It’s okay.

I’ve been thinking about acceptance. How, in difficult situations, my tendency is to fight the difficulty, to reject it. Like I’m saying to the experience, “this is not okay”.

But sometimes things are difficult. Why reject an inevitable part of life?

This isn’t the same thing as passivity, of sitting back and being punished. The attitude of, “things suck, so why try?”

Rejecting a part of life is like rejecting a part of yourself. This life, it’s full-spectrum.

It’s okay when things are difficult. It’s okay to be lost, to not know the next steps.

It’s okay to live in your heart. Feel it all. Let in the light with the dark. Let in the sun with the storm.

That’s where the love is.

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Good Taste.

Probably everyone thinks they have good taste. Most people would describe themselves as kind, generous, thoughtful and reasonably intelligent. These aren’t objective measurements.

But you might look at someone and think they have terrible taste. The food they eat, or the clothes they wear, or the music they listen to.

Part of this is a judgement based on your own subjective set of standards. I listen to Tool, so therefore if you listen to Taylor Swift, you must have bad taste.

Another part of this is based on societal ideas of what constitutes good taste. If you have nice shoes, or listen to an acclaimed album, or eat at a fine dining restaurant, then you have good taste.

But just because a bunch of people agree on something doesn’t make it true. We used to agree that parachute pants were cool. That adding a half cup of blueberries to a muffin recipe made them healthy. That white blonde women were the most beautiful.

If you’re at a party with 12 people, and 11 of them say you have ugly shoes, does that mean you have ugly shoes?‌‌ If that happened, you might want to get nicer friends.

Maybe you could say, objectively, that your shoes have a big hole in the toe and are caked in mud. Therefore, they’re ugly. That isn’t an issue of taste anymore, but an issue of quality.

Let’s pretend, then, that your shoes are clean and cared for. But 11 of your friends say they’re ugly. What criteria are they judging this on?‌‌ What they see on Reddit?‌ What other people are wearing?‌ Are the 9th, 10th and 11th people saying they’re ugly because the first 7 people did?

Is popular opinion worth more than your personal vote?

Ultimately it doesn’t matter if anyone else thinks you have good or bad taste, since it’s mostly a subjective measurement. What matters is if you think you have good taste.

How do you develop good taste?

Asked another way:‌ What tastes good to you?

We shovel food in our mouth without tasting it. We turn on Spotify without really hearing it. We wear clothes that are fast and convenient to put on.

If you flip these ideas, doesn’t that mean you’ll have to invest a lot of time and effort to develop good taste?

Cooking a nice meal takes time. Really listening to a song requires focus, not multi-tasking. Wearing clothes you love means taking time to let yourself be open and captivated at the store.

One thing I‌ find interesting in life:‌ Oftentimes, the more energy you put into something, the more you enjoy it. Cooking becomes much more enjoyable once you take the time to try recipes and build basic skills. It’s a serious drag when you don’t know what you’re doing, or if you feel unskillful.

Sure, developing good taste takes time. But invite the possibility that you’ll deeply enjoy that time.

Another aspect of developing good taste is allowing yourself to be curious. If you eat the same eight meals over and over again, allow yourself to be curious about something new. Maybe it’s a type of cuisine, or something you saw in a magazine. What would that taste like? This requires approaching the subject with an element of adventurousness.

Being adventurous takes more effort than falling into default patterns, but going outside your comfort zone is exactly what’s needed if you want to create interesting memories. We remember novelty with the most clarity. Perhaps that curry experiment ends up tasting awful. But I‌ guarantee you’ll remember it, and that means something.

A final component of building good taste?‌ Know the rules, and then gleefully break them. As a musician, I’m passionate about music theory because it helps me make sense of the chaos of sound. Learning the rules is only a first step, though. Music theory can be stifling. It can keep you in a box.

I might start a song idea within a box. But if I‌ hear something I like, if my taste is pulling in a different direction, I follow that. Knowing theory is like a light in the dark. It gives me a sense of where I’m going, and how far out of orbit I am.

It takes adventurousness and curiosity to follow an idea outside the box. It takes courage to go against the grain, against the 11 people telling you you’re wrong.

And once you’re there – the meal is made, the outfit’s on – it takes the desire for immersion, for an experience, for a memory, for love, to savor the taste.

-Allysia

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Dress Like You’re in Love with Life

When I‌ was a teenager, I‌ was fearless. Insecure and a bit of an idiot, but fearless. Isn’t that true of most teenagers?‌‌ Isn’t that why it can be dangerous – you take unnecessary risks – but also why you have such clear, vivid memories of those days – because you were really alive?

I used to dress like I was fearless. It seems like such a small thing. They’re only clothes, after all. Who cares?

But how you present yourself to the world is a pretty accurate model for how you live in the world.

I went through a hat phase. Not ball-caps. More like old-school cloches, bucket and bowler hats. I‌ had a lovely Panama hat with a pink ribbon. I‌ wore a lot of pink back then.

I wore a bag was that was a gift from my friend, a talented seamstress and artist. One-half was pink, and the other half was a cloth-printed page of comic from my favorite manga series, Ranma 1/2. I stuck on a series of band pins for good measure.

My hair changed with the seasons. Each time my uncle would see me, he’d jokingly exclaim, “So this is the new flavor of the week?” Black, bleached, auburn, pink, short, long, bangs, it was all an open playing field.

I liked tights. Standard stockings like fishnets, but also multicolored or neon ones. The weirder the better. I loved to wear them under a simple skirt, or my cut-off jean shorts (which I cut off myself).

Not a nail-painter then, since I always chewed them off. Nails need to be short when you’re a piano player. Back in the early 2000s, when I‌ was in teenhood, the metalhead boys would paint their nails black, and wear black from head-to-toe. The baggier the clothes, the better. Band shirts, chains, dreadlocks, piercings. Of all the high school groups, they were the silliest and most fun to hang out with.

Why does any of this matter?‌ Who cares if I‌ wear a Panama hat, or mismatched clothes, or lots of pink?

It matters because of what happened when I became a “real adult”. Conformity, an idea I stood in diametric opposition to as a teen, became an attractive and useful concept in my twenties.

Some of it was fear. Fear of standing out and being noticed. It’s normal to be a weird kid. It’s weird to be a weird adult. Who’ll take you seriously?

Standing out can be problematic when you’re a young woman. You get unwanted attention. People say things. It can get scary. What better way to be left alone than to look like you’re on the frumpy side of bland?

I was a creative spirit as a teen. As an adult, I swapped out creativity with pragmatism. Bills, earning a living, being a role model for children (and not freaking out their parents), getting into serious relationships, all of those things required being practical and pragmatic and grounded and. Not. Weird.

My clothing choices reflected that. I donned the jeans and tee (or hoodie) uniform. Plain shoes, some plaid here and there, nothing too wild. Hats, but only toques and beanies to hide my floppy unstyled hair. I just didn’t care. I‌ was comfortable.

That’s exactly how some people would best express themselves. But it wasn’t me. I spent a decade not dressing like me.

I’m noticing something magical about being in my thirties, though.

I’m not insecure anymore. And I’m way less of an idiot (at least that’s what I‌ tell myself). I’ve got this adult thing figured out – I can pay the bills and do work I‌ enjoy and support and love my daughter. It’s easy.

So I don’t need to focus on that adult stuff so much anymore. It’s a learned skill. Put it in the bank, it’ll run on autopilot.

Time to put that focus toward something more fun. Discard the fear that’s been holding me back. And lean back into that creative spirit, the person I really am.

Maybe I’ll be dressing a little different in 2020.

x,

Allysia

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Happy 2020.

Have you made goals or resolutions? Ones that make your heart sing? Or ones that you think you “should” do, not out of any great love, but because of other people’s or society’s expectations?

2020 will be the final symmetrical year we’ll see in our lifetime. For yourself, make it count. Let’s make 2020 a year we’ll remember with clarity. A time we drew outside the lines, practiced bravery and self-acceptance, and pushed ourselves to go beyond limitations.

What’s holding you back? Is it insurmountable, or does it just seem that way?

What ignites the fire in your gut? Are you going to stoke the flames, fan them out, or allow them to slowly fade?

This life is so precious. Who will be there to high-five us on our deathbeds for sacrificing our deepest desires?

And maybe by sacrificing your deepest desires, you’re robbing the rest of us of your brilliant and beautiful light.

It’s a light I’d like to see.

-Allysia

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I’m feeling optimistic.

It’s a 45-minute drive from my parent’s place to Jane’s daycare, which is an improvement over the 1.5-hour drive from my house. When we loaded up the car this morning and drove off into the countryside, the sky was black. By the time we reached daycare, the sun was a sliver away from the horizon. I watched the transition, from black to blue, as we meandered down back roads and highways. Watched as night gave way to deep grey, the frozen fields a silhouette, outlined in shadow. Then a lighter, dustier shade, traces of clouds appearing. I blinked and the pinks appeared, purpling the brush-stroked clouds. Like a light-switch was flicked on and the world went from monochrome to full color.

Saskatchewan isn’t known for much. It’s a flat, sparsely populated prairie province, only 1.8 people per square kilometer. People usually just drive on through, seeking a bigger city like Winnipeg or Calgary. Manitoba is flat, but it’s filled with lakes. Calgary has the mountains a short drive away, always in view from the city. Those traveling here note the endless abundance of prairie grasses – wheat, rye, canola, flax, lentils – and declare it boring. Where are the trees, they say? The rivers, the rocks, the mountains, the hills?

But they’re making a big mistake, and that mistake is not looking up. Saskatchewan’s ground-level landscape is flat farmland (unless you venture north, where you’ll find unspoiled forests), but there’s one major advantage of flatlands. The sky is always with you, and the skyscape is superior to any landscape. Land is finite; the sky is infinite. Land is a story that’s been written, words set in stone, an idea that’s been had; the sky is a possibility, unnamed and untamed.

I take comfort in wide open spaces. Driving this morning, the sky an unfolding and ever-changing panorama, I felt safe. My spirit was free. In the city, buildings feel like boundaries to my soul. Mountains, though lovely, quickly become claustrophobic. But there, on the road in the black of morning, the whole universe was opening just for me.

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100 Bad Ideas

Today’s video is a discussion on art, songwriting, and how most of what I create is garbage…but it’s worth it for the rare times I strike gold. We talk about getting the ego out of the way, what makes an idea good or bad, and much more. Come hang out with me! 🙂

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100 Dreams, Revisited

I recently finished listening to Laura Vanderkam’s new book‌‌ “I Know How She Does It”, and in it I was reminded of her “100 dreams” idea.

A little while back, I made a list of 100 dreams. It’s what it sounds like – basically a bucket list. But instead of putting on a bunch of arbitrary “shoulds” (I don’t need to skydive or see the coral reefs), it’s a list of 100 things that sound awesome to me, big and small. Things that I’ll actually make a point of doing, whether this year or in 30 years.

The last time I created such a list, I‌ got stuck around number 60. It was frustrating, but then something wonderful happened – the frustration evolved into an existential crisis. What am I doing with my life?‌‌‌‌ What’s it all for? The list pushed me to excavate to the truth. What‌‌‌‌ do I really want? Not just what looks good to want on paper?

So I‌ pushed for bigger ideas and ended up with 107 dreams by the end of it. It felt great and allowed me to re-examine my priorities. It gave me tremendous clarity in my day-to-day life and with my longer-term goals.

But the dust settles; the profundity of such an experience fades. That’s why, after listening to Laura’s book (excellent in the audio format), I decided to give the “100 dreams” list another go.

No existential crisis this time, but a surprising amount of my ideas changed in the year or so between lists. Things I wrote on the first list no longer mattered much to me (what do I‌ care if I‌ have a Stella McCartney handbag?). New ideas hopped on the page that I couldn’t have imagined the first time around‌‌‌ (build an energy-efficient house on several acres of land).

If you’re interested in creating your own list, here’s how I‌ did it:

1)‌‌‌ Divide your list into categories. These are the ones I‌ used:

 -Home

 -Family/parenting

 -Relationships/friendships

 -Career

 -Creative

 -Personal/professional development

 -Travel/adventure

 -Health and food

Once you have your categories, start coming up with ideas! You might discover additional categories along the way – use whatever headers and themes matter to you. 

2)‌ Make a note beside each of your 100 dreams on where you’re at with it.

  -In red, I‌ wrote anything that I‌ wasn’t actively pursuing.

  -In yellow, I‌ wrote things that were on my horizon or that I‌ wanted to do, but wasn’t doing.

  -In green, I‌ wrote those things that I’m already doing.

3)‌ Come up with a secondary list, “Dreams I’m actively pursuing”.

Put this list in a prominent spot and revisit it at least weekly, if not daily. Here’s where you put all your green ideas, and whichever yellow ones you’ve decided to take on and start integrating into your life.

When I created this secondary list, I‌ also craved more clarity. Instead of writing, “Learn about gardening”, I‌ drilled down and wrote, “read at least 5 books‌ on permaculture and take notes‌‌” (I have a notebook dedicated just to this).

Here’s an example of how I condensed the “home life” dreams section:

Home life

  • Purchase several books each month (use my Indigo card in Nov)
  • Purchase land and build house (huge ongoing project; broken into next steps on Nozbe)
  • Research at least 5 books on fruit and vegetable permaculture

4)‌ Put your projects or habits into your daily task manager

I’ve talked about Nozbe before, which I’ve used and loved for years. It allows me to arrange some of my dreams/goals into projects, and also create recurring habits (such as “meditate every day”).

This means that, as long as I’m checking my to-do list on a daily basis, habits I’d like to incorporate pop up on my daily list – no mental energy required to remember to do something. I like to review the secondary list weekly, in order to look over some things that might not neatly fit into my to-do list, but this process takes away most of the ambiguity around my goals. I see them every day; I know if I’m moving toward them, or not.

I want to restate that this is not a bucket list – at least not in the conventional way bucket lists are used (and ignored). This is a list of things I‌ really want to do, but things that I might not do without some long-term consideration and a little bit of planning.

For example, I want to meditate every day for an entire year. I‌ find the idea of creating a 365-day streak inspiring (and intimidating). At the end of it, I’ll have a well-established habit of meditation, which is great, but I’ll also have the experience of having meditated every day for a year – also great. Or maybe after a year I’ll say, “that was fun but I’m done with this meditation thing”. That’s fine too – it’s all part of the learning experience.

A long-term goal that I‌ wouldn’t be able to achieve without careful planning is getting a licentiate diploma in piano performance. I am a long, long ways away from that point. But I‌ like to keep it on my radar, and take tiny steps in that direction in the meantime. Maybe I‌ don’t get there for another 30 years – that’s fine. But I’d like to keep it in my head, and move toward it slowly but surely.

This process has been enormously helpful to me both times I’ve gone through it, and highly encourage you to do the same if you have a feeling of fuzziness, a feeling that you’re aimlessly drifting. It’s challenging, but it’s also quite fun – and what’s more important than that?

-Allysia

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Remembering how to be creative

I picked up my daughter from daycare on Friday afternoon to make the 45-minute trek to my parent’s place. We would spend the evening with pizza and celebration and family (Jane didn’t touch the pizza – she much preferred the channa masala we had the next night from the Indian restaurant). It’s a lovely drive around the outskirts of the city, with endless plains ripe with harvest.

As I began the drive, with Death Cab’s Plans in the background to help me think, I fell into an old familiar feeling, one that hits me each and every autumn. The feeling that I should be paying attention because everything is so beautiful, and it’s all going away so soon. The few yellow leaves scattered on the pavement will soon be in piles, and then they’ll make way for snow. Everything changes, so I need to pay attention.

The sunlight seems sharper. There’s more shadow in the blades of grass, bright green and contrasted. The air is cleaner. Pay attention, this is meaningful.

And with it comes the wistfulness. How did summer go so fast? How did the year go fast? How has my life gone so fast? How did I forget to feel like this?

My heart had hardened, somehow without me noticing. On that drive I felt it soften. I felt more like myself.

It’s the busy-ness. The hustle. Forgetting to breathe. Then the first colors of autumn appear like a brake. Remember this? Remember how everything ends?

In the car, I stopped the music. I turned on the voice recorder. Started saying disjunctive sentences, each sentence-end punctuated with my daughter’s decisive “yeah!” from the backseat, her new favorite word. An idea was coming to me, a lyric.

Some of the words were silly and would never see the light of day. But there was an idea I was getting to. I kept digging out the idea for the entirety of our drive, my daughter happily chatting in the background as if we were in conversation, as if we were co-writing this song.

Later that night, long after she was in bed, I listened through the recording, writing the words down on paper indiscriminately. It was two full pages. Mostly coal, with a diamond or two nestled within.

But coal from a spontaneous creative process is still something.

I don’t always remember to be creative. Autumn forces the reminder. I start to lose interest in doing the normal thing (say, not writing a lyric verbally during a long commute). I open up a little, get a little weirder in a way that feels familiar, in a way that feels like the little kid I always will be.

And now I have not only an idea, but also a memory of a time I came back to myself and started dictating a song in the car.

Now to keep remembering.

-Allysia

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