Dan Callaway Studio

Feel Freedom. Love your confidence. Be a joy bomb.

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Reco-Bombing — advice for everything except how to magically change your emotions

The chair emerita of voice at BoCo (the woman who hired me — thanks, Patty) is in LA teaching a semester at USC.

She posted recently that she can’t find her favorite salad equivalent on the West Coast. (The haloumi salad at Tatte– delish). We’re spoiled for choice in Boston, it’s true.

I sent her a few recommendations from my LA culinary memory file. I was pleased to see the Mendocino Farms has ex-PAND-ed. I used to get their sammies on Grand Street back when I did shows downtown. So good.

But then I asked my brother Ben who lived in Angeleno Heights for several years.

He was always finding the best top-secret Mexican mole joint that put special fairy cacao in their sauce or introducing you to underground Ethiopian cuisine served in a secret alley somewhere between Mid-Wilshire and the Byzantine Latino Quarter.

So, I reached out to him for ideas, and pretty soon, I was hitting Patty’s text inbox with more culinary establishments than she’d be able to fight traffic to get to by the end of April.

You ask me a question about singing or food, you made a mistake.

I will make sure you know everything I know and follow up to see if you tried that Mark Bittman biscuit recipe yet.

I love telling people about great finds. I love sharing great restaurants, books, podcasts, and hard-knock lessons from audition rooms I stank up.

Watch out for this, and you gotta try that.

It makes ma feel like I helped you. And my ego likes knowing things, too.

But then something will happen.

I’ll be around someone I think is fancy, and my brain short circuits.

I’ll say “you too” in response to “Have a nice flight” or “Enjoy your meal.”

I’ll get dysregulated by an unexpected smell that triggers a painful memory, and I’m dealing with anxiety that I subsequently scold myself for having. (There’s a reason I tell you to be kind to yourself every week. I need to hear it the most.)

Just last night and this morning, a thing came up between Melissa and me, and rather than sharing the anxiety with her, I kept it to myself saying, “No one would understand this. I don’t even understand it myself.”

The outcome — by not communicating, I ended up hurting her feelings and making my brain go even more haywire in the trigger/confusion spiral.

I love to give advice, and in the throes of nervous system overload, not only do I have no advice for myself, I’d be impervious to it if I had it to offer.

If I get knocked emotionally sideways, it’s hard for me even to check my email. All practical functioning slows way down.

Then, of course, I tell myself about all the folks I know who continue to plow ahead just fine in the face of emotional adversity. Why can’t I just get on with my day?

Truth is, the way my brain and nerves work, I actually do have to stop for a moment. I have to understand that I’m going to be a little loopy and cognitively challenged until I gain equilibrium again.

I hate it.

I want the fast fix. But that’s as available to me as a slam dunk competition victory. (Still getting over scoring for the other team in peewee league.)

When I get blindsided, I have to understand that my list of recommendations isn’t going to do it for me. I’m going to need to embrace my current membership in the linear time experiencer club, take several deep breaths, notice my physical sensations with as much compassionate curiosity as I can muster, maybe take a walk, and phone a friend.

If you’re going through something tough today, I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of time and acknowledge that it takes some moments to travel from one place to another.

This is true in your songs as well. It could take 4 or 5 phrases to get your brain and breath balanced. We’ve bought the lie of the immediate fix. (And what’s wrong with me that I can’t get this magic wand to work?)

You and me — we’re beautiful, frail, resilient, complex, simple, multifaceted humans.

I can tell you how to get your mix more flexible, where to find a solid cheeseburger in Boston, and the best chocolate cake recipe you’re ever going to make, AND, I could be waste-deep in hot mess town at the same time.

Wish I could skip it. When I figure out how, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of time, breathing, moving, and the space to let yourself have a process. I’m still resistant to the whole idea.

I do know this, though. For sure. There’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much (that includes you),


Personal Grooming Failure 👃 — mean people on YouTube and moisturizer (?)

Melissa asks me regularly, “Did you moisturize?” And in Massachusetts February, you don’t need to respond for the answer to be apparent.

I’ve been to dermatologist appointments only to discover my knees looked like ostrich skin downwind of a dying campfire; you have to put lotion on that?

I’m the same with face grooming/stray hair management. 

I posted a recent YouTube video, and a very kind commenter remarked they couldn’t keep watching because of the sunlight illuminating a prominent nose hair. (I take my first light troll as a sign that I’ve been more consistent on my YouTube game. ✊)

I do fall off the nose hair trim train on a regular basis, and Melissa’s keen eye and brow kit are the only things preventing my super-occular blonde caterpillars from merging into unified crazy professor forehead larvae.

Other personal grooming infractions: mirror-free shower shaving (always neck patches left), stray side fliers from self-administered haircuts, and perpetually crusty knuckles through the New England winter.

I’m proud to report I’m a member of the Habitual Flosser Society, though. (The hygiene practice AND the dance.) My gums are popping.

Melissa and I were talking at bedtime about how funny it is that we have bodies.

While I deeply enjoy the physical world and much of what it entails — singing, hugs, and cheeseburgers come to mind — the things I heard my parents and grandparents say about aging are showing up in my experience.

You notice changes in your hands, lines on your face that stay after you smile, or your photo app shows you a video from 10 years ago, and you’re like, “Hmmmm, I had a pretty abundant amount of energy then.”

You watch physical changes happen while the you you’ve always known stays inside there.

My great grandma Allie said she still felt like she was her 16-year-old self trying to see out of eyes that had begun to fail her.

When we’re younger, we’re prone to fuse our inner awareness with our outer presentation, or at least depend on/blame it. As the body changes and telomeres shorten, we may start to get a clue that one of these things is not like the other.

On the other side of this existential pancake, I’m getting more clued in to how teeny and limited I am.

The essential me senses endless possibility and eternal opportunity. Then I notice I’m in a body that can only be in one location doing one thing at a time. (Still haven’t perfected my Hermione Granger Quantum Time Turner — I’d be dangerous with that.) I’m limited. 

So, there must be value and precious learning in this small, boundaried life. 

We know that terrific creativity flourishes inside a clear frame — a 14-line sonnet, a 3-act structure, a 1-2-3 punchline setup.

And if this is true, no wonder we all get a smidge cuckoo the more information, opinion, and comparison flies our way.

To acknowledge your beautiful teeny-ness, you have to let the fact itself in, and then you have to de-select all the sideshow noise jangling around you — usually from that little rectangle most of us are carrying around these days.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately. He died two years ago this month, and as I drove to school last Saturday for program auditions, I got a deep sense that he was cheering me on and maybe pulling some heavenly strings.

Melissa had a dream where he showed up recently. She said it was like he rode in on the frequency of whatever dream she was having and invited her to another channel. He brought her into a white waiting room, and my mom and I were there, too; we all sat together. He held my face in his hands and said, “I’m so proud of you.” His beard was white and trimmed, and he’d been making a lot of jokes with my papa Basil (Mama’s dad).

I’ve been blessed with dream-visits from folks who’ve moved on before me. (Papa’s shown up a few times. One time he said, “I’m so glad you came across the pond to see me.” Another time, he poked his head through while I was jogging and told me not to name Noah after him. “Don’t call him Basil,” he said :))

I believe our people are near and experiencing the limitless possibility I feel bouncing inside my rib bones.

So, here my soul sits inviting your soul to come visit with me and take a moment to remember who we are. (This is also what happens with good song sharing.)

My earth uniform needs moisturizing and stray hair trimming according to 2024 western grooming standards, but my soul is sparkly splendiferous. Yours, too.

And I believe if you let yourself listen and know in the way you know you listen and know, you’ll hear what your unlimited self wants to do inside this very limited and beautiful blink of an eye we call a life span.

For me, I know one thing I came here to do is to sing, and I mean to focus a good amount of attention on it. If I can make one person’s life better with a song or an email, I believe it ripples out forever.

You, too. You have no idea how significant a smile in the trail mix aisle at Trader Joe’s can be.

I do know this: There’s only one you, the you that transcends your fingers, eyes, and hair, the you who knows and re-members, only one. And you’ll leave folks better when they hear the song only you can sing.

Love much,


PS Here’s that video with the nose hair

Drop and Give Me 5? Ridiculously small things that get you there

I’ve been getting the nudge recently to exercise my muscles.

“OK, OK,” I tell my health angel self. I’ll do some push-ups. Right after I eat this bowl of cereal at 9:30 PM and watch a Father Brown mystery on BritBox.

(We’ve hopped aboard the Father Brown train. It’s got the remarkably high murder rate for a small Cotswolds village, a sufficiently hubristic conclusion-jumping chief inspector, and just enough scenery and scones to make you feel cozy when you’re at day’s end exhaustion.)

But yeah, Lady Felicia screaming (she always seems to discover the bodies) isn’t a big inspiration to align my body in a perfect plank and execute push-ups.

My brain says, “Just do 25 push-ups a day” and I reply, “OK, but first, a cookie.”

I was talking to a student at the Conservatory about practicing. We were working on an exercise to get chest voice and head voice to play nice.

I said “eight minutes a day with one day off still gets you to 48 minutes of practice in a week. That’s 48 minutes you wouldn’t have banked if you told yourself, ‘Well, I don’t have an hour, and the practice rooms are full.’”

The terrific thing about being a singer is that you can practice anywhere.

You can work breath coordination walking down the sidewalk.

You can go full Carnegie Hall in your shower.

You can mark through lyrics and imagine stuff in the car or on a train.

You can even get curious about the crusty woman in line at the Boston Whole Foods and wonder, “Maybe my character in that William Finn song had a similar morning.”

Chances for layering and integration are everywhere.

I then confessed to my student that I do the same thing with exercise.

Oh, no full free weight set-up here with inspirational music and a water cooler? I clearly can’t move my body today. I mean, I already take the stairs!

And I said to the student, “You know, 5 pushups is better than no pushups.”

So, I got down and did 5 pushups. Not so hard! The next day, I did 6. The next….

This is a tool I picked up from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. By atomic, he means teeny — and impactful.

If a plane in Los Angeles adjusts its nose a mere 2 degrees, that’s the difference between landing in New York City and Washington DC.

What’s a thing you’ve been getting a nudge about?

Something you know would be satisfying but you say, “I rarely have time, and seriously, what difference is five pushups going to make?”

What’s the smallest representation you can make today to show yourself you value this?

Will you put your butt in a chair and write and/or look out the window for 15 minutes?

Will you find the sheet music for a song you’ve been wanting to learn?

Will you give yourself a moment to remind yourself what your values are?

I’ve found I have to go back and revisit the values I wrote down in January because I forget.

There’s a reason the Old Testament writer said, “Scribble these down everywhere and tie them on your head.” We blank. Humans slide right into entropy if we don’t attend to and nurture the things we value.

Do an experiment this week, please. 🙏

Pick one thing, and do something so small that your ego committee scoffs, “What difference will that make?”

Do it, and tomorrow, do a little more.

And when the day comes that you don’t do the thing or you forget or you eat Doritos instead, gently re-board the train the next day.

What would happen if you rode that train for a year? Future You knows the approximate depot where you’ll disembark. 

Future You also knows there’s only one you, and you’ll love it if you do what it takes to sing the song only you can sing. I say this every week because I need to hear it the most.

Now go sing!

Love much,


I’m Just a Kid — Today-You is Past-You’s Future-You

Back in our LA days, Melissa and I were babysitting for our God kids, Josh and Ashley.

We had a great time hitting a balloon through the house, (I’d later learn from Bluey that this game is called Keepy Uppy) feasting on chicken nuggets, and watching Frozen.

The hour was late when little Ashley leaned against the TV cabinet, closed her eyes and sank to the living room floor. She then announced, “I’m just a kid!”

And of course, from that day forward, Melissa and I adopted this statement to encapsulate any moment of general exhaustion, delirium or depletion ineptitude. Or as we call it for me in our house, 9 PM.

The last few weeks in the Calla-house have been challenging, and we’ve been held up by praying parents, friends bringing dinner, brothers taking days off work and taking boys to school, aunties getting grocery gift cards and movie vouchers — truly sweet evidence of a caring community when we were convinced we hadn’t quite cracked the “We live here now, New England,” residency test.

Our friend, Jesse, brought us not only a quality quiche, but fresh baked bread, brownies, blueberry muffins, fudge cookies, and a pumpkin chocolate chip loaf. And wine.

He just got his bake-at-home-for-money permit, so once he starts shipping from Sherborn, MA, you’ll be the first to know.

But yeah, there’ve been some curveballs of late, and there’ve been many “I’m just a kid” moments.

Only, I noticed for me I don’t say this with understanding of my human limits.

In fact, the more depleted I’ve felt over these weeks, it’s been fascinating to notice how my inner conversation digs right into the familiar ground of self criticism:

“Oh nice, Dan, remember how you said you wanted to focus on understanding and grace today? Hear how you just talked to your kid?”

“Good thing folks are bringing you dinner. You can’t even stay on top of putting laundry in the washer.”

“All those official plans and schedules you structured in your syllabus, and week two you’re already behind. Are you really going to follow through?”

Oof. Writing them out, I’m like dang. If that doesn’t spike your cortisol…

But, when the statements natter away in my head, they converge like a bad 20th Century choral work and sound halfway-reasonable cloaked in the cacophony. Caca-phony 😊

As my friend, Michael Pereira, always used to say — “That’s so not healing.”

Then, all that gets followed up with “OhmiGod, listen to yourself. You’re so cruel to you.”

Why do we need no assistance kicking ourselves when we’re down?

For a lot of us, this critical voice emerged early as a protector.

Maybe criticism from the big folk in your early life came with feeling rejected or isolated. Few things are more painful for a human, so perhaps your brilliant young psyche figured out…”if I PRE-criticize myself, then maybe I’ll avoid all the pain and fear that comes with chastisement from large people.”

I’m remembering a voice lesson in college when I listed all the things I needed to work on after finishing an Italian song. While I was mostly accurate, I couldn’t even let myself be a student. To be taught.

I even flinch and take a deep breath before I read student evaluations. Mind you, I’ve read some cruel and unfair offloads in those before, so the body keeps the score, right?

But, remember last week when I encouraged you to ask Future You for advice? Future You is often a great guide.

And I also remember that Today Me was Future Me when I was eight, and eight-year-old me needs some love and affection from Today Dan.

I’m just a kid.

Thing is, when we are just a kid, we don’t know that. We believe we’re these gravitational centers, and if there’s a hurricane spinning around us rather than an orderly orbit, we’re prone to blame ourselves. Gotta be our fault.

We don’t know that we are just a kid.

So, Today Me can look with curiosity at the part of me who’s the automatic harsh exactor and ask, “How old do you think I am?”

The inquisitor answers, “Seven or eight.”

Then I just let that part of me look and ascertain that I am, in fact, 46. Oh.

Then, 46-year-old me can put an arm around 7-year-old me and say, “You’re just a kid, Dan. And I’m going to take care of you. I love you. You get to learn. You get to mess up. You get to say sorry and repair, and you get to know there’s a big person who’s here to hold you if you need to cry.”

There’s a part of you who’s still just a kid, and Today You who’s made it all this way can reach out to them with compassion and say, “I’m here.”

You may need to take seven slow breaths first, but it helps.

It’s only when that kid gets the message they are safe with and loved by you that the childlike trust that’s necessary for playful storytelling can bubble up like a root beer float.

So, give it a go today.

Past You is saying what my four year-old son is so good at saying when I get all crusty and struggle town with him: “I want a hug!”

I stop, and I hug him, and we move through.

I know that’s available for you, too, schmoopie pie.

Another thing Jude said this morning: “Daddy, I’m a treasure!”

Yes you are my, sweetie pie.

And so are you.

God only made one — Mathematically implausible and statistically mind blowing miraculous you. And folks need to hear the story only you can sing

Love much, Dan

Lady Crustgrumble — White Jeeps are the New Prius. It’s an opinion, and opinions are like…what?

There’s a white Jeep in our neighborhood, and I’ve officially scrawled its driver off of my Most Generous Interpretation list.

A few months ago, Melissa was driving us out of the neighborhood and came to a stop where a driveway-like street met the bigger road. Minding her business, coming to a full and complete stop.

Only she didn’t preemptively see the large deluxe Jeep coming in hot planning a Dukes-of-Hazard-style right turn into selfsame driveway-like street.


The Jeep driver didn’t count on the Calla-crew. She adjusted and turned her steering wheel like the crewman charged with spinning the helm out of the path of the mammoth squid the watchman missed. She managed to make her right turn much more of an 85° event.

She did make sure to slow down enough to raise her finger at Melissa, though, and that forever sealed her identity in my mind. And it wasn’t a good kid having a hard time.

The boys and I actually met these folks the August we moved here when we were walking through the neighborhood. They told us they wished they lived in Florida, and they did warn us about the droopy trees prone to hornet habitation. Good looking out. Thanks.

Over the next year or so, we couldn’t help but notice the automobiles belonging to this household (a Dodge Charger with tinted windows factored in) interpreted the neighborhood speed limit as perhaps a speed minimum?

Or maybe the scale of assholery they should commit to in their disregard for children on bike, scooter, or foot?

Flagrant flouting of common sense driving etiquette combined with flipping off my wife = you’re on the list. And I don’t mean Christmas cards.

I’ve even offered a couple Southern smile-on-top-of-seething-contempt waves 👋 while putting out the recycling or, once again, giving white Jeep a wide berth — only to be met with disaffected stares dreaming about the day when they can put their Charger tires on the wide sands of Daytona.

This opinion of my neighbors feels staunch and strong, like concrete; I can’t control your speeding or general vibe, but I can sit here with my scepter and dub you Lady Crustgrumble of the Hornet Swamps.

I have an opinion, and believing it makes me feel right, and feeling right tells me I’m someone who figure things out, and if I figure things out, that actually leads to staying alive and general success. I think.

But, can I take, wait, I’ll set a timer — if I take a moment to ask, “I wonder what experiences my neighbor has had? What was her family like? And what is her mental make up that would assume a gray Tiguan sitting at a stop sign was deserving of the number one sign and should have foreseen and accommodated the reckless right turn she planned?”

(That took two minutes)

I still don’t like her, but I feel something in my heart that feels like curiosity and perhaps openness. It feels better than concrete. I like it more.

This is about opinions.

Today is January 29th. It’s the official season of those new thoughts we had around January 1 (even if we’re not resolutions people) those new ways of being are coming under scrutiny from the Concrete Monarch in our Mind.

You’re not as far along on that project as you told yourself you’d be by now. And aren’t you kind of tired? You’re not really going to change that. You’ve started and stopped so many times. Be realistic. Yep, there you go, reaching for your phone. What is it? Instagram or Wordle? See?

Yes, we are saying hello to February, and one hard truth’s coming home to me:

I’m one little human, and if I want to invest myself in what I value, I need to #1, know what that is, and #2, take my attention away from things that crowd and drown out my ability to cultivate what I cherish.

This shines a light on a story I made up, an opinion I’ve hunkered into just like my assessment of crusty Jeep woman.

The story is that I have unlimited time and can even make more of it.

This is what I’m believing when I say, “l’ll schedule that later” or add more tasks on a day that’s already fully scheduled only to arrive at the evening seeing all the uncompleted tasks and say, “See? You don’t do what you say you will do.”

But the problem isn’t that I can’t show up for myself and follow through; the issue is that I’m so offended by the limits of being human.

And especially nowadays when we’re easily inundated by everything everyone is doing. Our brains think, “I should write and produce my own one-person show at the Edinburgh Fringe while spearheading my own NGO and then get those arugula seeds going in the kitchen window for spring planting. Oh wait, I have to go to the bathroom.”

I’ve always been a time bender — convinced I could shower, get dressed, and take the train from Times Square to 96th Street in a tight 23 minutes. (Never happened.) I am reforming, but my opinion still insists there’s got to be a loophole.

There is one area where I have conceded to the truth, and that’s been sweet.

It’s knowing things. Or rather, not knowing.

Melissa still shakes her head and calls me “the teacher” and for good reason. I used to leave Barnes and Noble in a nervous sweat, confronted with all the data I’d never own. 

But, I’ve arrived at a new embrace of my utter ignorance as an itty-bitty human in the face of the universe’s great mystery. I also have two boys at home who ask me how the dinosaurs really died, how pajamas are made, and who created God, so I’m faced with my ignorance at all times. And knowing that I’m lovingly held in this great mystery while I’m clue-free about how electricity works, how my cells are dividing, and how this email gets to you is pretty sweet and liberating.

So, my next concession to freedom will be to embrace the limits of time as we understand it. So far as I know, I can’t make more of it.

I found a good practice for deciding what to do with your present is to consult your future self. Like last night, I wanted to go straight to bed and collapse after staying up too late to watch an episode of Julia, but future me said he’d appreciate the coffee maker being set up, clean dishes in the dishwasher, and to hear Amanda, my dental hygienist, say “You’ve been flossing!”

Future you has terrific wisdom to offer. I recommend you consult them frequently.

Future me also recommends I turn my attention from white Jeeps toward the people I love, pretty rock walls and beautifully bare oak trees because I heard a wise person say this week, “The only kind of person you can change is a baby.”

And yourself, of course. So, the cement opinions that might be talking to you today on January 29, see if maybe they might be mistaken about some things.

Take three minutes to write down what future you will be glad you valued and invested in, and go through those unchecked items and feel free to strike through a few of them the future you said won’t matter.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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

Love much,

PS Here are a couple of videos from the YouTubes recently:
Head Bruise: How Cold Day Backyard Football is Like Singing Show Tunes for a Living

Compassion Grease™️: These Three Questions in the Morning Will Change Your Life

Compassion Grease™️ — Three questions in the morning will change your life.

I told you how I started using Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s three question journal prompts in the morning and evening, and some quiet and significant changes have happened.

Maybe a practice like this would help you, too.

I the morning, I write the answers to these questions:

What’s the most important thing for me to do today?

What’s one thing I’m profoundly grateful for?

And what quality do I want to show the world today?

To begin with, that third question had a big impact on me: What quality do I want to show the world?

One day, it was love and peace. Just the act of writing that down in the morning shaped my day.

I got testy with the boys, I remembered love and peace.

If things were getting harried getting out the door with all gloves, hats, and snow pants accounted for or my plans to get so much work done got waylaid by a slime cleanup on Aisle Kitchen Floor, love and peace reminded me they wanted a reflection into the world via me that day.

I kept hearing Carole King’s voice singing, “You’ve got to get up every mo-o-ornin….”

I was surprised writing a couple of words down in the morning made that kind of difference.

One day, when I knew my crankelstein temptaion would be high, I wrote “joy,” and colored a little fireball around it.

That helped me, too.

I walked through a day that normally would have slung me down into Moody Sludge Puddle Town, and I came through it with merely muddy Wellies. Made a huge difference in the environment of our home, too.

Another day it was “skill and confidence,” and I found myself contributing in helpful ways at a faculty council meeting surrounded by senior colleagues whose intellects and wisdom I admire. Well, look at that.

But, it was one morning answering the first question that proved most significant.

I had an interrupted night of sleep, Nugget Number Two was awake at 5:15, and my eye lid was doing the twitchy thing when I’m under-slept and overloaded.

What’s the most important thing for me to do today?

I heard clearly: “Go slow and show myself compassion.”

And for the “what quality?” question, I repeated the theme: compassion.

It transformed everything I did that day.

And I accomplished more going slow that day than I normally do with my usual frenetic go-to of cram this in between unloading the dishwasher and finding a podcast to listen to while I take the recycling to the corner before the trucks get there because I forgot to last night.

There were unchecked tasks at the end of the day, like every day, but the important ones got done, and in a joyful way.

When the boys kicked off or decided a Lincoln Log might make a decent weapon, I noticed my annoyance and frustration surge, and I realized going down this track lacked compassion towards me.

What would be a way that feels better? I went slower and intervened with a calmer voice. Chill Daddy can negotiate a magna-tile hostage situation much more effectively than Crusty Pop.

(Feel free to steal Chill Daddy and Crusty Pop for your next children’s book idea or jazz-blues fusion band.)

I noticed throughout the day all these emotional Charlie-in-the-box moments (we’re musical theater people, so you have to use The Island of Misfit Toys names) — I noticed when they popped up and startled me, I remembered to slow down (a step of trust), and to flow some understanding my way.

And I saw that the way I was doing things was more important than checking action item boxes on my list.

In fact, when I went slow and allowed the compassion to flow like chocolate fondue, I started to see what the most important tasks for the day actually were, the ones my 87-year-old self would endorse.

I still wrote a list that was too long — shortening my daily expectations is something I’m looking at — but, I saw my way of being was much more important than my record of doing.

Today, invite you to join me in the Slow Down and Show Yourself Compassion Club. (I’m Sergeant at Arms.)

I predict you’ll notice some things you’re grateful for, feel an unfamiliar yet welcome sense of love and well-being toward yourself, and maybe even notice that you’re working through your daily goals with more presence and compassion grease.™️

I noticed when I gave some to me (compassion grease™️), I was ready and eager to give it to the folks around me.

I wish and hope that you’ll let yourself slow down a tick and flow some tenderness in your sweet direction today.

It’s a wonderful way of being, and the atmosphere will change inside and around you.

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

Love much (this means yourself, too 💙),


PSHere’s that youtube video again where Dr. Chatterjee talks about those journal prompts.

PPS I’m on track with my book. Can I share the working title with you? Here it is:

Show Tune Recovery:
How Singing and Playing Pretend Helped to Heal My Trauma

Sound like a title you’d wanna read?

I’m picturing the jacket looking like an old school sheet music cover. I’ll let you know any more ideas I have, and please share any that come to you!

Head Bruises: How cold day backyard football is like singing show tunes for a living

We went to visit Uncle Rob in Albany this weekend, and one feature of Uncle Rob’s house is a large enclosed backyard — something I dream about when Noah and Jude mutually decide that the one small plastic Bluey figure is the ONE made-in-China ring to rule them all.

But, we don’t live in a don’t-come-home-until-the-street-lights-come-on kind of world anymore. (Or in my case growing up — “Don’t go farther than you can hear your daddy whistle.”)

It was a climatically confusing day in Albany featuring intense afternoon snow squalls, but the morning had some gorgeous blue skies with winter cumulus clouds, so we bundled up and headed out with two partially deflated footballs. (The American kind — I was explaining to Jude last night at bedtime that the US is the only country that calls football soccer.)

Both boys were proposing various iterations of backyard football-for-three rules and when I suggested maybe we just pass the oblong inflatable in a triangular fashion. I was met with immediate protest.

Free play it was, then.

3 minutes later, I looked from beside the fire pit toward one of the 4×4 hammock posts and saw Jude running full Heisman in its direction. His forehead made direct contact with its unforgiving right angle, and his little four-year-old butt spun onto the frozen flower bed.

Abject wailing ensued followed by a harsh pink vertical line over Jude’s left eye surrounded by an inflating purple bruise the shape of an American football.

If the eye of Sauron was a hematoma, it would’ve looked like this.

Melissa finally coaxed a cold compress on Jude’s head with the help of an Octonauts episode, and Noah and I headed back out.

For some reason, throwing a football back and forth became a good idea now. (I get it. Having a brother is tricky.) And Noah was doing a really good job catching the ball like he was saving a baby and letting it go right past his ear. That was the best little league instruction I had on hand.

I changed my throws to overhand, in the corner of the football went thonk right on Noah’s forehead.

“That’s okay, pick it up and let’s throw it some more!” I cheered.

But Noah had already passed through denial and anger and was actively processing the projectile betrayal he just experienced. A deep moan emerged from his 5-year-old belly, and he held his head and sobbed.

Oh no – football is already ruined for this child. Not that I’m going to encourage him specifically in that direction, but I don’t want him having to manage palpitations when they break out the flag football pinnies in PE.

But I remembered something I learned from Eli Harwood, the Attachment Nerd, on Instagram. I think it was Eli. She’s terrific.

She said trauma we hold in our bodies is not the result of going through adverse events. It’s having to endure and process these events alone.

If there’s someone to say, “I’m here” and to be there while you wail, it’s a very different outcome.

As Noah cried, I heard the voices of various grown men from 1986 in my brain: “You ain’t got time to hurt.” “It ain’t that bad.” “Rub some dirt on it.”

I had the presence of mind not to parrot any of those phrases. I walked over to Noah and put my hand on his shoulder. In about 37 seconds, his crying slowed down, and he was done.

Then I said, “Let’s try it again,” and he said, “Okay.”

A half hour later, we were still throwing the ball and playing the various tag iterations now popular on the Warren Elementary School playground. I opted out of zombie tag.

What I noticed, though, was that just like any injury, we need time for healing. Not time itself, but time and loving witness.

And the terrific thing is that you can serve as a loving witness to yourself when bumps, bruises, and abrasions inevitably occur.

Don’t get me wrong. If somebody is there to put their hand on your shoulder, that’s the stuff. And if you can phone a friend, I’m a staunch advocate.

But sometimes you’re sitting very alone, and you, the you who survived 100% of your shittiest days, you are there with you. And you can say, “I’m here.”

You know I’m a pray-er. I’ve noticed that many times when I’ve asked Jesus to come in and help me, I’ll get a nudge to breathe out and soften my own gaze toward me.

For so many years, the face of God in my imagination had an expression that said, “You could be doing better.”

So, to absorb a delightful smile from the Divine felt unfamiliar at one point and later healing and joyful. It’s also given me the skills to try a little tenderness with myself. It feels better, and I get more done.

So, when a 75% inflated mini American football hits you in the head or you forget to look up when you’re driving through an imaginary defensive line and you meet an unyielding nose guard in the form of a 4×4 hammock holder, remember it’s normal for that to hurt.

You might even be mad at the wood or your dad for a while.

But, remember, you only need to cry for a while. If someone is nearby to get the ice and the TV remote all the better. But, if you find yourself alone and hurting, try saying, “I’m here sweetie pie, I’m here.”

Make sure you’re letting air in and out, and maybe go take a bath. Let some of those heavier thoughts slide down the drain at the end.

And who knows? That pain might be a really tasty ingredient in a song one day.

Telling the story while opening your heart and saying, “I know what this is like, and you probably do, too,” is one of the greatest and most powerful ways to heal you and anyone who’s listening.

After all, there is only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much, Dan

PS I’ve been into the work of Dr Rangan Chatterjee lately. Here’s a terrific podcast about his simple journaling technique and the three questions he asks himself each morning and evening. I’ve been using these and noticing some wonderful clarity and differences. I also like this overview video he made for some tools for 2024.

PPS I’ve been thinking of writing in the trenches, how soldiers in the First World War wrote letters from anywhere they could and whenever they could. This article from the Imperial War Museum documenting letters to soldiers was fascinating. And this story about a father who drew pictures and wrote stories for his daughter moved me. When I feel resistance to writing I imagine a trench and remember storytelling can happen anywhere. This one, too with images of the Western Front. 

PPPS I recorded this little snippet of “Shed a Little Light” by James Taylor several years ago, and I just love this song. “Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King.” 

Lily Pad 🐸: Distraction’s not just a river in Egypt. Oh, wait.

I told you last week that I got a lot out of reading Nir Eyal’s book Indistractable. 

I’m still officially distractible, but something I’ve noticed are my internal shiny “squirrel!” triggers.

This is me sitting down to write and thinking, “I’ll check email, Instagram, Facebook, play today’s Wordle, or do some helpful Google research.”

It’s getting out music to practice and thinking, “I need to text that person back. And this closet could really use a quick declutter.”

You get it.

The helpful thing for me has been to backtrack and notice the thought and feeling that precedes the distracto-grab.

When I sit down to write, lots of ideas start to roil.

One I’ve noticed lately is a criticism of my voice and style.

A whole pile of expression blocking bricks stack and mortar themselves into a protective wall, and I sit there believing this voice that says something like, “What if someone reads that one day? Did you know your handwriting looks like a third grade teacher’s from 1978? Are you a 46-year old man or Marian the librarian?”

A lot of the mean stuff is old remarks from my childhood that I absorbed.

When I was a boy, I loved beautiful things.

I loved music and flowers, and when the little league football cheerleaders shook their shiny pom poms, I felt bubbles in my stomach under my jersey and shoulder pads. I thought hot pink was an especially inspiring color, and I loved the rainbow tennis racket strings that came into style in the late 80s.

These affinities didn’t cohere well with camo, hunting, fishing, football, or engine repair.

A lot of sideways looks and comments like “that boy ain’t quite right.”

Or the time in a summer recreation program when the head counselor asked me in front of all the other campers, “Are you a queer?” I was 10, and I didn’t know what that meant.

I felt like I was outside the givens of being a man. Layer onto that a deep judgment of my own dad for a list of reasons in my little boy’s head, and you get a really tricky relationship with masculinity.

This sampling of messages and barbs emerges from the subconscious soup like alligator eyes, and before I finish a paragraph of neat cursive, its jaws chomp down on the idea that I wanted to tease out with my roller ball in my Leuchturm 1917 journal. (Fountain pens are too high maintenance, I tried them, of course.)

There were relationship moments when I heard from a woman, “Don’t cry like a bitch” or “Yeah, I don’t like it when men cry.”

You know in your brain not to let these things in, but as I found out as a kid, I’m a tender hearted sort, and my emotional body is absorbent.

All this to share with you one source of intense emotional sensation that sets off alarm bells in my psyche to reach for a thoughtful article from The Atlantic or a McVitie’s chocolate digestive. (My soul wears a cardigan and drinks PG Tips, clearly.) Something to distract my brain or to carbo-riffically muffle any intense feelings that may be trying to process out of my belly region.

Who knew your Instagram scroll was shielding you from such an underbelly?

But this gentle intention to notice the emotional impulse that precedes the distraction grab has been a godsend. I’ve been getting better at noticing things with curiosity and gentleness, and I’ve found it helps me move through with confidence and love. I can feel a sensation and survive.

All this to share with you — whatever you want to work on, you can start it wherever you can open a door. Wherever you can set your foot, put it there.

Some authors call this lily padding. Wherever your sweet froggy brain finds itself in the pond, you can start there and then leap to the next nearest amphibian tuffet.

It looks like this:

You have to prepare “I Dreamed a Dream” for your Fantine call back.

“I’m so excited. I love this song. I love this show.”

“Crap, this is Les Mis. This is Fantine. This is a big role. Do I go more Patti Lupone or Lea Salonga or Ruthie Henshall or figure out how to make it TRULY my own???”

“Okay, here I go. Ahemhemhemheeemmmmm…. ‘I dreamed a dream in time gone b….’ Wait. Let me see if I can find a good backing track. Should I get a piano track or an orchestral one? The audition will be piano, so. No, never mind. Slow down. I need to really think about the song. Go through my lyrics. Oh, God, don’t make me monologue this. Wait! I know! I need to read the novel. How am I going to become Fantine if I don’t understand how Victor Hugo originally conceived of her? I can get that online. But I’ll be distracted if I read on my computer. Let me get on my library app and reserve that. What? It’s available today? I’ll go pick it up. I’ll find a coffee shop where I can nestle in and, wait! How am I going to sing the Shaa-a-a-a-a-aaaaame! part? I need to call my voice teacher. No, I’ll just search those who-sang-it-best comparison videos on YouTube and steal the ones I like the best.”

So here’s the thing.

All of this brain brew is a way to delay work because that’s where we’re going to encounter frustration, questions, and falling short of how good we want it to be. We need to spend enough time with it for things to integrate.

But in order to delay the discomfort of, “Crap, is this going to be any good by the time I do it in front of people?” we reach for seemingly productive activities that hold the work at a distance.

But the other thing is this. All of the above ideas are lily pads.

Jumping in to sing can show me I don’t have enough specifics in the lyric, so I need to do some imagination work.

Singing with a track can show me my breathing’s wonky somewhere, so I need to slow down and take it apart.

Reading the novel can show me that I don’t actually have time to savor Hugo’s piercing of the human soul through language, so I’ll have to table the tome for the time being.

But all these activities can get me going in a direction.

And if I need to make a several-point turn to get going another way, I can do that.

Sometimes I autopilot onto the Mass Pike toward Boston when I’m supposed to be driving to Albany, and I have to drive several miles to exit and turn around. It’s frustrating, but at least I know the direction I’m trying to go, so even going the wrong way is taking me where I need to go eventually.

So, I invite you to watch your intense emotional sensations with curiosity and gentleness.

Let yourself hop onto the first lily pad you see.

And remember that even your attempts to avoid your pain can be one of the floating dots you can connect to create satisfying work.

After all, there’s only one soul who can distract, protect and obfuscate in just the way you do, and all us other pain avoiders need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,


PS I got to do a terrific production of Bright Star here in Mass at the Franklin Performing Arts Company. A terrific place to work with a top notch team and a thriving performing arts school.

I hadn’t done a contract since 2019, so it was great to tell a story for folks again. Here are a few pics of me as Daddy Cane using my native NC dialect. If you add a key ring on my belt, I look just like my dad.

Visualization for Cynics: Forget your affirmations, and use my normal people brain trademark manifestation technique

Do you say affirmations?

Do you gaze in the mirror and say “I am” or “I have” statements deeply into your eyeballs while the authentic feelings of being that person or having that thing well up like an emotional spring from your solar plexus?

I don’t.

I’ve tried it.

Totally have.

I’ve written things down on sticky notes and put them all around the place to remind myself to say my sentences.

I’ve started vision boards. Halfway through I’d be like, “I don’t think this’ll work, and what a waste of time, glue, and old magazines.”

My brain’s just too quick to say, “But you don’t have a rustic farm property with ready access to wooded trails and a rehearsal barn.”

And yet — I do believe the words we use and things we imagine are powerful.

You know how I know this?

Because this MacBook Air I’m typing these words on? One day, somebody imagined a typewriter, and then somebody imagined a personal computer, and then somebody had to imagine a laptop, and the interwebs, and digital language, and all the other things I don’t understand at all, but that doesn’t stop me from putting my finger on the turn-this-thing-on pad at the top right corner of my computer.

Anything we see in the world that humans made existed as an idea first.

The reason we want to sing songs and tell stories? Somebody sang us songs and told us stories, and we imagined that one day we could do that! 

So, I think I may have cracked the code on creative visualization for us folks with quickly objecting brains trying to shield us from possible disappointment and tears.

It’s a two-parter.

You know how some of the manisfest-y people are all like, you must FEEL like you’ve already ACHIEVED your goal. How will that mountain of crisp Benjamins feel under your sun-lotioned skin as you fling superfluous cash off the bow of your yacht to the dolphins?

I’m like, listen, I’m just grateful I can knock out this Massachusetts gas bill over here.

But, seriously, though, think about when you have arrived at a goal. You heard the overture play on opening night in the wings. You adjusted your cap tassel as you heard “Pomp and Circumstance” solemnly sounded from the woodwinds. You made a final payment on a debt.

In all of my goal arrivals, I wasn’t jumping up like a 1988 Toyota commercial.

As Kander and Ebb wrote so clearly for Flora the Red Menace, it was indeed a quiet thing.

I have a feeling that when the dream arrives, it’ll feel quieter than the YouTube guru told you you were supposed to pretend it felt.

When the thing shows up, it’s usually because you’ve lived through enough questions, tries, failures, back pats, and improvisations to be able to integrate it.

And you’re like, oh, ok. I can do this.

When I started my gig at BoCo, I was like, “I can help these kids.” If you’d told me in 2012 this is where I’d be, I might have had a hard time believing you. I grew into where I am now.

So, imagine the thing. Yes. Imagine all the time. And just like any good actor knows, let the feelings take care of themselves.

The other thing I’ve been playing with is this. It tickles my Debbie Downer to bits.

Imagine all the PROBLEMS that will come with the achievement of your dream.

Not to dissuade you from your dream, but to help you imagine it even more vividly. We can use our brain’s negativity bias to help us in our creative visualization. Shakti Gawain would be so proud.

If you make a lot of money, you’ve got a crap ton of responsibility on your hands. You may have to hire and trust folks. You’ve got to manage that monetary energy. Your relationships might get tricky, and some haven’t-heard-from-you-in-a-while folks might conveniently reappear.

If you own that house you’ve been dreaming about, property tax can be a real splash of ice water. So can busted water heaters, HVAC systems, and roofs. Rooves? Roofs. There’s a reason I’ve stayed responsibility-free when it comes to yard work in my adult life.

And what if it’s career success? What kinds of things may pop up if you land that role in the fancy place? You may need to lead a more monkish existence. There might be exposure and folks at laptops with opinions. Maybe you don’t like signing Playbills 8 times a week. Just saying. You may feel really tired by show number 5 of a 5-show weekend.

What if it’s a tour or out-of-town gigs? Missing family and holidays and big events because they won’t let you out of your contract?

See how easy it is to come up with potential bummers?

And do you notice that even so, you still want the thing?

That’s great!

There’s always both-and.

I can’t tell you how grateful and deeply joyful I am to be a hubster and dad. Having my marriage and two sweet schmoopie pie boys is miracle-of-miracles territory.

And sometimes Melissa and I hurt each other’s feelings. Sometimes I don’t understand her, and she thinks about things in a completely different way than I do. Sometimes we get all cross-ways and have to work through our feefees. It’s always worth it, and it’s hard, and we both choose to show up and love.

And if you want to talk about the very end of myself, no resources left, and inner schtank under buzzing fluorescent tubes, you should see my internal environment when dealing with the boys on an exasperated day.

Just last week we had a day when everyone seemed to misunderstand everyone else, nerves were frayed and raw, and emotional reserves were scraping the bottom. And it was rainy.


And my life is a dream. What I get to live is an unimaginable blessing.

And that’s the most important part of the Dan Callaway trademarked manifest-your-dreams technique.

You can’t even imagine how terrific it can all be. I could never have cooked up the goodness that I get to live. But I did dream of sharing my life with someone kind, funny, intelligent, whole-hearted, and who shared my values. I did dream of being a dad. I just had no clue how terrific it could all turn out.

So after you’ve imagined all the various pains in the tuchus your dreams will usher into your life, let your imaginings float away like a balloon. Then one day while you’re paying a bill, you’ll look up and realize a part of your dream came true in a way you never even expected. You’ll feel a deep, quiet satisfaction, and you’ll dream about a new thing you’d love to happen and know you’ll be okay whether or not it does.

Let your imagination do its beautiful thing. And why not let it run wild in a song or two? Because there’s only one imagination like yours, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing with it.

Love much,


PS I listened to this book, Indistractable, on Audible and got a lot out of it. There’s also a good interview with the author on Diary of a CEO. I like this podcast — Stephen Bartlett is a terrific interviewer.

PPS I used some of my birthday money to get a subscription to the National Theatre at Home. I’m excited. I’ll let you know what I enjoy the most! And yes, I still get birthday money 🙏. 

You Are the Choice: Leo DiCaprio devotion, fufu flour negotiations, and octogenarian imagination experiments

Sometimes you get to see a former student do something stratospheric and sparkly.

Back in 2014, I met a shiny junior from Elon University who was spending a spring in LA. I still have the little blue bird candle holder Phylicia gave me with a thank you card.

What I didn’t know was the following fall, we’d move to North Carolina and she’d be a member of my very first college voice studio.

One lesson, we were halfway through “As Long as He Needs Me” from Oliver. Phylicia side-eyed me, I shook my head in agreement, and we stopped the song. Not for her.

She even forgave me for suggesting an ill-suited Lionel Richie gem.

Phylicia had a lot of patience with me.

And over the next 10 years, I’d watch from a distance as she developed patience for herself, too.

She launched out of the program at Elon on to the national tour of The Lion King and swung on the road and Broadway. Maybe she invented #thelionswing?

She took the leap back out to the West Coast and dove into writing.

During the panorama, she kept folks entertained with her video documentation of life with her Congolese mother in Maryland. I’m still in awe of mom’s fufu flour negotiation game.

So about a year ago, when the trailer for the musical version of The Color Purple appeared, it was both nuts and inevitable that Phy would be playing Young Celie.

I’ve just been smiling and giggling watching all of her posts before she heads out to press events all styled and having a blast.

Recently I saw a clip of her on the Jennifer Hudson Show, and something she said rang up in my heart.

She talked about the casting process and how she’d first been turned down for the role of older Celie. The feedback was, “Did you know that you actually read quite young?”

Later, she was working in a (zoom) writer’s room when she got the call and heard the words “You are the choice.”

That’s a sentence that every actor dreams of hearing. All of us want to get picked. That’s a deep human need.

But something occurred to me when I heard that sentence come out of Phy’s smiling phace. There was a choice before the choice.

Phylicia got to a place where she said yes to herself.

And my mind went rewind back to LA 2014 when she decided to take a leap and spend a semester in another time zone while studying in a rigorous musical theater program where a lot of students didn’t want to leave in case they missed an opportunity.

Something in her heart knew that she wanted to explore other geography.

And I don’t think it’s a mistake that this particular success she’s celebrating is a musical adapted for the screen.

Sometimes I like to do the rewind.

I imagine a fairy godmother materializing and telling Phylicia while she was Lion Swinging that in a few years, she’d be laughing with Oprah on daytime TV. (I actually think deep down she knew things like this would happen.)

You are the choice. 

The first two words of that sentence are the most powerful ones. When you say “I am,” pay attention to what follows those two syllables.

When Phy was joking on IG about marrying Leo DiCaprio or winning an Oscar five or six years ago, she didn’t know that part of her vision for herself would show up as a role in a film produced by Steven Spielberg, Oprah, and Quincy Jones.

But she held her vision and purpose with care, love, and humor.

I’ve started a new practice. It’s been powerful for me. I started writing letters to me as my 87-year-old self.

I say things like, “I’m so grateful we decided to do that as a family.” “I’m glad I took that leap and wrote that book.” “I’m happy I got to perform this role in this place. How lucky.”

I look back on my life with gratitude and satisfaction, and I counsel the nearly-46-year-old me about what I’m going to be glad I invested my time in.

When I look at myself from nearly 90, I savor these accomplishments with gratitude and grace. I’m thankful that I got to live certain experiences. And the sense of grasping or God-I-hope-I-get-it has dissolved like sugar in a cup of PG Tips.

You know how you feel when you’ve arrived at something you’ve been waiting for a long time? A milestone you expected to fulfill you?

You might experience deep gratitude and even awe. And at the same time your mind sends out a search party to find the next thing you’re going to look toward.

Interesting how we do that.

My nearly 90-year-old perspective brings everything into focus. And I’m noticing from my octogenarian p-o-v that the greatest of these is indeed love.

I want my life to ripple out love, kindness, and generosity. I hope a lot of that gets expressed on stages singing with beautiful orchestras in terrific locations.

I’ve got all of these events I imagine collected by the year 2056 wrapped up in a blanket of knowing I’m loved and that I let love pour through me — that’s the thing. This is what my soul’s going to cherish when I’m no longer in a body on Earth.

You are the choice.

My very identity lives in my choice to love and to notice when I’m not, and then to open to let some in (it’s inexhaustible). Just like breath, freely I receive, and freely I give.

We all know when we’re living there. It’s expansive, peaceful, satisfying, and free.

And we know when we step out.

You are the choice.

Your very essence, if you take a moment to breathe and look with gentleness, you’ll notice that you’re made out of love.

That’s what I notice. I know it to be true.

You’re made out of love just like I am, and when I open my heart and invite you in, your spark recognizes my spark, and we re-member.

I can’t think of a better medium for that exchange than singing.

You are the choice.

You know how I know? Because you’re here.

Celie sings it perfectly at the end of the musical:

I believe I have inside of me
Everything that I need to live a bountiful life.
With all the love alive in me
I’ll stand as tall as the tallest tree.
And I’m thankful for everyday that I’m given,
Both the easy and hard ones I’m livin’.
But most of all
I’m thankful for
Loving who I really am.
I’m beautiful.
Yes, I’m beautiful,
And I’m here.

There’s nothing more beautiful than your soul. There’s nothing more beautiful than my soul. And there’s nothing more beautiful than us recognizing each other and calling out the gold.

There’s only one you. You’re here so folks can hear the story only you can sing.

Love much, Dan

PS Go see The Color Purple, opens on Christmas Day.

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