2019: Expect it.

I have been thinking a lot about “next” moments. Or seasons, whatever colloquialism you want to use. It’s essential meaning is all the same: It’s the moment we confront we have a choice to make: to remain where we are (physically, emotionally, philosophically, etc) or do something that feels really big. Not because an opportunity is presented to us or because someone else is impacting the decision but because a deep feeling inside our bones speaks up: “It’s time to grow now.”

Most recently, for me, it has been moving to Chicago. I’m not sure I can accurately articulate my reasons for leaving Minneapolis. My life there was truly wonderful- my career was thriving, challenging and meaningful; my friendships were thoughtful, fun, complex and heartwarming. But my insides, my spirit, my bones…they weren’t all the way in the way I wanted to be; in the way I wish to give myself to the world. So after 10 years, in a space in which most everything made sense, I made a choice that maybe didn’t. I recognize people make choices like this all the time, I’ve made choices like this one before, but honoring the value of perspective – this one felt more meaningful for me. I felt terrified and ridiculous. Exhilarated and stupid. At ease and yet oh so tangled. It also ended up being exactly what I needed. (For the record, I’m giving up on the idea of “what’s right” – who really even knows what that is anymore?)

While in the new Windy City I call home, I recently had a valuable conversation with one of the smartest, most fascinating and thoughtfully expressive people I know. He somehow managed to find the center of the Venn diagram of all of these feelings I’ve spoken of above. It was beyond valuable, actually – a rare shake-you-awake kind of conversation. He reminded me that having high expectations for oneself is imperative to not only achievement, but on many levels, happiness. I’ve always considered myself an ambitious person, but there is a discernible difference between ambition and expectation: Aspiration vs belief. When you search synonyms for expectation the forms it takes is downright magical: assumption, chance, confidence, fear, forecast, hope, intention, possibility, trust.

He also reminded me that life is rich with disappointment, but that can’t halt the pursuit of the “big” or the “scary” thing that could define your purpose. And, in fact, more often than not, once you become friends with the quest for the “big scary thing”, it doesn’t feel so intimidating anymore; it’s just what you did, what was next. As I wrap myself in this idea, a really magnificent thing has started happening. A quiet, but ever present reassuring whisper:

“See? You figured that out. You’re OK, deep breath, keep going.”

As has now become my annual schtick of practicing a new mantra each year (with my best gal, Ari), I’m getting a jump start on this one, because it lit a fire. Actually, my friends, I’m literally lighting these words on fire, not to make them disappear, but because fire is a sign of forging will and determination; of the divine power that burns deep in our soul.

JANUARY 1 EDIT: I’m taking a little liberty and lighting one more word on fire in honor of the official new year making its entrance.

I set ablaze LOVE – in the hopes its flame will spark beyond wishes and into belief – becoming my strongest weapon and a shepherding force in the pursuit of work, ideas, growth, relationships, and self. In this fresh round of 365, I will no longer simply desire it, I will expect and believe it is meant for me, for you, for all of us.

Here’s to 2019: Expect of yourself. Assume a healthy chance of fear. Forecast confidence. Hope with intention, possibility and trust; and in all that you do – pursue love.

 

 

With no time to waste.

I have repeated these words to myself over and over again as we work through this point in our history:

I own my womanhood. I cradle my gentle will, my maternal instincts; I honor my power and those who have fought so fiercely for it with strength and care.

I put at the front of my heart those who are different than me, whose walk in this life is one I don’t know and I will SEE their stories, HEAR their hearts beat and wrap them in comfort as best I can when they feel hopeless.

I believe in compassion, in ambition, in the positive impact of change, the demand for fortitude and the necessity to keep moving forward. I will not stop fighting to move forward.

And now, more than ever, I choose love, freely, with no time to waste. I hope you will, too.

 

 

#InternationalWomensDay

When I was a senior in high school, I was the Sports Editor of the newspaper. The title of my first editorial was “It’s a girl!”, in which I proceeded to ramble for a few hundred words about my deep love for the Chicago Cubs, Nebraska Huskers and my growing understanding of hockey and tennis. Ultimately, when I look back on that moment, I was using clever words to apologize for being a chick who liked sports. And, really, being a chick who actually knew something about sports.

Now, 15 years later, I still find myself apologizing – for a lot. But every single day, I find myself doing that less, because every single day, I watch the women in my life make choices that are intentional and smart; decisions that uphold the simultaneous values of generosity and strength. I watch them lead with grace and dignity. I watch them pursue, relentlessly, for what they want and what the people in their lives need. I watch them teach, guide, challenge, create, build, change, grow, learn and love. Without apology. I see them. I see you. I celebrate you. I am inspired by you. I follow you.

So in honor of #internationalwomensday, here’s a picture of me, wearing a ridiculous hat, drinking a beer and being caught in a moment of total joy because I was going to a Nebraska football game. Because I’m still a chick who really digs sports. And from this point on, I’m at least done apologizing for that.

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32 & Foolish: The extended version.

The first time I attended an Alive and Kickin concert they were still performing at the Old Arizona. Begun in 2010 by Twin Cities brilliant artist Michael Matthew Ferrell as a gigging seniors (ages 63-93) choir, the group has now grown into a fully-fledged non-profit organization, with multiple outreach programs and an annual sold out concert run featuring its 33 cast members.

But back then, it was something my friend Michael was starting to figure out because he’d been inspired by a documentary. The Old Arizona was a far more intimate space than where they perform these days, but the experience left just as big of an impression. The almost unbelievable levels of vulnerability of the storytellers was only matched by the pure joy in their song. It was all so visceral  – I laughed, I cried, I cried until I laughed and I laughed until I cried. Redefining what it means to grow older? Please, more like redefining what it means to LIVE.

I remember hugging Michael following the concert and saying to him “you’ve created something really special here.”

Several years later, I was gifted the opportunity to revisit that unique visceral experience when I was invited to participate in a program of Alive and Kickin called SingOUT! led by Michael and A&K Music Director Jason Hansen. It’s exactly what it sounds like – seniors are invited to come and sing. No pretense, no cost, no expectation except to celebrate the joy of music. All abilities are welcome – some in the room no longer speak, but boy do they dance; some are trained musicians whose first note came lifetimes before I even took my first breath; And some are even literal music legends. It is an indescribable experience to sit in that room, to sing in that room, to feel the power of life in that room. (Plus, those wonderful people took a moment to record a special birthday song for a friend of mine – how could I not leave with a beaming smile on my face?)

On that day I had not yet decided what organization I was going to raise money for at my annual birthday concert. Given the current state of affairs of our world, it’s hard to not want to raise money for just about everything related to social justice work, but as the days passed, the experience of SingOUT! stuck with me, compelling me to embrace the intersection of music and human services.

I’m raising money for Alive and Kickin for a lot of reasons, I suppose…

I believe in Michael Matthew Ferrell and Jason Hansen as impactful and creative artists.
I believe in the important work my mother did as a geriatric psychologist for 25 years.
I believe in the power of someone feeling brave enough to tell their own story.
I believe in the necessity of providing space for someone to feel brave enough to tell their own story.
I believe in the ability and science of music to connect us to memory, place, time and other people.
I believe we have much to learn from those who created the path long before us and it does us well to not only listen to them, but hear them.

And probably most of all, because I still believe what I said after seeing them perform for the first time:

There is something really special here.

I hope you’ll join me on February 12th to honor Alive and Kickin and celebrate my first week of 32. We’ll be at LUSH in Minneapolis getting things rockin’ around 7:00pm. For more information visit HERE.

 

 

2018: Reimagining darkness.

2017.

It has been an interesting one hasn’t it? Somehow these past 12 months feel as though they’ve disappeared and yet trudged along all at the same time. For me personally, it has been a year of refocusing and a great deal of change. It has been a year of seeking opportunity, seeking new ways to adapt, seeking understanding, seeking empathy. Lots of seeking.

I’ve found thrilling new professional challenges, enlightening personal relationships and a tremendous sense of purpose in my creative and artistic path. I’ve also found disappointment, frustration, insecurity, sadness, loneliness and heartbreak.

And a month ago I found the idea of darkness reimagined.

A friend (one of those new enlightening relationships) introduced to me this concept of reimagining darkness. Starting with the philosophical thought that we have been taught dark uniformly implies bad and light is right – black vs. white – evil vs. good. Absolutely. It’s fed to us by entertainment culture, ingrained in our “Dark ages” history books, reinforced in the bible, celebrated in sports stadiums, developed as a storyline in the media and even practically attributed to our rainy weather days. Yup. Can’t argue with that.

But perhaps this narrow vision of “light and dark” has been misguiding us or even blinding us, if you will, was his encouragement for me to ponder. And I have been. I really, really have.

Without spending too much verbiage in the negatively political, it feels fair to say that this overwhelming assumption does not necessarily serve us in our growth. I’d even challenge that it halts us; it prevents movement forward and creates a restrictive path at a time when we so desperately need to engage all roads.

Ultimately, if 2017 assured me of anything, it’s that I must own my personal responsibility to where we “are” right now. I must admit to my privilege, bias and to the negativity I have succumbed to or perpetuated – not just sometimes, but all times. I think many of us have realized how unbelievably isolated our own realities can be. And perhaps on the flip side, how alive we feel in those precious moments of deep, vulnerable, meaningful human connection that teaches us, alters us, shakes us awake. I’ve recognized both of these feelings on levels I’ve not experienced in all the other years of my life. Particularly the latter. I crave it. I aspire to it. I’m energized by it. All while being wildly terrified of it.

But I’m discovering myself more productive when I embrace living in some grey space – especially when I’ve got those who are willing to breathe there with me. If I wrap myself in the blanket of ideas that people, progress and the human spirit are far more complicated and nuanced than all right and all wrong I stop compromising that opportunity for new connection. When I find myself cozying up to constant change, the growing pains feel a little less harmful and a lot more good.

And with that, I’m empowering this message moving into 2018:

Stop searching for the renowned light at the end of the tunnel – it’s probably not there. And even if it is, you might never find it to be what you actually need or want. Light that shit up yourself. Reimagine darkness instead.

Happy 2018,

Whit

32 & Foolish: “I had to steel myself everyday.”

Five years ago, I decided to use the fact that friends and family feel obligated to you on your birthday to do some collective good – thus birthed the “Whitney Birthday Benefit Concert”. The deal is the same annually – I put on a concert and all the money raised for the night goes to support something or the thing associated with the person who has made an impact on my previous year. For year 32, I am unbelievably grateful and thrilled to partner with Alive and Kickin: The Twin Cities Premiere Senior Ensemble composed of rockstars ages 65-93. A&K was founded by Michael Matthew Ferrell with co-direction/music direction by Jason Hansen, a fellow Catalyst. What began as a choir has now grown into something closer to a human services organization using music and performance as its primary tool. If you’ve never attended an Alive & Kickin’ concert, I can’t wait for you to meet them. Learn more HERE.

I’ve discovered that I find greater intention in my birthday concerts if I have a really specific idea to creatively dig into. What inspires me the most about Alive & Kickin’ is the way they so openly embrace sharing their own stories. It is the core and heartbeat of the structure of their performances and “32 & Foolish” will honor this idea. I wanted to pose the question to the group “what advice would you give your younger self?” to curate from and thankfully the cast let me spend some time with them to provide me with guidance. Much like attending one of their concerts, their stories made me both laugh and feel incredibly moved. I look forward to sharing all of what I learned in February but I want to talk about something specific today.

I was on a run this morning, listening to the recorded conversation for probably the third time as I debate ideas for songs. I’m unsure if it was the nature of the past few weeks, but I caught an unexpected tear run down my cheek as I heard again a story that seems to resonate so intently right now:

“I had to steel myself every day for what might come that day. The women of today don’t actually know what we did.”

She’s right.

I have no idea. I know I am deeply grateful for it. I know I am lucky because of it. And I know I’ve much to learn still about how one gathers strength in times of conflict. How one holds, builds, sustains internal power in the “gut check” days.

I feel a lot of things about being a woman in this world right now.

I feel more aware of it than I ever have.
I feel more aware of the negativity I’ve unknowingly (or knowingly) given permission to. I feel more aware of how far we’ve fallen from the desire for common ground.
I feel more aware of how complex and nuanced the human condition is.
I feel more aware of how threatening expectation is.
And how dangerously close expectation walks with hope.

I often feel unequipped to know where to start to better be an ally so I try to learn as much and as frequently as I can. I say “help me understand” when I don’t think I do. I don’t pretend that I can empathize with situations that are so wildly beyond my reality; instead I’m working to always give space for reflection of situations that are so wildly beyond my reality. I have stopped trying to predict human response so that I can selfishly feel more prepared and instead have built in time for processing. I halt the feelings of anger because when I move to angry, I get stuck, it’s just who I am. Now is not the time to get stuck. So when I feel negatively, I try to spend more breaths with disappointment, frustration, even sadness; emotions I know I can do something with.

I’ve realized, I too, am steeling myself on some level. And desperately, carefully, attempting to not let that steel stop my heart from staying open. Maybe there’s a way to make that steel composed of something softer. I’m not sure yet. I don’t know. I’m trying to get really comfortable with admitting how much I don’t know. 

But I look forward to continuing to listen to this conversation to see what more I can learn.

I will be sharing promo materials in the new year and I will dedicate a post to telling you a bit more about “why Alive & Kickin’” and what you can expect on February 12th. But for now, I just beg everyone to dig deeply into kindness. Rediscover respect. Listen more. We can do better by each other. In fact, we must. With no time to waste.

Sending light to you and yours,

Whit

MAKE ROOM FOR IT NOT TO WORK

A few New Years Eves ago, my friends and I started a tradition of each adapting a motto to carry with us through the next year. As I’ve walked through 2017, I’ve embraced “make room for it not to work”. Borrowing the thoughts I shared on the social medias leading up to January 1, 2017, I chose this phrase because often when it doesn’t work, we discover how it can be better. When it doesn’t work, we try harder, reexamine, refresh, rethink. We ask for help. We look from different angles. We force ourselves to see clearer, more carefully. We strive for something more efficient, effective, productive. Our minds open to new possibilities. Our hearts beat in panic until we find the next step in the solution. That beat drives us through that problem to the problem after that and after that one and so on until in it we find a new rhythm that feels warm, capable, cozy. Something we can maintain.

As we (somehow) move into the final 2 months of 2017 (how’d that happen? Seriously.), I can report that I have lived this motto to its fullest. There has been much that has not worked, much that has challenged my growth and much that has forced me to think wildly differently than I have for much of the past decade of my life. The pain and fear are real. We are struggling to slow down and be gentle with ourselves. The state of the world’s affairs has created a level of anxiety that is palpable and haunting and at times suffocating in many of us. There is no consistent rhythm right now anywhere to be found. I find some sweet moments of solace in being an artist; working in a field that supports, encourages and explores all that makes humanity. These storytellers inspire me every minute.  

I continue to strive to listen and discover more ways I can be an ally and a support to those who face challenges I will never know. I find myself saying over and over again “YOU ARE ENOUGH” – to those I care about and on occasion reminding myself – might as well throw another one out there right now:

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Not in spite of being a woman, a person of color, a gender fluid human, a non-Christian or any other qualifier someone is handing you, but YOU ARE ENOUGH simply if you are committed to good. I proudly take steps forward so that my tiny footprints might join together with all of the others on this journey and create an indisputable path; one that is so deeply and indestructibly ingrained in the earth that even if it gets washed away, it can always, always, always be found.

I am hopeful that in the next 2 months I will discover what 2018’s motto needs to be, mostly because I like tradition, but I’ll make room for that not to work, too. In the hopes that when it does, when the universe or the energies or whatever it is that sings to the best times, sends a new song our way – I’ll be worthy of it. And easily grow into finding that cozy, cool new beat.

As my dear collaborator and friend Max always says, “make it go”, friends –

Whit