Dan Callaway Studio

for people who break into song in real life

Wha Happen to the Cookies? 🍪 Three Silly Steps to Existential Fizziness

Hey, are you gonna eat that pickle??

The cast of characters at Artie’s Delicatessen was the clear winner for best ensemble. For everything.

Today, lemme introduce you to Sandy. 

Jaded from repeated late night Bronx journeys on the 2 Train, her face always said “Now whaddaya want?”

But somehow Sandy slung pastrami and sauerkraut faster than you could say “The swiss on my reuben is perfectly broiled.”

I was a terrible waiter. And I didn’t know a Matzah ball from a wiffle ball. “What is that large round dumplin’-like object?” I asked myself on day one.

The manager regretted his hiring decision immediately.

I forgot orders when I was in the weeds (which for me meant more than six tables).  

When asked where my pin was, I would hold aloft my writing implement. (Pen and pin are homonyms in North Carolina, y’all).

And I regularly threw a wrench in the black and white cookie inventory. 

What I lacked in table waiting skill I made up for in toothy smiles and hillbilly naiveté. 

Sandy was the opposite of naive.

One quiet evening shift she returned from a bathroom break and soapboxed on the plight of the early 21st Century American woman and shared toilet facilities.

“It’s like they can’t contaminate their pristine asses,” she lamented. 

“You go in, and it’s like somebody delicately squatted with a fire hose. And then what am I supposed to do? I been on my feet all day.

“Now I’m supposed to perch like a goddam flamingo so I don’t get their Upper West Side stroller pushing piss on my own tush. I’m not cleaning that up. They don’t pay me for that.”

I nodded my wide-eyed noggin in agreement because Sandy knew things. And I never used the word “pristine” the same again.

I hated going to work at Artie’s, but I loved my corned beef on rye and coleslaw lunches. Those and the missing black and white cookies. 

This is where I hand the contraband baked good to you and elucidate the philosophical significance of the Artie’s ladies’ loo.

People have peed on the seat.

Toilet seat cleaning is not in your official job description–except for that “additional duties” BS they always put in the bottom to cover their A.

We all use this.

What? This bathroom.

Especially now that we’re sharesies.

Yep, we own this. 

I’m gonna share a phrase with you that I use when I encounter seat pee not of my spraying. 

My life coach-spiritual director-Lambrusco drinking buddy Kaye Kennedy taught it to me:

“It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility.”

Damn it, Kaye. 

Back in college I read Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water. The Wrinkle in Time author had a big impact on me. I wrote a sonnet about her and everything. 

In the book, she wrote that she saw writing as a lake. 

(***Wait, I looked it up, and she was actually quoting Jean Rhys who saw writing as a lake, but I’ll digress before I start MLA citations)–

L’Engle agreed that writing was a lake, and she was a small tributary to the lake–that she didn’t matter, that the lake did, and that a writer has to keep feeding the lake.

When I read that as a 21-year-old, I was pissed. 

I wanted to be Niagara freaking Falls pounding significant amounts of H20 into that reservoir and upstaging the whole scene with my magnificence.

Yeah, of course I’d feed the lake, but um, look at me!

My ego aimed to be a wonder-of-the-world natural marvel and failed to see it was really just pissing on the seat and leaving it for Sandy.

Sorry, Sandy. 

A list of my own dysfunctional actions/inactions spring to mind. I’ll assign them to fictional characters in a novel one day.

You got one of those coulda-done-better lists like me?  

Good. That list has a lot to teach us about today and tomorrow.

I’ve logged scads of time with my head so far up my own pristine ass that not even the Bronx-est of Sandys could pry it loose. 

So what does all this water lake toilet imagery mean for you? Relief.

And not just the I-made-it-to-the-bathroom-just-in-time kinda succor.

I’m talking existential floatiness–when you take the five seconds to see your colleague-fellow-artist-friend and honor all the fresh water they contribute–

–the warm and honest sound of their voice, their penchant for filthy limericks, and being the first person at your door with Matzah ball soup when you’re down with the flu.

I recommend 2nd Avenue Deli. Artie’s is closed now. 

When you look out and decide to celebrate the things your friends are doing, it lifts you, frees you, and your heart opens to surprises. 

Here’s how to do it–

Scroll your chosen social. Go ‘head.

Pause when you encounter a post from a fellow artist that makes you feel a lil tight. 

Number one, say “great for them.” It can be sarcastic. That’s fine.

Number two, if you’re feeling jeal-y, what part of that experience are you wishing you could have? That’s a map.

What’s a tiny action today that’ll get you closer to the version of that experience that’s right for you? (Mine is sending you this email.)

And number three, if you have the relationship with that person, send a lil message or comment and tell them how pumped jazz-hands happy proud impressed woot woot you are.

See if that does anything. 

We’re looking straight ahead at a changing industry where old stories and systems are having an overdue reckoning.

I want to be an artist who helps to build a new beautiful, and if you’re reading this I got a feeling we’re on a similar page. And that beauty-build has to be together, all of us looking at that life-giving lake.

I’m going to end with this–Jonathan Larson said it. “The opposite of war is not peace. It’s creation.”

Let’s get our creation tributaries contributing.

And be a sweetie. Wipe the seatie. Or else–Sandy.

Love much–dan

ps You know I’m up on the Zoom helping you make free, impressive, sustainable noises. Do yourself a solid and book a time with me so you’ll know how to make the sounds on your own 🎵, feel confident and consistent in all the rooms💪, and sing with love for yourself, the song, and your voice 💙Just click here to email me, and we’ll make a date.

pps Have I told you about this episode of Unlocking Us? Brené Brown interviews Dr. Angus Fletcher on the 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature.

When he talked about how Greek Tragedy helped veterans suffering with PTSD I was mind-blown. It confirms our instincts about the power of story–and that’s what we’re carrying forward, the power to change our sphere with that world-sculpting tool. Here it is again if you wanna listen.

ppps Need a lil more intel before you go swiping right on a lesson time? You can just beebop on over to my about page to see if you think this relationship could be legit. 

pppps JK 

How Sand Toys and Donald Duck Pillows Will Set You Free

…also the thing that got me drug searched in Arkansas

I log significant playground hours these days.

And the pandemic has got me all social anxiety like–ack! there are humans at this slide and swing structure! Retreat!

We’ll go find an open field with sticks and dirt somewhere.

One thing the playground teaches you is that yes, your instincts speak the truth–some humans are ass clowns. 

There’s one shaded park we frequent that sports a quality sandbox and an assortment of donated/discarded play kitchens, water tables, and plastic tractors in need of wheel repair. 

Some days I’m on top of the dad game, and I remember the buckets and shovels.

One such day, the boys took a sandbox intermission to climb the wrong way up the twisty slide and left said toys unattended.

ps they didn’t have playgrounds like this when you were a kid, right? I used to DREAM about the metal death jungle gym at the Kernersville Hardee’s–seriously, lie in bed at night fantasizing about that whirley slide injury trap.

Anyway, once the boys, blessed with fancier playground options than I was back in 1918, vacated the vicinity of their sand buckets, a gaggle of stranger-danger children descended upon the dollar store toy trove.

Time elapsed. By the time Jude returned to find his blue plastic bucket, a lil 6-year-old sister friend was using it. Cool–Callaways love to….SHAAAARE! We always say.

But when lil one-year-old Judelet reached his hand out in an interrogative gesture toward the sand receptacle, this newly arrived towhead decided this dollar store acquisition was hers. 

Jerking the bucket to her chest and twisting her torso away from my kid, she emphatically belted, “Mine!”

Daddy defender rose up in me, and before I could rush in to make the situation needlessly dramatic, Jude said, “Okeeey,” and bolted toward the parking lot.

He’s always sprinting toward paved spaces where automobiles may zoom. So I reprioritized.

This whole sand bucket incident got me thinking about you.

How many times have we seen that plastic pail lying there on the ground, and our eyes got all big and shiny like Gollum with the ONE RING? 

I’ve done it. For us singery actory folk, it often comes in the form of a role. 

We get that audition, and pretty soon, we’re planning the witty opening night cards we’ll design with that joke everyone will think is hilarious. Just me? Embarrassing. 

Reminds me of my first day in kindergarten. No one filled me in on how the nap-time cubby system worked.

So when I saw that Donald Duck pillow, I pulled it right out, hugged it to my chest, and announced to my classmates in my best soprano twang, “I got Donald Duck!”

When Mrs. Muncus brought a sobbing Lisa Dalton over to my nap mat, my face flushed, and I realized my kindergarten faux pas.

That wasn’t my Donald Duck pillow at all. You could have gone easier on the shame face, Mrs. Muncus. Honest mistake.

And props to my Mama who bought a pattern and sewed a Donald Duck pillow for me after the incident. Thanks Mama.

The point? That’s not your sand bucket, and that’s not your Donald Duck pillow. You know how I know? It belongs to someone else.

And please take a moment to remember when you did get the role. What was that experience like? 

For me, it wasn’t one of possession but one of temporary collaboration. I got the chance to stand inside that story and that music for that moment of time. 

It’s on my resume, but now I’m listening to the birds sing outside my window rather than the orchestra swelling “Think of meeeee” as the opera box hydraulically slides me on stage. That was cool.

And guess what-y??–that wasn’t my role either. I was the understudy.

The UN-derstudeeeeh? I think that was a line in the first scene of Phantom. See? Can’t even remember. 

Same with anything I would have called a possession in my timeline–my orange fisherman hat I wore everywhere in my early twenties comes to mind.  

I’m convinced it got me pulled over and searched for drugs in Arkansas en route to Nashville one time.

Also earned me a new moniker in Portland OR when a bright-eyed, possibly homeless street sage looked at me outside Powell’s Books and shouted “Hey, Australia!”

Where is that hat? No clue. I loved it. It wasn’t as cool as I thought it was. And my friend Tregoney Shepherd still calls me Australia.

Wait, look! I found one piece of photographic evidence–Multnomah Falls, OR, I believe. And I’m pretty sure that’s my Lost Colony shirt. 

Anything we have the opportunity to stand beside, be near, use–we may have a piece of paper that says we’re the owner, but that merely means that we are responsible for it. 

So when the thing doesn’t come your way that you’re convinced should have come your way, can I give you a lil reframe on that? 

Maybe you’ve been spared that responsibility.

And maybe that’s an opportunity to say “thank you” instead of “eff you” to the people who didn’t open that door.

It takes time.

You have to move through your feels when Lisa Dalton IDs you as the pillow thief with Mrs. Muncus standing by as kindergarten DA.

But look, here I am! I made it. 

Yep, that sand bucket prolly belongs to another kid.

And if you get to use it for a while, I hope you pack that puppy full of playground dirt and make the best castle tower base anyone’s ever seen.

Let’s walk through life appreciating the things we get to stand near, sometimes use, and make nice for the next person.

And most importantly, let’s possess love, compassion, tenderness, and honesty with the one sphere we’ve all been given the responsibility for–ourselves.

I sound like a dad–

You take care of yourself!

Signing off and singing this to you–🎵🎵remember! There’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing. 

ps I wanna know your sand bucket story. I have many–a Les Mis national tour (thrice), two Broadway shows where I screwed myself in callbacks, and an exciting academic job opportunity that got canceled because of the pandemic. First 3 that come to mind.

What’s been a sand bucket you realized belonged to another kid? Did you find something else open up as a result, or are you still like, um that’s my damn dirt dumper give it back?

I mean–go for it, see what happens. It’s hard in these recreational equipment streets.

pps The new Pink documentary on Amazon is an unvarnished look into the grindy badassery of Pink, and a very interesting view into the RESPONSIBILITIES she carries with her brand and career. Check it out if you wanna see her family realness on the road and watch her fly like sequined Wonder Woman through Wembley Stadium while belting “So What.” Dang, Pink. Dang. 

What I Learned from Chris Gilbert

I think of my friend, Chris, a lot these days. He died a year ago in February.

We did shows together when I was in LA. Like you do in Los Angeles, you say you’re going to get together, and then, well, freeways. 

But every rehearsal, every reading, every greenroom bagel and schmear–I always walked away from time with Chris feeling lighter and loved. 

His cells exuded kindness.

On paper, I believe I’d have been in Chris’s colleagues-I-hug ✔️ category. 

I also know that if I needed a flat tire rescue from the side of the freeway or became suddenly homeless, I coulda called Chris, and he’d have braved the 405 gridlock, put fresh sheets on his sofa, and bought me a hot dog. 

You know when someone’s affected you deeply–but if Judge Judy told you to cough up documentation of your friendship, you’d have a few parties and a lot of rehearsals, but no actual meet-ups at In-n-Out Burger?

That’s Chris. Whatever concentric circle of his life you belonged to, he made you feel like you were on the inside when you were with him.

He always reminded me of my big brother, too–they’re the same height–6’3”/4”. And he was kind like Joel. 

When Chris and his family decided it was time for him to move into hospice care, he shared it with us on Facebook, prefaced with a warning that it was “long-ish,” –like a heads-up for the audition table people that you’re going to sing the whole song. 

I went back to find that post on his page, and by the time I scrolled there, you could’ve sung all the way to “Seasons of Love” with your Rent cast recording.

Hundreds of people posted on his page, and they’re still reaching out–Wishing him a happy birthday this year, recalling a show blooper, or sharing pics of punny road signs–Chris was always ready to engage in good, clean wordplay.

Chris’s heart impact was not isolated to my experience–how could it have been? It’s who he was with everyone he met. 

This isn’t a you-never-know-how-much-time-you-have kind of message. 

–Not a frantic warning to call everyone you love to make sure they know or to start typing chapter one of that book you’ve been saying you’re going to write one day, dammit. 

Chris’s spirit doesn’t put that kind of pressure on you. The ripples of my time with him amplify a gentler message–kindness and joy shape you and heal you like wet hands on turning clay.

In the face of the frantic, love and trust wrap our graspy illusions in a blanket that smells like your favorite grandparent. 

This friend I got to do shows with–I look at the imprint he made, and on the crusty, grumpy days (grrr today), his presence still leaves me feeling lighter and loved. 

Reminds me of Maya Angelou’s famous quote–that folks will forget what you said and did, but “people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

At the end of Chris’s post he said 

I’m grateful Chris didn’t know the tragedies 2020 had waiting in the wings–He’s been able to view that from a much wiser perspective than you and I did.

And I grab his wish, and fling it out to you with jazz hands —

That you’ll experience “joy, peace, and a desire to be more present and loving than you ever thought possible.” 

I didn’t know Chris would still be teaching me a year and three months after he moved to his new address–it brings me joy, peace, and love to know that he continues to share his generous soul with you and me now.

Much, much love to you, Chris! You’re a precious man, and I thank you for always making me feel lighter and loved. This time included.

I can still hear Chris’s warm, kind baritone voice. There’s only one Chris, just like there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

ps If you want your day to be better in any fashion, listen to Brené Brown’s interview with Brandi Carlile. She shares a story about a life-shifting rejection, and her look-back is one of the most beautiful examples of unconditional love and understanding I’ve ever heard.

pps And if you didn’t get your fill of country singer mysticism, scroll down and listen to Brené talk with DOLLY from last November. Just the best. 

pps I really mean it–there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can share. That’s my story and my song for today. Much love.

Oval Pegs Look Like They’ll Fit That Round Hole Sometimes

I used to drive to Van Nuys every weekday morning.

Transplanted palm trees craned their bronto necks over the anxious cars fitting and starting their way through corridors of circa-1967 stucco apartment buildings, storefront attorneys, and corner malls.

It was depressing as hell. 

I missed New York. I felt like I was on an alien planet, and I was driving to my job in the Purchasing Department at a Community Health Center.

I’d just returned to work there after doing a show. They welcomed me back because Alma, the best supervisor in the history of hated jobs, put in a good word for me. Thanks, Alma.

Data entry, spreadsheets and inventory: not listed on my special skills.

I had a severe case of temp-to-permanent-job-itis, and I’d just lived in the behind-the-footlights-live-audience world again. 

Dispatches to Costco where I squared off in shopping cart chicken jousts with badass Armenian matrons were not my jam anymore. And how many styrofoam cups and powder creamers do you NEED, Independent Living Program???

Like I told you, I was in Purchasing, and that meant inventory. And that meant barcodes. 

They wanted me to create a way to track all the desks, credenzas, and bunk beds with these barcodes.

And there was this one company they wanted to use. They made scanners.

I learned that the owner of said company was in thick with one of the headiest Center honchos, so okay. But their product didn’t include any portable thingy that you could track clutter with. 

When I asked my supervisor how they proposed I carry the hundreds of stickered desks, filing cabinets and meeting tables into the room where the fixed-in-place scanner was, my questions went vigorously unanswered.

I suggested three other products we might use (with portable scanny thingies). Answer was no.

No problem. I’m an actor. I know rejection.

I’m also a Southerner, so I have a black belt in passive aggression. 

I just stopped working on the project. 

Add to that some long lunch breaks and early departures for auditions I chose not to mention to my supervisor.

Time passed. Alma called me and said in the kindest way you can imagine, “We won’t be needing your services anymore.”

It was fair. I was a shitty employee. Sorry, Alma. 

I still don’t know who they got to carry the desks into the room where the immovable barcode scanner was. 

You know the square peg round hole thing, right? 

I’d been more of an oval peg at the Center for over two years. Just rounded enough to think, I can make this work. Maybe even full time. Yeah, this is fine. 

was good at answering phones. I’ll say that. I’m friendly as hell.

What about you?

Is there an oval peg situation you’re malleting into a round hole?

Now look, sometimes there’s a titanium quadrilateral rod that’ll never fit in any kind of you-shaped compartment, and sometimes you just have to make it work for a lil while. That ill fit might be paying your bills for a while. Get your food and shelter.

And what I’m saying is this–that is terrific information! The wrong peg-and-hole combo, that is.

I learned a ton at the Community Health Center. 

It showed me many character flaws. And I saw a lot of people do excellent work every day with little fanfare. Not everybody needs applause when they key in the correct inventory code.

What is your oval peg? You’ll probably know immediately. If you don’t have one, congrats for now! 

If you do, it’s a perfect opportunity to get out your THINKS cap and take a look-see.

If you missed this brain-freeing tutorial including an acronym and a MUSIC MAN reference, you can check it out here

Or you can just keep reading and celebrate that you’re here right now.Woooooooo! 

You deserve to be on a path that fits you, a road that delights you–with less injury attorney offices and more theatres and independent bookstores, and a trail that helps you serve in ways that excite and fulfill you. 

You know how I know? This is how.

Think about a little kid you love. Or maybe just like. Or just make up a kid. 

See them in your brain. Do they deserve to be on the path that fits them? Do you want them to find the road that fulfills them and helps them serve in the most fulfilling way?

Me, too.

So, I want that for you. I want that for me. I want MY kids to see their dad doing that. 

That’s why I’m writing this letter to you right now.

If you’re holding an oval peg right now, woot! You see it.

It makes you start looking for a round one. You may just need to return that oblong hanger to Lowe’s so someone else can buy it. Their return policy is super flex.

Your turn–please please comment and tell me about your planned peg exchange. 

Or…what was a time when you realized that peg just wasn’t that into you, and you had to go dig out that receipt?

Por qué comment? Porque I love to hear from you.

I learn from you, and I have a dreeeeam of sharing your stories with this community (with your go-ahead, of course) so that everyone can be living their round dowel best lives.

Stay tuned in the next few weeks because I’m going to tell you about a very recent peg swap in my life. 

You had no idea you were going to read the word peg so many times today. 

Always remember repeat peg reader, there is only one you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

ps For reals, I wanna know about a time when you got the lightbulb that this was just not a fit for you and what you did. This last year-plus has been an unmatched time to look at that, right? I wanna know what you’ve learned and what you’re looking at ahead. This article in The Atlantic was really interesting re: all that, too.

pps if you missed the video when I break down my silly yet very effective way to loosen up my brain darts, just click here and have a cup of tea for ten minutes. You’ll be kinder for it, and you’ll also find out what questionable choice I made with ice cream one time.

What If Your Brain Became Your Singing Bestie? (🧠 = 🎵BFF)

How many teachers or well meaning actory friends have advised you to turn off all that mental chatter and just focus on, I dunno, an imaginary scene partner?

I’m not gonna tell you to do that. If you find a way to do it, let me know, though it sounds boring. Unabated mental yammering has kept my noggin entertained for over forty years.

In this video, you’ll find out about tools and gardening references that’ll help you

  • watch your thoughts like Jason Bourne clocks a crowded street peppered with secret snipers
  • slow your roll like someone just hit play on the Barry White Spotify radio and handed you a nice glass of Trader Joe’s vino
  • Understand how welcoming that pesky friend in is sometimes the quickest way to help them find the door
  • learn the counterintuitive, annoyingly simple way to poke your way out of almost any pickle
  • level up to black belt in one trait that’ll help you speed up your progress (also annoyingly simple)
  • practice the one body move that’ll smear icing on all this cake

All this and a stretchy reference to THE MUSIC MAN to boot. 🎺

What My Three-Year-Old Does a Lot Better Than I Do

Noah just turned 3. Wha?

Like every human who experiences time, I’m a mix of where-did-the-minutes-go? and dang-this-day-is-longer-than-a-slow-tempo-Les-Miz.

I get to watch him figure stuff out, hear him say, “Daddy, the ceiling fan is like a propeller!” and notice how every sleeping emotion giant inside me gets jabbed awake by his sweet being.

He’s my soul mirror. He sparks deep-buried memories– “I was captivated by Cinderella when I was 3.” or “Oh I remember, that fascination with volcanoes.” 

He also inherited my intense emos. When he hurts over anything–from a snatched toy to a skinned knee–I can feel his cry in the middle of my stomach. 

And it makes me effing anxious.

These are sensations I muffle in the bottom of the clothes hamper while saying things like, “Suck it up. No time to hurt.”

And now these raw feels stampede through Noah’s prefrontal cortex like a herd of auditioners who just found out the sign-in table got moved, and I get to say hello to their hungry, eager faces again.

When I hold Noah mid-wail, my guts swarm like a poked hornets’ nest. I feel his tears and snot seep through my shirt, and the wise part of me knows he just needs a hug. 

Can you imagine if I spoke to him the way I spoke to me?

You might rightfully roll your eyes when your well-meaning pal says in her best breathy therapist voice, “Would you speak that way to your best friend?” 

Of course I wouldn’t. I’m not a b to my bestie. If you’re like me, you struggle to turn this love and care toward yourself, too.

You prolly absorbed a message somewheres that says, “The only way to grow is through brutal ass kickery. Humans are jacked up souls in need of Thomas Hobbesian constraint.”

I still hit rewind and play on that Fisher Price tape recorder.

Sometimes, though, I find the wisdom to press pause and question the message. 

You might remember the tale of the benevolent music director that showed me you could go from A to B with laughs and joy. Ego Dan is still giving that leadership style the side-eye.

What A to B are you wishing you could take the first-class Acela train to? 

If you could plug anything into Google Maps and ask Gracie (our name for GPS–Grace Patricia Smith) to cue you, where would you go?

I would love to know. Email me or share a comment, and tell me about it!

How-to vocal, what-the life stuff, or you just wanna know how I make irresistible salad dressing.

Whyyyyy, Dan? Why todaaaaay? (audition cut in my 20s)

Because I want to know what you need.

And I want to fa-lap-ball-change some tasty, nourishing morsels up in this blog space that’ll make you all Super Mario after that shroom. 

When you contact me me to say, “This helped!” I’m Luigi with the fire flower–I’m throwing fuego-balls at all those doom turtles coming at you, and I’m getting you to the next level.

Now I’m belting this: 

There’s only one yoooooooo, and folks need to hear the story only yoooooo can sing. (And I can help you with that [u] vowel.)

It’s scientifically true. 👆One you, and yes, I will help you sing [u] in multiple styles.

Remember to give my life a purpose, and click here to email me with your Acela train dream destination.

Or ask me “What is a train? I’ve been watching Facebook Live theatre for over a year.” I wanna help.

And if you’re still wondering, “Dan, how exactly DO I talk to myself and be kind to me without feeling like I’m carrying a dog-eared copy of The Secret in my messenger bag, I made you a video for that, and and I’ll post that on Thursday, so come back and see me then.

1 Truth Bomb for You from the Ninth Circle of Hell (Seventh Grade)

In seventh grade I did the world’s worst Clint Eastwood walk imitation toward the front doors of Mt. Airy Junior High School. My acid stomach rumbled, and I knew I’d be asking my first period teacher for the usual emergency bathroom hall pass. 

My belly was always roiling in junior high. I’d transferred from the county school to the little city system. The city middle schoolers cussed a lot more than the county kids. Before I knew it, rumors about the new kid bounced like rogue dodgeballs around the beige cinder block halls.

Bullies shoved Moist Towelettes in my ears at lunch time, and kid gangs who summered by the country club pool said things I couldn’t track. But I did understand the cackling after the punchlines. 

I’m sure you know a twelve-year-old can feel a lot of pain and fear, and that is why I hurt when I hear about anyone any age being bullied. And I’m grateful there was no internet in 1990. 

My dad taught me how to throw a punch to defend myself against one particular redneck roughneck who took me into Dante’s deepest circle on the daily.

Picture this hell-scape set in the chain-linked grassy patch next to the school buses where this kid kept picking fights. Prepubescent Dan didn’t want none of that. Dad was trying to school me: Plant my feet, make contact, follow through. 

I said through my tear-streaked face, “But Deddy, If I punch him, that’ll hurt him.” “I know son! That’s the point!” (And I wondered why I could never get all beast about football. I’m a lovah not a fightah.)

And here I am. I made it! And when life throws me some booll-shit, I can always say, “Come for me, bish. I made it through seventh grade with As and Bs.”

You and I both know now that nobody gets out of junior high unscathed, bullies and bullied alike. 

And now get ready. You’re fixing to reap the benefits of the cold hard truths I grabbed like the last strawberry shortcake ice cream bar in the junior high war of emotional attrition.

Knowing you can take a punch is more important than throwing one. 

Fast forward to my twenties. Uh oh. I was on a date in New York, and I managed to hail a cab on Houston Street on an about-to-rain, windy night. My date wore heels, and I’m sure I was being a drama tool (because…my twenties), so she was over it, and her feet were at anguish level red zone. 

Every cab was full, so this taxi’s available light shone like a beacon in the humid, horn-saturated air. As the cab pulled over, three jaywalking bros about six beers into a weeknight bender piled in the back seat from the street side. 

I’d been accessing some deep anger in acting class in those days, so my interior trailer park dawg was pulling at his rusty chain. When my date and her feet wailed in despair at the taxi thieves, I observed myself shout, “Get the f*ck out! This is our cab!” 

Oh what did you just do, Dan? 

One of the loaded bros rolled out of the back and squared up at me on the sidewalk. I looked straight into his eyes, and I said to myself, “Self, you are about to get punched.” 

He looked at me for a protracted three seconds, and then he said, “Naw, man.” He stepped back and waved his pissed posse along. No punch.

I got in the cab with a little yeah-that’s-right in my sit-down. My date was not as impressed. What? I got the cab! 

I wondered at this incident. Did an imposing guardian angel materialize over my right shoulder? Did I shape-shift into a reptile beast? Am I just that intimidating? 🔔

It was probably the Steve-Buschemi-from-Mr.-Deeds crazy eyes I had also been refining in acting class.

The point–I found myself in a scary place, and I realized I was willing to take a hit. 

And while I do not recommend my actions of that evening to you, I did find a freedom that night that my twelve-year-old self on the patchy grass behind Mount Airy Junior High School lacked. Both versions of me were scared, but I knew between sheer stupidity and stage combat training, I was going to make it home from Houston Street.

That’s us–artists, singers. We make ourselves available to take emotional hits all the time.

We do it when we invest ourselves into the stories we sing. We do it when we stand in front of table people and open our guts gates and show the parts of us that got the shit bullied out of them in middle school. And we take the hits when the role we imagined playing a gajillion times goes in another direction.

I’m here to tell you I haven’t found another way. When I do find the success-popularity-and-ice-cream path through artistic risk, you will be the first to know.

But what’s most important for you is this–

You are resilient. Remember the thing you came back from that you thought was gonna end you?

You are flexible. Remember the duck-and-dive improv you pulled off as you yes-anded your way through that outa-the-blue shock? 

You are strong. Snot and tears poured out your face, and you did the thing anyway. 

You are smart. You’re reading this. You are a ninja of compassion, beauty, and connection. 

And when you do show up willing to take the hit, remember the other two things I always tell my students and myself: It’s just crying. And you will get up.

Now go get yourself a fro yo. 🍦💙

If you’re currently in the getting up process, please know that if my ruminating Enneagram 4 self can cry, snot, dust off, and keep walking, I know you can, too.
You👏Got👏 This👏.

This One Point of Focus Made Singing a Ton Easier for Me

Join me for this quick breathing breakdown where you’ll learn about

  • the one focus that made breath management beaucoup easier for me
  • how to get this into your body without wanting to run screaming from your practice room
  • a phobia I didn’t even know was a thing

In case you missed it

This is how to stop wasting time beating the doodoo outa you

Or the time I talked about cereal in therapy.

I have a cereal addiction.

My Noom app, in all its quirky make-you-feel-cozy-about-tracking-calories supportiveness judges me for it. Noom says there are no bad foods, and I whole-grain-heartedly agree. But I know they’re giving me David from Schitt’s Creek side-eye when I log my Life Cereal with Ghirardelli semi sweet chocolate chips and half almond milk half moo cow 2%.

I remember back in my 20s sitting cross-legged, sock feet, pillow hugged to belly, on my analyst’s West End Avenue sofa. I’d finally stopped panic-lying about why I was in therapy, so one day I mustered the courage to blurt, “I think I have a problem with cereal.”

Dr. K leaned back in his Danish leather chair, gave his grey beard a rub, (Oh Dr. K–many things you said make sense now.) and asked me to elaborate.

“Well, you see, I eat several bowls of cereal at night. And I think it might be a problem. I mean, it’s not like I’m eating cake or anything.”

Dr. K replied in his measured baritone, “It’s exactly like you’re eating cake. You’re ingesting simple carbohydrates that give your body a dopamine surge.”

I tried to absorb this. But I was more Corn Pops than Raisin Bran–my emotional sugar armor created an impermeable milk-of-wisdom barrier.

And my cereal desire has gone unabated. It’s a tricky dance partner, and most nights I’m pretty good at doing one foxtrot over to the pantry. If I return for a follow up waltz, I notice what I’m doing and check in with my actual physical stomach to see if he’s hungry.

My brain then says, “But I’m MOUTH hungry!” or “This goes in the cereal stomach! It’s separate!” Or, “We need a carb hug inside!”

All this meditation on serial cereal consumption got me thinking about vocal technique.

You too? Of course. 🎵

I’ve been cultivating my cereal relationship for a good 38 years now. This is what we do with our habits, our things that we do.

My career coach, Barbara Deutsch, used to tell me to say, “Oh, there’s that thing I do” whenever I saw I was about to sell out on myself. Problem was, I wasn’t conscious enough to recognize the sabotage gremlin when it emerged from the desert junk yard of my self concept.

I thought, “What good is that gonna do, Barbara? Just notice something?…No! hand me that cricket bat with the scratched-off decals, and I’m gonna beat the shit out of this old habit and burn it along with all those bald tires over there. It’s the only way!!”

Barbara was teaching me about being the witness. She was introducing me to that mysterious, ordinary, immortal diamond real me that notices when my body is doing unloving things.

In the cereal evening hour, the wise me observes, “You had a tiring day. You want some sweetened baked wheat squares covered in a mixture of plant based liquid extracted from almonds and fluid that’s meant to addict calves to their mommies’ udders. I understand.”

Vocal technique = same.

Here’s what I mean. You’re singing, and your abdominals lock. Singing feels vulnerable. There’s that thing you do.

You’re belting along invested in your story, and your jaw tightens. Expression and vibration in your throat feels emotional. There’s that thing you do.

You judge the resonance you hear in your head and say, “I sound like that person I swore I would never sound like.” We go high stakes with singing — we tell ourselves stories about jobs, recognition, acceptance, competition, love. There’s that thing you do.

There was a terrific music director I worked with who always smiled, always joked, and always got precisely what he wanted. 

He would say, “You always get there, you just have to decide how you’re going to take the trip.”

I had never seen an in-charge-of-the-show person have so much fun. And honestly I was worried. I mean, we have to get READY!

And we were ready. He was right. We got there. And there was no drama making the drama.

It’s the same in how you’re growing in your vocal technique and life. If you can meet it with curiosity rather than a cricket bat, things gently and joyfully change.

I invite you to give some air time to your gentle witness. It’s the part of you that can see yourself the same way you see your friend who struggles with the eating disorder or your sibling who fights anxiety. You meet them with compassion and encouragement when they are in their dark days.

What if you met yourself with those same soft eyes, open ears, and huggy arms?

We all pick up the bludgeon method of self-ass-kickery at some point on the road. Let’s leave the splintered cricket bat in the Mad Max wasteland and take a walk by the cool stream. The water’s flowing like your breath, and we all need to hydrate anyway.

Soon, you’ll be like our one-year-old who knows whats up when you’re near a beautiful stream. 👇

Something about hearing a one-year-old say “Amazing!” that reminds you what amazing is all about.

You’ll also notice his left arm is drenched where he tried to become one with the stream.

What’s going on for you right now? What is the thing you do singing or just living that you’d love to have a little more freedom around?

I’d love to hear from you. Email me or share a comment about one of the things you’d like to gently witness on out the door. 🚪byeeeee.

And remember–there is only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can share.

« Older posts

© 2021 Dan Callaway Studio

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑