Music for Well+Fed Dinner

I had a blast playing tunes at Well+Fed Louisiana’s “End of Summer Dinner” recently! I’m so proud to be a part of the crew there. The meal was 4 courses of all gluten-free, vegan food & wine, and it was magical. There will be many more of these to come in the future, so make sure to grab a ticket next time if you missed this one.

Also, I’ve got a couple hours of music put together and am always looking for places to play it, so let me know if your event or venue needs some tunes!

Artful Living : Put the Phone Down, Kid

Some thoughts on responsible relationships to technology

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It seems that the busier we get in our household, the more our addictions to technology flare up. We technically have less time to be on our phones, yet they become the easiest “go-to” for winding down, waking up, or just getting a jolt of dopamine to keep the energy levels up. So we end up alternating between getting things checked off “the list” and staring into a scrolling screen. This leaves very little room for real presence, contemplation, and living into one of our core values in this house – creativity.

In their book Wired to Create, co-authors Kaufman and Gregoire claim that, “A connection to our inner selves and our stream of consciousness is undeniably what makes us creative.” How do we then foster this connection to our inner selves that fuels creativity while carrying around these always-available distraction devices in our pockets? How do we shift our attention away from what draws us compulsively and toward what we more intentionally choose?

Paying attention is a lost art. It is a skill that we now must develop – like a muscle that tends to atrophy in our society of “constant semi-attention” (as Thomas Merton put it), or in the midst of what neuroscientist Richard Davidson calls our “national attention deficit.” We go to bed with our phones in our faces, and they’re the first thing we reach for upon waking. The average American is spending approximately 11 hours interacting with digital devices, smartphone users check their devices about 150 times a day (or every 6.5 minutes), and someone just invented a flashing nightlight that will alert us to any notifications we might receive while trying to sleep. Great. The busyness of our brains and the pace of our lives is affecting us in every way imaginable, including our physiology. Brain scans show that interacting with our devices activates the reward centers of our brains connected with addiction, and that the same withdrawal symptoms a smoker experiences when quitting cold turkey are present in students who abstain from using technology for only 24 hours.

The access to the mind space we need to create is denied when we’re constantly distracted. Our ability to fully concentrate or connect deeply with much of anything is compromised by our endemic “multi-tasking” – which is actually just alternating our focus rapidly, as it is neurologically impossible to do two things at once. We act mindlessly, often unaware of exactly what we’re doing and even more often unaware of why we do the things we do. We can barely attend to those things outside us without interruption, much less the deeper realities within. 

So how do we re-learn this art of paying attention?

One way is cultivating more responsible relationships with technology. 

I promise I’m no luddite. Our technology makes amazing and important things possible like staying connected with loved ones, connecting with a tribe, creating and sustaining businesses, garnering a group effort for massive social change, pure enjoyment, and making absolutely beautiful, life-enhancing art. But it is a neutral tool in and of itself (and a very young tool relatively speaking) so we must be mindful about how we’re using it and how it’s shaping us. Used mindlessly or for ill will, our devices are just as capable of isolating us to no end and being agents of our destruction as they are of making the world a better, more beautiful place to live. 

So here are a few ideas of how to foster a responsible relationship with the technology at our fingertips:

Maintain screen-free zones. Maybe it’s the dinner table. Maybe it’s your bed. But what will I do for an alarm clock?! (That was my first thought anyway.) Apparently people still sell real alarm clocks. Who knew? Maybe it’s the car. Maybe it’s the shower. There needs to be at least one zone––be it physical or time-based––that is kept screen-free as a ritual and reserved for direct connection unmediated by a device. It’s a built in element of rhythm that requires you to interact with your own thoughts, feelings, and impulses apart from the crutch of the device, reminds you that you are in fact not a machine, and returns you to the human zone of connection that requires observation, conversation, and empathy. Here’s an idea: Remember when phones were in a fixed location, corded into the wall? What if you made a “phone station” at home where you used and charged your phone, and the phone stayed there instead of being an extension of your body at all times?

Screen time limits. These are popular with children nowadays, but adults can incorporate them as well. Dealing with devices that can be addictive, we can’t rely on sheer will power. We have to set up parameters that help us to thrive, and then abide by them religiously. As someone whose vocation requires ample amounts of screen time, I’ve had to get creative with this. I’m moving as many tasks as I can over to paper that I used to do on-screen––like making to to-do lists, calendaring, and writing outlines or early drafts of a project. 

Blue light reduction. This has changed my life. Apple, Google, and other companies have created features that reduce the blue-light being emitted from your devices. Blue light is part of the visible light spectrum that has a very short wavelength, produces a high amount of energy, and reaches deeper into the eye than some other forms of light. It is being connected with damage to the retina, early development of macular degeneration, and reducing the production of melatonin––the hormone that signals to your body that it’s time to sleep. Using “night-shift mode” (Apple’s name for this feature) or wearing glasses that filter out blue light after 8pm may make your screen look more orange than usual for a few hours, but you’ll cause less strain on your eyes and sleep more soundly. Sometimes I just leave it on all day if what I’m doing doesn’t require accurate color matching.

Breathe. Did you know screen apnea is a real thing? Tech expert Linda Stone describes screen apnea as “the temporary cessation of breath or shallow breathing while sitting in front of screen, whether a computer, a mobile device or a television.”* Breath-holding is associated with all sorts of health problems like decreased effectiveness of the immune system, increased pain, higher heart rates, and higher inflammation levels contributing to obesity, depression, and a myriad of stress-related illnesses. It’s amazing how off our breathing gets during screen use. Just pay attention next time you’re on a device and see what happens to the rhythm of your breath. The good news is we can train ourselves into better breathing habits.

One practice that helps with this is contemplative sitting.

The 20 minute sit is a standard meditation practice encouraged by many teachers and spiritual leaders in varying traditions. There are many ways to approach your sit, but here are two of the most basic options. Firstly, you can focus attention on your breath by finding a comfortable position, feeling your breath as it enters cooly through your nostrils and exits warmly seconds later, noting when thoughts or feelings arise, and each time they do, gently returning your attention to your breath. Or secondly, you can engage in the same process by centering your attention on a sacred or meaningful word rather than simply the breath. Some common choices might be mercy, love, God, gratitude, peace, unity, etc. The great news here is you don’t have to begin with a full 20 minutes. You can work up to that in small increments. Try 5 minutes for a week, then 7 the next week, then 10, 15, and eventually 20. It’s important to remember you can’t be “bad” at meditation! It is far more difficult than it might sound at first, and it is challenging even for experienced practitioners. “Success” is only found in strengthening your muscles of attention by returning constantly to your breath or word, and in what you might discover as you notice what arises in you without judgement.

As we strengthen these muscles of attention we gain the power to more freely choose how and when we engage with our devices, and how and when we don’t – making space for attending to the moment at hand, our inner lives, and the creative work that is ours to do each day.


The above text is an edited excerpt from my in-progress manuscript about artful living through the lenses of creativity, connection, and community. More excerpts to follow in this blog series titled "Artful Living."

Notes From My Phone* Reading Event

I had the privilege of participating in this event with 2 of my favorite people/writers at Centenary College here in Shreveport, LA on October 24, 2017. Music was played (by me), poetry recited (by Jennifer Strange), and books read (by Michelle Junot).

Below, listen to the audio of Michelle reading from her most recent memoir (a self-portrait constructed entirely from content in the Notes app on her iPhone) and from the panel discussion among the 3 of us about all things art-making, vulnerability, work and "real" jobs, the value (and confusion) of liberal arts education, health, etc.

Hope you enjoy!

Sarah Duet performed original pieces at Michelle Junot's book reading. Sarah graduated from Centenary in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication: New Media. Song Titles: 1. The Times They Are A-Changin' "by Bob Dylan (cover) 2. Allow 3. Lover of Leaving 4. Mercy Make Acquaintance. Sarah is a writer, artist, and musician.

Alumna Michelle Junot reads from her newest book, "Notes from my Phone*." Michelle Junot is the author Notes From My Phone* a self-portrait in her twenties, and of and the floor was always lava, a collection of essays exploring childhood and memory. Her writing has been published in BmoreArt, Welter, Industry Night, The Avenue, Reject, and Baltimore STYLE.
Michelle Junot

Michelle Junot

Michelle Junot majored in Communication: Professional Writing as well as Dance at Centenary College and then headed to the University of Baltimore where she earned the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Publishing arts. She did the writing, design, and publishing of her first book, and the floor was always lava. Then she slacked off and only did the writing part of her more recent book, Notes From My Phone*, published by Mason Jar Press. She has also published essays in several magazines and currently teaches graphic design and works as Director of Alumni Relations and Assistant Director of Communications at University of Baltimore School of Law.

Sarah Duet

Sarah Duet

 

Jennifer Strange

Jennifer Strange

My friend wrote a book...

 Click to purchase! Only $2.99 on Kindle.  " Infused with quirky personality and acquainted with human frailty, this book provides a quick-read, informational guide to help those suffering with depression and suicidal ideation. Pairing a graduate education in counseling with a personal experience in depression, the author offers a warm, comically medicinal escape from overwhelming moments of darkness."

Click to purchase! Only $2.99 on Kindle.

"Infused with quirky personality and acquainted with human frailty, this book provides a quick-read, informational guide to help those suffering with depression and suicidal ideation. Pairing a graduate education in counseling with a personal experience in depression, the author offers a warm, comically medicinal escape from overwhelming moments of darkness."

...and you probably want to read it. Here's why:

Whether you're one of the many of us who's become acquainted with the debilitating weight of this struggle personally or one of the many who's walked with us (your loved ones, coworkers, friends, patients, etc.) through the depths, few of us are left as strangers to depression these days. And whatever category you might find yourself in, I strongly recommend this short-but-valuable ebook to you. I often say that the only thing as hard as being depressed is loving someone who is. I stand by that and think that this book is valuable to those in both positions. I appreciate Becca's voice which is no different in written word than in person...communicating undeniable empathy with the person at hand, while somehow maintaining an enlivening levity, hope, and humor even while addressing such difficult realities as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Thank you to my friend Becca Weingard for her words, for being brave and generous enough to share them, and for sharing them so honestly in her own voice...that, as usual, is just the best mix of realness, honesty, empathy, practicality, hope, and the goofiest goofiness. For me (and so many of the people I love most), the beasts of depression and suicidal ideation are no stranger, and this book & Becca's blog resonate as deeply right, true to the experience, and as an always-valuable reminder that I haven't been/won't be alone in those seasons and that there are practical ways to move out of them. Becca was a huge part of my surviving my first major depressive episode years ago simply through her friendship, for which I'm deeply indebted with gratitude. I'm so glad to be able to "share the wealth" with so many more of you now through her writing.

So if you are or have experienced depression, please consider reading. If you've known and loved (or lost) someone who's experienced depression, please consider reading. And if you're the person who'd never sit down to willingly read or learn more about 'heavy' topics such as this but might need to know more, please consider making this the one resource you take the time to read. I think it's brevity and balance will prove to be the sort of container for this content that works for you. 

Stop the Burn: Camp Minden

There is a proposed open burn of explosives that are being stored at Camp Minden that poses serious health risks to those who live in North Louisiana and the ArkLaTex region. Safer and more effective methods exist and should be used instead.

For the sake of those we know and love in this area, please consider getting involved with protesting this plan. With the current plan, we will be exposed to some serious cancer-causing and environmentally damagin toxins. For the latest information about what is happening and how to help, check out the Facebook group Concerned Citizens of the Camp Minden M6 Open Burn.

I've design a few screen graphics this week to help us spread awareness and round up support. Feel free to right click and download these images to use on your social media outlets, emailing, text messages, etc. There's a limited amount of time in which we can stop this and need all the hands on deck we can get!

5 Basic Moves to Improve Your Health

  1. Eat real food. The "foods" that are most popular and most accessible to us today in the U.S. are often not even real food anymore. What are they then? Food-like products chemically engineered to sell, be manufactured at the lowest cost possible, and to keep us wanting more of them. Here's a great guide to the basics of moving toward a healthier diet of the real foods we humans should be eating for optimum health.
  2. Make friends. We're built to connect with each other. There's even evidence linking quality relationships to stronger immune systems, better overall health, and decreased anxiety, depression, and addiction. So seriously, make friends and keep up with your relationships. If you don't know where to start or who to call...well call me. Or come by The Yellow House.
  3. Keep a journal. Expressive writing has real benefits for our mental and physical health! Here's a brief overview of why and how to make a practice of writing to heal.
  4. Exercise. And specifically with yoga if you haven't tried it yet. Yes, even you, men. Yoga is not just some hip fad right now. It's been around for more than 5,000 years and is an ancient science of the unity of body, mind, & spirit that can benefit us by relieving tension, improving strength & flexibility, increasing blood supply, eliminating toxins, lowering blood pressure, raising energy levels, improving mood & brain function, and bettering muscle tone. (That list's not comprehensive, but come on, why wouldn't you give it a try with all those benefits? I've been developing a daily yoga practice little by little for a few months now, and I'm loving it.)
  5. Get educated. And this can be fun! Check out the documentaries below for great overviews of our current food & health situation in the U.S. today. And/or read this article about what the processed food industry doesn't want us to know.