Voice Lessons

After a brief hiatus, I am excited to start teaching voice lessons again.  I love helping people find their voice.  I love watching people conquer their fears.  I love ridiculous vocal warm-ups.

I just joined Thumbtack and can’t wait to get started! See my very official profile “Vocal Instruction” to see samples and more.

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Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Uncategorized


The Artist and the Audience

“It seems we may best be able to inhabit a place when we are not faced with the additional challenge of having to be there.” – Alain De Botton

Half of my vision was obscured by the foul-smelling steam.  The only glimpse of living color through the murk was the dingy, green light coming from a lamp in the upper corner of the room–all of the other shades in the room were either brown, grey, or a variant of the bright (and very unnatural) yellow coming out of the liquid vat.  I could see no other faces in the room, as each worker had his eyes turned down—whether because of focus on or shame about his menial toil I could not tell.

And it was one of the most beautiful scenes I’d ever beheld.

Never mind that the scene was framed, the workers were fictional, and the colors were painted.

The dingy toil of the dye works proved beautiful because of the distance created between artist and audience:  the distance of time—events in the past are always remembered more simply; the distance of pace—attention to one frame allows a viewer to notice the color, the texture, the composition of a scene; and the distance of a new beginning—ten seconds before, we the audience were on a ship plagued by raging waves, and ten seconds afterwards, we were touched by a mother’s cuddling arms.

But the charm of Ole Pedersen’s “From a Dye Works” is not confined to similar charming portrayals of public life common to Danish artistry.  It’s a phenomenon we all experience:

Remember the good old days, when we used to sit on the porch and sip lemonade?

Yes, and when the mosquitos ate us alive and you were feeling slightly nauseous and Tim would not stop tapping his foot against the railing?

So how can we, as the artists of our own lives, create such distance so that we can also be the charmed audience?  Perhaps in much the same way:  the distance of time—making, recording, and communicating memories; the distance of pace—taking a moment to notice our surrounding color, composition, companions; and the distance of  a new beginning—stepping out of our routines to enter them again with a fresh perspective.

Journaling, breathing, traveling—these are the things that can help us see the charm in our own dingy toils.  And thus become the artist and the audience.

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Posted by on November 17, 2013 in Uncategorized


Six Minute Christmas

South side of the Train Platform, Boston, MA.

I dashed up the concrete stairs leading from the red line platform to the green line platform, then starting walking (what I believe to be) north towards the Gardens-side exit.  A bent figure caught my attention, and I saw an aging woman sifting through discarded food containers in the grated trash barrel.  She was clean, except her hands I suppose, and neatly dressed; her slight frame begged almost no notice.  I walked only 5 steps forward before a weight settled on my heart and down through my knees.  Who is that woman?  What has led her here, to the city’s dirty basements?

Turning around, I glanced back at the trash cans.  She was gone.  Vanished, almost without possibility.  Had I seen an angel?  Had I missed some providentially-appointed opportunity?  After a double-take, a triple-take, and a quick stroll around the area, I began again to stride quickly north.  Movie times pay no heed to delays, after all.

The weight in my heart grew heavier and traveled down into my feet.  I could not leave.  A third time I looked at the trash can, hoping to find her miraculously reappear.  I walked to the south end of the platform, around every sign and bench, until I reached the exit.  A final glance to my left and there she was.  Bent over a recycling bag this time, and glancing through the already-outdated headlines of the Friday morning Metro.

I paused, not knowing what to do.  Buying time, I peeked into her cart and saw a pathetically small pile of recyclable materials and twenty or so expired Charlie cards.  My feet, nearly turned into cement, dragged me forward to approach her.

“Excuse me,” I said.  “Do you need any help?”

Trimmed silver hair, a crocheted black hat, and wide blue eyes turned to me in blank confusion.

Startled, I waited a few awkward seconds and faltered.  “Are you collecting recycling?”  Great time to start small talk, Jen, but my legs wouldn’t let me move.  She nodded almost imperceptibly, and I handed her a crumpled $10 bill.  “Merry Christmas,” I said, then walked out the South exit, not waiting for a reaction.

A MBTA employee saw the exchange and wished me a Merry Christmas.  “That was nice of you,” she said.

But as I reached the street and again turned North, the weight in my heart and in my legs only grew heavier.  The crowds, lights, and cars blew and bustled around me.  I felt no satisfaction from my miniscule deed.  No happiness, no heart-warming “look at you saving the world” sort of feeling.  All I could experience was the trimmed silver hair, crocheted black hat, and wide blue eyes, turning up to me in blank confusion.

For the woman was my mother.

She is my mother, and yours.  She is the forgotten woman, with a story no less important than your mother’s or mine, with no fewer side characters, no fewer victories, no fewer memories — just perhaps one or two more tragic turns.  And perhaps those few tragic turns were the difference between her becoming a mother decorating the home for Christmas in anticipation of her daughter’s arrival, and a mother foraging for can and coins on the south side of the train platform.

Three stoplights closer to the theater, I cried a little, for my sake, and for the world’s.  For who, this Christmas, didn’t have a mother?  And how many other mother’s were digging through bins in the city’s dirty basements?  And what if we forget them?

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Posted by on December 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


Why Mormon’s Can’t

Originally posted as a guest post on this blog:

– – – – –


  • Can’t drink alcohol.
  • Can’t have sex before marriage.
  • Can’t lie, cheat, or steal.
  • Can’t drink coffee.
  • Can’t wear revealing clothes.
  • Can’t consume sexual or violent media.

If your experience is anything like mine, the list above sums up the population’s view of Mormons. Friends of Mormons define Mormons as people–albeit happy people–who can’t do lots of things.

And they are right.

Take a list of the commandments in our scriptures and you will find that most of them are “can’t”s. Of the Ten Commandments, eight are “shalt nots” (Exodus 20:1-17). Even in the Word of Wisdom (the Mormon health code, see D&C 89), more than half of the guidance consists of warnings or constraints. Ask a Mormon Sunday School class of any age to list all of the commandments they can think of, and you will find the “don’t column” of a far longer length than the “do” (believe me, I’ve tried it). (Note: Mormons hold high the principle of agency–any person is free to choose, so “don’t” is generally more accurate than “can’t.”) Whichever angle you take, the list of commandments the LDS church doctrine teaches is heavily weighted towards the “no’s.”

But why?

Our church holds high a point of doctrinal differentiation that God is not the rigid dictator, the “loathsome insects over a fire” entity of John Edwards’ hell-fire sermons. We espouse God to be a divine, loving, paternal figure, whose mission is to help all of his “have joy,” and to receive “immortality and eternal life” (2 Nephi 2:21, Moses 1:39). Does God’s lengthy list of constraining commandments contradict our view of God as a loving, empowering Father?

The Power of Negative Thinking

Imagine yourself given an assignment at work to paint a mural on the side of a building. You are then charged with the following instructions:

  • Paint the horizon line ⅓ of the way up the wall
  • Create an outdoors backdrop, including three trees, one pond, and four small animals
  • Paint sun rays coming in from the upper right-hand side of the wall
  • Use blue for the sky, green for the grass, and red for park benches
  • Include three people—two women, one man—conversing in the lower-left hand side of the painting
  • The assignment is clear, the directions are exact, and you set off on your assignment.

Imagine, however, that for the same assignment, you are given the following instructions instead:

  • Don’t extend your painting beyond the wall
  • Don’t use more than eight cans of paint
  • Don’t use creatures, plants, or other items not native to our area
  • With which set of rules could you be more creative? Which set of rules is easier to follow?

The mural anecdote illustrates the management principle of “The Power of Negative Thinking,” explained by Robert Simons:

“Ask yourself the question, If I want my employees to be creative and entrepreneurial, am I better off telling them what to do or telling them what not to do? The answer is the latter. Telling people what to do by establishing standard operating procedures and rule books discourages the initiative and creativity unleashed by empowered, entrepreneurial employees. Telling them what not to do allows innovation, but within clearly defined limits.” (Simons, R. 1995. Control in an age of empowerment. Harvard Business Review (March-April): 80-88.)

In other words, a person can express more creativity— can push their own limits further—when given stark boundaries and complete freedom within those boundaries. Perhaps, then, God is following the principle of negative thinking: by giving us clear boundaries and then freedom within those boundaries, he is actually allowing us to express more creativity, and more individualism than he would by giving us exact instructions.

The Instructions

This pattern is evident throughout the scriptures. God gives us broad instructions (e.g. paint a mural) coupled with specific commandments to not do bad things (do not paint outside the lines). We are then set free to create, do, and live however we choose within those boundaries.

Our broad instructions are found in the other two of the Ten Commandments, the other half of the Word of Wisdom and the other column in our Sunday School class. God provides a host of positive, directional commandments:

  • Honor your father and mother
  • Keep the Sabbath day holy
  • Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart
  • Love thy neighbor as thyself
  • Have faith, hope, and charity
  • Grain is good for the food of man

Contrast, however, the nature of these commandments with the list at the beginning of this piece. “Do not drink alcohol” is undeniably specific, while “keep the sabbath day holy” has room for personal interpretation, for experimentation, and—I would submit—a chance for individual creativity.

Take a doctrinal example: Charity. God has two options. He could give us the command to “have charity” and then provide a descriptive list:

  • Take cookies to your neighbors twice monthly
  • Visit the widows in your town once monthly, listen to their stories and record them
  • Say two prayers for anyone that insults you
  • Do a chore for a family member (without asking for one in return) once weekly
  • Give a hug to your mother every day

God, however, does not choose to give us such a list (as much as we might want one). Instead, he gives us the following direction regarding charity (1 Corinthians 3:4-6, Moroni 7:45):

  • Charity suffereth long, and is kind, envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
  • Charity doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, isn’t easily provoked, thinketh no evil
  • Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
  • Charity beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

To learn to feel and demonstrate charity requires more than following a checklist. For the person who wants to have charity, he or she must pray to God to feel charity, must seek opportunities to demonstrate charity, must seek to draw closer to God to have his or her heart purified.

The pattern of specific no’s and broad directions is common throughout God’s doctrine: keeping the Sabbath day holy (see Isaiah 58), having faith (see Alma 32), and others.

Becoming like Our Creative God

While clear that the “power of negative thinking”—that is, setting clear boundaries and allowing freedom within those boundaries–will encourage more creativity, is that applicable in a divine sense? In other words, does God want us to be creative? Or, does he just want us to be obedient—to follow his “don’ts” without question? Consider this scriptural thought:

“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (D&C 58:26-28, emphasis added).

All of God’s commandments are constructed to allow us to become more like Him. Because we are “children of God” (Romans 8:16), we were created in his image, and we achieve our greatest potential by living up to that ideal. Taking the charity example cited earlier, which effort will help a person draw closer to God: following a predefined checklist, or spending time in prayer and experimentation trying to feel and demonstrate to others the great power of God’s love? As Jesus Christ said:

“For behold, manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” (3 Nephi 27:27)

Mormons believe that by following God’s commandments—by doing and by NOT doing—we are empowered by God to learn for ourselves to become like Him.

In other words, paint your mural. Use your creativity. And stay inside the lines.


Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Uncategorized


Chucking Monkeys (the self-titled post)

… a satisfying metaphor for the obsessive tasker.

Today I chucked 38 monkeys.  One my one, I flung them off my back and onto the floor–monkey after monkey, thrown to its rightful demise.  And all before 10pm.

The most satisfying was the gorilla of a lunch event I hosted–that 150 pounder had been clinging on for four and a half weeks.  I am immensely pleased to be rid of him.  That is not to ignore, however, the string of pygmy monkeys that was wedged right between my shoulder blades.  One hour and forty-five minutes of responding to starred emails and those monkeys were toast.  Hucked.  Flung.

I’ll try to ignore the 17 additional monkeys that managed to scramble onto my back while I was distracted.  They are howling now, but give me a few days to plan my execution strategy, and they’ll never know what hit them.

Sometimes I think, “But what’ll I do when I’ve chucked all the monkeys?”  I am pretty well used to the constant creeching in my ears, and (dare I admit?), I have even grown fond of a few of them.  My running monkey, for example, is annoying loud but a very faithful companion.  Except sometimes I wish he were louder at 5:30am on cold mornings–or that he were quieter when I am trying to enjoy my chocolate panna cotta from WestBridge.  My eat-out-weekly monkey has all but reached permanent status; he’s been perched near my left kidney for three years and never even been nudged.  And the constant stream of pygmies sometimes afford a nice rhythm as the slam on the floor; besides, they give me something to do while I wait for the train.

But say, hypothecially, I chucked all of the monkeys.  Say I chucked all of the emails, events, interviews, catch-up lunches, dirty bathrooms, start-up ventures, book clubs, text messages, must-read-articles, weekly memos, conferences, and yoga practices. Then what would I do?  With no monkeys, what will I think about when I am walking home from campus?  With no monkeys, what will I do on Tuesday at 4:50pm?  With no monkeys, what will people know or say about me?  With no monkeys, what in world will I do with my life?


Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Uncategorized