Unsolicited Advice

What I want my kids (and you) to know.

14 Lines I Recite Every Morning

Something I don’t really want you to know about me is that I read a lot of self-help and business books. I like how the authors are so positive and encouraging. I’m used to hanging out with artists and songwriters. We’re like what I imagine a teachers’ lounge full of tenured English teachers is like. A little jaded and smoky. We used to want to change the world, and I suppose we still do, it’s just a bit lower on the to-do list.

Why I Celebrate Pizza Friday (Every Week)

Whether you’re vegan or gluten free, or whether you have money for pizza or don’t, and even whether you hate pizza (who are you?) or love it and want to marry it—I would encourage you to celebrate Pizza Friday every single week. Does it have to be Friday? No. Does it have to be pizza? No.

Wait, what?

Let me explain.

Have you ever heard the expression “Nobody wants a quarter-inch drill bit; they want a quarter-inch hole”? It’s a way of saying people want an external thing for an internal reason. Because I don’t just want a hole either. I want a hole in the bathroom tile to hang a towel rack to make my wife happy. I want a good marriage. Drill bit (external). Good marriage (internal).

And that’s a little like Pizza Friday. Sure, I love seeing two boxes of pepperoni pizza from one of our favorite local joints Castrillo’s. I love cracking open a beer and holding that slice of pizza in my hand. The aroma of basil and rosemary. I like less what it does to my waistline, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that I haven’t stopped looking forward to Pizza Friday since we started. It’s the “hole” in the drill bit metaphor: something to look forward to. I’m wondering: Do you have that? Are you consistently looking forward to something?

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl kept hopeful in the Nazi concentration camps by thinking about meeting his wife again someday. He’d vividly imagine the two of them reuniting. And he’d also daydream about teaching students everything he was learning about hope in the midst of unimaginable suffering. Looking forward to something was essential to his survival. It kept him going.

I know comparing Pizza Friday with Viktor Frankl in any way borders on criminal, but I think he would agree with me here. He’d recommend Pizza Friday. Because whether it’s pizza or fish sticks, movie night or a walk in the park, you looking forward to something will help you through the struggle of now. I know it has helped me. It continues to help. And that’s why my family and I celebrate it every week.

So Happy Pizza Friday, wherever you are. And here’s to the next one.


P.S. Send me a pic of you celebrating. Or write me your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can reply directly to me here.

Lefse, Thermostats, and, well…Racism

Most of you (on my email list/blog readers) are a lot like me. Midwesterners of Scandinavian descent. Let me ask you something. Do you know what lefse is? If you answered no, this particular post is not directed to you so much as it is to my fellow potato-farming brethren.

We Midwest Scandinavians like a little discomfort. Physical discomfort, that is. To us, a little pain is like an old friend. It’s the reason we keep our thermostats set to 60 in the dead of winter. It’s the reason I haven’t seen a doctor for this ache in my knee. The reason my dad didn’t admit he was pretty much deaf until he was in his 60s. A little struggle feels good. Discomfort keeps us honest and humble…or something.

Emotional discomfort, though? That’s something entirely different.

We Scandinavians don’t like to talk about our feelings. It probably has something to do with our Viking ancestors. Maybe they threw kids overboard into the icy waters for admitting they felt a weird sensation in their chest after getting picked last in gym class.

While running away from our feelings was likely an important part of survival back then, I think it’s the opposite today. If we want to survive in today’s world we have to deal with our feelings. Life is too complex. The information we process and issues we face. Racism and discrimination, for example. And if just saying that made you squirm a little then that’s what I’m talking about.

It’s why I’ve begun to think about being uncomfortable internally in the same way I’m comfortable being uncomfortable externally (it makes sense, you just might have to read it twice). If I treat my emotional discomfort the same as this pain in my knee, or like keeping the thermostat set to 60 in January, it prevents me from running off into the woods and living alone as a hermit. Essentially, it helps me engage in conversations — mostly just listening — where I feel ignorant and am afraid of looking stupid or even worse, racist or un “woke” and all that stuff.

Why do this? Because it’s the first step for me to get to the next step. And that step might lead to another step, which leads to more steps. One step might be me posting on my blog about Scandinavians and racism (you think my Midwest self really wanted to do this?).

If you’re feeling like me, you might try thinking about that mess in your chest and brain a little differently. Here, practice by watching this short video. I love the title, because it tells you right out of the gate to expect to feel awkward inside. Let that be a sign you’re on the right track.

Watch the video here:
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man


How to Sing in Tune with Stage Fright

The audience is staring at you, waiting for your first note. You’ve got people to impress. A reputation to uphold. You’ve also got nerves so bad you wish you’d borrowed one of Grandpa’s diapers. 

I thought after years of singing in front of people I wouldn’t get nervous anymore. Unfortunately, that never happened. But I learned a big difference between a pro and an amateur is that a pro knows how to control their nerves. And sometimes controlling your nerves is simpler than you might think. 

Here’s a trick I use all the time, especially on the first song. The first song is the hardest to perform. So much adrenaline. If you’re like me, you wish the audience was waiting for you to lift a car over your head rather than sing them a song. And sometimes you only get one song. You’re the soloist in church or you’re singing the national anthem. 

So try this. 

Change the key a half-step higher. If you’re a terribly nervous type, go a whole step. Why? Most people sing sharp because they’re excited. All that blood pumping causes them to overshoot the notes, especially the higher melody notes.

Here’s a video of me doing this very trick on the Current radio station in St. Paul, Minnesota. The song I’m playing, “Making All Things New,” is in the key of C, but I’m performing it in C# (capo on the first fret). 

Honestly, if you compare any live recording of me with the studio version, you’ll find the key fluctuates. I’m not that great of a singer. I’m not trying to sound modest. It’s a fact. Yes, I can sing and I know I have a “sound.” But that’s different than being technically good. I know my limits. So I adjust the key for however I’m feeling. If I’ve got a cold, I’ll lower the key. If I’m overly excited, I’ll raise the key.

Beyond embarrassing myself, I adjust the key so people hear the song. I hope you’ll remember that for when you sing your song. You’re inviting people into a moment. Cut anything within your control that could potentially take them out of that moment. Fight for the song and the moment. Don’t make it about you wanting people to think you’re a good singer. Trust me, if you do what I’m telling you, they’ll think you’re a good singer anyway. 


P.S. A word of warning. If you do decide to adjust the key, you’ll still need to keep the song within your vocal range. Having adrenaline doesn’t mean you’ll be able to sing higher notes than you normally can. I like to give myself a note or two of wiggle room on the top and bottom ends of my vocal range. 

Stage Fright at the Kittson County Fair

I was 16 when Adam Grafstrom asked me to join his band. He and Tony Erickson, the drummer, needed a bass player for their classic rock cover band. I was terrified. Real bands stood directly in front of people. I was used to church bands. We sat off to the side, like an orchestra pit. The audience wasn’t really an audience. It was people reading lyrics off a Powerpoint presentation. People not looking at me. People not looking at me is my favorite kind. …

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