Sasha Benoit

Welcome to My Wonderfully Eclectic World of General Interest Through the 👀 of a Believer❖ a Songwriter❖ a New Yorker❖ a World Traveler❖ a Fashionista❖ an Intellectual

WORDPLAY:  Black Panther Girl Power

Unless you are a new born or have been in  a medically induced coma since the year began, you most assuredly know about the juggernaut known as Black Panther.  Premiering in Los Angeles on January 29, 2018, and released theatrically in the United States on February 16, 2018, this critically acclaimed film has grossed over $1.1 billion worldwide, literally smashing records in its wake. In less than a month, it has become the seventh highest-grossing film domestically and the 18th highest-grossing film of all time. Let’s put that in perspective: Avatar, released in 2009; Titanic, released in 1997; and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released in 2015, are the top three grossing films of all time respectively, each grossing over $2 billion worldwide.  Black Panther has held the top weekly box office spot since its release and is poised to continue breaking records for many years to come. Despite the box office stranglehold and well-deserved accolades that the movie has garnered, Black Panther is also groundbreaking in a multitude of other ways. The 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), a shared universe centered on a series of superhero films with common plot elements, settings and characters, it is the first to showcase a predominantly black cast. Directed by Ryan Coogler, an African-American director and screenwriter, Black Panther is not only showcasing what a more culturally diverse superhero movie can accomplish, but changing the landscape of the superhero role. T’Challa, the film’s namesake and king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, offers a refreshing view of a protagonist with depth and quiet reserve. But even more striking, is the savoir faire and strength of the leading  ladies of Wakanda.

The Queen Mother, Ramonda, played by Angela Bassett, represents a grace, sophistication, wisdom and royalty rarely seen in this genre. King T’Challa is guarded by a battalion of women warriors called the Dora Milaje, a special forces outfit commanded by his fiercely protective female general, Okoye.  His effervescent and spirited baby genius little sister, Shuri, is the big brain behind the technology of Wakanda and the Black Panther gadgets. Lastly, Nakia, T'Challa’s love interest and an undercover spy for Wakanda, is formidable in her own right. Each of these female characters have a depth and range that not only rival their male counterparts, but can easily outshine them.  I would pay good money to see Okoye and the Dora Milaje hand out beatings under the leadership of Ramonda, the technological weaponry of Shuri and the diplomacy of Nakia.  These leading ladies are not only beautiful and unashamedly feminine, but equally heroic, strong and awe-inspiring.  Black Panther has been lauded in several areas, from its screenplay and direction, to the scene stealing performances, action, and costume design.  But it is without question that every well-deserved accolade it has received, is due in no small part to the tremendous amount of Girl Power infused through the fabric of the movie.  Well done indeed.  Wakanda forever!    

Posted: March 15, 2018, 11:56 pm

WORDPLAY:  Smell the Roses

I am a bit of a strange bird with many interesting facets to my personality.  I can definitely be verbose but other times, though much less frequently, I am as quiet as a church mouse. This is particularly so when I am in a new or unfamiliar environment. Though I am present and fully engaged with my surroundings, when this side makes an appearance, I have very little to say at all.  This generally causes some discomfort in those who know me to be gregarious and affable because they think something is wrong.  In actuality, I am enjoying the thrill of observation, taking a second to appreciate my surroundings, and slowing the world down so that I can pay attention to the details. I like to call it, “Smelling the Roses.” In this highly charged, fast-paced society, where we communicate in characters and emojis, and ingest information and content voraciously, it seems virtually impossible to peel ourselves away from the never-ending pinging of social media notifications.  It’s almost as if breathing is some kind of lost art because we barely have time to catch our breath, no less take time to live in the moment and savor the here and now.  I get it.  We’re busy.  There are only 24 hours in any given day and the demands on our time are great. Who has time to stop and smell roses, when we are too busy buzzing around to notice that the roses are there in the first place. That is exactly the point.  We all need time to decompress, recharge and take in our surroundings without the hurry of the world. That requires a purposeful decision to create pockets of peace and solitude.  

By way of example, during this past Christmas season I took an evening ride to Pennsylvania with one of my good girlfriends to visit her parents. I was a dutiful front seat passenger, adhering to the responsibility and rules of engagement associated with co-piloting. There was witty banter and hilarious chit chat, as friends normally share. But, like me, she also enjoys the sanctity of solitude so inevitably, there was a lull in the conversation. After making sure she, as the driver, had what she needed, I fully understood I was free to go off and roam with one final instruction… keep a look out for deer. Though I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, I happily made myself busy looking out the window to observe the scenery.  I asked an occasional question about the locale but for the most part I was totally engrossed in my observations. At some point, however, my friend broke the silence with a playfully scolding remark because I was so busy taking in the environment and reading street signs, that I failed to alert her to the orange eyes staring at us on the passenger’s side of the road.  Thank goodness she noticed the deer and took measures to avoid an accident if it darted into our path, but I did get a hand slap. Danger averted, I honed back into my co-piloting responsibility for the next 30 minutes until we arrived safely.  In that pocket of time, I made a decision to smell the roses, appreciating nature and experiencing new surroundings rather than plugging back into the matrix.

So fast forward to this past week, I have been smelling the roses everyday since February 9, by watching the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics Games. I am super busy but I am making the time to see all these awe-inspiring athletes compete at the highest level.  I witnessed American snowboarding domination with gold medal wins by Red Gerard, Jamie Anderson, Chloe Kim and  Shaun White.  White, having had a horrific accident in New Zeland while training for the Olympic Games just 4 months earlier,   made a remarkable comeback at the age of 31. His 11 competitors averaged 21.9 years of age, with the silver medalist, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, being just 19. I fell asleep on the final run of American sensation Mikaela Shiffrin’s gold medal effort in the Giant Slalom, but my heart was with her!  I did, however, witness pairs ice skater, Aliona Savchenko, who has skated in five Olympic Games for two different countries and with three different partners, finally win gold for Germany with new partner, Bruno Massot. I know they weren’t skating for the United States, but you have to love a feel good story about never giving up, ever. It took Savchenko 16 years, from 2002 to 2018, to realize her dream of Olympic gold. Just thinking about that level of tenacity and commitment is worth every second of the time I am investing to draw inspiration for the pursuit of my own hopes and aspirations.   I am committed to PyeongChang for another 10 days and I am enjoying every second that I can keep my eyes open!  With all these remarkable accomplishments and dreams realized after years and years of dedication, hard work and determination, I certainly hope that each of these Olympians are taking time to slow the world down around them. Let me put this into perspective. There are 2952 athletes competing in 102 events from 92 different countries. That means than less than 15% of those competing will walk away with a medal of any color and less than 5% will obtain that elusive gold medal. Nonetheless, I t is a true honor to achieve a level of mastery at a discipline to be able to represent your country in front of the world, knowing that almost everyone will leave empty-handed. If this is not the best testament to the reason why we should stop and smell the roses, appreciate the here and now, and value the magnitude of the moment.  I will be right there in PyeongChang in spirit, smelling the roses from the comfort of my bedroom.  Go USA!

Posted: February 15, 2018, 8:25 pm

WORDPLAY: The Great Restart Works 365 Days

It’s that time of the year when people are resolving to do everything under the sun. Millions of resolutions are made with the best intentions, and hope springs eternal that this year, unlike the previous ones, our selfie-promises will not be broken.    Oftentimes the focal point of the resolution is establishing a good habit or breaking an undesirable one. Either way, it’s two sides of the same coin, as the gauntlet is thrown down every January 1 and we are challenged to maintain the change in behavior. Success or failure begins and ends in the mind, where we fight an ongoing battle against good and evil. Good says to throw out that emergency pack of cigarettes but evil says that would be a waste of money.  Good says to put down that jelly doughnut and take the stairs, but evil says carrots will turn our skin orange and we’re not wearing the proper shoes to walk anywhere.  Our perseverance, or lack there of,  is determined by how badly we desire to change the things resolved, and how tired we are of remaining the same.  

Apparently resolutions are made to be broken because statistics are bleak when it comes to their success rate.  Research seems to indicate that only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are successful.  Indeed, some have resolved not to resolve because it has been futile in the past.  When our best intentions fall apart, we are often left feeling defeated, deflated and maybe a bit disillusioned. If we mess up our new eating regime or skip a workout, we sometimes just abandon the entire project, discounting any success we had before the foible. We assign tremendous significance to one date on the calendar as the benchmark to judge whether our daily behavior should receive a stamp of self-approval.  If we fail to live up to that standard set by the January 1 Mystique, we sometimes feel like…well…failures. It’s my humble opinion that the pressure associated with this date creates an illusion of perfection leading to a lower likelihood of success  and a higher degree of stress to maintain the resolution. In effect, we are chasing an unattainable goal.  Try as we might, perfection is God’s domain and out of the reach of humans.  

So this year, I resolved to drink a gallon of water daily. I had hit my goal for 14 consecutive days but my streak was in jeopardy Sunday night.  I was out of the house all day and had only managed to drink 32 ounces by 9pm.  I have an 11pm cutoff to ensure that I’m not floating to the bathroom all night. My first inclination was to apply logic, reasoning that I would miss my goal because I didn’t have enough time left to gulp down 96 more ounces.  However, the optimist in me also made a  rational appeal, saying who cares about the January 1 Mystique. Tomorrow is another day to begin fresh, so accomplish what I could in two hours and forget about what streak I might break. My logical side made me feel like I had failed to achieve the goal, whereas the optimistic side completely freed me from that self-imposed pressures inherent in resolutions. I was able to remind myself that I was free to begin again tomorrow and establish a new streak. With that freedom, I persevered last night and drank the remaining three quarts of water in 90 minutes!  

I suppose the freedom to fail and try again is the beauty of the Great Restart.  January 1 comes once annually, but the Great Restart works 365 days without judgment or pressure.  Had I felt pressured to maintain the streak, I would have allowed logic to rule my behavior with feelings of failure, and not made the attempt at all.  But because I was free to start again another day, I was able to meet my daily water intake goal.  As long as there is breath in our lungs, we have another opportunity to begin anew and get it right, so failure or success is dictated by our mindsets. Though each New Year’s Day seems to bring with it a feeling of newness and a smell of eternal hope in the air, the pressure to be perfect may make our resolve fade when the luster wears off. I have decided that I will not be held hostage by my resolutions.  If they fall apart despite my best intentions, I know that all hope is not lost. Each day brings the promise of newness and an opportunity for the Great Restart to work its magic better than the allure of January 1.  There are 350 days left to try again.  What are you waiting for?  

Posted: January 15, 2018, 9:01 pm

WORDPLAY: Empathy- The Beauty of the Grays

The journey of entrepreneurship has been a thrilling one with many ups and downs, peaks and valleys.  As I travail this long and winding road, I have traveled to places and had experiences that I never imagined.  While I have felt like I stumbled into a bear trap a time or two, I am absolutely in love with this road less traveled. While answering the call on my life and leaving the creature comforts of a traditional workplace has exceeded my expectations professionally, it has also had many unintended personal benefits. The theme that resonates is expansion, as my thoughts, ideas, perceptions, judgments and emotions have been stretched to levels previously unknown.  My capacity to do just about everything has been increased and strengthened in ways I never fathomed. I have more drive, perseverance and intestinal fortitude. I am more patient, resilient and have an increased level of sensitivity that honestly makes me uncomfortable at times. Prior to this journey, which has been just as much spiritual, as it has been professional,  I was a bit of a monster.  I would like to think a lovable cookie monster, but a monster nonetheless. I am honest, perhaps to a fault, and very much a straight shooter.  My mentality was more “suck it up,” than “you need a hug.” For much of my life I embraced the black and white of life, avoiding the murky abyss of the grayish, whitish, blackish unclear areas. I preferred to write a check for a cause than to personally invest my emotions. But as my experiences are broadening, I find myself in the unchartered waters of the grays of empathy.  

While I have always been sympathetic to the concerns of others, I have realized that my empathetic meter needed some adjusting. Though empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, I am understanding that the emotional factors are very different. Both have components of concern for another’s well-being, but empathy requires the investment of a shared emotional connection as if that experience is your own. It is the act of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeking to understand their emotional response to a particular situation. Clearly, there is not much room for a “suck it up” mentality when you are truly desiring to do more than feel sorry for someone else’s plight, but share the experience with them.  This pursuit of music, with its twists and turns, has definitely increased my capacity for understanding and relating to the plight of others. In fact, I recently took an empathy quiz and scored a 97 out of 110. The results said that my score suggested that I have a strong ability to sense other people’s emotions—the dimension of empathy known as “affective empathy.” If others seem happy, I feel their happiness and if they are suffering, I feel their pain. My ability to sense others’ emotional states make me feel more concerned about their welfare, and more likely to want to help them when they are distressed. The results further indicated that I can easily put myself in others’ shoes and imagine what they might be thinking or feeling—the dimension of empathy known as “cognitive empathy.” The ability to take other people’s perspectives helps me communicate and negotiate more effectively in my personal and professional relationships, and may also make me less likely to rely on stereotypes when trying to understand others’ behavior.  This assessment is spot on with the newer, softer, “you need a hug,” me.  I look at people in pain now and my eyes well up.  It’s almost ridiculous but I am appreciative of this more enlightened way of interacting with the human experience.  The deeper I foray on this spiritual and professional journey of becoming me, I am learning that the black and white of life is ripe for judgment, condemnation and punishment, but compassion, grace and empathy are found in the beauty of the grays.

Posted: December 15, 2017, 10:28 pm

WORDPLAY:  Don’t Let Edgy Editor Crash the Party

In my most recent post, I mentioned how awesome it is to have music on a continuous playlist in my mind, being a songwriter and all.  Lady Muse shows up whenever she desires to sprinkle her sparkling fuchsia pixie dust all over the place.  But all too often, her cantankerous counterpart, Edgy Editor, is an uninvited guest. He is an absolute monster whose unmitigated nerve knows no bounds.  He is constantly scrapping lyrics and melodies, ready to snuff out the brightest of ideas and rewrite songs playing on the radio. Savage. Edgy’s weapon of choice is his lightning fast, sharp red pen, a lethal but necessary evil.  As essential as Lady Muse is to the creative process, Edgy Editor, in my humble opinion, is actually more critical.  His primary job is to vet an idea to ensure there is actually a worthwhile song to be written from Lady Muse’s flurries of inspiration. If the idea survives the initial red pen onslaught, then Edgy makes sure the song remains on task and conveys the intended message. In other words, he keeps the pixie dust out of our ears and eyes so that the song is not drowned by all that pretty glitter. He is essential, but timing is everything.  

There is a thin line between inspiration and expiration. While Lady Muse can float in and out, freely moving about the sacred creative space, Edgy Editor needs to be kept in his place and invited to the process in due course.  When he’s allowed to barge in like a party crasher, he often kills the feel good vibes of inspiration that Lady Muse is creating, with all his critical thinking, early editing and “that’s a silly idea” banter.  In a cowriting situation, his red pen is one of the leading causes of death, killing the inspiration and likely putting an expiration date on that creative partnership.  As I am learning and growing as a songwriter, I definitely see the beauty in allowing the lyric and melodies to flow in a continuous process so as to give the song some shape and form. Edgy is always chomping at the bit to jump in and massacre everything, but I resist him. He’s invited to do his initial job of vetting the idea to make sure there is a viable song, and then I send him to sit quietly in the corner. Once the song begins to take shape and I have a clear idea of the message I desire to convey, I allow Edgy to hover over my shoulder but his red pen must remain in his pocket protector.  Though he doesn’t get a seat at the creative table, he has carte blanche in the editing room to do what he does best. That is his playground and Lady Muse is sent to the corner of the room to sulk. Sometimes his cuts are deep and unyielding, but the end product is always better having undergone Edgy’s red pen. His editing and rewriting is just as important, if not more important, than writing the initial song.  I would even dare to say that though Lady Muse gets all the credit, Edgy Editor’s red pen is where the real magic happens.

Posted: November 15, 2017, 9:37 pm

WORDPLAY: When Lady Muse Whispers

Music is playing on a constant loop in my head. I suppose as a songwriter that’s a pretty good problem to have, but admittedly, Lady Muse does show up whenever she desires. I remember a few years ago a video showed Beyonce sitting courtside at a Nets game swaying while there was no music being played in the arena. The accompanying article surmised that she was an alien from outer space and felt her behavior was extremely bizarre. I, on the other hand, recognized that spaced out, disconnected gaze instantly. I totally understood that she was a million miles from the Barclay Center creating a masterpiece in her head, while trying to  be present at the basketball game with her husband.  I will take it a step further and say she probably wished she could run to a studio to get that melody out of her head! Lady Muse is no respecter of persons and she will indeed have you out here in these streets looking crazy. Unfortunately for Beyonce, everything is newsworthy when you’re famous. Speaking of famous, her amazingly talented other half named his latest and highly acclaimed album 4:44 because he was snatched out of his sleep at 4:44am by Lady Muse to write the title track.  

Though I am neither rich nor famous, I am humbled to be in the excellent company of talents like Jay-Z and Beyonce, where Lady Muse is concerned. I can attest that she randomly makes her appearances at many inopportune times.  I too have looked like a space cadet on the streets of New York as I sway and replay melodies and lyrics in my head.  I have had countless “way too late night and way too early morning” encounters where I was snatched out of my sleep. I use to try to ignore the interruption but Lady Muse is unrelenting. The music, melody or lyrics would just continue to play and gradually increase in volume until I grabbed my iPhone and recorded a quick voice memo. Usually that was sufficient, but sometimes I actually had to wake up and get out of bed to empty out all the inspiration she had for me in the moment.  I have been in the middle of church service where she has made several uninvited appearances. In those instances, I had to keep letting the melody replay until I could get to my phone immediately after service. I have also been in places where I could only whisper the inspiration into my phone and pray that it was not inaudible when I played it back. I could barely hear some of the recording more times than I care to share, but thank goodness voice memos have replaced relying our memory.  In fact, Lady Muse comes through so frequently and unexpectedly that my voice memos are almost at the double digit gigabyte mark.

I read a quote last year by Robert McKee, who said, “if the Muse exists, she doesn’t whisper to the untalented.”  Though that seems a bit harsh, I believe there is truth to that statement.  When Lady Muse whispers, I believe that she does, in fact, whisper to the talented, but only the ones who are not lazy. So that sounds just as harsh, but in my own experiences, I am clear that I was not roused out of sleep at 4:44am or looking crazy on a public street until there was a higher level of dedication and discipline to my creative process.  I have always been a writer since I was a child, but I have not always actively engaged my creative center. When I was playing around and dabbling with music, prose and poems whenever the inspiration struck, the striking was fairly infrequent.  But when I began to show up and develop a higher level of skill only achievable through dedication, it was like Lady Muse took notice.  I would like to think that I invited her over for tea the first few times, but now she has made herself a key and moved in.  I don’t really know how it all happened but despite the inconvenient and often obtrusive manner in which she functions, I think she’s super dope.  I am grateful that she has decided that I am a good vessel in which to pour her multitudinous inspirations.   I have to tell you, when Lady Muse whispers, it’s always something that I am excited to hear.

Posted: October 15, 2017, 6:00 pm

WORDPLAY: Disappointment- For Every Mountain I’ve Ascended

Yesterday morning I looked at a blank screen having no idea what I was going to write. In truth, I was begrudging having to write at all because these posts commit me to showing up to say something insightful every 15th of the month.  Sometimes I feel super deep and learned, like there should be volumes dedicated to my pithy sayings.  Then God kindly taps me on the shoulder, and in my humbled submission I acknowledge that the more I learn, I learn  that I know nothing. Let that marinate for a second… but that’s an entirely different post. Nonetheless, despite feeling uninspired, I showed up for the worthy cause of being a small voice in this clanging noise called life.  Several equally uninspiring hours later, my spirit was lead to look at a post I was invited to read last Sunday. The writing began with a beautifully vivid picture of those rare times in life when the sun and wind and the moon and stars all align to bolster that unshakable feeling of invincibility. Then, like any good movie script, the scene cuts to a stark reality when the sun and wind and the moon and stars literally fall out the sky and come crashing down in an inglorious mess. The S on the chest is quickly replaced by H, because it is in those moments we realize we aren’t invincible at all, but human.  In layman’s terms, that kryptonite that brings us to our knees is called disappointment, a palpable emotion from which no human is immune.  

As I became totally immersed in the story, I found myself agreeing with the insights expressed about dealing with the hurt of disappointment.  Having ruminated on the woes and vicissitudes of life, particularly during my own seasons of lament, I know how easily the most optimistic of spirits can be dampened and snuffed out when life shows up, hands out beatdowns and takes no prisoners. So immediately I was inspired to encourage the author of that eloquent lament, and began to write the counterargument to disappointment.  See, when we are freshly bruised and battered by devastating news, oftentimes we lose perspective.  In truth, falling apart is a reasonable response to trauma, but we leave ourselves vulnerable to being ravaged even more severely. If disappointment is kryptonite then perspective is the antidote, the wonder drug.  Perspective allows us to respond in gratitude for the things that we still have instead of being swallowed whole by the things that appear to be lost or dreams seemingly deferred.  Life isn’t fair.  That is a truism, for the rain falls on the wicked and the righteous alike.  No one is exempt from experiencing disappointment.   But as I am reminded by one of my earlier post on this topic, it is not the Tragic Symphony of the Terribles that wreak havoc in our lives, but the way in which we dance to the music.

Make no mistake, there is definitely value in the troubling valley of disappointment when all hope seems lost.  I am a testament that the lessons are innumerable and are divinely designed to continue to grow and develop our character, while strengthening our relationship with God.  When trouble comes, sometimes we forget the Lord is sovereign and He is the same yesterday, today and forevermore. He is bigger than our problems and that is not one of my pithy saying, but a fact.  If He has seared a dream into our souls, deferred, though delayed in our human timetable, does not mean denied.  In the valley, perhaps delay is to teach more patience, more compassion, more reliance upon the divine and less upon ourselves. If relationships fall apart, perhaps the valley is the preparation ground for learning increased self love so we show up whole and healed for our next relationships. If we are experiencing financial collapse perhaps the valley is the training ground to make us excellent stewards over the little that remains, so we do not mismanage the abundance that God has stored up for us.  The takeaway is to keep perspective and not begrudge the lessons that are inherent in hardship and disappointment. The lessons are more valuable than silver and gold because pressure makes diamonds in the underbelly of the valley.  When I look over the hardships and disappointments of my life, I realized For Every Mountain I’ve Ascended, there was a valley.  So if there must be a valley, then there must be another mountain to ascend. Stay prayerful, faithful and grateful for the valley.  The view from the next mountain is going to take your breath away.  

Posted: September 15, 2017, 8:48 pm

WORDPLAY: This Little Light of Mine

What is your purpose?  If the question makes you squirm, then good, because it should. This is particularly so if you are over twelve and have not thought about it. You may be doing substantially more than squirming if you have pondered the question, received the answer, yet continued the status quo rather than embracing who you were designed to be. Let me say that I totally get it.  I am certainly not casting any aspersions because I did my own substantial squirming for far too long. The old adage, “better safe than sorry,” comes to mind. Indeed, I was safe, successful, secure, but ultimately, I ended up sorry nonetheless. Why? I was busy living someone else’s safe life and rotting away from the inside out.  The truth is I was too afraid to fully own who God intended me to be. I call it walking in my light.

Regardless of whether we believe it or not, we all have purpose. I’ll go one step further and say that each of us has been given a multitude of talents which are uniquely apart of who we are as people. These individual talents and capabilities, are gifts to be given back to each other, not to lie dormant, used sparingly, or solely for our own benefit.  1 Peter 4:10 says that each of us should use whatever gifts we “have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” This scripture reminded me of two of my friends with very different viewpoints.  I was recently talking to one of my lovely sorority sisters and she was thoroughly convinced that she didn’t have purpose; a thing at which she was good, or even excellent. She wished she had something to share with the world, but felt that she was not particularly gifted in any way. We had several discussions on this topic, eventually unearthing her thoughts, passions and unique gifts that she never considered talents. As a result of her willingness to examine her thoughts about purpose, she has been able to identify several areas for exploration. She is excited about the possibilities of her new frontier and is looking forward to walking in her light. Conversely, I have another friend who is definitely in his light, but that light is reserved for the discerning and tenacious who persevere to find it. Through our various discussions, it appears that he is unconcerned about sharing his gifts with others. Public consumption, even on a local level, seems to be an aversion to him. Basically, if you are not diligently looking, you will certainly miss his light.

As I thought about the juxtaposing viewpoints of my two friends, I was lead to Matthew 5:14-16:  “14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.” This is a reminder that we are all responsible for how we show up in the world.  We are to unearth our purpose and let our light shine. In practical terms, my two friends both received beautifully wrapped boxes filled with their individual gifts. My sorority sister never opened the box to see the gift she received until recently. At the opposite end of the spectrum, my guy friend opened the box immediately, happily uses the gift daily, but is selective with whom he shares what he has been given.  When I reflect on my journey, I have been both of my friends. There was a time that I walked right past that box, not even wondering what was inside. Then, when I finally opened it, I kept it to myself.  I was not willing to share and walk in my light. The “lucky few” who got to see my light were good enough for me. However, I eventually came to realize that no matter how hard I tried, my light could not be dimmed or extinguished, anymore than a town built on a hill can be hidden.  Walking in my light has been the single best thing that I have ever done because it has allowed me to become my authentic self. I am who I am by God’s design. I am learning every single day, to let this little light of mine…shine.

Posted: August 15, 2017, 8:23 pm

WORDPLAY:  The Art of Collaboration 

I didn’t make any resolutions for 2017, however, I did resolve to actively seek cowriting opportunities. I had become a bit of a lone wolf in my creative process over the years because I have tried to fit several square pegs into round holes. I love the idea of working cooperatively but after a few crashes and burns, I became more hesitant to collaborate. However, as I began to find my authentic voice as a songwriter, I realized that I am comfortable writing in several genres and the Muse, if you will, has carte blanche to do whatever she pleases. I am often amazed at the end of a solo writing session because my songs cover such wide spectrums; from the totally absurd to the cerebral and provocative. I never know what is going to happen when I sit down to write. So when I previously brought my unchecked crazy into a creative situation where the other writer only functioned in complete sanity, I often felt stifled by the inability to explore. Through trial and error, I have learned that there is an art to collaboration.  

I have heard cowriting described in many ways: a business arrangement; partnership; marriage; therapy session; and one of my favorites, a date… some collaborations will be good, bad, and down right ugly.  With some you will go on another date, maybe even several before you determine if you are compatible. Others, you know from the moment you order the appetizers that you want to ask for the check and run for the hills. I have, fortunately and unfortunately, had all of these experiences.  I think those descriptions are all accurate in varying degrees, but I personally like to compare collaboration to shoes, a subject very near and dear to my heart. For me, collaboration has been like trying on shoes to see which ones fit well.  I love shoes.  It is almost like they call out my name when I am window shopping. That’s a post for another day, but suffice it to say, when I am looking for a pair of shoes, I browse and look at all the ones that interest me. I might like a purple pair of ballerina flats but think to myself, “I have nothing in my closet to wear with those,” so I won’t try them on. Certainly, I’d come across a functional black pair of wedges, but since I have several black heels and flats already, I wouldn’t necessarily be looking for another. Then through patience, I would find a pair that isn’t exactly what I already have in my closet, but not so “outside the box” that I don’t have anything to wear with them. I’d try them on and sometimes they’re too narrow and pinch my toe.  They’re nice, beautiful even, but not a good fit. So I keep looking for the right pair of shoes.  As I browse, I would come across a pair of lovely D’Orsay heels that feel really good, comfortable, but only work for the right occasions. They aren’t your everyday shoes but they are killer for a black tie affair where stilettos are required. Sometimes I just need a pair of Js, so I head for the sneaker store.  They are comfortable and do the trick most times, but just like I can’t play basketball in stilettos, neither can I wear Jordans to that black tie affair. For the record, I can’t play basketball in Jordans either, but the point here is I continue to window shop and try on shoes until I find the pair I need for each occasion.

To be clear, I have not turned down anyone who desired to collaborate.  I think you become a better team player and songwriter, so I am open to collaborating with anyone who is serious about pursuing music professionally. I have it on good authority from several hit songwriters that they wrote with everyone when they were first starting out.  There is something to be said about the humility that you can gain by being in a room with someone who you are better than, as well as with someone who is better than you. Conventional wisdom says to always “write up,” but I have found that some of my most beneficial collaborations have been with people who are less experienced.  I think sometimes the best things can happen when you are simply open to being in the room with someone who is present and giving 110% effort regardless of their ultimate contribution to the final lyrics or melody.  I have written songs that I never would have thought of but for collaborating.  But the only way I learned to be open is through collaborating and trying on lots of shoes.

There is, however, a science to my window shopping.  I am not just wandering around the mall with no objective as time is an expensive commodity.  I believe before you can master the art of collaboration, you have to learn who you are as a songwriter and a creative.  No one else can define your authentic voice and until you do so, you are simply imitating others… sometimes cheaply. In discovering my voice, I now know what I bring to a room and when it needs to be there. I have identified my strengths and weakness and window shop to find writers that compliment those strengths and bolsters those weaknesses. So no more trying to fit square pegs into round holes and inviting a cowriter whose authentic voice is alternative pop to write a country song. I have cowriters who are genre-specific as well as ones who write in multiple genres.  Shoes for every occasion. In practical terms, two strong lyricist who are mediocre at melodies and do not play instruments may have a more challenging cowrite than a strong lyricist matched with a strong melodist who is decent at guitar. This is what I mean by having an objective when you look for cowriters.  If you don’t know what you bring to a creative environment, then you don’t know what you need to make the song the best it can be.  The goal for me these days when collaborating is not to complete a song, but make the song its best version; better than it would have been if it were written alone.   Lastly, laughing and enjoying spending the precious commodity of time with you cowriter is essential. If there are personality clashes, its hard for creativity to flourish, so those shoes that pinch my toes stay at the store.

There are another pair of shoes I didn’t mention because they are already in my closet. I don’t know what guys do, but every woman has a pair of shoes that she  slips in the bottom of her bag when those stilettos have worked overtime. In shoe talk, they are your old faithfuls, like super comfy flip-flops or slippers. In human talk, these are the cowriters who are your go-to people who you write with on a consistent basis. I have heard these writers described as your tribe.  Finding your tribe is only possible through patiently window shopping and trying on shoes on a consistent basis. Admittedly you are opening yourself to situations that may not be favorable.  But the only way to find a good fitting pair of shoes that’s right for all occasions is to try them on.  There’s an art to this thing called collaboration, so window shop wisely. 

Posted: July 15, 2017, 9:07 pm

WORDPLAY:  Talent Isn’t Enough

In my professional pursuit of music, I have learned many invaluable lessons.  The first and hardest lesson was the realization that talent is not enough. Wait what?!?  This seems to be an overlooked concept in the minds of musicians. As songwriters, we perform the magic trick of literally making something out of nothing each time we sit down to create. If we are able to write something that remotely resembles a song, we believe that we possess a particularly excellent aptitude to make music, even if we don’t. With that misguided belief, the logical conclusion is each of us has what it takes to be successful in the music industry as a music professional. Wrong answer. If talent were enough in any pursuit, then everyone would be wildly successful with zero effort because everyone has gifts and talents by virtue of being human. But I am learning on a daily basis that talent is the starting point not the destination. According to Malcolm Gladwell, author, journalist and staff writer for the New Yorker, there is a phenomenon known as the 10,000 Hour Rule. In his 2008 New York Times bestselling book entitled, Outliers, Gladwell contends that in order to achieve a level of mastery in a particular area, “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”  In expounding on this concept several years later, he stated “that practice isn’t a sufficient condition for success.  I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grandmaster.  The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest.”

So does practice make perfect? When I thought about the concept more deeply, what came to mind was the facelift that the  adage was given by famed football coach, Vince Lombardi, when he said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Meaningful practice and dedication seems to be the hallmark of the 10,000 Hour Rule, which makes perfect sense. The combination of talent and deliberate preparation, through the meaningful dedication of time and energy to a particular vocation or pursuit, will likely yield successful results.  Though Gladwell later stated that the concept doesn’t apply to sports, I submit that even Serena Williams, LeBron James, Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter all became upper echelon athletes because of meaningful practice and the intangibles, like attitude, determination and work ethic. If each had their innate natural athleticism but never dedicated themselves to the learning and mastery of their respective sport, would any of them have reached world class status in their area? Conversely, the stories of those who had all the natural aptitude but never reached their fullest potential, are legion. Sometimes they were products of their environment and circumstances prevented their ascension, but in other situations, they had the talent but lacked the character to dedicate themselves to the pursuit in any meaningful way that ensured success and longevity.

Don’t get me wrong. God-given, natural talent is necessary. It is, in my opinion, the foundation. Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal dancer for the prestigious American Ballet Theater, did not begin ballet classes until she was 13. In the dance world, she was virtually a geriatric.  But her natural talent, in combination with the meaningful dedication of her time and energy to ballet, played a significant role in her success. Then add the intangibles: the good attitude; the stellar work ethic; the never quit mentality; and a million other strong character attributes and positive outside influences, and voila! As a soloist during the ballet season, she rehearses from 10am-7pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Clearly, it is more than talent that allows her to maintain such a rigorous schedule and keep her performing at such an amazing level.  

So what am I saying?  In a nutshell… it takes talent to get in the race, but a lot more to get across the finish line.  At my stage in my own music marathon, I don’t even know what it takes to cross the finish line in first place! I suppose you have to ask Misty, Serena, Lebron, Peyton and Derek. lol  I am still working out the particulars but if I find out, I will let you know.  What I know now is practice is a necessary component to add to your natural talent, and lots of it, if you desire to become a music professional.  But let’s be clear that practicing just anything and reinforcing bad habits are not the solution. If you want to be a professional guitar player, practicing on a guitar with one string for 10,000 hours is not the meaningful practice, the perfect practice, that will achieve that goal.  I read in a recent blog that if you apply the 10,000 Hour Rule to songwriting, assuming that it takes 4 hours to write a song, then one would have to write at least 2500 songs to become an expert. While I believe that number to be a benchmark that simply cannot be applied without consideration given to talent, meaningful practice and intangibles, the theory is not wrong.  I am a much better songwriter today than I was even last year because I have dedicated myself to learning about the craft and practicing deliberately and meaningfully. I am absolutely getting out what I am putting in and I believe that my efforts will continue to reap benefits.  Just yesterday I was issued a challenge by a music professional who basically told me to dare to be great. Good writing is not good enough because greatness is possible. Well amen. That statement brings me back full circle to the first and hardest lesson I have learned: Talent isn’t enough… so practice perfectly!    

Posted: June 15, 2017, 9:30 pm
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