The Sheer Joy of Creating

(This is the video that led to this blog post.)

What can I say? I’m a creativity junkie. There are fewer things that are more fun for me than creating something that didn’t exist before. When I think back to times in my life when I had minimal responsibility in terms of how I could spend my time (I’m thinking back to my teens and college-age years, long before I was married with three kids), guess how I spent lots of it? Writing music. I pulled many, many all-nighters (and many, many all-dayers, too!) working on songs and learning how to play instruments. Was I trying to impress anyone? No. Was I being graded? No. Was I making money off of it? No. Fame? None of that stuff. But, I was developing a set of skills and enjoying the hell out of it.

Here I am about twenty years later and I have many more responsibilities. And, I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t have any responsibilities that I would probably regress to the days of spending virtually all of my time creating music. Still, over the years and through various jobs and careers, I’ve generally always found a way to spend time writing music. Often it’s very late at night or very early in the morning. Or when the kids are playing nicely and I can steal away for a few minutes into my home office. Or, for those 30 seconds where nobody is noticing where I am. (Or, like now, when I’m holding one daughter in my arm and typing frantically with the other before her sister finds her and tries to hurt her). Does this passion of mine make me a better or worse parent? Better or worse spouse? Probably both.

But, here’s the thing: I still get that crazy rush of excitement when I create things , just like I remember from my teens and 20s when I was just starting to understand how music worked. I certainly don’t feel that rush every time I pick up my guitar, but I often feel it when I find myself up during those special nighttime hours when I’m working on something and the hours are flying by. And, just like when I was younger, the motivation is the same: creating for the sake of creating, that basic foundation of what it means to be alive in the image of the Infinite Creator.

Last night I was working until 5:30AM producing the song and music video featured above. Left to my own devices, I would have pulled an all-nighter and slept all day. But my kids are off from school and I knew that I was going to have to sleep for at least a few hours so that I could be functional enough to spend the day with them (Yes, we went swimming. Yes, I was planning on being asleep an hour ago, but then I somehow started writing this blog post and now I’m all jazzed up again…). And, here’s the thing: I loved working through last night. I love it when I’m up in the middle of the night writing a song, editing a music video, building a website. It doesn’t matter so much what the project is. It’s that deep joy of creating something new that wasn’t there before. It has absolutely nothing to do with what anybody else thinks about what I’m producing. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether it bring me money or recognition, or anything. It is the sheer joy of bringing something new into the world that never existed before. For me, that never, ever gets old.

And I hope it doesn’t for you, either.

The Story Behing the Song In Your Hands

” In Your Hands, in Your hands, we are resting in Your hands. In Your Hands, in Your hands, please have mercy on us.”

This past Sunday, a few hours before Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) began, I received some surprising news about my health. While I won’t go into the details, it appears that I have a congenital bone issue that I will have to tend to this year.

My prayers over Rosh Hashanah were different over the holiday. Usually I have a sense of not knowing what the year ahead will bring. This year, thought I still don’t know much, there’s a high likelihood that I will require a couple of surgeries to correct the problem.  It felt strange going into the new year knowing that there will be difficult challenges ahead, but not knowing exactly what that will look like.

We are so quick to name experiences like these as “bad.” I don’t view them that way. Naming something “good” or “bad” doesn’t feel relevant to me. What feels more relevant to me are the following questions: What can I learn from this experience? How can this help me grow into the person I hope to become?

Over Rosh Hashanah, a thought popped into my head: “Your move, God.” There’s a constant dance between what is in our control and what is out of our control, and each one affects the other. The Universe makes her move, I make mine. Back and forth, back and forth. I don’t expend much effort on those things that are out of my control (read: the election, other than my ability to vote and canvas), and I expend lots of effort over those I do have control (i.e.: my reactions, how I speak and act).

Just because I don’t consider something to be “bad” doesn’t mean it isn’t emotionally painful and that I’m not grieving. It looks like I will have to give up running, one of my favorite activities. While I am lucky (I hope) to still be able to bike, swim, hike and do other activities, it does not take away the sadness and heartbreak of no longer being able to run.

” In Your Hands, in Your hands, we are resting in Your hands. In Your Hands, in Your hands, please have mercy on us.”


Lo Res Head ShotJulie Geller is a Denver-based singer/songwriter who writes and performs original music in English and Hebrew that inspires people to become their best versions of themselves. Hear more at www.juliegeller.com.

 

The Story Behind the Song This Heart: Judaism and Buddhism

When I was 25, my husband booked tickets for us to fly to Paris for a winter vacation. As the day of the flight approached, I began to get nervous. Something was off. I felt like I couldn’t get on the plane. Even thinking about getting on that plane gave me a panic attack, a feeling of being crushed and unable to breathe, a sensation that I had never before experienced. My boarding that plane – and this was coming from someone who had reached premier airline status before the end of high school – was simply not possible. We ended up missing our flight because I couldn’t bring myself to get on the plane, let alone pack up, get on the subway, and get to the gate. I didn’t need a vacation; I needed help.

My mental health situation deteriorated rapidly. Within days, the panic attacks were happening with greater frequency and I was literally having trouble leaving my house. I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t go anywhere. I felt like every building, every subway, was about to crush me.

During those difficult months, I met a friend of a friend whom I knew had suffered from depression, and had found much relief in both Jewish prayer and Buddhist teachings and meditation. He described discovering Jewish prayer akin to finding a piece of driftwood, and discovering meditation akin to finding a life raft. He recommended that I read Pema Chodron’s book Start Where You Are, as well as Mindfulness in Plain English, a primer for mindfulness meditation.

That winter, in addition to seeing a therapist, doing behavioral therapy, and going on medication for a short while – all of which contributed to my healing – I began a practice of sitting for 20 minutes a day. For the first time in my life,  I wasn’t filling up those 20 minutes with talking, or moving around, or distractions, or doing anything. I was sitting with myself and my crazy brain. (That’s basically what mindfulness meditation, also known as Vipassana mediation, is: sitting quietly. I don’t use mantras or anything fancy. I just sit.)

What did Buddhism offer me that, up to that point, my own rich tradition of Judaism hadn’t? For starters, silence and non-action were valued. In my family and community, many important things were valued, but I must say that silence and non-action were not two of them.

I had also never heard such gentle, loving explanations for how to behave. A few years later, I attended a silent retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, where he told us that when we get angry to drop everything and cradle our anger like a crying baby. This made me cry then and makes my cry now thinking about it. There was an exercise in which we all lay on our backs and focused attention on each part of our body, thanking it for its service to us. “Thank you liver for processing our blood. Even though I sometimes abuse you by drinking too much, I want to thank you for keeping me healthy and strong… Thank you lungs for enabling me to breathe…” I had never been exposed to radical gratitude like that before.

And presence. My life had been about success, achievement, the next thing. Many years later, I walked into a therapist’s office. Her practice was full, but I wasn’t about to let her send me away. She kept sending me to different people, but I kept coming back to her. There was something that drew me so deeply to her. Here’s what it was: When I was with her, she was completely present. I had never experienced that level of presence, and it made me feel seen and understood and appreciated.

And, finally, the Buddhist teachers that I admire speak in simple terms about core themes of being alive, such as ego, suffering, oneness with all beings, and impermanence. These ideas opened my eyes and changed the course of my life.  I think about them daily, but I don’t remember hearing much about them in my own tradition. Are they there? Absolutely. The teachings of the mystics and the Hasidic masters overlap on many of these themes. I haven’t yet put in the consistent effort to familiarize myself with their works, but I have some knowledge of them

So, my song This Heart is rooted in teachings I have learned over the years. Teachings that exist in my own Jewish tradition, but would take some excavating for me to find. This Heart is about impermanence, and about being in the moment, and about how heartbreaking life is if we allow ourselves to feel it. In the words of Pema Chodron, “Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it…To stay with that shakiness, to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge, that is the path of true awakening.”

 

Lo Res Head Shot

 

Julie Geller is a Denver-based singer/songwriter who writes and performs original music in English and Hebrew that inspires people to become their best versions of themselves. Hear more at www.juliegeller.com.

When Things Fall Apart: The Story Behind the Song Don’t Put it Back Together

When I was 18, during a year I spent in a year in yeshiva in Israel, I wrote my first twoScreen Shot 2016-06-23 at 4.34.28 PM complete songs with lyrics. I was so excited that I decided to book a recording studio in which to record them. As you might imagine, it was a challenge for someone with imperfect Hebrew to locate a recording studio in Jerusalem. I did finally find one that had a special, affordable hourly rate after midnight. Perfect! So, I booked a couple hours, and proceeded to practice my songs tirelessly so that I would be prepared. After all, time is money in a recording studio (and, by the way, I still always go into the studio crazy prepared). My set-up that year was a Roland Keyboard and this eight-track that had I bought from a friend the summer before I left.

As the recording day (night) got closer, something started to happen: my eight-track began to crash on me. Repeatedly. And every time it did that, I had to reprogram all of the tracks (drums, piano, horns, etc.) for the song. I was starting to freak out because I didn’t know if the tracks would even be on the machine when I arrived at the studio.

I was a mess emotionally and existentially. I wasn’t sure whether I should abandon the whole project. Were all of the hardships associated with this project meant to make me work harder to realize my goal, or were the hardships a sign that I should abandon it altogether? 

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 4.50.20 PMI asked one of the rabbis that question and he must have told me to stick to it because that is what I did. I remember having to rebuild the songs the day before the recording and, when I arrived at the studio, they were miraculously still on the eight-track. Here’s the tape of that recording (oh, how I love that I wrote “1st recording” on it!).

I tell this story because I think that this is a crucial skill for being alive: knowing when to fight for something even through it’s very hard versus knowing when to give up on something even though you really want it. Back then, I didn’t know how to handle that dilemma so I sought counsel from a rabbi. Now, I know: it’s a gut thing.

This new song is about that moment when, even if you don’t know what the next thing is and even if you are scared out of your wits, there is something inside of you that says that it’s time to move on. And you do.

I originally wrote this tune as an upbeat song. You can watch a video of that version here. The more I sat with it, though, I decided that I wanted to hear it as a hymn. So, now I’ve got two versions and I must say that I like them both. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll see if I can combine them in some way?

Lo Res Head ShotJulie Geller is a Denver-based singer/songwriter who writes and performs original music in English and Hebrew that inspires people to become their best versions of themselves. Hear more at www.juliegeller.com.

 

Reflections on Three Years of Creating Monthly Music Videos

Last week I reached the three-year milestone of releasing monthly music videos. What began as a one-year challenge to myself is still going strong. The video that I released last week was “This is Your Life,” which is a setting I wrote for the Holstee Manifesto. We crowdsourced the entire video, which I think worked really well. Here it is:

And this is the Holstee Manifesto:

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These words were written by three twenty-somethings after they left their jobs to go out on their own and start a printing company. I read about them in a magazine, and then cut out the tiny picture of the Holstee Manifesto from that magazine and pinned it up on my bulletin board. One day, I was walking around my studio with my guitar and trying to come up with lyrics to a tune I was writing. The tiny picture of the Holstee Manifesto caught my eye and I started singing those words as placeholder lyrics. Before I knew it, I had set the whole thing to music. It stuck.

So, what have I learned from releasing over 40 music videos (so far)? Here are my favorite gems:

  1. It’s made me unafraid to fail. It’s just art, after all.
  2. Music is moving. Words are moving. Images are moving. Music+words+images = the possibility of creating something enormously powerful.
  3. I never know how a video is going to be received. Here’s what’s cool: The more videos I make, the less I care.
  4. Why do I do this? It’s fun and challenging and I learn new things every month.
  5. Making music videos requires an investment of either time or money. These days you don’t need both. I spend a small amount of money and a large amount of time.
  6. And finally, here are some (until now) closely-guarded secrets:
    1. I shot seven videos on an iPhone 5
    2. A lot of those videos were shot by son, who was 10 at the time.
    3. I learned how to make music videos because I couldn’t afford to hire anyone else to do it.

Have you ever sustained a long-term project of any sort? What did you learn from it? I’d love to hear about it.