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March 7, 2018

Guitar Green

The first-Wednesday-of-the-month siren is going off, the world outside my window is covered in snow, my dog is farting at my feet, and I am happy. Warm-heart, soft-smile happy, and it's because I'm doing what Prince asked.


If you recall, he visited me in a dream a couple months back and told me I had to learn guitar. You'd think a command from Afterlife Prince would be enough, but I'm 47. I'm working two full-time jobs, one of them--writing--as creative as a person can get. I decided not to learn to play guitar, or more accurately, to store that dream in the "maybe someday" file where I keep that pair of jeans that fit me when I was 23 and my cross stitch supplies.

Then I posted the dream to Facebook, expecting everyone to laugh about it with me.

You all mostly did, and I appreciated that. But I also received an email from a friend who read that post. Her email was titled "Top 5 reasons for Guitar." The list was hilarious and personal and spot on, ending with: "Prince told you to do it. I mean, come on, who can argue with Prince?! Side note, your fingers will hurt at the beginning, but don’t let it distract you. Just keep going."

She didn't stop with the email. She kept noodging me, this Nadine did. So I paid to have the guitar tuned. That was something, right? I could coast on that for a while? Nope, she sent me a little diagram of a chord to learn. I thought it'd be a good idea to learn that one, so I saved the email, but other emails and life piled on top of it. Then, one night a couple weeks ago I drank too much wine and Skyped with Nadine. She showed me exactly how to play that chord. Yesterday, I opened up a YouTube video and learned another, and today, I played my first song: Buffalo Springfield's, "For What It's Worth." (Side note: if you are looking for a timely song, holy hell.)

Muddling through that song, singing along off key as I strummed, was one of the most exhilarating things I've done in months, maybe a whole year. I feel like I got all new skin. I can't stop smiling. My fingers are grooved (see photo above), my skills are green, but I made music. I made music!!!

You know that voice that tells us not to be frivolous with our time and attention, that we're too old/poor/young/tall/short/skinny/fat to learn something new, the one masquerading as "responsibility" and "maturity?" It's full of shit. In fact, a good rule of thumb is that the discomfort you feel at learning something new is commensurate with the rewards you'll reap when you dive in. Find your Nadine, tell her your dream, and get to work. I kinda think that's the point of all of this.

Big love to you!


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February 3, 2018

Claim Your Voice

Have you heard the tale of Cassandra, the cursed Greek prophet? She foretold the siege of Troy, knew there were warriors hiding in the Trojan Horse, predicted to the day of Odysseus’ return, and more, but because the god Apollo was a giant baby-man, when she refused sex with him, he spit in her mouth, thus cursing her never to be believed.

This myth is almost too on-the-nose when talking about how women’s stories are treated today, particularly their stories of unwanted sexual attention. Those Greeks were really onto something, except things seldom ended well for their non-goddess females. Cassandra was ultimately raped, forced by Agamemnon to be his concubine, and then murdered by Agamemnon’s wife.

I want to rewrite that story.

Not the epic Greek Iliad, but a more intimate Minnesota version, one featuring a 12-year-old girl named Cassandra. She sees things, but because she is a child and because certain truths are always unwelcome, she is not believed. I’m going to give voice to her truth. I am going to listen to her and believe her. As a writer who likes to outline, to control the story, to walk cleanly from Point A to Point B, this following and nurturing the voice of a child will be challenging, more so because she is going to be navigating some of my own childhood’s back alleys as well as a boatload of cultural conditioning.

I’m wondering if you could help me. Many hands make short work and all that, except more like “many words make psychic space.” Specifically, if you claim a bit more of your voice while I do the same, we can cause a shift in what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. We can carve out space for Cassandra (and you and me and others) to tell her story.

You in?

It’s pretty straightforward, will take 20 minutes, and you don’t have to leave your seat. Here’s what:

  1. Set the timer on your phone for 4 minutes. Freewrite, either by hand or in a clean Word document, for that entire time. Start out the freewriting with this phrase: “I didn’t feel heard when…” Don’t censor, criticize, or edit what comes after. Let the words flow.
  2. When your timer goes off, reset it for 7 minutes. Close your eyes if you’re comfortable doing so and breathe deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth. When thoughts come into your head, watch them go by as if they’re riding a paper boat down a stream.
  3. When the timer goes off, reset it for 8 minutes. Freewrite, either by hand or in a clean Word document, for that entire time. Start out the freewriting with this phrase: “These are the things that are true to me…” Don’t censor, criticize, or edit what comes after. Let the words flow.
  4. When the timer goes off, do a body check. Pay attention to any heat, tightness, bubbling—any physical sensations at all—and where it is located in your body. Be curious about that.

That’s it. You’re welcome to delete, burn, or save what you wrote, whatever feels right. The power was in the act of claiming your voice. Look for the little gifts that come to you as a result, starting with my gratitude—our voices make a beautiful, messy, life-changing chorus. Thanks, you. Big love!


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January 7, 2018

The Prince Experiment

On January 4, 2018, I had a dream that I undertook a one-year project: learn how to play that gorgeous sunburst Stratocaster that I bought 25 years ago (for real) when I thought it was my destiny to start an all-woman rock band. I experienced pushback in my dream and so went to the 400 Bar (West Bank Minneapolis, circa 1990), and Prince was playing. He took me aside, we danced a bit, and he told me that not only should I learn the guitar and start that band, but that I should use the year of learning as the structure for a memoir.

Oy. Prince, right? Apparently he recently visited another friend of mine in her dream and also encouraged her to be more creative, and why the hell WOULDN"T Prince spend the afterlife encouraging people? But still, the guitar? I'm 47. I'm a full-time writing professor and a full-time novelist (it's a good thing I don't do the math; also, please don't do the math). I have a 15-year-old son and a 47-year-old husband at home, and they're both a blast to hang out with. I've got the world's most amazing friends, whose time and attention I like to swim in like it's the warm blue sea. Not to mention, how self-indulgent is it to learn to play guitar when the world is on fire?

That last question is actually what made up my mind--that, and a list of five reasons to learn guitar that Nadine sent me--because I know that the hardest and best time to create is when life is the most difficult. I can spare an hour or so a week, ten minutes peppered here and there, to learn this guitar, and to maybe blog about it, and to maybe turn that blog series into a memoir. You're welcome to join me, to share your creative endeavors in the comments, and to offer unsolicited guitar-playing advice, starting with: I just pulled that guitar out for the first time in years to snap that photo. It's got a broken string. I don't know how to change broken guitar strings. I guess I'm gonna learn.


p.s. I just looked up the year my guitar was released. 1981. I would have been eleven, living in rural Minnesota. That was the year before Prince released 1999 and blew my small-town mind. Down the road, I'll tell you the crazy story of how I came to own that guitar. For now, let's just appreciate the man...


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Jessica Lourey is the critically-acclaimed author of over 20 novels, articles, and short stories.

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