How a Little Fashion Challenge Made Me Feel So Much Better In February

Since the beginning of February, I’ve been involved in another challenge. (no, not surviving the weather, that is a circumstantial challenge, I mean one I chose for fun.) It’s an Instagram closet/wardrobe challenge called Style Me February, (you can follow the hashtag #StyleMeFeb) hosted by Hilary Rushford of Dean Street Society.

Hilary is a Broadway performer turned personal stylist and entrepreneur in New York who is classy, practical, sweet, creative and has mega hustle to make things happen. Or, to pretty much sum it up in two words, she embodies her sign off from all her blog posts and emails - Grace & Gumption.

I was introduced to Hilary a few months ago through working with Sarah Jenks, and the more I learned about Hilary, the more impressed I was at how she did things. I admit at first I was a little skeptical. At very first glance, I presumed she was only about “Fashion”, a concept that in my head in the past has seemed like maybe a nice idea but some sort of combination of unreachable, unpractical and kinda fake, as well as being some big corporate scheme to make me feel bad about myself for not being able to fit into, afford and/or keep up with the latest styles.

Quickly I realized that Hilary is all about fashion in the sense of wearing what makes you look and feel good, that you can afford. She’s about investing in your self worth and not forgetting to have a sense of play and adventure when it comes to getting dressed. When you look good and put together, you feel that way. It’s fashion for empowerment as opposed to trying to fit in.

Plus Hilary is super smart & brave in business, and generous with creating community and sharing what she has learned. And sometimes she even dances! :)

So every month she hosts a Style Me challenge on Instagram, with little prompts for each day and the idea not to go out and buy things to meet the challenge (unless the daily theme points out a hole in your wardrobe you’d really like to fill), but really to use what you have and see if maybe you can remix your closet, or if you don’t have something that fits the prompt, to even choose perhaps to do the opposite for that day, or just skip it.

I’d seen a few of my Instagram friends doing the Style Me challenge in previous months, and yet still kind of thought it wasn’t quite my thing. I did a Gratitude challenge on Instagram during the month of November that I absolutely loved, and a little bit of a winter self-care style one in December that kind of fizzled out for me with holiday stuff but I still enjoyed the days I did. Somehow by the time February rolled around it seemed like maybe, what the heck, I’ll give this Style Me thing a try. While February has the least number of days, it feels like running a marathon to get through the worst part of winter, so having something fun and different to do seemed like a good idea.

I didn’t do every day of the challenge, but I did a lot of them! And a funny thing happened that I didn’t at all expect. At first I was feeling a little awkward about posting photos of myself, afraid that maybe it was too vain. But somehow between the encouraging compliments I got, both online and from people out and about who didn’t even know I was doing the challenge and also just actually seeing myself on a daily basis, something shifted in my mind. To more of a “Oh hey, maybe I am kinda put together and pretty. Even on the days I’m just wearing my Target t-shirts and Wal-Mart work pants. I still choose them and my accessories with awareness.” On the day I wore red lipstick to work with a really old t-shirt and head scarf I’ve worn a million times, I got SO many compliments about how I looked radiant, pretty, glowing, etc. And I swear, the only thing different about that outfit was the lipstick!!

So I went in thinking it was going to be a fun distraction for the month, and I came out with a major boost of self confidence! I call that powerful stuff! Style Me March starts today, and I’m thinking that I will definitely be participating again, if not every day, at least on the days that I need a little extra boost! Thanks Hilary!

July 2013, Part 1

It’s been a rather interesting month.  Jam-packed with all sorts of events, so I’ll start with the first half here and write about the second half soon!

A couple weeks ago, there were a couple of sudden deaths in the community. The heart attack father of three, a week before his youngest daughter’s wedding was terribly sad and a great loss of a good man. The suicide of a young mother, not even 30 years old was tragic and shocking. Not many would suspect that she was suffering from depression. So a lot of sadness and questions memorials and important conversations going on in town & on Facebook.

Along with that, I’ve had two bigger shows in the space of a week - I was the feature artist at the Cafe Paradiso open mic, and also played the open mic at The Mill in Iowa City. Both nights were so great for me!

The Paradiso show was the first time I’d played a longer set in a while. I’ve always enjoyed playing 2 or 3 songs at open mice, but getting to play 7-8 is a whole different story! I really got to settle in, to establish a connection with the audience, create a bit of a through-line between songs to tell the bigger picture of my story. People were really listening, eyes closed sometimes even! And afterward I had some nice conversations about being inspired and going for your dreams! Success! If I can do it, anyone can.

It’s really good for me to remember that just a few years ago, I was sitting with a group of fellow Artist-Way-ers, all standing up in turn to declare our artistic dreams. I can’t remember if I was even able to get to my feet, but I remember shaking and feeling so nervous sick that I could hardly mumble out that I wanted to make a CD. Now not only do I have a recording I’m mighty proud of, I’ve got more copies than I know what to do with! (Oh hey, do you have one yet? :D) I reconnected to that story that night partly because I was in the same room where I’d experienced it, and partly because of the songs I was singing, that were about working out that process.

After riding that high of the longer set and fanning the flames of my desire to play more in more places, I was really excited to have a slot lined up at The Mill in Iowa City. The format there is you book in advance and then get about 20 minutes or so to play. The Mill is an institution, maybe even legendary in some circles - great artists like Greg Brown have called that stage home. I’ve seen Melissa Ferrick, Erin McKeown, Girlyman, and Coyote Grace all perform there. So I was just the tiniest big star struck to get to play on that stage.

When I got there, my name was on a poster, which is always exciting.

A gentleman with a guitar arrived just as I was on my way in, he’d obviously played the gig before, and showed me where the Green Room was, complete with pictures of several people I knew on the walls!

After stowing my gear and checking in with the host, my new friend waved me over to his table and introduced himself as James.  He was from New Jersey and had been coming to Iowa City every summer for a while for the creative writing program.  Playing The Mill open mic was part of that tradition for him.

It was hoooooottt, I don’t know if there was no AC or it was just functioning poorly, but especially up under the lights I was sweating in my boots!  I still had a blast singing to a new crowd.  The Mill serves food and drink, so it was not a 100% attentive all the time type of audience, but they were definitely listening and appreciative, which is what you want!

After my set, throughout the night, I talked with a bunch of folks, handed out a bunch of stickers.  One of the other performers, Jeremy & I connected over capos and the creative process and just getting out there more.  James told me more about his family and how he plays for weddings, funerals and other church events back home, and how he gets through the intense emotional moments. 

I wasn’t able to stay till the end, since I had an hour to drive home and work the next day, but getting to play another longer set, getting to meet new people who appreciated my music and my story was so energizing and fulfilling. 

I’ve been getting kind of down on myself lately for not creating more new songs more often, feeling like my story has an expiration date and that I was somehow failing as an artist for not doing the next big crazy thing.  There may be a portion of truth to that, especially in this internet age, but the other side of the coin is that there are a lot of people out there who I haven’t met yet.  A lot of people to connect with, and my year in Austin is and was and always will be an inspiring thing that I did that no one can take away from me.  16 years ago I rode my bike all the way across Iowa during RAGBRAI.  I’m still mighty proud of that, and it still reminds me that I have access to a certain strength and determination to get big things done when I set my mind to it.

So, not that I should rest on my laurels and stop reaching.  Not that I shouldn’t set new big scary goals and chase them down.  Not that I shouldn’t find a way back to more frequent writing.  As they say in improv, “Yes, AND…”  The amount of fulfillment I got from those two shows, and the number of folks I talked to afterward who were inspired to do their own creative work is enough to remind me that I need to keep playing as much as I can, the songs I have now!  For my sake and for others!  AND keep writing!

In my next write-y blog post I shall have to tell you about my last minute trip to Florida, and probably about how my In The Round show at Java Joe’s goes tomorrow!

Keep Telling Me Lyric Video

I’ve been wanting to do a fun animated lyric video for my song “Keep Telling Me” for a while.  Aside from the fact that I think those lyric videos are cool, that song seemed to lend well to the format as it’s more intellectual than visual.  I kept trying to search different ways to make lyric videos and the stuff I found was either expensive or not what I wanted.  Somehow in my last search I got some inspiration to try a few things in iMovie, which I already have, and came up with this:

It’s perhaps not as splashy and slick as I imagined in my head, but that, I think, is one of the main messages of the song - my head has a lot of big fancy ideas, and a lot of rules about how things should be before I get do them.  My heart just wants to reach out and connect and share and love!  So again and again, the message I keep getting is to work with what I have now, as is.  Who I am and what I have and what I can do RIGHT NOW is good enough, and important to someone, even if it’s only me.  And not just right now, but all along - like for example, I’ve had iMovie on my laptop for as long as I’ve had my laptop!!  If sometime I get the time, money and resources to make a super slick video and I want to re-do this, I can do it then!  It’s all good!

As I’ve mentioned before, Keep Telling Me is the song I wrote for the committee in my head that I’ve learned to be the CEO of - I will hear the doubts out, but they don’t get to run the show!  And clearly that is a continuing lesson, as just my experience of making the video shows.

In case you missed it, this song is from my Anchor EP, available pretty much anywhere you buy digital downloads online!

Here are a few options:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/anchor-ep/id574218079
http://heathermiller.bandcamp.com
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/heathermiller

How about you? What things do you need to keep telling yourself?

115 - Whip In

The open mic at Whip In is on Odd Tuesdays.  That means the 1st, 3rd, and if there is one, the 5th Tuesday of each month.  Which means sometimes you’ll have two weeks in a row, when there’s a 5th Tuesday the week before a first Tuesday of the next month.  It’s really not that confusing, it’s just a little odd. Which fits the Whip In.

But some people mistakenly think of it as “every other week”.  Which is probably why when I showed up a little late on the first Tuesday of February, which came after a 5th Tuesday in January, I was the second person on the list, and I got to do five songs.  I had been crossing my fingers I’d get to play at all, because other times showing up late meant playing late, even with everyone only playing two songs.  Since I was bussing it that night, I had a definite deadline to get home if I didn’t want to walk an hour in the dark.

So it was a treat to not only go on shortly after arriving, but also to get to do a longer set.  Better still, there were people and whole tables actually paying attention and enjoying the songs.  Partway through, a few other musicians showed up, so it turned out to be a sweet little open mic night after all.  Still it was cool to know for myself that if they hadn’t, I would have felt totally comfortable playing even longer!

To top it off, after my set, one of the waiters tapped me on the shoulder, pointed to a couple who had been attentive and appreciative while I played, and said, “Hey, they want to buy you a drink.”  I felt a little like a rockstar for a minute, ordered a beer and brought my dinner over to their table to hang out.  They were both big music fans and we talked about different bands and festivals and venues and creative inspiration.   I didn’t quite catch what she does, but he designs children’s toys and they are pretty darn cute if you’ve got any little ones who need presents! http://giggletoys.com/ They bought drinks for the duo that went on after me as well and we all sat and chatted between songs.  One of the gals who I noticed was enjoying my set came up to say so on her way out the door.  

All-in-all, a pretty awesome night!  It is fun to look back and remember that it was only June last year that I did my first open mic in Austin at Whip In, and how nervous and sick I felt, and how rough that performance went, and that 8 months later people are buying me beer?!  Neat! :-D

Songs: Keep Telling Me, Rain Song, I Know, Jonah’s Whale, Sister’s Prayer

#109. I love Fair Bean. Love the Red Symphony.  
Sweet, low-key night for the most part.  Some folks decided to leave/had to go right as I was getting up to do my set, which meant they ended up having a conversation of goodbyes right next to me.  I wavered for a second between waiting for them to leave and starting, and decided to go ahead with Jonah since I feel pretty solid with that one by now and thought I’d be able to get through it without them rattling me too much.  They were gone by the time I started my second song, the new one, so that worked out.  
It’s a tricky balance, playing in a coffee shop where people may or may not be there to listen.  You’d certainly hope that at least the other performers would be respectful even if they can’t stay for the whole evening, but some of the patrons really don’t care that you are there at all and you can’t begrudge the venue their business! So you have to not take it personally, but also not shrink back into total un-obtrusiveness.  Claim the space and be centered and hope you can command some attention for at least a little bit, which did happen.
Since most of the folks left after their first set, and there was still time left, the few of us who stayed got to do a second round, which felt even better.  A mom & her two kids came in and I could tell the little guy, who was probably 2 or 3, was really into my guitar.  A few of the folks there for coffee actually looked up and listened for a bit. Another nice gentleman came in to listen for my last couple songs and told me after that my “presence was uplifting”, which was pretty awesome to hear.   :-)  So yeah, sometimes it is just in the timing!
Songs:
Round 1 - Jonah’s Whale, Split in Two, AnchorRound 2 - Shoreline of Alaska, Sister’s Prayer, Wings

#109. I love Fair Bean. Love the Red Symphony.  

Sweet, low-key night for the most part.  Some folks decided to leave/had to go right as I was getting up to do my set, which meant they ended up having a conversation of goodbyes right next to me.  I wavered for a second between waiting for them to leave and starting, and decided to go ahead with Jonah since I feel pretty solid with that one by now and thought I’d be able to get through it without them rattling me too much.  They were gone by the time I started my second song, the new one, so that worked out.  

It’s a tricky balance, playing in a coffee shop where people may or may not be there to listen.  You’d certainly hope that at least the other performers would be respectful even if they can’t stay for the whole evening, but some of the patrons really don’t care that you are there at all and you can’t begrudge the venue their business! So you have to not take it personally, but also not shrink back into total un-obtrusiveness.  Claim the space and be centered and hope you can command some attention for at least a little bit, which did happen.

Since most of the folks left after their first set, and there was still time left, the few of us who stayed got to do a second round, which felt even better.  A mom & her two kids came in and I could tell the little guy, who was probably 2 or 3, was really into my guitar.  A few of the folks there for coffee actually looked up and listened for a bit. Another nice gentleman came in to listen for my last couple songs and told me after that my “presence was uplifting”, which was pretty awesome to hear.   :-)  So yeah, sometimes it is just in the timing!

Songs:

Round 1 - Jonah’s Whale, Split in Two, Anchor
Round 2 - Shoreline of Alaska, Sister’s Prayer, Wings

Too Legit to Quit


Photo by Amy Zamarripa

I got an email from my producer today saying that one of my heros in an independent, nationally touring band said “yes” to playing on my album.  After squealing the news to one of my best friends who was on the phone when I got the email, and then texting my husband and my roommate, I flopped down on the couch in the living room.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I had the thought that, “Wow, I must actually be a legitimate artist if someone like that would agree to play on my EP”.  The phrase that immediately followed that thought was “Too legit to quit!

I’ve been writing songs for years, going to workshops, taking classes, participating in writing groups on and offline.  While I’ve been making leaps and bounds in both my music and as a person out here in Austin, on more occasions than I’d like to admit, I’ve gone through patches where a part of me wonders “What the hell am I doing and who am I kidding anyway?”  In those moments it seems like it would be easier and less scary to go back home and join the ranks of new mothers-to-be posting pictures of their beautiful baby bellies on Facebook.  And then I babysit for a few hours and remember that being a parent is just as hard and scary and beautiful and rewarding and awesome as being an artist, and that by embracing and developing my artistic self, which is who I really am, I’m actually going to be a better parent when the time comes.

I’ve clung to another phrase out here, and through many situations in my life - “Fake it till you make it.”  Over the years I’ve come to find out that even the people I look up to have felt like frauds at one point or another.  They still have vulnerable moments even after years of building up experience and confidence.  But the thing you often find out is that somewhere in the process of the faking, you’ve actually been DOING whatever it is you think you can’t do, which is how you get better at it.  ”Do it till you get better at it” is probably the more accurate phrase, but it doesn’t have the same snappy rhyme scheme as “Fake it till you make it”.  

Tonight as I walked over to the studio where I’ll be recording my EP to pick up a kick-pedal tambourine for band practice tomorrow it occurred to me that no matter what I did or didn’t believe about myself on the inside, anyone looking in from the outside would agree that for at least this moment of my life, I am a musician living in South Austin, actively pursuing my dream.  It’s actually kind of ridiculous and embarrassing to pretend anything else is the case.

Some of the outer edges of the dream are still foggy, but I’m glad and excited it’s becoming so clearly obvious I’m living it that even my curmudgeonly inner critic can’t deny it.  Or that I’ve cleared away enough of the dirt and dust on the windows that I can see better what was there already.  It’s also a tiny bit scary to a part of me because it means I’m running out of excuses to not be an artist, which is what I wanted and why I came here!  

The inner curmudgeon is still gonna try to have a field day with how good/successful/talented of a musician it will admit to me being, but that’s a far cry from the time when it was saying I wasn’t even an musician at all.  ”Gonna try” are the operative words though.  Now that I’ve gotten much more familiar with its games, it’s easier to say, “Shut up Critic!  I’m doing the work and I’m getting better at it!” 

I mean, come on, 87 open mics in 6 months and counting? :)

Living the Questions

Last Saturday I went to the Texas Book Festival with Jana & her friend Heidi to see Terri HendrixLloyd Maines performing in the music tent.  I’d heard a lot about Terri over the years from Jana’s blog, played her songs on my radio show and I even saw her perform about four songs or so at a benefit in my first month or so here in Austin, but this was a full hour set.

I love the book festival logo!

As they were setting up, Terri was scanning the audience, checking out who was there, smiling and nodding and connecting with people between tuning her guitar, setting up her mic stand and such.  I wasn’t sure she would remember me from the brief time we met, but I did mouth “Hi,” when her glance fell on me and she said “Hi,” back, there was a genuine connection I definitely appreciated whether or not she did remember me specifically.

As she started playing, I started crying.  She was so graceful, gracious and connected.  Her lyrics spoke to me, her presentation riveted me.  Terri is not the first musician to move me so deeply, but being surrounded by so much music here in Austin, the ones that can still give me goosebumps & make me cry are clearly the cream of the crop.
The stage has mojo on it!

I wanted to ask her, “Why am I doing this?”  I could see, even in how each song appeared to be effortless, how much work went into making it seem that way.  Another thing that comes with the territory of spending more time with musicians is hearing more of the “war stories”.  The terrible gigs where no one showed up, where the sound system was jacked, where the people sitting in the front row would not shut up, where the payment terms are pitiful or the food is crap, trouble with airports, luggage, customs, etc, etc.

Almost as soon as I had the thought, I knew also that even if I actually asked, her answer would be something along the lines of, “That is a very important question and a thing you need to find out for yourself.”  The Rilke quote about living the questions came to mind at that moment as well.

Somehow, through the course of that hour, the small, still and certain voice, the one that has spoken to me several times in the past couple years, came through saying, “Because I want to.”

It’s the same voice that answered last year when I asked, “Would I be happy in my life just knowing that some of the songs I have written have already deeply affected people’s lives for the better?  Isn’t that enough?  Can I just do this quietly for myself now as time allows and inspiration strikes?”  The answer that came back then, clear as a bell, was, “No.  I need to be doing this for hundreds of people.”

It’s the same voice that came through a few weeks ago, not even in answer to a direct question, but after days of wondering what I was really doing, one morning shortly after waking, and several more times throughout the day that said, “I want to tour.”

As clear and certain as that calm inner voice is, the inner critic is quick to jump in with its chatter about how impossible, impractical and audacious those dreams are.  The inner calm just smiles as if to say, “It’s going to happen, and I’m not worried about it, so you do what you need to do to figure it out.  I’ll be here.”

I know that no matter what, I need the songs, I need to be able to perform them, and I need a recording so that they will have a longer lifespan than the moments I perform them on stage.  All of that is what I am working on here as part of my Rubicon Year.  If the questions are “Why?” and “How?”, I’m living them.  I can’t see the answers but I know I’m right in the middle of them.  It’s going to be SO interesting to look back on this year with a kind and compassionate eye that comes from experience.  In the meantime I’m working on being gentle with myself and continuing to take action, even if only baby steps.

Boulder Farmer’s Market National Songwriters Showcase

Going through some pictures from the past few months and found this one from the Boulder Farmer’s Market in August that I forgot to post!  

I’d heard about this showcase happening the past few years before the Rocky Mountain Song School starts, but never made it to Colorado in time to participate, and to be honest, in previous years I was probably too nervous to even ask if I could.

But after doing so many open mics all summer, I was confident I could rock a similar situation in Boulder, so when I realized that I would be arriving in Boulder on Friday night this time, I wrote to the organizer Jenn Cleary to see if there were any more slots.  She asked me if I could do 8:45am and I said yes.  

Since I went early, I had the whole rest of the day to relax, wander the vendor booths a bit and watch the other performers.  It was hard to leave when everyone that got up was so good!  It was a nice way to start the Song School experience a little early and therefore make it last a little longer.  I even got a Farmer’s Market Coupon for playing that I used to buy some mango sticky rice!  Oh yeah, and we played for tips which we then used to help fund the “Come to Cheeses” wine and cheese party at the campground during the week.

I’m glad I made it in time, I’m glad I asked if there was still room even though it was late notice and I’m glad I said yes even though the time slot was on the early side.  I also made a great connection with Jenn and even had her on my radio show when I got back to Austin!  Check out the archive of that interview here on KRUU.

And here is the lineup of all the performers for the day:

Proud to be part of such a great line-up!

National Songwriters Showcase

Hosted by Jenn Cleary

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

8:30am-2pm

Boulder Farmer’s Market

1900 13th Street, Boulder

8:30 Jenn Cleary Boulder, CO

8:45 Heather Miller Austin, TX/IA

9:00 Keith DeBoer Fairfield, IA

9:15 Rob Clark Boulder, CO

9:30 Julia Knearl Lousiville, CO

9:45 Sharon Glassmon Brooklyn, NY/Longmont, CO

10:00 Scott Dale Boulder, CO

10:15 Cheryl Branz Spokane, WA

10:30 Cheyenne Herland Ogden, UT

10:45 Rebb Firman Lemon Cove, CA

11:00 Ken Langford Broomfield, CO

11:15 Meg Braun Brooklyn, NY

11:30 Jamie Michaels Santa Fe, NM

11:45 Teresa Storch Boston, MA/Longmont, CO

12:15 Christine Constanzo Madison, WI

12:30 Mark Adkins Madison, WI

12:45 Rick Gottlieb Boston, MA

1:00 RJ Cowdery Columbus,OH

1:15 Rick Drost Cambridge, MA

1:30 Michael Bowers Alexandria, VA

1:45 Siobhan Quinn Alexandria, VA

oopsy, has it really been two months since I posted my last big video blog?!  I must have been busy!  :-)

Well better late than never, so here it is, in which I talk about getting my Berklee Music Master Songwriting Certificate, performing at over 35 open mics in two months and the benefits of that experience, getting stronger in all sorts of ways, performing with the band, finishing the first season of my Rubicon Year, being excited for Rocky Mountain Song School & Folks Fest, upcoming challenges including making money and starting martial arts - Krav Magaw. wow.


Links to things I mention in the video:
http://heathermillermusic.com
http://www.rubiconartistdevelopment.com/
http://www.berkleemusic.com/
http://janapochop.com/
http://susangibson.com/
http://www.bluegrass.com/songschool/

PS - At the time of this posting, I am just 15 people away from having 100 “Likes” on my Facebook music page!  I’ve promised to post a video of me playing electric guitar with the band when I get to 100, so if you haven’t yet, won’t you please go click the thumbs up button at http://www.facebook.com/heathermillermusic ?

PPS - If you have liked my page already, do you know anyone who would be interested in hearing my music and/or my story, and will you point them to my Facebook page?  You are awesome!!

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