Surrender and Loving It ‘Til You Know What It Is

137_3724 I am in a large group of women artists who have driven up to the ridge of a mountain range and then down a very windy road to a secluded artists retreat program in northern California. All I want to do is stare at the dreamy landscape, watching how the golden green hills go back and back and back, disappearing finally into a fog bank which hovers just above the sea in the distance. I want to watch as the wind blows, the fog clears, and the misty outlines of the hilltops begin to glisten in the midday sunlight. I want to sit and sketch it, and fill in the colors I am seeing, and try to capture the dreaminess, the haziness of it all, the lack of precise outlines which gives it that quality of mystery that makes me want to keep staring. IMG_3510 But we have a schedule. There are ranchers and herders moving us along in this schedule, ensuring that we are on time. I help myself to a large lunch - two servings each of lentil soup and kale salad with some fruit on the side. My idea of a perfect meal. But my stomach feels slightly full after all that, and I am ready to rest and digest. Having forgotten the schedule momentarily, I’m jarred when it is announced that we now need to move into another room for a “movement activity”. Continue reading "Surrender and Loving It ‘Til You Know What It Is"

Learning to Ride

It’s freezing. All I know is it’s 11 miles out and back. The description on the website had said, “Participants must be in good cardiovascular condition. No single track/technical work. Climbing for sure.” I should have known when I saw the fat tires on everyone else’s bikes. P1360064 Oh, how we wish that learning would take place in the comfort of our familiar homes! A cozy blanket, a warm cup of tea, our favorite music playing, and the knowing that everything as we have chosen and arranged it now surrounds us. Learning for me always looked like showing up in a classroom, or privately in front of a teacher, and demonstrating what I knew. I would then get feedback in the form of a critique, the next challenge chosen by the teacher, or a score on a test that told me how much what I thought I learned matched what I was expected to have learned. What I learned on my first mountain bike ride this weekend is that learning – the fresh, raw experience of aha!wow! that’s new! – can be extremely uncomfortable. It can happen when we are placed (or we find ourselves) in a situation we did not know we chose (but we did) and that every fiber of our being is wanting to fix, alter, escape, or resist. But there we are. In my case, “there” was a guided 11-mile ride on a closed access trail. Turning back was not an option without taking the entire group with me.
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A map of the terrain, which can't really tell us what it's going to feel like.
Continue reading "Learning to Ride"

On the other side of beautiful

P1310482 Lisa Matty 1 CROPPED THIS was not a photo on my vision board. I was perfectly content to be performing, showing what I was able to do comfortably, easily, and predictably. I thought I was getting "good" at playing freely, improvising, and creating in the moment. The sound of Chinese Melodrama that matches the stacks of CDs we bring to every gig. Then THIS had to happen. By "THIS" I mean: We are at LunarBurn, a three-day outdoor festival and experiment in community living. In my mind, it's a chance to show up and spread the love. We play our first set at the PermaPub, an intimate venue with couches, a bar, and all the impromptu live music one could ask for. We aren’t even finished with a song (Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”) near the end of our set, and a guy appears onstage. He has furry white chaps over his jeans, and a grey hoody. He appears to be maybe under the influence of some substances. But what do I even know about these things? I just thought he was a jerk for interrupting our set. Lisa saying really Here’s my, “Get off the stage, jerk!” look: Lisa judging Yep, what you're seeing is a whole lotta judgment flowing freely from me in that moment. First he wanted to play my violin. I’d rehearsed this response before, so it was easy to say, “Sorry, I don’t let anyone touch my violin.” Continue reading "On the other side of beautiful"

You are not alone…the power of women gathering at TEDxSandHillRdWomen

Last Saturday I attended a program called TEDxSandHillRdWomen in Menlo Park, California. You may already be familiar with the TED talks series. This was one of 130 events of its kind around the world on the same day, gathering women together to hear "ideas worth sharing." I had an intuition about attending, and synchronicity brought me the opportunity to take the place of a friend's friend who could not attend at the last minute. All kinds of insecurities ran through my mind in the hours and days approaching the event. I was not a speaker, "only" an attendee. Yet all of the connotations in my mind about "Sand Hill Road" - the home of venture capitalists and attorneys for all of Silicon Valley, the allure of which had once drawn me into the role of venture capitalist, and eventually drew me to live in this zip code when I first chose to move to California - now haunted me. I wondered what I would wear. I no longer even own any high heeled shoes or suits, and I didn't feel like dressing up to "be like" what my mind believed a "Sand Hill Rd woman" should look like. I watched my mind mull over this question, knowing from my higher awareness that it didn't matter at all what I wore, but also curiously observing as my thoughts popped up anyway. A few days before, a friend heard me describe this and said, "The question you should be asking is, what do YOU want out of this?" I immediately replied, "I want to be comfortable as myself. I want to show up as myself." She smiled and her eyes sparkled as she nodded. "And I'm looking at you right now. I see you, right in front of me now. Are you comfortable?" We were sitting cross-legged on the hardwood floor of my home, getting ready to sing and make music together. I had met with this woman every two weeks for the last two years. I was totally comfortable. And now, nearly a week after attending the amazing TEDx event, I can say that I felt totally comfortable there as well. I was surprised in the most delightful of ways at everything - the diversity of women there, the inspiring speakers offering so many different perspectives, the serendipitous interactions I experienced throughout every moment of the day - and most of all, I was delighted to experience myself as me, fully inhabiting my body and my mind and my spirit exactly where I am today. Continue reading "You are not alone…the power of women gathering at TEDxSandHillRdWomen"

What the Bike Taught Me

About two weeks ago I bought a bike. Brand new, cute as can be, even with a name, "Fiona". I also got the cutest panier ever, with a lime green flower and orange straps. On my very first ride, I got a flat tire. A complete blow out, requiring me to walk it home for about two miles. Luckily it was a particularly beautiful sunset on the ocean, and I got to look up, twisting my head slowly to savor the powder blue sky and cotton candy pink clouds spreading in all directions around me. Still, I was a little shaken by the fact that the road looked so innocent - no broken glass or bed of nails in sight. Just smooth blacktop for as far as the eye could see. Except for whatever jumped into my back tire that evening. It turned into a perfect opportunity to have one of my coworkers show me how to change a flat. Somewhere around step 9 of the process, my eyes started to glaze over, but I kept taking notes as he explained and demonstrated patiently. He taught me about tire protectors and now I own some. If you don't have them, go get some! I've been riding almost every day since. On the sunny ones, I'm riding chin up, smiling from ear to ear, and taking in the sounds of the rolling waves and the expansiveness of the ocean stretching out to the horizon. I note the particular shade of blue in the sky and on the water each day, because they are never repeated exactly. Riding my bike has transformed a routine errand - hopping in my car to drive two miles to the local market for food each day - into a celebration of life. I breathe in the scent of cypress, I feel the warm sunshine on my cheeks, and I experience my own body propelling this amazing machine beneath me. I wonder, “How the bicycle must have transformed human experience when it first appeared on this planet!” And then I think, "What made us dream of a bigger machine that would multiply our speed of transit even more, but not require us to move our bodies at all?" When I'm sitting on my bike, gliding along the paved path near the ocean, I think about these things. I am relaxed and confident, because this is a bike's territory. Pedestrians and dogs must yield. A different story begins the minute I cross from the path to the road. The very last stretch of ride between my house and the market involves crossing a major intersection with a stoplight. Four lanes of traffic, three strip malls, a gas station, a high school, all converge at one point. I have two streets to cross each time I reach this intersection. I walk across one way, and ride across the other, my body often tense with resolve to "get through" without any close encounters with cars or mishaps with my own machine beneath me. One day last week, I was feeling particularly vulnerable. It was drizzling lightly. I liked being alone on the path, feeling the cool breeze in my ears, and the tiny fuzzy droplets of mist gathering on my eyelashes. I was cautious, using the brakes a bit more on the turns, controlling my speed, as I had no idea how Fiona would respond in wet conditions. Continue reading "What the Bike Taught Me"

How does it FEEL to celebrate?

I've never really been good at celebrating my birthday. There are a few birthdays in my life that I remember - one was my 6th birthday when I had a party at my house with my favorite girls from second grade, complete with musical chairs, Bozo buckets, a violin serenade by my brother, and hand-selected party favors for each guest. Another was my sophomore year in college, when my roommate totally surprised me by inviting over half a dozen or so of my best friends, who arrived with cake, balloons, and songs to sing. Yet another was in my twenties, when my brother procured tickets to see Itzhak Perlman and the Minnesota Orchestra, and my parents came into town to join us. But when it has come to my really knowing how to celebrate myself, and knowing what I really have wanted to do on my birthday, I've mostly come up blank. Now I know that it's because I have been more focused on what it LOOKS like to celebrate than how it FEELS to celebrate.

What Celebrating Looks Like

In our image-obsessed culture, we can easily be led to believe that what we SHOW about our lives - how we make things appear - is actually more important than how we FEEL about our selves as we live our lives. Even the lyrics to popular songs teach young girls what it means to "party in the USA" - "Welcome to the land of fame, excess, whoa am I gonna fit in?". Because feelings are often difficult to express in words, or not accurately captured by images, or perhaps don't match up with the social pressure to perform and please, I have (perhaps like you) defaulted to suppressing the feelings, not bothering to connect with them, and making choices based on what will make me LOOK like I'm doing fine. I did this without being conscious of it. It happened slowly, in small steps, over time, like any changes do. Continue reading "How does it FEEL to celebrate?"

Waking Up To Love

Every once in awhile, I get completely jolted into awakening. It's like the universe taking me by the shoulders, shaking me, and saying, "Wake up to your life. Look! Listen! Pay attention!" Usually these moments happen exactly when I admit to myself that I just don't know. When I completely surrender to not knowing, and just relax there, it's my way of asking for guidance. I'm opening to the possibility of something waking me up. Last Wednesday was one of those moments. I dragged myself to another open mic at Angelica's. After going every week for nearly six months now, I admit that sometimes it's a bit of a chore to get myself there. But I do it because I know that playing music and seeing other musicians play - and frankly, the "you-never-know-who'll-show-up" factor - will feed my soul in some way. I even brought my computer this time, because I had been on a bit of a writing "roll" before I left the house, and thought I might pass the time by writing. It was Game One of the World Series, with the San Francisco Giants playing. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. In other words, we didn't expect peak attendance at that night's open mic. Well, it ended up being proof that quality far outweighs quantity. Continue reading "Waking Up To Love"

The Space of No Thinking

The creative space is one of NO mind.
This morning, as I was driving to the grocery store, there were these thoughts running through my head: "What if I could just relax into ACCEPTANCE of myself, exactly as I am right now?" "What if I could treat myself as if right now, exactly as everything is, it IS all exactly as it should be?" I was trying to examine my recent thought patterns which were centered around "concern" for a variety of things in my life: was I spending enough time doing the right things, was I doing enough yoga, was I eating enough fruit and vegetables, was I working hard enough on the right things for my business, was I spending too much time on "non-productive" activities.... The list went on and on, and nothing seemed to be "clicking" or "flowing" during the past few weeks until the rare moments when I just let go and did the ONE thing right in front of me. This morning, I was thinking about the feeling and energy around doing JUST THIS, RIGHT NOW. What is it about that thought which creates flow? It's certainly not a state of heightened anxiety and pushing and grasping. It's not an energy of worrying. It's exactly the opposite. It's LETTING GO of all the worrying and relaxing the mind completely. Continue reading "The Space of No Thinking"

Original versus Cover Songs: So what’s all the fuss about?

One of the interesting versions of partisan politics I've noticed since joining the local open mic scene is between two apparently opposing camps in the music scene - those who play "original" songs versus those who play "covers". "Covers" is a term, uttered either under one's breath with a hint of shame (by the people playing them) or with a distinct tone of disdain and perhaps a spray of saliva on the "c" sound just for emphasis (by those staunch supporters of playing only originals), used to designate music composed by someone other than the performers themselves. This distinction is a foreign one for me since I grew up in the classical music world, where the Great Composers Of All Time were revered and respected as part of my musical education. Some of these Great Composers were Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, to name a few. I focused all of my attention on training and developing the technique required to execute the intentions conveyed in increasingly complex written notation, leading up to the Great Concertos. These were the truly epic compositions that required a tour de force of virtuosic technique and range of emotional expression imagined to be conveyed by the Great Composer.

There was no talk of writing music. Continue reading "Original versus Cover Songs: So what’s all the fuss about?"

Starting a Band: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from Launching Chinese Melodrama – Act One

The past two months have been a whirlwind of activity for me surrounding my new band, Randy Bales' Chinese Melodrama. In case you haven't seen it, we have a new blog and a Twitter account, where you can keep up with our latest activities. We've played in the Bay Area at least two nights every week for the past two months, and spreading our joyful energy has yielded plenty of early interest in our fledgling local band. I've been so amazed with what I've experienced that I put together 10 brief lessons from launching my first ever band. Let me say right away that it's been a total team effort with my friends and fellow musicians, Randy Bales (guitar/vocals) and Cathy Luo (percussion/bass/vocals). 1. Practice in public
  • In other words, be sure to play outside your comfort zone in public every once in awhile. Most of us can learn something from this statement: "Don't be so humble. You're not that good!" I can't tell you how many times Randy has encouraged us to play songs that I didn't feel were "ready". I can also tell you that at our first gig, I was deliriously frightened of what might happen! I had so many ideas about what a "performance" needed to be. Yet if I had waited until I thought we were ready, we might still have never performed in public to this day! My point? Be willing to start small. Just be sure to start!
  • Even if you consider it "practice", show up at your own personal best every time. This doesn’t mean you play perfectly. It means you set an intention for HOW you are showing up each time, and you let go of the results. And you do this every single time.
  • Notice that there will always be ways to improve upon your performance, but never be disappointed in yourself. If you’re tempted to “get down” on yourself or be harsh with your criticism, notice it and ask, “How will this help me show up at my best next time?”
  • Keep playing and be kind to yourself no matter what. Always know that you will have another opportunity to grow. It helps if you…
  • Create a regular consistent schedule of opportunities to play in a supportive environment. You will always get more comfortable by doing what seems uncomfortable at first.
  • All that said, also develop some “comfort food” – material that can always make you feel good, for those moments when you need to boost your own confidence.
2. Do the thing you think you cannot do.
  • This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt is framed on the wall of my office. Practicing in public (item #1) was exactly the thing I thought or believed I could not do, until about a year ago. My peak discomfort point was reached – in a public, but safe, setting – and it forever changed what I believed was possible for me musically.
  • Give yourself the gift of being open to this kind of transformative experience. Instead of avoiding the thing you fear, embrace it as the very chance you’ve been wanting to break through to your next level in life.
3. Strike while the iron is hot.
  • If you have an intention or an idea, start NOW while your energy is behind the project, and take defined steps right away to make your idea feel real to you.
  • Learn to trust yourself. Go with your first instincts.
  • Take small, defined, and consistent actions over a period of time rather than waiting for everything to be “perfect” before you begin. Hint: There is no perfection, so get over yourself and act now.
4. Support other people’s efforts with generous encouragement and humility.
  • Judgment comes more quickly than understanding. Seek to understand first.
  • Capture and share not only your own work but others’ as well. Facebook is a great example of how this works. Don't you love being tagged in photos or videos? And reading others' comments or "Like"s? There is a real-world analog to this, and it's called being present, supportive and expressive. Try it!
  • Collaborate openly. Playing with other artists helps build bridges of trust and understanding, and helps you understand yourself better too. Continue reading "Starting a Band: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from Launching Chinese Melodrama – Act One"