Exotic Monsters (22/1/21)

Exotic Monsters (22/1/21)

Creativity Homepage Feature Letterbox Music News Releases Singles

Release date: 22nd January 2021
Label: My Big Sister Recordings


GET THE SONG

+ Click to download pay what you want/can from Bandcamp.
+ Get “Exotic Monsters” plus all previous Penfriend singles when you join The Correspondent’s Club (free and paid tiers available).
+ Type “penfriend exotic monsters” into your digital music platform of choice.


ABOUT THE VIDEO

“We’re more connected than ever, yet we’re becoming more polarised. The pandemic promised a coming together of communities yet, as the third UK lockdown grinds grimly on, the people in my area of Bristol have battened down the proverbial hatches. It’s easy to feel like we live on a different planet from our fellow humans sometimes, so with this video I wanted to bring the artwork for the single to life, to suggest that perhaps the monsters we perceive to be all around us are more similar to us than different.

I spent 20 hours constructing 3D paper masks, set up a green screen in my living room and used up two of my daily exercise sessions to create this oddball trip into my imagination. Enjoy!”


ABOUT THE SONG

Penfriend, aka music producer, songwriter and multi-disciplinary artist Laura Kidd, presents “Exotic Monsters“.

Sparked by a throwaway phrase from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “Exotic Monsters” is a laundry list of asynchronous human needs and desires; a reflection of our increasingly confused, disconnected and polarised lives. A timely reminder of the practice of cultivating gratitude through meditation, the song is an attempt to examine our internalised inconsistencies; the “facts” we pile up on our own backs throughout lives bombarded by airbrushed images and ads for the unattainable baubles we’re informed are essential for true happiness.

Shackled to our phones by big tech companies monetising and eroding our attention spans, feeling increasingly as though we live on a different planet to those we disagree with, chasing likes on social media while forgetting to look after our brains and our hearts…where will this all end? Some days it’s hard to believe late MP Jo Cox’s poignant words, that “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.

Addressing this sense of disconnection and depersonalisation, “Exotic Monsters” evokes the menace of “Enjoy The Silence”-era Depeche Mode with a nod to the 80s- Madonna hero worship of Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrassing” and the hypnotic synth pop of Sylvan Esso.

To quote Björk, “I’m no fucking Buddhist, but this is enlightenment”.

Fun fact: “Exotic Monsters” features several Creative Commons drum samples created by the European Space Agency, recorded at their European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands. Using sounds from space on a song about feeling disconnected from life on earth just felt wildly appropriate…

CREDITS

Written, produced, performed and recorded by Laura Kidd at The Launchpad, Bristol. Mixed by Dan Austin. Mastered by Katie Tavini. Artwork by Alex Tillbrook, concept by LK.

ESTEC drum samples pk3, pk4, pk6 and pk11 credit: Peter Kirn/CDM/ESA CC BY-SA. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

LYRICS 

I try sollipsistic recreation
I crave love without abbreviation
I need time to kiss this cup of coffee
I keep letters from the one who loved me
I will take all the dreams that Hollywood promised me
I want it now

We’re exotic monsters, dead from the waist down How can I be clear?
Gratitude’s the first sign of waking
I won’t go back

Keep a kiss for me
Cos we all fall down under an international sky
Fighting to believe it’ll be all right
I’m on an extrasolar high

I seek narcissistic decoration
I crave soil, warmth, ventilation
I’d like to focus on my silent fiction
I need to kick this dopamine addiction
I dream of being someone’s happy memory I want it all

We’re exotic monsters, dead from the waist down
How can I be clear?
Gratitude’s the first sign of waking
Please don’t keep me here

Keep a kiss for me
Cos we all fall down under an international sky
Fighting to believe it’ll be all right
I’m on an extrasolar high

Keep a kiss for me
Cos we all fall down under an international sky
Fighting to believe it’ll be all right
I’m on an extrasolar high

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2020 was my best year for reading – my recommendations

2020 was my best year for reading – my recommendations

Homepage Feature Letterbox Process

I’m still gathering my thoughts on what 2020 meant to me. I really enjoy reading peoples’ end of year blog posts and have started mine a few times, from a few angles. I’ll have to see where those musings take me.

In the meantime, here’s my full 2020 reading list, separated into fiction, memoir and other non-fiction and listed in the order they were read. I’ve marked my mind/heart/life-changing titles in bold and italicised any others I would heartily recommend. If I’d read any I thought were absolutely rubbish, I wouldn’t have listed them here – but I got something from everything I read last year.

For stats lovers: I read 52 books in 2020, compared to 28 in 2019 and only a handful in 2018, 2017, 2016 and further back. I wasn’t aiming for quantity of books over quality of experience, but I did make a conscious effort to read more. Keeping a list of every book I finished in the back of my diary helped – it spurred me on to keep finding interesting things to read, and to dedicate time to reading them.

My top 3 books of 2020: this is really hard, but if I was pressed I would recommend “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie, “A Godawful Small Affair” by J.B. Morrison (aka Jim Bob) and “Amusing Ourselves To Death” by Neil Postman.

Which books made a difference in your heart, brain or both in 2020? Are you trying to read more, or are you convinced you could never finish a book? Let me know in the comments!

Fiction

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
The Testaments – Margaret Atwood
Wonder Boys – Michael Chabon

The Last – Hanna Jameson
The First Bad Man – Miranda July
My Sister, The Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
Monkey Grip – Helen Garner
The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
Middle England – Jonathan Coe
Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty
Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Vox – Christina Dalcher
A Godawful Small Affair – J.B. Morrison
listen to Jim Bob on my podcast!
Conversations With Friends – Sally Rooney
Normal People – Sally Rooney

The Runaways – Fatima Bhutto
Q – Christina Dalcher
Harvey King Unboxes His Family – J.B. Morrison
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie
Weirdo – Cathi Unsworth
Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver
Never Mind – Edward St Aubyn
The Man In The High Castle – Philip K. Dick
The Summer Everything Happened – Jane Bradley (unpublished)

Memoir

The Salt Path – Raynor Winn
My Thoughts Exactly – Lily Allen
Home – Julie Andrews
Home Work – Julie Andrews
My Name Is Why – Lemn Sissay
listen to Lemn on my podcast!
On The Road Not Taken – Paul Dodgson
Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl
Carry On, Warrior – Glennon Doyle
Love Warrior – Glennon Doyle
Untamed – Glennon Doyle
Broken Greek – Pete Paphides
I Choose This – David Ford
No Time Like The Future – Michael J. Fox

Hunger – Roxane Gay
Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris

Other Non Fiction

Three Women – Lisa Taddeo
Urban Watercolour Sketching – Felix Scheinberger

This Is Marketing – Seth Godin
Platform – Michael Hyatt
Mindful Thoughts For Stargazers – Mark Westmoquette
Louder And Funnier – P.G. Wodehouse
The Curve – Nicholas Lovell
Social Media Is Bullshit – B.J. Mendelson

Syllabus – Linda Barry
Watcha Mean, What’s A Zine? – Mark Todd and Esther Pearl Watson
Amusing Ourselves To Death – Neil Postman
Essentialism – Greg McKeown

Hit Makers – Derek Thompson

THANK YOU for visiting my website! I’m Laura Kidd, a music producer, songwriter and podcaster based in Bristol, UK. It’s great to meet you.

+ Get FREE music immediately by joining The Correspondent’s Club (free and paid tiers available).

+ I send a thoughtful weekly email every week – choose the Freewheeler tier or upwards to receive it.

+ New episodes of my music podcast “Attention Engineer”are released every Wednesday – visit this page to find out more and subscribe via your favourite podcast platform.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTubeTwitterInstagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo

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Ep27: Robin Ince on forging a career with “a dirty bomb of failed creativity”

Ep27: Robin Ince on forging a career with “a dirty bomb of failed creativity”

Homepage Feature Podcast

Hello, hello! Welcome to my conversation with Robin Ince, recorded on 1st December 2020.

Press play below or click to listen / subscribe on your favourite podcast platform, find out more about Robin’s work here and check out the Book Shambles Patreon here.

The Nine Lessons and Carols for Socially Distanced People Encore show is this Saturday 18th December – watch here.

[Content warning: some friendly swears.]


In this conversation, we discuss:

  • the importance of giving yourself permission to be creative
  • building a creative career after things didn’t go how you thought they would, and how “wasting” your 20s could lead to better work later
  • a day in the life of Robin Ince – prompted by a question from previous guest Bec Hill, I ask for productivity tips and receive a surprising answer
  • wrestling self loathing, the inner critic and an engorged ego – how to keep making things
  • what it’s been like staying in one place in 2020 after years spent constantly on the road
  • how, at times, we are the voice of lots of people who are very quiet


Explore Robin’s work:

Find out more by visiting Robin’s website and following him on Twitter.



About Robin Ince

Robin Ince is many things. A comedian, an author, a broadcaster and a populariser of scientific ideas. The Guardian once declared him a ‘becardiganed polymath’ which seems about right.

He is probably best known as the co-host of the Sony Gold Award winning BBC Radio 4 series The Infinite Monkey Cage with Professor Brian Cox. He also co-hosts the podcast Robin and Josie’s Book Shambles, which gains over 100,000 listeners a month, which is part of The Cosmic Shambles Network, which he also co-created.

His most recent book, I’m a Joke and So Are You, was described by Chortle as ‘one of the best books ever written about what it means to be a comedian’. He also wrote the book, The Bad Book Club, and has edited and written short stories for two volumes of Dead Funny: Horror Stories by Comedians, as well as writing and presenting documentaries about the history of self-help, comedians and melancholy, Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, Richard Feynman, General Relativity and Dr Seuss.

As a stand up he has toured the world and won three Chortle Awards, the Time Out Outstanding Achievement Award and was nominated for the British Comedy Awards Best Live show. The Guardian once wrote that, ‘When someone writes a history of modern comedy, they should make room for Robin Ince’ and of his latest show The Scotsman described it as an ‘alchemic mix of enthusiasm, knowledge and observation’.

He has created, curated, pioneered and hosted numerous nights mixing science, music and comedy at some of the most celebrated venues around the world from the Hammersmith Apollo to the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto and the Royal Albert Hall. His brainchild Nine Lessons and Carols for Curious People continues to sell out theatres every year, over a decade after its first appearance, and in 2019 he embarked on a world tour of arenas with Professor Brian Cox.

He has received an Honorary Fellowship of UCL, an honorary doctorate from Royal Holloway College (University of London), and is a fellow of the British Science Association.


This podcast is 100% powered by my Correspondent’s Club. Thanks to every single member for your support!

New to my musical world?

+ Get two free songs music immediately by joining my mailing list.

+ I send a thoughtful weekly email every week – join The Correspondent’s Club on a free or paid tier to receive it.

+ New episodes of my music podcast “Attention Engineer” are released every Wednesday – visit this page to find out more and subscribe via your favourite podcast platform.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo

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Obey Robots – “Let It Snow” (4/12/20)

Obey Robots – “Let It Snow” (4/12/20)

Homepage Feature Letterbox Releases Singles


Release date: 4th December 2020
Label: My Big Sister Recordings


GET THE SONG

+ Pre-order vinyl / pay what you want/can download from Bandcamp.

ABOUT THE SONG

“Let It Snow” is the debut single by Obey Robots – a bold new project from Rat (Ned’s Atomic Dustbin) and Laura Kidd (Penfriend / She Makes War). Connected by mutual friend Miles Hunt (The Wonder Stuff), the pair pool their disparate influences to break new ground.

An unflinching, anthemic powerhouse to close out a terrible year, “Let It Snow” announces itself on a motoric Krautrock groove recalling Stereolab’s “French Disko” if rewired by Queens Of The Stone Age or “Used For Glue”-era Rival Schools. There isn’t a jingle bell in sight – just a clarion call for a collective look to the future.

As her previously busy world reduced to the size of her Bristol studio, The Launchpad, Laura started creating cut-up collages from Rat’s intense, melodic guitar parts, building new sound spaces to voice her hopes, fears and frustrations but, more importantly, to offer a hand to the uncertain.

The lyrics to “Let It Snow” issue a heady invocation to the weather gods to fast forward this worst of years by dousing the world in clean, crisp hope for brighter days, where we can hug our loved ones and gather together in dark music venues to celebrate the wonders of being alive.

The double A side single is available to pre-order NOW on limited edition pink 7″ vinyl and CD, with the first track, “Let It Snow”, available as a pay what you want/can digital download.

CREDITS

Written by Pring / Kidd. Produced by Laura Kidd. Mixed by Dan Austin. Mastered by Katie Tavini. Guitar performed and recorded by Rat. Bass, vocals and synths performed and recorded by Laura Kidd. Drums performed and recorded by Max Saidi.

LYRICS 

Look how we run for cover
Watch how we fight, fight, fight
I haven’t seen my mother
But I found my lust for life

I want to race the summer
Cos we’re falling down, down
Just let me talk the winter round

I’m feeling so soluble, time melts away
These days are unendable
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

The roar becomes a whisper
Smash through computer screens
I haven’t seen my sister
So fire up the time machines

I’m feeling so soluble, time melts away
These days are unendable
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

I’m feeling invisible, words wear away
This year is impossible
Let it go, let it go, let it go

Feeling so soluble, time melts away
These days are unendable
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow
Let it go, let it go, let it go

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Ep25: Thea Gilmore on ignoring normal to build an 18 album career

Ep25: Thea Gilmore on ignoring normal to build an 18 album career

Homepage Feature Podcast

Hello and welcome to my conversation with Thea Gilmore, recorded on 16th November 2020.

Press play below or click to listen / subscribe on your favourite podcast platform, visit Thea’s website here and scroll down for more links to her work.

[Content warning: some friendly swears.]

In this conversation, we discuss:

  • building a longlasting music career – removing power from the middlemen and finding ways forward that aren’t whatever normal is
  • how growing up alongside your fans is a bit like being followed around by your school class
  • how imposter syndrome can keep you grateful
  • honesty in music – taking down the wall brick by brick to become more uncomfortable
  • creating a sustainable income as an artist – the importance of both our subscription clubs in our continuing survival as artists, and Thea’s pioneering early work in this area
  • how fame seems awful
  • what it’s like to be one of Bruce Springsteen’s favourite artists


Explore Thea’s work:

Find out more by visiting Thea’s website and following her on Twitter.



About Thea Gilmore

An artist of enduring international acclaim and a justly revered lyricist, Thea Gilmore’s musical settings have taken many ingenious detours in the 22 years since the release of her debut album, Burning Dorothy. Uncategorisable, whip smart and unafraid to speak her mind, her Twitter bio reads “Singer. Songwriter. Tall bird. Corruptor of words”.


This podcast is 100% powered by my Correspondent’s Club. Thanks to every single member for your support!

New to my musical world?

+ Get two free songs music immediately by joining my mailing list.

+ I send a thoughtful weekly email every Thursday – join The Correspondent’s Club on a free or paid tier to receive it.

+ New episodes of my music podcast “Attention Engineer”are released every Wednesday – visit this page to find out more and subscribe via your favourite podcast platform.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo

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The Only Way Out Is Through (8/9/20)

The Only Way Out Is Through (8/9/20)

Homepage Feature Letterbox Releases Singles


Release date: 8th September 2020
Label: My Big Sister Recordings
Distributor: Southern Record Distributors

GET THE SONG

+ Download PWYW from Bandcamp.
+ Get all Penfriend singles PLUS unreleased track “Cancel Your Hopes” FREE when you join The Correspondent’s Club.
+ Search for “Penfriend” on your music platform of choice.

ABOUT THE SONG

I can’t do much of anything when I’m feeling down, let alone write a song about it, but one day in 2019 when I was trudging my way back, I made an attempt to leave a breadcrumb trail for my future self.

“The Only Way Out Is Through” is my attempt to trap the “shapeless forces” that “pull at me”, making them solid by assigning words to them, reducing their power and size to something I might feasibly be able to overcome. The aspirational sentiment that “resistance is crucial, forgiveness is beautiful” is one I find very hard to enact in the moment, but something I can at least continue to strive for.

Ironically, this song is being released during my lowest fortnight of the last 12 months, so the safety line of lyrics I knotted inside the music is a helpful reminder of brighter days.

The choice to release music in a universally dark time isn’t one I take lightly. “The Only Way Out Is Through” is the most resonant and useful piece of music I have to offer right now, a rescue raft for whoever needs one.

That’s what this song is for me.

LYRICS 

Gotta get out of this
Making a meal of distress
Fatalistic to the bone
Thunderclouds in every home
Gotta get out of this

The only way out is through
Not gonna lose my heart – I never meant to
The only way out is through

Gotta get out of this
Drowning in yesterday’s tears
Intimate conspiracies
Shapeless forces pull at me
Gotta get out of this

The only way out is through
Not gonna lose my heart – I never meant to
The only way out is through


The only way out is through
Not gonna lose my heart
I never meant to wish on a falling star
But I won’t let it go

Denial take me away
Pretend like I’m not the queen of stretching the days
In all the wrong ways – til they break
Denial take me away
I crave your sweet mistakes but
Resistance is crucial, forgiveness is beautiful

The only way out is through
Not gonna lose my heart – I never meant to
The only way out is through

CREDITS

[music]
Written, produced and performed by Laura Kidd at The Launchpad, Bristol.
Drums by Max Saidi. Mixed by Dan Austin. 
Mastered by Chris McCormack at Blacklisted Mastering.

[artwork]
Portrait by @genskiart, logo and wordmark by Miritte Ben Yitzchak, concept and layout by Laura Kidd.

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Chasing the mountain

Chasing the mountain

Creativity Homepage Feature Letterbox Mindfulness Productivity

Sometimes I wonder why I spend my time in the ways I do. A life’s primary occupation builds up through an infinitesimal series of decisions – what we wanted to be when we grew up, which subjects we chose at school, what the careers advisers told us we could aim for (secretary, in my case), influence from books we read, friends we had, good and bad relationships with good and bad people, exam results, the necessity of earning money to live on, and on and on.

I don’t need or even want to get immediate results from the things I make, but I like to stand back occasionally to get a better view than I’m able to have in my busy day to day life. I’ve never liked the idea of doing things just because I’ve always done them.

I spoke to Bec Hill on my podcast recently about goals and dreams – how we define them, and what we do if we achieve them. She talked about how pursuing a full time career in comedy was The Dream, and once she’d managed that, she didn’t replace it with a new one for a few years, because she was too busy keeping that dream alive. Once she realised, she started setting herself new goals, and because of course the only way of achieving goals is by setting them and working towards them, the wonderful news that she’s just been announced as the host of a new CITV crafting show is no surprise to me. Bec defined her dream, did the work, and now it’s happening. Massive congratulations to her!

Maintaining a career in the arts once you’ve carved one out for yourself is a separate challenge to creating it in the first place, and a lot of work has to go into that, but I do like to remind myself to check in every now and then and take a longer view. What am I trying to achieve with this thing? Am I spending my time wisely? Am I able to keep a roof over my head this month? Ah, but is this part of my daily or weekly work schedule seemingly frivolous but personally enriching? And how about proper time off?

I find it helps me to have solid reasons for why I’m deciding to spend time on something, and if it’s something to be shared, it’s important to have an idea of the effect I’d like it to have on others. I didn’t start thinking about that second part until I started listening to the Creative Pep Talk podcast last year on tour.

After a recommendation by the show’s host Andy J Pizza, I read Seth Godin’s book “This Is Marketing”, in which I learned first and foremost that marketing is NOT advertising, it’s about making a positive change in the world through the things you do, the skills you offer and the things you make and share. I started learning about the idea of “serving your audience / community” by thinking about what your core values are and, in Andy J Pizza’s words, “owning your weird”, and “baking” all of this into what you do, in order to attract likeminded people to your world, people who will get the most from the thing you make because it resonates with them and mirrors their personalities and experiences. It’s a world away from trying to work out what people want to buy and making that – BLARGH. No no no no no.

It was nice to learn that I’d been instinctively doing quite a lot of this stuff throughout my solo music career, but with my new knowledge, I could see how haphazardly I’d been spending my time. I think I know why – my goal to become a full time artist wasn’t clearly defined. I thought a lot about how nice it would be “one day” not to have to work for others, but I also couldn’t imagine that little old me would one day “win the prize” of getting to decide exactly how I spent my days. There are some deep-seated self-confidence issues going on there that would be more suited to a therapy session, but you get the idea.

Spending time thinking more deeply about the ideas I’ve been learning about has enabled me to take a huge leap forward in my life as an artist running a creative business. The reason I’m writing about it here is that I know it doesn’t only apply to careers where people make things and tout them on the internet.

I don’t think a lot of us give ourselves the time and space we need and deserve for self reflection, to ask ourselves simple yet difficult questions like “what are my core values?” and “are they reflected in the things I spend my time doing, both in and outside of work?”. These can be very challenging ideas, and for many reasons we can find ourselves in situations that really don’t fit, but are necessary to sustain our finances.

It’s important for me to keep my goals and my reasons for pursuing a project in mind so that when I feel tired, or low, or like everything I do is frivolous and pointless, I can easily remind myself of them. I need these reasons, that aren’t linked to short term ideas of success like money, or followers, so that on the occasions I do step back and wonder why I’m putting so much time and energy into something, I can remind myself, and keep going.

I started reading “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor Frankl this week, subtitled “the classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust”. In the preface, Frankl writes “I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”.

I’m very happy with the concept of defining my own measures of success, unrelated to finances or acclaim. It’s a topic I’ve spoken about at length during various panel discussions, seminars and talks to students as a visiting guest over the years, and something I regularly ask the guests on my podcast.

So, what struck me most about Frankl’s quote – aside from the obvious incredible generosity of spirit, coming as it does from someone who lived through such horrors – is the first line – “listen to what your conscience commands you to do…” – that mysterious, tantalising “call of adventure”, as Joseph Campbell would describe it in his “Hero’s Journey” framework, the elusive thing that gives us the enthusiasm, energy and drive to do something, make something, learn about something. We can’t put our finger on why we’re interested in that thing, but we are, and there’s so much adventure in indulging that, putting in the minutes and the hours, starting to break a big dream down into manageable chunks, working gradually towards a goal and being open to whatever exciting avenues open up to us along the way.

In “Art Matters”, Neil Gaiman writes about your goal as being a huge mountain in the distance. It’s not necessarily clear how to get to the mountain, but you can tell if you’re getting closer or further away with every decision you make. Since reading that book, I’ve practised asking myself questions, whenever something comes along to pique my interest, or I’m invited to do something I hadn’t planned on – will doing this take me closer to the mountain, or send me further away? Is this thing a diversion, or a way of getting closer to where I need and want to be?

Are all diversions bad or worthless? Of course not. But we have to set our own priorities. It’s up to us to define our own mountains, and there can be many that sit under different categories of our lives – a health and fitness mountain, a creative mountain, a “one day I’ll do X” mountain.

Just under two years ago I eloped to Canada with my beau to get married by a waterfall in a mountain range just outside Vancouver. It was glorious. The day after the wedding we embarked on an epic driving trip that took us all the way to Banff and back via stops at Kamloops, Vernon, Revelstoke, Lake Louise and Canmore.

As we left Vancouver on day 1, I remember my jaw dropping as I gazed at the most beautiful mountains I’d ever seen. I couldn’t imagine anything more lovely, and yet as we drove, they got prettier and prettier.

I used to think that I didn’t need to reach the mountain, because it was too far away and the journey towards it was so beautiful anyway – and it is – but I now know there are always other beautiful mountains to aim towards, and only by taking those steps will I ever learn how to keep trying to reach them.

So – what’s your mountain, and what’s your first step towards it?

THANK YOU for visiting my website!

+ Get FREE music immediately by joining my mailing list.

+ I send a thoughtful weekly email every Thursday – join The Correspondent’s Club on a free or paid tier to receive it.

+ New episodes of my music podcast “Attention Engineer”are released every Wednesday – visit this page to find out more and subscribe via your favourite podcast platform.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo

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Inspiration is for amateurs

Inspiration is for amateurs

Creativity Homepage Feature Letterbox Mindfulness Process Productivity

The thing that’s got me through the ups and downs, the fear, the uncertainty, the confusion, the anger, the frustration and the sheer bizarreness of 2020 is the daily routine I established for myself in early January.

I spent the last chunk of 2019 hopping from tour to tour to tour, winding down a long running music project, wondering what to do next, and how. I played 35 gigs around the UK, France and Germany between September and Christmas. There were ups and downs; some great shows, some awful ones and, as always, a hell of a lot of travelling time to ponder life, the world and my place in it.

I realised that, above anything, I was craving structure, routine, something I could be in control of. Time to develop ideas, time to reflect, time to get fitter, healthier and happier. I’ve always been a bit of a productivity nerd, reading all the major works on the topic throughout my years of freelancing, trying to learn how to run a small business and, in more recent years, how to be a better, nicer boss to my one employee (me!), with varying results.

For me “productivity” isn’t about being the most efficient machine possible, squeezing every last drop of usefulness out of yourself in an effort to “kill it” or “smash it”. If, like me, you’re someone with a lot of ideas and a burning desire to make or do things, getting organised is essential – however you do it.

Over the years I’ve tried different ways of trying to be able to make steady progress with long term goals while having manageable and enjoyable daily and weekly plans that incorporate exercise, reflection and introspection, deep work on the things I care about and healthy food that gives me the energy I need to have the most pleasant day possible. This is the ideal and, while I’ve occasionally managed it, I’ve often felt like the classic duck on the pond analogy – giving off the impression everything is calm and under control, all the while paddling wildly just beneath the surface.

I love the fresh start of a New Year, so in early January I set up some new daily routines for myself, started The Artist’s Way for the third time (and actually completed it, woop!), got serious about being consistent with exercise and meditation, and almost immediately started feeling fresher, clearer headed and more galvanised than ever to make my best work possible. On bad days, I trundled through the hours, tried my best and then moved on. On days when it all seemed utterly pointless, I tried to do a little exercise anyway, knowing that every deposit of good faith I put into myself would do *something* positive, whether I felt it immediately or not.

So, what’s my secret? Planning, showing up, trying my best, tracking my progress and then showing up again tomorrow. That’s it.

There’s something about drawing a tick on a piece of paper that just makes me happy. I get a jolt of satisfaction that makes me want to keep going so I can do it again. Where the dopamine hits we get from seeing notification alerts on our phones can actually make us feel worse, there’s something wholesome about crossing off a task in my bullet journal. Knowing that I’m one step closer to reaching a goal is part of it, but I think the knowledge that I’m living an intentional life full of useful things is also a big driver.

I’ve been keeping a bullet journal for a few years, and would highly recommend it (I use it alongside Trello for longer term goals and moving tasks around easily, Evernote for storing information, Bear for writing without distractions and Google Calendar for scheduling things), but how I do things isn’t perfect, or fixed, and I’m always interested in tweaking and improving.

Last week I happened across this video by Thomas Frank about habit tracking. At the start of the year, I had added columns in my bullet journal for tracking exercise, meditation, drinking enough water, taking my vitamins, stuff like that, all of which really helped me be continue to be consistent with all the ingredients of that happy, healthy life I was aiming for.

The key difference between my old system and this new one is the accountability aspect. If I didn’t manage to meditate three times a week in June, I just shrugged and thought, “I have to try harder to do that next week”. This month, every time I don’t manage to achieve one of my small goals, I have to write down why that happened.

One of my July goals is to get to bed by 10pm (so I can read for longer!) and another is to get up at 7.30am to exercise. The latter I can usually manage, the former I find really hard. So far this month I only have three + signs in my “go to bed by 10pm” row, and by the middle of the month when I make the next tracker page to take me to the end of July, I might choose to revise that goal, if it’s clearly not working, or have a think about how to achieve it, if it’s something I still really care about trying to achieve. I like this. Instead of feeling like I’m failing at a simple thing I think will improve my life, I can look at whether it’s actually achievable given everything else I’m doing, and adjust it for the next batch of 15 days if necessary.

It’s easy to feel like we have no control over our futures, but we all have at least some control about how we spend some of our minutes, hours and days. I work in the nebulous art of translating feelings and ideas into audio that moves other people, which is why it’s so appealing to me to be able to do concrete things every day that have an effect on how I feel, and therefore how well I’m able to move through my day, working on the things I have decided are important.

Getting back into running has been one of the best things I’ve managed this year, because it shows me that’s true every single week. Every time I run up my local steep hill I’m able to take a few more steps before stopping to walk for a minute, and every week I consistently run twice a week (21 in a row so far, yay!), I can write that down and feel proud of myself just for showing up, again and again.

You may not be able to run, or want to, but I’m sure you could find a little something to do for yourself every week, or every Monday and Friday, or every day, that you can feel good about ticking off each time, and that will show you what you’re capable of as time goes on.

It’s not about being the best at something, it’s about showing up, trying your best and then doing it again. I feel the same way about making albums. I could make the best album in the entire universe, and I still wouldn’t have any control over how it’s received in the world. Once my work is “out there”, all I can do is go back up to my studio and make some more.

I choose to keep turning up because, as photographer Chuck Close so wisely said, “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Over to you:

What could you do towards your big goal next month?
What could you do towards your big goal next week?
What could you do towards your big goal today?

Let me know in the comments. I believe in you x

THANK YOU for visiting my website!

+ Get FREE music immediately by joining my mailing list.

+ I send a thoughtful weekly email every Thursday – join The Correspondent’s Club on a free or paid tier to receive it.

+ New episodes of my music podcast “Attention Engineer”are released every Wednesday – visit this page to find out more and subscribe via your favourite podcast platform.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo

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You are not a number (and neither am I)

You are not a number (and neither am I)

Homepage Feature Letterbox Mindfulness Minimalism Process Productivity

NEWS THIS WEEK

“Attention Engineer” episode 4 is available now, featuring my conversation with songwriter Frank Turner! Recorded on the precipice of the UK lockdown backstage at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, Frank talks very candidly about the highs and lows of touring, the importance of giving a leg up to other artists and the unsustainability of being an arsehole in the music industry, alongside his love of Chas ‘n’ Dave and a surprising story about an ex-Prime Minister that leaves me speechless.

Thanks to everyone who’s rated and reviewed the show so far, it’s massively helpful especially over on Apple Podcasts, because that’s how new listeners find out about things.


YOU ARE NOT A NUMBER (AND NEITHER AM I)

On 1st June I made a birthday promise to myself to meditate three times a week, after managing to completely let it slide for several months. Of all the things I put into my new morning routine at the start of the year, I know that meditation is by far the most nourishing, and so I have done 6 x 10 minute sessions in the past couple of weeks.

Meditation grounds me, energises me and focuses me. It’s an opportunity to reflect, to notice what’s jumping about uppermost in my busy thoughts, to process immediate stress, to feel like I’m doing something caring for myself. But the problem with being more self aware is…being more self aware!

Day to day, I’ve been feeling pretty much totally fine for the last little while. I’m very good at setting myself seemingly impossible tasks and focusing on them to the exclusion of all other things, which is a brilliantly effective coping tactic short term, but not a very grounded or holistic way to live life.

It would be pointless to put in time to meditate and then ignore the things that come out of it, so I’ve been trying to be more aware of how much I’m using work (fun work, this work, the work of making music and podcasts and communicating with this wonderful community of people) to deal with or minimise my emotions around this lengthy lockdown, and that has led to some wobbly days this week.

I think I’m generally doing a pretty good job in pacing myself during this long distance race with no clear end, but every now and then I just want the world to stop so I can get off. I’m nervous about lockdown rules easing in this vague and confusing way, of other people deciding it’s fine to walk right by me when I’m out because the government has told them it is. I’m wondering whether it will be possible or safe to celebrate my Dad’s 70th birthday with him in August.

How are you getting on with all of this?

Following my notes last week about assessing my social media use, I decided to bite the bullet and take a proper look at Facebook this week. I don’t think I can deactivate my personal account without it having affecting my ability to spread the word about Penfriend on there, so instead I started hacking down my “friends” list.

A few years ago I decided to say yes to every friend request. As I didn’t want to share my deepest secrets anyway, I thought it could be a good way to spread the word about music-related things. Unfortunately, that led to my feed being chock full of strangers and their thoughts. I’m not someone who can casually glance through a timeline of personal loss, political bile and images of animal cruelty without feeling lots of feelings, even when I don’t know the people posting, so I had to stop looking. I actually weaned myself off looking at feeds for quite a long time last year, and my brain felt so much better for it.

When I started scrolling down the list of 3000+ names the other day, I felt creeped out by how few I actually recognised. It was easy to start with, unfriending people who I’d never met, never engaged with in any way, people who seemingly cruise Facebook collecting people. I regularly have upwards of 70 friend requests a day from men around the world, and it’s not because I’m at all well known. It’s…odd.

The criteria became a bit more complicated as I went on. Someone I’d met once, years ago, befriended online and then never talked to again doesn’t need to be linked to me forever, do they? What about primary school friends who I haven’t spoken to since then? Or fellow musicians who use the site for networking? There’s nothing wrong with that, but as I’m not using the site for that purpose, why am I privy to the inner workings of their minds, and they mine? What about people I do know in real life, who wouldn’t say hello to me and have a chat if we saw each other offline? Why on earth are *we* still connected?

Ultimately, we all have to make our own decisions about whether to use certain sites and how to use them. When I read “Deep Work” by Cal Newport last summer, it changed my mindset entirely. He writes about how people use social media services because they’ve become convinced that at some point, there will be some benefit. Newport suggests we should view them as a tool, dispassionately, figuring out what we’d like to use them for and assessing whether that tool is the right one to achieve those goals. For instance, if I want to use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, but I can’t see their posts in my feed, and we never exchange any words, am I getting what I want from Facebook? No! Is there a more effective way of achieving that goal? Perhaps. Do I know what that is? Not yet, but that doesn’t mean Facebook wins by default.

What I feel very strongly is that it’s unmanageable to subscribe to so many other peoples’ lives.

Have you heard of Dunbar’s number? Evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar shared approximate numbers of relationships the human brain can handle: 5 intimates, 15 good friends, 50 close friends, 150 friends. Beyond that, he surmises 500 acquaintances and 1500 people whose faces you could put a name to are the limits of what we’re able to manage. So you can see why 3200 people on a friends list was becoming stressful.

I eagerly jumped aboard the social media train and have had many positive experiences over the years, made real friends, had fun and shared my music. That may even be how we first came into contact, and that’s a wonderful thing! I’m not here to judge anyone else’s actions or to give unsolicited advice (that’s ALWAYS annoying), and I really don’t give a hoot what anyone else does on Facebook.

What I do care about is having energised, clear headed days where I balance my need for sociable interactions offline and online with time to make the things I care about. I want to have proper conversations with those 5 intimates and 15 good friends, and keep up with what my 50 close friends are up to, cheering them on from the sidelines.

As for the rest of it, I’ve found ways to communicate which suit me better. I write a weekly email, The Correspondent’s Club has its own forum, I have a Penfriend Facebook page, I dip into Twitter and Insta, I blog and now I have a podcast, too. I’m sure that’s enough of me for anyone!

If you used to be my Facebook friend and discover you aren’t any more, please rest assured it’s not because I don’t want to be in touch with you, it’s because I don’t think that’s a very good way to be in touch.

I always love to hear from you in the comments or by email.

Thank you for reading, have a great week and take good care.

Love,
Laura xoxo


THANK YOU for visiting my website!

+ Get FREE music immediately by joining my mailing list.

+ I send a thoughtful weekly email every Thursday – join The Correspondent’s Club on a free or paid tier to receive it.

+ New episodes of my music podcast “Attention Engineer”are released every Wednesday – visit this page to find out more and subscribe via your favourite podcast platform.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo

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Let me tell you a story…

Let me tell you a story…

Creativity Homepage Feature Letterbox Music News Process

When I was a little girl, one of my favourite possessions was a shoebox that I filled up with bits of paper, envelopes and leaflets gathered from wherever I could find them. I called it my Post Office, and every now and then I’d take the box from under the bed and pour my treasure out on the floor. I’m hazy on the details, but I remember loving to “play Post Office”, which I imagine meant sorting the assorted paper into different piles and then putting them back in the box.

Later, somehow, I ended up writing letters to children I’d never met, who lived far away – Svetlana in Belarus and Alastair in Derbyshire. It was utterly magical to send my closely written pages to people I would never talk to in person, carefully copying the unfamiliar Russian words onto Svet’s envelopes well enough for her to receive my missives.

It was to Alastair I first proudly declared my aim to be a songwriter when I grew up, having never written a single song, and knowing nothing whatsoever about how to do so. Letter writing predated those heady days when I started to discover my favourite bands by some years, but both activities were a youthful statement of independent thought at an age where actions were dictated by adults.

As I grew older I gathered more people to write to. My family moved every three years, so there were always friends left behind, and in my early teens I wrote to kids I met on school trips, boys at other schools, even friends at the same school as me. We challenged each other to fill up more and more pages and somehow still had enough left to say to talk on the phone for hours in the evening. The freedom I found to express myself in letters is one of my fondest memories of childhood.

On my journey into adulthood, switching to email and blogging and Twitter felt intuitive, but my love for words written by hand on paper never left me. As I released music over the years, getting to “play Post Office” more and more regularly, my role as the maker and sender of things became clear. Writing songs and dispatching them into the world, in whatever format, is a natural progression from the innate desire I had to connect with others from a young age.

I’m delighted to invite you to watch this short video. See you on the other side x

Photo by Carol Jeng.

THANK YOU for visiting my website!

+ Get FREE music immediately by joining The Correspondent’s Club (free and paid tiers available).

+ I send a thoughtful weekly email every Thursday – choose the Freewheeler tier or upwards to receive it.

+ New episodes of my music podcast “Attention Engineer”are released every Wednesday – visit this page to find out more and subscribe via your favourite podcast platform.

+ You can also follow me around the web, on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Have a lovely day xo

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