Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Secret

I arrived at my guitar lesson, bright-eyed and caffeinated. I wore my "thinking" shirt, a white-collared long sleeve I ironed the night before. I brought a tiny video recorder, a notepad, and a pencil I twirled into my hair bun, like the traditional Chinese do with their chopsticks. Today, I would learn the secret if I had to pry it out of my teacher with the chopstick!

My instructor motioned me into his studio with a smile. True, half of my lessons are spent attempting to decipher French, the other half deciphering music. I gave him my full attention during the first half hour.

 I admit sometimes my mind wanders off to think about what I'm going to have for lunch or if I ought to go next door to the Italian pastry shop and order one of those delectable brownies dusted with powdered sugar. Then I re-focus when I think how if there is any time to be "living in the now", it is right now, with the mind of a brilliant guitarist at my disposal. 

He taught me a series of intricate open chords that wove into a pentatonic exercise which starts at the headstock end of the guitar neck and ends near the bridge. He's all about transitioning from one area of the neck to another with gusto. Then he threw in a couple impressive blues licks, because that's what I pay the big bucks for. 

After he was satisfied that I had mentally and physically integrated the new material, at least enough to be able to work on it at home, he asked me if I had any questions. 

I had been waiting for this moment. I sat up straight in my chair and cleared my throat.

"Everything you taught me was great. I'm wondering, though, if I have a simple melody in my head, how to I play it through the guitar? I can figure it out if I play a few notes around it."

At this point, I stopped, and fumbled around the fretboard, until I found the notes in the sequence I sang to him moments earlier. 

"You see, I can find it, but I want the process to be seamless. I want to be able to speak through my guitar, like I'm speaking to you."

I placed my left pointer finger on a fret on the neck, but I didn't pluck the string.

"Can you tell me what this note sounds like?"

He sighed, and started off in French, took one look at the confused expression on my face, and switched back to English.

"You mean perfect pitch. I can't do that, but I have students that can. And they are the life of the party. That's great and wonderful, but it doesn't matter much, unless you want to impress people." (I think he worded it as "the party of the life", but I knew what he meant.)

He went on,

"Meg," (He always emphasizes my name with a hard "g" at the end,) " If I go to China and bring with me a Chinese dictionary, what is that going to do for me in Beijing?"

I thought, "Well, it would definitely make you look like an idiot, and in case you needed toilet paper…." 

"It would do nothing," he continued. He started playing scales up and down the neck at dizzying speed.

"Yes, yes, this if fine. Good. Good. But it won't help you, not really. These are just the notes in a scale like letters in the alphabet."

It was in this moment when I realized something that I think I already knew, but I just needed my teacher to illuminate. To learn how to speak, you don't study a dictionary, saying the same word over and over again, and expect to speak eloquently land on your feet in actual conversations with people. 

Can you imagine going to a dinner party, entering the room, offering your first handshake, and starting out your conversation with:

"Apple. apple. apple. blue. blue. dog. dog. dog." and then just to mix it up a little

"Apple. blue. dog. Apple. blue. dog" and if you want to get REALLY crazy start saying those words in warp speed. That will really impress the dinner guests!

Yet, this is how we novice musicians go about learning how to play and we think we are really somethin' else.

To learn to speak well, you immerse yourself in a culture where people are talking all the time. Some of the things people say don't make sense to you. Maybe they use unfamiliar words, or string them together in strange and new patterns. They speak loudly, they speak softly, fast, and slow. Some voices are raspy, some are delicate and light as a feather. 

Eventually, you start to use these words that you hear. You try them out. You see the reaction you invoke in people. You learn how to communicate sadness, anger, or joy. You make many mistakes. Sometimes you don't make any sense, but you laugh about it, and you keep, talking, talking, talking, and eventually you learn how to say exactly what your mind wants you to say and the best way to say it.

Well, its' the same with music and guitar. My teacher was on the right track in the beginning of my lesson. He was teaching me vocabulary, subtle nuances in phrasing. He was teaching my how to whisper and how to yell when appropriate. 

At one point he literally said, "Good, now PUNCH your guitar." Instead of tip-toeing around the strings, I let out all of my inner pent-up fury in a single chord, and the pangs of the vibrations of sound felt good, DAMN good. 

He was teaching me how to play the guitar and express myself like a human with licks and real songs, instead of like a robot with scales and arpeggios.

I was looking for a short cut. Come on, give me a scale to learn, a magic pill to take, an incantation to whisper over a cauldron of frog legs and a hair of a goat. But it's really so simple, and I knew it all along.

I just need to keep playing my guitar with other people who play guitar, over and over and over. Eventually, after many, many mistakes, I'll learn how organize riffs and chords, and then string phrases together, and someday, oh someday, I'll be fluent in music, and then, at my guitar lessons I'll only have to decipher the French.


Friday, August 8, 2014

From Sweden, With Love

I was taking a break in the afternoon from writing songs and packaging up Chandler orders to get outside and grab some pork belly tacos at Nick's work. I've always chosen solitary, creative careers. Sometimes I need to surround myself with happy strangers eating tacos and sipping on cappuccinos to get my creative juices flowing again.

"So, what have you been up to today?" asked Nick's co-worker as he wiped off a coffee-stained counter top.
"Oh, you know," I replied, "I'm busy writing all my bad songs."
"Your what?"
"My bad songs. I've got to get all of my bad songs out of me so that the good ones can come through."

He silently navigated away from my reply, and asked me how I liked my coffee and the weather. I think the prospect of somebody making bad art on purpose made him feel a little uncomfortable. 

Let me tell you a secret, artist to artist: Not EVERYTHING you make is going to be amazing. 

Ugh oh. Cat's out of the bag. 

Where do you go from here? My opinion: simply keep going. Keep writing songs. Keep writing chapters. Keep cooking up your latest creations. While you're working, don't focus on all the things that you are doing wrong. Focus on all that you are learning and all the ways you can improve. These ideas will make your next project that much more awesome!

Yesterday, I wrote a bad song. I wrote a string arrangement coupled with a hacked-up drum loop. Then I wrote a mediocre melody with mediocre lyrics on top. Instead of wallowing in how bad it was and how the universe was out to get me, I stopped to eat a taco, grab some caffeine, and got right back to work on the next song, implementing improvements I learned from what didn't work on the previous song. 

Something beautiful is going to fall out in between all the not-so-good stuff. Trust me. Don't be afraid to make crap. It's a good thing!

It's been awhile since, I've released new music. After going through a bunch of garage band files that have been cluttering up my laptop, suddenly I realized I had the bare bones of a record, or at least a solid EP!

Yesterday, I received a timely email with the subject: "hey, I really love your music!!!"

It wasn't for my old band "Meg and Dia". It was in regards to my last project, "The Khaki Scouts". 

The email read:


I just wanted to say that I just found you on band camp, and I really enjoy your music! Are there any new tracks coming from you soon? :)

From Sweden with love,


I thought Nick and I had taken our band camp page down, so I was very surprised to get this email. It was just the ammunition I needed to start working on these new songs. 

And I think this just illuminates that even when you aren't sure that you are making a difference, or that anyone is connecting with the stuff you are making, there's always somebody out there who is eating up everything you are doing. 

Maybe they are not as vocal as you wish they were. Maybe you can't see them. Maybe you'll never meet them, but maybe, just maybe you are making them smile and stirring their soul behind the soft glow of a computer screen.

We hear you. 



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Other Dream Job

While I waited for my cardamom and date smoothie, a woman from my yoga class took a seat next to me. We talked about the weather and our matching yoga mats. She told me that she'd like to start doing more yoga, because she sits at her desk all day for work. She said yoga has done wonders for her well-being because she hasn't been sleeping much lately or eating well. I couldn't help asking her what she did for a living that was causing all this stress on her mind and body.

She said she is an animator for Disney. She just finished working on the movie Frozen. I thought to myself, "WhaaaAAAaAaAAaaaat??" All my sisters' favorite movie at the moment is Frozen, (this includes Dia whether she will admit it or not.) 

Before I wanted to be a musician, my childhood dream was to be an animator for Disney. This woman sitting across from me was living one of my childhood dreams! And I told her so.

She asked me what I did. I told her that I was a musician and a jewelry designer. 

"That's so cool. You get to make art!"
"But you get to make art too!" 
"Yeah, I know, but I'd really love to get back to working with my hands. There's this ceramic studio just around the block. I'd love to start taking classes."

On my drive home, I thought about our conversation. She must have been an artist since she was a little girl. It must have been extremely competitive to land her job at Disney. Now that she's there, I'm sure there is no shortage of starving interns willing to do anything to sits where she sits. But, yet she is still tired and frazzled and searching for something more. 

Being able to create art in any context is wonderful, but to be able to make whatever kind of art you want, whenever you want, aaahh, that's the key to peace as an artist. To have freedom in artistic expression is what I believe this woman was looking for, and what I need to be more grateful of every day. 

While I labored on Meg and Dia's last full length album, an A & R guy constantly added his two cents about the direction of our songs. At one point, I think he tried to turn a pretty, piano ballad into a raggae song! I kid you not. The producer had me on an extremely tight deadline. I'm sure our label called him to tell him to call me to tell me that "we needed an album LAST week, and if I didn't hurry up and write it…" So, yeah, I guess I know how the animator feels. 

Now, I'm making my own art on my own time. I'm free. I'm so thankful for that. 

Maybe you are thinking, "Well, that's great for YOU Meg, but I have classes I am obligated to attend and a job that isn't exactly stimulating". I understand. I've been in that position myself. You may have a superior, you may have deadlines, you may have limited choices. 

But still...

I urge you to find time to make the kind of art you want to make. Steal 10 minutes, 20 minutes, or gasp, even an hour.

The art you are making IS important. Treat it that way.

Honestly, Meg

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wisdom From Yoga Class

Sometimes I go to my yoga class and I think, "Why do I put myself through this torture?" Other times I go to my yoga class, and I'm in such a state of bliss, I hesitate to say the closing "namaste". 

My instructor walks around class, adjusting our poses slightly as he verbally guides us through different poses. He'll say things like, "pull your belly in" or "turn the bottom of your tailbone out". Sometimes his suggestions make sense. Other times I feel like he's speaking in alien tongues. 

During my class yesterday, in the middle of a particularly difficult pose, I spread my eagle arms even wider and strained to keep my legs straight as I watched my teacher approach. 

He walked right past me though, I suppose my tailbone must have been angled just right. Yeah! Go me! 

He leaned over and spoke to the guy next to me. Since I was facing the other way, I couldn't see the guy, but I was close enough to hear what sage advice my teacher had to offer.

"Make a nicer face." 

"What?!" I thought to myself. What kind of practical instruction is that? If the pose is challenging and painful, why does it matter what our faces look like? After all, we are still getting the physical benefits of suffering through the pose. I twisted my body around as much as possible to sneak a glance at the offending "face" of my fellow student. 

True, his features were pinched together like an over-ripe prune.  His eyes tucked so deep into his sockets they all but disappeared.

I watched the muscles in his face relax as he tried his best to "make a nicer face". He smiled a goofy grin. I watched the muscles in the rest of his body follow suit as he relaxed deeper into the pose. Watching the whole scene take place made my pose softer as well. The difficult pose changed into something bearable… almost enjoyable. 

Laughter. Humor. Smiles. 

There's hardly an obstacle that these things can't overcome in any part of our lives. 

I know, I know. There are parts of your journey that aren't going to be pleasant. For example, I've been playing the same 5 seconds of the Bohemian Rhapsody solo for the past week, 5% below the actual speed. It drives me crazy. Come on fingers, let's go! Let's go! I've been so ecstatic about jewelry designs ideas only to have them disappoint once I've made them. I'm sure there have been maybe one or two times (two at the most because I'm mostly a perfect human specimen.) where I've been kind of a jerk at a band meetings.

Difficult times in life.

Difficult yoga poses. 

It won't kill you to make a nicer face during them.

Honestly, Meg

Monday, July 14, 2014

What Is Your "Why"?

My guitar teacher gave me a blues lick that I have been practicing at half speed for two weeks. It is repetitive, difficult work, the opposite of a good time.

I seriously have to set my timer for 15 minute intervals and drive through the boredom. Finally, I got to the point where I just couldn't find the will power to pick my guitar back again and play that stupid lick. So, instead of gnashing my teeth through another 15 minute session, I took a drive to a taco joint in Echo Park and did some thinking while I sipped on an almond milk horchata in the sunshine. Mmmmm. Much better.

I thought to myself "I could simply stop playing. I don't have to keep going through the motions. Nobody is making me. (Well, I guess my guitar teacher is, but I can always quit.)" Then I thought a little deeper about it. "Why am I practicing this boring material? Why is it important for me to keep doing this?" And that thought made me cast my net even wider, and I asked "Why do I play music in general? Why is it so important?" 

Since I wasn't making any headway with these questions, I decided to think back on my life even further. Maybe that would help clear things up for me. Why did I start playing music? I started playing music because I wanted to be signed by a label. Any label. That was the holy grail of my music career as far as I was concerned. Then we were signed by a label, and then another label, and my reason for playing music quickly changed. 

I slurped up the last of my drink through melting ice cubes. While I concentrated on using my straw as a single chopstick to reach all those delicious, crunchy ice cubes, my why hit me on the top of the head just like that apple must have hit Newton.  

O.k. so the moment wasn't as important as discovering gravity, but it was still a huge deal to me. I remembered the reason why I practice every day, why I force my fingers against their will into such awkward positions, why I sit through scales and and exercises. I remembered the whole point of it all.

Now, that I was armed with my "why" I was prepared to get back to that scale. I was even excited to get back to that scale. Heck, I'll practice it in 30 minute intervals! What now!

Do you want to know what my why is? I discovered I don't have just one why. I've got millions and millions of whys. I've circled 8 of them in the photo below for you to see. 

Remember you "why", because your path isn't always going to be easy, in fact, most of it will probably be a struggle if you are challenging yourself enough.

Honestly, Meg

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rise Again

I never spent very much time outside. I became a "city girl", preferring to wander through book stores or tuck myself away in coffee shops. Nick used to protest, dragging me outside every summer to camp. Yes, with the worms and no restrooms in sight. Ugh. 

My last camping experience in the summer heat of Austin was miserable. Let's just say it involved lots of giant bugs, persistent, hungry raccoons who weren't afraid of humans in the least, and punctured, blow-up air mattresses. (But that's a story for another blog post.)

Lately, I've had some personal struggles, some problems I couldn't seem to wrap my head around. I was feeling a bit blue as we humans tend to do every once in awhile. Vanilla cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles just weren't cutting it anymore. My mother suggested hiking. She says that "nature cures all".  I decided I would humor her and give it a try. 

The first time up the mountain was o.k. It was a bit toasty. I was out of shape, and I forgot to bring water, but aside from the dehydration and the beads of sweat dripping into my eyes every now and then, I actually didn't have a terrible time. 

Since that first day, I've hiked almost every morning. I even started meditating once I made it to my special spot at the top of the mountain. I settle my backpack on the ground and sit up with my hands pressed into my knees. I don't close my eyes like one is supposed to, because the trees, and the flowers, and the mountains, and the clouds are too pretty not to look at. I focus on my breathe. My mind wanders. I bring it back.

Meditation that got me out of my funk. My saving grace didn't have anything to do with the floating clouds or the pretty flowers or even the friendly hikers and their dogs who I've grown rather fond of.

My big epiphany came from an ant. 

A few days ago, I reached the top of the mountain and sat in my usual position. I began to focus on my breath, but before my battle with my thoughts, I happened to look down and see an army of ants busy building their home in the dirt by my feet.

I noticed one ant in particular carrying a single blade of dry grass across the dirt to the ant hill. This blade of grass must have been at least nine times the length of the ant. As I watched it struggle, I tried to imagine myself carrying an object nine times the height of my body. 

Tommy carried the blade of grass a good twelve inches or so before it encountered an obstacle, a low hanging stick in the ground. (Oh, right. I named the ant Tommy at this point of my observation, because that's what I do.)

 If I were a nicer person, I would have simply moved the stick for Tommy and made his life a whole lot easier, but out of curiosity, I didn't want to touch it. I watched Tommy hem and haw and struggle this way and that way. Tommy walked in one direction and the stick blocked it, so he walked another way, and again he just couldn't make any progress. He turned and sped up and slowed down. He wasn't getting even the slightest bit closer to that ant hill, but never once did he stop trying. 

I can't know for sure, but I'm quite certain the thoughts in Tommy's head weren't anything like:

  • " I'm just not any good."
  • " What if the other ants are noticing how stupid I look right now?"
  • " I'm going to be late! I'll never make it in time."
  • " This is impossible. Why even bother!"
  • " I should just quit. This will never work."

I'm pretty sure the only thought going through Tommy's head was: grass. ant hill. grass. ant hill. 

In that instant, I realized that my negative thoughts weren't productive. They weren't helping me in anyway, so I might as well just get on with it without all the fuss. And yes, I know that we all know this truth, but it took an ant at the top of a mountain to remind me and bring clarity back.

I made this "Rise Again" necklace to remind us to "try again", "rise again", to never stop trying, to stop worrying how close we are to our goal, because it really doesn't matter just as long as we don't stop.

Visit my CTR SHOP to order.

So the moral to this is: if you you ever find yourself in doubt or in troubled waters, don't meditate, simply find yourself an ant hill to observe quietly for a few minutes.

Honestly, Meg

P.S. I made mountains instead of an aunt as a necklace, because it just seemed like a better idea, ya know?

P.P.S. This is a Limited Edition item. I'm not sure how long I'm going to keep it on my site, but not for long...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Thinking and Feeling

Now that the Curious Collection is available on my site, I just sit around and catch up on t.v. shows, eating Trader Joe's Cookie Butter on graham crackers all day. Not! (O.k., I do that sometimes.) 

The truth? I started designing my next collection the very next day I released the last one. Being a jewelry designer or a musician is not about having jewelry and music for sale, it's about always creating, always designing, always imagining a nothing into a something. 

Pip received the most love from you all, so I asked Vil to design some more jewelry like Pip for my next collection I plan to release in October. I'm thinking about calling my next collection "Never Grow Up", but it's still a working title. I loved J.M. Barrie's book, Peter Pan, as a child, so that name is sort of a tribute to Mr. Barrie. 

I love receiving emails from Vil. He always starts his emails out with "Ahoy Meg!" It makes me feel like we are both on an adventure, shouting to each other over dangerous waters from our ships, him peering through a telescope, and me waving my arms back and forth, a tiny, manic dot on the horizon. The ship sways violently. I stumble and try to steady myself on the damp wooden planks, "Hey Vil," I shout, "could you make sure that the new fox design comes in both copper and silver, and also the chain length needs to be at least 27 inches long. I don't want it to be too short." He orders some skallywags messing around with their rusty swords to shut up as he shouts back "What's that? The crock design?" I can barely hear him over the crashing waves. 

Yup, I think about this every time we exchange emails. Every. Time. 

The other day Nick and I drove to the farmer's market. I thought we were biking there so I wore a black baseball cap that has "Hawaii" embroidered in the center, globs sunscreen smeared on the freckles on cheeks, bright purple biking shorts, and some green nike sneakers with mis-matched socks. (Who has got the time these days?)

Needless to say, I was being a sullen baby in the car because I was stuck in a lifeless, soul-crushing box of metal instead flying through the streets with the sun on my skin and the breeze through my pony tail.

I looked like a frazzled, color-blind soccer mom for nothing.

To console the sour puss, Nick tried to engage me in a musical conversation. He played me a couple new bands he has been listening to back-to-back on the car stereo. 

"Which one do you like better?"

"Well, I don't really like either, but if I had to choose, I'd choose the second one." 

"Why? What are you basing your choice off of?"

I settled back into the cushiony chair, tapping my fingers on the side panel. We pulled into the Well's Fargo parking lot across the street from the market.

It wasn't the tempo of the songs, the singers' voices, the complexity of the music, or the skills of the musicians. It wasn't the choice of percussion or synths or strings, the flashy solos, or the tension in the bridge. 

"The feeling it gives me." 

"Hmm," he said, "I like that answer."

John Mayer said something along the lines of, "Don't write what you think, write what you feel. Those are two completely different things." 

When I'm busy designing a new necklace or writing a new song, I make sure not to choose a certain color of clay because I think it will look good or choose a melody because I think it will sound good, I make artistic decisions based on how I feel or how I hope you'll feel when you see, feel, or hear what I dreamed up. 

And I think this is a good way to make art. 

Honestly, Meg