible.” ~Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

Stories are powerful. When I was in the midst of a very stressful move from Florida to D.C. all while conducting a job search and nursing my sweet dog, Phin, back to health, my friend, Alex, encouraged me to think about life three months down the line. Florida, the job search, and Phin’s recovery would all be behind me by then and the future would look much brighter than it did from my vantage point in February. Or would it?

As much as I believe in stories, I wasn’t sure this approach would work. I thought it was a nice idea, but in many ways I doubted its power. Could I really bring a reality into being just by writing it down? Was I just deluding myself with a happy future narrative? Was I choosing fantasy over reality? Despite my hesitations, I took Alex’s advice. I didn’t have any better ideas.

Looking back now, not everything panned out as expected. Remarkably, and much to my surprise, about 90% of it did. Since that 3-month mark in May, more challenges have found their way across my path and I’ve written letters to myself from the vantage point of October. I figured if it worked in February, arguably one of the very lowest points of my life, then why not now, too?

The journey from February to May wasn’t easy nor was it solved with some pixie dust and a wand. It’s magic was more grounded than that. It was filled with doubt, fear, sadness, and loneliness. It was also filled with a ton of hard work, courage, determination, and learning. It was a time when I took solace in my friendships with people near and far, a time when I believed in the goodness of those friends who were more than willing to lend a hand or two or three because I had the strength to ask for help.

I re-read the story crafted by my 3-month older self over and over again during that time, and it helped me get up every day and keep working. It helped me believe that I could and would make things better. I just had to keep showing up and not give up. That story gave me strength in a time when I desperately needed it. And strength, especially in the face of difficulty and loss, is its own kind of grounded magic. It’s something to believe in.

art, story, theatre, Washington

This just in: The free showcase for my storytelling class in D.C. is on August 24th

My storytelling showcase is on Monday, 8/24 at 7pm
My storytelling showcase is on Monday, 8/24 at 7pm

Come one, come all! The free showcase for my storytelling class with SpeakeasyDC has been announced. It will be on Monday night, August 24th, at 7pm at Acre 121 in Columbia Heights. 1/2 price apps, $5 drinks, and me telling a true story about my life on stage with 5 other brave souls. All are welcome and please feel free to spread the word. I’d love to see your smiling faces in the audience. To RSVP, click here.

art, story

This just in: How to tell stories out loud


As I prepare to start my storytelling class at SpeakeasyDC in a few weeks, I’ve been sorting through different stories I’ve written and thinking about the stories I’d like to tell on a stage. The ones that are closest to my heart, that are like oxygen to me, leave me choked up. Sometimes teary-eyed. And I wonder, “How on Earth am I going to not only kick my stage fright (which is honestly so hideous my stomach turns just thinking about standing on a stage) but also find a way to tell a true story that matters to me, out loud for other people to hear?”

I start to think,“Oh God, this is the worst idea I’ve had yet. Am I insane? Do I get some kind of odd thrill out of being terrified?” I think the answer to all of those questions is a resounding, “Yes!” And I also think that’s okay. I find the whole process of telling my story to an audience terrifying. I can present business cases, teach yoga and meditation classes, and offer advice by the truckload in front of an audience without missing a beat. Letting an audience rummage around inside my mind and heart while their eyes are fixed on me? I can barely breathe.

But the thing is that I will breathe. But with difficulty, but I’ll do it. Maybe because of the training I get in the class. Maybe out of sheer pride. I’ll find a way to screw up enough courage to plant my feet on that stage, clear my throat, take a deep breath, and say what I have to say as truthfully and as clearly as I can.

story, theatre, Washington, writer, writing

This just in: I’m taking a storytelling class at SpeakeasyDC


Anne Lamott once said, “If you have the courage to free yourself, take a risk and tell your story with the hope of freeing someone else.” So, here’s hoping. Yesterday I decided to take a risk and so something that really scares me: I signed up for a storytelling class at SpeakeasyDC (soon to be renamed Story District), a nonprofit here in D.C. that specializes in the art and science of storytelling. On July 20th, I’ll start the 5-week intensive program that will culminate in a public performance.

This class will help me discover a whole new community of like-minded people in D.C. while also helping to foster a time of personal growth, discovery, and creativity along with a new outlet for my writing. SpeakeasyDC has a show on Tuesday, July 14th, entitled The Charismatic Leader: Stories about those we follow for the right & wrong reasons. Looking forward to seeing the finished product and then learning the behind-the-scenes work that brings it to life. Here’s to taking on tasks that scare the wits out of us! They make us feel alive.

story, success

This just in: Successful doesn’t mean forever

The end.
The end.

“We are all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.” ~Steven Moffat, Doctor Who

A few weeks ago, Humans of New York (HONY) featured a woman who was recently divorced. Brandon, the creator of HONY asked her if she felt her marriage was successful and she said yes. She had several wonderful children with her ex-husband and for a long time they had a great life together. The final line really impacted me: “I don’t think something has to last forever to be successful.”

I’ve had a lot of endings find their way into my life in the last year, and many of them have made my heart heavy even if the endings were needed. This idea that things can end and still be things we point to as successful is really powerful for me. And not because every ending is a new beginning but because the ending itself is something that deserves celebration for its own sake. Endings teach us as much as beginnings and they deserve to be honored.

meditation, story

This just in: A new kind of meditation method based on storytelling

Meditate on stories
Meditate on stories

I start every day with 10 minutes of meditation. I used to sit up in bed, close my eyes, and just focus on my breath. For the last couple days I’ve been trying something different—I remain lying down, eyes closed, and let my mind create a story. It’s completely spontaneous and I don’t force the characters or actions. Something akin to free writing with only my mind.

When I open my eyes, I try to get it all down as accurately as I can without editing. What strikes me about this meditation method is that the little stories that float through my mind aren’t in my voice at all. It’s literally like my imagination is just telling me a story, and my conscious mind is the willing audience of one.

On Friday morning I started thinking about Levi, a character I’ve been working on for a few months. This was his stream of consciousness:

“Have you ever felt like God was listening? I mean really listening, and watching and waiting to see just how much you really need something? Best I can tell that thinking’s for church ladies and the grieving. And they say love is blind. Grief? That’s way worse. Grieving people come up with all kinds of hidden meanings when something terrible’s happened to them or someone they love.

I know all about grief. I see it every day, even on weekends. I try to steer clear of it but that’s impossible when you share a house with dead people. My mom and dad are here, too, but they’re so busy tending to dead people, and the living people who love the dead people, that they barely notice me. It’s their job. They’re morticians. 

Now don’t you go feeling sorry for me just because I have busy parents who find a corpse more interesting than me. I’m fine, really fine. Shelby, my next door neighbor, says I should be grateful for the neglect because it sure beats smothering. I have to agree, mostly because I’m not in a position to disagree with Shelby. Shelby’s the producer of my soon-to-be radio show, and she’s gonna make me famous. That is if I don’t screw it all up in the process.

I’ve got a dilemma, and I’m really gonna need some help soon. That’s where you come in. Dead people are calling me, and they’re not easy customers to please. They’ve got demands and I’m not really in the position to tell them I can’t do their bidding. They’re dead so they’ve got nothing else to lose. Me? I got everything to lose. Including my dreams of having my own radio show, my producer, and my chance to meet my idol, Al Green. 

I was hanging out in bed, practicing death yesterday. I’m trying to put myself in their shoes. Call it customer research. It’s not hard really. I just lay there on my back, hands on my belly, and try not to move or breathe much.You’re not gonna believe this but death feels pretty relaxing. No wonder everybody dies eventually. You should give it a try, just to see what it feels like since someday we’re all gonna die. Might as well be prepared for what’s coming. Death’s not scary at all. You really want to feel scared? Try living.” 

creativity, faith, story

This just in: The best stories have these two things

The garden of stories
The garden of stories

“Doubt is a question mark; faith is an exclamation point. The most compelling, believable, realistic stories have included them both.” ~Criss Jami

Our lives have both doubt and faith, especially in times of change. We’re worried about what might happen next, and we’re equally excited about the possibilities. We trust the process, and still wonder what we can do to help it along in the event of the slight chance that the process isn’t fine without a little encouragement from us.

Stories weave together the same way our lives do. Characters have doubt and faith. In the best stories the doubt gets the best of them and launches them into all kinds of sticky situations. No wonder stories resonate so deeply with us. They give us faith that if our favorite characters can overcome their circumstances, then so can we. Reading stories is an act of pure faith.

animals, creativity, dogs, story

This just in: Anne Lamott and Brandon McMillan taught me another lesson about the power of stories

Stories save us
Stories save us

“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~Philip Pullman

My dog, Phin, is adjusting to our new apartment. Sometimes he gets some anxiety that manifests in barking as he’s adjusting to new circumstances so we have a whole routine we’ve used many times to help him adjusted as quickly as possible. (Luckily that’s the only way it manifests!) Brandon McMillan, the host of the show Lucky Dog, recently did an episode about a dog who had severe separation anxiety and he suggested a layering technique that included recording his voice and playing it back in a loop when he left the dog home alone. I decided to give it a try.

I recorded some stories to play for Phin as I left him in our new place for the first time yesterday. I recorded Anne Lamott essays, J.K. Rowling’s speech when she was the graduation speaker at Harvard a few years ago, and a few of my own pieces. When I turned on the loop, Phin curled up in a blanket in front of my laptop, put his head down, and went to sleep. Amazing!

Stories are always a comfort to me. To read them, to write them, to revisit them when I need their encouragement and inspiration the most is a privilege I never take for granted. I never realized that reading them out loud could be so comforting for Phin, too. Philip Pullman was absolutely right—we all need a good story. Dogs included.

books, choices, future, history, story

This Just In: Why history is so critical to our present and future

Everything has a history
Everything has a history

I have started to work on several longterm writing projects. I wouldn’t call them book ideas just yet, but rather historical events that I want to deeply explore and write about. One of my majors at Penn was history and my reasoning for choosing it was very simple—everything has a history so no matter what interests me, not matter what work I do, history will always be important. We have to know where we’ve been to understand where we are. And where we are now is the start of everything yet to come.