The ‘hood’ that raised us

The ‘hood’ that raised us

I’ll start this post off with a simple “Thank you” to whoever is reading this.

Whether it’s been a random call or text to say Hi, a congratulations on my engagement, leaving a comment on a video I posted, or coming up to me after a show… I’m thankful (and still socially awkward with compliments) for a view of my world from an outside perspective.

If you know me, you know I don’t take myself very seriously.  I’m never without some sarcastic or witty remark on social media or in the middle of telling you a ridiculous story, complete with comedic pauses and exaggerated facial expressions.

I feel like I was born an open book.

However, lately I have not felt like opening up about much.  It’s been a tough couple of weeks.

I’ve attended 2 funerals in less than a month’s time.  An absolute pillar of my world was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, my faith and fear all rolled up into a little ball, resting like a constant lump in my throat. My mother was in and out of the hospital all around Thanksgiving (she’s home and recovering now).  And we just came up on the one year anniversary of my fiancé’s best friend passing…needless to say, the emotional rollercoaster has been running to the extreme lately.

So, in all that, I’ve completely thrown myself into fitness classes and book-reading and learning songs that are easily played using the only 4 chords I’m good at…anything that I can control in the midst of what feels like chaos of the brain.

This here little blog of mine is where I process.

So here it goes…

I grew up in Belleville, Michigan. First, in a small ranch-style home, nestled in the most pot-hole-ridden neighborhood behind a family dinner.  I made my very first friends there. I learned how to ride a bike in treacherous terrain. There was a church at the end of my street where I loved to sneak into the “secret garden” to play. (Once I was older, I learned my “secret garden” was actually used to sprinkle ashes of deceased church members. Not creepy at all.)

When I was 8 years old, my family bought a “lot” in a brand new subdivision, Harbour Point. It was on the other side of Belleville Lake and sat directly beside the high school. I vividly remember Dad driving us across town each week to see the updates on the house-building process. When it was nothing but a frame, he’d point out, “This is the kitchen…This is the bathroom…etc.” We took photos with disposable cameras of me standing in what would eventually be my bedroom. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

When we finally moved in, there was only a handful of other completed homes in the subdivision. The rest of the neighborhood? The ultimate ‘playground’.

Dug out basements to jump in and out of, huge piles of stacked up A-frames to hide in, Port-A-Potties (for the construction workers) with vulgar doodles all over them, crazy “puddles” that were the size of ponds when it rained and made excellent ice skating rinks when they froze over, a wooded area in the very back where we’d pretend to survive in the wilderness.  All the half-built homes were ours to invade once the workers went home, kicking their empty beer and soda cans across incomplete rooms.  Giant dirt hills were the ultimate to climb up and play on, making for endless sledding options in the winter.  Our imaginations ran completely wild in this “oasis” of adventure. Looking back on it now, I don’t know how all of us kids weren’t severely injured/in need of a tetanus shot every other day. I would never allow my hypothetical child to play in those danger zones now, ha. But back then… it was everything.

Being that I am the oldest of 4, my siblings were fairly little when we moved into our new digs. Their very first friends in life lived within a 6 house radius. Their first bus stop was at the end of our driveway, where all the kids from the neighborhood would congregate. Kids barely bigger than their backpacks.

I can remember walking down the street, trying to wrangle up my sisters and brother for dinner, their bikes always dispersed in someone’s yard. Whether they were currently at that house or not was irrelevant to them.  Each kid had their sidekick(s) in the neighborhood.  You know, constantly at each other’s house, in the same grade, taking band class together, and so on. No other girl in Harbour Point was quite my age, they fell either a couple years younger or 3-5 years older. It’s funny what a huge difference that can make once you start middle school.  I never quite “fit in” with a neighborhood crew, which of course, planted seeds of insecurity in an already awkward time of life. While they had sleepovers and pool parties and got asked to babysit other neighborhood kids, I found solace in my school friends and music. Looking back, I now see that being more of a “loner” only helped  my singing obsession as a kid.  Also, why my siblings are, to this day, my very best friends.  (My siblings, on the other hand, would never say I was their best friend growing up. Ha!)

My little brother had 2 best friends in the neighborhood. Kyle, who lived directly across the street, and Jesse Johnson, who lived down the block. Garrett was NEVER without at least one of them by his side. The 3 of them were always making big plans for something…constructing elaborate forts, trying to con my dad into giving them permission when both of the other dads had already said “No”, choreographing Star Wars battles in the backyard, and all the other adorable and obnoxious things that little boys do. I was always the one sent up the street to retrieve my brother from Jesse’s house.  A lot of times his sister, Sam, would answer the door. She was probably the closest in age to me and was always super sweet to us Williams kids.  However, she was best friends with a couple girls in the neighborhood that I always seemed to be at odds with, so we never really hung out. I cringe/belly laugh when I recall the hilarious & petty “enemy lines” that so easily get drawn when you’re a kid. No real reason behind it, most times you forgive and forget after a day.  You’re just oblivious to life beyond your driveway.

I’d like that oblivion back right now. And if you grew up anything like me, I’m betting you want it back too.  We all come from our own “Harbour Point”.

My brother’s childhood best friend, Jesse Johnson, the blonde-headed and funny face-making kid from up the street, passed away last week.

He was 26.

This is a hard one to wrap my brain around.
I know I’m not alone on that.

His memorial over the weekend was surreal. Surreal to be mourning the 26 year old that was gone, when I so distinctly remember him as the little kid up the street. I don’t know that I’d seen Jesse since him and my brother graduated high school.  Observing the memory boards with him and Garrett…from 5 year olds on bikes to teenagers on stage, starring in high school productions…it felt like swallowing a brick.  Surreal to be reunited with my younger siblings’ friends and old neighbors from “the hood” and realize that everyone didn’t stay 10 years old. Everyone is grown and half recognizable.  It made me feel even more shocked by everything.  And old.

I’ve cried for my brother, the one who “gets me” more than anyone in this world, and for whom I cannot muster up anything enlightening or comforting to say.  I cry for his childhood memories that are now bittersweet & for the guilt I know he feels for having lost touch with Jesse the last few years.  I cry for Jesse’s parents, because this is just unfathomable. His mom was a secretary at my middle school. I’ll never forget when my mother was sick with a vitamin deficiency and had to be hospitalized.  I kept having meltdowns in the middle of class and wanting to call my Grandma to get updates. I was 11 years old and could sense the other people in the office growing impatient with me leaving class just to use the office phone. But Jesse’s mom understood and let me use it every time. I’ll always remember that.  I cry for Jesse’s sister, Sam, and I pray to God on my hands and knees that I never have to feel what she’s feeling. I could not lose my sisters or my brother. I can’t even bring myself to imagine it.

I’m broken-hearted for the kid in us all that thought we would live forever.

As adults, we know better. We won’t live forever, but we still think we have time.

It’s truly ironic that one hour before I learned of Jesse’s passing, I was reading the day’s devotional from Jesus Calling about thankfulness.
“A thankful attitude opens windows of heaven. As you look up with a grateful heart. you get glimpses of Glory through those windows. You cannot yet live in heaven, but you can experience foretastes of your ultimate home.”

I then proceeded to write in my journal that morning about how there has been a lot of loss and illness to process this year, but that I was grateful. My exact words were…“I’m so thankful that I still have time to make it right.”

Those words make me ache right now.
The hundreds of cliché sayings about letting people know how you feel before it’s too late, chasing the dream, forgiving, living life to the fullest…it’s all true. We lived it so unapologetically as children, with our bravery/creativity/vulnerability fluctuating as we grew up into adults.

But here’s the thing… We were all that kid conquering dirt hills once. We just find our uphill climbs more exhausting than adventurous now.  But we couldn’t be who we are today without being the child version first.  jesse

If I can take one thing away from this tragic loss it’s this…

May we cherish not only the kid we used to be, but honor the kid that still lives in us.  Trust me, they’re still in there.




“the music thing”

“the music thing”

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to commit to “mental health mornings” to start my day.  Aside from waking up at the ass-crack of dawn to work out, I’ve been trying my best to take advantage of these early morning rises to “check in” with myself too.  So after our work-out, and my boyfriend showers and heads off the work, I sit out on the front porch and read up on the book, “Jesus Calling” with my journal in my lap. Also, for the past 2 weeks, I’ve been keeping up (or at least, attempting to) with Oprah & Deepak’s 21-Day Meditation Experience series, “Desire and Destiny” through their website.  Now, I wouldn’t say that meditation/yoga/mantras/affirmations and all this are necessarily my “thing”…but I’m trying.  Why?  Because stagnation and I can no longer be comfort buddies. 

Not that I’m stuck, per se, but the need to expand my mind and get out of unhealthy or limiting thought patterns I’ve become privy to in the past has become increasingly apparent as of late.  I am embarking on a complete reintroduction in the next couple of months and it’s scary, to say the least.  New music, new branding (because apparently that’s a thing in the music business), new documentary, new message, new me…well, at least, an evolving me.
To put myself so front and center for so many to hear/see/judge feels equally part paralyzing and empowering. 

It has been a long time since I’ve been in “Artist Mode” aka “a bright ‘effin spotlight to see if you’re really as good as you think you are”…  Which is crazy considering I’ve always been “doing the music thing” as so many people casually refer to it as.  Even worse, when people literally ask the question every music person hates more than politics, “So are you still doing ‘the music thing’?”  For those of us writing songs, singing demos, waiting tables, driving Ubers, singing background vocals, taking meetings even though we’re not exactly sure what for most times, slowly saving up money for a photo shoot or a recording session, trying to figure out how to create our own website, constantly needing to replace a roommate or two, physically attempting to make our social media numbers higher, booking our own shows, playing our latest creation around town with the hopes that a bigger artist somehow hears it and records it, figuring out how to release new music so that more than just our family and friends think it’s good (but also hoping that they’ll start thinking we’re actually doing something with our lives now), checking our bank accounts and feeling depressed every time so now we check it even less, going to shows and trying to get a handle on our social anxiety as we also try introducing ourselves to someone who might be someone someday, attempting to rise above the rejection of the “cool clique” of music biz peeps when they ignore us because we aren’t “somebody” yet, finding the motivation and passion to keep going when it’d be easier to just give in and give up…

Why yes, we are ALL still “doing the music thing”, thank you for asking.

On top of that, now I’ll also be releasing an album that’s been tied up for awhile now and has me feeling all sorts of nervous and ready and like, “Holy shit, I hope people don’t think this sucks”.  And with that release, I’ll be reliving some painful shit because the album is literally a live recording of some pretty dark places I was in at the time.  Sprinkle on top of that, taking a bunch of photos and videos and trying my best to look skinny and pretty and young.  The cherry on top being, obsessing over how many plays, views, “likes”, follows you got that week…because that’s “Artist Mode” headspace…and once you’ve had it off for awhile, it feels a weeee bit overwhelming when you turn it back “on”, HA!


*** Speaking of “following”…be sure to ‘Follow’ my blog for future posts *** 

Not that I never “un-became” an artist.  I’ve always been one.  Literally, from the time I was 3 years old and belting The Judds from every family member’s fireplace stage.  Or at 4-5 years old when I voluntarily secluding myself on a daily basis at pre-school to draw crayon pictures of a stage with red curtains, a redhead holding a guitar, standing in front of a mic.  Or when I was 8-9 years old and riding my bike in secret to the lake, where I’d sit with a notebook and write songs and poems.  Ages 13-17, when I was up until 1am the morning of a show, burning CDs and printing/slapping on sticky labels to hand out to everyone that would listen to me.  To when I graduated high school and couldn’t move to Nashville fast enough, with $1000 from my graduation party and a 1997 Ford Escort full of clothes with a little too much Little Mermaid (and Wynonna) memorabilia.  To every song I’ve written since, some of which felt like if I didn’t get out of me, those feelings/those words would eat me alive.

These things don’t go away.  They aren’t temporary, they aren’t a phase.  You don’t outgrow them.  It’s embedded in you.  You can attempt to suppress it if you’re lucky.  You can follow alternative roads.  You can chalk it up to a daydream or “that was another life”.  There are definitely days I wish I knew how to do that.  There are days I’d love to know what it’s like to have a career in a field with a salary and health benefits.  Or what it’d be like to have a little diva crawling around my house, the spitting image of me, teaching her to sing Carole King songs before she learns to talk.

But that isn’t me.  It was never me.  A wise woman once told me, “You can’t make an elephant a giraffe.”  I think I’m the elephant in this scenario…?  Ha.

Even from a music stand-point, being “musically active” and being in the “Artist” headspace are two very different things, and it’s been an internal tug-of-war for me the last few years.  I thought that I could quench this thirst by constantly singing…whether it was with background vocals for other people on stage and in the studio, writing songs, singing demos, being around music-makers, etc. etc.  Turns out, I’m still thirsty.  Because as wonderful and inspiring as all of that is, it’s only half of the dream.  And I know A LOT of killer female vocalists that will agree with me on that.  Not because we want to be famous or win a Grammy…but because we have our own thing with it’s own fire and that comes with a burning desire to share it, despite how terrifying it seems sometimes.

And the reality of me extinguishing any of the dreams inside of me are virtually impossible.  It doesn’t happen.  Believe me, I’ve tried in the past.  For the sake of true transparency here, I tried a lot… one toxic relationship after another, co-dependency, drinking, going broke, thinking the absolute worst of myself until I made my thoughts a stinging reality at some points, surrounding myself with the wrong crowd, losing confidence in my gift, not loving or respecting myself enough to forgive my missteps, exhausting myself “keeping busy” rather than moving forward, causing my family to borderline stage an intervention, doubting that anyone would even listen or support me if I tried to step out again, and at least 271 other ways I tried to find a way “out” of my true calling.

But guess what…?

I lived through it all, SO much better for it.

I lived through it all, with a new-found appreciation that I still have the option for my calling…which, is more like a screaming than a calling these days.

And with that, it’s become abundantly clear that there was really only one choice for me all along.

The music thing.

Twitter: @itsraywilliams

IG: @rayray_dubbz


(All the props to my co-writer & musical genius friend, Bonnie Baker for her cool office/writing space vibes in this photo!)

Burden or light.

I don’t know when it happened exactly.  I just know it happened.

It wasn’t overnight.  It wasn’t one catastrophic event.  It wasn’t someone’s words that lingered.  It wasn’t one specific loss that did me in.

So I guess it was an endless series of things…life…that didn’t seem all that noticeable at the time but “out of nowhere”, somehow, it all culminated into a big ball of everything.  Defeat.  Exhaustion.  Emptiness.  Fear.

I lost faith in myself.

I lost trust in not just a dream, but in my purpose. 

No one understands the weight and the weightlessness of someone’s dream except the one dreaming it.  They can try to explain it to you, the highs and lows…You can nod your head and say, “I get it” but we both know you’re lying.  Because someone’s vision for their life is theirs and theirs alone.  The words will always fall flat to the most hopeful of dreams and ambitions.  My story will not resonate in your soul like it resonates in mine.  That is fact.  And each of us can choose to see that as a burden or as a light.  In my life, I’ve switched back and forth on how I view mine.  And as of lately, it’s been on the heavier side.

And as I sit here on this office couch in Kingston Springs, Tennessee, the reality of my situation is sinking me into these couch cushions more than my big ass.

I cannot ignore it.

I cannot turn off the voice inside.

There is no fire extinguisher to put out whatever is trying to burn brighter inside of me.  I’ve looked for one.  Whether it was in a bar, or in a bed, or holding new nieces and nephews and trying to convince myself that “This wouldn’t be so bad”…  It didn’t work.

So, I have a choice.

We all have a choice.

Burden or light.

Somewhere along the way, a lot of us quit dreaming.  It became too hard.  Too unattainable.  Or, you gave up on yourself before you even started.  Or, you turned 40 and you deemed yourself “too old”.  The world, your family, your significant other told you there was no security in it and you believed them.  Whether it was a teacher who once wanted to move to Hollywood or a plumber who dreamed of being a writer all through high school.  You went another way because you were unsure.  And it’s not to say you don’t live a happy life now.  Your life is valid and important.  We need the teachers, the bartenders, the taxi drivers, the construction workers, and so on to survive.  But maybe you had other aspirations once upon a time.  And maybe, just maybe, it’s okay for you to still have them today…even if it’s not what’s bringing in your paycheck.

Being in Nashville the last few days has been a very eye-opening experience.  Living here 50/50 is good for me. I’m starting to see it differently, literally and figuratively.  I’m having different conversations.  And even the conversations that might be the same, I’m choosing to take away different information from them.  And the thought that keeps nailing me in the back of the head is this… the dreamer’s dream is as big or small as they make it.  It’s as heavy or as light as you want it to be.

I don’t know who/when/where it says that you can’t pursue whatever it is you want to.  Or that there’s an expiration date/age for going after something with all your heart.  Or that you can only choose “one thing” and stick with it until you get rich or you die of a broken heart and a shriveled liver.  Really?  Those are my only options?  I call bullshit.

This weekend I was humbled by a few conversations with good friends.

I have confessed my insecurities and my crippling self-doubt about finally releasing my new music and stepping into the “artist” role again.  I have teared up admitting that I’m afraid to pick up the phone or shoot the email to ask for help because I feel like no one cares anymore.  It took too long.  I’ve paralyzed myself by attaching everything to this big vision of how I thought it should be…all the ducks that needed to be in a row…that now that it’s taken longer than it was supposed to, I’m somehow inadequate.  My fear became too all-consuming for me to commit and pull the trigger.

Their response to my bleeding heart confessions…?

Do it.  Write it.  Sing it.  And they will come.  The time is now. 

How uncomplicated & undramatic is that?!  After this long & drawn out internal war I’ve been waging in my head that has drained me completely…THAT is the solution?!


1st conversation:  One of my dear friends is a photographer here in Nashville.  An incredible photographer at that.  She called me up and treated me to breakfast because she wanted to ask for my help.  At 32 years old, she wants to start writing songs.  Can’t sing, can’t play any instruments, but wanted to follow this creative path because it called to her.  She’s not looking for it to produce a hit song or a publishing deal…she just wants to write.  I was so blown away by this concept that when she asked if I’d help her, I answered with a resounding, “Fuck yes.”  So the next day, she came out, I helped piece together one of her tunes and she was over the moon.  She’s still on such a high from absorbing information I’d shared with her about song structure and the business that she can’t stop writing…or singing my praises.  And it’s just like, holy shit… how brave that she doesn’t know what she’s doing yet but she’s just doing it anyway.  I used to be her.  And if she can be her and not feel afraid to dream new dreams, then what the hell is my excuse…?

2nd conversation:  Friend of mine has been in town over a decade, singing and writing his ass off.  He networks like no one I’ve ever seen.  His hair, his clothes, his voice…all loud and proud and he gives off the vibe that he gives zero fucks what anyone has to say about it.  Sitting down for coffee with him yesterday, he caught me up on his journey.  After over a decade in this town, playing & hosting writer’s rounds and performing showcases as a solo artist, he decided to change it up and form a band to play downtown Broadway every Friday night, after never playing/aspiring to play downtown before.  And not just “play on Broadway”, but audition, rehearse, and put together a BOMB ASS SHOW that no one else is doing downtown and that people are flipping out over.  He posts videos of rehearsals, etc. unapologetically and people are loving it…he’s exposing his talent in a way he hadn’t before and it’s awesome.  Why?  Because he felt like it.  Oh, and he also started his own clothing/styling thaaang and he’s KILLING IT.  So who’s to say that “the dream” has to follow X, Y, Z to be recognized and appreciated…?!

3rd conversation:  Yesterday I attempted a Sunday Funday, brunch and all, and it didn’t go quite as I had imagined.  By 3pm, my friends had other plans to tend to so I was left with a full belly, a couple of vodka sodas in me, and nowhere to be.  As I was driving back to the house and passing through Music Row, a friend/my favorite co-writer called me up and asked what I was up to.  I immediately spit out, “Meet me at the office.  Now.  We are writing a song on a Sunday Funday.”  So we did.  I’d had this song idea in my head for a few days and I guess I felt it hit too close to home to sit down and flush out by myself.  I needed backup.  Her and I are good about doing that for each other, ha.  During our write/therapy session we started talking about how things in Nashville have changed so much in all the years we’ve been here.  We talked about the hustle.  We talked about the lack of the hustle as compared to some of these ‘newbies’.  We talked about the new crop of writers and artists coming here and how they are making things happen and how it’s easy to feel forgotten if you let yourself go there.  She works harder than anyone I know.  She’s working the graveyard shift at a “real job” so that she can try to pay her bills, takes a short nap during the day, and then wakes up and writes songs/goes to shows before she has to go work again with a few hours of sleep under her belt.  I don’t know dedication like that, I really don’t.  But she does it.  And when I watch her win CMA Song of the Year in the future, everyone in this town is going to celebrate the girl behind that dedication.  I told her, “What if we moved forward acting like we’re fresh off the boat too.  What if the stars in our eyes still existed, we just let life cloud them over.”  And then we wrote a really good song.

It’s not a prerequisite to have a tortured heart or be a pessimist to chase dreams.  We choose that on our own.  And how we beat ourselves up is farrrr worse than what anyone out there has ever said/thought about us.  So I hope we can get over it.  Because the alternative is to stop chasing.  And I don’t know about you, but I’m quite positive that I have no other skill sets and I’m miserable doing anything else soooo…this is it.  It’s time I start acting like it again.

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“I talked myself out of it.”

It’s 2AM and I can’t sleep.

There is nothing particularly wrong.  Sometimes the brain just wants to create…and in my case, that means I’m writing.

It’s been over a month since my last blog.  I’ve thought about sitting down and writing every single day since then.  I’d take my laptop in the car with me wherever I’d go…including a couple trips to Nashville in December and over New Year’s.  But I talked myself out of it each time.  I’d find myself responding to an email, stalking my Facebook feed, or looking up which crazy-colored yoga pants I wanted to order from Kate Hudson.  While I type this, I realize that the words “I talked myself out of it” feels a bit like a Nerf gun fired to my face.

Because I do that.  A lot. 

**Talk myself out of things, and get nailed in the face with Nerf darts.

Whether it’s going out of my comfort zone to talk to someone I don’t know, sing a song I’m not sure I remember the lyrics to, go inside Chase bank and make them reverse their ridiculous maintenance charges, purchase the plane ticket, wake up in time for that kickboxing class, apologize to my boyfriend, or write a fucking blog.  I’ve probably “talked myself out of” some of the best “could’ve been” times because I didn’t trust it, for one reason or another.

It’s January.
Everyone’s at the gym.  Everyone is swearing to call their Grandpa more, lose 14.8 pounds, read the Bible, quit smoking, etc etc…And I wish them all luck.  When the ball dropped this year, I was still in horror of the Mariah Carey fiasco. (I don’t think I recovered for days afterward, if we’re being honest.)  While enjoying mimosas with a couple of my favorite gays on a New Year’s Day brunch, it dawned on me that I hadn’t made a resolution.  Champagne aided in me never making a resolution that day.  I wasn’t ready. 

Because with this new year/new start, it meant leaving 2016 behind.

There was much to love… I fell in love/stayed in love/am still in love with an incredible man.  My two sisters gave me a baby niece and nephew over the summer.  Two of my best friends got married, and my childhood bestfriend welcomed a baby girl right around my birthday.  I finished filming a music documentary coming out later this year.  I wrote & recorded songs that I’m extremely proud of.  I’ve sang in the studio and on the stage with some of my musical heroes.  My boyfriend and I adopted a sheltie puppy and named her Blanche (Devereaux), after my favorite Golden Girl.  I spent time with the ocean, the Great Lakes, New York City, the West Coast, and got to take my 89 year old Granny to Nashville to see her family twice.  I read more books and wrote more songs/poems/stories/blogs than I have in years.

There was much I could have done without too.
There was death.  There was a cancer diagnosis for my uncle.  There were internal battles within myself that felt like a Target bag over the head.  There were growing aches and pains for the girl and the life I was growing out of.  There were days of crippling self-doubt. There were moments of family drama/crisis that made me feel like I was imploding.  There were career/timeline setbacks.

There was life.  There was loss.

Nothing better portrayed this than my last blog entry.

On December 2, 2016, I wrote a long-winded blog about the significance of my 1st nephew, Nolan and his entrance into this world 6 years ago.  Hundreds of you read it/commented/”liked”…  It felt like such a release to share part of mine & my family’s story with you.

On that same day, December 2, 2016, my boyfriend’s best friend passed away.

We didn’t find out until the following night.

“Unexpected” is what they called it, but it felt much more severe than that.  When you’re having some beer and chicken pot pie at a neighborhood dive bar with someone, and 24 hours later, that person is gone… “unexpected” doesn’t begin to cover it.

EJ Grossi died at 34 years old.

I didn’t know EJ very well.  Him and my boyfriend had over a decade’s worth of friendship.  EJ actually lived with my boyfriend for awhile before/at the beginning of us dating.  When things started getting more serious, EJ moved out and me & my dogs moved in.  My boyfriend and EJ resumed their “best friend status” and were always hanging out when I’d go out of town, mostly just sitting at the house and talking.  He loved our dogs.  EJ was quirky and weird in the best way, super spontaneous, unassumingly thoughtful, and truly loved his people…and always wanted his people to know his people.  Case in point, when my boyfriend & I hung out with him the night before he died, he handed me 2 CD’s there in the bar.  It was music by a couple of his friends and he said he thought of me and that I might enjoy a listen.  He also said if I thought the music sucked, I could use them as coasters, ha.

His funeral was surreal.  There were so many people and never a good place to stand that was “out of the way” of everyone else.  Looking at photos of him on the memory boards was numbing and shocking at the same time.  He looked just like me, just like any of us.  There were tears and laughs as everyone reminisced with each other.  I couldn’t attach to any of it.  I just fixated on my boyfriend the entire time…wanting to scoop him up if I detected any slight sign of an emotional collapse.  I was prepared to save him.  I wanted to save him.

I also wanted to cry.  But I “talked myself out it”. 

I’ve cried since then.  Only a few times, and always by myself.  I don’t know if it’s my distain for crying…or my fear that my boyfriend will sink into depression if he sees how I affected I am…or that I don’t know/don’t want to think about all the things that are surfacing inside of me because of this loss.  I still haven’t figured it out.  Which is why, every time I thought about blogging, I didn’t know where to start.  It seemed inappropriate to write about someone I didn’t know very well or for very long.  Because, as you know, I like to talk myself out of things.

But somewhere, in the last couple days, I started to grasp that it’s okay to speak of things you don’t understand.  Because if you don’t speak it, how will you ever understand it?   I need to remind myself of that.  My feelings are real.  EJ’s presence was/continues to be real.  My boyfriend’s memories are real.

I think if this gut-punching end to 2016 is teaching me anything about what a new year of life to live should really mean, it would be…
Quit fucking talking myself out of it.

Rest in peace, EJ.



I will never, in my lifetime, forget December 2, 2010.

I was sleeping in bed alongside my “work-in-progress” boyfriend at the time, in my blue bedroom, in my new house in Hermitage, TN.  I woke up to my phone vibrating on the nightstand.  I picked it up and immediately saw a photo of a baby in an incubator, all 19 inches and 7 lbs 4 oz of him.  The arrival of my first nephew, Nolan Robert was here.  I immediately cried tears of pure joy as I admired this photo.  That joy soon turned into tears of desperation and what felt like a hole in my heart the rest of the day/week.  He was here, in the world, for me to hold, and I was 600 miles away looking at a photo on my phone.

I finally met and held this perfect baby roughly 2 weeks after his birth, when I was able to take off work/studio/girlfriend duty for Christmas and drive up to Michigan for the holidays.  I cried again when I met him.  In all honesty, I’ve been shedding tears for him/over him/because of him ever since.

It’s somewhat comical, really.

When I first met my boyfriend Jon and we started dating this time last year, he thought Nolan was secretly my child.  I had so many photos of him on my phone and I proudly displayed them to anyone whose attention I had for more than 2 seconds.  My friends laughed and said I was obsessed.  I’m sure my Facebook and Instagram friends thought the same, with my endless photo/video uploads of him over the years.  I was.  And I am.  But it’s not for reasons that are so obvious to the outside world. 

I’m sure you’ve already heard me gush over him and the little person he’s becoming.  So I’d like to take a different approach with this blog to acknowledge/celebrate/reminisce over his arrival into this world.  I’d like to share with you the truest reason why I’ll love this child like he is my own forever and always.  To put it bluntly…

Nolan saved my family.

He may never know that and I’ll never tell him.  But I will always know.  My sisters, my brother, and my parents will also always know, whether they’ll admit it publicly or not.

The loyalty within my family is ferocious.  That is the only word I can use to describe it.  It is protective.  And just as it can be nurturing and safe, it can also tear you to shreds.  No one can truly understand or appreciate our dynamic unless you’re within it’s folds.  I’m not complaining about it whatsoever.  I love it.  It’s the only way I’ve known.  It has also exhausted me plenty throughout my life.

I am the oldest of 4…2 sisters and a brother.  When I first moved to Nashville, the youngest of the litter, my baby sister, took it the hardest.  She was 11 or 12 years old when I moved.  I remember her crying on the phone to me.  I remember poems and photo collages she’d give to me when I’d come home to visit.  I felt a very real responsibility to her.  I wanted to show her that having big dreams is scary but beautiful and that she too could be brave enough to chase them…to risk the crash and burn, just like me.  I’d drive and meet my dad halfway in Cincinnati, just to take her and my brother for a long weekend away with me in Nashville.  I spent so much time trying to instill hope and confidence in her for a bigger life.

My baby sister got pregnant at 17.  Out of nowhere.  No warning.  No sign of a boyfriend or partying or any type of rebellion in that sense.  She was a senior in high school.  She got impregnated by a “man” that I won’t dignify acknowledging except to say that he had the most minimal part in creating a baby…that, and my hatred for this person consumed me for years after the fact.  Now?  I still wouldn’t piss on him if he were on fire, but I don’t wish him on fire anymore.

I wanted to save my sister from this.  My heart was shattered that she didn’t want to be saved from this.  I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep.  The downward spiral of the situation was fast, severe, and plunged below any level I knew existed.  Suddenly there were enemy lines drawn and part of the family stood on one side and part of us on another.  Watching my parents go through it was even more torturous than my own hurt.  I was driving up to Michigan on a whim a couple times a month to make sure everyone was still breathing.

She can’t have this baby.

It was a thought we all had.  It makes me sick to my stomach to look back on that now, but at the time…we really didn’t think the family or my sister would ever recover from bringing a baby into this mess.

I love my sister.  I loved her despite the whirlwind of hurt and brokenness we were all swept up in.  All the skeletons were out of the closet so there was nothing more to do…but watch her belly grow.  I remember Halloween of 2010, she was 8 months along.  It was the first time I talked to the baby in her belly.  It was the first time I whole-heartedly acknowledged that the baby was coming, ready or not.  I went back for Thanksgiving, hoping she’d go into labor during my visit.  She didn’t.  So I drove the long and lonely 8 hours back to Nashville at the end of November.  By December 2nd, a baby was here.

I remember I had driven all through the night.  I was tired.  I was wearing an orange hoodie & yoga pants with my greasy hair tied up in a bun.  She walked into my parent’s house with the baby in his carrier and I lost it.  There was hopeEverything dark had led us to this.

My family did recover over time.  It wasn’t instant, but there was a new flag for this family now.  It wasn’t chaos, it wasn’t hurt.  It was Nolan.

Over the years, my love and adoration would never waiver.  I’d drive up every other month for him.  I’d take him to Nashville with me, all by myself, for a week or two at a time, every single year.  He brought out the good in me, the uninhibited and yet nurturing spirit in me.  For a long time, nothing else brought out the good except for him and my Granny.  I could be a train wreck every other day out of the year.  But the days with Nolan, I wasn’t.  I was Auntie Ray Ray.  And out of all the people I felt I “needed” to be, all the people I pretended to be…Auntie Ray Ray was the most natural, most effortless role I’ve ever taken on.

It would take me 5 very long years to realize that if I built upon who I was with Nolan (and my Granny), I would be a happier person.  If I could show myself the same love, support, and forgiveness that I was showing a toddler… I’d probably be living a much different life.  How could I be one person that loves/would move mountains/self-sacrifice for her family and then another who just didn’t give a flying @#$* about anything…but who was still fun and funny, carefree and incredibly careless, who controlled her conscience like a light switch.  The answer is… I couldn’t be both and do either of them well.  One Rachel has to outweigh the other.

So I let the scales tip.  And I’ve been letting them tip for the past year.  And I’m so thankful that for once, it feels like they’re tipping in the right direction.

So on Nolan’s 6th birthday…I am a puddle of gratitude.

He’s growing up.  And so am I.


P.S.  If you feel inclined to do so, you can check out the song I wrote for this little nugget a few years back at









Death…and what’s left behind.

Death…and what’s left behind.

Mortality is something I’ve thought about a lot this year.  And when I wasn’t thinking about it, well…it’d come back and slap me in the face a few times to remind me it was still a thing that needed to be thought on.

This year taught me a lot about shutting up.  Listening.  Learning.  I absorbed everything… the softness of baby cheeks, the rush I’d get when creating a song that enthralls me the more we write it, the indescribable beauty I see on every walk/road-trip/sunrise and sunset, the wrinkles in my Granny’s hands, the loudness & the ridiculousness of my family in a room and how I’ll laugh until I borderline pee myself, the heaviness and fluffiness of my 13 year old dog laying on my chest and remembering the good/bad/complete chaos of the last 13 years, stopping and actually smelling the flowers that are always waiting for me on the kitchen table when I get back to town.  There was a lot of hurt, disappointment, and loss to take in too.

I’ll admit, I haven’t been as adamant about blogging as I was when I initially started this particular blog.  I guess that’s life.  At least, that’s what I chalked it up to…  But what happens when that life is a lot more fragile than we ever care to admit to ourselves?  It’s brutal when it shows it’s cracks…even more brutal when it shatters to something that feels like it can’t be salvaged.  And most heart-breaking of all, is when it’s gone forever.

I love to write.  A lot of people say I should be a writer, and not just of songs.  It’s not that I don’t agree, I just always think that it’s something I’ll get around to.  I have plenty of time for “side” careers.  My story (or stories) will get written and it’ll be insane and hysterical and touching and heart-wrenching.  Right now, I’m busy enough being a singer & songwriter, a big sister/daughter/Auntie to a rather needy (but hilarious) group of crazies, a mother to 4 dogs, a therapist to any girlfriend that calls on me for advice, and a somewhat sane girlfriend to the man of my dreams.

Writing can wait.

Babies can wait.  (That one, I’m pretty sure can wait.)

Travelling can wait.

It’s not “the right time”.

The “right time” in 2016 has been showing up, even when it was beyond inconvenient, when I couldn’t explain it.  When my head was convinced of one thing but my gut was telling me another, so I prayed to the sky that whichever way I proceeded didn’t completely #@*! up the course of life.  Thankfully, the world did not end.

And now I’m sitting at a computer at 8PM on a Monday evening, the eve of Election Day.  Thinking.  Feeling.   It’s never the right time to feel things and blog about things that are unpleasant.  The Election is one of these things.  Death is definitely one of these things.  Don’t you worry, I’ll only be talking about the latter.

My last living grandparent turned 89 years old in August.  Clearly anyone that knows anything about me knows that I worship the ground she walks on.  My Grandpa (her husband) was my world when I was younger.  He died unexpectedly in an accident when I was barely 6 years old.  I remember everything about how they told me, where I was, the look on my Dad’s face… I remember the funeral and how I cried in the corner until the pastor came and found me, how I stepped on my Grandma’s toes when everyone stood in line to hug her after the service.  I remember how strange and empty it felt to go to her house for awhile after he was gone.  It was my first loss.

  • A couple years later, my Mom’s Mom, my Nana, died from an unexpected blood clot during a hip-replacement surgery when I was 8.  One day we were visiting her in the hospital and she was fine, the next day she was gone.  She was the same height as me and I loved her.  I can still put myself right back in her house, smell the food she was cooking, me clunking the keys on her piano by the front door.  My mother has never been whole since.
  • Nine days before my 9th birthday, my best friend died of leukemia.  Followed by her father a few years later, also from cancer.  I remember her birthday and the day of her death every single year.  Any time I find an old photo of her, I treat it like gold.
  • Around the same time, my Mother’s oldest brother, my Uncle Joe passed of leukemia.
  • My sophomore year of high school, my Mother’s father passed away in hospice.  I remember the teddy bear I gave my Papa when he moved out of his house and into a home.  I still have the rocking horse he made me as a kid.

There have certainly been deaths that have occurred in my life, in my family & friend’s life during those times and since then that have hurt like hell.  But the ones listed above were the ones that were fundamental in shaping my understanding of death.  More importantly, they shaped my understanding of God.  Because there’s no way I could have comprehended anything about love & life, heartbreak & compassion, without praying & pleading to someone above.

So now here we are…


  • My Granny’s oldest brother, my Great Uncle Wilburn, passed away this spring.  It was divine intervention that I was in the right place at the right time to help her travel between Detroit and Tennessee.  The decision to not drive her back to Detroit the morning I was supposed to will forever be chiseled in my heart.  Her brother died that night.
  • My mother’s brother, my Uncle Corky, died of cancer this summer.  I didn’t see him all that much as I got older, but I remember his funny mumbles and his banter with the family growing up.  I remember how cool I thought his basement was as a kid.  The cathedral that his funeral service was held in made me nostalgic for my grandparents.  All the Catholic services that I felt forced to attend as a kid suddenly seem downright beautiful to me now.
  • Literally, one week later, my mother’s last surviving brother, my Godfather…Uncle Mike…was diagnosed with leukemia.  I don’t remember the last time I cried so hard.  This is my long-haired, Polish Superman.  It’s been bad, it’s been good, it’s been us over-eating Polish food at his house last night.  I’m optimistic because God told me to be.  And I love him so much.  And he will see me get married.

The last 2 weeks

  • My sister and niece were rear-ended in a horrific-looking accident.  One minute, she was calling me to ask if I wanted her to pick me up a few pumpkins from a roadside stand.  A few minutes later, her car was totaled.  Thanks be to God, no one was injured.
  • I got the unbelievable privilege to see St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN.  I’ve played benefits for St. Jude in Nashville before.  We’ve all heard the telethons & commercials for St. Jude…but nothing was like seeing it for yourself.  Meeting the people that work there, the kids who are just the brightest of lights, and the parents of these kids who are doing everything to make their children’s light even brighter.  It was beautiful.  If a place like this exists and exudes nothing but hope…why can’t I.
  • Someone that is like a second mother to me had a cancer scare a few weeks ago and surgery to remove a tumor.  It’s taken awhile for the results to come back, so my chats with God have been pretty constant.  We just found out today that she’s in the clear 🙂

And most recently…

I found out a couple days ago that a very close friend of 2 of my best friends (and newlyweds) died while deployed in Jordan.  Staff Sgt.Kevin J. McEnroe was in the US Army Special Forces with Shawn. I remember meeting him casually with Kristine and Shawn in Nashville.  They told me he had a girlfriend so I quickly got over thinking he was “the handsome friend”.  A year or so later, I saw him again with his beautiful girlfriend at Kristine & Shawn’s wedding this September.  We all danced and celebrated the night away.  That was only 2 months ago.  I’ve been praying for his family & friends and Kristine & Shawn so hard.  Kevin’s sacrifice shakes me at my core.

It’s time we talk about Death.  It’s time we talk about what we fear and what we truly dream for ourselves…openly and honestly.  What we’re going to do with the life we still have while we’re still able to do something with it.

Not cliché quotes.

Not photos or hashtags or song lyrics.

What are you going to DO?  What are you going to SAY?  WHO do you want in your circle, standing with you?  Who do you want to be NOW?  Seriously.  No bullshit.

After I click “Publish” on this post, I’m going to pray that I’m always awake to these questions.

Rest in peace, Staff Sgt. Kevin Joseph McEnroe
My Godfather with my baby niece and nephew this Halloween
The beauty of St. Jude
Elizabeth Gail Fontana



Blogs, bandwagons, and Beyonce

First and foremost, let me preface my first blog entry with the fact that I’m more than aware that a majority of you don’t really give a shit about blogs.

I mean, I don’t blame you, I don’t particularly care for many either. They are all about Paleo and pinning  (seriously, still have no idea what Pinterest is supposed to be).  Or they discuss fashionable accessories for the season, with photos of outfits that will never make an appearance in my closet unless I win the lotto.  And hire a stylist.  It’s a lot to take in.  And more power to the people that write and follow them.  I can only speak of what I know…

I know about creating music, how to attract toxic men, and… vodka, or chilled red wine if I’m feeling classy.

And sure, I’ll throw in my hysterically ‘colorful’ family and 2 dogs that I’ve managed to keep alive for 10+ years now.  Topics of conversations between me and just about anyone I know are typically loud & inappropriate, and 99% of the time end with some sort of dance sequence where I resemble Danny Tanner twerking.

I enjoy being weird as shit, making my family worry that I’ll “never settle down”, and keeping my life as open and honest as possible.  Because whether you’re weirded out, embarrassed for me, concerned, or you too are laughing into a glass of alcohol while you read this… the bottom line is, we’ve all been there. 

I have very good reason to believe there’s a lot of you out there that are very much like me, I’m just publicly owning it now.

For the first time in my life, I’ve accepted what I’m good at:
Music, pinching butts, telling stories with great comic timing, Snapchatting, making my 88 year old Granny feel like a million bucks, giving advice and not taking it, having Beyoncé dance parties in my car, getting on the same level of maturity as my 5 year old nephew, consuming large amounts of caffeine, making sure no ex ever says I got fat, living out of a suitcase, coming up with dog names, etc.

And then there’s accepting what I’m not good at:
Anything domestic, anything to do with money, making my parents think I’m responsible, sleeping in, having a home address, getting excited over anyone’s bridal/baby shower, telling a guy that it’s “just not working out” directly to his face, being on time for anything ever in life, reading instructions and following through til completion, etc.

I’m not creating a blog because I’m particularly intelligent or enlightened about this thing we call “life”, but because I’m learning.  And I think it’s only right to pass it on.  Finding the humor in the truths about myself, as brutal as they sometimes are, keeps me from beating myself up.  It also makes the daunting task of ‘self-improvement’ more fun.  And trust me, we all could use some improving.  And some laughs.

I’ve done it the hard way. The ugly way. The lonely way. The self-destructive way.  And a little over 6 months ago, I decided I didn’t want to take those roads anymore.

But I had to take the first step in the other direction.

And as it turns out, it wasn’t a step at all for me.

It was a leap.  A giant, terrifying, exhilarating leap that took me completely outside of myself.  And I’m still alive to tell you about it.

So this blog is for me.  This blog is for you.  Hopefully it inspires us both ❤