for people who break into song in real life

Author: dancallaway (Page 1 of 18)

⏱ You Don’t Have to Play the Game

Today’s the Boston Marathon.

How many it’s-not-a-sprint-it’s-a-marathon 26.2 sticker clichés can you pull up?

I get the whole long-haul wisdom of the massive distance race imagery. The thing about this analogy is that it’s filled with stressful givens–

🏃🏾‍♂️There’s a slew of lean game-face runners with their numbers pinned to their shirts ready to pound you into the pavement.

⏱It’s a one-time event.

🛌There are no nights of sleep involved (or other forms of rest).

🏆There can only be one winner.

Enter your life as an artist and/or singer. You look around at all the create-y people around you, and someone said “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” and not only do you think there’s a race, but you think y’all are competing for the same finish line.

A ridiculously talented and beauty-hearted student came to their lesson this week, and when I asked them what they were liking about school, they said, “The people.” 🙌

When I asked them what was tough, they said, “Feeling like I have to catch up.” 😥

Number one I was so grateful this student opened up and shared this with me. We took a few minutes to play around with this thought—I have to catch up.

The student was so game and willing. We took that thought–I have to catch up— and asked, “Is that true?”

It was a gift for me to watch this singer go right inside to their heart to see what the answer might be. Very quickly, I saw the student’s face open like sunshine peaking behind a cloud.

They told me there was nothing to catch up to, nothing to compete with, nothing to do but do their stuff and learn their things.

And as they imagined their peers succeeding, a bubbly joy fizzed up in the room.

Then they sang their song, and I freakin cried because their heart was so wide open and beautiful. I have the best job. 

When I compete, I contract. I compare. I look outside and ask what’s the minimum I have to do to be better than.

Competition can be really fun when there’s a game and agreed-upon rules.

But artists get really jacked up when we start to make up a rules-y game where there isn’t one.

You hear folks say, “You gotta play the game.” What game is that, exactly?

Thing is, when you show up and do your work in a way that brings you satisfaction, find the people who can help you do your work with skill and generosity, and share that work, things start to move.

People start to say thank you. And then surprises start to happen.

People you don’t know hear about you from those people who said thank you before, and they ask you if you wanna come play. And so on.

Let’s review—

👋🏽 Show up

💛 Talk to/invest in your people—coaches, teachers, collaborators

🤲🏽 Share your things in all the ways you can

⚽️ This gets rolling.

(But it’s not a game!)

It is, however, fun! And scary. And challenging. And terrific. And unfamiliar. And satisfying.

Truth is, some things (most things) take longer than we want (double marathon category), and some things show up more quickly than we feel we’re ready for.

Both things are a mercy.

I look back on the things I wanted when I was in my 20s, and if I’d had the skill and integration to get those things, I’m not convinced I had the character to sustain.

Delays in my life have ben gifts.

Didn’t feel like that at the time, of course, but the look-back is instructive.

So, if you’re racing and you’re tired, I invite you to look at the reality around you. Are all these crazy folks even competing in the same event?

Maybe you can stop by one of those nice people holding the paper cones of cold water and orange slices, catch your breath, and ask yourself what kind of course you even want to be on.

Here’s permission.

And no matter what course you’re jogging down today, remember that there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story on only you can sing.

Love much,

ps I’m teaching NYC this weekend, and I have one session left on Sat 10/16. Just email me and snag ya spot for Saturday—we’ll make great noises, and you’ll have some terrific clarity on how to work on things and have some steps for what’s next. 🎶 Can’t wait to see you.

pps I’ll also be seeing my Elon folks (class of 2020) at 54 Below on Saturday night! If you’re in the City and wanna hear some great singing and storytelling, come check them out and say hello!

So Simple it Might Piss You Off ❤️ — how to be incomparable, love bombs, and captivating

Today’s a big birthday for a dear mentor, teacher and friend—One of the biggest reasons I do what I do.

I met Catherine McNeela at a singing competition when I was in high school.

I remember thinking she dressed a lot cooler than the other teachers parading their prize pupils around the halls of whatever college we were at.

She invited me to study Music Theatre at Elon College after kindly counseling me on the phone that one of Tevye’s monologues I learned for the Mount Airy High School production of Fiddler on the Roof wouldn’t be the best selection for my audition.

I followed her advice and performed an equally ill-chosen speech from Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing.

After singing “Vittora mio core” and then doing my very best Alan Campbell impression of “Sunset Boulevard” –complete with jacket-over-the-shoulder cross stage right– the folks at Elon said, “He can sing. Let’s hope we can teach him to act and dance.”

I rolled up the next fall not knowing a jazz shoe from a Reebok. And you shoulda seen my face when they explained what a dance belt was.

I arrived in Cathy’s studio a very capable brain 🧠 attached to a disconnected, terrified body.

One day I sang “Anyone Can Whistle.”

I’d struggled through the rep Cathy’d assigned me that semester—unable to connect, clueless about how to move air out of my face, and singing flat a lot. Womp womp.

That day, though, I stood in the crook of the piano, Sharon LaRocco, piano goddess of the ages on the keys 🎹, looked into the corner behind Cathy’s door and sang,

“What’s hard is simple.
What’s natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me
How to let go
Lower my guard
Learn to be FREE 🦋
Maybe if you whistle…
Whistle for me.”

Cathy nodded her head and said, “You’ve thought about this.”

I had.

I let myself sing about things I believed if anyone knew I was thinking—traumas, buried secrets, my daily dance with self-loathing—a shame pit the size of Gibsonville, NC, would open and swallow me.

But no shame chasm gaped, and no one pointed and scoffed.

It was just me and two brilliant artists in the room sharing music and recognition of the truth.

I learned that day it was a little safer to feel.

I also learned that day that when you sing, people can’t see what you’re thinking about. They just know if you invited them in.

I learned to unlock the door and open it just a crack that day at Elon College.

Flanked by her illustrious LP library and her snow globe menagerie, Cathy challenged, nurtured, called out, inspired, and encouraged me. I’m one of hundreds of students who can say the same thing.

Did you know that this door to your heart is the secret to all impossible-to-compete-with sparkliness?

It’s the voice print that only you are.

It’s your diamond human soul that invites all the other diamond souls to come to your party.

You say welcome here to all my human mess, confusion, working it out, love, guffaws, sarcasm, compassion, understanding, and the occasional fart.

And the person who’s there to hear your story knows it’s a legit invitation. They can’t help but come in and have a slice of that Ina Garten chocolate cake you’re serving up.

The reason we don’t do it (invite folks in like that) is because it feels like nothing.

You didn’t make you show up on this planet with your glittering self, so letting people into that is super humbling and real real uncomf for the ego who likes working, earning, and deserving.

Yes, be excellent in your work. Give yourself your best.

Then know you’ve done your work. Feel your heart pound as you step in front of folks, raise your sternum a little bit, let a thought arise, and welcome people in.

Try it out in the everyday, too. See if you don’t give a little lift to the person slinging your morning coffee. I’ll be interested to hear.

And always remember—there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,


ps Remember I’m going to be in NYC Saturday Oct. 16 teaching at the American Opera Center studios. (They don’t care if we belt.)

There are a few times left, so just email me back and let me know you wanna work together. Your heart’ll be so open you’ll be Care Bear starin’ all the way down 7th Ave.

(Rate is 150/hr, 75/half hour. Proof of vaccination is required at the Opera Center.)

pps I can’t just tell you about Ina Garten’s life-changing chocolate cake and not hook you up with the recipe. Here you go! Cathy McNeela, you deserve a slice of this today. A chorus of grateful students and I say thank you and we love you. 

Come Work With Me in New York? 🥯 and what’s that on my butt?

One habit I’ve picked up since the boys were babies is wiping stuff on the back of my shorts.

I can’t single out the moment when I looked at the banana puree on my index finger and decided that grinding it into my khaki cargos was a lot easier than walking over to that kitchen towel hanging in front of the sink.

But I crossed the threshold, and now I’m an incorrigible wipe-things-on-my-butt kinda guy.

Every few days Melissa will ask, “What’s that on your shorts?”

No memory.

Just an orange streak of something that happened at second breakfast.

How did it come to this? —Presenting my person in public with a kaleidoscope of colors swiped in indiscriminate diagonals across my hiney–

Probably the same way that habit you’ve been rocking for a while instantiated itself into your neural pathways.

One day you tried a thing, and it kinda worked.

If it was singing, it got the sound to come out.

Interpersonal? It got the person to leave you alone?

Professional– It made the boss-like person think you had it together.

So then you hit repeat. And again.

Soon you were practicing this habit, and before you knew it you were sporting crusty green smears on your keister.

This is when we have to step back and take a look at what we’re actually practicing.

My students in the MFA Teaching Lab reminded me of an adage last Friday— practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.

Is that thing you do bringing joy and satisfaction into your life? Do things flow better when you do it?

Or does it have that really annoying quick fix feel? That bothersome but true gut grab that this isn’t sustainable.

How about your singing?

Is there a challenge or two that you could use a magic wand for?

Are there sounds you think are unmake-able for you that if you’re honest with yourself would feel really great to make?

Joyful connection and confident skill you know could be a thing if you just knew the way in?

I have a solution.

If you’re gonna be in or around NYC on Saturday, October 16, email me back here and type one of two things—

🎶“Dan, I wanna book a lesson time with you on that Saturday so I can get some tools to get my connection, confidence, and skills rolling.”

🕺🏾“Dan, I wanna join that small class you’re teaching Oct 16 from 6-9pm on how I don’t have to forget about my vocal technique at all—in fact, I can make it my authentic storytelling superpower. Please hold my spot.”

I’ll email you back, and we’ll make a plan for what you’re gonna work on.

🏟Or come to a Red Sox game and have a lesson while you’re at it.

Hey, check out this sign across from Fenway Park—if those lightbulbs could talk, huh?

I love spotting beautiful things around Boston.

I hope you’ll notice those things you do this week (AKA our habits) and ask yourself, “Is this bringing satisfaction and joy?”

And give yourself a gentle listen for the answer.

If you’re asking about my nighttime cereal habit, then Yes! Yes it DOES bring satisfaction. AND joy.

And coffee. I mean, what is life, even, without coffee?

All right—I’ll ask me about my habits. You ask you about yours. Deal. 

And email me back here and tell me you wanna get some tools that’ll change the game for you in NYC on Saturday, Oct. 16. One-on-one or in a small, brave class 6-9pm.

And you’ll see what may or may not be staining the posterior of my pants.

And always remember—there’s ONE YOU—and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

ps I claim total schoolmate I-know-him pride on Daniel J. Watts. Did you see what he did last night at the Tonys?

You know the folks who make you step back and say “day-uuuuuum!”? That’s Daniel. 

I hope you can find his performance when CBS makes it available, but in the meantime, check his TED Talk “To accomplish great things, you need to let the paint dry.”

ppsHere’s the page on my website with all the NYC lesson and workshop details. Just hit reply and email me back here, and we’ll get you squared away for 10/16.

My MacGyver Attempt with School TP 🧻–🥾These boots are made for walkin if you ain’t got far to go

Hey there you savvy shoe shopper—

I got this pair of Fry’s boots a little over a year ago.

I been lusting after a pair of these ever since my spensive-magnet eyeballs 👀💰🧲 spotted a pair in the DSW a few years back, but the price tag was a lil steep on that adjunct salary.

But I finally got me a pair. 🥾

Found a great deal. Just the right shape, just the right shade of brown.

I wore them to teach masked Musical Theatre Literature last fall and got a nice round of compliments on my fancy handcrafted leather kicks. Thanks y’all.

But by lunch my heels were a screamin.

That handcrafted leather seam in the back of the boot was rubbing a red swollen crease right below my leather loving achilles.

Plus, my left pinky toe was none too pleased.

I wore them a few more times saying the magic words, “Break-a in-acadabra,” but it’s been a slow slog.

So, the other Friday when I was gonna meet my Masters students for the first time, I thought it was the day for my hooves to be shod with the fancy stuff.

I tried them on, and I thought, hey, these are a lot comfier than I remembered. I think these are finally breaking in!

I threw my brown messenger bag over my shoulder (a forty-something professor look I’m noticing is kinda basic in Boston as the kids say), kissed Melissa and the boys, and headed out the door.

I did grab a pair of trusty lace-up boots that I knew wouldn’t hurt me and threw them in the passenger floorboard just in case.

By the time I parked at the train station, I had that lil gut feeling— the one you don’t wanna listen to :/— that my shoe choice wasn’t gonna work out.

But I thumped that lil shoe angel off my shoulder in favor of my shiny leather risk bootsies. I left my trusty lace-ups behind and flung my feetsies to the fatesies.

I was about 100 steps past Fenway Park when I my grave miscalculation became apparent.

By the time I arrived to the bottom of the four flights of stairs up to my teaching studio, I was walking like the dude who rode the water ride too early in the day at Six Flags.

I stopped in the bathroom for a little TP MacGyver-ing, but that was about as helpful as you’d think stuffing crumpled wads of poor man’s Scott tissue in your shoes would be.

I made the ascent to the studio and taught just fine through the morning, but then I had to WALK somewhere to get some food.

I grimaced my way to the fancy Berklee dining hall I heard tell about when the dining manager informed me that I was getting free faculty coffee in the wrong place (newbie problems).

The problem was it was full of students. And lines. It was like the cafeteria in FAME, and I’m still getting used to being around humans again. Coupled with the desire to scream, MY DOGS ARE KILLING ME! GET OUT OF MY WAY!—Couldn’t do it.

My heels told me in no uncertain terms that my next destination needed to be the CVS on Mass Ave, so through the streets I limped.

I did catch this cool photo on my way, though—love all that architecture.

I bought a pack of purple and hot pink gauze and those sticky heel pads you’re supposed to put in your flats. They had a lovely design.

I collapsed on a bench outside an apartment building and took off my boots like I was auditioning for the trench foot number in the musical version of All Quiet on the Western Front.

I gave my poor feetsies some September vitamin D and proceeded to wrap my dogs like I was the principle dancer with Les Ballets Trockadero—go drama or go home. 🩰

Once I had my pink patterned heel pads in place (2 in each boot, thank you) and my left pinky toe individually wrapped (I was getting a mean blister), I was ready to make my way to meet my new grad students.

It did help. I’d progressed from a oh-he’s-done-for-the-season hobble to a why’s-that-guy-walking-so-slow-and-upright shuffle.

Class was great (I stayed seated), and I ginger-footed my way back past Fenway to the train platform and eventually to my trusty lace-up boots looking up at me from the floorboard saying, “I know you missed me.”

My tale’s moral?

Sometimes you wait and wait for that fancy thing, and then you get it, and you’re all whoopsie, this is not a good fit.

You remember back to that time when you felt the contracted, hold-up feeling urging you to choose the broken-in brown boots for that day, and you’re all like dang. Shoulda listened.

The shiny boots are not delivering the amount of awesome you forecast.

These things happen—and a lot of times, we’re spared from the fancy things we think we need. I can rolodex through several instances when shoes went mercifully out of stock.

I can also tell you many a tale about buying that pair at max markup and wearing those freakin foot crushers until friends had to team-lift me to get some help.

But if your fancy foot fashion is currently causing you a great deal of podiatric pain, go get all the hot pink gauze and stylish heel pads you need to walk the mean streets dodging all those aqua-haired emo musical prodigies trudging around in their Doc Martens.

And when you finally get your comfy shoes back on and power walk all the way to your office like Richard Simmons just drank a large Dunkies iced coffee with pumpkin swirl, you’ll be that much more grateful for a pair of sensible sneaks to carry you from A to B—as well as legs. 🦵= gracias.

And no matter what’s on your feet right now (I just got socks), remember that there’s only one a you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

Love much,


ps I did make it to the Berklee dining hall the next week, and they’ve got the goods. I particularly enjoyed the TWO chocolate chip cookies I ate 🍪🍪 and watching the world go by on Mass Ave as I finished prepping for my Friday class.

How I Broke the Law This Time

Hey Rebel with Applause–

I was driving the boys around Holliston, Mass, last week.

It’s got all the New England chahm and just enough pothole patches to make it feel accessible. 🏡

This is what I mean—a few weeks ago we drove through Manchester-by-the-Sea on our way back from Gloucester, and I was like, y’all this is too much.

When I stopped at the full service gas station to pump my own gas thank you very much, the circa-long-time-ago houses nestled around me were precise, preened pictures dripping with window box flowers reflected in their preserved runny glass windows.

The sea peaked between steep-pitched rood lines, and the breeze swayed the weeping willows’ shaggy haircuts just so.


It was like one time on tour in Sacramento when I was making that tour money, and my friend Tregoney Shepherd and I did a gastronomical junket through Napa and San Francisco.

After three days of foie gras and micro greens paired with a perfect Sauvignon Blanc, I needed a fatty cheeseburger and a milk shake.

But so far, Holliston has a solid mix of make-you-wanna-puke-in-the-best-way charm while you still feel like you better be on your game when you order your large Dill-icious turkey sandwich at the Superette. (AND they have dollah cawfee ☕️).

So, we’re on one of the main drags, and I’m imagining what’s in the display case at Gaetano’s Bakery and what kinda beers they got at Crafted when I spot a little sign that says Aesop’s Fable BOOK store 📚👀over a door tucked around the curve and on the lower level of this building. AHHH!

Too late, though, I missed the street, so I drove a big loop around town and decided to pass by again when I headed home.

As I approached the little enclave de commerce again, I missed another opportunity to turn on the little semicircular back street where Aesop sat, so I made my way around to the other end and made a right.

While I wasn’t about to extract both toddlers from their carseats and explore on foot, my search was rewarded with the excitement of an indie bookshop visit in my future, and I scoped out some of the other back-basement businesses in the building.

There was a mom and her 12-year-old kid walking their dog on the sidewalk, and I thought, that’s sweet. Why are they looking at me sideways?

I found out when she flagged me down through my open window and said, “Hey there—you’re driving the wrong way down a one-way street.”

Joops. 😳

My NC license plate and I turned around in the nearest parking lot and headed back past the bookstore in the correct direction where I saw the prominent do-not-enter/one way sign that I’d missed while assessing Holliston’s quaint-meets-down-to-earth score.

As we drove past stone walls and slowed down for a wild turkey crossing, I noticed how my body felt when I learned of my traffic infraction.

My stomach tightened up. The muscles in the front of my neck felt all pins and needles like your foot waking up. And my tongue got all acidy.

My face flushed, and I felt a similar sensation as the time Jeff Lawrence pushed me white-shorts-butt-first into a doo doo brown mud puddle in first grade in front of a hoard of cackling second graders.   

And I thought to myself—what’s up with this intense feeling when I find out I’m doing something clueless and technically wrong in a new place?

What does doing something wrong in public view bring up?

Why’s this embarrassment so inTINSE? (You gotta say it in New Zealander dialect.)

Then, of course, I thought about you and how you must feel when you try to learn a new thing with your voice or take a risk in an audition or wonder what choice’ll be most effective—

But we get stuck because we imagine mean table people holding our career fate in their hands rather than a well-meaning pedestrian warning us we’re about to careen into an intersection where no-one’s expecting a car to careen.

What did you learn about being wrong?

What did that mean for you? And do you experience a shame body takeover when you do something a lil embarrassing in front of folks?

I’m just curious.

I don’t have a solution to stop it—It’ll happen to me again.

I mean, it did this week when I helped myself to coffee in the school cafe where I thought a colleague told me that faculty got free coffee. See?

I’m gonna be playing the I’m-new-here card for at least five years.

But here I am—telling you about it. I made it. Phew.

So the trick is to be willing to feel the feels, learn that street is one-way next time I go to Aesop’s, and that I have to get my free coffee at the other spot between 7 and 9am.

Also reminds me of that time I learned how to make a right turn on my bike in London traffic the hard way. That was an indelible lesson.

I’m remembering a thing that Barbara Deutsch taught me. She told me to call fear discomfort. You can handle discomfort, she said. Yep.

That helps me move forward.

This new thing? Discomfort. I’ve done that before. I can move through this.

See if that helps you.

When you feel scaredy shamey—discomfort.

Oh yeah, I’ve done discomfort before. I’ve done hard things before. I can walk through this. Might need some of Charles Shaw’s finest and Ben and Jerry’s, but I can do this.

Yes, yes you can.

And remember–there’s only one you. And folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

Love much,

ps For this reference-heavy missive, here are some links for the above-named locations:
Holliston Superette
Gaetano’s Bakery
Crafted Holliston
Aesop’s Fable Bookstore
Queen of useful career and life tools Barbara Deutsch

pps I made it through week one at BoCo Berklee–Loving the place and my students. I’ve also got a little bit of time in the week to teach you, so email me back here if you need a lesson! We’ll get you on the books.

Let’s Not Start at the Beginning–do re mi and all that, but sometimes you gotta dive into the messy middle

Hey Perfectly Imperfect Pupil of Pulchritude–

I was kiiiindofa perfectionistic piano lesson disastah when I was a wee boy child.

You see, I had this ear. 👂🎹

It could hear a little ditty, and I’d run over to the Baldwin upright in our living room and plunk it out. 

So when my septuagenarian sage piano teacher Mrs. Mildred Roberston played the new song of the week from my John Thompson’s Teaching Little Fingers to Play, I’d hop into the blue vinyl backseat of my mama’s Ford Fairmont station wagon with “Beautiful Dreamer” fixed firmly in my musical mind.

I faked Mrs. R out for a good year and a half until the Clementi Sonatinas came into the picture.

As I struggled through the first movement of one of these gems, Mrs. Mildred looked over at me and said, “You can’t read music, can you?”

I mean, give me four minutes to count G-B-D-F-A up the bass clef, and I might be able to identify that round dot on the third line.

Give me a little more time, and I could tell you how many beats.

But the answer was nope. I was relying on my trusty ear, and the infuriating dots and lines just needed to cooperate with MAY!

It was a child ego-imposed system fraught with much frustration.

Enter my perfectionist period. (still happening ps)

It looked like this: Little Dan would begin to play a piece. 🎹🙂

Measure thirteen, little Dan would play a wrong note. ❌😖

Little Dan would begin the piece from the beginning 🎹😬and make the same mistake on measure thirteen. ❌😤

Little Dan would begin the piece from the beginning again. 🎹😠

Little Dan got very good at the beginnings of songs.

Mrs. Robertson would all but bang her forehead against her studio upright when I’d insist on my da capo addiction.

“Just pause there and work on the part you’re having trouble with,” she admonished.

That was much too existentially painful. No thanks. From the top, people.

So when BOTH of my sons insist that they return to the top of the staircase so that they can descend on their own power instead of Daddy carrying them down halfway or wrestle with the Sisyphean futility of reunifying a broken banana, I see that my penchant for the perfect is indeed genetic.

Sorry, boys. 

Where’s your I-have-to-start-at-the-beginning-of-Für-Elise-again moment happening? 

Or do you do the other thing I do? Ignore the priority task that’s super frustrating and start making a spreadsheet to make yourself feel productive?

I know all the tricks.

When it comes to songs, how does this show up for you? A technical snag or super tricky notes and rhythms you’d rather fudge than learn?

The time period from can’t do yet to I’ve got a handle on this can be a real dooze. 

Por qué? 

Because it’s full of unknowns, and our brains HATE unknowns.

They send out danger death signals whenever we encounter something that can’t connect safe and sound to past context.

So when you’re tryina make a sound you’ve never made before, your brain is certainly gonna say “We haven’t done this! This is new! Danger! Who are you, even???” 😳

Anything in life that presents ignorance puts us in this awkward newborn fawn walk. We wobble and find our way, but eventually we’re leaping and bounding over logs and creeks. The fawn’s quicker at it, though.  

So here’s your encouragement to nestle right into measure thirteen and see what’s up there. 

Practice your hands separately. Give your brain time to connect that dot on the third line of the bass clef to your left pinky.

And trust that if you show up to your work every day and practice with smarts and wisdom, you’re gonna end up somewhere great and full of discoveries that you didn’t know you were gonna make. 

It always happens like that. That I do know.


No matter what, remember that there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing. 

Love much,

ps Hey guess what. I have a clue about what my BoCo teaching skedge is gonna be, so if you need some help with measure 13, I’m Zoom-able to fix all your vocal probs.

Email me here (, and we’ll set up a time to make you feel a lot better about life

pps I’m also gearing up to get a NYC workshop rolling in October. 🎃🏙

We’ll pick a song or two that sangs your unique and effortless energy. We’ll Zoom about it a couple times, then I’ll come to the Citay, work with you one-on-one. And we’ll meet as a group for some communal song magic. 

I’ve got a list of interested folk, so please email me if you wanna join me in New York, and I’ll make sure you get all the pertinents.

ppps If you read this far, you’re the best, and you get this quote dessert from brilliant artist writer human Anne Lamott, from her book Bird by Bird.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

🚽What I Just Flushed Down the Terlet–like lehtteralleh, you’d be surprised what an s-curve can handle

Hey Snooze Master–

I hope you’re working on more sleep than I am today. I don’t do great in the sleep deprived zone.

Last night after we got the boys’ toofers brushed, we were doing good night smooches, and we noticed that a lump the size of a small lemon had formed under Noah’s right jaw. 

Since we moved to Mass three weeks ago, we’ve been cycling through bouts of various crud and fever.

Nothing that rest, water, and Tylenol couldn’t help, but kindofa pain in the 🐴 when you’re tryina acclimate to a new spot, unpack boxes, and wrap your head around all kinds of unfamiliar.

Not knowing what we were dealing with, we decided to take Noah to get checked out at the emergency department near us. He was a regular jammie warrior during our wait.

(Emergency depts are fighting the good fight–they need our support and love ps.)

We burned up my phone battery with some Paw Patrol highlights, Super Why, and Little Einsteins, and then caught some zzzzs.

Lil bear ended up taking his first ambulance ride to UMass children’s hospital to get some things ruled out. 

A long night-into-day later, he was cleared. I learned what parotiditis was, and we headed off into the cloudy what-day-is-it? morning toward the first Dunkies drive thru I could find. 

Noah was a trooper. The only Exorcism of Emily Rose moment we had was Noah’s clear hatred of the ultrasound gel on his face followed by a very echo-y/screamy visit to the hallway potty. 

Butterfly/needle/IV? Mild discomfort, moderate crying.

Ultrasound gel? Harry Potter mandrake.  

We made it home and hugged Mommy and brother a lot, and Melissa spotted me a morning nap–one of those where you stir and feel like you could hibernate another couple months.

Topping off the health concerns, we’re also in the throes of Jude’s acclimation to the pottay. 

After a missed opportunity for numero deuce practice, I was cleaning some artfully soiled training undies in the toilet when my snooze-depleted neurons told the phalanges of my right hand to release the fouled fabric into the strong stream of the whooshing waters.

And just like that, the dinosaur-print undergarment disappeared. 

I pickle-jar-clawed my hand into the toilet thinking I could do a Mrs. Incredible rubber arm stretch into the S-curve, but my palm and thumb were not in compliance with said plan.

I called a plumber, and my trusty brother-in-law reassured us that the sewer pipes could probably accommodate my cloth contribution.  

The plumber also concurred. 

So, we’ll be on the lookout for a backup in the meantime. 🤞💦

Prolly shouldn’t have texted my landlord immediately after the event to ask if she had a preferred plumber. (She didn’t.)

The moral of the story today is simple–get some bleepin sleep if you can. 

It makes a world of difference. You’ll be smarter and nicer.

And as unsexy as this is, sleep is one of the best gifts you can give your voice.

In the meantime, wish us luck as we kick out the last of the crud, help Noah’s sweet side-face return to normal size, and hope Jude tells us about his major bathroom event needs BEFORE the event.

And please do remember that there’s just one you, and folks really do need to hear the story that only you can sing. And when you rest, it’s so much easier.

Love much,

ps We took a hike around the mill pond in Ashland this week. We got a great break in the temp, thank gootness. 

Got me thinking about trees, and if you want some wonder in your life and the calm that only comes from listening to Dame Judi Dench say anything, watch this doc– Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees

pps If you’re ever near Worcester, Mass (and hopefully not for a visit to UMass Hospital) or the Ashland Fahmah’s Mahket, check out Crust Bakeshop. Or call them and convince them to ship you a sourdough, ciabatta, chocolate chip cookie, and pain au chocolat. Yeah I tried em all. 

How I Nearly Died in London 🚲–new stuff makes your adrenals do some dancing

Hey You Trailblazer of the Uncharted 🗺🧭️

Noah and I went on a Daddy date to the big sandbox playground and Lowe’s this week, and I noticed I knew where I was going without the GPS.

Reminded me of touring days when I’d be a week and a half into a new city, and the (paper!) map from the rental car company’d start to seep into memory. 

I’m a map nerd. 

When I lived in London, I studied the A to Zed before bed to plan the next day’s bike route. 

It was one part deep curiosity (the same fascination that had me reading Webster’s before bedtime as a kid) and one part abject dread of being clueless.

(***There WAS that first day on my bike on Westbourne Grove that involved an ill-considered right turn, a very loud horn, and a London black-cab driver shouting, “Faaahhcking Wankaaaaaahhhh!”***🚲🙈)

I wasn’t the same after that brush with physical demise, but my cross-traffic right turns were on point and double checked thereafter. 

I had huge fears around being ignorant. 

So much so that during the fall when I studied in London, I never even hopped on a plane to nearby countries where the first language wasn’t English.

While my open-container-carrying schoolmates were EasyJetting off to Amsterdam for a peak at the Anne Frank annex and ready access to cannabis, I stayed in Foggy London Town.

I told myself there was more in the UK to discover than someone could learn in five lifetimes. While I was right about that, I was also terrified of being outside the knowledge club. 

I also harbored a vow not to be like my fellow countrymen swaggering into pubs expecting table service and hog-calling place names ending in “ham” like all geographic locations were situated in central Alabama.

🚗🛻🚛 But yeah, the two-lane highways in our corner of the Boston burbs are becoming familiar, and I still encounter taut anxiety when I roll up on a new sitch.

I power-walked past an acre and a half of empty parking spaces at the commuter rail station last week because I errrked our lil green Scion into the first parking spot I saw after navigating my way through Framingham’s Byzantine one-ways. (You do say Framing-HAM here, to be fair.)

Then there was track work. 🛤

(I’d learned the hard way after being on the wrong right platform to stand on the pedestrian overpass to peep which side the train’s actually arriving on.)

All this new everything reminded me of something I tell you all the time—learning to sing is about making the unfamiliar familiar.

And the unfamiliar makes my body seize up like a possum staring into high beams on a country curve at midnight. 

It’s why I get to be a teacher. I get to teach you what I need to learn.

Your brain always wants to fill in a story. 

I’m told by science-y folk that this is because our ancient neural structures know that accurate prediction of future events equals staying alive.

 😯A twig snaps in the woods behind you? Watch your six. 

😯Sudden movement in your peripheral vision? Check your three.

😠That doodoo butt Freddy from the front desk looks at you a lil bit sideways?—Freddy, observe your twelve. 

We’re always filling in stories. 

Just ask my wifey. 

I’ll do the half-hour-later-in-the-car, “Um, so when you said ‘Can you put the milk in the fridge?’ earlier, was that just about the milk, or was that about leaving my T-shirts inside-out in the dirty clothes again?

Brené Brown teaches a great tool that she and her husband use. They say, “The story that I just made up about…”

About what you said,

About the eyebrow raise,

About the way your voice went up in pitch at the end of that phrase.

I’m the king of story. 👑

When Melissa and I engage in our more passionate discussion moments, she can say something about my behavior that’s frustrating her, and I can bust a hard Louie to, “Oh, so I guess that makes me a….” 

Fill in the mad lib with your own shame noun.

My brain can tell an entire Aristotelian three-act about what a sheet-head my wife must think I am based on hearing that she wants me to listen to and empathize with her.

My brain’s tryina find the familiar 

️🧠: “THAT’s what THIS means. It’s like that previous experience. And THAT one. You already know what THIS is about.”

This script is the end to all curiosity, new intel, growth, and trust.

It dismisses anything new with the astygmatized lens of the past that thinks it knows.

It skips over what’s really there in order to see what it made up.

This is familiarity. And it’s imaginary.

When I panic-parked 278 empty spaces away from the train platform, my brain said, “Just take this spot. You won’t get another CHAAANCE!”

When I didn’t get an £87 plane ticket to Charles DeGaulle in college, my brain said, “You’ll get lost, and you’ll look STUPID.” (Because French strangers care. 🥖🇫🇷)

When I decide Melissa is calling me a turd when she’s trying to tell me how she feels, my brain says, “Conflict means an attack on your identity—DEFEND!”

And you see, my brain’s being real helpful. I mean that. He’s tryina try.

He’s like Gollum telling Sméagol HE’s the one who helped them survive. 

But meanwhile you’re obsessed with the One Ring, and you’re pounding fish on rocks for afternoon snack, and you’re alone with an ever-increasing life expectancy. Oof.

Your brain may do similar things when you 

💡learn a new way to make a sound, 

📖 discover a new way to find your way into a story, 

🎭 play with a new way to pretend you’re somebody else so that you can sing a tale that could change someone else’s life.

When I’m on the balance train, I say to myself, “This is my chance to make the unfamiliar familiar.” 

I hug my beautifully ignorant beginner brain, and I put one unsure foot in front of the other. (This’ll be my entire first semester at the BoCo, I’m sure.)

It feels wobbly and risky, and it is. 

And it’s a terrific way to cultivate awkward openness that creates the opportunities for joy and connection that only awkward openness can.

I hope this week we’ll be tuned into the tales our sweet brains weave, and I hope you’ll remember most of all that

There’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,

ps Speaking of Brits shouting “Wankaaaaah!”, are you on the Ted Lasso train yet? 

Melissa and I jumped on this week, and we love.  

His character may be my spirit animal—if I were a Midwestern American football coach who took a job managing a Premier League football club in greater London. I recommend.


🍁Have you noticed the stores got their autumn out already? And I’m like, y’all, it’s AUGUST. 

But I sure did get an iced coffee with a punkin swirl from Dunkies yesterday. 

One sip, I was ready to don the orange cardie, light the cinnamon candle, and get out my official basic beech scarf menagerie 🧣. 

I love me some fall, and I’m gonna dive into the New England magic like a leaf pile sprinkled with toasted marshmallows.  🍂

I Love Me Some Frying 🥓 But Not This—and why I had to quit listening to a certain radio station

Hey You Phonation Phenom

I stopped listening to NPR.

It wasn’t the news coverage.

Or the bi-annual fund-drive tote-bag coffee-mug guilt.

It wasn’t the hipstertastic voice overs describing misfits riding banana seat bikes with handlebar ribbons along the LA River wash interspersed with polytonal marimba music. 

It was none of those things.

It was the vocal fry.

It was the vocal fry coupled with sibilant [s] sounds.

It was the vocal fry, sibilant [s] sounds, and dry-mouth saliva crackles.

But really, it was the fry.

I been curious why this lackadaisical vocal fold bubbling that’s come to represent aloof millennial intellectual distance irritates the dookie outa me.

(I’m not forgetting its constant presence in places like Kardashiania, but I’m coming for you now, NPR.)

I’ve percolated on this question (why I’m super bugged by this phonatory pattern), and I have a theory.

Vocal fry is un-generous.

That’s the best word I can come up with. 

This is porque. 

Some rill quick anatomy and physiology for you—

🙌Phonation = vocal folds come close together. 

👏Then, exhaled air moves through and sucks them together, completing the closure.

📄(If you hold two pieces of paper a few inches apart and then blow between them, they’ll come together.)

✈️It’s also what makes airplanes fly.

When you move the bare minimum of air through those folds, they bubble and pop like Rice Crispies in skim milk, and you get this phenomenon we call fry. 🥓

And, like, I can’t even.

It says, “I don’t think I can exert this teensy bit of energy from my transverse abdominals and obliques to move a tad more breath through my folds so that they vibrate in mellifluous tones of energetic communication.

Nope, I’m gonna lay back, scrooge mcduck my exhale, and just let these puppies pop like a couple of desiccated junk drawer rubber bands.

My frustration stems from my need to be a bridge builder. Not out of altruism or character but because it’s how my psyche learned to survive in the world.

I reach out. I connect. 

And if I sense you don’t like me, oh it’s ON. You’re gonna like me, dermmit. The hours of sleep I lose over it are gonna be worth it when I finally win you over. 

Even if I realize you’re a certified asshat, and I’ve wasted precious emotional/spiritual resources earning your good favor, I will do my best Effie on your Curtis, and you’re gonna loo-oo—oo—ooooove, gasp inhale, MEEEEEEEEEE!

So there you go. We all need to connect. Just like I like to connect

😬Then the world will be happy, and we’ll all be speaking to each other in clear, resonant, generously supported tones that say, hey, I give a sheet about communicating with you.

(I’m thinking about my deaf friends now, and I’m wondering what the sign language equivalent to vocal fry would be.) 

It’s about the impulse and intention to communicate.

In my experience, vocal fry has no interest in going beyond the speaker’s throat. There’s no enthusiasm or passion to translate the heart. 

Have you watched those Chef’s Table documentaries on Netflix? Beautiful. 

I can’t think of one chef from any country on that series who talks about their food with any hint of vocal fry. MAYBE the owner of Milk Bar in NYC (?)—I can’t remember her name. 

Or imagine if Amanda Gorman got up at the inauguration in her yellow fabulousness and vocal fried green tomatoed her way through that amazing poem. 

See? It’s disinterest. It’s ennui. It’s stuck.

Move your air. Bridge it out. See if that makes a change in your internal and external environment if you’re an avid fryer.

(Not to be confused with an air fryer. Those things are legit. Thanks, Mama.)

The very first solo I sang at the Woodville Baptist Church was a hymn called “Freely Freely,” though my five-year-old self insisted the pronunciation was “free-uh-ly.” 

It was in a catchy three-four, so I had to bring out the dotted rhythm with a little lyrical styling. 🎶

The hymn’s a quote from the gospels when Jesus says, “Freely you have received; freely give.”

That’s breath. That’s singing. We freely receive the oxygen. We freely give the carbon dioxide that we get to vibrate and turn into music.

Percolate on that in your heart for a lil mo. ☕️❤️

The very substance of the spirit, the breath we breathe, that’s the stuff we turn into music. 

It fills up around our heart and squishes on top of our guts, and then we get to sculpt it into songs.

It’s the material of the soul, and it’s a gift to share and hear. 

So, that’s the reason I want to scream at the radio when these serious journalists fry, spit crackle, and press their tongues too far forward behind their teeth on their [s]s. 

With all the love of Jesus that’s in my heart, I wanna yell, “Free-ah-lee you have received! Free-ah-lee GIVE!”

My boys always respond well when I lose my junk, so these folks will be no exception.

That’s the love for you this week. 

It’s a joy to sit right down and write you this letter. It’s a privilege to connect with you, and I hope you can feel my generously supported breath flow when I remind you—

There’s just one you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

ps Are you overwhelmed by the headlines this week? I’m overwhelmed by the headlines this week. Here are three places you can do something—

If we each pick up a starfish and throw it back in the ocean, that’s a lot of starfish.

🙏 Hope for Haiti is already mobilizing practical aid to the area in southern Haiti that was struck by the 7.5 magnitude earthquake with both short- and long-term plans for recovery aid. You can donate from their home page.

🙏 Your donation to Women for Women will get a 2X match to provide emergency support for Afghan women.

🙏 And here’s a helpful article—20 ways to support nurses and healthcare workers on the COVID front lines.

pps and for some uplift, do yourself a favor and watch CODA. Terrific film, terrific storytelling, and check out the ASL 🤟virtuosity from Troy Kotsur. 

I had the privilege of collaborating with Troy, providing the voice for hearing folk in Deaf West’s Pippin, and his work left an indelible print on me.

I also fell victim to many of his sign language tutorials. 

It’s set in Gloucester, Mass, where we were this very week, and it features a Berklee School of Music storyline, too—

Here’re some shots from Gloucester Day—It was hawt 

pps Here are the links to other things mentioned:

The starfish story
Chef’s Table on Netflix
Milk Bar NYC. Owner, Christina Tosi. Ooooh, I saw there’s one in Cambridge. Look out!

Sometimes You Just Gotta Eat All the Dunkies—You zig. You zag. You’re sweet and salty. Dag.

Hey There You Beautiful Glazed Pastry—

I’m 67% Dunkin’ Donuts right now. 

The life upheaval of putting all your things in boxes, changing your addresses, and keeping two lil humans alive has been the perfect excuse for eating tons of takeout. 

We checked off a few Greensboro culinary gems before we departed. 

🥙The schwarma from Nazareth Bread Company was something to write home about (so I’m writing you about it). 

🌮Also, I immediately regretted that I hadn’t been chowing at Taco Mama on the regulah.

🍔And of course there’s our beloved Cook Out—the place where you can order an economical burger tray and choose chicken nuggets as a side. And don’t forget to add that shake. Just a dollar. 

You’re only sposed to eat Cook Out under cloak of night, my Elon students informed me, but we sure did stop at the last one we spotted on our way up through Virginia in broad daylight.

I mean, look at Jude-let tearing into this cheeseburger. He knows where it’s at.

He makes the same face that my Papa always did when he was feeling his food—it’s a delightful genetic visit from one of my favorite humans.

And the gastronomic extravaganza only continued as we made our way north. 

One highlight was a stop in New Haven to see my brother, Joel. We’re hitting that doppelgänger status the older we get. See?

Still 👆rocking my Elon ready and resilient lanyard so’s I don’t lose my mask. 

We had some delawsh pies from this joint called One 6 Three—there was one called the Fungus Among Us (?) that was all kinds of shroomie deliciousness. 🍄No leftovers.

And then we landed in Massatoosetts.

And we ALL know what that means.


👆Those are Melissa-Lee’s chocolate with chocolate sprinkle faves—apparently they exist nowhere but in New England.

I’ll tell you another truth. Consuming a large Dunkin’ iced coffee post-4:30 pm is not advisable if you are a 43-year-old man with a desire for a decent night’s rest. 😳

We finally got some actual groceries in the house thanks to Auntie Marie from Rhode Island who hit up the Market Basket down the road and filled our pantry with more marinara sauce than a Carmine’s waiter slings out on a double shift. Thanks, Auntie Doodles.

Keeping it in the fam, this week’s wisdom is from Auntie Marie’s big brother, my father-in-law, Big Pappy Robert Francis Klees.

Imagine a booming bass baritone voice with a low laryngeal position saying in his best Rhody realness—“Do your best. That’s all you can do.

The dialect and resonant pharynx bring it home in a profound way. 

Melissa and I quote that to each other whether we’re triaging a toddler toy battle, trying to remember where we put the napkins, or just finding the most nutritionally passable thing at the Dairy Queen drive thru. And a Blizzard.

Insert your own Waiting for Guffman reference here. If you don’t know Waiting for Guffman, I’m assigning it to you now.

Some weeks, you eat Dunkies and DQ, and then your Auntie Doodles brings you a haul from the Mahket Basket, and you have lettuce in your fridge again.

And through it all, you can ask yourself in your best Robert Francis Klees professional wrestling announcer voice 🎙(seriously, he was an announcer. You’d know what I mean if you heard him speak. That amplitude blasts through all sonic barriers.)—ask yourself, am I doing my best?

If yes, then one step at a time and keep on keeping on. And remember to rest.

If not so much, then go ‘head and have a few more rounds of Dunkies—you’ll get good and full of Boston Cream, I don’t care HOW delectable they are—and then you’ll be ready for some fruit and veg with your DQ double burger.

Sometimes you just gotta ride that sucker out until you’re good and done. It’s how we humans work in my experience.

Then you can get back on the do-your-best train. Local stops are great. And I hear there’s a snack car.

I find this do-your-best-it’s-all-you-can-do advice offensively simple. And that just what good singing should feel like—obnoxious-level easy. It takes a lot of time, attention, and coordination to get there, but that’s the gold. 🎶

Our egos wanna make things harder so we can point to what WE did.

Simple, curious, and taking all the grace we can get—that’s the way to go. 

So when you’re done with your donut, hop on the train, 🚂 and say some kind things to you. Maybe something like, “Ya doin’ ya best, that’s all you can do.” Choo choo

And remember—there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the song that only you can sing.

Love much,

ps On an exciting, non-donut note, I took Melissa and the boys on the all-the-places-we-almost-rented-but-didn’t tour, and we swung by my new workplace starting September.

Melissa snapped this pic, and I’m real excited to share all I’m gonna learn in this new chapter with you.

I’ll keep you posted!

pps Here is a link list for all the joints I mentioned above for your research pleasure
Greensboro and Vicinity
Nazareth Bread Co and Restaurant
Taco Mama
Cook Out!

New Haven
One 6 Three

Dunkies—no link necessary

Waiting for Guffman watch on Amazon

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