who designs your life?

“It takes as long as it takes,” my singing teacher used to tell me in his supportively annoying fashion. “There is no substitute for time and experience.”

Yeah, well, it is hard to think that the skill you are attempting to integrate, the new habits you are attempting to establish, the new way of thinking you are struggling to adopt… will take time. Lots of time, lots of practice. Day after day, month after month, year after year.

We can feel oppressed about the nature of human learning and the process of becoming more than who we were, or we can see it as a journey we are meant to take. As the old cliché goes… “what do you mean it will take me 10 years to be pretty good at (insert goal here)? Do you know how old I will be??” Answer: “And how old will you be if you don’t?”

Today, my knees have scars from all the times I have fallen flat on my face, not even knowing why I staggered, so asleep, so wounded that, in a sense, falling seemed right. Seemed like all I could do well. You don’t know the hours I have spent in the dark night of the soul, despairing. Even now I can’t tell you why we are here, or why we hurt each other, or why we can’t seem to get things right. All I know is that the gift of this life is a precious thing and I’m damned if I’m going to lose a moment of it.

So I struggle to get things right. Every day is a journey with bumps and turns and challenges. Sometimes I feel a light glowing inside, and I’m able to be grateful for the work at hand and questions I am able to answer. It’s funny how time seems to ebb and flow over the course of the day. One minute, you are thinking, “OMG, 3 hours more…” and the next minute you are thinking how much you are enjoying what you’re doing. As long as it isn’t the dishes.

I’m reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” right now, and got out a notebook & filled up a page with all the things in my brain that I think I have to get done sometime. I tried to just write it down and get it out of me and put it on the page, haphazardly, without giving anything priority. He’s right in one thing he says – half the stress I feel is getting this brain drain from knowing there are things to be done, and being terrified I’ll forget them. To do lists and calendars help, but it’s not everything. I like the idea of getting every single thing you need to do out of you and down somewhere where you can trust you will see it. Next, ask ‘why’ you need to do it. And then figure out what the next step should be.

I’m thinking I’ll start some sort of project based sheet system, where I take a sheet of paper, head it up with an item – like “groceries” – and then add all the things that go around the grocery thing. Like, cleaning the fridge, and ordering organics, getting out to the store, and maybe even the grocery list itself. Or “music” with a list of the projects I’m working on (and who with), and exactly where I am in the process – waiting for the other person to get me some music, or needing to research styles, or what.

My problem is what to do with those sheets once I’ve got them going. I wish I could paste them all up on a wall so they’d be visible, but I think that’s impossible. So maybe I’ll create a work binder.

One thing that I still have difficulty with is the personal items. When I was on a coaching call a while back, they were talking about independent artists and time management. One thing they pointed out is that you need to include the personal stuff on your task list. I’d never thought of that. Prior to that, I had been feeling very guilty about thinking that it would be nice if I could afford a housecleaning service or had someone to pick up my groceries. I still struggle with that idea, but I know that housework, laundry, groceries, are like anvils around my neck, pulling me down. Just not my favorite things to do and yet, without them, the ship doesn’t really sail very well. But I’m working on trying to get these things into my schedule. And actually do them, too.

I included on my big brainstorming list everything from figuring out when & how to do laundry (Tuesday, get a ride to the Laundromat from my band-mate after rehearsal, take the bus home) to organizing stuff for my summer holiday (call sis & make an appointment for a shopping trip, get to Zellers, buy the totes & tarps), to the book I want to write (find all the notes I already have and put them in one place).

As a self-employed artist/teacher/mentor/writer/etc, I am the architect of my own days. I may take on projects, or mentor students, but I am the one structuring my time and my tasks. It was not an easy transition, going from years of school or working in an office, with structure that was imposed, to being the one responsible for creating what happens and when. Especially when you are a creative person who likes to “play”. Although I have achieved a fair bit, I am aware that I often flounder.

So I’m trying to overcome my sense of drowning in the details, and get very clear. Why? Because I want to live as fully as possible and grow beyond my programming and become more than I could have ever dreamed.

I just don’t want to wake up one day and be 92, lying in my bed, stroking the cat, looking through the window at a hill I never had the courage to climb. I want to be the day dreamer who realized her dreams. If that means getting someone else to do the laundry, count me in.

going where you need to go

You know how you have ups and downs in your life? I’m sure you do. Sometimes I question everything. So much time gone by. So many mistakes made. I’m just a human being, doing the best I can. I’m not perfect, I have flaws. I have regrets. There are things I wish I’d done differently and things I wish I did better. Sometimes I wonder if I have anything to offer. Sometimes I wonder if I know anything at all. Sometimes I wonder where I am going. I feel my way along, tentatively and trembling, trusting my inspiration to lead me. Sometimes in my search for meaning and for connection, I choose the wrong words.

The peril of being a writer of sorts is to feel more comfortable with the written word than speech. Reading, and re-reading, until you comprehend. Writing, and editing, until the words seem to fit what you are trying to say. Even as I write this I have no idea where I am going. Like many things I do, I just start.

I have a general plan – “let’s go this way” I point vaguely, encouraging myself. I figure if I keep putting one foot in front of the other – or one word after another – somewhere along the line, things will make sense.

Like when I paint. Other people might draw a scene over and over, even planning the perspective, drawing the horizon out, mapping the whole thing, before they pick up a brush to transfer their image to canvas. Me? I get out a big brush, choose a colour, dab at it, and attack the canvas. I have no idea what I’m going to paint. I just start. I ‘follow the brush’.

Really my whole life these past dozen years or so has been like that. I just start. I just pick up a pack of watercolours & some watercolour paper, and paint a first picture. I just start writing music, for fun, with a friend… I just start writing a script as a personal challenge. I just throw on a costume, turn on the web cam, and start improvising. I just start writing a blog, not knowing what I will be saying at all.

People often say to me, “Vikki, you do so much.” “You do so many things.” They seem to envy my productivity. It doesn’t feel extraordinary to me, it’s just what I do. But, when I think about what I just wrote, I see the key. Do you?

I just start.

Thinking Long Term

....The Truth about the Music Industry

When I started voice training back in the early 90s, I was pretty shattered by life. I'd spent years striving to be everything I envisioned everyone else wanted me to be. I was terrified of disapproval and anger. I was a chameleon who changed according to whoever she was with. Nothing wrong with hard work, but when you work hard to stay one step ahead of everyone else so they won't be angry with you and so they will like you or love you, you are focused on living to satisfy the external, the 'others'.

The sad thing is, as much as you might morph yourself into someone who agrees with and likes the same things as everyone around you... even if they do like you, you don't believe it. You don't believe it because you don't feel worthy, which is why you are doing what you are doing. You don't believe it, as well, because you know that the 'you' they like is not the true you. You hide the true you, because you know it isn't good enough. It's very exhausting to live like that. Every time someone is unhappy with you, for whatever reason, it's a major crisis. You spend every waking moment either putting out the fire or dancing around trying to make sure one doesn't start.

I had an epiphany one night after an argument with my husband. We were moving, he went out with his friends all day, while I packed our belongings & cleaned our little bachelor suite. He came home to shining floors and packed boxes. Ignoring the obvious fact that he'd left me to do all the work myself, he tore a strip off me for 'packing wrong'. I lay awake all night. I came to the conclusion that if I took one more step down the "pleasing" path, I would lose myself forever. I took what I had packed for myself and left. I can't tell you how afraid I was to do that, I don't know where I found the strength. But I credit that moment as the beginning of the first day of the rest of my life.

So I came 'home', back to the west coast, back to where I was brought up. My sister kindly put me up for awhile. I started to see how terrified I had been, because I had nightmares. I was like a frightened deer in the headlights, frozen, not knowing what to do.

I looked deep in my soul, and asked myself what I wanted. Since I had never really listened to my own voice, I searched for a while. I realized that I desired to have more creativity in my life. I saw a newspaper ad for an information session on something called 'desktop publishing and graphic design.' I really had no idea what that was. But it sounded creative, so I went to the info session. It was a creative art form. Of course, now we have web design as well, but then it was about designing magazines, newspapers, books, advertisements, forms, etc etc. I managed to get some funding for the 7-month course. I knew I needed something to focus on and something that might help me grow a little confidence in myself as well. It turned out to be a good thing. It was hard, there was lots of homework, but I began to master using the computer as a tool to create designs using text & images. I had two practicums and I did them with the same company, and ended up getting hired by them with the course was over.

Then I was able to begin working on part II of my creative goal. Take singing lessons. I'd wanted to be a singer since I was 6 years old, but had let that dream die. Although it had been years since I sang, or even played my guitar, somewhere deep inside of me I was sure it would only take a few months for me to take the singing world by storm. A funny thought from someone so sure of her own unworthiness. I worked very hard at my lessons and practice, waiting for my teacher to say how wonderfully talented I was. "Give me six months," I told myself. Well, at the end of six months, I was more confused than ever.

Bear in mind, although I had had an epiphany about being on the wrong path, I had only taken a couple of faltering steps down the right path, and was still, in a every major way, asleep. I kept working on voice. I shared an apartment so that I could afford to take two lessons a week with my maestro & also have a coaching session with a pianist. I was often frustrated with my lack of progress, but every time I thought of giving up, the memory of the black place without music & creativity, helped motivate me to stay on course. And also, anytime I seriously thought of quitting, I would feel such a sense of despair in my soul, I just couldn't go there. In the midst of my voice training, I read Luciano Pavarotti's biography and it said it took him seven years to train his voice. I said, well, likely it will take Vikki Flawith seven years plus.

I had many ups and downs... but after about eight years of weekly private training and daily practice, I woke up. I began to see that the things that held me back in singing were also the things that held me back in life. As I woke up to the limitations that I placed on myself in voice, I woke up to the limitations that I placed on myself in life. The armor that I had built to protect myself had been hemming me in. The work that I did with my teacher twice a week slowly helped me chip away at that armor. It took time for it to disappear. And rightly so. It simply can't be immediate or instant, if it was, you would be like a turtle without a shell. My teacher often (very annoyingly) would say "there is no substitute for time and experience," and "it takes as long as it takes."

So when was I finally able to sing without fear, without protection, open, authentic? Twelve years after that first lesson. Strangely enough, I see correlations with this in the journey of other artists. I note, for example, that hit songwriter Dianne Warren took about 12 years to make the big time. And hit songwriter, author & motivational speaker Jason Blume? Also 12 years.

Which brings me to the topic of music, songwriting, and success in the music industry. Perhaps because I am a trained singer, I understand the dichotomy of, being a student during the day, and performing for an audience at night. In one place, you are being coached & getting critique, in the other place, you are the expert. As a student, you have to be able to emotionally detach from your work, examine it with awareness (not judgment), and be willing to listen, and learn. As a performer, you have to be able to trust in yourself and know what you do is good.

I began writing songs about 5 years ago. At the beginning, I was excited about everything I wrote and was absolutely sure everything I wrote was new, fresh, amazing, and all the world needed to do was listen and I'd be on my way. I was shocked and angry when I got critiques back from different places that pretty much ripped my songs to shreds. I posted instrumental pieces I had designed with free plug-ins I had downloaded and was upset when other musicians pointed out the flaws. Slowly, I began to awaken to the idea that there was a craft involved in songwriting. But I thought that making my songs commercially viable meant selling out my artistry and creativity.

I couldn't see that there was a correlation between technique in singing, and craft in songwriting. The purpose of technique in singing, is to practice it until it becomes integrated and is natural... thereby freeing you to express the song beautifully. It took me a couple of years to wake up to the fact that craft in songwriting is just the same. It's a frame, a support, for the creativity and artistry. It makes the music sing effectively.

So here I am now, walking my path as a songwriter, starting to have little successes like... at least getting a listen from music publishers and music libraries, and having some signed deals for several pieces of music. However, I have come to know that financial success as a songwriter requires 3 things. One, craft. Two, volume. Three, time. Craft good songs/instrumentals, get them placed, repeat, repeat, repeat. Let's add number Four: thinking long term.

Understand that, getting a listen is always our first goal. If a listen leads to a deal, that's awesome. The time between the listen and the deal could be anything up to 2 years. Once the deal is signed, then that music publisher or music library pitches your music to opportunities. Meaning, they are trying to get you a listen. If a listen leads to a placement, that's awesome. The time between that listen and the placement could be anything... 2 years... I even heard 5 years in one case. Once the music is placed, you will get your share of licencing (if any), and a cheque in the mail. After placement, when the song is played, then royalties will be payable to you. And the PROs usually pay out 6 to 9 months after the play.

So calculate that out. After submitting a solicited demo to a music publisher, it could take up to two years for them to contact you for a deal. It could take another year or two for them to place the piece. That's why volume is important. If you have 100 or 200 piece signed, then you have 100 or 200 pieces being pitched to appropriate opportunities over the course of a year, and chances are you are going to get some placements. In addition, that's why long term thinking is important. If it could take up to 4 years for one piece of music to pay off for you, then you need to be crafting & submitting good pieces for 4 to 8 years before you start to see a steady stream of income from music. If you also spend that time learning as much as you can about the craft of songwriting/composing/producing, and if you also spend that time building relationships within the industry, and enjoying the journey, then your investment in time and perseverance will pay off.


my first music video

for fun, I created this video with stills I took and music I composed/produced.

The Dangers of Procrastination

Making a difference

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the dysfunction in the world. I feel the only way we can make a difference is to become consciously aware in our own lives and work to remove ego & negativity from what we do and say. If we treat the people we meet with respect, if we have integrity to look & and work on ourselves from the inside out, then we are part of a movement to become more consciously aware of life and living. If we treat each moment as precious, then the light within us is like the ripples in a pond… spreading out to others. If we work to develop our own creativity, then we are open to the flow of inspiration and that might inspire others as well. If each of us does this in our own lives, then gradually this positive energy will grow. This is what I believe.

I can’t change what my government is doing, I can’t change what is happening overseas. But I can make an effort to be a good mentor to my students and others, I can make an effort to see the good, and appreciate the gifts I have been given, I can work to be consciously aware in the present moment, I can try to let go of the pain of the past and the worry about tomorrow. In my own small way, living from the inside out, I hope to lift and lighten those around me.

my little studio

Picture #1- is the view out my window in spring.
Picture #2- the two keyboards I spend a lot of time with. Nice cup of tea there, too. Oh, the blankets behind the mandolin are part of my vocal booth.
Picture #3- some of the instruments I play (not necessarily well). Note the kazoo on the keyboard. I practice that a lot. Getting better at it, too.

I wonder where my mind is

I sit down to write this blog and I can’t think of a thing to say. Funny, cause if someone was here with me I’d probably have a million things to pontificate upon. Really. But sometimes writing a blog is difficult because, while you hope you are perhaps talking to someone out there… it’s kinda sort of a one way conversation with yourself.

But what’s new about that? I talk to myself, don’t you? I have to, because I don’t listen. I have things to do, to do lists, things to remember, things to encourage myself to do… if I don’t mention it to myself, who will? (Note to self – mail that letter you’ve been carrying around for 3 days.)

Sometimes I wonder where my mind is. I don’t think of myself as perpetually foggy of brain. No, I think I am just lost in a morass of details. I will be happily doing one thing and doing it well when suddenly another thing that needs to get done materializes in my mind and I quickly switch to that. Like walking in the bedroom to get your purse so you can mail that check off and while you’re in there you start organizing the top drawer in your dresser because the checkbook was mixed in with all this other junk and it took you 15 minutes to find it. Meanwhile you were dumping things on your bed, hoping you hadn’t lost the damn thing and pictures of having to go to the bank and change your account number or something created a nice little horror movie in your head. (Why go to movies, I can create enough drama on my own for free. And the price of popcorn?)

As I type this I have little pieces of paper hugging my keyboard, each with a note or a list of things I need to remember to do. Invariably I don’t remember that I’m supposed to do them until I see the person I was supposed to do it for. 'Sorry,' I say sheepishly. Perhaps they should send me a photo every couple of days, that might help me. See Jane’s picture, see Vikki do the thing she was supposed to do last week but forgot.

I do try. I attempt to be proactive. For example, someone wanted me to email them a list of starter ideas for recording musical ideas at home. I asked, “please, if you don’t hear from me over the weekend, please email me and remind me.” I’m sure I’ve said that to several people over the past month. But I haven’t heard anything. Hey, maybe that means I actually did it and can forget about trying to remember that I haven’t done something. But it’s more likely that those folks forgot to remind me about the to-do's.

So I go to bed worrying that I should have done something, but I can’t remember what it is. There’s something hovering in my brain, but it won’t come into focus. Then I lie there going through the ‘most important things to do’ list, like: ‘did I pay the rent, yes.’ ‘Did I pay that creditor on time, yes.’ ‘Did I email my students the new schedule, yes.’ ‘Ohmigod. Jane needed that thingy!’ ‘Dick has been waiting for that whoosit for days!’ It’s amazing one sleeps at all, really. Must take pen and paper to bed and write down all these things or they will keep one awake for hours, jumping around creating crisiseses. Sheesh.

Hey, this is good. As I wrote this, I remembered three things I need to do. Cool. Mind you, that means that I might actually have to do them.

Perhaps I can lose the list for awhile.