Music City Dreams

As I was watching The Head & The Heart be amazing at Ryman Auditorium a few nights ago, I realized why I’m deeply in love with Nashville, TN.

Middle school was an interesting time for me, in many ways, including when it came to my taste in music and how that intersected with my racial identity. I’d been introduced to country music during summer camp and around that same time my mom invested in cable television which meant my brother and I had full access to MTV, CMT, and VH1. Not to mention all of the shows about music including those that aired on FX when it was a cool and new network. I can thank FX for introducing me to Sheryl Crow. I remember the moment when “All I Wanna Do” lit up my TV screen. I was a goner. However, where I’m from, country music and Sheryl Crow were not on regular rotation in the African American community.

Up until then I’d only really been exposed to R&B, Hip Hop, and Gospel music. We shopped for our music at DJ’s Records and Tapes for years until my exploration led us to the mall or Wal-Mart for those things that weren’t really ever going to grace the shelves of an urban music store. There was no way that Faith Hill was going to be on those often browsed shelves and I was sure to get a look of shock and perhaps horror if I requested sweet Faith from one of the store clerks.

Country music was changing and women like Shania, Faith, Jessica, and Leann were running the show. I was obsessed with SheDaisy, Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride, Deanna Carter, Chely Wright, The Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, and Gary Allan, etc. I could watch CMT ALL DAY LONG! When Faith Hill told her story about being discovered at the Bluebird Cafe (a place I thought I’d never see) and that she was adopted from MS who grew up wishing that she was black, you could have literally poked me with a hot fork and I wouldn’t have moved.

On top of that, MTV had No Doubt, Alanis Morrissette, Tracey Bonham, Bush, Lit, The Cranberrries, Smashing Pumpkins, The Goo Goo Dolls, Barenaked Ladies, Smashmouth, Sublime, 311, Jason Mraz, and all of these other artists that were completely new to me. Gosh, Aerosmith had this resurgence with Alicia Silverstone as their mascot, and Nirvana confirmed the inner turmoil that I never shared with a soul.

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I consumed music and tried to balance all of my tastes and make sure that I knew what was important for me to know as a teenage African American and still cling to loving all of the other ear candy that was pouring out of my TV. I remember the nervousness I had when I asked my mom if I could buy the new Fiona Apple CD. When we had to go to a mall 2 cities over to get the one copy of Nikka Costa they had on the shelf and the appreciation on the clerk’s face when I walked in the store after only speaking to him on the phone to request he hold it for me. I had to be careful about how into a song I appeared to be if it wasn’t deemed “black enough” by my friends. However, Britney, NSYNC, BSB, Jessica Simpson, 98 Degrees, BBMak, SClub7, and the Spice Girls were the friends I actually wanted.

Most of my friends didn’t like what I liked and they didn’t care to try. I bopped about in my room and felt all the feels while collecting a CD collection that was eventually stolen in college. I learned what the word eclectic meant and I was thrilled to understand my newfound condition. I just wanted to hear things that sounded good and I wanted to care about the lyrics more than ever before. Music finally connected with my feelings and I needed a steady stream of it to get me through the day.

While all of this exploration was going on, I still loved my roots and when my family wanted to reward us by taking us to a concert, it was always of the R&B and Hip Hop variety. I’ve seen every iteration of Destiny’s Child, Boyz II Men, New Edition, Bell Biv Devoe, Janet Jackson, Blackstreet, M.C. Hammer, and probably lots of folks that I’ve forgotten BUT I always knew that no one was ever going to take me to Trisha Yearwood, K’s Choice, Green Day, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Matchbox Twenty, or Natalie Imbruglia. I accepted that and created my own little music world that I’d escape to as often as possible.

But now, at 31, I can be one of those people that “goes to shows” and I can see any band I want when they come to town. I can be 1 of maybe 5 black people in Ryman Auditorium for The Head & The Heart, Mumford & Sons, and The Civil Wars. I can buy spur of the moment tickets to The Black Keys, I can finally see Fiona Apple in concert, and I can go to a 90’s cover band concert and sing all of my faves at the top of my lungs. I can buy tickets to CMAFEST and cover myself in four nights of country music.  I can finally live my music life out loud.

I’m no longer worried about my race and risking ostracism if my peers think that I’m “acting white” because of what’s I have on my Spotify. Who gives a poop? I can freely say that 99% of rap music is crap. I ACTUALLY met Martina McBride! Nashville has allowed me to engage with music in ways I never thought I’d be able to during my life. Bonnaroo is 1.5 hours away from the city. There is music literally coming out of the streets and I could go to a concert every night if my bank account allowed me to.

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Nothing makes my heart beat like good music. My overall sense of wellness and productivity rides on what’s floating out of my car and computer. I’m fulfilling all of  my 13 year old musical dreams by residing in this city and the feeling of my dreams coming true has bound me to this place in a way that I’ll never forget and probably will never be able to replicate.

Music City fulfilled its moniker in my life. It released me in a way that I still didn’t even know I was holding on to. I guess there are many ways, including musically, to grow comfortable in your skin. I salute you Nashville.

Now, back to the Punch Brothers.

Thanks for reading, y’all.

Summer Snaps

Happy Monday!

Steeplechase to Bonnaroo to Alpha Xi Delta’s Founders’ Academy to Katy Perry to Beyonce to the DCC Locker Room to University of Tampa, to Delta Delta Delta Executive Office, and an incredible amount of  additional adventures –all big–because adventure is always and should always be BIG. Take no adventure for granted. 

Summer 2014 was real good. I spent a nice amount of time outside of Nashville and it was needed. Above are just a few highlights.  One of my family members believes that no matter where I go, I have a good time. He’s 98% accurate. I have the gift of finding giggles in the mundane and belly laughs in the extraordinary. I’ve become a calmer traveler and a more go with the flow guest. There’s something about taking a minute, closing your eyes, and breathing in new air. Taking in the blessing that has allowed me to get away from it all. Getting there is more than a feat of transportation. When I travel, I’m all there and nothing about Nashville weighs down my heart or mind.

My mom doesn’t fly and we only traveled by car when I was little. I didn’t fly until I was 18 and my brother never flew until he joined the Air Force. My mom marvels at my ability to navigate the air and I know that she exhales the biggest breath in Virginia when I alert her that “I’ve arrived.” I think I go on my adventures for her just as much as  I do for me.

Our students are officially back on campus and today marks the end of quiet and all that planning for the fall. Fall is here and ’tis time to put in the best work we got.

Looking forward to making Fall 2014 just as fun.  Next stop: Seattle, WA for exploring and a BFF wedding. Follow me on Instagram to keep up @clarkkn.

Lata Y’all.

College Ready or Not?: Come Back to Calm.

How do you rid your life of stress?

I don’t think I really thought about this until I was in college.  However, I was handed stress on a shiny antique silver platter quite swiftly as a first-year student.

To cope, I took “field trips” to Colonial Williamsburg to get away from all the noise. I found that running DOG Street brought me needed happiness and spending time on the elliptical machine and lifting weights made life a bit sweeter.

I can’t neglect sharing that when I was younger,I made my life “calm” by drinking alcohol. Going out and getting beyond the capacity for clear memories seemed to be the easiest way to release it all and to just forget all of my, in hindsight, first-world problems.

No judgment, if that’s where you find yourself at some point this year, but please know that your calm is not at the bottom of a bottle. If you’re going to drink, do it responsibly. Surround yourself with people that care about you. Don’t drive.  Recognize your limits. Work hard to ensure that alcohol does not become your only means of stress relief.

College brings a continuum of angst composed of grades, relationships, rejection, unmet expectations, homesickness, the realization that your professional aspirations ain’t always what they seem, speedy change, roommate woes, time management, financial crises, and peer pressure, etc. I’m not trying to frighten you at all. This is a moment of real talk. Like most things in life, college ain’t all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.

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I strongly encourage you as you venture into your first-year of college to begin figuring out those activities/items/people that bring you back to calm and  work to keep those things a part of your burgeoning college schedule.

– If you enjoy the gym, look up the facility hours and block off  time to workout. If you’re a runner, inquire about the best routes on campus or the neighborhood in which your school is located. If you want to run in a group, inquire at the rec center about groups already in existence or chat with your hall mates about starting a group.

– Perhaps you played a sport in high school but aren’t able to or decided not to be a collegiate athlete. Check out intramurals or club sports. This is a great way to keep playing a sport you love but it’ll often be less of a commitment.

– If shopping is your outlet, then please be responsible about it.  I’d advise you to look for things that calm you that are also inexpensive and even better if it’s FREE. You don’t want to replace one stressor with another like money woes. It’s totally not worth it.

– Maybe you’re into “field trips” like me. What are places on/off campus that you can escape? Perhaps there’s an independent movie theatre nearby where you can engage in “escape by cinema”? A local park? A cool coffee shop? A place where you can let your guard down and just enjoy the space. Get off campus. Breathe new oxygen. See what’s popping outside the bubble. 

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– Sitting in front of the TV or computer can certainly bring you calm. Stop forcing social. Put on your favorite loungewear, grab some snacks, and chill out with familiar characters.

– Read your favorite book. I know, I know. No one has time to read for pleasure in college BUT when life gets hectic, make the time. Get back to words that make you feel whole.

– Hang with your besties. Be with those that remind you that there’s a bigger story in this world in which you play a critical role.  Having a strong support system can be key to relieving stress.

– Perhaps you’re into playing and/or listening to music. Check out your school’s music department for possible practice spaces. I’ve never been on a college campus that doesn’t have at least 2 public pianos for students to play at their leisure.

– I now know that writing is a great way for me to come back to center. This space helps me release a ton of stuff. Start a blog, public or private, and get yourself a great notebook to journal your thoughts.

– Engage in a life audit. Why are you doing everything that you’re doing? Is it valuable? Do you actually enjoy it? Has it become a burden? Do you really want to spend time in college with this particular group of people? Is this experience adding energy or depleting energy from your life? Sometimes, we just need to get back to the essentials and say a strong “No” to many of the items we have on our to-do list. Remember, the word “no” is a complete sentence. People would rather you give a strong no than a weak yes.

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– Go to those that know you best. For me, that’s God and then my family. Speak to Him, read His word, spend time in His house.  Call your family and laugh at all that they are and absorb their love through the phone.

So, how do you come back to calm?  What are those things that give you your wings?

A wonderful part of my job is that I think for some of my students, I’ve become a person that helps them find their calm. We engage in some ultra real talk–like some, get clear, get rid of all that unnecessary crazy talk— and lots of snort filled laughter.  Look for staff members on campus who want to help. Talk to your RA and/or Orientation Leader, student organization advisor, or a faculty member with whom you’ve made a good connection.

Sometimes your stress can become bigger  than a trip to the gym or the local movie theatre can cure. I strongly encourage to seek out your college Counseling Center should you feel that your normal tactics aren’t doing the trick. Never feel alone. If you’re nervous about making an appointment or walking over to the Counseling Center ask a staff member to help you and most of the time they will make a referral and even walk you to the building. I pinkie promise you that students use the Counseling Center on  your college campus. Never feel ashamed. You’re taking care of yourself and that is to be applauded and not maligned. Make yourself a priority. 

Regardless of how you choose to obtain calm, don’t hold stress in and don’t act like it doesn’t exist. You’re human and you get stressed out. It doesn’t make you weak; it makes you real.

Lata Y’all! Enjoy the season my first-year friends.

Cross The Street

Sometimes, a girl forgets to look both ways…

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I love country music. I mean, I sit and sink myself into it like a warm bath after a hard day. I’ve loved it since right before middle school. I went to summer day camp and each week we’d head to the bowling alley on the military base. The following people attended the bowling alley: soldiers, government workers, families of the two, and us–a bunch of kids who ate all the french fries and were awful bowlers. I mean, we still used bumpers and would become quite disinterested after 2 games. As is true now, military folks love them some country music and that’s what was playing every time we went to bowl. After a couple of times, I figured out that I no longer wanted to make fun of this music. I wanted to own this music.

Names like Shania, Faith, Tim, Garth, Trisha, Martina, Leanne, Travis, Allen, Gary, Brooks & Dunn, Rascal Flatts, SheDaisy, Sara, Deanna, and Teri, etc. entered my life and haven’t left. Fast forward 20 years and I live in Nashville. Foreshadowing is something special, ain’t it?

They lyric above is from a song I heard at the Listening Room Café on Friday. Singer: Marion Grace–she’s got chops. She gives me Faith Hill in her heyday and Lord, do I love me some Faith Hill. The words caught me off guard.

Sometimes, a girl forgets to look both ways… How many times have you forgotten to look both ways? Remember those times you just walked directly into “traffic” with no care for what was coming for you? Maybe you even closed your eyes and just stepped right in?

Now, don’t get me wrong because this isn’t always disastrous. You could cross the street at the perfect time–that peaceful pause when the stoplights decide to slow the world down and there is no chaos for you on your journey to the other side.

The song was sad. The context of a relationship that you ran into heart first without any care as to what might happen, what could happen, and the abrupt pain when it in fact did happen. You heard the impending sirens but you marched onward with more hope than can float. Uh, I mean, no one’s ever done that, right?!

Who would we be if we always looked both ways? If we were always cautious and rule followers, where would we actually end up? Often the moments when you learn the most are those traffic jams, when the brakes screech to a halt and you know that you have no choice but to get out of the way. The aftermath, the clean-up, the apologies, the way your heart beats from fear, confusion, and being more alive than you’ve ever been. Deep down you’re proud of who you are and what you’ve become when you leave the scene in one piece–a bit battered and bruised but ALIVE.

We think to the point of exhaustion and paralysis. We create more drama in our lives than actually exists. Done is better than perfect. Cross the street. Get out there. Look or don’t look–those are your options. Pick one and get on with it.

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Oh and remember, keep a little country music at your side for motivation.

Krystal at 13 is pretty much Krystal at 31.

Recently, a co-worker of mine asked me to send her “things I would have told my younger self” for In Earnest.

Younger Krystal was a pretty boring individual. I lived in my own world which rarely made since to anyone around me. I was and still am a nerd, a goody-two-shoe, and an overachiever. I just wanted my mom to be proud of me. I was a pretty good natured people-pleaser who was Star Citizen every year in grade school. However, when I look back and really think about my childhood I was bullied until high school and had major racial identity issues. It gets a bit confusing when people continuously call you and Oreo or tell you that you’re the whitest black girl they’ve ever met. I grew up in a strict household and created my own adventures. To be honest, I’m not sure that I really liked myself until around 10th grade. Strange, right? or maybe not strange but certainly sad. Different wasn’t always acceptable and I don’t think that until I moved away from home that I realized I wasn’t too different from lots of other people. I just didn’t fit in Portsmouth, VA. I belonged but I didn’t fit.

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Here’s what I sent to Laura. I don’t think any of it was published but I thought it was reflective enough for me to post here for your perusal. I certainly wanted to keep it someplace for posterity.

I would tell myself that “no” is not a bad word. In fact, it is one of the strongest words that we have the capacity to use in the English language. A good intentional “no” can change your entire world whether you’re on the giving end or the receiving end. It might sting but it’ll be okay. You’ll be told “no” or you’ll say “no” a lot in your life and whenever you get up the nerve, you should totally use it.

SAVE YOUR MONEY!!! –That’s just a great habit that I never quite picked up :/.

I would tell myself to forgive my father. As I’ve gotten older, forgiveness has gotten easier in some ways and harder in others. Conversations between a man and a woman are a whole lot more complicated than those between a girl and a man. It would have been simpler when I was younger. Just call him or tell your mother you want to see him and talk it out with him. Things happened. Everyone makes mistakes but he still really loves you. Forgive and figure out the next steps. Don’t be afraid. You don’t want to have to still deal with “father issues” when you’re 31. It ain’t worth it. Daddy issues are awful! It has made me make men into an overwhelming obstacle. I don’t trust them with my heart. Reason #875 that I’m single. I know, I know, THERAPY!

I would tell myself to be okay with NOT fitting in with the rest of my environment. Preparing myself for that and accepting this piece about myself would have made growing up a whole lot easier. My brother and I were quite bi-cultural due to the two very different environments we had to navigate as African American children who spent time in the hood and the ‘burbs. That piece of our life has proven helpful but it can also be disorienting and sets you up for some hard times in figuring out your “place” in a given situation. Adaptability is important but assimilation is not. You don’t have to lose yourself in your efforts to not stick out like a sore thumb. Instead, use your gifts and watch how others are drawn to you.

I would tell myself that I’m beautiful. I would scream that at myself repeatedly. Blonde hair and blue eyes aren’t the only way to be beautiful in this world. I would tell myself to eat during grades 6-9. I would not hesitate to take my chocolate skin out into the sun and I would smile like my life depended on it.

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I would tell myself that all of the things my mother kept me from doing was super great parenting and that I would greatly appreciate them in the future. She was strict –super strict and I think it made all the difference.

I would tell myself to just relax because all of those Caucasian musical artists that you really want to see in concert but can’t because you’re mom thinks it’s weird that you’ll be able to see them in Nashville in your late 20s and early 30s. Seeing Fiona Apple at The Ryman was a dream come true. Hearing Deanna Carter sing “Strawberry Wine” at Bridgestone Arena brought back so many Governors’ School memories. I would’ve like to have know that there would be a 90s cover band that would make my soul happy.

I would high-five myself for the following:
– Not having sex in Middle School and High School.
– Going to senior prom all by myself.
– Getting up the nerve to tell the mean girl that she could no longer cheat off my paper.
– Being a kick-ass cheerleader and salutatorian.
– Reading all the time.
– Learning how to use my voice and my words instead of my fists to defend myself.
– That amazing summer in Lynchburg, VA at Governor’s School which was when I think I discovered my confidence, beauty, and power.

I would give myself the stink eye for the following:
– Sometimes being the mean girl to others.
– Often being the mean girl to myself.
– Not being the best student leader that I could have been in various organizations.
– Putting way too much pressure on myself to succeed.
– Thinking that I was much better than the people around me.

It’s weird but you really are the person you’re going to be quite early in life. My issues haven’t changed and I’m still good at the same things. I still have the same foundation at 31 that I had at 13. For the most part, I think I quoted over 90% in a previous post, I love myself and all of my stuff.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Later Y’all.

Summer is Here!!!

Hey Y’all,

I’ve been quite a bum on this fine Memorial Day. My actions have been the total antithesis of the men and women for whom we celebrate on this special day. I’m the proud daughter, sister, and cousin of men who have served our country in the United States Army and the United States Air Force. I respect them greatly for their courage and sacrifice. I don’t have a relationship with my father but I will always be in awe that he served in the Vietnam War and in the Gulf War. My heart grows for him when I take that into account. I know that he’s seen a lot and done a lot to ensure that I’m able to live my life of freedom. For that, I am eternally grateful. We’ll work it out one day. I know God will see to that.

Memorial Day also marks the beginning of SUMMER! She has officially arrived.

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I made a list earlier in May of all the things I want to do this summer. Ahem! Drumroll please:

1. Drag Brunch at Suzy Wong’s House of Yum
2. The Zoo
3. Cheekwood
4. Belle Meade Plantation
5. The Peach Truck
6. Oz
7. Grand Ole Opry
8. Movie at Elmington Park
9. Full Moon Pickin’ Party–might become a fall activity?
10. Concert: Woods at Fontanel
11. 12th & Broad Events
12. Musician’s Corner
13. Movies at the Schermerhorn
14. Belcourt to see Belle
15. Visit to the Farmer’s Market
16. Intense sits on rooftops and patios
17. Johnny Cash Museum
18. POOL! –Already had 2 days in a row :).
19. Apparently, we have an arena football team?!

So far, so good. I’m excited to work my way through these items. I’m sure more will be added to the list as I catch up on the happenings of Nashville. I’ll also be taking trips to VA, GA, TX, and FL. Strong maybe on DE and later in the summer I’ll be off to WA.

As for music, I’ll see Katy Perry in June and Beyonce/Jay-Z in July. There are some others shows I’d like to add to this list including Sara Bareilles and JOHNNYSWIM.

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I do love the summer. It is a time to replenish. My skin looks great and my smile is bigger. People and time are more flexible. You get to see folks you haven’t seen in ages and the margaritas and my never ending collection of dresses are flowing.

I made a lot of mistakes last summer and did things that took a huge detour from my instincts. I’ve been paying for those mistakes ever since. It is now time for me to “let it go” and keep it moving. Pray for me in that endeavor. Forgiveness is hard, but it is what is commanded of me by my God.

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Cheers to the summer!

Later Y’all.

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

I haven’t had the best track record with NYE. In fact, it has been pretty awful until I moved to Nashville. When I was in college, I just chilled at home and waited for my mom to get back from church. I’d watch MTV bring in the New Year in Times Square and long for the day when I could go out and be a cast member in some fancy party with a fancy dress and kiss some fancy man at midnight. Even when I had a boyfriend in college, we never celebrated NYE together except by phone. Le sigh!

I moved to Durham, NC and spent one NYE at a bar party on a solo mission with the hopes of meeting new friends in town. That was kind of a bust but I was proud of myself for going in the first place. I spent another year at a fun dance party with good friends and even though I was surrounded by people, great music, and a money drop at midnight, I still felt quite alone. I don’t even remember what I did the other NYE’s I celebrated in NC. Must have been awful :(.

My first NYE in Nashville, my friend Erin was in town and we went to a My So-Called Band (90’s cover band) concert along with 2 of my Nashville friends, Tracy and Jenn. We also ate at a restaurant and had an experience that warranted us getting a free dinner from them a few weeks later. I had a blast! Mainly because I didn’t feel lonely and I was surrounded by music. My second NYE I spent at a house party with great people, fun music, a stacked bar, and it was pretty good. If you can, a house party is certainly the way to go. This year, to bring in 2014, I am going back to the My So-Called Band Concert because well, it beats anything else I’ve done thus far. It’s economical, predictably fun, and I’ll be with at least 2 people that I know and really like. I’ll also get to meet some new people and that never hurts. I won’t get a kiss at Midnight BUT for some reason the universe has decided that I’m not destined for NYE kisses. Deep sigh. I just hope that when I get my kisses, the kisses only meant for me, that they are AMAZING! The universe has some making up to do. Hmph!This is your year

Oh, well. I’m going to make myself look my most beautiful, be open to a fun time, and sing till my voice fails at the show. My goal for 2014 is to live my life out loud and in color so I’m guessing a concert is probably the best way to go.

I wonder if like every other holiday, we hype it up so much that it becomes stressful? Are we doing the right cool thing? What is the right cool thing? Do we have the best dress? We have to spend a crapton of money, right? Then make a resolution to get out of debt :/. We are blessed to celebrate a New Year and nothing should be stressful about that, right? Does it really matter what you do from 9pm-Midnight on the 31st or is it more important what you do on January 1 with this “fresh start”?

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?