offensively easy singing

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the real reason I went to ballet class 🩰 — and the offensively simple secret to being shiny and stand-outy

I used to go to ballet class. 

Several times a week, I yanked on black tights, a v-neck T, and my dirty white shoes, and I’d sweat it out with all the other dance pilgrims in Anna du Boisson’s 1pm class at Daahnce-works on Balderton Street. 🩰

I found her class in an undergrad semester in London; I was working hard to get my 200+ lb frame to do all the dancey things that all the triple threat BroadWAY philosophy told me I needed if I was gonna get discovered by a West End producer and stay in London for a long career doing show after show at the National Theatre. 

So, there I Tubed 🚇 most weekdays tryina get those pirouettes (and I don’t mean the lovely Pepperidge Farm dunkable biscuit.)

I worked my ass off – Anna even suggested I bring an extra T to change into for center floor (prolly so I wouldn’t sling sweat on my classmates while hurling my skeleton in precarious circles. Sorry errybody.)

There’d be moments holding a balance to Brahms, my leg in some trembling contortion, and my inner voice would scream, “This can’t be this hard, can it? Can it??! Get me ice cream!”

I even captured this moment in a little watercolor a couple years ago:

There may’ve been a part of me that imagined myself song-and-dance-manning across the stage, but the real reasons I kept going to ballet class were –

💙 Anna du Boisson was a generous and loving teacher, and somehow I could remember choreography when she explained it.

🎹 The music was beautiful – dancing with live piano collaboration filled me up. (I still jig around the studio during lessons.)

🤲🏽 And class filled up with kind and loving folk all Tetris’d into the limited barre space in that big studio with the fogged up mirrors.

I wanted to be a better dancer, yes, but there was a reason I made my life work around 1pm Ballet and not 4pm Jazz. 

It also turned out that Anna hired me to come back to London to do a musical version of Little Women that she directed. 

She set me up with a place to live (the Wake family’s attic spare room in their daughter Katie’s retired pink race car bed), somewhere on McFarlane Road –

She welcomed me to stay at her house for the rest of the summer, and treated me to more Pizza Express, bangers and mash at the wine bar, and Sunday roasts courtesy of Marks and Spencer grocery runs than I can count. 

Her ballet school and foundation is now in the former Shepherd’s Bush Village Hall where we had rehearsals (AND where I was once apprehended by a harried BBC employee for a test run of The Weakest Link – I got voted off the island real quick. I think I was also wearing overalls.)



I’ll also never forget what she said to me one day as we rode the 94 Bus around the Marble Arch. It’s made me a better teacher: 

“Often, good teaching is about what you don’t say.”

She was also the first Londoner to share the concept: “Dan, sometimes you’ve got to put your pain in your pocket and carry on.” 

To my 22-year-old mind, that was not at ALL what Julia Cameron said to do in The Artist’s Way, but I’ve learned that, often, your brilliant body just puts your hurt in that lil compartment on the front of your corduroys and says “We’ll deal with that later.”

So, she was right. And thanks, body.

That 1pm ballet class changed my life; the people you put yourself around always do.

Before this explodes into a multi-chapter memoir of my London days entitled Trying to Hug Brits, let me tell you what I was thinking –

While I did love ballet class, and I’m glad I did for the professional and soul benefits – no directors were calling me back for my glissade jeté.

My dance skills were enough to get me through singers-who-move calls.. 

I also experienced a lot of first-round cuts.

(One painfully embarrassing one at the self-same Danceworks when I couldn’t understand the audition monitor’s West Yorkshire dialect. I thought I had indeed been invited back into the room. Nope. Joops.)

But what I want to say to you is this: If you love going to ballet class, go. Enjoy and love it like I did.

But if you’re on a get-all-my-skills-to-the-same-level-so-I’m-marketable-and-can-do-all-the-things train, I’m gonna suggest you alight at the next station and get yourself a cup of tea and a chocky bicky.

Thing is, if you’re focused on getting your leg higher than, turning more times than, screaming higher frequencies than, being choice-ier than …. You’re competing on comparables, and many of them quite subjective.

I want you to think about a theatre artist you truly admire.

Got em?

Ok, now I want you to think about their skill set. What do they do well?

Do they tick all those quintuple threat boxes the college prep folks told you you needed if you wanted to go to Michigan?

I’m gonna bet the answer is no. 

Did they get a broad range of diverse training that informs everything they do? Probably.

When you try to compete on skills like you’re an athlete playing a game with objective rules, you disappear yourself.

When you celebrate and lean into the things that make you light up, you light up. 

The work that’s meant for you finds you, or you have the clarity to create it, and you stop obscuring your light trying to be and do all the things.

Take a moment to ask yourself, “What truly gives me energy? What’s a cup filler, and what’s a drainer?”

Focus on your fillers.

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

Love much,

Dan

ps a lil walk-n-talk about your strengths from the IG this week

And if you’re not already step-touching at the Calla-gram party, touch that Follow button and join us!

pps and while you’re on the IG, do you follow Tabitha Brown? She always rolls in with that word you need when you need it– 🔥💙🙏

How can this be easier?

You know about Clifton StrengthsFinder? It’s an assessment tool that’s a locator of your easy things.

Every time I’ve shaken its Magic 8 Ball, one attribute always features first.

No, (blush), it’s not magnanimity, wisdom, or humility. Thank you, though. I’m humbled.

It’s Input. 🤖

When I was a kid, my version of “You’re not the boss of me” was, “You’re not the TEACHER!” 

Or [tɛɪi-tʃəɹɹɹɹɹ] for an International Phonetic Alphabet transcription of my Surry County tot-twang.

See? I even IPA my hills-n-hollers cradle dialect. Input.

I collect data like it’s my 4th grade rock menagerie, and I’m mystified when my exuberant educational evangelism yields glazed eyes and grocery list contemplation in the listener.

Lordt, I’m remembering one of the first academic classes I taught and the informational firehose I pumped out (via Power Point, of course).

No wonder one of the student reflections stated, “Lectures were boring.” Not to ME! I overworked HARD on those rabbit trails about the Princess Musicals and Dorothy Parker! 

And now we arrive at the jammed junction where Clifton Strength meets Callaway Cluster.

If I can make it harder, I will.

I own the bizarro version of the Staples Easy Button–

–a Rube Goldberg contraption of levers, gears, and pulleys, and when the little ball bearing lands in the cup at the end, a voice exclaims, “That was satisfyingly complex!”

I don’t mind taking one sock down to add to the laundry only to realize I left the songbook on the steps. No worries. I’ll just take that downstairs, too, while I leave the iPad on the kitchen table for a separate trip to the charger. 

Doesn’t frustrate me in the least. 

This week I tormented my soul trying to select an online scheduler that could accept credit cards, send automatic reminders, and julienne sweet potato fries; I knew the wrong software would lead to the imminent demise of everything.

So I toiled and brewed, becoming the person attacked by Tupperware on an infomercial before the low-larynx voiceover intones, “Introducing…💫” 

The irony is not lost: I subject myself to a morass of brain complexity and fantasy flow chart in search of a magical system that promises simplicity. “You just teach and let us do the rest.” 🤯

I knew what I needed to do.

(thanks to a Marie Forleo podcast one time about how to get your head to stop yelling at you.)

I got on the elliptical machine I was super resistant to us buying and has turned out to be a body and brain saver. Thanks, Melissa-Lee. 

After fifteen minutes, a lotta sweat drops, and answering questions from lil Jude about dinosaurs and what’s ewwiptical mean? in ragged two-word fragments, things started to clear up.

I didn’t need the software.

I needed paper and pen.

Complication was my way of getting in my way.

Do you have a thing like that?

A tricky moth-to-flame resistance activity that claims you’re making progress while you know you’re wheel-spinning and slinging mud on your windshield? 

Lemme tell you what my complexity movie montages backed by Avil Lavigne’s 2002 chart-topper do for me.

I bet your own clever machinations will become clearer to you, too.

It protects me from ease.

Why would you wanna be protected from ease? That’s crazy.

Yep. 

Making things hard upholds an early belief I crafted —  I get everything through hard work. (This includes love and acceptance.)

Even miraculously free and un-earnable things like breath (I know how to do it well because I’m a singer) or health (I eat this, and I exercise this way) become star charts. 

I’m a poor vacationer, board game player, and mid-day movie watcher. I’m working on it.

It keeps me out of action and away from the unknown.

When I was in the UK, I never even crossed the Channel.

You know why? I didn’t want to go anywhere I didn’t speak the language, and I woulda been lost in Spain, anyway.

My need to KNOW things and LOOK like I knew was consuming.

And who cared? Ding ding ding — moi. 

It shields me from rejection, being a beginner, and feeling inept.

Offering anything to anybody means they could say no. So, if you don’t offer, they can’t say no. Opening yourself to any kind of response from folks — same.

And when you try something new, even if it’s a new version of something you’ve done for years, you have the just-born fawn stumble going on for a while.

What if we cheered ourselves on like a grandparent claps for their 13-month-old grandbaby standing, stepping, stumbling, and standing again? We’d probably get moving with a lot less self-inflicted cortisol. 

I think I need to look fancy.

On our road trip back from NC, Noah took on a regal identity when he donned the Burger King crown he picked up in Staunton, Virginia. Together with one of Gram’s necklaces he couldn’t resist taking as a souvenir, he knew he was looking special.

When he climbed into the back seat after lunch, he asked, “Daddy, do you think all those people knew I was a king?”

“I’m sure they did, buddy.”

And how is keen sense of audience perception an inheritable trait? 🧬

I’ve added bells and whistles to my business that I don’t need because I think they look impressive. It’s the equivalent of financing a car you can’t afford so that you look like you have more money than you do. 

So, now I’m writing my active client and waiting list down on a super simple couple pages in my bullet journal, and it’s like a life changing magic of complexity release moment. Sparks all kinds of joy not to mention freedom, relief, and as intensely uncomfortable as it is, EASE.

I leave you with this.

If you can remember to ask yourself this question for life AND singing, things can go pretty well:

How can this be easier?

And if there’s no practical way to make something easier, how can you go easier? On you and everybody around you?

I think this is what we have to ask ourselves in 2023. Things aren’s getting easier on their own, so how can you walk through with love and tenderness toward you and the world you’re connected to?

Moving through like that, you’ll share more. And that’s good because I do believe with all my heart that there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,
dan

ps If you want to know more about Clifton StrenghtFinder (or their new rebrand as CliftonStrengths), it’s here.

pps If you ever have presentations to make or talks to give, I recommend any and all of Echo Rivera’s resources.  Her stuff saved me from creating more death by power point. Another terrific resource for teaching and talking is Dr. Patrick Wilson’s talk at MIT. Together we can end Power Point abuse. 

ppps Please do yourself a huge favor and watch this. 🎹💙 This feature from CBS Sunday Morning made my week. It’s just 2 and a half minutes, and your soul will say thank you. There is good and beauty in the world. 

Your trigger triggered my trigger — trigger warning: triggers (with a side of Hangrytown)

The Calla-clan went over the Delaware, Potomac and James rivers and through allll the woodses to Gram’s house in NC.

We piled into the house where the hardware’s still off the bathroom door my younger brother donkey-kicked when we were in fifth grade,

and where the cow pasture behind us used to be the tobacco field where we hurled red clay clumps at each other in our GI Joe simulations. (Many a noggin was knocked by a hidden hunk of quartz.)

The 2-day drive down was good, and our lil nuggets named themselves the Road Rangers.

They did miles better than I did on road trips as a kid — my patience petered by Lake Norman when we took summer trips to Carowinds. Even the promise of the Scooby Doo Roller Coaster couldn’t temper my impatience with my legs sticking to the blue vinyl back seat of the Ford Fairmont station wagon. 

One crucial operational duty you have to manage on road trips with a 3- and 4-year-old: snack management. 

Once glycemic indices fluctuate, you have a brief window to mitigate a detour onto Hangrytown Highway.

(We refer to the the passenger seat occupant on road trips as “The Snack Bitch.”)

We wended our way through the interminable Commonwealth of Virginia, witnessed the potentialities of human behavior when subject to just 2 lanes on the interstate, and the under-fives weren’t the only denizens of Hangrytown occupying the motor. 

I rode snack-gun while Melissa landed us at lunchtime.

Grace Patricia (GPS’s first and middle names) began to exhibit decision fatigue, so I asserted my navigational insight while the boys decided their Magna-Doodles would make great seat-back bludgeons.

An ambulance whizzed by, and motorists executed ill-considered left turns out of the nearby Sheetz.

“Turn right here, and that’ll get you back to the light you need,” I offered.

Melissa proceeded straight.

“Turn right here. Here!”

No turn.

“Now we missed it.”

Why was nobody LISTENING to me????

A knot cinched my growly stomach and slung a lasso up around the back of my tongue.

My guts stomped and silent-screamed — much like my four-year-old recurring nightmare of Darth Vader slinging me over his shoulder and carrying me out the door while my Mom and Dad smiled and waved, “Have a good time :).”

No one was listening to me!

Melissa telescoped her focus on the road, turned right on an actual road and then safely U-turned. It was later than the one I said she should make, and I barked as much.

The car climate shifted from frenetic to stormy.

Melissa’s face looked like I’d just thrown her chocolate peanut butter ice cream cone on the sidewalk. I’d hurt her feelings.

I saw this with my eyes and ascertained it with my brain, and in my four-year-old Darth Vader capture moment, I was incapable of meeting her there.

Empathy was as distant as everything on Interstate 81 — stuck between an 18-wheeler and the Buick Lacrosse with the Texas plates who needed to BACK OFF.

With tears behind her eyes, Melissa said to me, “You’d think after the weeks we’ve had–all the packing, planning, cleaning, wrapping, wrangling — the exhaustion I’m feeling right now — the OVERSTIMULATION. I literally couldn’t hear you with all that was happening.

“I just hoped you’d have a little more understanding with where I am.” 

Shit

I heard her. Her words made sense.

I was still 4, though, and no one freaking listens.

Lunch was a little shut down and sad, and the next several miles down the highway, too. 

I said a couple things about “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings…” and “If you just understood…”, and when I realized I sounded like the grade-A narcissist the YouTube Psychologist warned us about, I got quiet.

Melissa folded her arms and leaned toward the passenger side window. Get your own snacks, everybody.

Finally, I said, “Sweetie, I’m sorry. I hurt your feelings. My trigger triggered your trigger. I couldn’t pull myself out of my reactivity. I’m working on it.”

We’ve learned after nearly 10 years married that we need a little time to come through our respective feeling swamps. We held hands, closed our mouths for a while, and bought some time pumping the Encanto soundtrack. 

You ever been there?

Something happened, and before you knew it, the floor vanished, you didn’t know which end was up, and something akin to imminent soul death gripped you like monster vines?

It’s happened to me more times than I can count. 

In Melissa’s case, I didn’t SEE her when she needed to be seen, met, and understood. 

For me, I didn’t feel like anybody was listening. 

For both little Melissa and little Dan, very tender wounds got punched.

You got any places in your little-hood when you desperately needed someone just to see you? To listen when you tried to tell a big person something was terribly wrong? 

Makes a lot of sense that folks with deep longings to be seen and heard become singers, right?

Or teachers. 

As you can see from my road trip trigger-sode, I’m working on it.

And there are things that’ve helped me, too.

Here are a few:

Sometimes you’re going to be an asshole. Try as you might, there will be times when you get sucked down the wormhole to your wounded whatever-year-old self.

These moments are necessary.

They take you to the place that needs your compassion and understanding.

They also make you realize most of us are walking around with hurting five-year-old selves in need of a hug. (especially that Buick Lacrosse driver who I still hope gets pulled over and ticketed SOMEwhere. I need justice!)

The work you need to do feels a lot like rest, and it’s scary as hell. When painful reference points leap up and grab you, the first thing we want to do is smush, suppress, DE-press.

Por qué? Because you probably had a precious caregiver who had to smush and suppress, too, so they weren’t able to let you cry on through, scream on through, or experience a full emotional cycle.

You didn’t get to experience the fact that a big feeling comes, your body cries, shakes, or yells, and then it stops.

Most of us stick ourselves in the stage of suffocating the onset of emotion. Makes sense — if your big person couldn’t handle your feels, you learned how to dull them. No one likes feeling rejected or too-much.

Here’s where the rest part comes in. I’ve found that when the stuff comes up, it’s important to let it do it’s thing. Meet it and yourself with the willingness to understand, with the compassion you’d offer a dear friend.

You don’t need to understand. In fact, it may be best just to let your body make some sensations, breathe through them, and then make yourself some tea.

We get into trouble when we try to work it all out with our noggins. There are all kinds of things my brain understands; just because I understand how a bicycle works doesn’t mean I can ride one.

and last — 

Open up to the gift that’s there. The hurts I walk with tenderize me. They’ve worked compassion into my heart, and they’ve opened my ears and my soul. I wouldn’t be the husband, dad, or teacher I am without them. 

I’ve howled, cried, raged, screamed, pounded my fists, and asked plenty of whys, and I’ve had enough time and miracles to look back and see beauty in how the stained bandage threads cross each other and wove quite the picture. 

Learning how to feel things has helped me show my students that they can too. I often say, “It’s just crying.” Not to minimize the experience, but to remind us that crying starts and crying ends. Just like a song.

And I want you to remember that there is in fact only one you, and folks do need to hear the story that only you can sing. May need to cry and laugh through some things as you work on it; that’s just the love in the recipe. The most important ingredient.

love much,
dan

ps I’ve been listening to several interviews with Dr. Gabor Mate recently, and his latest book The Myth of Normal sounds like an essential read for all of us. He points out so many things about the water we’re swimming in, usually unaware that it’s been polluted. I’m wondering more and more what I can do about that. Go search on YouTube.

pps And two of my FAVORITE hearts and thinkers talked to EACH OTHER recently. Brené Brown interviewed Father Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation. Here’s Episode One of the two-parter, “On Breathing Underwater, Falling Upward, and Unlearning Certainty.”

ppps You need a lesson? I got some time. Skewl doesn’t kick back in for a couple of weeks, so if you want to sing or work something out, email me back, and we’ll make a time. 🎵 Just hit reply 🙂 

Multipurpose Pepperoni — when Rhode Islanders, dinner plans, and cured meats collide

Happy Holidays! 🌴

We visited Nana and Pappy in Ft. Myers, Florida, this week. 

It’s been Christmas music at the pool, tinsel-clad golf carts, and this alligator sunning himself by a roadside lagoon.

Nope nope noooope. Give me the rogue wild turkey gang roaming the stone walled curves of Ashland, Mass, any day.

One feature of belonging to Melissa’s family — the Italian DNA is profondo. 

This means that as you’re washing down your cinnamon raisin English muffin with your last swigs of coffee, someone’s asking, “What’re we doing for dinner?”

One evening the choice was pizza. Or pizzer. They’re Rhode Islanders. (The [r] rules are complex.)

When the plan was set, Nana’s eyes widened atop big smile, and she skipped back to the pantry. She emerged with a substantial pepperoni sausage she held aloft like a drum major.

“We can use THIS!” she proclaimed. 

Despite the fanfare, homemade pizzer plans met a veto in favor of pickup and paper plates. But Nana had introduced the pepperoni as a symbolic fixture for this family visit.

Jude immediately recognized the cured meat’s bellicose/phallic implications and concocted a yet-to-be-introduced Marvel Universe identity wielding the deli item like a (Dr.) strange cylindrical flesh hammer.

He’d already been taunting his older brother about his toy fire truck’s ladder length. This stuff’s cellular, apparently. Boys, you both have nice fire trucks. 

Later in the week, we hung the piñata Aunty Krissy brought from Mexico in the front yard so the boys could get out some energy and dig for the strewn contents among the St. Augustine grass. 

We searched the garage for the best paper mache thwacking implement — a broom handle? the light bulb changer thingy? the grill brush? Someone please get the grill brush out of Jude’s hands. 

But who knew that the perfect safe and effective piñata demolition device would be a cross-cultural salumi? 

The peppeRONE. 

Loofas, Pez dispensers, and candy canes flew, and the meat log served a surprising purpose.

Then, on our last morning, the boys were bouncing around shenanigizing as usual. Noah slipped on Nana’s cushy carpet, and his lower lip met the corner of her stylish mosaic coffee table. 

There was blood and tears. 🙁

As I doctored Noah’s lip and patted his back, Jude barreled out of the pantry door once again wielding the titanic tube. “Here you go, Noah! This’ll feel you better!”

The two boys laughed and laughed, and it was the best moment — seeing your lil nuggets share a joke and see how one can help the other in his own way.

The pizza topper was soon weaponized again.

All this to say —

You never know when you’ve got a pepperoni just hanging out in your pantry that can 1. spark your imagination, 2. bust open a piñata, and 3. make your bestie laugh when their lip’s bleeding. 

Every tool we have can be used in tons of ways, so when you’re working your way through a hairy situation with your singing or otherwise, that thing you do for your breathing might help you with your belting, and that thing you do with your belting might just help you with your head voice vibrato action.

Try stuff. 

And if you just need a good laugh, take a look at Jude menacing you with a pepperoni in Joy jammies.

Most of all, though, remember, there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much,
dan

ps speaking of warfare salami, do you know about Steven Pressfield? Author of The War of Art. Terrific book and helpful tools to recognize and transcend resistance. He did and interesting interview with Tim Ferris recently. I recommend. 

pps I’m sharing regularly on the social channels, so if you’re not already there, come to my party! IG is here. FB is here. Read. Listen. Comment. Send me messages.

The enjoyment of yoooooouuuuu — three words I’ve been saying that’ve been game changey

You know I’m a rooster riser — about 4:58am my brain sings “Good Moooorniiiing,” and promptly delivers me a list of things I should begin working on IMMEDIATELY.

🧠: “You set up the coffee last night, right? Good. That’ll save us some time. You can bang out a few pages of that novel you’ve been meaning to start. before the boys wake up Then you can declutter that cabinet with the lemonade jugs and dehydrator. Oh. You didn’t set up the coffee. This sets us back, but we can pivot. We can always pivot.”

Meanwhile Melissa’s next to me with her normal-person circadian rhythms all like, “What’s going ON over there?”

I sneak out of our room and tiptoe the Mission Impossible route from our door down the stairs to dodge the especially echo-y floorboards that reverb into the boys’ room. (Jude inherited my is-it-morning??? gene.)

Most of the time, the coffee will be in the cup, and I’ll be down to bidess putting out an email fire (when I planned to answer messages only AFTER I did some creative work). Just when I’m like, “Okay enough procrastination station, let’s DO THIS, clickety clickety clickety…..” I hear it.

The drop of the Cookie Monster water cup from the twin bed overhead.

Like the distant Orc drums echoing in Khazad Dum after one of the Hobbits dropped the clanky bucket down the old well in Fellowship of the Ring. 

Here ends the morning quiet.

The boys have a wakeup clock that turns green when it’s time for them to come downstairs in the morning, but as well as they can sometimes read their Sesame Street dictionaries until it’s officially 6am, there’s usually a lost plush toy emergency or urgent dream update that calls me upstairs. 

When I’m dogged about the morning’s task — it MUST be completed!!! — these interruptions irritate me like a “One Lane Ahead” sign at rush hour behind a school bus.

But the other morning I got a lil revelashawn.

I was scrawling down a few thoughts in my bullet journal. (I’ve been doing this write-down-five-dreams exercise in the morning, and it’s simultaneously awesome and gut dredging, so my brain was all wiggle waggle.)

It was jury day at school, and I had all manner of oh-dookey-I-forgot-all-about-that-loose-end thoughts nattering around in my noggin that then avalanched into holidays-then-next-year things, and before I knew it I was a decade down the road, age 55, and I still hadn’t turned in that syllabus to Academic Affairs!

Then I slowed my roll and asked myself a question — what do you want for this holiday season and after?

And I wrote, “I want the days to be enjoyable, loving, and connected.” 

Then I wrote down, “Enjoy. Love. Connect.”

And I’m here to tell you these three words have helped. 

When I’m feeling annoyed, perturbed, or agitated, I say to myself, “Enjoy,”

and after I roll my eyes at myself, I’ll notice,

“this clean, warm water coming out of this faucet is pretty neat.” or

“the way Noah’s pretending to be a pirate karate master and saying ‘hi-yarrrrrr!’ is pretty cute,” or

“this triggered argument I’m having with Melissa right now because I didn’t know she left her phone in the car, and she waited outside the Market Basket at madhouse rush time in 25-degree weather waiting for me to pick her up for 15 minutes is a great example of how we get super cross with each other and say sorry and hug. That’s a big deal, the whole sorry-forgive process.”

I’ve remembered to say these words to myself about 35% of the time, and that percentage of life has been sweeter.

This also happens to be a terrific thing to say to yourself when you sing. 🎵 Enjoy, 💙 love, 🤗 connect.

Try it out in all the places. I can’t always remember it or find something immediately enjoyable, but when I notice something to appreciate, the sweetness factor increases.

And that’s what I want for you, especially in the tricksy month of December. 

And if these three words don’t resonate with you, you can try the three that my student Hammond and I came up with for them with this week: Werk, slay, serve. 🙂 

What I DO know is that I enjoy you, I love writing to you, and it’s a treat to get to connect to you like this.

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

Love much,
dan

ps This was a terrific interview from the Mel Robbins podcast with Dr. Becky Kennedy about triggers and the body’s memory. I found it tremendously helpful.

pps Last week’s Tell me bout it Tuesday was about ways we can move air out of our face. There’s more than one way to exhale when we sing. That’s here.

ppps Are you watching 1899 on Netflix?? It’s trippy, and my jaw dropped more than a few times. Very well constructed. We’re now watching the creators’ previous show Dark which is also masterfully constructed and so crasssszy. I recommend if you’re into brain bendy thrillers. 

faily dailure — sad trombones, splayed omelettes, and other paths to personal victory

Any control issues I’ve managed to work out via therapy, divine intervention, or cookies remain firmly entrenched in the kitchen. 

Just ask Melissa whose anxiety meter hits red zone whenever she enters a three foot radius while I’m chopping parsley.

My brothers’ romantic partners have reported similar phenomena, so it’s clearly genetic and, therefore, not my fault.

This morning, I was making an omelette in my prized oversized commercial pan from Ocean State Job Lot.

I’d missed the boys’ second breakfast window, and after several skirmishes over who would possess the one T-Rex to rule them all, Jude was belting “I’m huuuungry” on slide-y scales with a very draggy soft palate.

I sang the Daniel Tiger reminder song — “When you wait 🎵, you can play🎵, sing or imagine anything🎵.”

But my glucose-depleted 2-year-old was not feeling the calming tunes.

EEEGGGGSSSS!

Breathe, Daddy, breathe.

The omelette finally set on the bottom, so I hauled the pan over to the sink to execute my best Julia Child skillet flip.

One. Two….

Daddy I’m huuungry

One. Tw…..

Daaadddyyyyyy

One. Two. Three. FLIP!

And somehow, I managed to hurl one third of the wet-on-top omelette out of the pan and splatter it across the countertop and floor.

Daaaddddyyyyy!

Three. Two, One…..🤯

You know that scene in Sweeney Todd when he’s about to slit Judge Turpin’s throat, and Anthony runs in?

I was Sweeney post bleed-block.

Melissa scuttled the boys out of the kitchen, and I sputtered out a different Daniel Tiger song while I wet some paper towels.

For me, parenting points my face straight into the gaping chasm of abject failure:

I lose my shit; I get sarcastic; I expect my 2- and 4-year-old boys to have fully functioning prefrontal cortices.

Mid-fail, I usually hear a low whispery Instagram influencer voice in my mind’s ear: “Your boys need you to help them co-regulate.”

I roll my eyes at the imaginary frenemy and retort, “How’m I sposed to co-regulate anybody when I can’t regulate mySELF?”

Failure and I are on familiar terms:

I’ve snotted and cried through voice lessons, heaved and sobbed in front of class strangers, and yodel-cracked A-flats in front of paying audiences. 

And that’s just the list from the artist zone. I haven’t even enumerated my interpersonal/relational explosions.

But, parenting’s been the daily express train to the end of me. Like, by 8:30am. 

And, being Daddy to these lil nuggets is one of the the great privilege-miracles of my life.

What’s a thing you know (like my control freak DNA :)) you arrived on this planet downloaded to do?

And what’s the thing about your transcendent wiring that presses your nose into failure on the regular?

The thing about it that’s at once divine and sucky is that these failure spots are where the gold is.

For me, parental eye rolls, sarcasm, and impatience point all fingers back to the places where I talk to myself like dookie. 

It also highlights the places where I say no to myself for no good reason.

Because I said so! 

This is creative ideas, projects, the show that needs to get on its feet for a workshop.

So, thank you oversized omelette flip meltdown.

The other healing (or as Jude says, heawing) comes when I say, “Buddy, I lost my patience. I’m working on it. Will you please forgive me?”

Hug. “I love you, Daddy.” 

What if we said that to ourselves, too?

Hey buddy, I’m sorry I grounded you that time and said you couldn’t even sit down and write down a list of songs you might wanna sing for that cabaret. 

And I apologize for the time I wouldn’t even let you audition for that show because I told you you weren’t what they were looking for anyway. Way harsh. 

I think we might be onto a very hea(w)ing practice — the apology to ourselves.

I’ll write the folks at Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and suggest a new life hack jingle.

Yeah, I’ve yet to discover the fame, success, and ice cream path to deep life satisfaction and lasting learning. When I do, you’ll be the first to know which brand of Moose tracks did the trick. 

But until then, just remember there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Much love,

Dan

ps If there were a day of song magic in NYC this summer

(Song Magic: simple ways to be sparkly, noncompete-able you; offensively simple story-technique tools; and a home-cooked meal)

would you be into that? 

If yes, just click this and hit send

pps Have you seen Physical on Apple TV+? It’s so well done. Terrific writing, and an artful deep dive into the art of toxic self-talk. 

Also, my pal Deirdre Friel does terrific work. She and I did a production of Cinderella back in the DAY at Arkansas Rep. She played one of the stepsisters, and she decided the reason she was so miserable was because she suffered from a perpetual cold. She also played piano and harmonized with me for a CD of hymns I recorded for my Papa when he was in his final days and I couldn’t get home. These are the things show folk do together. At any rate, it’s terrific to see friends who work hard and do great work get recognized. 

ppps And if you wanna jump in on some NYC song magic and food, email me back.

Vengeance Prayers — magical thinking, deaf virtuosity, and gratitude 🤟🏽

I’ve been tracking the Russian invasion of Ukraine this week like when I was a kid counting stair steps, avoiding sidewalk cracks, or ensuring my left foot made the same amount of sneaker taps as my right under my second grade desk.

I assured myself these behaviors directly influenced outcomes in my 8-year-old universe.

I’m refreshing the Washington Post app several times an hour, checking the YouTubes for people who might know what they’re talking about, and praying vengeful prayers.

When I see the video of a Ukrainian woman telling an American reporter that she’s staying in Kyiv because it’s her home, that it’s Russia that needs to leave, I feel justice and shaking fists rise up in my throat.  

I’ve been asking God to supercharge the Ukrainian people like the Avengers and imagining school teachers in Kharkiv taking up rocket launchers and taking out invading tank lines.

I’m so angry this is happening.

I think about the busloads of traumatized, silent refugees disembarking at the borders, crowds of folks who were taking their children to nursery school last week now trying to figure out how to get food and keep it together in front of their toddlers while others stay behind. 

I think about my lucky life–how my direct encounters with war are limited to a family friend lost in Afghanistan and others bearing the emotional toll after making it back home.

I remember singing “War is a Science” in Pippin back in the day with Deaf West Theatre.

Charlemagne broke down the battle plan to his soldiers–human lives reduced to color-coded action figures. Then followed “Glory” with a finale of axed-off limbs falling from the fly space.

Easy to be wry and satirical about war when you’re in costumes under lights in a climate controlled theatre.

When you’re in it, the irony explodes, and you’re left with the realities of demolished lives. 


I’m gonna take a gratitude detour and celebrate the man in the picture above.

That’s Troy Kotsur who just won the SAG Award for Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role. I was telling you about him back in August


Ever since I got to collaborate with Troy in Pippin, he’s been my actor hero. 

He turned words on a page into magic in the air.

​Troy taught me that a script wasn’t a fixed rules-y document, but a terrific sandbox with tons of toys.

I’m a very ear-based singer and actor. I always start with how things sound. I mean, duh, I’m a voice teacher. 👂 So, watching Troy craft visual wizardry out of the printed word was new territory.

He tweaked signs all the way through the run, and he’d wave me down after our scenes to see how the audience responded.

I think we dissected about seventeen different iterations of the line, “Lewis is an asshole.” I had no idea there there were that many versions of an expletive in ASL. 

Troy also had jokes.

One day in rehearsal he caught my attention from across the room and spoke-signed, “Your voice. It’s sooo beautiful. It makes me cry.”

As he traced a sincere tear down his cheek, I began to say, “Awww, thank y….” Doh! 

That wasn’t the only time he got me. Let’s just say he wasn’t one to implicitly trust for ASL education. 

What I loved the most about Troy, though, was his passion and enjoyment of every line of the story. He showed me words were symbols that hold the place of what we really mean, and there are all kinds of ways to paint those pictures.

It’s also terrific to see someone who’s worked so hard and taken so many leaps in an industry that’s not all open doors get much-deserved recognition. (He’s received an Academy Award nom now among many other honors–go Troy!)


So, I just wanna tell you how grateful I am.

I’m grateful I get to write this email to you.

I’m grateful I get to be annoyed by my boys’ shenanigans rather than grasping to figure out how I’m going to keep my family safe in the face of an armed invasion. 

I’m grateful for lungs that breathe, legs that walk, eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that can love.

And I’m believing that anger-filled eight-year-old magical thinking vengeance prayers can get translated into something useful in the heaven-sphere.

And I know for sure that there’s only one you, and folks need to hear the story only you can sing.

Love much, 
Dan

ps Here’s a link to a WaPo article with links to places you can donate to help Ukraine.  

pps I love this 4-second video of Troy finding out he got a BAFTA nomination. Listen for him laughing at the end :). Here’s an LA Times article about our collaboration on Pippin. And here’s a gorgeous monologue from Cyrano. I’ve always been a fan. 👏🏼🙌

Meet Me in NYC? 🥯 — and what’s that on my butt?

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

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

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

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

No memory.

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

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

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

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

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

Interpersonal? It got the person to leave you alone?

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

So then you hit repeat. And again.

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

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

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

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

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

How about your singing?

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

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

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

I have a solution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love spotting beautiful things around Boston.

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

And give yourself a gentle listen for the answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love much,
Dan

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

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

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

I Love Me Some Frying, but Not This. 🥓 And why I had to stop listening to a certain radio station. 🎙

Hey You Phonation Phenom

I stopped listening to NPR.

It wasn’t the news coverage.

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

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

It was none of those things.

It was the vocal fry.

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

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

But really, it was the fry.

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

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

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

Vocal fry is un-generous.

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

This is porque. 

Some rill quick anatomy and physiology for you—

🙌Phonation = vocal folds come close together. 

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

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

✈️It’s also what makes airplanes fly.

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

And, like, I can’t even.

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

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

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

I reach out. I connect. 

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

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

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

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

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

It’s about the impulse and intention to communicate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the love for you this week. 

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

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

Love much,
Dan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pps Here are the links to other things mentioned:

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

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

I used to drive to Van Nuys every weekday morning.

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

It was depressing as hell. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just stopped working on the project. 

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

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

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

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

You know the square peg round hole thing, right? 

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

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

What about you?

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

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

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

I learned a ton at the Community Health Center. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know how I know? This is how.

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

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

Me, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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