Elle Potter

mildly hilarious, exceptionally fun, and usually barefoot.

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The New Song Project – Jolene

I’m very much looking forward to taking some ensemble classes down at the Folk School of St. Louis at the end of next month, and figured it probably means it’s time to start getting un-rusty on the guitar.  So, I’ve decided to learn at least one new song each week that I can share with you on the YouTubes.  Only took me an hour to figure out this one, Jolene (a Dolly Parton song that I’ve always been a little bit in love with the lyrics).

Any requests?  I’m looking especially to learn some more folksy-bluegrassy-old timey country songs, so leave your suggestions here.



Posted July 16th, 2012.


Speak less; say more.

I took a yoga class today with the kind of teacher who would. not. shut. up.  Too many words, too many explanations, too many talking for the sake of trying to get in everything they wanted to say.  And not one minute, not even ten seconds! of peace from the talking in savasana.  I actually laid there with my eyes open because it was the only way I could keep from getting up off my mat and just leaving.  If the teacher told me one more part of my body that I should relax or how I should relax it or how I should feel once I’ve let it relax, I was going to explode.

I left class realizing how often it is that we don’t recognize the incredible value of shutting the fruck up.  We all have so many things we want to say in our lives and sometimes we don’t know how to express it.  Or we do know how to express it, and we want to express it endlessly and we have so many places to express it and people who are interested maybe in listening to us express it… but for pete’s sake, people, sometimes the fine art of shutting up is just what those around you need.

I have had a great number of travel partners in the past year and I have learned that my favorite ones are the ones who let us travel in period silence, allowing the other to immerse in their own thoughts.  There is nothing wrong with a little peace and quiet, and when you are comfortable and confident enough to enjoy just the presence of those around you, there is more said in those moments than if you just yammered on and on for six solid hours.

As the queen of she who sometimes talks aloud to herself when she is completely alone in the car, I know how hard it is to shut up when you just want to talk.  But next time you’re in a conversation, ask yourself:  Is what you are saying benefitting the conversation?  Are you saying the same thing again, but in a different way?  Is the person you’re talking to glazing over?

Be present in your conversation.  You’ll annoy less people.  And they’ll respect and admire you more.  Because you shut up before you said something stupid because you were no longer paying attention to the fact that you were still speaking out loud.

And now… a blues song I wrote where the lyrics don’t make any sense at all.  Enjoy.  Or don’t enjoy.  Luckily, when you follow me primarily online, you can just close the window if you don’t want to hear me talk anymore.

Posted June 22nd, 2011.

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I eyed the bookshelf, resting by the dumpster in my friend’s alley.  Attempting to mentally maintain its proportions, I turned to my little Saturn sedan.  I cocked my head to the right, puckered my lips and wrinkled up my nose, doing some internal measuring.  With a sudden determination, I popped my trunk, pushed down my backseats, pulled my front seats all the way forward and began praying as I slid the bookshelf into my car.

I am not sure how that friggen thing fit into my car or how I was still able to close the trunk, but somehow it worked.  I thanked my friend for the bookshelf and skedaddled to Hobby Lobby for sandpaper and paint.

And that’s how it all started.

Next thing I knew, I needed a power sander.  My life was not going to be complete until I had a power sander.  I went to the De-Pot and bought paint stripper, goggles, facemask, and two varieties of power sanders.

By the time I arrived back at my house from my manly-De-Pot trip, I had also acquired two bookshelves, a dresser and a half a dozen turquoise wine glasses from a sketchy-ass garage sale down the street from my house.  I lugged everything back in Leonard (the little Saturn that could) and set all the furniture up in my garage.

I began diligently stripping, peeling, scratching, scraping, scrubbing and rubbing finish off of each piece of furniture.  Slowly but surely, the ugly, old finish would come off – usually not without a fight, and sometimes only after a commitment to a few processes of repeating the abrasive stripping process.

Once the finish is off, the fun part begins – the plugging in and turning on of the power sanders.  This is the preparation for a fresh, new start – once the ugly old finish has finally been let go of, you have to get down to the pure bare rawness of the most organic state.  Once you’ve smoothed out the rough edges, softened the surface and prepared the pores to take in something new, then you can decide what color you want to stain the wood.  I chose purple.

My ol’ pal Sarah came over the other day to try out my newfound hobby.  She stripped a bookshelf while I sanded the dresser.  Then she sanded the bookshelf while I stained the dresser.  We both worked mostly without talking, as it’s sort of hard to hear each other when you a) are talking into a mask covering your mouth and nose and b) when two power sanders are on.

Each time Sarah completed a step, she would pull back her goggles and drop her mask beneath her chin.  “This is fun!” she’d say, stepping back to survey her work and wipe her forehead with her arm.  I’d smile, then nod, realizing she wouldn’t know if I was smiling or not.

“I know!” I pushed my goggles to my forehead and stacked my mask on top of it.  “It’s such an empowering feeling to know that I’m giving these pieces a new life.”

I love looking at a piece of furniture and seeing beyond its tired exterior.  Watching the paint stripper bubble up underneath all of the old crusty finish with the scraping tool in hand and just waiting… patiently… for the right time to begin peeling off the old never gets old.  I don’t even mind when a little flick of the stripper flies onto my skin.  Sure, it hurts like a sonofabitch on my flesh – but making a transformation isn’t always rainbows and unicorns.  And once I finish and take off my mask to take a big exhale, it feels like the dresser/bookshelf/chair is taking a deep breath with me.  Grateful to have space around it, even though it is raw and tender.

That’s where I am in my life.  I’ve finally worn through the old finish and am slowly peeling off the layers.  I can take a deep breath through every pore of my body and it feels so good.  There is space all around my heart and I’m ready to begin the process of refining this raw space, this vulnerable space, this powerful seed space of my radical growth.  Who knows what I’ll pull in – when I’m ready.  I’m sure it will be something as rich, regal, and out of the ordinary as purple.

I walk away from my garage exhausted, filthy and smelly but feeling sweetly powerful.  I’ve never been one to just walk away from a relationship, a job, anything without giving it a second chance, a third chance – a million chances to be everything I wanted it to be, hoped it would be… knew it could be.  It’s been both a blessing and a curse, I suppose, never knowing if I would be able to inspire those around me or simply wear myself out with hopefulness.

I’m giving these pieces another chance – and feeling safe in that I can do the same thing for myself.

As Kenny Rogers has always said, “You gotta know when to hold’m, know when to fold’m, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”  But I’d like to make an addition – you also gotta know when to power sand.

You also gotta know when to strip, but that’s a loaded comment and applicable on many different levels.  That’s a whole other blog.

Posted August 10th, 2010.

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how ella got her muse back

I had a very active little muse when I was young.  Together, my muse and I built houses in Gramma’s backyard out of sticks, fashioned balance beams out of old fence posts and sat in the tops of trees while talking back and forth to one another.  I sang, I wrote, I dreamt big dreams and I had big plans.  My muse had a million things in line for me to accomplish, and at times I was hugely intimidated by the endless sea of suggestions.

As is common, the older I got, the quieter my muse became.   In college, I had to flat out ask my muse to put a sock in it so I could focus solely on graduating.  Obligingly, my muse sat patiently in the corner of my heart.

After graduation, I had nearly forgotten about my muse.  I took it upon myself to play the muse for many others in my life, desperately trying to inspire friends, family and boyfriends to follow their heart.  I helped them apply for colleges and jobs, planned their fantasy vacations and cross-country moves, and tried to place their dreams in their hands even though their fists were shoved obstinately into their pockets.  It was the blind leading the blind; no one was listening to their own actual authentic muse.

i think this is where my muse lives.

I remember the first time I heard my muse speak again.  It began speaking at the same time I was cultivating a new relationship with someone I very much cared for.  The kind of person who tells you you’re beautiful, you’re talented, you’re amazing and you genuinely believe every word of it.  This new friendship was maintained over hundreds of miles of distance and in the beginning, through handwritten, heart-felt old-school snail-mail letters.  As this was the only means of our communication (and because I was living alone at the time), I began to have long talks in my head with the person I was writing on paper to.   The response back came in the voice of that friend, offering empowering words of support and encouragement straight to my soul, echoing the language of real-life letters that were written back to me.

He inspired me, he let me grow, he made suggestions and he had big dreams with me.  I began to write again.  Sing again.  I began teaching yoga.  Hoping to make him proud, I had obligingly took his inspiration to heart and became overwhelmingly proud of the woman we had created, him and I.  But as he became less accessible in real-life, I continued to have these conversations with him in my heart.  It was like having an imaginary friend – the comfort of memories of a real person, fashioned from real-life conversations, and still telling me all the things I needed to hear.

When it came down to it, I fell in love with my heart, which I mistook for someone else.  The person I had always thought I was having these conversations with through my heart was living a life separate of mine.  I got everything on the inside confused with the real-life person on the outside – and when that real-life person was not in love with me, I felt misled.

And then, because I had listened to that guidance from in my heart that I thought had come directly from him, I felt betrayed.

On top of all that, I had been having internal conversations that I was taking seriously for over two years – I felt like a nutjob.  A complete lunatic.  Basketcase.  Crazy.

Let me be clear about these voices; I’m not talking about the kind of voices that say, “Light the bedskirt on fire, Lizzy.”  Or, “Redrum.  Redrum…”

I’m talking about the kind of voices that say;

“You know, you’re the most incredibly beautiful woman I’ve ever known.”

“You should make a change in your life if it’s what your heart really wants.”

“Have I ever told you how much you mean to me?  How much you inspire me?”

Those ones.  The good ones.

I started telling those voices to go eff themselves.  Any of those thoughts that came through my head were the enemy.  They were being said with the voice of someone I didn’t trust, I didn’t respect and I was extremely, incredibly hurt by.  And so I shut them out.

My self-love diminished.  My love of others diminished.  I didn’t trust any thoughts, whether shared by someone else or thought of myself.  My creativity diminished.  My self-worth diminished.  I crawled into a shell and wondered what was even occupying it.

If I was having so many of these freaking love-filled heart-to-hearts without HIS heart, then who was I talking to?  Who was responding?

Enter: Breakthrough, Stage Right.  The kind of self-realization and –actualization that hit me so hard that my face went numb out of shock and my eyes welled up with tears.

I had been talking to Love.

It was Love that had inspired me to become the woman I am even still becoming.  Love reached out from the inside of my heart and embraced me when I was sad.  I had found support, strength and empowerment because Love had guided me to it.

All this time, I thought love had left me because he had – but he was never really there to begin with.  Love was.  All along.

Love had led me to accomplish so much because Love is my muse.

My muse isn’t him.  My muse isn’t anyone.  My muse isn’t even necessarily me – it’s much more than that.  My muse is the relationship I cultivate with anyone around me.  My muse is the passion that burns me into a flame of creativity.  My muse is Grace herself, Creation herself and Destruction herself.

When you cut through all the muck, all the muddle, all the bells and whistles and smoke and mirrors – what is truly speaking to you?  What is truly driving you?  And will you take the time to really listen to what it’s saying, not how it’s saying it?  Even when you are dreaming, your muse is begging you to listen.

Acknowledge the person who inspired your strength.  The person who made you first feel beautiful.  The person who showed you the greatest love. The echoes of their words become the language of your muse.  Carry those memories in your heart – but know that that strength, that beauty, that inspiration and that LOVE is already a part of you.  They cannot take it back and do not ever try to convince yourself it’s not yours.

Posted March 26th, 2010.

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The Voice of Reason

I have always been a performer.  Maybe it’s because I’m a Leo.  Maybe it’s because I’m the oldest child.  Maybe it’s because I was always granted a stage to stand on.  Ever since my first performance at the age of five (singing Blowin’ in the Wind at church, accompanied on piano by my dad), I’ve been driven to pursue a life of center-stage.

All through high school, it seemed obvious to me that I would be studying music in college.  I only applied to one school because I knew without a doubt that I would be studying to become a high school music teacher.  The auditions went well – hell, I even auditioned for the Musical Theatre program just for fun.  The day I got a letter from the music department of the university, I couldn’t open it fast enough.  I sat in my Blazer in the driveway, shaking as I unfolded the letter from the envelope.

I don’t remember exactly what it said word for word, I just remember hearing the beat of my heart breaking through my fingertips.  Words like “Thank you, but” and “Unfortunately” all sounded like staccato, minor chords shooting bullets into my seemingly fool-proof dreams.  I got out of my car and sat on the sidewalk in front of my house, gasping for both my breath and for something to believe in.

Formal music training was never something I was able to have growing up, and in the end it was what I was lacking.  I knew how to sing, but classical, technical voice training was something I had never been introduced to.  First semester of my freshman year, I had a one-on-one audition to be in the choir.  Determination still rang in my ears, and I thought showing commitment to the desire to continue would eventually get me in within a semester or two.

I explained to the professor my love of music and my passionate longing to be in the music program.  I did a little sight-reading and a little call-and-response with him, and he ran his palm over his face.

“I’m going to go ahead and put you into the Women’s Choir.  I know you’re interested in the music program…” He scribbled a note onto the audition form in front of him.  ”So… well, IF you end up making it into that…”

My jaw dropped.  I know it must have.  All my life I had been surrounded by the support of my community, and his “IF” was completely off key.  I grew disenchanted.  I just didn’t care anymore.  I took choir for that first year – and failed second semester.  But not because I sucked; because I had too many absences.

I finished college and never did much else with music other than the occasional karaoke encounter.  However, this fall I was blessed with the opportunity to take voice lessons on trade at my friend Gary’s The Lesson Studio in Boulder.  I had never been able to afford it before and was thrilled at the opportunity.

The first class I took was spent making a LOT of noises.  I alternated between sounding like a whimpering dog and a fire siren, and my teacher Alaina was convinced I was a mezzo-soprano.  I laughed.

The noises didn’t sound like music and I felt myself fighting the urge to defend myself.  I felt like I should stop her and say, “You know, I am actually good at this whole ’singing’ thing…”  But I decided there was no point in defending myself until I understood what was going on.  No self-judgement, right?

I drove home afterwards making the little noises to myself in my car.  This surely can’t be music, I kept thinking.  And I feared that my fantastic teacher didn’t think I could sing.  That maybe I really was a musical lost cause, just like my choir professor had made me feel.

In high school, I was an Irish Dancer.  And a pretty danged good one, too.  I could move my feet quickly and pick up on new footwork in a snap.  Then I joined the poms dance team.  And suddenly I was supposed to move my arms WITH my legs, shake my hips a little bit, and SMILE?!  All was lost on me.

Luckily, each time I met with Alaina for the next installation of voice lessons, things got more and more clear.  The noisy exercises really were benefitting my already developed sense of tone and beat by giving me a different perspective of resonating chambers, breath control, and challenging my perception of what range I could sing in.

Alaina told me at one point that she loved the tone I had in those painstakingly high notes I was jokingly hitting during our warm-up.  ”You have such a bright tone there, it’s just a matter of more training.”  I stared at the piano, where she was hitting a high F and trying to convince me how easily it comes through me, wondering how true her words were.

Having someone reflect back the strengths they see in you is a powerful and confusing experience.  Have you ever had someone tell you they look up to you and you try to diminish your own self-worth by listing off all the reasons why they shouldn’t view you as a role model?  Or had someone tell you how beautiful a piece of artwork is that you created and you point out all the reasons why you think it sucks?  We consistently alternate between feeling a need to defend ourselves when we think someone is placing judgement and shying away from due praise because we don’t think we’re worthy.  We’re easily convinced that we’re not good enough, but not so easily convinced we’re appreciated.

I had my first recital in eight years this last weekend.  My mom, dad, and sister all came to hear me sing, just like they did so often in high school.  Ultimately, I enjoyed the experience because I wanted to see what life would have been like with voice training.  But I’ve opened up a can of worms with this – because now I can’t walk away from this and blame someone else’s lack of interest.  My teacher openly wants me to succeed.  All the people in my life who never knew I loved singing now know that I can and they simply won’t take my excuses.

Do you believe in yourself?  Would you, if you were given the opportunity, given the support and the love to follow on a path that you never thought you could walk down?  Can you really let your talent go unnoticed?

This holiday season, I am endlessly grateful for the undying love and support I have had in my life.  If I had listened to the words of encouragement rather than the voices of doubt (especially my own), who knows what the difference would be.  And that’s not that I regret a THING – I wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than exactly where I am right NOW.  But now there is a new lesson that has been learned.  And I don’t want to fail choir this time.

Posted December 23rd, 2009.

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I so often times begin writing something and stop. Mid-sentence. Sometimes even mid-word. “Who cares?” I play over and over in my head. “I’m too busy to be flitting around with frivolous blah-blah.” And so I close my Word doc, turn to my to-do list and log on to Facebook instead.
A few months ago, I signed up for a Daily OM series of emails called Creative Anxiety. There’s about five of them still left unopened in my inbox. The most recent one I have yet to open is called “The Anxiety of Choosing.”
Recently, in a workshop with fellow omie Meaghan de Roos, I charted out a map of my Self. I listed the things that I’m trained in and good at. I listed the things that bring me joy; the things that I love so much that I don’t care if I’m “good” at it or what the outcome is of doing it. Both lists were the same:
Writing. Singing. Teaching yoga.
But I began to notice the different experience I was having with things that I enjoy doing vs things I’m good at doing and others know I’m good at doing, too. I LOVE singing in the car at the top of my lungs. I LOVE writing in my journals. But the second I know that someone is looking forward to me singing at the end of class or writing and posting something new online, I freeze up. I doubt. And I turn away.
How often do we quiet out own voice for fear that what we’re about to say isn’t good enough? Isn’t important enough? And then from this fear of shame, we slowly convince ourselves that it wasn’t worth saying after all. The result? It’s not pretty.
When we convince ourselves that our voice isn’t important enough, we simultaneously decide that there’s something in our lives we should be putting all of that effort into. And we jump into the depths of our career or our family, putting everyone and everything else in front of the calling of our own heart.
Why set aside your own life’s song because you think you should be singing a different tune? Is it really worth it to live the life you THINK you should be living, instead of the life you are CREATED to live?
Shut off the TV. Log off of Facebook. Quit hiding behind a million different things and take that moment to instead face your SELF. The song that’s being so boldly sung in the center of your very heart is dying to come out. It’s terrifying to stand up and sing it in front of a crowd, whether it’s in karaoke or in the conference room.
And me? I’m learning to sing, even if it means annoying a few people on the way. It’s not worth it to keep silent when I have the opportunity to put my heart out there in a way not everyone has a chance to do.
My mission statement? To use my voice unabashedly, unafraid to create space and inspiration for those who crave to have their own voice heard.

Posted December 10th, 2009.

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