Why I Don’t Get to Feel Superior Ever Again

Last week, we bought an all-wheel drive minivan.
Before you stop reading, send me threatening emails or unfriend me, hear me out. There are stranger things, Horatio…

Before there was the mini van, of course, there was the oft celebrated Jetta,which could run on vegetable oil and in any case got 41 miles to the gallon. Tom and I bought it shortly (like 3 days) after seeing Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Only problem with the Jetta was that, by 2014, it could barely contain the four of us, let alone our stuff, so if we went anywhere at all, we’d need to put the Yakima on the roof. When I pick the kids up from school, only one of them could have a playdate, and if the playdate was Elle’s best friends who are twins, I had to make them walk home, which was fine if the weather was ok (though Jay inevitably protested). When my parents came to visit, we had to go everywhere in two cars.

And then there came a procession of not one but two gas guzzling silver trucks, a honking Tundra and a much svelter (but still guzzling) Tacoma. They were the purchases of my husband, and since I’ve vowed never to speak ill of him, I’ll just leave you with that information. I am a loving wife, and I want my husband to be happy. ‘Nuff said. Plus, that husband of mine bikes almost everywhere. It takes him over two months to use one tank of gas. Still. There were two trucks. And a Jetta. Did we really need to be a three car family? I mean, a two-truck, one-car family? No.

But there came a time when said husband came to his senses and said, “Lo, good Wife! But these silver trucks doth consume much more than their share of global commestables in the form of fossil fuels, and methinks we should unload at least one of them! For I have climbed high up yonder mountain, and I have seen the New Order, and Lo! It containeth no trucks!”

Or something like that. Anyway, the point is we were both feeling sick about the two stupid trucks taking up space in our driveway, not to mention making it impossible to get in or out of our driveway without scratching said vehicles on the arbor vitae, or occasionally leveling the arbor vitae. Meanwhile, Katryna and I have some gigs coming up on which family members wanted to join us. We’re going to visit the grands over April vacation, and while at it play at our old church (Immanuel Presbyterian–come on out on Wednesday April 23 and see our Pete Seeger Sing Along!) and do a school gig in New Jersey on the way home. Katryna’s ancient Sienna, which used to be our touring vehicle, has gone well over 200,000 and is in grave need of repairs, if not the grave itself. Not to mention, it’s snowed in at the moment. We can’t all fit in her Corolla, not 3 kids, a sound system and the guitar, the violins and the stuffed animals and pillows and blankets and all the garbage we’ll surely accumulate on the trip.

And so the idea curled up in my brain like a seed about to unfurl, and soon I was mentioning minivans to Tom at every opportunity. “Well, if we had a minivan…” I’d begin most sentences. And for the first time, he was not opposed. Well, actually, this was the first time. See, I’d had an aversion to minivans. I felt that to own a minivan was to just roll over and declare myself a middle-aged mom whose priority was her kids. NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT!!!!!!! But it didn’t fit with my own self-image of hip aging-rock-star/environmentalist.

Elle concurred. “No!!!!” she wailed, pointing at the sticker in the car dealership. “This gets 17 miles to the gallon! Let’s get a Prius!”

Our plan was to sell the trucks on Craiglist for $11,000 (Tundra, 91,000 miles) and $8000 (Tacoma, 169,000 miles) but no one else, apparently, thought that that was a good idea. Why? Who could resist this photo we posted?

The trucks did not budge. So, just to see what would happen if we went to the dealer and asked what the trade in value would be, we spent a Sunday afternoon not buying a minivan. “See?” I told Tom as we walked away from their insulting offer ($6000 for the Tundra, $4000 for the Tacoma). “I don’t budge.”

We did test drive the van, though. And all my Puritanical, high-minded, Polarbear-loving leanings were sorely strained by the smooth ride, the leather seats, the amazing sound system, the automatic doors, the squeals of delight from the kids in the back seat (even Elle was won over). We could live in that van.

Still, it was just all too much. Literally. Too big. Too fancy. Too wasteful! I’d thought, initially, we’d buy and sell on craigslist and end up with more space in our driveway and a bit of cash. Instead, we were facing a much smaller number in our bank account and two huge losses on our trucks. And no vehicle to lug the trash to the dump. Or to loan to our friends who were moving, or to offer as a prize at the auctions our school and church hold annually. (Two days with Tom’s truck!)

So Tom and I had a sleepless night, a dark night of the soul, if you will. And when we woke up, we were in agreement.

“Let’s do it,” he said. “You need it for your gigs. And we can bring it to the Adirondacks. We need to be able to carpool, have playdates for the kids.”

“And I was thinking,” I said. “That you should keep the Tacoma. You love that truck.”

The truth about what happens when you go to a car dealership to see what the trade in value of your trucks is that you eventually buy a car and spend way more money than you want to. So we have a lot less money now, and no more room in our driveway. I spent a week in feverish buyer’s remorse, thinking of all the worthy causes we could have supported, all the time off we could have taken. And we have blood on our hands, not that we didn’t already; but now we can’t act superior to all those other minivan moms and dads who are, like us, just doing the best they can, trying to juggle it all. My friend said, “You feel sad because you didn’t win at the car game? No one wins at the car game! Only car dealerships, who are experts. We’re supposed to lose money on our cars!”

Still, I have to admit, as I read through what I have written here, I still shake my head at myself and scold. “What are your grandchildren going to say to you when you tell them, ‘Sorry that there are only cockroaches and starlings and squirrels left. Here are some pictures of all the other animals we annihilated by driving gas guzzlers and drying our laundry in machines. We could have been more eco-conscious, but it was crowded in our Jetta!'” And they will look at you, these grown up children, and say, ‘Wah, wah, wah. Tell it to the polarbears.”

But maybe beating myself up is better that than the alternative: blaming everyone else. Or each other. Truth is, I was so judgey of Tom and his trucks, in case you couldn’t tell. I felt no compassion when he said, “But it’s so much fun to drive!” Now, that’s how I feel about my van, who I think is named Bessie, for she is like a big, contemplative, ruminating bovine. I drive around in Bessie, and it’s just so much fun. OH! The humility.

This morning, Tom got in the Jetta to go somewhere (we’re still mostly driving the Jetta.) But because of the recent late March torrential rains, he spun and spun and spun the wheels. No movement. That baby is completely stuck in the mud.

Thank goodness for our 4 wheel drive truck and van. I get to be one among many, on the ground, not looking down from above. We’re in this together.

Time Consciousness

Time Consciousness

I like the term “time consciousness” better than “time management” because we don’t really manage our time. We think we can, and this causes all sorts of frustrations and forms of mental illness. It’s the illusion of time management that leads to all manner of anxiety and uptight behavior. How can you manage the sun rising and setting? You just have to surrender to it. Besides, as an artist, one of the first rules I learned was that serendipity (which is, by definition, that which is out of one’s control) was the very best song-giver. At the same time, I found early on that the way to be open to serendipity was to leave myself designated times to create, to even go so far as schedule “write songs” into my day planner. We’d be in the van driving around, and I’d start to get that anxious feeling that I always get when I haven’t written a song in awhile. I’d look around quickly and confirm that it would be impossible for me to pull a guitar out of the attached trailer while driving 65 mph down Route 80, and instead sigh and write “songwriting week” into my calendar during the second week of March, the next time we were off the road.

The week of March would arrive; I would come downstairs first thing in the morning with my cup of coffee, notebook, and guitar, and I would write all week until the songs were written. It seemed to work pretty well. But during the interim, I acted like a little video camcorder, taking everything in, jotting down ideas, and humming tunes into a tape recorder. Whatever crossed my path turned into potential material for my songs. This is still pretty much the way I write. I go around figuring the universe is trying to tell me something, so I’d better listen.

The other reason I like the term “time consciousness” is the way it connects to the marvelous truth that all we ever have is this moment, and another way of saying that is all we really have is time. And maybe not as much of it as we assume. I try to hold this loosely, so that I’m not neurotically thinking “must get this done before I die” in a freaked-out, Type A kind of way; neither am I just lolling about eating bon bons and watching American Idol (though Katryna might be). I try to keep a schedule and also an eye open to the plans of others, in case they have a better idea of what I should be doing with my time than I do. Sort of like that excellent 38 Special song “Hold On Loosely.”

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Better to Strive in One’s Own Dharma Than to Succeed in the Dharma of Another

I love my job. It is, after all, my dream job. I have wanted to be a singer since I was seven. I am one of the lucky ones who got to do what she wanted. I love singing for a living, love writing songs, love traveling around the country with my sister. But at the height of my career, I found myself clandestinely purchasing Martha Stewart Living and reading it in secret in the back of the van, hiding its cover behind Rolling Stone. (I referred to Martha Stewart Living as my “porn.”) And sometime around the time I met Tom and we got married, I began having fantasies about having health insurance and weekends off. I began to wish that I didn’t have to rely on my wits so much. If I were someone with an honest trade, like a plumber or a nurse, I thought, I’d always have work to do. If I run out of ideas, I have nothing. This can make a person anxious, or at the least, give them Stiff Neck Virus. Stiff Neck Virus is my father’s term for what happens when suddenly your shoulders creep up to your ears and you have to turn your whole body in order to converse with the person sitting next to you in the car. I always seemed to get Stiff Neck Virus after a long weekend on the road or a plane trip where I had to lug my six-thousand-pound guitar.

In 2004, Katryna took her second maternity leave, and I did a solo tour with Lisa Loeb and Carrie Newcomer called “Folk The Vote.” (It was fun, but apparently we didn’t Folk enough because George W. Bush won a second term.) On that trip, my friend Jill Stratton suggested that I become a life coach. “A what?” I said. But I was intrigued. I’d heard of Martha Beck; I’d even read one of her books. I went home, did some research, made some applications, flew out to Arizona, and within a few months was fully certified in her program. I had a full client roster, and I discovered an entire continent of myself. Day after day, week after week, I sat in my sunny office at home, talking on the phone to men and women about their lives, their careers, their struggles. I listened, challenged, questioned, probed, got excited about their successes and grieved with them about their setbacks. I loved coaching. And I began to think I could do it for the rest of my life. It was fun and creative work, after all. It was especially fun to help them with time management (er, consciousness) and forgiveness work. Most interesting of all for me was exploring the mind-body nexus—getting clients (and myself) to feel feelings in our bodies and using a tool called “wordlessness” to make sense of them; to stay with feelings and not run. As this is not my strong suit—I am the proverbial helium balloon, constantly floating up above as a thought takes me away from the present moment—it was great practice to work with others.

But something nagged at me. There were many times when clients came to me with issues that were frankly above my head. There were many times when I wished I’d had more training. Should I go to grad school for social work? Divinity school? Become a “Master Coach”? But how could I get more training when I still had a music career, a writing career and a family to hang out with?
After the birth of my second child, the director of my favorite yoga studio started coming to the children’s music classes Katryna and I run. “Oh,” I said to her one day. “I have always wanted to do a yoga teacher training. But who has the time?”
“I will teach you privately!” she said.

Yes! I thought. Not only is yoga teacher training on my Bucket List, this is just what my coaching practice needs! I will become even better at being present, being embodied. I will help my clients so much—not to mention fulfill a lifelong dream to create a daily yoga practice. This was IT! The next breadcrumb.

And so for a year and a half, I met with her privately, went to several classes a week, practiced on my own in the mornings, read books on anatomy and medieval yogic philosophy. I learned to do a handstand, twisted my body till I saw things from an entirely different point of view, lost my baby fat, felt a new centeredness and groundedness. The training was half over. I looked ahead to an even more intense period of study and practice. Meanwhile, Katryna and I were writing a book for families, to teach them to make music with their young children; and we were also attempting to record our 16th CD The Full Catastrophe. Friday was our only day to work in the studio. Friday was also a yoga day. Every Friday, I found myself torn between my commitments. Usually I did both.
My teacher assigned The Bhagavad Gita, an ancient text that tells the story of Arjuna, a warrior who is about to enter the battlefield but has suddenly panicked. The poem is a conversation between himself and his charioteer who turns out secretly to be the god Krishna. At one point, Arjuna begs Krishna to reveal himself—to get out of his disguise as charioteer. So Krishna does. But the vision is overwhelming—full of monsters and blood and gore and so much raw beauty and horror that Arjuna is overwhelmed. He wants Krishna to put his Halloween costume back on to finish the conversation. He simply can’t bear to see God in all His glory. It’s like staring into the sun: for us humans, this is a recipe for going blind. And so Krishna takes pity on his poor human charge, and resumes his disguise as charioteer.

Towards the end of the poem, Krishna tells Arjuna, “One’s own dharma, performed imperfectly, is better than another’s dharma well performed. Destruction in one’s own dharma is better, for to perform another’s dharma leads to danger.”
Something profound shifted in me as I read this. My dharma, for better or for worse, is my career as an artist: musician and writer. And, as I understand it, we don’t choose our dharma––which means vocation, among other things. It chooses us. All these months of studying yoga felt very much to me, in that moment, like my dharma. But teaching yoga––that belonged to someone else. Like Arjuna, I was avoiding the “battle” involved in the business of living by one’s wits, by one’s muse––in short, as an artist––by turning to alternative ideas about how to make a living. When I read the Gita, I related to Arjuna throughout; as wanting to get out of the battle, not go forward into my fate––of appearing to others (if not myself) as an aging musician who never had a hit, or of laboring to write a book that might not even make a splash.

Looking backwards at my career, I alighted at my 23-year-old self. If could talk to that 23-year-old, who was safely working in a boarding school as an administrator, just married, with just a dream to be a folk singer, and I, Krishna-like, revealed to her what would be in store for her/me for the next twenty years if I chose this path, that 23-year-old would not have chosen it. That 23-year-old’s idea was to try this music thing, succeed at the level of the Beatles, with the plan that, if she failed, she’d go to Divinity school in her forties. Given a reasonable back-up plan, who would choose to stay in a “failed” career? Who would choose to strive so hard and so long for a goal (world famous singer/songwriter) and not achieve it?

The problem was, I didn’t fail. We weren’t the next Beatles, but we have a very successful music career, landing in the gray area between world famous and sub-karaoke. Moreover, looking back, I would not change a single thing. I can’t say I have a single regret. I am so glad to have exactly the amount of fame and success I do have. Even the disappointments have made me who I am today. Every year, I am so glad I continue to make music, continue to perform. What a life I have had! Music chose me, wooed me, won me, in the end.

And I am glad I didn’t know how it would turn out. I am so glad I had those big dreams as a young person. Young people need to have big dreams, and their work is to mine those dreams, work hard to reach for the big brass ring. It’s none of our business whether or not we succeed in wrestling it down, but it is our business to reach.

We can’t ever stand to know what our future will hold. It is too much, just as the vision of Krishna in the Gita is too much for Arjuna. We think we can’t possibly live through what we end up living through. But we do live through it, and if we are awake and kind—to others and ourselves—we come out the better for it.

Yoga is a process of making one’s inner intentions match one’s actions. To make my inner intention match my actions, I needed to admit that as hard as it was to go forward as an artist, I had to because it was my dharma. Also, as hard as it is to keep showing up on stages around the country, I do love it. I do believe I still have much to give. And if I am awake, I notice that after shows, over and over, people say things along the lines of “Thank you for sharing your gift. Thank you for bringing your message to North Carolina/St. Louis/Winnipeg/Seattle––thank you for traveling so far to sing to us.” In other words, I got, post-Gita, that we are actually doing a service by sharing our music. I still often feel just so grateful that anyone pays any attention to us at all. It feels like a gift to get to make this music. I feel as amazed as Willie Mays when he found out that he could be paid to play baseball. Most days, I would pay to play. Good thing our manager won’t let me.

Only by single-minded devotion
can I be known
as I truly am, Arjuna––
can I be seen and entered.

I went back to the studio. I needed to take a leap of faith in my music career: devote more time to it, even though it might not be remunerative. Rather than get a degree or a certification, I needed to take a hiatus from my life coaching practice. I needed to continue to give myself, my artist––my Willful Child if you will––margins to play in and explore. I needed to write for the sake of writing again. And I needed my IAP to cultivate single-minded devotion. (Not to just one thing; that’s not possible for me. But whatever it is I am doing, being, whomever I am loving, I must do this with devotion, focus and attention.) Our book, All Together Singing in the Kitchen: Creative Ways to Make and Listen to Music as a Family came out in September, 2011. The Full Catastrophe came out in April 2012. Neither shot to number one. No matter. We are so happy with both projects, so delighted when people let us know that they read and use the book, listen to the CDs. And of course, making The Full Catastrophe proved to us that we still love making CDs, layering our harmonies in the studio, working with guest musicians. And our long-time fans repeatedly let us know that they love it; that they play it; that they are learning the songs and singing them with their families. We have a book that stands as a teaching tool and memoir, rolled into one. And we have another CD to represent a phase of our lives, of our career. Process, not product. This, to me, is success.

And finally, since my yoga training, the first thing I do every day is a single humble sun salutation. I can officially say that I have a yoga practice.

Excerpted from How to Be an Adult. To read more, buy the book!

Time, Resistance and Priorities–From How to Be an Adult

This chapter starts with what I consider some important skills to develop when moving from the carefree, fake-cheese eating world of adolescence to the kale omelet world of Adulthood. These skills are:
1. An ability to know who you are, so you know what you like, so you know what you want, so you know what you need, so you know what you must do.
2. An ability to work with the currency of Time
3. An ability to deal with the related issue of inner resistance, otherwise known as DPI (Desire to Procrastinate Indefinitely)
Now, some of you soon-to-be-adults will have no need for the chapters that follow, and if that be the case, skip ahead to the practical sections on exercise, food and sleep, and knock yourselves out. Your problems (if you have any) may have more to do with sitting back and relaxing rather than kicking your own butt, which may be sore from all the lunges and squats you’ve done over the years. There’s a section just for you a little later on. It’s called “Eight Cheap Forms of Therapy.” For the rest of us who know a little something about sitting in front of the TV for five days straight eating nothing but microwave popcorn and diet Shasta, read on.

Know Thyself

Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that.
––Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Everyone seems to know that Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” Very well. What most people ignore is that the character who says this oft-quoted line is the big blowhard and hypocrite and oh, by the way, spy, Polonius. In the context of the scene within the play Hamlet, what he really means by this bit of wisdom adopted by the New Age, is, “Make sure whatever you do, you look appropriate and protect your interests.” Still, there’s a reason the New Agers (and many Hallmarky-type cards and refrigerator magnets) have sold this quote. It’s valuable advice. Even so, because as a teenager I really hated Polonius, I prefer Socrates’s “Know Thyself,” which is more succinct.

How do you know who you are, anyway? Until you do, you can’t really do much. You just kind of whirl around in circles, following whatever is the most sparkly (or safe) person, situation, trend, idea, diatribe, religion. You get your idea of self (usually) from your family of origin, or perhaps from your social group at school or elsewhere. But what if they are all saying things that don’t ring true to you?

Get out of the house, and get out of town. Or at least, begin to question: what feels unharmonious to you about the messages you’re getting from these people? Are they walking their talk? More importantly, are you? When you listen to that core set of values deep inside yourself, does it match how you are behaving on the outside? When your inside matches your outside, we call this “integrity.” Look for others with this quality. Get to know them. These people are the real deal. As Gandhi says, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Figuring out who you are and what you like and what you want and what you need is a lifelong pursuit. Some get clarity earlier than others; you might already have a very good idea of who you are and what you do best and what you like and what you want and (sometimes hardest of all) what you need. If you know these things about yourself already, use your knowledge to be—to paraphrase Dr. Seuss–– the Youest You you can possibly be. If you don’t, take some time to find out. It does take that most valuable resource: time. I first took this kind of time the summer I turned fourteen and was leaving the school I’d attended for seven years to move on to high school. I lay in my bed every morning, thinking, “who am I really?” And by the end of the summer I’d made some important discoveries. First, that (like my heroes, John Lennon and Bob Dylan) I was an artist, and therefore (necessarily) different from everyone else. And second, that therefore I didn’t need to worry about “fitting in” anymore. Eventually everyone would catch on that I was hip, but for now, I could march to the proverbial beat of a different drummer. With these empowering discoveries, I had a huge surge of energy and creativity. I began writing songs; I spoke out about what I believed; I started to wear a lot of red and purple, and also strange hippie garb from the Salvation Army. “I have found myself!” I announced audaciously to anyone who cared to listen. (I really impressed my mom, but my sisters told me later that they were horribly embarrassed for me.)

And indeed, I had found myself. But then “myself” changed, and I realized I looked terrible in red and that I wasn’t really a hippie. We discover ourselves like the layers of the onion. It’s an ever-evolving process. We have to keep asking ourselves what we really love, and make sure we are not swayed by the opinions of others. If all our friends were suddenly abducted on a spaceship and we were left with a totally different crowd, would we adopt the new crowd’s preferences and predilections? Would we stay true to what we loved now that we are a part of the (now Martian) crowd? Or are we secretly glad our old buddies have moved onward and upward? In fact, you might want to listen carefully to those outside your strongest spheres of influence. If you are a diehard Christian, read the Koran. If you are a lifelong Democrat, read Atlas Shrugged. If you grew up listening only to classical music, try some hip-hop. Don’t let others define you. Make up your own mind. See for yourself.

Play a game of “What Do You Like Better?” Oatmeal or chocolate chip? Red or blue? Liberty or Justice? Urban or Rural? When in the day is your energy strongest? What makes you lose your temper? Which is harder for you: anger or sadness? Which is harder for you: your own feelings or the feelings of others? Do you really like jazz? Big drooly dogs? Ernest Hemingway? Short hair? Sci-Fi? Downhill skiing? Or do you just wish you were that kind of person?

To some of you who have strong, healthy egos these questions might seem ridiculous. But I must confess that when I was in my teens I “put on” a lot of likes, dislikes and opinions that were not quite true to who I really was—and I certainly believed I had a healthy ego, and I came across to my friends as a leader. Looking back, here are some of my “should likes.”

• Camping
• Rush (the band)
• Charles Dickens’ novels
• Soccer
• Lord of the Rings

And some “should not likes.”
• Tiny cuddly dogs
• Peter Paul & Mary
• Makeup
• Woody Allen (I know I’m supposed to hate him, but…)
• iPhones
• Starbucks

Some of these are things I realized as a young girl. I should definitely not like:
• To play with dolls
• To like fairy tales
• To wear pink
• To watch The Brady Bunch
• To re-read the Little House books when I was in 7th grade

And so I did these things in secret. I “put on” being a tomboy instead.

Even as I write this, I am cringing. I don’t want anyone to know some of my true likes and dislikes. But one of my favorite parts of Gretchen Rubin’s wonderful Happiness Project is her First Commandment (to “Be Gretchen.”) This reminds me of the Hindu observation that God dwells within us as us. Those quirks we can’t stand about ourselves––they are divinely wrought. And our work is not to eradicate them but to learn to love them.

The older I get, the more permission I give myself to love what I really love. Our twenties are a time when we start to put down the masks and stop trying on different personae. By the time you hit thirty, you should be well on your way in a lifelong game of Hot/Cold (“Warmer….warmer…hot! Hot! Hot! You’ve found it!”).

“Why try to be a Pekingese if you are a Greyhound?” Listen to the still small voice within. Get to know it. Take it out on dates. Write to it. Talk to it, but also listen. See if it has any better ideas. Some people have an Inner Child. (More on this coming up.) In addition to my Inner Child, I seem to have been gifted with an Inner Sneering Older Brother, whom I probably acquired from reading too much Creem Magazine when I was a teen. Some of my work today involves standing up to that Inner Sneering Older Brother (ISOB) and singing, “I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow!” or some similar drippy 80s ballad. (ISOBs hate 80s ballads, 100% of the time.)

Now is the time to do something wild and crazy. Join the Peace Corps, Teach for America, or teach English abroad. Move to New York City or Los Angeles and live the life of a starving artist. Move to Bhutan and become a monk or nun. Go to Europe and be the founder of a political movement. Start a rock band like I did and travel around the country. Or, if you know you are going to end up being an artist, take a few years to do something totally different. (One of my friends from college became a cop. He’s now a writer. What amazing material he got during those years!) You will never be this unencumbered and free again! And your back will never enjoy sleeping on other people’s floors as much as it does now! Seize your moment!

This of course assumes you have your college loan situation under control. Mindful of paying off the bills, do so—in the most adventurous way possible within your comfort zone. And use your weekends for exploration. Take a weekend to be alone. Go on a Vision Quest. In Native American tradition, youths are sent away with no food (usually) to spend a period of time communing with their spirit guide. At the end of this period, they come back to the tribe clear on what direction their future will take.
Can you find a way to do something similar? I am only asking because, adult though (I think) I am, I wish I could say that I have done a Vision Quest. Everything about it terrifies me: the wilderness, the fasting, the insects, the boredom. That’s why I think it might be necessary. Next edition, I hope to report back.

One more thing about my crazy vision quest idea: it is worth noting that in every ancient tradition on every continent the young males went through some kind of initiation rite (the young females did not because they were usually impregnated at that point and/or breastfeeding, and believe me, motherhood is a pretty thorough initiation rite in and of itself). The point is, people have known for millennia the necessity of taking time apart to know oneself so that one can find one’s place in the community, make choices that are true and right and not end up like Zelig, the famous Woody Allen character who, chameleon-like, became whoever the people he encountered wanted him to be. Too many of us fail to buck peer pressure even when we’re well beyond Junior High. “Know thyself” is an ongoing project; the work of a lifetime.

To buy the book, go here! Sale this week: ebook=$2.99!

Also, which cover do you like most? This?

Or this?

How I Got a New Cover for How to Be an Adult

I had full confidence in my taste, until about ten days ago when I met with my brilliant little group of fellow creative entrepreneurs, and by unanimous vote, they told me to change the cover of my book How to Be an Adult. I wouldn’t have even listened to them, except that one of the voters was Katryna, the creator of said cover.

“It looks too much like your kids’ music album covers,” one said. “Too hard to read,” said another. “You need something hip. Your target market is 20 somethings. You need to appeal to them.” “Don’t go for Nields fans. They all have the book. Go for a new audience.”

The hilarious thing about all this advice is that I have been getting it all, word for word, for the past 22 years vis a vis our music career. Well, except the part about the kids music, since 20 years ago we had no kids music, but we did used to get complaints about our newsletters being hard to read. And once an A&R guy rejected the songs for the next record saying, “Too Nieldsy.”

Someone in my creative entrepreneur group suggested I go to a site called 99 Designs where they have contests among designers to make book covers (among other things), all for $299. In a week, I could have a new cover.

My group got very excited about this idea. I, meanwhile, wept quietly in the corner. I love the cover of my book so much it hurts. I love everything about it: the color scheme, the little me holding up the world of stuff, Katryna’s inimitable artwork. When I see it laid out next to my other two books, I love it the most and whisper to it, “You are my favorite child.” It’s SO pretty!

But eventually, I was swayed. OK, it does kind of look like a kids’ book. It is not exactly hip. This made me doubt my taste, which is the worst feeling in the world for an artist. There is that mean voice that says, “What do I know? Have I ever had a bestselling anything? No. So the other people must know something I don’t know.”

My friend Beth listened to me whine about how sad I was about changing covers, and how maybe I should just abandon the project and move on to the next one, and she said, “Right. You like what you like. And your cover didn’t work. And you love starting things, and you hate marketing them. So now you get to grow up and listen to your friends and get a new cover and do some work you hate. That’s being an adult, my friend.”

So finally, I went back to the 99 Design Website, clicked “Agree,” and starting a week ago Friday, the contest was underway. I was very quickly underwhelmed. I got a bunch of bad clip art covers, and too-many-to-count images of a young girl, half-dressed, sitting on a chair, her head bowed. In some, she wore a hat. In some she gazed wistfully off into the middle distance. Because I’d told the designers I was a musician, many featured electric guitars–as if that would somehow signify adulthood.

Then I realized I’d made a terrible mistake, timing-wise. From Monday-Wednesday of this all-important design contest week, I had my biannual mini-retreat (I call it a vacation from Suzuki practice, honestly) where I go to Kripalu, sit around and let others cook for me, go for runs, mediate, do some yoga, haunt the bookstore, and get my batteries recharged. I always say I will have a tech fast too, but so far that has never happened. And this time, with the contest underway, that would be an impossibility.

The way these contests work is that you have to constantly give feedback to the designers. “Try that in red.” “How about little hikers walking around a globe?” And you have to bother your friends––or in my case, my kids’ babysitters––with polls soliciting their opinions; then read the polls, sift through which demographic of your friends (and babysitters) likes which design, think about which of them would actually be a customer, then regret having sent it to your friends because now they will be annoyed with you for ignoring their advice.

So I went to Kripalu thinking I would work on my novel The Big Idea, and also do a tech fast, and also immerse myself in silence and meditation and yoga and become enlightened in two days, and also maybe write some songs, and also read some new book that I hadn’t yet discovered, and also organize the files on my computer. By Tuesday evening, my back hurt and I’d only worked on one scene of my novel, and I hadn’t found a book to read, and I definitely wasn’t yet enlightened, and my cover contest was a total bust, and I missed my family (and even Suzuki practice) and wanted to go home so badly I almost left early. But then I got a massage and went to sleep.

What ended up happening was that I got a bunch of sensible designs, none of which was a knockout, and then this one crazy Edward Gorey-esque cover that made absolutely no sense. “That one!”I shouted, and all my family members said, “Whaaaa???” I stuck this outlier in the poll, and all the poll takers said, “Whaaa????” And then, the Edward Gorey-esque artists sent me a new design that actually kind of worked. At least it worked for me and a bunch of my poll people. (Many of my poll takers still said, “Whaaaa?” And one said, “I have no idea what this even is.”) The artist was from Serbia, I think, and I fell madly in love with her work. I had her tweak the covers until the strange Gorey creatures stopped making my children cry (the one remaining is a rabbit playing…wait for it…a guitar). I did one last poll, and about a third of the people chose her design, and the other third chose something so heinous and clip arty I wanted to cry, and the last third chose an image with a ripped jean and the title coming through—a very clever image, actually, and one that might sell books. But just as many who loved the ripped jeans hated it.

Once again, I was confronted with the question: do you want to sell stuff, or do you want to like what you’ve made?

Several friends counseled me to choose the ripped jeans image. “You have the opportunity to reach a much bigger audience!” one said. Yes, but maybe not. And at the end of the day, I need to be proud of the work I do, and that includes my choice of cover. The ripped jeans image makes me feel sad and cheap. To me, being an artist with integrity means putting the work before my ambitions for the work. Does that mean I’ll never be a best-seller? I sure hope not! Am I self-sabotaging? My creative entrepreneur group may well call me on the fact that the new cover is basically just a hippification of Katryna’s old cover. It’s like a teen-aged version of such. But I love it. It makes my heart sing. The girl looks just like I felt as a twentysomething: what’s all this stuff on the floor, and what am I supposed to do with it? I wrote the book for people who feel the way this girl feels.

I am going to try both images. Stay tuned. In fact, I might use all three (Katryna’s too!) The great thing about self publishing is that you can do this.

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