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Monday, November 27, 2017

The Juno - A Tiny House Community

The Juno Tiny House Community...does not yet exist. I wrote this while pretending I had 800,000 bucks to purchase some land with. I often pretend I have that kind of money. It's fun, until I remember that I actually don't.

I have been fascinated with the Tiny House movement for years. It is one of two things I always default to when watching YouTube videos to relax and kill time. The other is makeup tutorials.

A tiny house, by definition, is a home that is 500 sq ft or smaller, therefore requiring a lot of downsizing and minimalism in decor and belongings. Most tiny houses in the movement are build on flatbed trailers, and can be moved.

Living tiny is a way for many people to own their home and still live mortgage-free, and I think that sounds like a perfect situation - in fact, if I had the opportunity to own and live in a tiny house, I totally would! I like the idea of not owning a bunch of stuff, just the necessities, and being able to use every single bit of space. I actually get a bit stressed thinking about owning a big home, because I don' like the thought of having rooms that are not being used!

Not my thing.

A common obstacle with a tiny house is where to put it. In my city, your best option is to rent a lot in a trailer park, which isn't necessarily a bad thing - you'd be hooked up to city utilities, garbage collection, sewer, etc. The problem is, of course, that there aren't that many trailer parks, and the existing ones are already full of...well, trailers.

You could use someone else's land to park on, but how many of us know people with a bunch of extra land to spare? Living in someone's driveway is not an option - someone tried that in Calgary a few years back and they had to move, the city did not allow it even though the homeowners did.

You could purchase a vacant lot, but there is often a minimum size requirement for the home you build on it. Buying a land parcel is an option, but who has that kind of money? Oh, right, I do - in my imagination!

In my imagination, with my imaginary money, I would buy a piece of land and divide it into several smaller lots, kind of like a mobile home park, but nicer. On each lot, I would build a tiny house. It would be simple, but completely livable and move-in ready - it would have basic appliances and be hooked up to water, sewer/ septic, and electrical.

Totally my thing!

Each tiny house would be moveable in case the owner decided to leave, but it would be placed on a concrete foundation. I used to live in a mobile home and the fact is, they move. Not much, but enough that it was an issue for me, and it is the only thing I don't like about the Tiny House movement - the fact that most of the homes are on wheels!

I would then sell each lot + house. You would be able to own your own little piece of land and your own home, at a price where, even if you did take out a loan or a mortgage, you would actually be able to pay it off and actually OWN your place outright. I would also give the option of buying just the house and rent the lot it was on.

It would be a small community of small houses, and I would name it The Juno, after my dog.

Juno approves.

Of course I would live there too! I am an awesome neighbour!

If you had the option to downsize to a small, modern house with all the amenities plus a nice little outdoor space, and own the whole thing for less than $100,000, would you? For me, it is a no-brainer! Leave a comment below and tell me what you think - I am actually serious about making this happen somehow, and I would love to know if there is actual interest in this concept!


Monday, October 23, 2017

Becoming a Director - Part IV

The Ego Check

...and Other Things That May Happen

I am the kind of person who likes to re-watch movies. I have a small collection of movies that I have adopted over the years as “my favourites”, because I liked a character in them, or I found them visually pleasing, or they were just feel-good movies that go along with certain periods of my life, or fit with a certain time of the year. I watch “Desperately Seeking Susan” at least once a year. Same with “Mermaids”. Lately, “The Devil Wears Prada” has made the list of movies that I will just put on from time to time because they are comfortable. I like the beginning of the movie the best, when Andy (Anne Hathaway) becomes interested in fashion and gets a makeover and rushes through New York city wearing fabulous things that she somehow can afford as an intern. She becomes friends with Nigel (Stanley Tucci) who is some kind of assistant or editor at Runway Magazine (where Andy is an intern).

One day Andy is complaining to Nigel about her mean boss Miranda (the always flawless Meryl Streep), and Nigel pretty much tells her to suck it up because a thousand girls want the job Andie has, and Andie knows that if she can just stick with it for one year, she’ll be able to get whatever job she wants. Nigel tells her to wake up, that she’s not even trying, that she should be trying harder because she is working for an icon, and that in order to be successful, she has to put her heart into it, and then says “wait until your whole life goes up in smoke. Means it’s time for a promotion”.

There it is.

I don’t work for a fashion magazine. Being a director doesn’t mean that the world is my oyster and that I will be able to get whatever job I want after I am done with my chorus.

But one thing I wish I had known before I started was how much time it was going to take. I had been told, but I didn’t really know.

“The Devil Wears Prada” gets more and more annoying to watch as it goes on, and I rarely watch it to the end nowadays. Andy’s friends make fun of her for taking her job seriously. They all know that it’s a huge stepping stone in her career, and that she just has to stick it out, but they get mad at her for always taking her boss’ phone calls. Her boyfriend gets whiny and sad because she doesn’t have time to lavish him with attention. He knows how crucial this job is for her career, but he thinks his birthday is more important.

I’m getting off topic, sort of.

My point is, that as you delve further into your role of Director, it is going to take more and more of your time, and you need to be prepared for the fact that not everyone in your life is going to get that. Especially since you’re not getting paid, but you spend hours every day working on chorus stuff. You do it because it’s important to you and you love it, and because every week, you’ll discover more and more things you could be doing for your singers, for your teams, for yourself.
And your family and friends may not love it. If they are not involved in chorus/ quartet life themselves, they will not get it. Even if they are, they may not get it.

You will find yourself growing, as a leader and as a musician, and I think for most of us, it makes us want to put even more of ourselves into it. We feel that our involvement in our organization is rewarding enough, and we forget that our family members do not see what we see.

We hope that they will see that we are happy, and growing as people, that we are finding purpose in our lives. And many will see that, eventually – but you may have to nudge them a little. And you, dear Director, are going to have to learn to delegate!

What? DELEGATE??? Relinquish control over things? NEVER!!!

It’s hard. It’s really, really hard. First, you have to be OK with yourself not doing everything. You have to learn to accept that you can still be in control even if it’s not you out there doing it.

Then, you have to find the people that you know can do it. People who understand what you want, and who will pass that on to the chorus without any ulterior motive. People you trust.

You have to train those people. You can’t just give them a task and send them on their merry way – make sure that they are going to represent YOU when they do it. Be very, very clear as to what your expectations are, but also, understand that they are not you and they may put their own spin on things. This is where the Ego Check has to happen.

Just because they are not you, doesn’t mean they’re not great. Hard to grasp, I know. But, one of our most important jobs as leaders is to grow and develop other leaders, and you can’t do that if you aren’t willing to give people a little bit of space to figure out how they are going to do their jobs. Isn’t that how you became a director in the first place? Because someone let you go out and try it?

The more you can develop people and teams within your chorus that can take care of some of the work for you, the more balance you will have. You can focus on the things you are really good at, and not worry about a million other items.

You’ll still have to check your email and phone numerous times a night and you’ll still have plenty of work to do, but once you do find the right people, you will be more and more comfortable letting them do things without you. I think it’s hard to relinquish some of the control, because we are perfectionists and we want things done OUR way. Well, then we have to teach our people to do things our way, don’t we? Yes. And this takes time.

And your family may not get it.

And, because your success in the chorus world doesn’t equal a big paycheque, they may never get it.
So, you do need to communicate with them and explain why you are doing it. You might have to do this several times before it sinks in (and depending on who your family is, it may never sink in and that’s why so many SAI directors are divorced. Fact.)

(Fact: I don’t know if that is a fact. I just know several chorus directors who have been divorced but I really have no idea if barbershop wrecked their marriages…and I am not going to ask. Feel free to leave an anonymous comment.)

You do have to make yourself happy. After all, chorus IS a hobby…an all-consuming fire of a hobby, but a hobby nonetheless. If you are constantly stressed out and feeling guilty (and as women, we already feel guilty all the time, don’t we?), you need to look at what you can change to make it better, and chance are that once you do change those things and become better at prioritizing, not only will you be happier, but so will your chorus members. You know what they say – “if Mama is happy, everyone’s happy”. You are Mama. You may or may not have children of your own, but you are Mama now. And sometimes, Mama needs help.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Don't Mind Me - Anxiety Sidebar

It seems that many of us “out-front” people share a certain personality trait which seems like it shouldn’t be an issue for us, since we spend so much time in front of groups of people, speaking, teaching and performing.

How many times have you told someone that you are an introvert and been informed that that can’t be, because you’re a performer and you seem so comfortable in front of people?

How many times have you been told “but you don’t seem shy”?

I have, many, many times! And guess what? I am not shy! I have never been shy. Shyness is not a thing with me.

Being introverted is not the same thing as being shy, and being shy is not the same thing as having social anxiety.

Let me explain.

Shyness, introversion and anxiety are three different things. You can have all three (if you’re REALLY lucky!) but they are not to be confused with one another.

I think Introversion is the most different from the other two in that an introvert feels energized by alone time and can get completely drained from social interaction. Introverts crave solitude. I am an introvert (who also suffers from FOMO but I am dealing with that).

Shyness, I believe, is mostly characterized by fear of drawing attention to yourself. I am not shy. Pay me all the attention you want. Look at all the selfies I post, for heaven’s sake! Do I seem like I am not desperate for attention? I think shy people quite often crave the company of others but don’t know how to approach it. I like…nay, I NEED to be alone.

Anxiety comes in many shapes and forms, and it can be debilitating. It manifests itself in many different ways. Mentally, it can be constantly overthinking everything, always assuming the worst, not being able to stop expecting the worst possible scenario. It can be physical – shaking, shortness of breath, hyperventilating, sweating, blurred vision, uncontrollable crying, etc.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and social anxiety. Moderate to severe. I sometimes even have to take an actual Chill Pill!

In the middle of writing this, I had to stop. Because now there is an issue with people knowing this. People I will meet at all these different events. Maybe they will treat me differently now that I have said this. Maybe they won’t invite me to things. Which is OK because I like to be alone anyway but I still want to be invited you know and I like being alone but not lonely. Maybe they will talk to me differently now or try to be careful and feel concerned and oh god I don’t want people to be concerned and I should probably not publish this blog because they will think I am WEIRD THEY PROBABLY ALREADY THINK I AM WEIRD AND THAT’S WHY I AM ALL ALONE IN THE WORLD AND NOBODY WILL TALK TO ME AND WHEN THEY DO THEY WILL HAVE A CONCERNED LOOK IN THEIR EYES

Once the heart palpitations (yes, really) had subsided, I decided to keep writing and to go ahead and publish (pause for new inner drama here) because I know I am not the only person dealing with this.

I know for a fact that I am not the only director dealing with this. Most of us have an analytical nature and while not everyone constantly falls into a rabbit hole of overthinking every time they try to make a decision, being analytical serves us well. It helps us evaluate what we hear and see on our risers. It helps us formulate what kind of sound we want (Eventually. I was shocked to find out that not everyone hears shapes), and it can be a very helpful leadership tool.

It’s a strange dichotomy, the ease with which we can speak in front of crowds and perform on stage, and the bumbling awkwardness we navigate in small, social situations. Other people have a hard time reconciling the two, but to us it’s just how it is. I think it’s a lot more common with female directors – most of the guy directors I have met seem quite confident in all situations. Men do have a little bit more space in society to be sure of their confidence – they don’t have to worry about what people will think if they put their skills on display.

(I feel like I have just broached a subject that might need its very own blog.)

My point, and I do have one, is that if I were shy, I wouldn’t be a director, and I probably wouldn’t even have been a performer. My point is that being an introvert isn’t a bad thing, but you might have to learn ways of breaking out of it from time to time if you ever want to network. And my point is that anxiety of any kind can be a huge obstacle, but you find the areas of your life where it isn’t able to take up space – such as when you are in front of your chorus – and make those areas big enough to push out any potential rabbit holes, and you’ll find that you can feel calm and confident a large portion of the time. And should an unexpected social event occur for which you don’t have time to plan and evaluate, learn to be comfortable being an observer. Learn to know when you have had enough interaction and politely say goodnight and go home. People might think you’re a bit weird, but aren’t we all, really?


Friday, September 15, 2017

Becoming A Director - Part III

In which I discover that I have no idea what I am doing and everybody knows I am a fraud.

So, you’ve been the director for a while now. A year, maybe? You’ve been through a contest cycle and your chorus is not yet wearing any medals and you have not received a blue director pin and nobody is hiring you for your coaching services.

Let me backtrack for a second.

Here’s the thing. I can’t write a series of blogs that are geared towards Master Directors and Faculty because I don’t know anything about that. And let’s face it, those people have each other. These articles are for The Rest Of Us. But don’t worry, Master Directors – you are still allowed to read!

I will elaborate on The Rest Of Us in a future chapter. Today, we are going to talk about the fact that I am a failure and a fraud, and everybody knows I have no idea what I am doing. Especially me.

They call it Impostor Syndrome and it’s a real thing. From Wikipedia:

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud". The term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes.[1] Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. An essay by a psychology professor suggests that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women.[2]”

Can you have impostor syndrome even if you're not a high-achieving woman?

When you first take on the director job, you think it’s going to be much easier. You do know that there is a lot of work involved but you assume that everyone will immediately understand your way of thinking, and success will be swift and tangible! But that is not always the case. As your scores may reflect. What if you take over, and you go to contest and…*GASP*...your scores go down?


Clearly, this is all your fault. You have no idea how to be a director. You don’t know how to teach anybody anything. You don’t know how to pick the right music and you certainly don’t inspire anyone.

What if you go to contest again the following year…and your scores go down even more?

Well, boo-fricking-hoo.

You now have a choice. You can mope about it and spend all your time thinking about all the things you have done wrong over the past few years, or you can pull up your pantaloons and find new ways to be awesome.

It’s time to take stock.

There are many music-related things you can be good at and they aren't the same for every director. I really wish I was good at identifying exactly what the issue is in bar 22 and why that chord isn't quite tuning and be able to say "hey, baritones, it's your fault, sing that Eb a bit higher!"(Just kidding, I don't ever want to tell a whole section it's their fault!) But I am not. I am getting better and better at it, but it is not going as fast as I would like. And in the meantime, I have to be able to identify the things I am good at, and do those things...a lot. I am getting pretty good at surviving Tuesday nights and not make everyone quit! PROGRESS.

If you had set some goals for yourself and the chorus at the time you took over, now is the time to look at those goals and be honest – are they realistic? Are they too lofty? Are they even tangible goals?

If you didn’t set goals at the beginning, you are actually in a better position because you won’t have to change your mind. But it is time to set some goals, and the first thing you need to do is look at your singers and find out who they are. You have to make the decision to either work with what you have, or try to change what you have. I believe in working with what you have, and I believe that the most important thing to do in order to attract new members (which we are always trying to do), is to make sure that your current members are doing well, and that they are on board with you. If that means you are not going to win contests soon, that’s fine. Our organization is full of choruses who don’t win contests, but whose members come to rehearsals every week, pay their dues and put in the time. Think those members contribute to the survival of SAI?


We are important. We are really, really important.

Set a goal. A simple goal. A doable, realistic goal. Make a plan for how to achieve it. Keep repeating it to your members, because it is important that they know exactly what the goal is and that it is not going to change. This leaves them with a decision – they either get on board and take the steps necessary to help reaching it, or they have to step down.

For some, making this decision will be a long process. Be patient, but insist. Repeat the goal and the work you are asking for every week. Eventually, they will make their decision.

Make sure that you only pick songs that they can sing, songs YOU believe THEY can sing, and that fits their personality. It’s tempting to pick songs that YOU would want to sing, but you don’t get to sing much these days, do you?

And you, my dear, fake, impostor person? Learn things. Read books, go to classes, attend every educational event you can. Watch other groups being coached. Take notes. You know more than you think, and it’s time you started focusing on the things you are good at, and work on those skills even more. There will be many directors out there who are much better than you and who know lots of things that you don’t, and that’s OK.

You can inspire people to always want to do their best. You can make them laugh. You can teach them how to work with learning tracks. You can point them to resources that can teach them to read music if they don't already. You can pass on information you received from directors with blue pins. You can insist. You can persist. You can praise. And sometimes, you can get a little cramp in your shoulders from waving your arms too hard.

Happens to the best of 'em (or so I am told).

Those other, amazing directors, are not you. YOU were asked to become the director of your group because they saw something in you that they wanted in a leader. Remember that. Be you.

You’re awesome.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Becoming A Director - Part Deux


In which I wonder why They aren’t learning the songs I am throwing at them randomly, and reluctantly agree that Having A Plan is important and that it isn’t ALL about me.

For a short while there, right when I first started out as a director, I thought I knew what I was doing. This didn’t last long and the problem was that I was basing every decision on what I thought I would have liked from a new director. I chose music based on what I wanted to sing and assumed everyone would just go ahead and learn it and we would have instant success. No, really. I really thought this.

It didn’t happen that way.

If you have been singing for a while, and you have watched other choruses and their directors, chances are you have a pretty good idea of what kind of director you would want to be. You see all these groups with their different personalities and eclectic repertoires and a dynamic arm-waver out front, and you can easily put yourself in that spot and dream of all the success your chorus will have with you at the helm, doing those same things.

The problem is, you don’t see all the work that went into it beforehand. You don’t know how long it probably took to get to that point where it looks and sounds so natural and effortless. You don’t know if there was struggle and conflict, and you don’t know how much sleep that director lost trying to figure out how she could be the best leader for her chorus.

I have heard of new directors coming in and turning everything upside down – getting rid of the entire repertoire and starting anew, and to be quite honest, that is what I should have done...but at that point, I was still a singer first and foremost, and I liked the songs we were singing. I knew the chorus did too, and while I toyed with the idea, I was too worried about how they would react if I took away all the songs. That, plus I didn’t really know what I wanted them to sing instead. AND we had performances coming up and we needed songs for those. So, we kept the same songs, and the songs we were singing at that time didn’t really have much in common. Some of them had been sung by the chorus for a long time, and many mistakes and bad habits had crept in over the years – in hindsight, starting over would have been the smart thing to do, but I never said I was smart.

I picked new songs quite randomly. A couple were suggested to me and I just said YES LET’S DO IT because I really wanted to give new music to my singers, and some I picked based solely on the fact that I liked them, not thinking about whether the chorus would be able to connect to them or tell their story. I didn’t know what the chorus story was, really, and I didn’t understand how it had changed once I came down from the risers and became their new, somewhat fearful leader.

Remember the part of the previous post where I told you I needed to make my own mistakes so I could learn from them? Well, here it is – a mistake I made right as I started out, which I have now learned from and am in the process of turning around and steering onto The Right Track!

There are times in a person’s life where one realises that one made a mistake, and then one realises WHY they made that mistake, and then one almost feels like there is a literal lightbulb over one’s head that comes on and thinking about one’s mistake becomes almost celebratory.

Just Like That.

Here’s what I missed when I was brand new: I WAS THE LEADER. These were, in fact, my decisions to make, but I was too worried about what people might think and what if their feelings got hurt? But remember – they picked you! They picked you because they believed that you could take them further, and because they wanted to see how you would do that. You are the boss now. You don’t have to be a dictator, but the fact is, you DO get to make decisions – and not everyone is going to like the decisions you make!

That’s OK. Yes, I know you want everyone to love you and think you are a wonderful person of great substance, but let me assure you; not everyone will agree with everything you do. And you have to figure out a way to be OK with that. Took me a couple of years.

Here is something else I missed at the beginning: IT WASN’T ALL ABOUT ME. While I could make The Decisions, I had to learn how to make them based upon the needs of the chorus…and at the time, I really didn’t know what those needs were. Hallelujah, another mistake to learn from!

In our case, and in my defense, the chorus didn’t really know what they needed at the time either – they just wanted to keep singing, because we had had some rough times in the not too distant past and we were all feeling a little tired and a little discouraged.

Now, a few years later, I am finally learning how to see the singers I have and what they can and cannot do, and from that, a new purpose emerges for having taken on this role in the first place.

So, if you are brand new, or perhaps you have been around for a few years but you still FEEL new and you don’t know what direction in which to steer your chorus, do this: TALK TO YOUR SINGERS. Sit down and discuss where the group is now, where they want to go, make sure they know what YOU want, and find a way to come together. You may want to consider bringing in a facilitator to help you with this – this could be another director or coach, or even a professional from outside your organization.

And, depending on the level and capability of your chorus, and based on how the current songs are sounding, I highly recommend getting rid of all of it and start building your own, new repertoire. It’s like the clothes in your closet – some things you just love but at some point, you may have to face the fact that they don’t fit you anymore and it’s time to go shopping for new stuff that you can wear NOW. You will be happier, feel a lot more comfortable, and damn it, you will look good!


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Becoming a Director (the series) - Part I


In which I am unsure of whether it’s best to pick a director from within your chorus/ organization or if it’s more beneficial to have an outsider come in and take over. I also discover that one has to be careful as to what one wishes for.

I am writing all of this from the perspective of already being part of the Barbershop world when stepping out to become a frontline director – I know of directors who came from a choral background, had never sung barbershop before, and went on to achieve great success within Sweet Adelines and the Barbershop Harmony Society. I don’t know exactly who they are or how they did it. They are like unicorns – I’m pretty sure they actually exist but I don’t have any proof.

I have to assume that a person who does that had to have a pretty extensive background in music. They would be a person who had their music theory down pat. Someone who didn’t have to mutter “Go Buy Donuts For Adam” under their breath every time they had to play something in the bass clef. Someone who COULD effortlessly play something on a piano.

Someone very different from me.

This is my keyboard. There are many like it, but this one's mine. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.

I had been a member of my chorus for about 7 years and 4 directors when, once again, the position became available and I appeared to be the most natural choice of armwaver-person. I’m still not entirely sure how that happened, but I’m glad it did.

During my years in the chorus, I had sung baritone, served on the management team in a couple of roles, somehow been the choreographer for a brief moment, and at some point, one director had put me out in front of the chorus to direct a song. I had no idea what I was doing but I must have done something right because I then found myself enrolled in the Director Certification Program.

I would like to extend my most sincere gratitude to the writers of this book, which explained the basics of music theory to me as if I were an idiot, because that is what I needed.

I then became Assistant Director and then...our director left!!!

Becoming a Director had obviously been a goal of mine, I just hadn’t realized that it might actually become reality. There I was. I didn’t have a music degree. My knowledge of music theory was basic at best. I didn’t know if I had the leadership skills to be out front. Then again, I also felt like I knew some things, you know? Things I heard on the risers (that I would mysteriously become deaf to once out front), things coaches said that made sense (that I would inexplicably forget when trying to solve problems later on), and of course, I was a singer, right? I knew what singers needed, right?

Well, I may have known what I needed as a singer, but I was about to learn that what seemed natural to me, made little to no sense to other people. And by “other people”, I mean my chorus. Bless their cotton socks. They were in for a ride and they didn’t even know it!

(Author’s note: They may actually have known. I am afraid to ask and I am not going to.)

I have never really felt scared speaking in front of large groups of people. Put me at a dinner table with a couple of folks I don’t know well and you are about to witness An Awkward Situation, but in front of crowds I feel like Oprah, or Tony Robbins (without the millions, but there’s still time). The idea of running a rehearsal didn’t feel like a daunting, scary thing, but it would become those things once I realised that I wasn’t just the assistant anymore. I had been a leader within the chorus before, and I had planned the occasional rehearsal when the Director had been away, but planning a rehearsal is a very different animal once YOU are the one who’s going to deal with the results of that rehearsal, because you also have to plan the next one…and the next one…and the next one…
You have to start thinking about the future and plan accordingly…and I happen to HATE thinking about the future and planning accordingly! It has taken me until now – more than 3 years later – to start feeling comfortable thinking about next year and the year after. I had people on my team who, lovingly, insisted that I needed to start working on a long-range plan, or even just a year-long plan, and I couldn’t, yet. They needed a plan, and I couldn’t give it to them. They would suggest…and I would agree but not really think about it. They would get frustrated, and I would get annoyed.

When you are a new Director, you need to, first of all, figure out what’s going to work for you. If you have a group that has been around for a while, they may already have their ways of doing things, and you may even have done them as a member, but now, things are different. You may be expected to do things the same way and if you don’t want to, you have to say something right away. And if you don’t know yet what you want to do or how you want to do it, it’s OK to say that too! I’m figuring things out – give me some time. Not everyone will like it - no, not everyone liked it when I finally figured out that I needed more time to figure out what kind of director I wanted to be, and when I insisted that I needed to make my own mistakes in order to learn from them, the response was, shall we say, lukewarm – but I decided to go ahead and make mistakes, and I was right – I did learn from them. And I still have tons of mistakes to make and learn from, and I’m excited about it. A little scared, but excited.

In my humble (not really) opinion, your first priority as a new director should be to build your team. Pick who you want. Don’t worry about who had the job before and for how long – YOU choose who you want to work with. If your chorus is on the smaller side, this could be a challenge because people don’t exactly line up to do jobs, but you never know who might be willing to step up. You don’t have to do this in your first week. You don’t even have to do it in your first year. But as time goes by, you will find out who works well together, and who doesn’t. Nobody is entitled to a position on the music team, and nobody is obligated to be there. You pick. You create your team. And once you do, you will know because the work will get easier. The discussion will be more efficient. You will, finally, start to Get Shit Done. And it will feel good.

You should also talk to other directors. A lot. Talk to other new directors, and experienced ones. Tell them what you are experiencing and chances are, the same issues you are facing, someone else will have gone through before you, and they may have come up with a solution already! It’s nice to find people that you have things in common with, and I guarantee you, even the Masterest of Master Directors don’t have 100% perfect rehearsals as well as all the answers. At least that is what I keep telling myself. But, you know…I’m new.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Story Of My Life

I love biographies. I have always much preferred them to works of fiction, in fact, I find a lot of fiction terribly hard to read. It doesn’t matter what kind of outlandish scenarios the author has come up with – if it isn’t based in some kind of reality, I lose patience pretty quickly. But biographies. I get sucked in. The more recent, the better – if I can get my hands on a book about someone who is still alive, I might finish it in one sitting.
Even better if it was written by the person themselves. Example – The Dirt by Mötley Crüe. Written by the guys in the band, and their lives and careers were insane! Read it in one night (I mean one night – started it in the afternoon and finished it by morning. Couldn’t put it down).

I loved “Yes, Please” by Amy Poehler and “Bossypants” by Tina Fey (then again, either of them could come out with a line of laundry soaps and I would, realistically, find it genius).

Right now, I’ve got my eye on “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen and “Believe Me” by Eddie Izzard. I love a good memoir, but every time I start one, and the author talks about their childhood and youth, I always wonder how the hell they remember everything?

If I was to write a book about my life, it would a) probably be a thin one and b) not very interesting at that. It would be more like a short user manual – “How To Feed and Care for a Dork’, by Maja With a J. I wouldn't know where to start!

I remember things from my childhood but not a ton of interesting stories. It was a regular childhood, I suppose. Regular childhoods seldom lead to fascinating lives, it seems. I can’t think of a specific story or event that “shaped me” or “made me become the person I am today”. Although, I suppose, everything that happens to you does in one way or another.

When I think of my childhood, it’s always summer. My mom was a teacher so she had the summer off and we usually spent most of it at our family’s cabin in the archipelago not far from Stockholm (where I was born and raised). My maternal grandparents owned the cabin, but next to it was a meadow or field, and on the other side of that field was a cabin that was owned by my paternal grandparents – still is owned by my last surviving grandma, myself, my sister and my uncle. I think this must have been where my parents met, but they never told me much about their early years as a couple. I don’t know why. Maybe they didn’t remember either?
We usually stayed at Mormor & Morfar’s (maternal grandma and grandpa) place. It was slightly bigger and had a small secondary cabin as well. The smaller cabin used to be the only cabin, until they build the “big cabin” the same year I was born.

Look at the things it turns out I know and remember!

There were lots of kids in the area and I remember playing with Sandra (who still comes there with her mom), Sarah, and Jeanette, who was a bit older than I and mostly concerned with her appearance and having a boyfriend. There was also Christina, whom I still keep in touch with on Facebook. I don’t know what the hell we did all day, though. Hang out in the woods? Yeah, we did that. Go swimming? Yep, did that a lot. We rode our bikes and went to see the horses at a small ranch nearby. I don’t remember the name of the guy who owned the horses, but they were named Tara, Nova, and Melinda. Sometimes they were in their barn and sometimes they were outside in the meadow, which had an electrical fence around it and I was obsessed with touching it.

(That part may explain a lot, actually.)

So I guess I remember some things. I guess that if I ever were to write a book about myself, that’s where I would begin. The summers in Rörvik with my grandparents and my mom and dad, and the rest of my family. I guess if I thought long and hard, I could come up with some stories about what happened there, maybe even something that had a great impact on me or explains me.

That’s where I would start.

- Maja (With a J)

Little Maja picking some flowers by the Big Cabin

Friday, May 26, 2017

Attending Events When You Have Social Anxiety - Some Tips To Maybe Make It Easier.

A few times a year, I go to events arranged by Sweet Adelines International, the women's singing organization that I have been a member of for ten years. They are educational events, competitions, etc. and they are always fun, always busy, and always a little bit of a struggle for me because they are also social events. You meet lots of people and that's great - but for someone like me, the idea of constantly being around people, being social and carrying on conversations with a lot of people you don't really know can be quite overwhelming and that is often how I feel when I go to these things - overwhelmed.

I love going - it's always fun and I always learn new things and have great experiences, but I have had to learn to manage my time and myself when I am there, so that I can actually enjoy it and not feel out of place or like I want to go hide all the time.

I know I am not the only one who has this type of issue, so here are some tips that I hope can help you the next time you go to a conference, business trip, or even just a vacation with friends. Any place that might be a bit "peopley" and you might feel a bit uncomfortable.

1) Social anxiety is often misunderstood and not taken seriously as a real thing. If you don't constantly talk to people, and you don't always participate in conversations because you are more comfortable just listening and observing, you may be thought of as "rude" or "boring" or even "full of yourself" or "snooty".

You will get comments like "YOU DON'T TALK MUCH, DO YA", and "ARE WE BORING YOU?", and the first thing you have to learn is that this is not personal. It'll feel like it, but it isn't. Not really. People get uncomfortable when you don't talk, and the reason is usually the fact that you aren't stroking their ego. You do not have to talk just to make someone else feel comfortable. You worry about yourself feeling comfortable, and if you aren't, it's OK for you to get up and leave. You are under no obligation to entertain others, and if someone comments on your quietness, just agree. My favorite reply lately when someone informs me that I don't talk much is "I know, isn't it nice?".

2) FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out - can really interfere with your need for alone time. You'll be up in your hotel room, pretty tired, really quite ready to call it a night, but you know there is a big closing party going on downstairs! You know there are people there that you would want to meet. You know there are people down there that you know and want to say hello to. You know that right now, FUN THINGS ARE HAPPENING AND YOU WANT TO BE PART OF THEM.

So you put your shoes back on and head to the elevators. And when you get downstairs, you immediately regret your decision. Turns out, you don't know anyone, really. You make your way through the crowd, say hi to a few people, maybe try to join a little circle of people and chat, but then you find yourself by the wall, in a situation that COULD be great, if Peoplewatching was socially acceptable at parties. But it isn't. You can't just sit in a corner and look at people interacting. People find this extremely offensive! Some may even feel sorry for you and will try to rescue you. But mostly you will annoy people with your unwillingness to participate in meaningless talk.

Make sure you go with someone who is also an observer. Do NOT attend these parties with your friend The Social Butterfly Who Knows Everyone - you will be left behind and feel lonely and weird. Go with a small group of people who have decided to attend together - that way, you won't feel left out - you can talk to each other.

Most importantly, learn to be comfortable not going, or only going very briefly. I usually come down and just circle the room once - if I run into someone I know and there is good conversation - great! If not, I circle back all the way to the exit and leave! I still worry that I might miss something and that everyone will forget about me, but I am more concerned with my own comfort level at this point.

3) Have your own space to retreat to. If you can afford a single hotel room, that's really the best. A space that is just yours, where you can go and have much needed quiet time. Again, people may not understand why you don't want to have a roommate, but for many of us, this is really important. I always try to get my own room - it is necessary for my sanity. However, sometimes circumstance prevents us from having our own private space, and you have to share. It doesn't have to be the end of the world. Find the person who is like you. Who likes it quiet. Who doesn't want the party to be in your room. Who maybe likes to go to bed early. Make sure your roommate is the independent type - someone who can manage themselves, who doesn't need to be woken up in the morning, someone who doesn't need to do everything together. It may seem like these things go without saying for grown-ups, but you'd be surprised at how many grown-ass women I have met over the years who are incapable of just waking the hell up in the morning without assistance. I can't do that. I can't be responsible for getting someone else going in the morning, and these days, if I am in a room-sharing situation, I make sure I tell them that, and that we agree that we're each just going to do our own thing. Most people are willing to respect your space if you just say that that is what you need, and it may turn out that they are the same, and then you'll likely have a wonderful co-existence in the room!

The most important thing is to accept yourself the way you are and realise that you do not owe anyone your company or conversation. It's great when other people accept you too, but that doesn't always happen, and you have to learn to be OK with that. This can take some time! You don't want to feel left out, and you certainly don't want people to think you're rude! Just remember that other people's perception of you does NOT define who you are - you do! And you are the quiet type. You are the type who likes to be by yourself, or being the observer in a group of people. Own it and enjoy it. One day, we will take over the world! Quietly, from our own rooms.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Maja With a J in: Awkward, With an A - Illustrated by Maja...with a J.

I think pretty much everyone I know has anxiety in some form. In fact, I think having anxiety has become the new normal. Every time I read an article that supposedly explains what it's like to live with anxiety, all I can think is "this is completely normal and everyone deals with this". Reading about it almost annoys me now, because all these articles seem to be asking me to treat someone with extra care just because they suffer from something that is a regular part of my - and, seemingly, everyone else's life too.

I have had anxiety since childhood, and so have you. I'm not sure who to blame for this, but I'm pretty sure it can be tied to pop culture and reality TV because I can't cut and edit my life and only keep the good parts. I don't know. I'm not here to solve anxiety. I just want to write, K?

At the beginning of 2017, I wrote a list of things I want to accomplish this year. I do it every year. I usually accomplish nothing. I am quite lazy, you see, and when it comes to learning to do something new, I am impatient and I usually lose interest pretty quickly if something is hard and I don't see results instantaneously.
One of the things I said I was going to do this year was learning to draw, learn to be creative with a pen and paper and maybe create a cartoon or something (I am never too detailed in my quest to learn new things, maybe that's my problem). I bought a sketch pad and a bunch of colour pencils and also a bunch of Sharpies in different colours because, honestly, who doesn't want a whole bunch of Sharpies in different colours?

I started drawing and as expected, I suck at it. But I decided I was going to learn to draw one thing - myself. A simple, cartoon version of myself. Here I am:

The resemblance is uncanny

I think I have tied my story together enough - I have anxiety like everyone else and I am learning to draw. What follows is a story of something that happened back in October of last year, and that still haunts me to this day but am I going to just ask and get it over with, no.

Was it serious? No. But that means nothing.

I meet a lot of people through my involvement in Sweet Adelines International, a singing organization for women. I am also friends with a lot of people from the organization on Facebook, without actually having met them in real life (or, IRL, as the kids say. Do the kids still say that?). Sometimes, I don't know if I have met someone or not, they add me because we have friends in common. I rarely send friend requests...because of aforementioned anxiety. That just opens up a whole new can of overthinking and we don't want that, do we?

Facebook informed me that it was This Guy's birthday. This Guy, whom I believe I have never met, is the husband of This Girl, who I have met and she is quite rad. Therefore, This Guy must also be quite rad. I don't know who friend requested who. Anyway - ping from Facebook says it's his birthday, so...

Yes, I have advanced to colour, isn't it fancy?

Feeling pretty good about myself here. Just a casual birthday greeting and a little joke about never actually having met IRL. No danger here. Except...

Believe it or not, I am not sponsored by Samsung.

Oh. F*ck.

Commence brain fry sequence.

We must have met at some SAI event. That is the only logical place. But which one? At regional? International? Was it at RES? IES? AHA? So many abbreviations and I can't remember ONE GUY? Think, Maja...THINK!!!

You can really see the terror in my eyes in this one.

I could have just asked. I could have said "really? when?" and that would have been it, but did I? NOPE. And to this day, I don't know.

Is that a dog or a cat?

There is no conclusion to this story. We'll just have to wait and see how this riveting adventure unfolds.


I find no comfort in knowing that pretty much everyone lies awake at night thinking about every stupid thing they have every said. Maybe because I assume I say more stupid shit than the average person.