Category Archives: Freelance Writing

My latest on HuffPo: How Sharing Stories Helps Kids (To Help Other Kids)

Storybooth Worksheet

Want to write your own storybooth.com story? Here is the memoir lesson handout used at the creative writers’ camp for teens.

Please read my latest article on Huffington Post:

storybooth: How Sharing Stories Helps Kids (To Help Other Kids)

Seventh-grade student Carissa carried a painful memory around with her, but it wasn’t a secret. There were plenty of kids who witnessed (her now ex) boyfriend humiliate and verbally abuse her in the hallway at school. While the scene replayed in her head every day for the next year, she wouldn’t talk about it openly with anyone.

Carissa does have a secret, however. She’s a talented writer, and she explores her thoughts and personal challenges through short stories. This summer, she attended a free creative writers’ camp for teens at her local library. Every day, the students were provided writing prompts and mini lessons to create stories, poems, and scenes for novels-in-progress. This year, the students were introduced to storybooth (storybooth.com), a website that collects real stories from kids in their own words and brings them to life through animation. Kids of all ages are welcome to record their own personal experiences that made a lasting impact on their lives, whether positive, negative, or downright hilarious. It’s free, easy, and has the power to relieve a weighty burden – something that no other platforms for young people are doing. The act of recording a story is an effective means of letting it go, and not only that, the kids have a supportive community behind them.

The team at storybooth looks for stories that will make viewers laugh, think, and feel, and has a way of showing us how we are all connected through our shared stories. The award-winning site has over 100 million views, with multi-ethnic, compassionate and often humorous animations. But the most significant part of storybooth is the community response. As a digital platform unlike other social media sites, storybooth is an overwhelmingly supportive and safe place for kids to share their personal journeys. The peer comments are encouraging, understanding and uplifting.

When participants in the teen writing camp viewed several stories and took part in a short lesson on memoir writing, several felt empowered to put their own experiences into words. One student wrote about her family moving several times throughout her life and how difficult it is to say goodbye. Another talked about crashing a car through the family’s garage on his first day of driving school. (He’s still afraid to test for his license.) Carissa dared to read her story about the very public embarrassment that haunted her for months, discovering a sense of peace by dissolving the memory of its power. When kids reveal their authentic feelings, it can help other kids gain a fresh perspective on their own struggles.

What makes a good storybooth story?

  • The storyteller allows him or herself to be vulnerable. They’re not afraid to go into the details of an experience.
  • The storyteller looks at him or herself honestly. They expose their own truth, knowing they are anonymous and no one is judging.
  • The storyteller takes the fear out of telling their story because they know it will help others.
  • The storyteller comes across naturally. They are authentic, have dignity in owning their own mistakes, and just let themselves go.

For teens who are interested in visiting storybooth.com and sharing the story that’s been replaying through their head, simply visit storybooth.com, hit “record” – and then let it go. Those looking for some extra guidance can consider writing out the story ahead of time – the memoir writing exercise developed by the creative writers’ camp for teens is available here. If the story is chosen by the storybooth team, it’ll be animated and posted to the website. Other kids will have a chance to see the story and comment, and perhaps be inspired to write and record their own story.

See the article here!

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High and Mighty Low: An interview with the band

fingerI was asked today why music plays such a big role in my fiction writing, and I remembered an interview I did for Mixtape Methodology with the band High and Mighty Low while researching and writing my debut novel RADIO HEAD.  The band covered The Beatles’ iconic song Blackbird, and it got me thinking about how a single song can leave an indelible mark on our lives, just as a good book might. Please read on and share the song that’s your jam.

A Brief Examination of High and Mighty Low’s Blackbird
*as published in Mixtape Methodology

What’s your jam? Maybe you heard your latest fave last night at the club. Or is your best-loved song an old favorite? Many music fans create playlists or vinyl collections featuring songs marking a significant time, or a rite of passage. The beginning of a relationship. Or its end. A song played on repeat in the privacy of headphones or on your morning commute is, for that moment, yours alone. What you listen to forms a lens, calibrating your worldview. When one powerful song becomes “my jam,” it’s the manifestation of your own anthem.

Singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler says Fake Plastic Trees, a song from Radiohead’s The Bends album, marked a musically significant point in her life. “The Bends came out in 1995, and I was 14 and just starting to learn the guitar.” Nadler wanted to sing Fake Plastic Trees; “It was the first time I really successfully played barre chords,” she said. “The Bends, along with [Nirvana’s] In Utero, and even [Hole’s] Live Through This, these were albums that soundtracked the teenage years for me.”

It’s kind of freakish to think about the ingredients that go into an original song. Assuming the band gets along and every member contributes his or her best material, a song comprises the amalgam of the group’s talent. It conveys an image and philosophy using lyrics, and an arrangement of notes to form a melody that carries its own story. A song sets a tone, and illustrates an atmosphere, combining instruments that both harmonize and counter. Arguably, a song is only an idea, rhetoric perhaps, until it is performed. Musicians and singers come to the mic with a personal aesthetic, an inborn message and style, and the restless desire to share their creation with an audience of listeners. The final production includes the input of accompanying musicians, producers, and audio engineers. And possibly Yoko Ono types.

But what about when a band chooses to cover another performer’s song, recording and releasing it alongside the group’s own original offerings? What’s the significance, a shoutout back to the original song-writer? Or perhaps it’s a revelation, a keepsake or a snapshot holding a truth about the performer covering it.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana once remarked, “When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band. Or at least in a Pixies cover band.”

Like all music fans, musicians are drawn to songs that mattered to them, for whatever reason. Maybe their favorite marks a milestone. Maybe it gashed a deep wound leaving a lifelong scar, rendering that chosen song a souvenir that must be shared. A covered a song allows listeners to know a given performer on a deeper level than even his or her own creations might reveal. Call it trickle-down mastery, the artists who came before established and reinforced the foundation of modern music. A student’s mastery of an instrument or a vocal style is influenced by the teachers who lead the way, who held the light on the path. For professional performers, those teachers were often their favorite songs.

Los Angeles-based rock band High and Mighty Low is gaining a strong following with their debut album, Bones. The group is comprised of John DiBiase (guitar, vocals), Matt Boehm (guitar), Jeff Mallow (guitar), Scott Schneider (drums), and Rick Zaccaro (bass). Bones covers a broad field of guitar-heavy alternative rock, from the howling guitars featured in Taken to the blazing and energetic, The Tragedies We Hold, to a melodic nod to popular music with, Half The Time.

High and Mighty Low chose to release its debut album with a bonus track, a cover of The Beatles’ Blackbird. A song you’ve likely loved too at some point, Blackbird is listed among the top ten most covered songs, from a wide spectrum of performers in several music categories, from folk-infused Sarah McLachlan to an extraordinary arrangement by Alicia Keys, with only her piano as accompaniment. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl have often favored Blackbird at live shows.

Blackbird first appeared on The Beatles (also referred to as the White Album). Written and originally performed as a solo effort by Paul McCartney, Blackbird is credited nonetheless a Lennon-McCartney collaboration.

Blackbird is frankly a weird outtake from High and Mighty Low’s overall sound esthetic. Frontman John DiBiase offered some insight about why the band selected that particular song. Blackbird was recorded on June 11, 1968 (released November 25, 1968), decades before any member of the band was born. How does Blackbird speak for High and Mighty Low, building a bridge beyond the lyrics, melodies, and arrangements they’ve crafted for themselves?

“I love how stripped down that song is,” says DiBiase. “And the guitar playing is obviously fantastic by McCartney.” Stripping down seems to be a hot topic for the DiBiase and the band. The word “bones” happens to appear in a few tracks he wrote “Considering how stripped down some of the album is, I just felt Bones was an appropriate title,” DiBiase added.

According to Rolling Stone magazine, McCartney recorded Blackbird on his own. George Harrison and Ringo Starr were across the pond in California, and John Lennon was recording the song Revolution 9 in another studio. When they were school boys, Paul McCartney and George Harrison attempted to learn a Johann Sebastian Bach piece called Bourrée in E Minor, a song, like Nadler’s Fake Plastic Trees, which marked a significant period in their lives, and on the journey to learning their craft. It became, essentially, their jam. McCartney carried that musical souvenir into adulthood. He said that Blackbird’s fingerpicked guitar lines, written at his Scotland farm, were based on Bach’s Bourrée in E minor.

“Hearing him tap his foot is something,” says DiBiase, referring to the distinctive background sound many believed was merely a metronome. Audio engineer Geoff Emerick mic’d up Paul McCartney’s foot tapping, and added recordings of a singing male blackbird. McCartney told Emerick he wanted the song, “to sound as if he were singing it outdoors.” Emerick said, “Then let’s do it outdoors.” Blackbird was recorded outside Abbey Road Studios’ echo chamber.

The whole production flows in the vein of a busking folk singer in the decade of discontent. The lyrics portray McCartney’s response to US race relations in the 1960s. Sir Paul was in good company. Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez were also driving forces for grass roots change. But what is it about Blackbird that has endured, enough to inspire a bunch of L.A. dudes in their 20s to resurrect the old favorite?

“The song itself is both simple and complex at the same time,” explains DiBiase, “which is difficult to pull off. And the lyrics and melody are as good as it gets.”

Aside from its significant and long-standing message, John DiBiase says the song “is fun to play, on or off stage. I really do love it.” McCartney would have to agree. Paul McCartney felt compelled to perform it for fans camped outside his house. His inspiration? It was the first night his future wife Linda Eastman stayed overnight. Perhaps that’s what transforms a good song to a classic; it reminds you of a time you’ll never forget.

BLACKBIRD

Written by Paul McCartney, John Lennon
Copyright: Sony/ATV Tunes LLC

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Fun fact: “Blackbird” is one of the top ten most recorded covers of all time

Hear Paul McCartney’s Blackbird 

Because it’s nearly impossible to choose only one favorite, the author invites music fans and musicians alike to send their top ten all-time favorite songs to the RADIO HEAD book Fan Playlists page, here. Your top ten matters, share it with the world.

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My HuffPo: Five ways Parents can Help Prevent Cyberbullying

Please read my latest article on Huffington Post:

Five ways Parents can Help Prevent Cyberbullying

barkIt’s difficult for parents to know if their teen is a victim of cyberbullying. Many teens choose not to tell, worried their device will be taken away. Instead, your daughter might complain of “drama at school.” Or maybe your son feels embarrassed or ashamed. Bullying makes most people feel weak and powerless.

Cyberbullying refers to internet bullying, an act of bullying through electronic devices such as smartphones and computers. Cyberbullying may take the form of sending aggressive or mean messages, or posting embarrassing photos or information about another person. Common platforms used for cyberbullying include text messages, social media and messaging apps.

According to Bark, an algorithm that scans for indications of cyberbullying, sexting, drug-related content and signs of depression, one in three children have experienced cyberbullying.

BullyingStatistics.org reports that cyberbullying affects many adolescents and teens on a daily basis. The Cyberbullying Research Center emphasizes that cyberbullying affects all races, and can be very damaging to adolescents and teens. Chad Rose, an assistant professor of special education in the MU College of Education found that bullying rates for teens with disabilities remained consistently higher than those without disabilities.

Worse, once an image or post is circulated on the internet, it may never disappear, resurfacing at later times to renew the victim’s suffering, or affect college or work applications. Cyberbullying can lead to anxiety, depression and even suicide.

 

Did you like this? Read my piece about how music lessons can help get your teen into college here!

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My HuffPo: Teens, Music & The Sober Curious Movement

Please read my latest article on Huffington Post:

Is the Sober Curious Movement the End of Teen Binge Drinking?

Created by JAVI_INDY – Freepik.com

For many teens, social activities never stop. With a smart device in hand, texts, posts, likes and shares are vital components of modern peer interaction. Parents often complain of adolescents glued to their screens, maintaining friendships, ironically, in a state of isolation.

When teens turn off their screens to join friends and peers for get-togethers and parties on weekends, many parents worry about the possibility of underage drinking – and for good reason. Social media has been linked to binge drinking, according to several new studies. On social media, young people can get unrealistic ideas about their peers’ seemingly “fabulous” lives, and posting of photos depicting drunken revelry serves to increase of the appeal of alcohol consumption.

Is underage binge drinking a problem? Let’s look at the statistics:

  • 1 in 6 teens binge drink
  • 90% of alcohol consumed by teens involves binge drinking
  • 4,300 underage deaths are caused by excessive drinking each year
  • Binge drinkers don’t drink alone. It generally requires peer pressure

“With neuroscience now showing that the human brain develops well into the mid 20’s, we can deduct that the introduction of alcohol into a teenage brain can cause permanent changes to its growth and function,” said Kristin Wilson, National Director of Clinical Outreach at Newport Academy, a teen treatment center. “Because of underdeveloped executive functioning, teens are often very easily influenced by peer pressure and are more willing to engage in high-risk behaviors.”

Dance Raves, Drinking and Drugs

The need to belong and experience social connections is a fundamental human characteristic, and while raves and teen parties have a long-held reputation for underage drinking, young people assert that the fundamental rewards of attending these events include meeting new friends and sharing one of the most highly valued aspects of teen life: music.

Fortunately, a shift toward a healthy lifestyle is trending. Over the last few years, there has been a decline in alcohol consumption for teens. Teens are experimenting with remaining sober while engaging in social activities that once highlighted alcohol use. The Sober Curious Movement includes day rave dances and juice bar crawls infused with the increased dopamine levels caused by up-tempo music and positive social interaction.

“If you’re used to hiding or escaping with alcohol, and then you discover that you can have genuine fun and make meaningful connections without it, that’s really empowering,” explained Annie Fabricant, coproducer of Morning Gloryville, a series of sober rave parties.

The Sober Curious Movement’s Impact on Teens

It’s all about building authentic relationships. “The Sober Curious Movement is a great step toward healthy living and overall wellness for teens. At fun, wellness-focused, sober events, teens can feel free to create face-to-face, authentic connections with one another, without the pressure to drink,” continued Kristin Wilson. “The relationships that are established within the Sober Curious community are based on mindfulness and a shared passion for healthy lifestyles.” The trend is proving universal among teens and millennials, building momentum across the US and around the world.

“Conscious clubbing” parties are popping up in cities all over the globe, encouraging dance fans to rave without alcohol, drugs or judgment. Parties are held in industrial clubs featuring mega sound systems and hipster DJs, and bars are stocked with raw coconut juice, water and green smoothies only. While many young people traditionally turn to alcohol to break the ice in social situations, today more teens are choosing to bust a move instead. The most common benefit cited by Sober Curious devotees: when sober friendships are formed, people remember making them.

Generation Z music fan Alexsys Chesnut has been in the Seattle rave scene since age sixteen. “A lot of my friends and I participate soberly. It’s about the music and losing yourself in dancing in an environment where you can be yourself, and dress like you want. It’s about all the new friends you make.”

Matthew Brimer and Radha Agrawal, creators of Daybreaker raves welcoming an average of 400 to 500 attendees said, “We want to take out all the bad stuff associated with raving – the drinking and self-destructive behavior – and just bring people together.” Healthy, sober fun translates into honesty at home. “There’s no guilt whatsoever here,” they added. “You can tell your grandmother about Daybreaker.”

Ready to Party Sober?

Here are Newport Academy’s tips for teens interested in creating positive social experiences without alcohol:

1. Surround yourself with friends who are living a healthy lifestyle, and like you sober.

2. Get outside. Plan a beach day, go on a hike, or try a juice bar crawl. Just being in the daylight helps increase serotonin levels, a brain chemical that boosts mood and creates feelings of overall happiness.

3. Listen to music. Music not only creates connection but can help you relax. Listening to music you love has also been shown to increase dopamine levels, a neurotransmitter that allows us to feel pleasure.

The more time young people use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed, according to new research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In fact, “engaging in activities of little meaning on social media gives many teens a feeling of ‘time wasted’ that negatively influences mood,” reported researcher Lui yi Lin. Music allows isolated teens to establish real friendships, crush the dangers involved with binge drinking and be their authentic themselves.

Did you like this? Read my piece about how music lessons can help get your teen into college here!

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My latest on Huff Post: Worried About Your Teen Getting Into College? Consider Music Lessons

The following is an excerpt from my article, Worried About Your Teen Getting Into College? Consider Music Lessons, published on HuffingtonPost.com on February 2, 2017:

pedrosimao

Courtesy: Pedro Simao

Gaining mastery over any challenge your teen may face – sports, travel abroad, or acing AP Math – results in feelings of being ready to take on the challenge of post-secondary education. But many high school students aren’t able to compete, or don’t have access to classes and experiences that improve their chances for getting into and succeeding in college.

However, music training begun as late as high school may help improve the teenage brain’s responses to sound and sharpen hearing and language skills, suggests a new study from Northwestern University.

Nina Kraus, senior study author and director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at the School of Communication recruited 40 Chicago-area high school freshmen in a study that began shortly before school started. They followed these children longitudinally until their senior year. The stable processing of sound details, important for language skills, is known to be diminished in children raised in poverty, raising the possibility that music education may offset this negative influence on sound processing.

“While music programs are often the first to be cut when the school budget is tight, these results highlight music’s place in the high school curriculum,” said Kraus.

Can Music Lessons Make a Difference?

The U.S. Department of Education recommends at least one year of visual and performing arts for college-bound high school students asserting, “Many colleges view participation in the arts and music as valuable experience that broadens students’ understanding and appreciation of the world around them.” In addition, music education plays a part in improving “children’s intellectual development.”

According to the Children’s Music Workshop, a Los Angeles-area music education company specializing in school-site music instruction, music education advocacy, and custom-designed band and orchestra books. “Students taking courses in music performance and music appreciation scored higher in the SAT than students with no arts participation. Music performance students scored 53 points higher on the verbal and 39 points higher on the math. Music appreciation students scored 61 points higher on the verbal and 42 points higher on the math…

I invite you to continue reading the entire article on HuffPo, including resources for parents and teachers. Click here to continue.

If you have ideas for supporting music programs in American high schools, please comment below!

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My HuffPost: Teens can Improve Creativity, Relieve Anxiety by Meditating

Please read my latest contribution to Huffington Post!

Teens can Improve Creativity, Relieve Anxiety by Meditating

todaycreative thinking with our neocortex, the part of the brain that is concerned with problem solving, visioning, hypothesizing, and strategizing. Meditation can have profound effects on the neocortex.

Blogger Branain Radcliffe shows how meditation boosts your creativity and focus in seven specific ways. Meditation will:

Increase self-confidence. Teens who lack self-confidence often hold back from using talents. Gaining self-assurance means embracing your best qualities and skills

Ease anxiety. Being creative is a risky enterprise. By creating a safe space within, meditation provides a platform from which to take risks.

Allow you to be yourself. Meditation puts you in touch with your true and authentic self, which is what makes each person unique. Knowing your true self makes it possible to express yourself in creative ways.

Make you less vulnerable. Teens often face criticism from peers. Because meditation puts you in touch with what matters to you as an individual, you can become less vulnerable to other people’s comments, whether positive or negative.

Foster kindness to yourself. Sometimes the creative juices flow and sometimes they don’t. Being hard on yourself makes it even harder to connect with your creativity. Meditation makes you kinder to yourself (and others).

Change brain activity. Studies show that meditation increases brain activity in the areas of the brain that are associated with creativity, and focus.

Keep the world at bay. By learning to focus on the present moment, meditation increases concentration and makes you less distracted.

Doron Libshtein is a wellness mentor and author who’s worked closely with the world’s top creative luminaries, including Deepak Chopra, spiritual mentor Byron Katie, and Marcia Weider, founder of Dream University. He believes that “everyone should meditate and, oftentimes, creative people are the best meditators. Meditation can help you get ‘the quiet’ you need to help reduce stress.”

Libshtein says the number one benefit of meditation is “a state of stillness and calm. When you alleviate stress through meditation, it makes space for creative thoughts and inspiration.” Libshtein explains that meditation greatly improves attention disorders, and provides clarity. When anxiety and lack of focus dissolve, there’s more room for inspiring ideas. “Creative ideas can come from meditation,” Libshtein says, “and connection to the source of your inner voice and thoughts.”

Good-bye, fear. Hello, focus.

Twenty-One Pilots’ song Stressed Out speaks to the teen reality. Meditation is a way to get calm, and focused. It trains your mind to relax, turning anxious energy into inspired thought.

…Read the rest of my story on Huffington Post here to learn how to meditate, and find out how meditation compares to using prescription antidepressants.

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Stepping into the spotlight – Interview with Victoria Theodore

I’m excited to announce that Mixtape Methodology published my interview with musician Victoria Theodore, featured in 20 Feet from Stardom. Here is an excerpt:

When Victoria Theodore began taking piano lessons just before her twelfth birthday, one of the first songs she learned was “Overjoyed,” the 1985 R&B single by Stevie Wonder. The song came naturally to her—as natural as the environmental percussion track in the hit’s background, layers of sound emanating from crickets and birds, ocean waves, and pebbles dropping into a pond. “I had just started studying piano,” Theodore recalls, “and since I’m a strong reader, I bought the sheet music and the album.”

They say those who wish to sing always find a song, but Theodore’s choice led the chanteuse to find her mentor. In 2007, Theodore joined Stevie Wonder’s world tour as keyboardist and background singer. She accompanied Wonder and other musical icons around the world, and performed for President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth.

“Whenever I perform ‘Overjoyed’ with Stevie, I experience pure euphoria and magic. I think to myself, ‘I’m playing one of the most beautiful songs ever, with the man who composed it. Pretty amazing.’” The song is her personal anthem—her inspiration for creating music, and helping others to find their voice. As Ella Fitzgerald said, “I sing like I feel.”

Theodore’s debut album of original music, Grateful, was released on…

Continue reading at Mixtape Methodology.

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