(Re)Discovering Home

Home has always been a confusing concept for me. So confusing, in fact, that I’ve written at least three songs about it. I’ve lived in three countries and five different cities, and grown into a new person in all of them.

Starting over is something that I’m used to. Settling in is another matter.

After such a turbulent existence, how am I supposed to feel secure enough in a place to try and call it my own? I’ve asked myself this question every time I’ve resettled, and the truthful answer is that I can’t. At this point in my life, there’s no way that I’ll be able to achieve that security, but there’s also nothing to gain from suffering in suspension. Instead, I view it as something exciting and breathtaking – I get to discover a new city and find my place in it.

So this past weekend, I discovered Milwaukee.

Every year, the city hosts an event called ‘Doors Open Milwaukee‘, where businesses, venues, or city buildings that would normally not be open to the public open their doors free of charge to the people of Milwaukee. It’s an incredible way for people to get to know the place they live in better and for businesses to show gratitude to the city that has allowed them to grow so successfully. With over 170 buildings participating, there is no way that one person could see them all, so I picked buildings most interesting to me and went to try and get to know Milwaukee a little bit better.

 

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I started at the iconic North Point Tower, built in 1874 to cover an open standpipe, that has now become a cherished landmark. Unfortunately, you can’t climb the tower as it’s no longer up to code, but it stands as a testament to the importance of the relationship between Milwaukee and Lake Michigan.
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Next, I travelled just up the road to visit Black Cat Alley, which feels almost like an outdoor art museum. The floor, walls, and all the way up to the roofs of the surrounding buildings are covered with murals from local and visiting artists. I am regularly amazed by this city’s dedication to supporting and nurturing the arts, and this little area is a perfect example of that. Additionally, whether purposefully or serendipitous, Milwaukee’s only cat cafe (Sip & Purr) is located at the north end of the alley. Needless to say, I enjoyed a great cup of coffee while watching some beautiful cats enjoy a sunny day.
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I’ve always felt a strong connection to books, and I would spend hours in libraries as a kid, reading anything I could possibly get my hands on. So I decided that I had to visit my new public library (and get a library card, of course). This library houses a Rare Books Room, with a climate controlled mini-library filled with ancient and valuable books and maps. While this room was closed, displays just outside featured old artwork and texts from all over the world, and from Milwaukee itself. The most interesting piece to me was an old book describing the process of copying beer bottle labels to be printed onto each individual bottle of Schlitz. Brewing is a huge part of the local economy here, and the respect for the German immigrants who started that tradition runs strong through this city.
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After a quick lunch-stop at a beautifully tucked away vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurant on Brewer’s Hill called Beerline Cafe, I continued on to the Hyatt Regency Hotel to view my new home from their private event space called the Vue Lounge. Maybe seeing the city from such a high place would give me a different perspective than I had before. Suffice to say, the view was breathtaking. I realized that Milwaukee was almost like a combination of the places I have lived in up to this point: the same lake I spent my summers on when I grew up in Michigan, with the bustling city atmosphere of Hannover, and the vibrant musical opportunities from my time at school in England, all in one place. It was comforting to contemplate these similarities before moving on to my next stop.
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88.9 Radio Milwaukee is the local radio station that prioritizes playing music from local musicians, talking about what’s going in Milwaukee, and organizing events that brings music to this city. One of the first things I did when I moved to Milwaukee was start listening to this radio station, so it was great to see where all of that happened. It was also a reassurance that this city cares deeply about music, and I wouldn’t be overlooked here.
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My next stop was a first that I was very excited about – visiting my first ever Frank Lloyd Wright designed home. Milwaukee houses the largest concentration of Wright’s American System-Built Homes in the country, and the historical society here has prioritized remodeling the homes to their original 1916 glory. Wright grew up in this part of Wisconsin, and to know that someone who created million dollar mansions and travelled the world with his designs cared strongly enough to return here and build beautiful homes for regular people speaks to the connection that we all have to home.
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Next on my Doors Open tour was the Best Place – a unique bar/venue/museum that was created in 2001 out of the old Pabst Brewery. I took a tour of the brewery (and obviously sampled some beer), and it reminded me of the old beer halls from Germany. This experience solidified my theory that all Milwaukeeans can come together over two things: respect for the rich history of our city, and damn good local beer.
Looking back on everything that I saw over the weekend, I think once again about what home means. Yes, home is a geographical location – where you put your feet and live your life. But home is more than that. Homes have history, love, and people. Homes make you feel safe and comfortable, and help you to feel like your existence is not only appreciated, but valued beyond measure. I’ve called many places home throughout my time on Earth, and in a way, all of those places are still a part of my definition of home. Milwaukee is just the next one, and it’s an easy place to love, fitting neatly next to the rest of the homes in my life.

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

This week I’ve been spending a lot of time practicing a specific song – ‘Navigate’ by Band of Skulls. I remember attempting to learn this song about six years ago, and frustratingly giving up because the song was ‘too hard’. Now, after just one or two hours a day for a few days in a row, I’m playing it almost as if it was easy. This experience made me reflect on the activity that I have been participating in since I started playing violin at four years old.
Practicing can be the bane of many musicians’ existences, but every musician will agree that it is the core foundation of growth in your instrument. Practice can be associated with group sessions or rehearsals, but true practice is a solitary experience of pure focus on your technique, skills, and repertoire. It is where you will experience the most development in your craft, and is almost always extraordinarily rewarding.
However, practicing isn’t only for musicians. Whether you’re practicing a 3-point shot as a basketball player, drawing hands as an artist, or perfecting your pirouette as a dancer, practice is fundamentally the repetition or rehearsal of a specific skill. It’s benefits cross every border of talent or skill. One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever received in regards to practicing was from one of my professors at University. He told me that “practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.” At first I wasn’t sure what he meant, but he went on to say that practice works primarily off of muscle memory. If you’re constantly repeating something wrong, your muscles will learn to repeat that action incorrectly. Think ‘quality, not quantity’.
With this consideration, we can suddenly apply this to every aspect of our lives. For example, if you’re struggling with confidence, you can practice self- appreciation by regularly acknowledging your accomplishments. With enough practice, this action will come so naturally to you that you won’t need to think about practicing it, because you will find yourself doing it automatically! Practice something as close to perfect as you can, and eventually your muscles will repeat it as close to perfectly as they can, whenever you need them to.

I hope you enjoy this clip of the fruits of my practice: a section from ‘Navigate’ by Band of Skulls.

Continue reading “Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect”

The Start of a New Adventure

For the longest time, I was convinced that I was going to become an author. I’d write fantastical stories about powerful heroines, the terrifying monsters that they would slay, and the relationships they would make throughout the course of their adventures. As I grew older, and music became a much more prominent part of my life, I finally realized that I could combine my two crafts through songwriting. I started seeing similarities between myself and the heroines from my old stories, albeit nowhere near as exciting or powerful. I was traveling the world, meeting new people, and experiencing new things, but felt like not all of those stories were suited to be told as songs.
So I’ve decided to start writing again.
My latest adventure started only a few weeks ago. I’ve just graduated from the University of Kent in England after spending four years of my life in Medway, to move back to my home country and settle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My professional contacts, friends, and current sense of home were left behind to come to a brand new city and try to restart my life here, in a country that I haven’t permanently lived in since I was 15 years old. Both music and writing have never failed to bring me comfort in times of change and disruption. I hope in sharing them with you, you may be able to find some comfort in them too.
I’m sure there will be monsters, and maybe I’ll meet some interesting people too, but if I can be anything like the heroines from my stories, I’ll count myself lucky.