Music

Music – The great escape

Music can change the world because it can change people. ~ Bono

Do you ever feel like sometimes you just want a little, tiny, minuscule vacation? Like the old bubble bath commercial catchphrase, Calgon, take me away.

Music does that for me.

And sometimes, one song can change everything and speak to me in a way that touches my soul. 

What gives a song that power?

Sometimes it’s a memory of the song or some nostalgia built around it, like Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” First of all, Aretha, Queen of Soul, that big, soulful voice. But when I hear that keyboard intro to “Think” my mind immediately shifts to Aretha’s killer scene in a neighborhood diner in “The Blues Brothers” as she sang in a pink waitress outfit and house shoes, made all the more memorable by the girls who jumped off their dining stools to sing back up.

As the song continues and she sings, “Freedom!” I’m dancing. I managed to channel my best Aretha singing “Think” at Karaoke last year. I butchered the song, but did my best Aretha pantomime. So fun.  

Deep thoughts put to music

Sometimes it’s the heart of a song that speaks to my heart, like “Closer to Fine” by Indigo Girls. It’s a catchy tune with great vocals and acoustic guitar, but for me, the song is about our search for truth and clarity and for some assurance that we’re on the right track in life, but there’s not one “right” answer.

It’s in the journey that we discover our truth for ourselves.  “The less I seek my source for some divinity, the closer I am to fine.” 

Timely reminder

One of my very favorite songs of all time is “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, first released in 1979.

I know. It’s an old song, but it’s amazing and also, as I was reminded the other day, completely relatable.

I was cooking dinner, listening to music, when the familiar baseline came on: 

Doon, doon, doon, d’duhdoondoon.

Clap. Snap. 

Doon, doon, doon, d’duhdoondoon. 

Pressure. 

There’s a lot going on in the song, music swells, random lyrics:

Umboon, bah, bah, beh

People on streets. 

That’s okay.

And always goes back to the bass line: Doon, doon, doon, d’duhdoondoon.

Then around the middle of the song there’s a swell and overlapping of lines and sounds. 

And then goes to snapping fingers to the beat. Snap, snap, snap. 

Then the lyrics, “Turned away from it all like a blind man. Sat on a fence but it don’t work. Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn.”

Then another swelling of sound, drums, Freddy Mercury’s falsetto, guitars. 

And then one word rises from the chaos,

Love, love, love, love, love,

repeated in a rush, as if in a flash of revelation, like, Yes! That’s it! 

And then the lyrics that always gets me:

Insanity laughs and the pressure we’re breaking. 

Why can’t we give ourselves one more chance? Why can’t we give love one more chance?  Why can’t we give love, give love, give love?

It’s like a great release and simple answer to life’s pressure and the feeling that the world is closing in on us and there’s chaos and wondering how we can protect ourselves and our family and still be okay. 

And David Bowie sings in the rush of words

‘Cause love’s such an old fashioned word and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night and love dares you to change our way of (join voices and crescendo) caring about ourselves this is our last dance this is our last dance. (Slowly and more quietly) This is ourselves ….under pressure. 

Baseline. Snapping fingers. 

I think I love this song more every time I hear it.

When the music wells to the big ending it’s as if all the scattered thoughts and concerns — people in streets and good friends screaming let me out—and you feel the desperation and searching. All that stuff pushes down on you until the rush and realization: 

Love, love, love, love, love. 

This is our last chance, this is ourselves …under pressure. 

Whoa! Yes! This!

Mindshift through music

“Under Pressure” is pretty much the perfect song right now, a great reminder of our connectedness and the call for getting back to the basics of love, for each other, for ourselves.

Or maybe it was the perfect song for me to hear at that moment when I wanted to shift my mind from negativity and bad news.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or discouraged or have just had enough of all the “latest news,” put on some music to transport your mindset to a lighter level.

It might provide the perfect short but great escape and may even have a ripple effect of goodness you’re need right now.

For more ideas about how to lift your mood, read Tips to Shake Off the Blues here on the blog.

crochet lessons

Crochet and life lessons reinforced

I decided to learn to crochet mostly because I liked the idea of making stuff people could wear. I had no idea learning to crochet would reinforce many life lessons for me.

My new hobby came about after I’d finished a few needlepoint projects and wanted to try something different. How hard can it be? I thought.

My mom, who sews beautifully and used to crochet, gave me a quick lesson on how to start a chain using just my fingers because neither of us had a hook.

I went to a yarn store by my house where the sales clerk recommended a bamboo hook and offered a bit of yarn remnants (project leftovers). “You’ll want to get a light colored one so you can see what you’re doing,” she advised.

I decided on a small pastel pink yarn that looked like it could have been used to make a blanket for a baby girl.

With yarn and hook in hand and just enough information to wade into the crochet ocean, I was on my way. 

My fingers cramped as they adjusted to the new movements and I stitched long chains, then pulled them out and chained them again. I was finally ready to try a turn, means hooking the yarn to the original chain and making another row.

My fingers resisted moving as instructed on the Youtube videos. I strangled that first ball of pink yarn into submission. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my stitches were so tight I nearly had them in a chokehold. 

My practice swatches looked like the equivalent of writing with the non-dominant hand. You could tell what it was, kind of, but pretty shabby.

But I kept at it. 

That pink yarn was starting to look a little frayed, so I ventured into a sewing and craft store for more. In the yarn aisle stocked with hundreds of skeins of various brands, colors, material, I had no idea what I wanted or what was best for a beginner to use. 

I met a woman there in the aisle who said she was new to crocheting too. 

She had already made a bag and lots of blankets. And she taught herself. 

I was impressed and envious. 

I felt such a long way from where she was. She said she’d only been at it a few months. I’d been at it a few weeks and my stuff was all crap. 

“You’ll get it,” she encouraged. “It takes practice.”

While watching TV and listening to audiobooks, I practiced my basic single crochet stitch and figured I’d graduate to more complex stitches later. 

I made a coaster with bright-yellow yarn I’d forgotten I had. 

The coaster turned out in more of a rhombus shape not square (due to not counting and turning correctly) and rolled up on the ends (due to stranglehold stitches).

But it was done. 

Curled crocheted coaster (left) and Curled multi-colored, crocheted pot holder (right).

Next project

I thought I was ready to move on to something bigger and decided to make a scarf.

There were tons of instructional YouTube videos, but the problem with those is that experts do them and make everything look so easy. I had to constantly rewind, watch, rewind again, stitch, undo the stitch, watch again, etc. 

That period of learning tested my patience and I’m not sure what kept me going but I did. 

The scarf turned out wearable and functional, not beautiful. The edges were somewhat curvy, not clean, so I decided to put a border on it. Unfortunately, my stitches are so tight I actually broke my bamboo crochet hook trying to add the border. So I added fringe.

Again, not beautiful, but it’s done. 

Since that first project, I have made a blanket for each of my grandkids, several scarves, and a potholder. 

I have a yarn stash like any respectable crocheter and have attempted more complex projects, but find crochet patterns overwhelming. 

I know the basics and enjoy my new hobby. 

It occurred to me recently that I’ve learned a lot from it. Crochet life lessons, so to speak. These are things I know and learning to crochet has reminded me. 

Strive for progress, not perfection. 

I watched Youtube videos following every step as meticulously as I could. My practice swatches never turned out like theirs. So frustrating! Theirs were perfect. Mine weren’t even close to perfect and hardly resembled theirs. 

And while that was frustrating, I had to be okay with my imperfect product because that’s where I was. I had to give myself a chance to get better. 

Needing my swatches to be perfect would have stopped me right at the beginning.

Crochet would have been added to the list of things I always wanted to do but never got the hang of.

Better to strive for progress over perfection.

Comparing myself to others is unproductive. 

That fellow beginning crocheter who said it took her a few months to teach herself and had already made a bag impressed me. Maybe I was a slow learner or not cut out to create anything. I always figured I didn’t have the “creative gene” that runs in my family.

My mom sews beautifully and my sister is an expert at creating beautiful work from garage sale, thrift store, or trash pile odds and ends. 

I never had much success in that area. 

But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. With a little instruction and A LOT of patience, I can. I may never be an expert crocheter and I’m certainly not a prodigy, like this impressive young man, Jonah

And that’s okay. I’d like to get better and I’ve already made huge improvements since that very first wonky swatch.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to start over. 

Crochet patterns overwhelm me, but I found an infinity scarf pattern that seemed pretty simple. It used simple stitches and then connected each round at a starting point. It seemed so simple!

I was using a super soft velvet yarn and the pattern sample was luxurious and I was so excited to make it. And then, about four loops in, I looked at it. Closely. And realized somehow, some way, the yarn had twisted. 

It would never fall right. And no matter how much I wished it hadn’t happened, or wished I would have checked it sooner, there was no salvaging it. It would not work out as it was. If I wanted to make the scarf, I had to completely undo it and start over. 

As upsetting as that was, I had to cut my loss of time and energy and be grateful I hadn’t gone further before realizing my error. 

Still, it bothered me that I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong. It all seemed to be going smoothly! I regretted my error, but felt lucky that I could easily pull the yarn and undo every stitch until it’s just a long string of yarn. 

Of course life isn’t that simple, but sometimes we hang on to things that just aren’t going to work out no matter how much you try to force it. Starting over seems impossible and sometimes it may be, but more often it’s the heavy feeling of regret at being left with just a long, frazzled string of yarn instead of the hope of having something amazing. 

I eventually had to abandon the pattern. Could not get the yarn to stop twisting.

Be okay with being a beginner and keep at it. 

So I’ve been doing this for a few months and you’d think I’d be able to crochet square blankets by now, but nope. I got so frustrated with myself when I was halfway through a recent project and realized it was taking on a trapezoid shape when it should have been a square. 

(I resist counting my stitches 😐 )

For a second, I thought. That’s it. I’m terrible at this. But I know that I’m terrible at counting my stitches. It’s math. I don’t like math.

So how do you get better at counting stitches if you hate to count your stitches? You decide to just do it and then practice doing it and figure out a way to count without it crushing your crochet spirit. 

Because if you want to make square blankets, you have to count your stitches. (I tell myself this but at the back of my mind I wonder if there’s another way!)

To get to the next level, you may need a coach or teacher.

I attempted enough times to know that if I want to explore more complex projects and be able to follow a pattern, I’m going to need instruction. 

My instructor will need to be VERY patient, knowledgeable, and kind. She’ll be able to see what I’m doing, point out where I’m going wrong, and steer me in the right direction. Also, give me incremental goals and skills to develop. My imaginary crochet coach is amazing. 

When you think about it, having a coach makes sense. Every professional basketball team has a shooting coach, professional football teams have a kicking coach, pro golfers have a coach. 

Don’t go it alone

I’ve found a crochet meet up of crocheters and knitters who meet once a week to chat and crochet and knit. I’ve only made the meet up a few times, but they’re always welcoming and helpful. They’re at all different levels, but the majority are very knowledgeable and I would say, expert. The differences in yarn materials, brands, stitches, strategies, etc. 

We talk about books, movies, our families. And we have crochet/knitting in common. 

Crochet and life lessons

I like to crochet, but never thought venturing into this new hobby would reinforce life lessons that have been reinforced again and again over the years.

Is crochet life?

Not exactly.

But for me, it’s like another branch of learning. That I get to create something to keep my neck warm in winter is a bonus.

So when you feel discouraged by some new challenge, remember these things:

  • Strive for progress, not perfection
  • Comparing yourself to others in unproductive
  • Sometimes the best thing to do is start over
  • Be okay with being a beginner and keep at it
  • To get to the next level, you may need a coach or teacher
  • Don’t go it alone

Have you picked up and hobbies recently? What have you learned? I’d love to hear from you.

For more on being a beginner, read Embrace the beginner’s mindset on the blog.

No need for external validation

You are enough. External validation not required.

I wanted to write a post about the pitfalls of external validation, about how crippling it can be to feel like you’re not good enough unless other people say you are.

But when I started writing, the message got jumbled.

I got into a whole bunch of tangents about the difference between seeking feedback and craving approval from others. About how people can have their own agenda and think nothing of offering harsh criticism only to claim they’re “just being honest.”

But as I grappled with the idea of external validation, I realized that the real message is much more simple.

While all critique may have its truth, it’s not as important as the more positive, life-changing truth:

You are enough. 

I truly believe we all have gifts as varied and unique as we are. Each of us is in charge of our gifts and has a responsiblity to use them.

It may not seem like it, but you are enough.

You don’t need external validation, for someone else to say you’re good enough or to give her approval before you embrace your gift.

When we doubt we’re good enough and let someone else’s opinion drive our actions, we shirk our responsibility to our gifts. 

You are enough.

Sure, you’re a work in progress. We all are.

Learn all you can. Develop your gifts. Build yourself up by trying new things. Be okay with failing. Live fearless. 

You’ll need to be strong and determined to keep moving toward your dreams no matter what people say.

I’ll just say it again in case you forgot: You are enough

Live fearless.

They say the opposite of love is indifference and maybe in some forms of love that’s true. But when it comes to self-love and living your best life, I believe the opposite of love is fear.

Move past your fear and believe that you are enough.

Tuck the thought in your mind and in your heart and keep moving in the direction of your dreams.

For more reading on this idea, read How to ignore naysayers and other well-meaning people

rubymontalvo.com

After a break – Getting back to work

It seems like I’ve been away from work for a while, like between the week of Thanksgiving 2018 and the first week of January 2019 work came to a stand-still.

I used my office to store packing materials, stash Christmas presents, and house living room knick-knacks displaced by season decorations.

Hmm. Something’s not right.

It was a nice break, but the time off didn’t mean I sat around the house binge-watching The Hallmark Channel and eating fruitcake, not at all.

Life gets busy

My husband and I took a last-minute weekend trip to Philadelphia, PA, prepped for Christmas, and were thrilled when a bonus Christmas gift arrived — our daughter and son-in-law made a surprise visit home from overseas. All this was after two family weddings, an out of town book signing, and an unexpected death in the family.

I didn’t blog, write, or edit during my break. It felt good to step away from my Works In Progress, “A Song for Jessica” (ASFJ) Audiobook, edits of sequel to ASFJ, and revisions on an urban fantasy YA novel I’m working on.

Pushing hard and getting nowhere

To be honest, for a few weeks leading up to the holidays I felt myself putting in hours at the keyboard but producing very little. Then I had a few setbacks (see What I’m working on now). I knew I was approaching the point of diminishing returns, like getting your car stuck in the mud and the more you press on the gas the deeper you sink.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away for a bit and think about something else. The break can help ease frustration, give a new perspective, allow you to catch your breath, and devise a plan.

While out of the office, I

  • Wrote out 2018 accomplishments Writing them down keeps it for the record because in a few years you may remember the biggies, but you may not remember the small victories and those are important, too.
  • Made a list of personal and professional goals for 2019 This is a flexible document : )
  • Started planning action necessary to execute 2019 goals.
  • Began cleaning and organizing my office. (It’s a WIP)
My office needs attention.

When it was time to get back to work, I was refreshed and ready rather than feeling overwhelmed and directionless, like I had at the end of the year.

Taking a break from your work can boost your focus and productivity. Even if you love what you do, rest can be the best thing you do for yourself and for your work.

Photo by Mark Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

When the level of gratitude is over the top

There’s an old movie starring Joanne Woodward called “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Paul Zindel.

I watched the movie a long time ago, and don’t remember a lot about the plot, but one scene has always stood out in my memory.

It’s the scene where the mom, Joanne Woodward’s character, walks down the aisle of a near empty auditorium where her daughter’s just won the school science fair. (The daughter’s science project is where the name of the play comes from.)

And the mom calls out to her daughter, “My heart is full.” Her voice echoes and she repeats a couple of times, “My heart is full.” Then she turns and leaves.

Moments that stick

I might have been 10 years old when I saw that movie, but that scene has always stayed with me. In my mind it perfectly exemplifies that feeling of being overwhelmed with gratitude and love and absolute joy, when there are so many emotions all mixed up at once.

That’s how I felt last week at my Book Launch party for “A Song for Jessica”. My heart was full.

The party was a celebration of the official publication of my first novel and to have worked on it for more than a year and told people “I’m writing a book,” and then little by little to have it formed into something real and tangible that I can share.

And then for people to be interested in it and to have it all come together and my family and friends show up on a steamy, Thursday night to help me celebrate the actual publication of a book I wrote and published.

It was just a very humbling experience and to say I’m grateful doesn’t quite get it. Yes, I feel incredibly grateful, but it’s like uber-gratitude, which doesn’t even sound right.

No. My heart is full. 

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

Gratitude’s a game-changer

I believe daily gratitude can change your life, but this mixture of love, gratitude, hope, and joy doesn’t feel like an everyday thing. It’s one of those moments I’ll always hold in my heart as an extraordinary gift.

Thanks to everyone who came and special shout out to my team ; ) — my husband, Mark, who’s always right there beside me, my sister, Lynda, who always comes through for me, and for my niece, Juliana, who was a popcorn-popping trooper. And to my friend, Gigi, owner of WT Cafe who provided cookies and muffins. It was a warm evening and we were very fortunate to have a nice evening breeze and smooth sounds by Frank, Kelso, and Kelly Ann Morales. Thanks ya’ll!

Thanks also to Marisol at The Koffee Kup Co. for offering to host and stay open late. You rock!

To all my family and friends who couldn’t be there in person but were there in spirit, thank you for sending love and good thoughts. I felt those, too.

Movie theater Photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

Going to the Movies

I used to spend a lot of time at the movies.

My 1st real job, besides the one I got fired from when I was 15, was at a 6 screen movie theatre. That was lots of screens back then.

Every Friday and Saturday midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show  was an event. People dressed in character and sang along with the movie.

I worked there for months before I ever saw the movie and when I finally did see it I thought it was fun but very strange to my very young, very naive, Catholic school mind. I’m sure I had no clue what it was about.

My area was the concession stand; I loved popcorn then and I love popcorn now.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com
Movie theater popcorn: so expensive and so delicious.

When I was a student at UT in Austin, I worked at a movie theatre walking distance from my apartment. Riverside Twin Cinema. That theatre was lot smaller and a lot quieter.

At the movies all the time.

One of the best perks about a theatre job back then was the movie passes.I loved it! And so did most of my work friends so we’d go to movies and discuss what we liked and what we didn’t like.

Movie theater Photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com
Hours at the movie theater

My co-workers and I would discuss movies, sometimes heatedly. I remember a discussion about a David Bowie movie and I don’t even remember the title and one of my co-workers was like,  “It’s a comedy”  and I said,  “No, it’s a drama.” It was really funny that I don’t remember the details about the movie at all but I remember this discussion and I realized that maybe I was taking things a little too seriously and that’s what kept me from seeing the humor in this foreign film that I can’t remember at all.

Or maybe he was full of crap and it was a drama and he didn’t get it.

Another memorable moment was when my co-worker friends and I were waiting for a movie to start and overhead a conversation about how bad a movie Raiders of the Lost Ark was. One of my friends was so agitated by the negative review, we had to move out of earshot. He loved everything about that movie.

Memorable movie theatre moments:

My parents would drop us off at the movies and come round us up after. I distinctly remember going to the movies to watch Walt Disney’s “The Aristocats” and my little sister must have been too young, probably only about 4 or 5, and not ready to be left in our charge because I remember her crying her head off in the middle of the movie and we didn’t know what to do with her. I was probably only about 7 or 8 and my oldest brother would have been around 11.

It was a different time. Imagine doing that now.

Watching Rocky for the very 1st time when I was a freshman in high school.  That was the original Rocky and the best. I was floored and my friend kind of shrugged her shoulders and said, “It was alright.”  Are you kidding me? Certainly she was nuts or maybe she didn’t get it. When it won the Oscar for best picture, I wasn’t surprised. And then to learn the story behind the making of “Rocky” and how it came to be! Amazing.

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com
Sylvester Stallone

Superman with Christopher Reeve. What a great movie. Sure, Superman’s flying scenes and the super action-packed Superman-to-the-rescue scenes were clunky, but it didn’t matter because the chemistry between Christopher Reeve was Superman. The chemistry between the characters sold the story lines. And the musical score. Holy cow. I got a Superman t-shirt that Christmas and wore it proudly for years.

Conan the Barbarian. That was the only time I’ve ever walked out of a movie and I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness this is so very bad. Why am I here?” Who would’ve guessed that Conan would launch Arnold Schwarzenegger’s long movie career. I could hardly understand what he was saying, although I don’t remember him having a lot of lines.

Studying film

Film History 101 at University of Texas at Austin. Sounds like a blow off class right? It wasn’t. The course examined the film industry and how the industry impacted history and vice versa. Starting with silent movies and to the then modern movies. When the film industry first began, many people didn’t believe that an audience could follow a story’s development, movement, changing scenes, and evolving characters with moving pictures. In class we watched film segments in class including great American films like “Birth of a Nation” directed by D. W. Griffith and “Stagecoach” directed by John Ford and saw the impact newsreels made during WW II.

Film history courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com
Film history

A film class I took at San Antonio College taught me an important lesson with one simple group assignment: make a short film using an 8 mm camera. That simple assignment helped me realize how difficult it is to make a film from start to finish. My group’s film ended up being a scene. We didn’t have a story. It was terrible. Another group’s film didn’t have much of a story either but the editing saved it and created a very entertaining character. That lesson transfers to all forms of art, really – film, visual art, plays, poetry, novels.

There’s an old exercise in which you create your perfect job. Mine always involved sitting around talking about books and movies. Mostly movies. I had no idea people actually did that for a living.

How things have changed

Technology’s advanced oodles as has the movie going experience. Lots of movie theatre Megaplexes offer various forms of entertainment now, not just movies.

One thing is the same as I learned years ago, creating something from nothing is a major accomplishment on its own. Creating high quality, interesting, smart, thought provoking, and multi-layered material requires the stars to be aligned and lots of time, tenacity, and pushing forward.

Film production photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com
The creative process at work

I usually have strong opinions about why I like or dislike a movie, but I try to remember my own experience making that short film and how so many factors influence the final product.

In that way, making a movie must be a little like running a marathon: finishing is winning.