Thoughts Before Thanksgiving

If I Die Tomorrow

I am not planning on dying anytime soon but, if I die tomorrow, please know that I was happy.

I got to spend my days alone, creating.
I got to spend the rest of the time with the people I love the most, my family.
I failed a lot. I became fearless and stopped caring if I failed. Creating things was too much fun to care what people thought of what I made.
I never made it big as an artist. I created on my own terms without having to deal with the pressures of success, money, and fame.
I got to be a link in a rich, enduring tradition dating back thousands of years.
I observed Shabbat. Every week I got to unplug for a full night and day and our children got to play hide and seek instead of on iPads.
I stopped being afraid of and limited by other people’s fears.
I had enough of everything I needed.
I had a partner who made me laugh.
I had a relationship with God.
I got paid to sing with kids.
I forgave my family.
I forgave myself.

Happy Thanksgiving 🙂

Love,
Julie

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This Heart Can’t Be Unbroken

I have always believed in God. I absorbed it as a little girl first and foremost from my parents. I stood by my father’s side many times as he soulfully led prayers in synagogue. I brought our mezuzahs to be checked the winter when things we going badly for our family and we wanted make sure that they were written correctly and would continue to protect our family. I was there when my father couldn’t stop laughing when someone stole the all tires from his car because, ultimately, it’s only money, and nothing at all in the big picture. Even today, when something goes wrong, someone in my family will say, “It’s a kapparah,” a small bad thing that happens in place of an unknown, larger one.

And it is.

I also learned to have faith in my Orthodox Jewish elementary school, where the purpose of our religious education was to teach us 1) to believe in God, 2) to understand what God’s will is, and 3) how to execute it.

There was something curious about this God of mine, though: He felt very close and present in times of joy, but inexplicably far away in times of sorrow and despair. In my greatest times of need, it felt like God abandoned me.

“That’s OK,” little me would think. “I’ll get through on my own.” But it wasn’t. I needed help.

The week after September 11th, 2001 I sat down and wrote a song, Lord Above. The lyrics are:

Lord above I want to walk with you
Want you to fill my heart with love
But when I call your name will you be there?

At that time, I felt like God was not only male (also absorbed from my environment), hence Lord, but also above – very far away and out of reach. I felt like God had abandoned all of humanity.

Fast forward to September of  2005.  I had given birth to a stillborn baby two months prior. I couldn’t bring myself to face God and attend prayer services for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Instead, I stayed home and wrote a song called Show Your Face. The lyrics are:

So come out and show your face like any grown man would
Come out a show your face to me
I’m getting tired of asking and I’m getting real tired of your not answering
Won’t you show me your face

So, again, God seemed male to me, and again, I felt like God had abandoned me when I most need help.

But, something else happened when my baby died, something new. My heart got shattered. I don’t mean broken. I mean shattered, as in unable to ever be put together again in the same way.

So, slowly over the course of the next year or two I began to negotiate a new relationship with this battered heart, and with this God of abandonment. During that process I learned some things about myself: I was terrified of getting hurt. I was terrified of falling apart. I was terrified of things not working out. I was terrified of failure.

So, how had I always protected myself from those things happening? I had placed a shield around my heart. My heart was whole and beautiful because it was well protected. Nothing could reach it. There was no way I was taking big emotional risks that could in any way harm that perfect, unblemished heart.

But, on September 11th, cracks started to show in that armor. I was trying mightily to protect myself, but the heartbreak was just too much. And then when the baby died I couldn’t even begin to protect it. Things hadn’t worked out. BIG TIME.

With that shattering came unbearable pain, but, surprisingly, also these: openness, softness, compassion, even relief. An openness to what was going to happen without having to control it. A softness to life, without needing to always have a hard, protective edge. Compassion for others, because I now understood the pain with which they were living. And finally, relief in being able to let my guard down because the worst had already happened. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.

And then the most curious thing happened with my relationship with God: With my broken heart, I could finally make room for God in my heart. God had always been my Lord above, but that was because I hadn’t made any room in my own heart. With this new shattering, there was a way in, a place for God to live inside of me. And over time, God felt like less of a Lord and more like both the divine female and male energies that the Jewish tradition embraces.

The Kotzker Rebbe, a 19th century Hassidic master, taught this as well. He wrote that “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.” Paradoxically, when your heart breaks, there exists the possibility of it becoming whole in a new way.

I once read that life tries to help us grow, and that we can either pick up on the clues as we go along, or we can ignore them and then be forced to grow very quickly in a difficult way. For me, change came in the form of the latter. It wasn’t pleasant or easy, but it softened me and made me more aware of the heartbreak of others. It taught me how to connect with my vibrant, courageous, beating heart, even when it is filled with pain and heartbreak. I don’t have to run from those things. They are part of the mix. And now, when being alive hurts so much, I whisper to God, “Help me!” and God whispers gently, “I know, my sweet child, isn’t it painful?”

And I am not alone.

Breathing New Life into My Family’s Shofar

The shofar, or ram’s horn, is one of the most enduring symbols of the Jewish people. Its use predates the siddur, the menorah and nearly all other ritual objects. For me, the shofar – and specifically my father’s – is also one of the most enduring images of Judaism in my own family. As far back as I can remember, my father has owned this shofar:

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This shofar was, and continues to be, the perfect shofar. It is easy to blow. I can’t get a sound out of most shofars but I can always get a gorgeous tone out of this one. Which, by the way, is exactly what you would want: a sad, low, hollow sound. Not piercing, but strong. It doesn’t smell when you blow it. And, because it’s hard to break a shofar, I have many memories of my siblings and me blowing it every time the High Holidays rolled around.

Throughout my childhood, my father was the chaplain at a Jewish senior apartment complex. Every Rosh Hashanah, he led the services and blew the shofar. After services, we would walk across the street and take the stairs up to the tenth floor (we did not use the elevator on the Sabbath and holidays) to blow the shofar for Mrs. Soffen, who could not make it to the synagogue. If there were others we knew of who had not heard the shofar, we would also visit them in their apartments, schmooze for a while, and my father would blow the shofar for them, too. Because everybody in that community was of advanced age, the conversations on Rosh Hashanah were real. Residents spoke lovingly of how the sound of the shofar brought them back to their own childhoods. Some cried. And the High Holidays were no joke. They were truly pleading for something: to stay alive a little bit longer, or maybe to be reunited with a spouse or family members who had already died. Even as a child I felt the gravity of their prayers.

But as usual for me, with everything related to Judaism, there was a catch: I am a woman. And a shofar, like almost every other Jewish ritual object, was for men. Growing up, I never once heard a woman blow a shofar in public even though I don’t know of any halachic (Jewish legal) issue with that. And even now, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a woman blow a shofar, even in the more liberal synagogues I’ve attended as an adult.

When I was eighteen, I spent a year studying Jewish texts at Midreshet Lindenbaum, an all-girls yeshiva in Jerusalem. The students all arrived around the start of the Hebrew month of Elul, the time of year when the shofar is sounded each morning in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. Since we had an all-female prayer service, one of the rabbis asked if any of us girls wanted to blow the shofar. At the time I found that to be shocking, since it never occurred to me that it was acceptable for females to do so. I was probably one of the few girls who had practiced blowing a shofar before, but I didn’t feel comfortable stepping forward into that role publicly. In the end, the rabbis ended up blowing the shofar for us.

Fast forward to two years ago. I was praying in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, and I noticed the following prayer (truncated a bit for the sake of good songwriting) in the shofar service: “May it be Your will, God, that angels will ascend from this shofar and stand before Your throne and advocate on our behalf for You to forgive our sins.” I was so moved by that image and those words that I set them to music. The song I wrote is called Sheya’alu (And They Will Ascend).

I recently released a music video for this song. I began with footage of me singing and playing the song. But, as I watched it, I knew what the video needed: footage of me blowing the shofar. I had a moment of panic: But would that be OK?? I knew that the answer had to be yes. Let our girls – my two daughters and yours – grow up with an image of a woman blowing a shofar. And let us women see that image, too.

I borrowed my father’s shofar for the shoot and I added images of me blowing the shofar to the video. And, since then I’ve held onto the shofar, and every day I take it out and I blow it — for me and my own need to wake up, but also for my children to see. And every week now, when I play music for Jewish preschoolers, I bring the shofar and I blow it for them, too. Let them see a woman blowing the shofar. Let that not be a jarring image for them, as it was for me.

The shofar holds an inherent paradox. On the one hand, it is familiar and soothing. We hear it year after year and its vibrations resonate deep within our bones. On the other hand, the sound of the shofar is meant to jolt us awake and remind us that we can do better. Let this year be no different, the ancient alongside a sense of freshness, the comfort alongside the striving.

Head Shot Lo ResJulie Geller is a singer/songwriter who is healing the world one song at a time with original, uplifting music. She has been releasing one music video a month since June of 2013. Enjoy her videos here.

Eleven Secrets to Getting Your Creative Juices Flowing

For a long time I felt stuck creatively, and that’s no fun. Luckily, it’s been a number of years since I’ve felt that way.  For the last number of years, I’ve been consistently writing music, performing concerts, teaching, producing music video, and blogging. So, I recently sat down to reflect on all that I’ve learned about living a creative life, with the intention of helping you invite more creativity into your own life.

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Make Your Unconscious Your Partner
Your conscious brain is awesome. It can come up with basic ideas and it can be a good editor (as long as it doesn’t go overboard!). But, the best, juiciest, most creative stuff is way beyond your conscious brain’s comprehension. To access that , you need to partner with your unconscious. The great news is that your unconscious brain is at work while you go about your day and even while you sleep. My M.O. is to work on a song until I get stuck and then I set it aside until a later point.  In the meantime, I let my unconscious work with it. Sometimes I even go to bed with an intention for my unconscious to sort through the problem at hand while I sleep.  Often, I wake up with the answer to my query.

2. Those Are Excuses
Yes, I know your partner isn’t supportive of your creative endeavors, you don’t have the space, your job leaves you no time, and you have a houseful of kids. Guess what? Those are all excuses. If you want to create badly enough, you’ll find a way to do it.  Before I was a full-time musician, I would often write music late at night after I put my kids to bed because that was the only pocket of time I could find. These days, I’m still often working long before the sun is up. It’s up to you alone to make it happen.

3. Be Imperfect
This is huge. If you want to produce a lot, you absolutely cannot be a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist is another way to say, “I’m afraid to fail.”  Not being a perfectionist is another way to say, “I don’t care if I fail because I’m learning and having fun, plus I don’t really care what everybody else thinks about what I’m creating.”

4. Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome
When is creating fun? When you don’t care how it turns out. I write at least twice as many songs as I release. Why? Because I love songwriting. But some of the songs don’t turn out well so I don’t release them. Writing a bad song often helps me work through what I need to work through to write the next good one. It may even heal something in me. Remember: process, process, process.

5. Trust in Abundance
There’s more out there that can be created than all of humanity could possibly manage to create over many lifetimes. How many love songs are there out there? And, how many millions more are yet to be written? There’s an infinite amount of creative work to be made. It doesn’t run out. Just because someone else created something doesn’t mean there’s nothing left for you. There’s plenty.  The songs and ideas are not going to run out.

6. Exercise
Most of my ideas come to me when I’m running. I don’t know the science behind it but I know that it works. Get your endorphins pumping, get some fresh air, and treat yourself to a change of environment. In fact, I came up with the idea for this blog post on a run last week. Truth be told, it’s rare that I go for a run and don’t come home with a new creative idea.

7. Set Aside Time to Work
Can you find an hour in your week to devote to your art? How about two or three? Maybe you can swap out an hour of TV time to work on your screenplay. Or, maybe you can get up an hour earlier once a week. The point is that nothing’s going to change for you if you don’t set aside and plan for dedicated time to do your art. 

8. Have a Dedicated Space in Which to Work
It doesn’t have to be big or fancy. Clean is terrific. Having a door that closes is amazing. One year my music studio was in a walk-in closet.  Boy, did I write some great music in that tiny room. These days, my office/studio is a bit bigger but still nothing fancy.

9. Set Deadlines and Stick to Them
When I’m killing myself to get something out according to the deadline that I myself set, my husband will often ask me why I don’t wait a few more days rather than working like crazy to meet my own deadline. After all, would anybody notice if my new song came out a few days later than planned? No, but my being consistent ensures that a) I honor my commitment to myself and my fans to create one music video a month, b) I don’t fall into the perfectionist trap (see #3), and c) I keep challenging myself to grow and try new things.  If you need an accountability buddy, find a friend to hold you accountable to stick to the deadlines you’ve set. 

10. Honor the Creative Impulse
That piece of you that wants to express something about being alive? That’s your soul. Don’t brush it off.

11. Creativity Begets Creativity
The more you create…the more you create! Allow yourself to get into the groove.

Have a trick of your own to share? Please add it to the comments section below.

DSC00241Julie Geller is a singer/songwriter who is saving the world one song at a time by writing original, uplifting music. She has been releasing one new music video a month since June of 2013. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and sign up for free monthly music at www.JulieGeller.com.

The Story Behind the Song “Da (Know)”

“Know from where you come and to where you are going: to the Holy One.” – excerpted from Ethics of the Fathers 3:1

Unlike anyone my age that I know, death is a huge motivator for me.

About six years ago, I was thinking about becoming a full time musician but was terrified of taking the leap. I remember driving home alone from the shiva house (house of mourning) for the family of a woman in my community who had been a complete powerhouse – strong, vibrant, passionate. She passed away at the age of 54.

As I drove home (well, in circles actually), I had tears streaming down my face. In that moment, I understood to my core that I couldn’t mess around forever. I could no longer hide behind mediocrity and fear. I couldn’t blame others for my own failure to move forward with my music. If I was going to continue to be unhappy, it was because I was making a decision to do so. I realized that, at some unknown point, this would all be over and that would be that. It could be next week, next year, or in 60 years. Who knows?

Within three months I was working full time as a musician.

Knowing that this journey on Earth will end at some point and in some way over which I likely have no control keeps me focused on what is important: How do I want my kids to remember me? What can I teach them? How can I help them succeed? Beyond that, I really don’t care. Will the rest of the world remember me or not? Who cares.

Carrying an awareness that this could all end or be drastically changed for me at any time severely dampens my interest in getting involved in unfolding dramas or anything that’s out of my control. There’s certainly no time to be a perfectionist. And, instead of expending energy to care what others think of me and my music, I’ve chosen to expend my energy living my life and creating music.

I wrote this song immediately after returning from my grandmother’s funeral and shiva earlier this month. This song is my tribute to her. My grandmother was an accomplished pianist who was unable to play in her later years due to arthritis. Not surprisingly, upon returning home, I also filmed this video about the connection between creativity and healing. Ask any artist and they will tell you about the power of the creative process to heal.

My grandmother lived a long, full life. In her teens, she and her family escaped the Nazis and traveled from Vienna to Paris to Morocco to Montevideo to New York. She literally had diamonds sewn into the soles of her shoes. After a journey that lasted well over a year, her family finally made it to New York, where she met a young Rabbi from Texas, a third-generation American. Together they later settled in Portland, Oregon, where they both lived until their deaths.

I miss my Oma. I miss speaking with her on Fridays before Shabbat. I miss my Opa, too, who died seven years ago. I can’t believe they are both gone.

My grandmother was the last of her generation. She showed me and all her family nothing but love. I trust that she is with her beloved and her parents and siblings once again.

And with the Holy One.

Lo Res Head ShotJulie Geller is a singer/songwriter who is saving the world one song at a time by writing original, uplifting music. She has been releasing one new music video a month since June of 2013. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and sign up for free monthly music at www.JulieGeller.com.

What I Learned from Writing One Song a Week

I recently challenged myself to write a song a week for ten weeks based on the Torah portion from the Book of Genesis.

This was hard. And it took a lot of time.

And it was completely awesome. 

Here’s what I learned:

1. It’s Good to Experiment With Writing in Different Ways
I usually play with an idea in my head for days, weeks or months before I begin to put it to music. I didn’t have the luxury of doing that when I was writing a song a week. I would sit down in my studio and know that, within and hour, I would have to emerge with a song. It’s a different way of writing. It’s good to keep yourself on your toes and try new things. Now I have a new trick in my songwriter’s bag: writing quickly.

2. Perfection is Overrated
This is all about not being perfect and being comfortable with that. I’m never a perfectionist but it came out every more so on this project. By definition, with a project like this you are creating things that, like you and me, are not perfect. Embrace it. Who cares what people think of what you made? Seriously. NO, SERIOUSLY.

3. This is All About Getting the Creative Juices Flowing
Some of the songs I wrote are more like drafts. For example, I’m going back now to re-explore the song Put Down Your Guns Cause We Got Music. I loved the idea of that song but I didn’t really have a chance to write the lyrics the way I wanted to write them. I’ve now changed some of the lyrics and moved some things around. What I put out there initially wasn’t perfect but it got the germ of this song written and that’s the whole point. Now I’ve got some sketches that I can turn into full songs if I decide to do so later. Creativity begets creativity, so keep those creative juices flowing. 

4. Honor Your Commitments
Don’t make too many commitments but, when you do, honor them. Almost every week something came up that made it difficult to complete my song. So, I worked late at night or started at 5AM. So, I filmed a video at 6AM in my pajamas. The point is, commit to something a bit out of your comfort zone and see it through. That’s a great way to grow and expand the boundaries of what you think you can do.

5. Keep Your Eye on the Prize
No, the prize is not fame or fortune. It’s getting to practice your craft as much as possible. And, it doesn’t even matter what people think of what you create because you and I both know that the joy is in the creation itself.

6. Always Improve
My chops really improved during this process. I got to play with instrumentation every week and I grew a lot from that process. My confidence in my ability to write quickly also improved. Always strive to get better at doing whatever it is that you do. 

7. Pushing Yourself Inspires Others to Do the Same
My talented and fearless artist friend Lauren joined me for this whole journey, creating something beautiful and moving every week. Another friend of mine was so inspired by this idea that she decided to set her own ten-week goal.  When you challenge yourself, you give others permission to pursue their own dreams as well. 

Did I miss anything? Do you have anything to add? Please leave a comment below. Lo Res Head Shot

Julie Geller is a singer/songwriter who is saving the world one song at a time by writing original, uplifting music. She has been releasing one new music video a month since June of 2013. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and sign up for free monthly music at www.JulieGeller.com.

Healing Through the Creative Process

Looking to create more in the new year? Wanting to make more time for knitting/woodworking/painting/winging/writing/whatever-your-passion-is? Then watch this short video exploring the connection between creativity and healing.

In it I discuss:
1) How the creative process can be healing
2) How it can be healing to share what you’ve created
3) The one time the creative process is NOT healing

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

Happy creating!

Love,
Julie