Acting

Start Acting Like the Person You Already Are

“I heard Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones, speak on writing once. Someone asked her for the best possible writing advice she had to offer, and she held up a yellow legal pad, pretended her fingers held a pen, and scribbled away.” - Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The sun blasted down through the windshield of my aunt’s Taurus. The Alabama heat accentuated the leather car interior providing musty, hot smells even as the A/C pelted my eyes with Arctic chill. My aunt, the youngest of my mom’s four sisters, was taking me only god knows where. As a kid we normally spent a lot of time together running errands, seeing the sights around Birmingham, or generally having fun. As philosophically as a 10 year-old gets I remember saying to her [in loose verbatim], “In Sister Act, Whoopi said to a student, (Lauryn Hill) that ‘Don’t ask me about being a writer. If when you wake up in the morning, you can think of nothing but writing…then you’re a writer. If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think about is singing, you’re supposed to be a singer.”

At ten years old my fascination with the Sister Act movies was at an all-time high. Every day I would get home from school and pour half a cup of Hershey’s chocolate syrup into a pint of 2% milk. I believe nowadays health blogs could consider this as “bulking”. As a child, this repetitive non-nutritious snack was seen as normal. As the chocolate and dairy mingled as new friends I would make the one snack item that I didn’t burn...most of the time. Popcorn packets melted away in the microwave into large bags of hot, oily movie food.

Our playroom was the kids zone. The carpet needed to be replaced due to all the spills. The couch was from when my dad was a bachelor. The TV was an analog, rotary box with wood paneling. I would already have Sister Act, Sister Act 2, or the Little Rascals in the VHS and would rewind it impatiently. (I understand my cinematic picks are not envious or flattering, but they were a part of almost every afternoon of 4th grade.)

As the back of my thighs stuck to the passenger seat and I looked up at my aunt, my childhood idol, and was crestfallen when her response was, “Well, I don’t believe that.” She went on more about how that was inaccurate, but I couldn’t hear. My little childhood world had taken a big blow. I offered up one of my favorite lines, from my favorite movie, to my favorite friend and the response was a resounding, “That isn’t correct.”

Now, this scenario didn’t send me reeling back in time and convince me never to pursue writing. It didn’t cause me to like my aunt less. What it did do, however, was put judgemental boxes around professions and people’s habits. As an adult I see my peers constantly struggle with defining themselves through careers while more excitedly explaining their side hustles or hobbies. It’s not easy to be a creative mind in a world built for efficiency and making money to support those hobbies and hustles.

A now famous quote by Colonel John Boyd, an Air Force pilot superstar, goes, “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?” Ask yourself, will you simply “be” something or will you “do” something. I see it as earning my stripes to “be through doing”. In the acts of work we become what we see ourselves as.

Before I took time for this summer to be dedicated to writing my book I never called myself a “writer”. Writing was something I did all the time either for myself or to negate travel expenses, but never something I consider earth-shattering or genre-moving. It was my partner who took my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “You’re a writer so start acting like one.”

When you wake up in the morning, what is the first thing you think about? When you have down time on the weekends or at night or in the morning what do you do? What hobbies do you have that create that special spark of creativity or belonging to a greater presence than yourself in this world?

To me, that is what we are. We are the persistent pursuits, the constant challenges we present ourselves with, and the small wins that feel like major accomplishments. As I write this now I am using my morning before packing for Mexico to write about a thought that popped into my head while I was driving around town yesterday. It flows onto this page, but is also a struggle to focus in its entirety. Yet, I proceed because getting this up on my blog that few people may read is a win. It is an accomplishment. Because I work on my craft of writing I am a writer.

I am a writer. It’s about time I start acting like one.

Who are you?

#LocalLife: A Tale of Two Jazz Fests

The weather is starting to get liquid hot at noon. Already we see the sun’s rays as electrifying not just warming. It’s that time of year again. No, not Mardi Gras: Jazz Fest.

It may seem like a time-old tradition now, but local festival-goers have seen it evolve for over four decades. Many people say it’s dead, dying, or has completely sold its soul. However, for the lovers of Jazz Fest, that simply isn’t so...

 

Jazz Fest musician, Brice Miller

Brice Miller, Ph.D, Scholar, Lecturer, International Jazz Musician

“Jazzfest has been an annual event my entire life. My dad, Dwight Miller, a saxophonist, has been performing at the festival since 1971. He was featured on the festival's 1978 poster. I have been attending since around 1978, according to my mother.”

I began performing at the festival with my dad's band, Pinstripe Brass Band when I was in the 8th or 9th grade. I began performing as a bandleader in 1991, while attending St. Augustine High School, leading my own band, Junior Pinstripe Brass Band, now Mahogany Brass Band; we have performed every year since! I also perform with other bands, including Pinstripe Brass Band, Treme Brass Band and Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra.

What’s the best concert you’ve seen there?

“This is tough because I've seen so many concerts. However, one that stands out was Al Jarreau. He was in the Congo Square Stage. In the middle of his performance, he stops the band, and goes on this extreme rant about race and racism, and how mean spirited White people are. The entire audience was in shock, gasping. I was like, ‘Oh shit.’ That performance changed my life as a performer. It showed me I have to use my voice on stage, and that platform to not only entertain, but to educate. That has become a hallmark of my performance.”

How do you incorporate that into your performance now?

“[When I play at Jazz Fest] it's my day to be both a spokesperson for the city and my culture, and also my day to be a celebrity. Media from around the world often interview me, some visit my house for more personal insight, and I've had some to follow me around the days leading up to the festival. Being able to utilize my talent to compete with the larger big name festival performers is empowering. Secondly, it's a family day. My entire family comes out, my parents, and all the band members families; it's a family day for us and we bring the kids on stage during the performance. It's funny because festival goers have commented that they've watched my youngest two kids grow up on the stage. My son's first appearance at Jazz Fest was when he was 1 years old, and he's been on stage every year since then! Now he's actually performing with the band, along with his younger sister.”

What are your essentials to bring?

“Firstly, dress comfortably! It's hot in New Orleans and there is absolutely no covering, no trees, no shade at the festival. Wear a big hat, loose fitting clothes, comfortable shoes, and bring lots of water. I had some friends from Birmingham come and I told one of the girlfriends to dress comfortably, [but] she passed out in the middle of my performance from heat exhaustion.”

Favorite area?

“My favorite area is the Norman Dixon, Sr. (my uncle) Jazz & Heritage Stage, which is the stage I perform on. Here, you'll find New Orleans brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians performing all day, which is that truly authentic cultural performance. After that stage, I'd say the Lagniappe Stage, which often has more experimental music, plus it's the coolest (temperature-wise) place at the festival and the only outdoor space with shade. Economy Hall is pretty cool too, lots of traditional jazz, lots of older people dancing, which is so cute.”

What is your after-Jazz Fest routine?

“After Jazz Fest, we have a tradition of heading to our house with friends, family, and even strangers and we eat crawfish, Barbeque and just relax while having a good time. Our house, which is in the historic Carrollton community has always been a party/gathering space. My wife and I have been hosting our pre/post Jazz Fest gathering since 2000. Actually, my band and their families come to the house the morning of our Jazz Fest performance; we eat and drink then head to the festival together.”

Where do you see Jazz Fest headed as a music festival?

“I personally feel it's becoming too commercial. People come to New Orleans for New Orleans music. I understand the big name acts draw people, but engaging the local artist with the big names would help build the profile for local musicians. Also, I don't feel any act should be allowed to perform with only a DJ. Last year, Mystical performed and used a live band; that performance was absolutely amazing!”

 

Jazz Fest original, Steve Hartnett, with his conquest map.

Jazz Fest original, Steve Hartnett, with his conquest map.

Steve Hartnett, social go-getter, old art seller/teacher, modified hippie

SItting down with Steve was like talking to the Buddha of Jazz Fest fans. Starting at the very first Jazz Fest at the Fairgrounds (1972) he was asked by the editor of the Figaro (an alternative newspaper in the 70s and 80s) to sell art from his gallery at the event in “huge red and white tents that looked like the circus.”

“I would invite all my friends and buy them the kid’s ticket for $3. No one at the gate looked at the tickets back then they just tore them and you walked through. As soon as they visited me I would say, ‘Hey, come here! Would you mind sitting here for a second so I can go see a band.’”

When I asked him how often he goes to Jazz Fest or what his plan of attack is Steve scoffs at the question. “I go every day, baby!” He starts his day with beignets, coffee and a prayer in the Gospel tent. Then, he looks at the line-up sheet which he has marked up to look almost like a football notebook. His best advice? If you don’t know who is playing go to Spotify, [Google, and Youtube, etc.] and listen to some of the bands you don’t know. “I want to go see someone called JohnnySwim. Well, it’s more than one guy.”

When pressed about what it was like in the early days of the festival the stories never stopped. Steve and his wife, Pam, would park their van in the infield and basically tailgate. Since they are vegetarians (living in New Orleans, geez) and didn’t drink they  packed sandwiches and bring a new backpack called a Camelbak for water.

It seems that Steve is doesn’t fuss over much, but he cringed when I asked if he stayed at one stage. “Do not be a camper. It defeats the camaraderie.” (Jazz Fest supposedly has a very, very low arrest record. Most likely due to the jovial spirit shared by all?) When Professor Longhair said ‘Gonna make it my standin’ place’ in his song “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” he spoke Steve’s language; “God gave us the ability to stand in 2 square feet.”

Where to go afterwards? “Jazz Fest used to continue on The President”, a 1924-vintage cruise boat who saw all the great names. Seriously, they had the best. Now Steve and his wife go home to rest up for the next day.

Well, where should I go if I want to stay out? Everyone wants to know where to see a big name or secret show.

Know that the bands in Jazz Fest can’t play together outside the Fairgrounds that weekend so the beautiful culmination is a mix-match of talented artists going to see their record labels, local musicians of interests, and friends. The best plan is to pick a local band you want to see and watch the magic of Jazz Fest unfurl. If you’re a little too rigid for that order a ticket to Preservation Hall’s Midnight Preserves. It lasts all seven nights and features a headliner with the band every night. You never know who it will be, but again, you are guaranteed magic.

Goodbye Old Friend

 

Hello Old Friend,

I know I will never see or hear from you again and it made me think of all the sweet and savory times we had together. Do you remember the truffle popcorn as we reclined to watch movies in the theater? Or my boxing fights you always attended and stood firm against my rivals with me? Perhaps last winter as I visited Chicago to try the menus there?

You can't imagine the despair I felt in the abrupt moment of your departure. Gone, with the crunch of a cracklin', as quickly as I was aware of your existence. 

I am sorry it took losing you to see the impact you had on my life this far. Due to one slip of the teeth my 29th molar will have to fight on through my omnivorous habits without its finest piece of enamel. 

RIP and goodbye chip of my tooth. May you enjoy the sights and sounds of Paris!

 

IDEAs

My rule of thumb in work, especially as a consultant is to manage huge projects in simplified stages.

This was an idea after seeing how smaller, more detailed projects are carried out. When there are many people, ideas, initiatives, and specialties revolving around a marketing plan (or whatever massive plan you are working on) try and segment as such.

Ideate--create all of the necessary scenarios and options your situation involves. Make a plan to achieve your benchmarks and express yourself completely.

Dedicate--each individual working on this project knows their limitations. They also know what the goals are. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to do little tasks while keeping the bigger picture in mind. Keep the team on track.

Elevate--it's not easy completing projects from scratch. It's in our human nature to become invested in our work and feel the emotional tugs that a project's tumultuous "peaks and pitfalls" ultimately brings. Make sure to keep everyone motivated.

Appreciate--making it to the end of a long and detailed project require a lot of flexibility and honesty with yourself and your team. More strengths and weaknesses get recognized as work happens and it's important to remember the good that people do more than the bad or inconvenient. Make your team feel worthy.