Uta Hagen--

"We must overcome the notion that we must be regular...it robs you of the chance to be extraordinary and leads you to the mediocre."

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

[Insert Stereotypical New Year's Post Here]

I know that I don't often use this blog anymore, but some things just don't fit on my new blog and this is definitely one of those things. 

It’s that time of year again: a time full of reflection on the past year and promises and resolutions for the next.  Looking back on this year at first glance, I didn’t see a whole lot of life-altering events for me and my family, which surprised me.  And then I thought, Hanna you kind of moved two hours away from home into an apartment.  And then I realized 2014 has actually been a pretty big year for my family and me.  I guess throughout my 18 years, I have come to associate life-altering events with death.  I hate that it is possible to be so young and feel so old.  Not in a self-pitying way, but in a “what happened to being a kid?” kind of way. 

This year has been a year of firsts, in a lot of ways.  We marked our first new year
without my dad, the first Valentine’s Day (would have been Dad and Lisa’s 10th anniversary) without him, the first spring break without him, the first memorial day without him (and every other summer holiday he loved), my brother and my first birthday without him, Sophie’s first birthday without him, our first summer vacation without him, our first family trip without him, Dad’s first birthday in heaven, our first back-to-school without him, and the one year mark.  Looking at that list and knowing that it’s not all-inclusive is painful.  There are so many little moments in the course of the last year that weren’t spent with him that I can’t even begin to write about.

But despite all of that, this year has been mixed with a lot of good things, too.  My brother and I graduated high school.  We started college.  I got a tattoo.  My brother got a girlfriend.  Sophie started 2nd grade and took some horseback riding lessons.  Mom has become a person she didn’t know she could be.  We all have.

Yes, we’ve cried this year.  Yes, we’ve hurt this year.  Yes, we’ve seen heartache and tragedy this year.  But we’ve also laughed this year.  We’ve loved this year.  We’ve survived this year. 

I know that 2014 has been an awful year for some of my friends.  I know that each of us have our own mountains to climb and that some of us are continuously knocked back down to the base by avalanche after avalanche.  And maybe that summit is an unobtainable goal, ever extending higher and higher.  But where we are on our mountain doesn’t matter.  Where we’re going doesn’t matter.  What matters is that, no matter what, we keep climbing. 


At the dawning of 2014, I posted a picture that I’d found on Pinterest that read “May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness.  I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can.  And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.” – Neil Gaiman.

I still think that this is one of the most perfect things to share with people at the beginning of the new year.  It’s not about making promises to yourself that you may or may not keep, it’s about reevaluating who you are and realizing your worth.  A new year is about setting yourself free from the bondage of the previous year, about carrying the good things over and leaving behind the bad.

My 2014 was filled with magic – I felt it in the music I listened to, in the friends I’ve watched play said music, in a simple, sincere hug, in the eyes of my baby cousins, and in the cool autumn air.  I’ve felt magic in very big moments and some of the smallest moments. 

My 2014 was filled with dreams and good madness – I went to Chicago with friends, I graduated high school, I got a tattoo, and I started college (and got through the first semester with a 4.0!). *notice the picture of my dad around my neck and the stars & stripes Converse on my feet :D*

In 2014, I did read some fine books (not as many as I’d have liked) and I didn’t exactly kiss someone who thought I was wonderful, but if family and cheeks count, I guess I can cross that off the list, too. ;)

In 2014, I didn’t forget to make art.  I wrote – as much as I could, anyway.  I created a blog (shameless plug here http://heledford.wix.com/hannaledford ) in order to share what I wrote.

And in 2014, I surprised myself.  This one could be a bit personal, but did I mention I got a tattoo? ;) All kidding aside, I surprised myself in a lot of ways.  I’ve learned that I’m a clean freak, that I can cook more than I thought I could, and that I know who I am and what I want – for the most part.  Not every way in which I surprised myself was a good thing, but it’s still a part of me.

I guess I will leave you with this:  It’s okay to hurt.  That’s something that a very good friend of mine has to keep reminding me.  It’s okay to hurt and it’s okay to fall apart sometimes.  But what is not okay is to let the things that have hurt you and that have made you feel like your world is falling to pieces consume you, destroy you, and swallow your happiness.  There is good all around you, even in this twisted and often dark world we live in.  There is greatness, there is beauty, and there is love.  You just have to choose to see it.

Happy New Year, friends and family.  I hope that 2015 brings you every dream come true.  If 2014 was the worst year of your life, know that 2015 has to be better.  Also know that you are loved by so many, most likely including me.  If 2014 was a great year for you, make 2015 even greater. 

Do something for others this year, my friends.  Do something to make this world a better place.  Spread light and love instead of darkness and hate.  Shine on. 
Hi, if you're still reading this!  The last little bit of this post was inspired by a song by a good friend of mine.  I know that if you're friends with me on any form of social media or if you just by chance habit this blog, you've heard of him.  And I know that it might get annoying and/or old hearing/reading about him and his music, but if on the off chance you'd like to hear the beautiful song that inspired the whole "spread light and love" and "shine on" part of this post and the mantra that I somewhat live by now, I would be glad to share it with you.  :)  Here's the music video for the song which you can purchase and download here

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ryan Simpson ~ Closing Doors

So in just shy of a year, I have made two blog posts.  Both have referenced Ryan Simpson, one of them being a review of his album, Free of Shackles.  And, at the risk of acquiring a restraining order, this is another album review for the lovely Ryan Simpson's new album Closing Doors.  I will first start out by saying that I have waited (very impatiently) for this album since Ryan started recording in October 2013.  I have begged and pleaded for its release and any spoilers I could get my grubby little hands on.  And, because he's my friend or because he's afraid of me (I still haven't decided which), he graciously kept me semi-satisfied until he released it May 16th. 

Since I purchased my copy of the album, I have listened to nothing else (which is a small lie now as Ryan kind of took forever to put the digital version online).  Any spare moment I've had, his music has been playing.  It is playing as I type this.  He has "sung me to sleep" every night since I downloaded it onto my iPod and has woken me up every morning while I'm getting ready.  Which sounds a lot creepier than it is.  My point is that I am completely and utterly obsessed and in love with this album (this, however, is still fact).  I have been bursting at the seams to share my thoughts and adoration for this album, but I wanted to wait until he had the digital version up for download so that I could link to it. SO CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD CLOSING DOORS!!  (p.s. the digital version is only $5!!) 

Ryan Simpson's potential could be clearly seen in his first album, Free of Shackles.  I loved it and was very proud of him for it, but to see how much he has grown as an artist and a musician in such a short time has completely amazed me.  If I loved FoS, I am in awe of Closing Doors.  (He has also cut back on the profanity so I can now play it more freely and share it with more people without having to check if small children are around. ;) ) I am so incredibly proud of Ryan and I promise you that this review is not me trying to kiss his butt or boost his ego.  He's already my friend so I have no reason to do that.  The opinions expressed here are my true and honest opinions.  

Overall Impression:
Having been going crazy with anticipation practically since I "met" him (the album has been in the works since before then, but he started recording in October), I was a little worried that I was too excited and would be let down.  But the other, rational, parts of me remembered that I'd heard "Lullaby Rain" when he put it on Sound Cloud in January and was amazed, and that I knew Ryan and he wasn't the kind of person to do anything half-way.  It was surreal finally getting to listen, I remember I was too excited to press play.  But I quickly got over that and listened to the album in its entirety in one sitting late that night.  Overall, I was impressed.  He has grown so much in such a short amount of time and I am truly proud of him.  From an outside perspective, I would say that his songs are chilling, passionate, and heartbreaking, if a little dark.  I would urge you to purchase this album.  I said that Free of Shackles was the best $10 I'd ever spent, but I think I may stand corrected now. (I paid $10 because I got a hard copy.  Both Free of Shackles and Closing Doors are only $5 for the digital versions now!!) 
**Oh, and by the way, this album, again, is all Ryan.  He wrote, composed, and recorded everything on this CD himself (with the exception of "Rotten;" see below).  Just gonna leave that there.**

*Again, as always, these opinions are my own.  If you don't want "spoilers," do not continue to read.*

"Gaze Into the Lens"
"Have you read the news today? Far and wide the voices cry through the camera lens, we roam and run, but cannot hide."
This song took me awhile to fully grasp.  Ryan had specifically built up a lot of anticipation about this song.  It gives me chills to know how true this song is.  It's a song about government surveillance, a subject that far too many of us are willing and content to overlook.  I chose the lyrics above to highlight the song because it absolutely freaked me out.  In my English class this year we did a unit on government surveillance in relation to Hamlet and that was what I kept thinking about with this song.  I know I keep saying that this song gave me chills, but I don't know how else to describe this song.  It's scary to me how much we, as a society, have become content to let slide.  But that is neither here nor now. 

"Lullaby Rain"
"My heart is racing as I struggle to stay sane and I pretend I'll be okay and I listen to the lullaby rain as it dances on the rooftop I hear it sing your name."
Where do I begin with this song?  I feel like I have neglected it since I got the album because I listened to it so many times when he released it back in January.  I love this song.  As you listen, it's like you can feel the rain and the storm brewing. It's absolutely fantastically heartbreaking.  The lyrics paint a vivid picture, something I've always admired Ryan Simpson for is his ability to use words effectively.  I love the way this song progresses, as if the persona is getting stronger and, perhaps, even moving on from this heartbreak.  Oh, and there's thunder in this song.  Can we just take a moment to appreciate this?  

"A Company of Isolation"
"I stand before the mirror resigned to my fate that one day I'm gonna pack it in, but, for now, I'm gonna keep on living."
This song is my life.  I want to just quote all of it, but it's far better heard than read.  I had a hard time choosing my favorite lines to put here, but I chose the ones above because they empower me each time I hear Ryan belt them out.  This song is the first song of Ryan's that has ever made me cry the first time I heard it.  Some of his songs from FoS now have that affect on me, but because they have come to mean certain things to me.  But this song gives me hope.  Some nights you don't see the point of going forward, some nights you feel like you have nothing and no one left.  But you have to keep rowing (Yeah, I just connected this song to "Viet Song."  I'm sorry, it's my favorite.).  Ryan's vocals in this song also truly impressed me.  The lyrics that I have quoted above are belted out in such an empowering and passionate way that it makes me believe the words.  I also was blessed to hear Ryan play this song live and acoustic and he truly impressed me with it.

"Punish Me"
"Wipe that smile off your face, it's too late to change what you've become. The song is sung, I'm over this charade, you've punished me enough for today."
I. Love. This. Song.  Okay, so I love most of them.  But this one is fantastic and so totally perfect. It so perfectly describes that relationship (in whatever capacity) that we've all had where the other person changes so much that you can hardly see in them the person you grew to care for.  It hurts you and it (pardon my French) pisses you off because you know they're too far gone to ever come back to you.  Life changes people - other things change people - and it's not always for the better.  "Punish Me" is about that.  And it's just perfect.  

"Just breathe my baby, come to my arms, don't speak, let me hold you, I will never let you leave."
By far the creepiest thing Ryan Simpson has ever done.  He knows this, I'm not being a jerk.  This song is just dark and disturbing.  It's still beautiful, but wowza.  The song is rather long and a good portion of it is instrumental, which usually isn't my favorite thing in the world, but it works with this song.  The song continues to progress and the music tells a story of its own - there are also sound effects in there that are hauntingly amazing.  It works, really well.  This is the type of love story you want to avoid, just in case you were wondering.  In the case of this song, the girl won't let go of the guy and because of that he cannot continue to live - whether that's physically or figuratively is up to you. 

"No Clear Divide"
"There's no clear divide between us after all, nothing left to hide it's written on the wall. You can't reach the highest peak without a fall. There's no clear divide between us after all."
If I had to pick a favorite song on this album, this one would probably be tied very closely with "A Company of Isolation."  If Ryan were to release a single from the album, this would probably be my pick.  It sounds like something you would hear on the radio (and Ryan, that's not meant as an insult :P ).  It is very professionally done and is just an overall great song.  To me, this song can be about an personal relationship or humanity as a whole, which I like.  I like songs that are versatile and can be applied to many aspects of my life.  It is also about feeling the weight of broken promises and hopes that did not come to fruition.  Memories, feelings, and words haunt you and it breaks your heart.  This song is just so beautiful and so well done.  This song made me really, really proud.  

Dan Connaughton
This beauty is an instrumental jam that Ryan composed with the ever amazing bass player, Dan Connaughton (rhymes with "rotten").  Ryan and Dan played together during Ryan's tenure with the Scotty Bratcher Band and, since his departure, I have missed seeing them play together, so this is a nice thing to have.  This song is such an awesome mix of styles and feelings and it's just beautiful and filled to brimming with awesome.  I have a really hard time talking about an instrumental song, so you should just go listen to it for yourself.  

"Sifting Through the Remains"
"And all this time, through all this pain, I just wanted to fix things.  But things just are the way they are, the way they'll always be, and though I see you've found someone new, I don't blame you."
Before I talk about this song, I want to talk about how Ryan Simpson delivers this song.  I have never, ever heard such conviction in an artist's voice as in this song.  It is heartbreaking and truly brought tears to my eyes.  Moving on, "Sifting Through the Remains" is about that place we've all been - the end of relationship you so desperately wanted to work out, but it just can't.  And no matter how much you wanted it to and no matter how much you realize that it won't, you're still left wondering what to do now.  You truly are sifting through the remains of your life and trying to put pieces back together.  And it sucks and it hurts and it breaks you, but it is what it is and there's not much you can do to change it except accept it, pick yourself up, and keep moving forward.  *I apologize for the brief deep-ish rant there.  This song got to me, too.*

"Stop. Rewind. Press Record"
"True salvation is just learning to cope with this uncertainty."
For some reason, I have struggled to think of what to write for this song.  I have literally been putting it off for days and have justified it because Ryan has yet to upload the digital version of his album.  I don't know why this song has given me so much trouble, I really like this song.  I guess it's because it's not about just one thing to me.  It depends on what you're looking for as to how you take it.  It's about conforming to a set of ideas or beliefs without necessarily wanting to or believing them for yourself.  It's about wanting to preserve who you are - or preserve those you care about - and keep from taking on ideas and opinions as your own without making your mind up for yourself.  This could be religion, but it could also be many other things.  Though the "baptize me in the river" line points mainly at religion, there are many types of baptisms (I would go on because, you know, the future English teacher in me wants to explain how baptism doesn't always mean baptism and it's not always a religious thing, but I'll spare you because this is about Ryan's song).  It's also a song about empty promises or hopes that fall short.  It's about how absolutely nothing in this life is certain but uncertainty and that could be the most important thing to understand.  Nothing we know or believe is completely set in stone.  I mean, the world was once believed to be flat, after all.  
Side note: I love this song more than I thought I did. Good job, Ryan.
Oh, also, at the end of this song there are angels singing.  Ryan corrected me when I called them angels and told me they're really the voices of a choir from another country (I can't remember which?), but I'm calling them angels.  And then for about 4 minutes, there's the sound effect of a tape rewinding.  I don't listen to it every time, but when I do it's pretty cool.  It intensifies and it's just really neat.  Give this song a listen.  

Please consider purchasing Ryan's music online at RyanSimpson.bandcamp.com.  If you would prefer hard copies of the CD's, I have provided links to various pages from which you can contact Ryan Simpson and arrange something.  Hard copies are $10. 

He thinks he's funny.
I feel like this review was a little (read: much) more biased than that of Free of Shackles.  But, you guys, I just think Ryan Simpson is an amazing musician.  If you've seen him drum, you know that his talents are immeasurable, but when you hear his solo music you can see that his talents are also innumerable.  I truly believe that he is capable of so many great things, he just needs the small push (read: swift kick in the pants) to put himself out there.  Please aid me in this endeavor by supporting him and his music.  I am so excited to see what the future holds for Ryan Simpson.

You can find him online at:

  • http://www.ryansimpson.bandcamp.com
  • http://www.reverbnation.com/ryansimpson 
  • http://www.soundcloud.com/ryan-simpson
  • http://www.facebook.com/ryan.simpson.5201  (personal Facebook page)
  • http://www.facebook.com/officialryansimpsonmusic (artist Facebook page)

Fantastic job, Ryan.  I am so incredibly proud of you, my friend. 

P.S. I don't know if I mentioned it or not, but you can listen to and buy both of his albums HERE

Friday, January 31, 2014

Just Listen

I realize how long it's been since I last posted anything here; my last blog post seems like it was a lifetime ago - but yet seems like yesterday.  So much as changed since that last post about the ever lovely Ryan Simpson and his amazing album.  As much as I'd like to go on and on about how much I adore Ryan's music and update you all on his upcoming album (wink, wink), I actually have a point to my post today.  Well, maybe it's not a point.  It's more like a musing, I guess. 

Over the last few months, I have learned that you can never take a person at face value.  How they look, what they say, and how they seem is rarely the true story.  I'm guilty of this.  I put up a wall and rarely let people see behind it.  I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, necessarily, but it is, well, a thing.  People do it.  

But what's sad is that most of us (including myself) are so caught up in our own lives that we don't stop to really look at a person; to really listen to a person.  There's always a hidden message, something that they don't want to admit but that they need to admit.  There are a thousand explanations behind an "I didn't get much sleep last night," or an "I'm sorry we haven't talked, I've just been busy."  But we're too rushed, too overwhelmed to ask anything further.  We don't stop for a second to ask a person about their life - in any amount of detail, anyway - we just move on and keep going through life only knowing the face value of a person.  

And the fact of the matter is, at that point, we don't know that person at all.  There are stories that that person hasn't told you: regrets and fears and joys and heartbreaks and passions that you have no idea exist.  

We don't just do this to people, we do this to everything in this world.  We are content to overlook the everyday wonders that we have before us.  We don't stop to think about how amazing it is that I can sit in my bedroom in Small-town, Ohio and type a message on my phone or computer that can reach my cousin half a world away in Germany.  A message that not that long ago, in the grand scheme of things, would have taken weeks or months to make that trip now only takes seconds.  Or how about the fact that I can go outside, get in my car, and be at a grocery store in five minutes and get anything I need.  And if the grocery store doesn't have it, I can take my pick of any of the near-by stores to find it.  That doesn't exist everywhere in the world - and it hasn't always existed.  We take it on faith every day that when we go to brush our teeth in the morning, the water coming through our facet is going to be clean and sanitary.  If you think about it, that's kind of amazing.   But you know what I think is really amazing?  That I woke up this morning.  That I'm alive.  Maybe there's a reason, and maybe there's not - who am I to say one way or the other?  But I know that not everyone woke up this morning.  And not everyone will go to bed tonight.  I might be getting older every second of every day and eventually that's going to suck, but that's a privilege that is denied to far too many people.

We are so fortunate to be given the gift of another day.  Some days it doesn't feel like a gift so much as a punishment, but we have been given the opportunity to live.  But many of us are not living; many of us are just going through the motions to make it through the day.  We're only living life on the very surface of it, but there are so many things we're missing out on because they lie deeper.  Deeper often means outside of our comfort zone.  

Sometimes, though, you need to take a step back and look at your own life.  Seriously, look at it.  Look at the people you have, the things you have, the love you have.  If you don't like something?  Change it.  If you won't change it, stop complaining about it.  On any given day, I can read through my Facebook stream and see nothing but negativity.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we all have it a lot better than our Facebook posts suggest.  We make small things into big things to the point where when a big thing truly happens, we can't appreciate it.  We can't cope with the bad "big things," and we can't truly celebrate the good "big things."  We are conditioned to overlook and neglect the beauty in life - and in everything in our lives.  And life, although sometimes twisted and heartbreaking, is beautiful. Because life is music.

Sure the songs are usually more of a "Bohemian Rhapsody" than a "Her Majesty," but not always.  More often, life is compared to a book - unwritten chapters, unknown endings, and plot twists that will make you dizzy.  But life, to me, is music.  There are crescendos and decrescendos; there are a mix of extremely fast and slow tempos; there are high notes and low notes; there are times of lyrics and sometimes our lives are purely instrumental.  I mean, how many of us have "soundtracks" for our lives?  All of us.  Don't try to deny it. 

When is the last time you put on your headphones, turned the volume up, laid back, closed your eyes, and just listened to the music?  There is something so powerful about doing that; it's like you feel the music inside of you.  It's one of the most amazing things to me, that humans - ordinary humans - can create such amazing magic with words and an instrument.  It's one person's feelings leaving their body and finding their way to your heart, to your soul.  And sometimes, they mirror your own. 

Too often, though, we are content to not listen to our own music.  We get stuck in a daze-like state where our ears just skim over the lyrics and music and we only get the face value of it.  We don't try to break the surface and dive deeper.

When you read a poem, you don't just read it once and move on knowing what it means.  You re-read it and re-read it and analyze it and dissect it.  You dive in in order to understand it, to appreciate the beauty of it. 

With music, you don't always have this option.  With the lyrics, maybe, but lyrics can only convey so much.  With music, you must stop and listen - really listen - to the notes, to the melodies, to the emotion in the artist's voice.  Every note tells a story; a melody holds a thousand unspoken messages.  From this, you'll see so much more than you did when you only cared about the surface.  But you can't do this if you're talking over the music. 

The people you should surround yourself with are the people who see the beauty in the ugliest things.  These will be the people who see past the walls you're putting up; they'll hear the truth behind your vague statements.  These will be the people who know which songs to not talk over.  These will be the people who are perfectly content to sit beside you in silence and just listen to the music.  I've had a few of these people throughout my life, and you truly do not realize what they are to you until you no longer have them.

There is beauty in even the wickedest of storms, you just have to look for it.  Not to be cliche or anything, but the simplest things truly are the most important.  Sometimes we just need to take a step back, put on a pot of coffee, change out of our high-heels and put on our "comfort clothes," kick our feet up, and just be still.  Read, write, create, think, reflect, listen to music, something. 

What good will it do us to go through this life and never question things, to never look deeper into things, to never take a chance?  You only get to ride this ride once, so I suggest you enjoy it.  There is no "replay" or "previous" or "next" button on this playlist - you have to take the music that comes.  Let go, have fun, take chances, be apprehensive of the future - but don't fear it. 

There will always be people who talk over the music.  But sometimes you just need to be with the people who will shut up, close their eyes, and listen.  Just listen.