Grow big where you are
This Dumpster Diary is an announcement of two things I am proud of that I have been working on for the past six months (and change, depending on when you start counting):
My first full-length album, Soft Animal, drops online on Thursday, September 22.
For the second time in my adult life, I can do an unassisted chin-up!
These accomplishments, like most accomplishments, share more in common than one might think. They both required:
A lot of time. I wrote the oldest song on Soft Animal in February of 2018, just over four years before I went into the studio. I started lifting again in February of this year, and could do little more than squirm and wriggle while hanging, without ever raising my body an inch.
Vulnerability. For some of us, there’s nothing worse than sweating through a 35 lb bench press while a high school boy knocks out ten easy reps at 145 next to you. For others, it’s sending your music to a stranger asking if they like it enough to work with you. Over the past six months, I did both. (Spoiler alert: I survived!)
Ignoring my inner critic, who insisted on a near daily basis I would “never” achieve either goal.
Mistakes. I won’t say failing, because I think we too often catastrophize what are just human errors. But there were countless moments I did not meet my own expectations of artistry, strength, endurance, communication, or organization. This is, so they tell me, part of being “human.”
Persistence. As I’ve learned again and again, “a lot of time” + “mistakes” = “persistence.” It takes a certain kind of willpower to show up day after day, in spite of missteps,, in spite of the fear of being rejected, in spite of setbacks (like getting COVID the day I was supposed to go into the studio.)
People. I had a lot of friends, colleagues, mentors, and other people directly or indirectly help me reach both of these goals. Their support came in the form of their expertise/skill, their encouragement, their love, and sometimes all three. I could not have done either of this season’s feats without them.
Love. Cheesy but true. I had to love myself enough to set aside time and money for both of these goals. And I had to love the doing of them, otherwise I don’t think they would have happened.
These two accomplishments did not require:
Inspiration. This may sound counterintuitive, but I think a large part of persistence has to do with not insisting on feeling inspired 24/7. Sometimes when I was working towards these goals (a lot of the time? Most of the time?) I did not feel inspired. I may have felt meh, or even crappy, or sick! But if you wait around to feel inspired to do your work, you might be waiting forever. Inspiration will come to you if you continue to show up and invite it in, even on days you actively don’t want to show up at all!
Perfection. There were some days at the gym when I knew for a fact I did not give it 100%. I gave it maybe 75%, because I was tired, or thinking about my job, or it was the day before the due date of the pregnancy I lost in December, or any number of reasons. And if you think I nailed every take for the album on the first try you are absolutely delusional! I can send you the outtakes if you don’t believe me. Don’t worry, there are dozens of them.
A fortune. While I did save up and spend money to make these two goals happen, neither requires money. I didn’t need to buy special shoes, or a fancy lifting belt, or a new guitar. Instead, I spent money on two things: expert skills I did not have, and outside coaching to help me do my best. While I was grateful for those resources, I’ve seen so many people achieve just as much if not much more with far less. (If you’re ever curious, I’m happy to send out a full budget for the project. Just write to me!)
Why am I announcing these two things together? Because no matter how many times I manage to do a hard thing, I need to remind myself what it does and does not require. And sometimes I put art-making on a pedestal as if it is that different from other hard things.
I’m also announcing them together because, after I recorded the album in April, I agonized about how to put it out there. I read every blog, attended multiple free seminars, even considered building a new website. In spite of having just reviewed the lesson above, to release my album to the public I was convinced I needed:
Inspiration: This album is really important to me personally because it’s my first. So I was convinced that every piece of it–the album art, the press release, the email that announced it–needed to be imbued with the same love, care, and inspiration that made the music. But if this album is going to reach ears, I cannot be that precious about it! Maybe, like with the record, I need to just have fun with it.
Perfection: I couldn’t possibly release the album till I got a label to sign my record or a publicist. And I couldn’t get a publicist until I had a band but I couldn’t get a band unless I had gigs and I couldn’t get gigs unless my website was ready, and my website was ready, and my website wouldn’t be ready until I got new publicity photos, and I couldn't get new publicity photos without hiring a photographer, and photographers cost money and…
A fortune: A publicist and a photographer and a graphic designer for the vinyl all cost money. I couldn’t even begin to think about the process of releasing my record until I had at least $3000 more dollars to put towards this project. After all the work that went into this record and how much fun it was to make, feeling like I was another 6 months out from releasing it was debilitating.
Perfection, inspiration, and money seem necessary when you feel like you have to do something right, or meet someone else’s standards.
Would I love it if somehow this record got picked up by KEXP or a label and my next newsletter was announcing a tour with Courtney Marie Andrews?
But is that why I made this record?
And for the past ten years I didn’t really prioritize any of the hard things that would make that outcome at all probable. I have to believe that’s because on my journey that really wasn’t that important to me. I was trying to figure out other things, achieve other hard stuff. (Also there was a global pandemic.) Ultimately, I knew waiting until I had all the perfect, inspired, and expensive pieces of the album release puzzle assembled was going to be more hurtful to my creative process than getting it out there.
This means a couple things:
In the coming two months, you might get a few more emails from me than usual, announcing single releases, an album release party, shows, etc. I promise to keep them purposeful and brief, but if you want to be taken off that list and kept just on the Dumpster Diary list, just let me know!
I’m going to be more active on social media, mostly on Instagram. If you follow me, have a following, and want to help me get the word out there, let me know! I love cross-promotion and would love some vocal advocates, so if you like these newsletters and like the preview of music I sent out last month, and would be game to share on release day, let me know! We’ll make it fun and about the equinox and balancing dark and light, among other themes.
I’ll end this newsletter with a thought I couldn’t find a smooth transition for, so I’m just jamming it in there:
In the past six months I have thought about giving up on a lot of things: giving up on this island I call home (“too expensive!”), giving up on my job (“too stressful!”), giving up on my house (“too much responsibility!”), giving up on my album (“too many imperfections! Too little talent!”), giving up on therapy (“too little progress!”), giving up on weightlifting (“too heavy!”), giving up on this country (I mean where do I even begin), and many other things big and small.
I have not given up on any of those things, and in fact have doubled down commitment to all of them. At some point along the way in my life I started to believe that if something didn’t come easily or naturally, it was not meant to be. I have been actively trying to unlearn that for many years, but it still needs learning. I spent my entire twenties as a tumbleweed: trying to be as light on my feet as possible: no spending, no belongings, no obligations, so I could pick up and leave whenever I needed to. But I don’t want to do that anymore: I want to trade tumbleweeds for trees. I want to grow big where I am. I want to fight for my foothold in this world, fight for the things that I love, even when they are hard or seem impossible.
I hope you’re finding the strength you need to grow into the fullest version of yourself: the people, the persistence, the vulnerability, and the love to grow big where you are. We need trees today more than ever.
PS: You may be wondering what that weird little creature is at the top of this post. It's in part the inspiration for the album, and I'll write about it in my next newsletter!