women and age

I learned a new word recently—the Japanese word "yutori." It means "living with spaciousness." And the example they gave was "leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you’re going to arrive early, so when you get there, you have time to look around." I love learning new words that don’t have a direct translation in English and how you can see what another culture values by what concepts they decide to name.

This past week, with one or two out of town trips per month for the rest of this year, I’ve been trying to book new flights, change existing ones, practice for upcoming shows, memorize words for my TEDx talk, send invoices on time, and still do my laundry (did it), attempt to do my taxes (didn't do it), and go home to celebrate my mom’s birthday. Basically I have been practicing the opposite of yutori, running from one thing to another, and trying to get something checked off my to-do list during the 4 minutes I have while waiting for the train before I lose service. And yes, I’m getting things done, so I am "productive." Sometimes a week or month or two like this is necessary, but I realized I do this every single day. And days make up weeks. And weeks make up months. And I think you get where I am going with this.

Basically, I looked up and rather than "being" in my life, I have been running through it. Easier said than done to shift this, I know. But I realized that if I want to stop running, I have to change how much I want to get done. As in, maybe I don’t need to add a violin and cello duet to the end of my TEDx talk, which would then require my flying out to San Francisco a day earlier, finding a new San Francisco-based cellist, and adding a rehearsal and soundcheck to the weekend. It goes against everything in me that is yelling: "Do everything and do it fast!" but I also don’t want to lose my life to this voice.

I wanted to try to understand where this voice came from. I think it's especially loud in women because of how we're taught to relate to time, and age. We start learning the idea that there is a time limit basically as soon as we learn that we're female. We are told either directly or indirectly that we need to succeed by a certain age or we won’t succeed at all.

This is especially true for women in the entertainment industry. The first time I was told I "better get moving because time is running out," I was 19 years old. This is not unusual. In the years since then I've been told this directly on weekly basis at minimum (it's correlated with how often I go out and how many men in the music industry I interact with) and by osmosis at all times by mainstream media.

Last week at a dinner party I was seated next to man who used to run a major record label and now has started his own label. The following conversation is verbatim:

Him: What do you do?

Me: I’m a musician.

Him: What kind?

Me: Songwriter, singer. Mostly alternative pop.

Him: Are you on a label?

Me: No.

Him: How old are you?

Me: Can I ask you something? Why are you asking me this? And please be honest. Because in my experience, when women ask me this question, if at all, it's to relate to me. And when men ask me this question, it's to place some limit on me, either in terms of my career or attraction.

Him: I was trying to decide whether you are going to make it or not.

Me: Thanks for your honesty.

Him: My market and the artists I am looking for are 15 to 18 years old. I’m just telling you the truth about this industry.

I can't count how many times I've had some version of the above conversation. An older white man telling me why I’m already irrelevant and why I have no future in this industry. I know I am not alone in this. No woman, and especially no woman in the entertainment industry, will be surprised reading this. It's especially sad and backwards that it is exactly when women start to really know themselves, grow a backbone, and have something to say that we tell them "time’s up, you’re too old now."

The idea that my time is running out has been drilled into me for as long as I can remember. It has seeped into my days and hours and every moment, so that I wake up already feeling like I'm running behind, and I fall asleep feeling like I haven’t accomplished enough.

So back to yutori. Practicing yutori while being a woman in this fucked up system can actually be an act of feminist rebellion. I’ve been trying pose this question to myself each morning: "What if I have my entire life to have a voice and sing and write and tour? What if it doesn’t end at 30?" And when I do this, a part of me breathes again. My attention shifts from being focused on catching up to a place I will never reach to experiencing the present moment. Note that I said "a part of me," can breathe, not all of me, because this message has been drilled into me for my entire life. Unlearning takes time.

Even when I was writing this to you all, I felt myself rushing because there are 10 other things I need to get done today—rehearsal and recording and emails and more memorizing —but if there is no time to sit, and think, and write a letter today, and there wasn’t time yesterday, or the day before, then there won’t ever be time on any day and my life will be lame as fuck. And I don’t want that. I want yutori and I want to actually experience my life, not run past it. So I’m taking forever to write this long ass letter to you because I want to. And because there is time.


Read the full article on Buzzfeed here: Asian-American Artists Discuss How Art Has Changed Their Lives.

What kind of art do you do?

“I write and sing songs.”

What inspired you to start creating art?

“After college, I was working at a consulting firm. I was probably 95% happy — I loved living in San Francisco, I loved my friends and coworkers, and the job was interesting. But there was this 5% curiosity for something different that kept popping its head up. One evening after work, I wanted to try to write a song. I had grown up learning violin, piano, and flute classically, but I’d never been creative with these instruments. In writing that first song, I fell in love with music again in a different, more personal way.”

How has art changed your life for the better?

“I used to be extremely passive about things. I didn’t raise my hand in class or speak up much in conversations. And from little things like small talk to bigger things like career choices, I would let others speak and decide for me because I figured whatever I had to say or think, other people knew better than I did.”

When I started writing songs, it was a very gradual process, but I started to realize, song by song, that I did have opinions and things to express, even if just to myself. Music woke me up. I started actually participating in my own life for the first time. It started with expressing myself in songs, but spread to other parts of my life too. I’m very grateful to have found songwriting for this reason.”

How has your art affected those around you / your community?

“Growing up, I saw very few Asian-American artists. I think we can only become what we can see, so movies, ads, and TV shows play a huge role in shaping what we think is possible for ourselves. I think this is very slowly starting to change as more Asian-Americans choose to go into the arts and as the media start to show Asian-Americans in less stereotypical ways, but there is still a long way to go. I know I am only one person, but I hope that in a small way, my pursuing something that breaks stereotypes will contribute to this change.”

You can check out Sonia’s art here and her new album Meet Them at the Door on Spotify.

Sonia's interview with My Morning Routine

Read the full interview here: Sonia Rao's Morning Routine or below. 


What is your morning routine?

I wake up at 8:00ish (the “ish” is my hitting the snooze button for an extra fifteen minutes) and usually lay there for a moment trying to remember my dream and thinking about the day ahead. I’ll then shower and get dressed. Even though I work from home most days, I still like to get dressed for the day right away.

I have breakfast, meditate for thirty minutes, and free-write for another thirty minutes. At 10:00am, I check my email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and my phone. I respond to anything that needs a response on these, and then I turn off my phone until evening. (I turn it back on when I need to call somebody, then I turn it off again). Phones drive me crazy - I only feel completely present if mine is turned off and put away, so I try to do that whenever possible. I know I sound like a weirdo, but it’s made me much happier to keep my phone off for most of the day.

At 11:00am, I do vocal warm-ups, practice violin, and work for a few hours. This is my favorite part of the day, when I can put everything out of my mind and focus on music. Right now I’m preparing for a tour, so I’m working on my live set. After touring ends, instead of practicing, I’ll use this time for writing new songs.

At 3:00pm I have a late lunch. I like to get out of the house, so I’ll run an errand, go for a quick walk somewhere, or call my mom. From 4:00pm until 8:00pm or so, I work on the non-music parts of being a musician, of which there are apparently a lot. When I first started out, I didn’t realize how entrepreneurial being a musician would be. I love this other type of creativity, but it does take up quite a bit of time.

Around 8:30pm, I usually go meet someone for dinner or drinks. After working at home alone all day, I try to make sure I go out and see people in the evenings. Sometimes, if I’m in a good workflow, I’ll go three or four days without seeing anyone; this feels okay, though, and is exactly what I need in the moment.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

This has been my routine for the past couple years. It changes depending on what phase I’m in. When I was recording my album in Nashville last year, my schedule was wake up, go to hot yoga, have breakfast and a smoothie, have some coffee, do vocal warmups, record in Alex’s (producer) studio from noon until midnight… and repeat.

When I’m on tour for the next couple months, I’ll be driving and performing almost every day, so it will probably be sleep, drive, play a show, and repeat. I’m really hoping to do some exploring, though, since I haven’t been to many of these cities before.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

I keep changing it, playing with different routines to see what feels best. Even though I’m self-employed and could technically set whatever hours I’d like, I’ve found that I’m most productive and happiest when I stick to the same schedule that most people around me are on.

It’s kind of a “feeling in the city” thing - I like to sleep when others are sleeping and have brunch on Sundays like everyone around me is doing. When I’m out in the middle of the day on a Wednesday, I start thinking, “Am I doing this life thing wrong? Why am I the only person here at Trader Joe’s right now?” and so on, and I start to question all my life choices. To avoid this crisis, I try to stick to a “normal” schedule for the most part. I used to work at a consulting firm, and when I first quit to work on music full time, I thought I would have a non-schedule schedule, writing only when I felt inspired and so on. But I like showing up to write or practice every day, whether or not I feel like it. I think that’s what keeps me moving forward, both in terms of productivity and creativity.

Productivity-wise, I am way too moody of a person to use the “work when I feel like it” method. I would never get anything accomplished. Creatively, I love sitting down at the piano each day and writing whether or not I feel like it. It’s the best therapy. Usually the first few songs I write after sitting down are terrible and I throw them out, but then that third song will be one that I keep. And it reminds me why the “butt in chair” method works, and the cycle continues.

What time do you go to sleep?

I’m usually in bed between 11:30pm and midnight.

There are exceptions, of course. I might go out with friends. I might have a show. After a show, I am too wired to fall asleep right away, so I’m up later on those nights. I like to read for a while before falling asleep. Actually, I don’t think I can fall asleep without reading. It’s tough for me to transition from being awake to sleeping without focusing my mind on another story.

Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

Yes, and yes. If I actually get eight hours of sleep, then I don’t hit the snooze button, but otherwise, I hit it once or twice. Going back to sleep feels too good not to do it.

Right now, there is a lot to do before my tour, so I set an alarm every day. On tour, after driving and singing so much, I will probably let my body wake up when it wants to instead of setting an alarm. It’s really important to me to stay healthy and feel good on tour. I want to enjoy it, not struggle through it.

How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

I eat as soon as I’m showered and dressed, so typically a half hour after waking up. I usually have toast with butter and a cup of chai.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

No. I always wanted to be that kind of person, but I hate it. I took a morning spin class once, but it’s so awful. This extremely cheerful person is yelling at you to bike faster, and it’s 7:00am, and it’s all terrible. So I haven’t been back.

I moved to New York from Los Angeles a few months ago. When I was in LA, I was doing hot yoga a few times a week in the evenings. But since I moved to New York, I’ve just been trying to walk for an hour a day, which is pretty easy to do here, even if it’s just walking to meet someone for dinner. I might try to find a hot yoga studio here, though, because I miss it.

Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practise?

I meditate for thirty minutes each morning and free-write for another thirty minutes. I’m not sure what type of meditation this is, but I just sit up against my headboard on my bed and focus on my breath. If my mind starts to drift to a thought, then I bring my attention back to my breath.

Mantras and guided meditations feel distracting to me, and I like the simplicity of focusing on my breath. I used to have trouble sticking to a meditation routine, but last year I did a one-week silent meditation retreat and it really changed me. I fell in love with meditation, so now, instead of meditation being something I have to do, it’s something I look forward to doing.

Do you answer email first thing in the morning, or leave it until later in the day?

I usually check my email at 10:00am, but sometimes I check it right after waking up.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

When I go to sleep I put my phone on airplane mode. Sometimes I don’t check my phone until after meditating/writing.

I don’t keep Facebook or any social media apps on my phone. When I used to have Facebook on my phone, it was a terrible thing to check as soon as I woke up; rather than waking up and being with my own thoughts and mood for the morning, I would know about everyone and their moms’ lives before 9:00am. And that’s not how I want to start my day; no offense to everyone’s moms.

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Drinking water and taking a moment to feel thankful for another day (this is cheesy as fuck, I know, but I’m trying to answer honestly here). I lose perspective quickly and tend to get lost in the unimportant details of my life. Morning is when my mind is quiet and clear, and when I’m able to see how lucky I am to have another day ahead of me.

I like to have this moment every morning, even if it’s brief, while making tea. I tried to stop drinking caffeine for years, but I’ve given up. I love it and always will.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

I drink a glass of water and then a cup of chai. I drink two more cups of chai as the day goes on. Many more if I’m writing songs that day. If not, I switch to decaf tea and drink that instead.

Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

I usually work on weekends, but I’m more relaxed about my routine. I’ll meet up with friends for brunch or drinks, or I’ll visit my family.

On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

I love to feel steady and grounded, but with music there is a lot of unpredictability and travel. I think that’s why I create a schedule for myself when I am at home. It gives me a sense of rhythm.

When I am on tour for the next couple months, I’ll be moving between thirty-four cities and I want to feel steady somehow. I will definitely write and meditate each morning; besides these two things, though, I’ll leave the rest unscheduled. The shows are already so scheduled, so I want to use whatever time is leftover to explore the cities I’m in and write new songs.

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

Following a routine is good for me and it allows me to write and practice and play shows, but if I do that for too many weeks in a row, I start to feel like a robot. So every so often I like to completely ignore it and see where the day takes me.