2009

January 2009

Howdy, Friends!

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot

And never brought to mind?

We’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.”

Robert Burns

(1759–1796)

Happy New Year!

I had planned to greet you on this first-day-of-the-year with a look back at some of the highlights of my previous year. My big idea was to go through my journal and find one shiny moment from each of the last 12 months — moments that brought me joy and excitement — and share them with you. It sounds like such a great idea, doesn’t it?

As I found out, it wasn’t to be. Going back through my journal is more uncomfortable than I’d hoped. Let me explain: I don’t ever re-read my journals. I mean it. I’ve got journals dating back over twenty years, stashed away in a cupboard (waiting to be burned at some point) and they simply don’t see the light of day. Yes, I do tend to write more when I’m down but that’s not the only time. There are tremendous moments of joy collected in those pages. But still, the pain is what resonates.

Reading through just a few of the past year’s entries cut too close to the bone. Those journals are a road map to all my scars. All my fumbling. To be sure, they also show the trails of my triumphs. My successes. I just don’t seem to be able to separate the two, to whittle out the wheat from the chaff. So — the best-laid plans, huh?

Years ago, I was sitting next to a preacher-man at my favorite chili joint. We struck up some casual conversation and he made a comment about a car’s rear-view mirror being so small, and for good reason. He said that we’re not supposed to spend all our time looking behind us. We’ve got this enormous front-view windshield, just begging us to look forward.

I’m paraphrasing, of course. But it resonated with me, and I’ve not forgotten him or the day. That preacher-man made quite the impression. I wonder if I wrote about it in my journal. I’m sure I’ll never know.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

February 2009

Howdy, Friends!

“First African-American president — better be good.”

Malia Obama, aged 10

(on being told by her father that he’d be making a speech at his inauguration)

I was raised in a closed-off home. Not only was I rarely exposed to other kids (before starting school), I was rarely exposed to people outside my family. There was very little socializing done by my parents and even less by us kids. And there was more to our being closed-off: I was taught racism from birth.

Because I had so little exposure to people outside my family (i.e. people who were different from us), I didn’t question or even think about the ill teachings in our home. If I had somehow managed to live under a rock for the rest of my life, maybe things wouldn’t have changed. Thanks to the rules and regulations of society, that wasn’t the case.

When I started first grade (I didn’t go to pre-school or kindergarten), I was more than overwhelmed by the many kids and teachers. There was such variety. Such beauty. Such differences. I welcomed them all. And, to my 6-year-old credit, I was open to all the kids. I was nice to my peers and I treated them as well as I was able. And that’s when it started.

I began to silently question the racist leanings of home, though I didn’t talk to anyone about my thoughts. In fact, for years I continued to wonder about whether or not we were different at all.

When I was about eleven, I brought up my racial ponderings at home. To my dismay, I was immediately shut down. I was told that there was absolutely a difference between races and that I had better get my head on straight. Being well-versed in self-preservation by this time, I shut my mouth.

But not my mind. And not my heart. I was able to open my thinking within myself and see the kids around me for what they were — kids. Just like me. Same dreams. Same problems. Same life.

We were all just trying to grow up. Some of us had different challenges, some had harder challenges. Some of us were smart. Some were pretty. Some were athletes. Some were creative. Some were brave. Some were afraid. Some were kind. Some were jackasses. And yes, some were racists.

I am so very grateful to have had an open heart to guide me through childhood, just as I’m grateful now. For me, racism is a distant memory. And when I hear about or run up against the ignorance of others, I feel sorry for them. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want to spend my time hanging out with bigots. But I do feel sorry for them. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to still be so closed-off. From my mind. From my heart. From life.

I pray that my country and this world will somehow move forward with open arms. We are all more similar than not. Same dreams. Same problems. Same life.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

March 2009

Howdy, Friends!

“The only danger in friendship is that it will end.”

Henry David Throeau

(1817 – 1862)

I need closure.

After a lifetime of lost friendships, I’ve hit the wall. I mean it. I’ve lost friends for every imaginable (and the occasional not-so-imaginable) reason. At some point, a girl just needs a little closure. Is that asking too much?

When I was 6, my best friend meant the world to me. I truly thought I would know her the rest of my life. It was beyond my scope to imagine we might simply grow apart as we aged. When that came to pass a few short years later, I didn’t understand. And I never got to say goodbye.

My family moved a lot, and that didn’t help matters. The friends I made in middle school and junior high were either left behind after yet another move, or their own families relocated. Switching high schools (in different states, no less) before eleventh grade just about broke my heart. Telling all my old friends goodbye was devastating. I told myself I’d keep in touch with my nearest and dearest. The road to heaven…

Once I was grown, I thought I’d be more mature about ending friendships. But that hasn’t been the case at all. In fact, everything has became more complicated.

One friend used to say terribly hurtful things to me. One committed suicide. One moved. One moved on and left me behind (though we still lived in the same city). Some friends’ life situations changed — marriage, children, divorce — and I was part of “out with the old.” Some just stopped calling. Some got so busy with their lives that they had to let a few things slip (things like, oh, I don’t know — me).

I accept change in life. I live for it. I do. And I know that we’re supposed to grow into our skin. I’m all for it. I myself am working on it daily. I just wish I’d gotten to say goodbye to the souls who’ve passed through my orbit and changed my world. Again, is that asking too much?

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t trade my part in those friendships for anything. Yes, I’ve lost a lot of friends. Yes, it has hurt. And yes, I’m sure the road to loss has been a 2-way street (in other words, I’m surely culpable for some friendships ending, too). But I have such memories of those dear souls. And while I have rarely gotten closure, I choose to believe I’m a better person for having had the experiences of friendship in the first place. And I don’t think I’m merely fooling myself on this point.

For several years now, I’ve volunteered at a local hospital. While I wasn’t paying attention, I found myself a friend in a staff member there. Pascual and I have had numerous conversations about life and the state of the world. He has shared amazing stories from his life and of his family, especially regarding his dearly missed, late father. Through tales of his childhood and his adult life, I’ve learned more than I ever expected. He has given me so much to think about and to consider. Honestly, I’m probably a better person for having met him.

Recently, I was getting ready to go to the hospital for my volunteer shift when I got a call from someone in the main office there. She wanted to let me know that, due to the worsening economy, the hospital had closed the department I volunteered for. The employees had all been let go the day before. After another phone call, I had arranged to volunteer elsewhere in the hospital. That could have been the end of it.

But it wasn’t. After a lifetime of lost friendships, I decided to deal with this one head-on. I grabbed my phone book and found Pascual’s address. I wrote a note and tried to express my gratitude for having met and known him. I wanted to say the things I’ve never gotten to say to any lost friends. I started as simply as I knew how, “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

Best–

Mikki Brisk

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

April 2009

Howdy, Friends!

“Don’t worry about being slow; just worry about stopping.”

Chinese Proverb

Seven songs mixed. Four to go. I admit — it’s taking sooooo long that I’ve started to lose my mind a little bit. This is one of those things you have to get done (like taxes) and you know you’ll feel grand once it’s all finished. But until then, your eyes are bloodshot, your temper has the absolute shortest fuse and you’re pulling your hair straight out — away from your head — and it’s staying that way. I’ll be honest here: that’s not the best look for me.

Needing a break, I headed to Austin, TX several days ago for SXSW. Once you’ve done South By and had a super fabulous time, it’s hard to manage your expectations. But I needn’t have worried. The music festival kicked booty … and nearly kicked me in the head.

Show highlights included:

Janelle Monaé — This gorgeous gal moves like James Brown in space. I mean it. Her stage show caused my jaw to drop the moment her set began. She sings, she dances, she crowd-surfs. And she did it all with a style all her own. Once she was finished, a few people standing nearby assisted me in closing my awe-struck mouth. I can’t wait to see her again.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears — This gorgeous guy sings like James Brown at twenty. He and six other band mates were so tight and fun — it was a shame their set had to end. They took the crowd to “Booty City” and back. It was an awesome trip.

Afternoons — This gorgeous band looks like James Brown at a Renaissance Fair — just kidding (not everyone had an obvious James Brown influence). Seriously, I had to go all the way to Austin to hear this L.A. band and I’m so glad I did. They do something called “chamber pop” and they do it well (with an operatic singer to boot). My fingers are crossed for these folks. I’d like to hear more of what they can do.

Crazy highlights are a different matter entirely. Holding up Janelle Monaé so that she wouldn’t fall into the crowd until she was good and darned ready was not only funny, it was necessary (as I didn’t want to get kicked in the head). Dodging the swinging guitar of the lead singer in The Paper Chase was, to my thinking, also necessary. As no one else by the stage was dodging, I may have been wrong. (Or perhaps I was the only sober person in the vicinity?) Sharing an elevator with Devo (yes, Devo), well, that was a hoot. Did I mention they were in full costume? Plastic red hats and all? Oh, yeah — you get it.

All in all, I saw sets from 30 bands in four days. Yes — that’s a lot. My ears have finally recovered and I’ve even started listening to music again. And I’m back at mixing my own stuff. Seeing all those artists revived me. Not only did they help me regain interest in my music, they helped re-fuel my love of the dream. The record really is turning out well. And as soon as I have it mixed and mastered, you’ll get to judge for yourself. I’m not the least bit worried.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

May 2009

Hey–

“What would you say to a close friend who is about to die?” Jiddu Krishnamurti asked a small group of listeners. Their answers dealt with assurances, words about beginnings and endings, and various gestures of compassion. Krishnamurti stopped them short. “There is only one thing you can say to give the deepest comfort,” he said. “Tell him that in his death a part of you dies and goes with him. Wherever he goes, you go also; he will not be alone.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

(1895 – 1986)

As told by Larry Dossey

So much good studio action, so much life happening. So very much. In the midst of all this, I can’t help but glance over my shoulder…

Some years ago, I wandered into a little chili joint and found myself hooked. To be sure, the food’s the thing. But there was a lot more going on at this particular “dive” (said with complete affection). The people running the place ended up being – for me – a bigger draw than the food.

There’s Steph. She’s been there, off and on, for all the years I’ve been going. She’s quick with her wit and she’s not afraid to use it. If you’re even slightly out of line with your attitude, she’ll look you straight in the eye and give it back a hell of a lot better than you ever could. And she’s strong, too. Life comes at her and she deals with it. She’s tall with gorgeous, wavy, long, auburn hair. There’s something beautiful and disconcerting about being sassed by a gal like her. The dichotomy is palpable.

There’s Alec. He’s the owners’ son and he’s a natural cat. I’ve never seen someone as young who could be so completely transparent (in the best possible way). He owns who he is and he allows you to see that. He has the confidence of youth, to be certain. But he has this strange bit of the sage juxtaposed against his age. There’s a jaggedness to him, and it resides comfortably with kindness. I don’t know how to better describe him. He’s a doll.

There have been lots of others who’ve come and gone over the years. I could rattle off many of their names, while I never learned the names of others. It’s not mattered, because there has always been one particular constant draw for me at my favorite lunch counter: the owner.

Gene. I’ll be honest here, just typing his name feels odd. I wish I knew the exact date of the first time I stopped in for chili. (I have no idea.) But I do remember the day I stopped being just another random customer and crossed over into the land of regular. I remember because it was the first time Gene openly poked fun at me. He did it in such a way as to push me almost to the edge, but not so far that I’d actually slip over. In other words, he could have hurt my feelings, but he chose not to. And from that day on, our relationship was solid.

Gene has always done more for me than make fun of me (and give me the gift of laughing at myself). He’s watched out for me and he’s believed in and supported my passion for music. He’s given me advice about many things, though mostly about my old car. He’s recommended a mechanic and done some minor adjustments right in the parking lot. I even remember him letting me have it for not getting new shock absorbers after he’d said I needed them. “Your car’s not supposed to bounce up and down like a damned amusement park ride when you drive over railroad tracks!” I don’t know when he’d seen me out in the world, but he obviously had because my car did indeed bounce up and down. And even though I thought that was part of the fun of driving my car, I went in immediately for new shock absorbers.

You may be wondering why in the world I’m going on and on about Chili Gene. Well, I’ll tell you. After all these years, I only recently owned my feelings for him. I am finally able to admit to myself that he is my friend, and not just someone I know. I’ve allowed my heart to own the affection that’s been dancing around in there for such a long while. I’ve been able to picture his smile and smile myself. Sadly, my timing isn’t all it could be.

For some time now, Gene has been battling pancreatic cancer. And he’s done it with beautiful style and grace. His whole family are an inspiration to watch. They’re all so positive and full of light. Gene, his wife, Deb, and their two sons, Anthony and Alec, are the very picture of what I feel a loving family should be. Watching them together has given me such pause, and I’ve truly appreciated the opportunity to learn from their love for one another. I’ve been praying for them – all of them – for such a long time now. And, though I can’t explain it, and I’m not quite sure how to say it, I’ll just spill: I love praying for them. It feels good to pray for such lovely souls.

As to the fate of my friend, Gene, I will continue to pray. For him. For his family. For Steph. For me. You see, Gene passed away a couple of weeks ago. And still the prayers keep coming. Right now, I don’t know how to stop.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

June 2009

Hey–

“Remember this, that very little is needed to make a happy life.”

Marcus Aurelius

(121–180)

I got a pedicure a few days ago and it’s gotten me feeling a bit holier-than-I-felt the day before. Due to my frugality, I only go for a pedi every six weeks (every four weeks would be nice, but hey, I’m not complaining). And when I do go, I see Dr. Kelly. She’s not a real doctor mind you, but she tends to my feet with clinical professionalism. And that in itself would be reason enough to keep returning. But there’s certainly more to it. Miss Kelly manages to not only smooth out my rough edges, she also ministers to my soles. She plies me with intelligent conversation and tickles my toes. She’s funny, smart, sensitive and easy on the eyes. And when she’s caring for my feet — the body parts that get me around in life — she kind of emits this aura of kindness. I haven’t really understood it before.

I’ve heard tell of how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples before the last supper. And I have tried to picture that scene, with all its humanity. Have you ever seen a male manicurist/pedicurist? I haven’t. I’m sure they’re out there; I just haven’t seen them. So when I try to imagine that beautiful act — that holy moment in time — I fail miserably. Still, it’s a great story.

So, after I rode my bicycle home (being careful not to smudge my freshly polished toenails), I thought about why I so love getting a pedicure. And I think it comes down to a few things: it is wonderful to be touched by another human being; I adore the care and maintenance of my dependable feet; a little social time with Dr. Kelly is always uplifting; I’m a sucker for pretty toes, especially my own. And, let there be no doubt, having my feet washed by another stirs my soul. How divine…

Best–

Mikki Brisk

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

July 2009

Hi-ya!

“All right Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Norma Desmond (Played by Gloria Swanson)

“Sunset Boulevard”

1950

Things are moving right along in my little world. The songs are all shaping up quite nicely (really) and I’m debating adding another new track. Yes — I’m a glutton for studio punishment. And as things move along, the inevitable has finally surfaced: photos.

Just thinking about this phase gives me the willies. I mean it. This is one of my least favorite things to do in life. Period. Scrub the toilet? Sure. Pay bills? Let me at ‘em. Pose for photos? You must be kidding.

Several years ago, I attended the wedding of my friends Lori and Gaston. They’re super-style-o people and I made every effort to super-style-o myself up for the occasion. Being one of those odd birds who remembers what she wore during various life experiences, I can tell you I was looking mighty fine. My dress was fab. My hair was fab. My make-up — fab. My shoes, my bag, my essence — all fab. I chatted and quipped. I dined and danced. It was a beautiful wedding and I was honored to be in attendance. I had a great time.

And I never once looked in a mirror. That is my M.O. I do the best I can (and hopefully feel good about myself) at home and then I head out into the world and never look back. Literally. I don’t check my look again until I get home after whatever soiree I’ve attended. Ever.

This little pattern of mine has served me well. It allows me the privilege of looking back at myself through my mind’s eye and its rose-colored glasses, where, by the way, I tend to “recall” looking pretty good. And I’m able to hold tightly to these delusions, unless someone goes and wrecks the carefully constructed memory-ville in which I choose to live. How does one rain on my house-of-cards? Pull out some pictures.

And that’s just what recently happened. Someone just had to go and pass around photos of the aforementioned wedding. And there I was, in all my fabulous glory. Only I wasn’t so fabulous. And I wasn’t feeling the glory, either. In fact, all I could think was, “Why didn’t anyone tell me I looked like that? I never would have left the house!”

Seriously. If I could go through life and never look back at the real, live photos? I’m telling you now: I would think (rightly or wrongly) that I not only felt great, but looked great to boot. My mind’s pictures are much better looking than any Kodak moments of reality.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m far more critical of myself than most anyone else might ever be of me. I know this. But it just throws the mind for a loop when you’ve convinced yourself that you’re looking your very best, and BOOM! You’re not. Go figure.

So I’ve had 2 photo sessions now and the first one left me in tears. I’m bound and determined to get through this danged project, and I’d prefer to finish it all off with something other than a blank CD cover. This record and all its related hub-bub has been wonderfully challenging. Who knew the damned photos would be what finally broke me?

Best–

Mikki Brisk

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

August 2009

Hey, Sassy!

“Everyone who enjoys thinks that the principal thing to the tree is the fruit, but in point of fact the principal thing to it is the seed.

—Herein lies the difference between them that create and them that enjoy…”

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

(1844 – 1900)

A few months ago, my friend Gwendolyn took me to a painting class. And though I’m no Van Gogh, I liked it so much that I’ve been going ever since. A few weeks ago, as I was driving home from said class, I was thinking about how much fun it is to go there each week and paint for a few hours, from a perspective of wonder. There’s no pressure to create something amazing — I’m just there to learn, nurture seeds of growth and do the best I can. There are amazingly talented people in class and I also get to admire – and be inspired by – their work. It’s light, it’s freeing, and yes, it’s fun.

So as I was driving and thinking about how much fun painting class can be, I wondered about something else: when did writing music stop being fun? I mean, this is my life’s passion. Shouldn’t it be enjoyable?

This hit me a bit harder than I expected. I don’t think I had allowed myself to admit it before. And I certainly don’t recall sharing this observation with anyone else. But here I am, openly telling you that as of late, I’ve not enjoyed writing new songs. And since admitting there’s a problem is the first step to recovery, I decided to ponder this one a bit.

When I was a kid (3, 4 years old), I loved music. I sang to myself (and anyone in the vicinity) — with the radio, in the car, at home, on dirt roads, in the woods, on the front porch, anywhere I could. And it felt good. The music felt good. My kid thoughts couldn’t have explained it, but I knew it felt right somehow. As I grew, that feeling never went away. When I struggled to deal with the cold jabs of my life, music was warm comfort. When I glided smoothly through my days, music was a happy backdrop. When I realized I could create music, well, that was the sweetest, natural high I’ve ever known.

So when did the joy fade? What changed? I’d like to blame someone else, or the world at large, but the truth is this: it always falls to me. My perceptions and intentions shape my days. My actions and reactions rule my mood. It is always up to me to choose how best to deal with my life.

With this in mind, I’ve started writing a bit differently. Perhaps I’m getting back to the way I used to write (before music became “business”). Perhaps it’s an entirely new way of writing for me. I’m not sure. I only know that I’m trying to make music from a perspective of wonder, with no pressure to create something amazing. I’m just writing to learn, nurture seeds of growth and do the best I can. And you know what? It’s feeling pretty good. In fact, I think it might even qualify as fun.

For the record, the studio work has been crazy, cool and more fun than I can say and I can hardly wait for you to hear the songs.

Summer’s nearly over. Go and have some fun yourself. Trust me, you deserve it.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

September 2009

Attention, Class!

“In the mountains of truth, you never climb in vain. Either you already reach a higher point today, or you exercise your strength in order to be able to climb higher tomorrow.”

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

(1844 – 1900)

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

by Mikki Brisk

(Grade One Hundred and Eleven-ty)

At the beginning of summer, a friend forwarded an email from someone I’d never met. This email contained a “summer challenge” to hike the 3 highest mountains in southern California. The plan was to start with the 3rd highest and work up to the highest. The mountains are known as “the 3 Saints” and I was immediately intrigued and excited. There was a part of me that needed to do something like this, something out of my comfort zone (I am not a hiker). I needed to prove myself, to accomplish something. So when this complete stranger threw down the gauntlet, I decided to pick it up. Who knew it would weigh so much?

The first Saint, San Antonio, is also known as Mt. Baldy. This is a fairly easy, 7-mile round-trip day-hike. And with the exception of the very beginning — a near-vertical bowl of rocks — it was fairly easy. We were blessed with frigid weather and a sighting of 3 Bighorn Sheep near the top of the mountain. So 7 gals and I began our summer challenge with a summit of Mt. Baldy’s 10,064 feet. One peak bagged.

The second Saint, San Jacinto, is just outside Palm Springs. This locale can be both a blessing and a curse. Since we were climbing a “Saint,” we decided it was a blessing and chose to celebrate. After partying a wee bit the night before, 6 of us rode the Palm Springs Aerial Tram up the mountain to begin our 11-mile round-trip day-hike. That’s when the altitude sickness hit.

I’ve never had altitude sickness. Others around me have experienced it, but I’ve had no history with this illness. So when the headache hit (as soon as the tram reached the top station), I was caught completely off-guard. And it persisted. And persisted. After a bit of a scramble up some boulders at the very top, we summited Mt. San Jacinto’s 10,834 feet. We had a little lunch and then I was so flippin’ happy to be headed down the mountain, desperate for the pain in my head to go away (it stayed with me the entire time we were hiking). After the tram ride down to the lower station, the pain disappeared completely. Just like that. I was elated. I was pissed. I was so happy to be free of the pain, but more than a little miffed that I hadn’t focused on the beauty of the day’s hike. My attention had been spent trying to psych myself out of my misery. Getting off that damned mountain was the only thing that worked. Go figure.

The last mountain, San Gorgonio, was referred to as “the Beast” by our little group. The highest of the 3 Saints, Gorgonio’s summit is 11,500 feet. And there’s no way to get there without one hell of a day-hike (or overnighting along the trail). For this one, we stayed in a cabin nearby and got up before sunrise for our early start.

To say I was worried about altitude sickness would be an understatement. I was terrified. I had been training for weeks for the hike and hadn’t had a single drink (ahem) for 2 weeks prior. But know this: my fear of altitude sickness paled in comparison to my fear of bears on the trail. As if to fuel my fraidy-cat fears, the trail we had planned to hike was closed due to “bear activity in the area.” Hmm. Not a good sign. But no worries. I was prepared. I had outfitted myself with some new gear for the Beast: awesome backpack, 3-liter water bladder and a honking big canister of bear repellant.

This one took 5 1/2 hours to reach the summit, which I’m proud to say my entire group of 5 achieved. And I didn’t have any altitude sickness (nor did I cross paths with a single bear). So far, so good. I was loving the water bladder system and the scenery was stunning. It was time for the descent.

A funny thing happened on the way down the mountain. We kept going. And going. And going. All the markers we’d passed on the way up were slowly showing themselves, and we made steady downward progress. But we weren’t moving along as quickly as any of us expected. In fact, we were moving just about as slowly as the trip up. I ran out of water and back-up Gatorade (4 liters total) about twenty minutes before we reached the trail’s end. It took us 5 hours to get down the Beast. This was pretty tough on us, mentally. Who am I kidding? I think my friend Paula — who is a bad-ass hiker — put it best when she said, “That was hell.”

Paula said that after we’d all made it safely down the mountain and were driving back to the cabin. We were moving a little slowly that night. And we didn’t talk much. I guess that’s what a 22-mile day-hike will do to you.

I did a lot of cool things this summer. I finished 3 awesome paintings. I got back to writing songs for fun. I finished mixing an amazing record (just about ready for mastering — yippee!). And I completed the 3 Saints Challenge, courtesy of my new friend Kimberly. She threw down one hell of a gauntlet. And yes, I picked it up to find it heavy. But you know what? I learned a lot about myself this summer. Turns out I’m pretty damn strong.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

October 2009

Whassup?

“Eat an apple on going to bed, And you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread.”

Notes and Queries magazine

February 1866

The quote above may be the earliest known printing of what we know to be “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Okay. What about a song a day? What does that do for a gal?

Near the end of August, I started thinking I might try writing a song each day in September. While this is hardly a new concept for songwriters, it would be new for me. (I can be a little, um, what’s the word I’m looking for? Lazy?) After a little more thought, I decided to use a format taught by the very accomplished Mr. Peter Himmelman. This funny, thoughtful, gifted songwriter once led a writing session attended by yours truly. The rules were simple: 4 chords, 1 hour and a topic. He gave us, his class, the rules and some advice: just come back with a completed song. Don’t edit. Don’t worry about re-writes. Don’t worry period. The idea was to stimulate the creative part of our brains, while ignoring the critical part of ourselves. It worked that day in class. But could I make it work for me, alone, without the structure of a teaching/learning environment?

I asked my gentleman friend to lend a hand by giving me a topic each day. Maybe something a little vague (like “gravity” or “limitations”), maybe an occasional song title. He readily agreed to help.

I started by choosing 4 chords the night before my first “assignment.” The next day, I asked for (and received) my topic-of-the-day. I set my timer for 1 hour and bam! Get along, little dogies!

It went pretty well. It was okay the next day, too. In fact, I started getting inspired to write occasionally on my own — without an assigned topic. After about 4 days, I thought I’d be able to do this all month. After 2 weeks, I was still feeling positive. Before I knew it, the end of September had arrived and I had written 38 songs. (To be fair, I did start early — 27 August.)

Now don’t get me wrong. These aren’t finished masterpieces. They need quite a bit of refinement. Some re-writing. And some of them just plain suck. But that’s okay. Maybe there’s a salvageable line in there somewhere. Maybe just a nice phrase or melody. The point of the exercise isn’t to write a perfect song. The point is to write. I’d say I achieved my goal.

And for the record, a few of the songs are awesome. There are maybe 2 that don’t need any plastic surgery, and a couple more that need only minor tweaking. Honestly, that’s pretty cool, folks.

My plan is to continue with this project as long as possible. And now that I’ve got some distance between today and the first songs written, I think I’ll start going back and working on some re-writes.

So what has a song a day done for me? Well, for starters, I’m feeling fit as a fiddle. My creative energy is surging and I’m truly pleased to be out of my writing rut. And another thing … I’m feeling like I actually accomplished something this past month. I wrote a song (sometimes 2) each and every day. Allow me to pat myself on the back. Can you sense my smile? You know I’m grinning, ear to ear.

I think I’ll go have an apple…

Best–

Mikki Brisk

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

November 2009

Greetings of Orange!

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever;

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness.”

John Keats

(1795 – 1821)

Outside my window, it’s autumn. I think.

Living in southern California doesn’t allow certainty on this point. Today is lovely, the wind is blowing leaves around and the air has the slightest crispness on its wings. Yesterday, I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and still managed to nearly succumb to the vapors. What’s a girl to do?

She bends.

Having lived all over this vast country, I can honestly say I’ve experienced autumn in all its glory. And it is glorious. It’s incredibly showy in its display of plumage. It invites one to throw on an extra layer for warmth, leading to a cozy feeling we don’t always understand. It entices us to break bread over something hot and filling, signaling the coming of winter. I love all of these things. And I crave them at this time of year.

But Los Angeles, though a giving city, doesn’t always give what you want. And so I bend. I tell myself how cool it is to dress in summer clothes while walking past palm trees, knowing so many in the northern hemisphere watch the skies for rain (or snow). I tell myself that dining al fresco is what everyone wishes they were doing this November. I tell myself a lot of things. And sometimes, I even believe me. But not today. Today I miss autumn.

Please don’t think I’m so foolish as to see my local environment as a hindrance. I don’t feel that way at all. Any bending I may do to convince myself that the weather here is a blessing, well, let’s just say there’s absolutely no danger of my breaking. I know this.

Still, I do hope the winds stick around for a little while. And that the leaves continue to dance outside my window. It’s all too beautiful to ignore.

Best–

Mikki Brisk

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

December 2009

Hello.

“Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.”

Geoffrey Chaucer

(1340 – 1400)

My name is Mikki. And I’m a truth-junkie.

“Hello, Mikki.”

That’s how my imaginary support-group works. I attend mental meetings every now and then, when I need a little boost in trying to live my life according to my own set of values, morals. Being honest ain’t always easy, folks. I’m certain you know what I’m talking about, too.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not thinking of the times when a friend shows off her homemade macrame remote holders and asks for an opinion. Of course I’m going to tell her how creative she is; how I love the colors of the yarn; how her ingenuity is a marvel. (For the record, I’m also not going to ever tell anyone their ass looks big in those jeans, or that their comb-over is way too old-man-ish.) We all support the ones we love and there is no good reason to tear down a friend.

I’m talking about those times when you feel that internal tug-of-war and you’re losing sleep at night. Those times when you’re balancing on a mountain ridge, looking down at the two ways you can fall. Do you fall to the side of silence, stifling the urge to speak up? Or do you leap to the side of truth, struggling to find your voice?

Oddly enough, choosing truth can sometimes mean leaping into the dark. I mean, holding your tongue may lead to sleepless nights and a gnawing in the gut but at least those things are familiar. Choosing truth can lead to — well — anything. Will those around you respect your honesty? Maybe. Will they shun you for going against the grain? Perhaps. And there’s no way of knowing what will happen until you actually live it.

Recently, a friend told me a story about being faced with a moment of truth. After a brief, internal struggle, she opted to speak up about something pretty damned ugly. And she was promptly raked over the coals for having been honest.

When I was in my late teens, I overheard a couple of friends talking about me. One friend was saying that he planned to ask my opinion on a matter. I don’t remember the topic, but I do remember the response of the second friend. He said, “If you plan to ask Mikki, be sure you want to hear the answer because she’s brutally honest.”

If someone called you “brutally honest,” how would you feel? Would you be offended? It never occurred to me to feel offended. And I wasn’t. And I think I know why…

When I was about 5 years old, a distant relative tried to molest me while we were visiting his house. I say “tried” because even though I was a child, I understood that this was wrong and it took me all of 2 seconds to fight him. I kicked and hit until he dropped me and I ran away and hid in the woods. I stayed there for hours, until my family was ready to get in the car and drive home. Only after the car was started and my father was yelling for me did I run out of the woods and jump in the car. Once we were safely on the road, I leaned forward and told my parents that this man had “tried to touch me funny.” My father shook his head from side to side. My mother rolled her eyes and said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Sit back and shut up.” And so I did.

A lot was going through my kid-mind. Some thoughts were earth-shattering (“these people aren’t going to take care of me”) and others were more subtle (“I told the truth and they didn’t believe me”). This was big stuff for a small child (hell — it’s big stuff for any sized person). And I’ve worked my whole life to deal with that moment, as well as many others that followed. But one thing I didn’t have to struggle with was the value of truth. My belief in honesty wasn’t shaken that day. If anything, it was strengthened. Just because my parents didn’t value the truth didn’t mean I shouldn’t. And honestly, I probably appreciated the truth even more because they didn’t. I mean, after a scene like that, I didn’t want to be like them. I wasn’t. And I’m not.

So when I find myself standing on the mountaintop, choosing a side to fall down is often less challenging than it could be. I may still dawdle, but I ultimately choose truth. And I sleep a hell of a lot better at night because of it. Nobody said it was easy, but the truth really does make you free. That’s why I told my friend I was proud of her for taking a risk and telling the truth. That’s why I was proud when my friends called me “brutally honest.” And that’s why I’m still terribly proud of the 5-year-old me, as she struggled to be honest with herself and others, even when they didn’t believe her.

I believed her. And I believed in her. I still do. And that’s why I plan to finish out this year and go into a whole new one with my eyes open and my heart true. I welcome the rest of my life.

Honestly.

Best–

Mikki Brisk