for people who break into song in real life

Category: Prose (Page 1 of 2)

They Told You No? Thank Gawd. And Cawfee. ☕️

Finding a suitable dwelling for a family in the greater Boston metro area is a Dunkies-coffee-fueled task replete with shoulder-knot headaches.

The 👏 market 👏 is 👏 crazy👏.

I seriously don’t know what we woulda done this past week if it hadn’t been for my friend Lydia who’s a real estate warrior diva. We did Phantom together back in the DAY.

Throughout our traffic-circled journeys from Natick to Newton, I remembered our time on the road–recalling Lydia’s electric smile singing her face off in the direction of rolling elephants and massive staircases. 

Do you have those moments?

You travel back in time and hear, “Pssst! Your friend over there with the high Cs and jokes is gonna help you and your family find a home in the Boston area in 19 years.”

I always do that. It’s nuts how our lives get connected and reconnected. 

Lydia drove me errywhere. She bought me Dunkies AND Panera. And she pulled out saved glove compartment napkins when I felt like my eyes were about to leak.

Every place we saw had a deal breaker that didn’t show up in pics. 

There’d be 37 cement death stairs to the front porch. Or a decapitation-level ceiling fan in the bedroom. Or the second bedroom smelled like the Death Eaters bought a cheese shop. 

Seriously. And that was with a mask on. 


After a series of Lemony Snickets, we landed on a townhome in a camp-like oasis that was spacious and workable. Phew and thank God. We put in an application. The other broker was in Lydia’s office. 

Lydia told the broker she’d drag him into the street if he didn’t rent the unit to the sweet family she was helping, so I was feeling good about our chances. Leverage!

I flew back to NC, and the next morning, Lydia texted us that someone had offered the landlords HIGHER RENT!

This is a thing!

We still didn’t have a place to live.

I remembered what I told you last week.

I was pissed and worried and anxious, and I said to Lydia, the only option is that we’ve been spared. There’s got to be something better.

In a matter of minutes, I get a gmail across the wire from Lydia with the subject line, “THIS!”

It was a townhome a mere half mile from the one we lost. It’d just come on the market, AND. IT. WAS. SIGNIFICANTLY. BETTER.

Lydia knew the broker. They’d done deals before. She called. She sent over our already-complete application from the last place. 

She took Melissa and me over there on her WhatsApp. It was what we needed. We said we wanna lease it!

Lydia called us back in fifteen minutes and told us we have an address to give to the movers!

We locked down the lease as the other broker was getting flooded with showing requests.

Here’s what the place looks like, Massachusetts snow and all. 🙂 

(It’s in Ashland which’ll be an hour commute into skewl on the train. 🚂

(***Another thing I learned on my journeys is that I love the city, and I’m also very much a country mouse.)

If the broker hadn’t told Lydia first thing in the morning about the place we didn’t get, she never woulda rage-searched the listings, and we’d never have found the better place.

The message for you from today’s narrative is this:

Sometimes it just works out. 

You get in there, you do your hours of research and pavement pounding, and all the options are unworkable. The doors close, and you cry a few times. You wonder if you’re ever gonna do the thing.

But then the Good Lord brings in a friend you hadn’t seen in nineteen years who blazes a trail through the Metro West jungle, makes you laugh, and buys you coffees with milk and sugar.

It happens that way sometimes. 

So the lesson today is a repeat because I need it, too. 

If you don’t get the place you put in the application for, yell the expletives you need to yell (with good abdominal support and a relaxed pharynx, of course), and tell yourself you’ve been spared. It’s the only possibility.

(***side note, Lydia did get ethically-coded language from the broker on the lost townhome that we dodged a bullet with that particular landlord. And double phew.)

That’s all for my tale of real estate and coffee today. 

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


ps In another example of out-of-the-blue friends reaching out, a rock star Elon alum asked me to fill in last-minute for this week’s Songbook Academy with the Great American Songbook Foundation. Clearly my Peggy Sawyer moment.

So between wrapping plates in foam and taping boxes, I get to run downstairs to coach Gershwin tunes this week.

This was my first hired-by-one-of-my-students scenarios, and I’m here for it. Thank you to Renée LaSchiazza for thinking of me!

You Wanna Know Why We Been Day Drinking? 🍸 And Julie Andrews has some life advice for you.

There was this quaint-as-all-get-out Colonial we had our eye on to rent in Auburndale, Massachusetts. Here, lookit!

It had all the things we needed, and I even crafted a charming letter with an irresistibly cute picture of our family to confirm to the landlord that renting to the Calla-clan was the wisest choice she was ever gonna make.

Seriously–this pic. Wouldn’t you wanna rent to us? 

Our realtor diva guide Lydia of the North talked us up, and I had an appointment to see the place on Tuesday.

Then our fair cottage-locating sorceress delivered the ill tidings via electronic missive that the dwelling had been decreed to a local family whose serf lord was divesting their current estate. 

We were rill rill disappointed. So we day drank. 

Who could blame them? The market is nuts right now.  

But still. We were rill rill disappointed. So we day-drank a little.

I thought about what my girl Byron Katie says. I ask myself her four questions when I’m not letting my ego party too hard:

You’ve been spared. That’s the only possibility.

So yeah, clearly there is another dwelling somewhere in the greater Boston area where we can raise two toddlers and maintain a level of sanity that’s walking distance to public transport. I’m trusting and believing.

But those three words–you’ve been spared–they’ve been big for me, so I want to share them with you. 

We are the actory-singery folk, so the opportunities for telling ourselves we’ve been rejected are legion.

It’s the reason we deaden our souls when we go to audition after audition and we don’t get picked for the team. It’s just less ouchy that way, and we don’t blow out our 3pm dirty martini budget. 

But what if you knew that when a door closed, Julie Andrews would show up and say, “Not only will the Lord open a window, but there’ll be an even better door that’ll have you all


Hard to hear when your expectations have been abruptly unmet.

Just ask my three-year-old. And then ask him three weeks later. He likes to re-live. He comes by it honest.

So listen, you warrior unicorn facing a closed door or seven. You’ve been spared. 

I have lists of anecdotal evidence to back this up, all available in the annals of my blog. 

(I just giggled when I typed “annals.”)

Let’s treat this life trip like an improv game and meet every whoops-that’s-not-happening event with a big juicy yes-and. 

Don’t get me wrong. You may need to cry some. 

But once you’ve let that through, the tears’ll have cleaned off your windshield, and you can see the next thing ahead–even if that’s a WaWa where you can get Tasty Cakes and a delicious sammie. 

Yep, you’ve been spared.

Can you look back at a thing you really wished would happen that didn’t, and now you’re like, phew? 

Or at least, okay, that mighta been cool, but because that didn’t happen, it opened the way for this other thing?

I’d love for you to play around with this and see if it helps you.

Let me know! I love hearing that this stuff works for you. Gives me purpose on a Sunday morning at 5am when I’m sitting here thinking about you.

I will let you know how the surprise door opens this week after I sally forth to the greater Boston area to secure a dwelling. I’m flying there just as this message goes out to you. ✈️

And remember! There is only one you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

Love much,

ps The sorceress from the North of whom I spoke earlier is my friend Lydia Rajunas who is a real estate diva in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. We were on tour together NINETEEN years ago. Whaaaa? 

This is what I love about what we get to do–the shows, the experiences are beautiful and ephemeral, but the relationships we get to make are where the gold is IMHO.

pps Before we day-drank, we also fro-yo scarfed.

There’s a Menschie’s in Greensboro which is very special because we had our first date-like experience at the original location on Laurel Canyon in Valley Village.

I’m a big proponent of fro yo dates when you need a little help getting up off the floor.

Consider this your official endorsement to get yourself some sweet goodness to help you through.

Cheers from Melissa and me!

You Hate Deadlines, too, Boo? Here are three things that help me instead

Greetings Time Lord–

You got the scoop last week that the Calla-clan is packing up and moving Boston-ward. 

We’ve been bubble wrapping anything hanging on a wall and getting on a first-name-basis with the folks at Goodwill.

We’re scrubbing walls, painting things that we planned to paint in 2017, and shaking our heads in impressed astonishment at the state of our windowsills.

Entropy overtook us while we were making mac and cheese, unloading the dishwasher, collecting baskets of folded laundry, and checking diapers. 

In our mad push to get the house ready for photos, I asked myself what you probably ask yourself when you finally clean up before company comes–This is nice. Why don’t I do this for myself? 

I’ll tell you why. It’s a huge pain in the ass.

When you’re at capacity and barely filling the tank, the last thing you’re going to say to yourself in a low Martha Stewart whisper is, “I know–I’m going to head to Lowe’s for that epoxy kit so the shower looks less like the rowdy guys’ freshman dorm nightmare.”

Nope. That’s not what we do. 

In our Calla-phase, it’s more like– “We kept the tiny humans alive today. Is there more wine?”

I dunno ‘bout you, but my lil ego needs a reason to look good if I’m going to engage it in any kind of unpleasantness for the greater domestic good. 

Same with singing, right? We need stuff we have to do in front of folks to light a fire. 

I know you love singing. I do, too. I do it a lot.

Sometimes I’m making PB&Js and I just need to sing a few lines of an art song. (I’m just as nerdilicious at home as in the studio.)

Jude, our very-soon-to-be-two-year-old, holds up his hand and instructs me, “Too looooud!”

This is at once adorable and ironic. I have definitely suffered hearing loss from this child’s instinctive vocal tract leveraging. If he’s into opera one day, Wagner will be his jam.

But you know how it is. When there’s a deadline, when there’s an opening night, when there’s an audition date–that’s when we kick it in gear.

This is the part of the email when people usually say in a 1950s announcer voice–this is why you need accountability. This is why you need deadlines. Or a negative consequence if you don’t accomplish your goals on time. 🤯

And as I type that to you, it feels wrong in my guts.

Yeah, I want to give a good nod to my ego and all he does for me in all his self-serious, mirror-gazing how’m-I-doin’(?)-ness. He does a lot.

And I want to thank all the deadlines and performance dates that lit a fire under me to learn lines, notes, and blocking.

How do you use this face-saving super power to show up to your work every day?

(***Not while you’re moving, though–you’ve still got to find the right screws to fix the back screen door!)

I have some idears for you, though.

I think’ll help. They usually help me, and they feel better than (or in conjunction with) deadlines.

Ask yourself “So that?”–

This is a way to get to that pesky why??? all those life-coachy people say you need to know to really do the thing.

Quick example from my recent life–I want to epoxy this shower stall in our bathroom 

so that potential buyers will not run screaming from our second floor judging us as aesthetic failures  

so that these potential buyers will buy our house 

so that we can move expeditiously and afford a little rent in the land of broken-face winters and blinkah-less lane changes.

Boom– the why isdefined.

You? You wanna sing effortless and yummy with crazy emotional honesty and captivating spontaneity so that—

What else you wanna do? Whatever it is, the so that is real important.

***Pro tip on this–the secret ego reason is usually real powerful.

So, go ‘head and hug the so that that you wouldn’t lead with at a job interview.

i.e. I wanna prepare the crap outa this audition so that I crush all in my path with my stupendous readiness. 

Get selfy with it–that’s how you get the narcissistic fix so that you can then pop your head outa your ass long enough to see how you might use your gifts to serve your fellow humans.

Okay, next–

Ask you at 100

I heard this on a TED talk. You know I have a Teddiction. 

This dude had a harrowing tale and a lot of trauma that drove him to achieve. One day he got exhausted from this adrenalized driver to stave off the oblivion abyss, and he decided to try a different tack.

He started asking his 100-year-old self for advice. 

I started this, too, and it’s a good one.

When I’m in the kitchen trying to get breakfast shrapnel cleared and I’ve got a lil “Sesame Street” going for the boys, Jude invariably runs in when it’s time for the letter of the day song, and he says, “Dance with me!”

I have peanut butter to wipe off the counter, don’t you seee??? Important things!

My hundred-year-old self says “Go dance with your kid. One day he’ll be able to pick you up.”

I end up with one boy on each hip step-touching in anticipation of the alphabetical announcement. It’s heaven. And a mini bicep workout. 💪

This is a good perspective telescope, and you’ll be surprised how much your hundred-year-old self knows. Ask ’em. 


Cut yourself some slack when these things don’t work.

Yesterday morning I woke up around 5am like I normally do full of inspiration to write the rest of this missive to you.

Noah decided to come downstairs at 5:30 just as I had my coffee ready to drink and my fingies ready to type.

Usually this is a good sitch with Noah narrating dinosaur dramas as I get some early morning work done.

This morning was not that domestic idyll.

Noah insisted I leave the lamp off so that he could explore the full effect of his walkie talkie’s flashlight feature. 

When I explained to him that this was my ONLY time to get some work done, he didn’t seem to process my logic. Come on, kid, you’re three already.

After a few failed attempts to get the words flowing while turning the lamp switch back on, Jude decided he’d be a regular rooster and rouse himself with the sunshine, too. 

My work time was screwed, and I was disproportionately PISSED. 

I wanted my boys to go the eff back to sleep SO THAT I could get some work done, and my hundred-year-old self was taking a nap because Noah and Jude are 60 and 58 by now. So, he was no help. 

All that to say that you get to be a human, and you get to have times when all the helpful tricks just don’t work.

You can do your best, get to the other side, apologize if you need to, and have grace for yourself. 

See if you can add centenarian you to speed dial or say “I’m gonna stress eat this scoop of Cherries Garcia SO THAT I can put something delicious in my mouth SO THAT I don’t tell this person what an asshat they’re being.”

See? Tools. 🔧

My super tired brain and fingers made it to the end of this communication, and what a delight it’s been.

Our house is photo-ready, and we’ve guerilla-warfare-Marie-Kondo’d our way through pounds of domestic detritus. 

I’ll keep you posted.

Oh, and I asked ancient you what would be fun today, and they said you might sing something you love. So that you’ll have fun and remember why you love songs. 

And if you’re having one of those days where singing’s the last thing that’ll help, then just wait until it is the day. There’s no rush. 

But please do remember–there’s only one you, and folks really do need to hear the story that only you can sing.

Love much,

ps Here’s that TED Talk about asking your 100-year-old self

pps Of course, I wrote a poem about Jude and dance time, so I gotta share that with you too. Here ’tis. 

Holy Paw Patrol Dance Moment

I park the boys in front of “Paw Patrol” 
When I make their lunch. By the time the shells
Are al dente or the PB and J’s read’ to roll,
Jude runs into the kitchen, his toddler cells
Ready for action. His wide eyes telegraph 
That it’s that time. “Dance please!” he calls and lifts
His sweet sausage-y arms. I have to laugh
And pick him up. This is one of life’s gifts.
When we enter the living room, Noah’s ready
To join the choreo, so I hoist each nugget on a hip
And wait for the pup dispatch jingle.  Steady 
We go, I step-touch and try to keep my grip.  
These boys are always interrupting chores,
Injecting joy, and opening fantastical doors.

This is what happened when I leaped–and why I’m gonna need to buy thermal undies

Last May I expounded on oval pegs and told you I was gonna fill you in about my most recent elliptical cylinder epiphany–

–when I realized I was tryin’a hammer an oval peg into a circular hole–so I bagged up my peg purchase and headed to the customer service counter at Lowe’s. 

I told you they have a flex return policy.  

Last spring, I got an email from the Chair that Elon University was not offering me a full time contract for next academic year. 

It felt like that scene from Bridesmaids when Rebel Wilson tells Kristen Wiig that she needs to move out. 

Administration said I could fill a part time contract.

When I did the math, it meant I’d do 90% of the work I did as a full time faculty and get 35% less salary.

I cried.

I’d known in my gut-heart for a while that my season at Elon was ending. 

But I love my students, my alma mater in general, and I’d become cozy in that well dad didn’t mean to miss my recital again kinda way. 

When I read the Chair’s email, I was sad. 

At the same time, I heard down in my gut-heart, “This is a good thing.” 

Or as they say in the 12 Steps: rejection is protection.

I did weigh it. I cooked up ways to cobble together the adjunct salary, cover benefits, and fund groceries and mortgage payments from private teaching. 

But the choice became clear once I did a little role play. I imagined you sitting in front of me. You asked, “Dan, should I take this offer?”

My immediate answer to you was, “Absolutely not.”

Melissa agreed. She was there before I was. She’s good at sharing her POV and letting me get my own answers.

I took a deep breath and had the phone call with our program director. He was classy, kind, and wished me well. I hung up, and I felt lighter. I felt excited. And uncertain. Future = 🤷‍♂️

Luckily, many years as an actor made the hmmmm what the hell is gonna happen next sensation very familiar. I didn’t have health insurance for a family of four to think about at those times, but still.

You’ve been here, too, right? I can tell by your face. 

Are you there now? I sense you may be. And I’m here for it with all the empathy.

And I want to give you some tewlz 🔧 to make the what’s going ooooonnn-intensive portions of your life a little more civilized.

Here they are. 

💛 Tewl Number One: Talk to yourself like a decent parent talks to their kid. 

Do you know about Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

It’s the animated spinoff ofMister Rogers’ Neighborhood where you can learn things like anger management, that grownups are sposed to come back, and giving yourself squeezes.

I recommend their short life lesson jingles for effective adulting.

Daniel’s Dad–

–always speaks in this low laryngeal whisper, and I think, who talks like that? Daniel’s dad–duh.

One day I was real barky with the boys, and it wasn’t going well. I decided just for funsies to talk like Daniel’s dad. I felt ridiculous, and the boys calmed the boop down. 

Cool! I put on the DT-daddy voice on the regular now. 

I even infuse my self-talk with a little low breathy parental patience. I slow down and get gentler. And I also have a good laugh because I’m all PBS Kids up in my psyche. 

Have a little practice with your vocal tract shaping and choose your most comforting parental/caretaking figure. Give a go at saying things to yourself in their voice. 

Even when I can’t help being a meanie to me, switching up the vocal sends me in a kinder direction.

And your Julie Andrews impression will be on point. 

💛 Tewl Number Two: Write down what you do have some planning power over

There’s always something you have agency over. 

Even if it’s, “I’m gonna sit here, breathe slow, and listen to these birdies singing.” 🐦🎵(There’s a really good Daniel Tiger song about deep breaths, BTW)

When things shake and you don’t know what’s up–hello 2020/21–there’s always somewhere you can exert some influence. 

Make your bed, donate a box of stuff that’s no longer sparking joy :), or Venmo 5 dollah to a friend and tell them to buy a coffee.

On the actor-singer side, you can visualize who you want to be when people start getting back into rooms and pretending to be characters expressing their in-most feelings through song.

Do you want more confidence with something vocal technique-y so you know it’ll work well in front of people? Reach out to someone who can help with that. Or Google! (ps I know a guy.) 

*tiny action → call voicey person or google that thing

Are you recalibrating your self-relationship/ID in being a singing storyteller? Terrific. 

A little journal barf is helpful–also reaching out to a friend who’s going through their version or a mentor who’s been through it (and undoubtedly going through a different iteration now).

*tiny action → invite friend or mentor to coffee 

Do you feel generally stuck in a morass of Cheetos and Netflix? 

Talk to yourself as your chosen caretaker archetype, put on your outside shoes, and go for a walk. Without some form of input from your phone. 

You may still want to take it though, because you’ll get ideas and want to talk them into Google Keep.

*tiny action → go for a 30 minute walk, breathe, listen, look, smile, record your ideas when they percolate up.

💛Tewl Number Three: Have a fro yo 🍦 and make a God box.

You know I’m a faithy person. 

On my dresser, there’s a box with several folded pieces of paper inside. 

When there’s a thing I can’t solve or want to know the outcome of yesterday, I write it on a slip of paper, fold it, and I put it in the box.

Then when my brain wants to ruminate, I say in my best Daniel Tiger Dad voice, “God’s got it.”

I have to do this a lot. And sometimes I don’t, and I obsess. But when I remember to say God’s got it, I’m more peaceful.

No need to call it a God box. It can be just the place where you put things until life does its sorting out thing.

This helps me, and I hope it’ll help you, too.

Oh, and then you go get a fro yo. If there’s a Menschie’s near you, all the better. 

There you go, my friend. 

I hope you’re becoming more discerning about pegs and their respective compartments in your life. 

And I hope you’re growing in love for yourself so that you choose what’s joyful. And to the things that aren’t a match, I hope you’ll say, “Thank you for the offer, and that’s not a good fit.”

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

Love much, 

ps So, the leap from Elon worked out a lot better than I even knew it would. 

The Callaway family is heading north to Boston where I’ll be starting a new position at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee in September.

I couldn’t be more grateful and excited for this new chapter. Stay tuned for all kinds of news from the Dunkin Donuts mothership. 

pps My friend Jeanette Thompson, a remarkable human and world class soprano now serving on the voice faculty at the University of Miami shared this with me this week–

In this interview she shares her journey through bafflement, struggle, racial oppression, hurt, forgiveness, and faith to find herself in the perfect spot–a culmination of many slips of paper in her God box over many years.

I’ll tell you, my jaw dropped a few times as I listened.

I got to sing with Jeanette when I was in NYC, and she is just the best. I learned a ton from her life, stories, wine expertise, and musicianship. Enjoy. 30 mins.

And she’ll take you to church at the end when she sings.

ppps Even though I’m gonna be bizzy in Boston, I’m still available on the Zoom for lessons and such, so reach out if you need me. Best way is to email me here.

I’m also cooking up ways we can work together in the fall that centers on you, your goals, and community that’ll support each other, so stay tuned for that. 💛

Our wee little house in LA sold for what 🏠?? A meditation on your work’s value

Hey, you luscious garden tomato 🍅

You might remember our 800 square foot stucco house sitting on the hillside of Stratford Road in Highland Park.

I planted a garden in our front yard, and we got some beautiful beets and rainbow chard out of those raised beds. Lookiiiit!

Me back in the day with carrots and my fave veggie….parsnips!

We also had a guava tree that stranger danger neighbors helped themselves to–and a persimmon in the back that mysteriously lost its fruit every October. 

The Highland Park Fruit Thieves Association had their finger on the pulse of our front yard harvest season.

I loved the view from the living room window out across the Mount Washington neighborhood– stunning sunrise light usually splashed eastward across the hills. 

I’d be awake, and Melissa would be trying to fall back asleep, offended and baffled by my obscenely early waking time.   

When we decided to move, our realtor, Winnie, told us our house could sell for a higher number than I’d even considered. 

This was great news because Melissa had bought the house in her early twenties (pretty badass, right?) right before the 2007/8 market crash (which made it a pain in the ass for a badass). 

The house kept her in LA for years longer than she planned to stay because she was upside down like many mortgage holders.

Worked out great for me because I got to meet her! 

So, to know that we were gonna sell and be a lil in the black was a huge relief. 

That money helped us buy the used Accord I drove into the ground here in NC–we called her Margaret, the iron lady. 🚗 Thanks, Margaret.

A hipster couple, Max and Miriam, bought our house, and they were featured on a fixer-upper house show. I didn’t realize we lived in a fixer upper–just that we needed a new roof.  

When Winnie told us the number, I felt like Really? We can ask that much for this house? 

But we asked for it, and we left LA just before I did further damage to my vocal folds screaming in gridlock on the 5 Freeway. 

Cut to 2021, and Melissa’s bestie, Leo, sent her a Redfin link for our lil house on the hill.

Our wee little abode with the uneven front steps where I used to grow carrots and arugula in my planters sold for almost one. million. dollah. 🤯

Someone paid 200K above asking. 

Mind you, the makeover show did some crazy overhauls, but still! 

So, Dan, what does this home buyer with 200K to spare on a small stucco house in eastern LA have to do with me and my vocal dreams?

Everything, my friend. Everything.

The takeaway for you is this. 

Somewhere, there is someone who is gonna want to pay 200K above asking for what you got. You’re gonna be like, Wha? Really? 

You may even feel super uncomfortable and want to run and hide in Imposter Syndrome Alley.

But it’ll happen. Someone is gonna look at you–

and even if you don’t have that gussied-up deck featuring golden sunset views and a new outdoor closet storing your stackable washer/dryer instead of the corrugated shed under our kitchen window that we had to duck into–

someone’s gonna look at you and say, you know, you’ve got what they call great bones, and I want to invest in you. 

Go where people see you and value you. If you’ve been in a place where that hasn’t happened in a while, you might have forgotten that it feels really good. And right. 

Or you may be unfamiliar with the sensation altogether, and that means you just need some time to make the unfamiliar familiar.

You deserve to be around folks who see you, celebrate you, and see the gold in you. 

Maybe together with your people you’ll build a castle with a nice view of the sunrise, and you’ll be the gatekeeper–

and you’ll open it wide for artists who want to bring the kind of beauty to the world that heals, crushes crusty opinions, and helps people see each other–see the soul and not all the bullshit artifice we throw up to try to compete. 

We’re moving into a new zone, and I want you to know you’re gold. 

You matter. You got beauty. You have gifts to bring.

I want you to notice where you and your gifts are seen, celebrated and needed. Put your body in that place, and turn on your Care Bear stare.

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

Love much,

ps I’m not just gonna tell you about the house and not throw you a link. Here it is. She looks nice. I don’t know about north of 900K nice, but somebody thought so.

pps I’m increasingly passionate about you having a build-your-own-castle brain and heart.

I believe it’s the way that theatre artists (YOU) are going to change our industry.

It’s how the stories and people that have been alienated will find their stage.

I’ll share with you more as I create tools that can help you with this.

For now, my inbox door is open, so please email me and tell me about the castle you’d love to build–what do you dream that theatre can look like when we are in a room together again? Tell me! 🏰

Or just say hey. I love hearing from you.

This is why I’d suck at crime. So I wrote you these poems.

Parenting toddlers means that Melissa and I are swear-word spelling bee ninjas.

We can cuss a blue streak letter by letter faster than Cookie Monster can devour chocolate-sprinkled carbs.

However, the thing about our system that fails is that when Melissa speaks in alphabet code, I’ll reply with,

“Oooooh, so you want to take the boys to the SCIENCE CENTER?” 

We joke that I would suck at a life of crime.

I’d be the one by the getaway car asking the police officer how fast she thought I could get from zero to 90 because, after all, we’re going to need all the horsepower we can get once my accomplices roll out with the loot.

This is why I’m a musical theatre misfit toy. I wanna bring what’s inside to the outside and sing about it for three maybe four mins. 

It’s also why I write poems. 

Here are three that I wrote for you in the last couple weeks.

I hope you’ll let yourself have a moment of slowdown, read one whose title draws your eye, and have a smile or heart-hug moment you wouldn’t’ve had otherwise.

Sparrow in Manhattan

I always remember a story Ghana told me
At work in downtown Manhattan one morning.
She saw a sparrow on a railing. Free
And loud, she sang in celebration adorning
The horn-exhausted air with vibrant chirp-
Chirps! God’s eye was on this creature chanting
Significance into the tiny park. Usurp-
-ing her iron throne was impossible. Just planting
Her feet on another bench would establish her domain.
She sang because she was happy, and Ghana told
Me it made her feel liberated somehow–that hearing
The bird’s song cutting through the cold
Cacophony hugged her with God’s ceaseless nearing.
I heard a bird in Greensboro today and recalled
My friend’s story of this winged singer unwalled. 

Low Hanging Fruit

When I watched A Star is Born with Lady
Gaga and Bradley Cooper, I thought that “Shallow”
Song was really good. During a shady
Walk pushing the stroller watching marshmallow
Clouds in the May sky, I texted an old
Student of mine: “Hey There! Do you know
That “Shallow” song from A Star is Born?” Bold
Choice, I thought, for a pop song in her book to show
Off that top belt range. She politely replied
That she knew it and would check it out. It was kind
Of like when I heard “Someone Like You” and tried
To add it to my rep–what a find!
It worked for comedy once, though–came in handy–
Overdone songs: more than just ear candy. 🙂

Today is Refrain from Terrorizing Yourself Day

Today is Refrain from Terrorizing Yourself Day. 
You get to walk the unfamiliar road 
Of kindness and gentleness toward your soul by way
Of fierce protective honor of the load
You’ve chosen to carry thus far. You 
Can put the pack down now. All that weight
Was not your burden to haul. Walk through
This next stretch barefooted, and meditate
Into the sound of your voice singing a tune
With happy intervals. You believed that sack
You left behind contained supplies you’d soon
Need, not joyless stuff now behind your back.  
Leave it there, and try a skip or leap.
Cartwheels’ll come soon, though not cheap. 

That’s all for today, my fellow sharing what’s inside traveler.

I’ll abstain from secrecy-requiring crimes today if you will.

Always remember there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story that only you can sing.

ps if you just. need. more. poetry. in your life, today’s your lucky day. Can you say bonus sonnet???

Holy Paw Patrol Dance Moment

I park the boys in front of “Paw Patrol” 
When I make their lunch. By the time the shells
Are al dente or the PB and J’s read’ to roll,
Jude runs into the kitchen, his toddler cells
Ready for action. His wide eyes telegraph 
That it’s that time. “Dance please!” he calls and lifts
His sweet sausage-y arms. I have to laugh
And pick him up. This is one of life’s gifts.
When we enter the living room, Noah’s ready
To join the choreo, so I hoist each nugget on a hip
And wait for the pup dispatch jingle.  Steady 
We go, I step-touch and try to keep my grip.  
These boys are always interrupting chores,
Injecting joy, and opening fantastical doors.

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

and 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.

In Celebration of the Imminent Opening of the Greensboro Trader Joe’s: Integrity

First of all…Greensboro is finally getting a Trader Joe’s.

So, we may be a tad excited about this event. It’s like Santa Claus is real, and he’s bringing seasonally appropriate Joe Joe’s cookies for everybody.

I may have listened to the “Inside Trader Joe’s” podcast on my way to school yesterday to re-myelinate those Fearless Flyer neurons.

I am excited!

What I LEARNED by listening to the podcast was that TJ’s has seven core values.

And I thought to myself, “Self, what if an artist were to apply these seven values to his or her life and career?”

So let’s talk about that.

Trader Joe’s version of Drumstick roll, please……()

INTEGRITY: In the way we operate stores and the way we deal with people. Act as if the customer was looking over your shoulder all the time.

You know how your mama told you, “Character is who you are when nobody is looking”?

Whoops, right?

Well, TJ asks their team to pretend that someone is indeed looking.

What if we approached our art and life in the same way?

Even now as I type, I’m looking a lot more professional and focused pretending you’re sitting here scrutinizing my every key stroke.

Cirrus-ly, though.

Integrity speaks of integration. That means what I say, what I believe, and what I value cohere with what I do.

That’s where the somebody’s waaaatchin’ mee-eeeee principle comes in.

We all spot these areas of dis-integration if we’re paying any kind of attention to our behavior–our actions don’t exhibit what we say we want or believe.

Sometimes that means that we actually need to track it back and examine what our values truly are.

We often live on auto-pilot, animated by background software programmed by influencers with whom we never resonated.

That’s why the intonation is off. We’re not in tune.

So if you’re standing in an audition room, and you think your priority is working in the theatre or getting a job, but your real core value is integrity or respect, you won’t be connected to what naturally keeps your fire going.

The real question should be, “How can I integrate my truest values into what I’m doing here today? Into this song, this poem, this dance, this sink full of dishes?”

Let’s take integrity and respect and put them into an audition.

You can enter the room having done the work, learned the sides, made authentic choices rooted in your point of view and your understanding of the author’s intentions.

From there, you can collaborate and offer your heart energetically and generously for the solution to the role you’re playing in that moment.

When you leave the room, you’ve come through for yourself. The outcome is (and has always been) out of your hands.

You feel satisfied that you’ve done excellent work that’s authentic to you and integral to your values. You’ve respected yourself and the table people.

Back to TJ: If you are thinking of how you can best serve your customers in everything you do, how would that change your art? If you think about who it is for, how will that inform what you do?

It’s already highlighting some areas I want to change.

Happy integration, you all! Stay tuned for tomorrow’s value: Product-driven.

***A career coach led me to a great resource that helped me clarify my values. It’s a forced choice matrix that helps things become very clear. Here you go:

And FYI here are my top ten:

1. Faith(17 votes)
2. Peace(16 votes)
3. Gratitude(16 votes)
4. Kindness(15 votes)
5. Significance(13 votes)
6. Trust(13 votes)
7. Wisdom(13 votes)
8. Joy(10 votes)
9. Respect(10 votes)
10. Growth(8 votes)
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