Growing up, many of my classmates and peers from church would go to Mallorca or The Canary Islands* or Crete for one or two weeks of sunshine, food, playing in the pool, and relaxation during the summer break. My family never did. It's not that I felt like I missed out, I got to do way cooler things when I was out of school. It was that it made me different.
My faith also made me different. Denmark is a Christian country, they even have a protestant state religion. But most Danes feel like talking about religion is "way too personal". The standard reply to "do you believe in God?" would sound something like this: "Well... I believe there's something more between heaven and earth than I can see." And that's about all they want to say about it. I heard it many times.
My religion was different. It was all about preaching the good word of the Lord. Once again I felt different.
My brazen outgoingness also made me stand apart from my peers. In a world of adolescents, pre-teens, and teens, who made it cool to be shy, who made awkwardness seem better than confidence, I learned to hide that part of me. They did so, of course, by bullying. Anyone different, yet trying to fit in would get their fair share of teasing, ridicule and questions asked simply to provoke. Not respected for being different, not accepted when trying to fit in, I simply hid.
It's no wonder that I spent most of my later teens and early adulthood in each of the extremes: trying to stand out even more (but not in a good way) or trying to be as normal as possible.
First, in my later teens, I fell in with a crowd from church who all wanted to be as different as possible. But not in the way that I was different. My outgoingness and confidence were not desired qualities in this crowd. Rather it was a strange combination of rebels and good girls/boys. All were "good Christians" but somehow we also all wanted to take things to the very edge of what was deemed acceptable in the church. We would dress differently, listen to some obscure and wild music and dance weirdly at parties. Think Bjork, with a touch of Green Day. I learned to like this music, not because I chose it, but because it was "cool", eccentric and weird. Although this crowd did eventually lead me to Barcelona and to leaving that church, both amazing experiences, it was just trying on another kind of different. One that also didn't fit.
Once returned from Barcelona (a story for another episode) I was done being "different". Since that hadn't really worked for me I thought it was time to squeeze myself into that box called "normal", the one that seemed to make everyone else around me so content. Unburdened by belonging to a religion I was now free to take on the Danish normal. The one where I didn't have to talk about religion because it's considered a private matter. Where life was about dating, having a good job, having friends to party with, and talking to your girlfriends in not so low voices at Sunday's brunch about this weekend's escapades. Basically, living in an episode of "Sex in the City". In this time I did make some healthy discoveries. I made great strides in learning about my own opinions. Those that had been so ruthlessly driven by the church were now mine to figure out. I would find myself in conversation not saying a word because I didn't know how I felt about the given topic. Was this my opinion or the church's? It was good and healthy for me to have time to figure this out for myself.
But I was anything BUT healthy. I battled with what was "ok" and what wasn't. I ate and drank away my feelings and spent way too much time watching TV. But that's "normal" isn't it? I guess I had yet to figure out that normal and healthy are not always the same thing. It was a downward spiral of unfulfillment, increasing insecurity, feeling wrong and out of place. Because of course, I didn't belong in the box I was trying to fit in. I got more and more self-critical. This wasn't working! Why wasn't this working? There must be something wrong with me.
Enter a terrible emotionally abusive relationship that further gave me proof that I indeed was wrong, I was broken. I doubted myself so much that I gave my power away and shriveled into a shadow of myself. One that this so-called partner could prey on until there was nothing left. My wakeup call was when it turned physically violent. It jolted me out of my snooze box. I left immediately and I have never seen his face again. Slowly but surely I started finding myself again. I found people who didn't seem to care that I was different. In fact, they loved it about me. Therapy was a huge help, my therapist helped me realize what healthy was. To heck with normal, to heck with different. I learned to ask "who am I?" and "what's right for me?" rather than try and fit into anyone else's world.
From here I finally moved forward. But not before the world around me burned. My family did not understand this new me. I had a nervous breakdown and lost my stressful sales job. I was an exposed raw nerve-ending in a life I had never wanted to live in the first place. This lead me to a new career path and to India where like so many others I found clarity and well, myself. To be continued...
You can find the song on many other platforms and purchase it by visiting this link:
Imagine if as a child you were told you could be or do anything you wanted, except for the one thing you really love? That pretty much sums up my experience.
I grew up in a pretty strict Christian community. (Note: In order not to hurt any feelings or implicate anyone, I'm choosing not to tell exactly which one.) It was the kind of community that thought of the world as us vs them. The ones who would inherit the earth and the "worldly people" who wouldn't. I grew up in true duality. Right, wrong. Good, evil.
In this culture, pursuing a life in music was considered too worldly a pursuit. You couldn't possibly be a good god-fearing Christian and also stand on a stage each night to be "worshipped".
Most would then say, I should have pursued music within the church. And I am sure that I would have had I had that opportunity. But in this particular denomination, there were no musical outlets to be pursued. No choirs, no band.
My mom told me stories about how she and my Dad were in the regional church choir back in the day and I remember yearning for that kind of legitimate musical outlet. Legitimate, because then it would be music intended for worship, not for personal glory. But by the time I came around those choirs were long gone, I assume because they took the focus away from the church's true teachings.
I remember the summer I came back to school and I was now old enough to join the school choir. I immediately became the teacher's "favorite". To give Jette credit, she didn't play favorites, but I always had a special bond with her. She was my favorite teacher, not only was she also my English teacher and had spent time in the US, she saw that I excelled in her classes and always saw to it that I had extra challenges.
In choir I was happy. I sang my heart out. I loved it when I got to sing a lead or a solo, but I was just as happy learning the hard parts and being moved from one group to the other, whichever one was having difficulties at the time. Which meant I got to learn every harmony part in every song. I was happy that is, until it came time for performances. The only performances I ever remember performing with the choir were the summer concerts before the end of school, and any regional choir assemblies I attended. The rest were either religious of nature or performed in the local state church or both. Neither of which I was allowed to do. So every time a performance came along, I could rehearse every week with the rest of the choir, but come performance time I would have to give my parts away.
The most hurtful one was always St. Lucia. Every December 13th the schools in Denmark would do the Lucia ceremony. The entire school would meet in the school assembly. The lights would be turned off, and pair after pair of my choir mates would come in dressed in white, carrying live candles in procession. Most little girls would dream of getting to be the "Lucia bride" the first one to come in with the wreath with four candles on top of her head. But me? I would dream of getting to sing one of the other songs in front of the whole school. Sitting there in the seats my heart would ache to not be able to join in and sing and make music.
As a young teen, I joined a trio. By now my aspirations had waned down to simply having a little fun and singing with friends. Maybe perform here and there. We would sing a capella 3 part harmonies. When our first opportunity to perform was at a birthday party (also something my church wouldn't allow) and I had to decline, I finally decided that doing music wasn't for me. It was just too hard to dance around what I could and couldn't do.
So I embarked on a lifelong (or at least half a lifetime) of doing everything but. Everything but what my heart was telling me to do.
For a while, I wanted to be a mechanic. But my eczema made it too harsh on my skin. I went full time with the church for a while, which was on a volunteer basis, so I made ends meet by cleaning offices and stairwells for my friend's dad's company. I also had the idea to study to be an architect. I worked for a while in a candy store. Thank god for my good metabolism back then. I studied fine art for three years, two of them spent in Barcelona. I dabbled as an entrepreneur and failed miserably. I got a degree in Multimedia Design. I've created countless websites. I worked in telemarketing, working my way up the ranks to become their youngest (and only woman) project manager with hundreds of people working under me.
By the time I was 28 I had eventually left the church but was stuck in a job I hated, in a terribly abusive relationship and I was completely and utterly unhappy. One night, deep in depression, I thought back to when I last felt happy. And my mind went back to singing in that choir in school. I was a little taken aback that it had been so long, almost two decades since I felt truly happy. Before that little light of aspiration was put out.
So I decided to join a choir. And I thought, let's make it a gospel choir, I've always loved the thick harmonies and celebratory music that gospel is. Slowly but surely I dug my way out of my unfitting life and found my voice again. Literally. I found a community within these choirs. And I loved singing in all those state churches I wasn't allowed in as a kid. I struggled with hoarseness and took singing lessons. These were my first steps. Baby steps. But my heart was still longing for more. In another chapter, I will tell my story about what finally kicked my wheels into gear and put me on my path, but singing again woke me from my slumber and from all the negativity I was enduring in my life and my work. It opened my eyes to what I was doing to myself, what kind of abuse I was taking.
I've done just about everything but what I love. I have tried living a life without music creation for a full decade. And it sucked. It's just not for me. I need to be in the thick of it. So whenever my life with music seems hard, which it does now and again, I remind myself what life without music was like and it gives me the strength to prevail through anything.
In this time of hardship, please support the arts as much as you can. Please consider supporting the show with a one-time donation: https://paypal.me/jessicalynnemusic
In Denmark, we have a concept called "Janteloven" or more often translated as "The Law of Jante". If you say "Janteloven" to any Dane, they will immediately know what you are referring to. And most of us have felt the influence of this "law" during our life in Denmark.
What is this "Law of Jante" you ask? And why on earth am I bringing it up in one of my blog posts as part of my story?
"The Law of Jante" was first introduced in 1935 by author Aksel Sandemose in his novel "A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks" (footnote: I also saw a translation that said "A Fugitive Covers His Tracks" which not as accurate as the former.) In it, he describes the lead character Espen Arnakke's experiences living in the small provincial town of Jante. In this town, the inhabitants have kept each other down, generation after generation, with envy and narrow-mindedness. It is these unwritten rules that Sandemose has translated into the ten commandments in the "Jantelaw". They are:
Sandemose spells out exactly how the city operates and how the inhabitants think. The city's self-suppressing lower class and the petty-bourgeois who want to be so better-than-thou, teach their children inferiority and distrust of the outside world from a young age, all to make themselves feel better.
It does come across rather two-sided. On one hand, this community is suppressing their peers with these 10 commandments, yet at the same time, them saying "don't think you're better than us" is expressing exactly that they indeed think they are. I enjoyed this conundrum immensely.
The thing I do love about the story, which is not an easy read or even all that enjoyable, is that the lead character finally does muster up his courage to break out and sail the seas, something that in my experience doesn't come easy when met with this kind of deprecating forced inferiority.
I do think Sandemose was making a rather flamboyant sarcastic attempt at showing the small towns in Denmark just how silly this whole concept is, but I think his point fell to the wayside and the concept was adopted. He finally put into words what was already there.
So why does this book belong in my story? Well, growing up in Denmark, this book has made its impact. I don't think the Law of Jante came from a book, I think the Danish community saw itself in these commandments and thought: "yes, that's exactly who we are and what we do". I think of Aksel Sandemose as someone who put into words something we all were seeing and feeling around us, and this whole concept was then made famous as "The Law of Jante". It belongs in my story because this written, yet unwritten law has been an interwoven part of my culture for as long as I can remember and has been there, well-enforced for generations.
I'm sure you can imagine what happens to a little girl, with a big voice and wilder than wildest dreams when she is presented with 10 commandments like this and told, this is a part of your culture. Not only that, but I felt the spirit of these writings intertwine in my daily life, I saw it when I was told not to shine too bright. When I was proud of an achievement, I saw it. If I ever felt like I was going to do something special, I felt it.
I don't think this concept is reserved for the Scandinavians, I believe it is a small town syndrome. I have seen many examples of trying to explain this type of "community culture". One is "Crab mentality" or "Crabs in a bucket syndrome". The urban dictionary describes it as:
"When a single crab is put into a lidless bucket, they surely can and will escape. However, when more than one shares a bucket, none can get out. If one crab elevates themself above all, the others will grab this crab and drag'em back down to share the mutual fate of the rest of the group. Crab bucket syndrome is often used to describe social situations where one person is trying to better themself and others in the community attempt to pull them back down."
This is exactly what the Law of Jante is for me. I am sure many communities have their version of this behavior, we are pack animals and this fear of falling out of the norm did once upon a time mean literal life or death. I'm sure the crabs are just trying to keep each other safe! But when we use this kind of fear against each other to hold each other down, there's a problem. Then it is no longer beneficial. Especially in a time where there is no need for this kind of conditioning.
I do think there is one key difference to the Scandinavian version of "Crabmentality". In Denmark, we owned it. Almost to the point of being proud of it, as something that was innately Danish, that made us who we are. It was never presented as a bad thing, just something we had or even worse something we were. Like a little guideline for how to act in society once we were all grown up.
To some, it may not make a difference one way or the other. But to me, it was devastating. Every time I wanted to sing or step on a stage, every time I excelled at anything, every time, I would be discouraged and feel like I was making everyone else look bad, embarrassed or mad. Here's another kicker: as a person who moved to the US there will still be people who think I am badmouthing Denmark or being disloyal to my roots. I mean in no way to be disrespectful.
Here's the way I see it: if the Law of Jante never made you feel the way it made me feel, then you're good! Denmark is the place for you. Have fun and live out your wonderful life. Just don't let other people tell you how bright to shine or how far to reach. I did what was right for me. Only YOU know what is right for you.
Here is the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Fugitive-Covers-His-Tracks-ebook/dp/B07F8Z62RV
Side note: I planned to re-read the book in Danish when all this crazy quarantine stuff set in. Since it will be a while before the book can get here from Denmark I had to settle for the translated English version.
I have the sense that this COVID-19 epidemic is a stepping stone to something greater. That we can learn something, a lot of things, from this situation. I'm not saying it's crappy, it really, really, sucks to be canceled on and have your pay cut and being told to stay at home. Especially for people like me, and other artists who rely on social gatherings to make our living.
I'm not sure what will happen. We have all lost, some more than others. I have lost some significant shows, and it's not fun. I know there are people out there hurting a lot more than I am.
So why do I say this is a stepping stone to something greater? I certainly am a silver lining kind of person, but I truly believe we have things to learn from this crisis. If only we choose to learn the lessons put in front of us.
Lesson one: Use the internet.
We live in a world where the internet rules us and we can't last 5 minutes without asking google or Siri a question. So why is it so hard for us all to "go virtual"? I think this is an opportunity to show schools and employers that yes, you can, in fact, trust your students and employees to get a good days work done from home. Some are more efficient even than with the constant interruptions they face at an office. Granted, there are plenty of jobs that can't be done from afar, but let's take a look at those that can. Can the businesses cut overhead costs if they don't need to house so many employees? Think rent, utilities, and for god's sake TOILET PAPER! How about utilizing the many brilliant software solutions that can help with meetings, task management, and time management?
Maybe even go so far as to realize the format of our schools is outdated and needs some re-thinking. We are not creating worker-bees like we were in the 1900s. When you were being trained to be able to join a factory workforce or a typing squad. The world has changed and maybe the schools will realize we can use the internet to re-think the format of the schools.
As for the creatives, I believe we artists have been ready for online concerts for some time. But it has been my belief that the public wasn't ready. I'm not saying, once this nonsense is over we don't go back to our social activities because there is nothing like a live show in front of a live audience. But let's use the internet, and keep streaming it. If we are lucky, this pandemic will open up the eyes of the general public and artists alike to the usefulness of the technology in front of our noses.
Lesson two: Get creative.
I have seen a bunch of creativity in the wake of this quarantine. My yoga studio is hosting live classes that you can stream in the comfort of your home and do alongside your teacher. How cool and creative is that?
I know of singing coaches who not only took their lessons online, using Skype or something similar but who also said, "this is my opportunity to make those online courses I've been talking about".
I know many of us are thinking mainly of survival at this point, but if you have a little forced free time on your hands, how about putting some stuff up for sale on eBay or taking that online course you've been meaning to do but haven't had the time for? Think about the opportunities you may have, to make the money back once this crisis is over!
My husband and I got creative with our food. We looked at our freezer and pantry and started making plans for how many meals we could make out of what we already have. Turns out, we have a long way to go before we run out of necessities. We are one of the families low on toilet paper, but hey! I have a bunch of old rags that, if it comes down to it, I am happy to use in the meantime. (I know, sorry the visual of that is a little gross, but you get it.)
Lesson three: Stay healthy.
If the only thing that comes from this is that we all learn to wash our hands and stay sanitary, I think that's a win.
I would like to think we as humans (because this is worldwide, which is not often we get to have a shared experience as a species) will come out as better creatures after this. Sometimes, getting a good shake and a scare can make us wake up.
Jessica Lynne's new single "Crazy On The Outside" will be released on May 9th - pre-save today on Spotify!
This blog post is also available on my new podcast "Packing a Punch" - listen on your favorite podcast player!
My story is not ordinary. I feel pretty ordinary, on the inside. But when I tell people where I come from and how I got here, it usually stirs up a gasp or two. My official story simply states that I grew up in Denmark and now live in the Pacific Northwest, but there is much more to it than that. So I decided to tell it.
My childhood was spent divided on three different continents. Strangest of all, I was born in South America. Valdivia, Chile to be exact. My parents were missionaries, but soon after my arrival, they decided to move back to the US. I was 6 months old. Needless to say, I don't remember anything from Chile at all. I ended up with dual citizenship - but not a Chilean one, as you might think, but a Danish/American citizenship.
My parents met in New York. My mom, from a small town of Sejlflod in Jylland, Denmark. My Dad from the Pacific Northwest. So when they decided, with 6 months old me in their arms to move back to the US, they settled on Tacoma, WA. Kind of fortuitous that my journey should lead me back here - only about 10 blocks away from my first American home. But that's for a later chapter.
My parents divorced when I was three and my mother decided to move us, three girls, to Denmark. First Skanderborg, then what I now consider my hometown, Haslev. This is where I went to school, where I had friends, where I learned about life, and love and longing. This is where I grew up. If you can call yourself a "grown-up" at 17; that's when I moved away from home.
I then became what I would call a "Copenhagen nomade" moving almost 25 times in the 13 or so years I lived there, interrupted only by a 2-year stint in Barcelona - also a story for another chapter.
I finally up-rooted, if I ever had roots, and moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2010 when I was 31.
And that's the short, cliff notes version story. But that's not really how I want to tell it. I want to tell my story by delving into how that story made me, me. What it was like, being a part of two worlds, and what sometimes felt like not being a part of anything at all. Feeling like an outsider for all the wrong reasons, trying so hard to belong, but not feeling like I belonged at all.
As a child, I would spend the entire year going to school and living my life in Haslev and every other summer I would visit my Dad in Seattle. The alternating summers, he would visit us. I spoke (and still do speak) both languages fluently... mostly without an accent in either language. My dad would call every week long-distance to keep in touch with us girls. And in the '80s that was not cheap! My mom, even though she is 100% Dane, would make traditional Danish cooking right alongside fried chicken and cornbread. I felt the duality every day.
Consequently, it somehow made me feel divided. Instead of belonging everywhere, I felt like I didn't belong anywhere.
I suppose, with a different outlook on life, this duality could have made me feel abundant, like a citizen of the world, who had many homes. But my upbringing in so many ways nourished lack and dependence. And it made me feel stretched too thin. I was too American to be Danish and too Danish to be American. So I was, effectively, neither.
Every time I came back to Denmark I would miss the US terribly. But it was never actually true the other way around. This only occurred to me when I finally moved here, that the homesickness I would feel for the US when gone, never set in for Denmark. Yes, I missed my family, but not the culture, not the place itself.
In reality, moving to the US clarified a lot of things for me. I have always been more American than Danish, I know that now. I've been loud, brazen, and always had big dreams and big gestures. Not in any way the proper little girl my mother tried to raise me to be. I had a terrible temper, that felt uncontrollable at times and a big voice that was repeatedly told to not shine too brightly, not to make the other kids feel bad.
This may seem harsh, but anyone from Denmark would notice this as "Janteloven" or "The Law of Jante" - a culturally-induced oppression that the Danes all know too well. Again, this is a phenomenon I will explain in depth in another chapter. Suffice it to say, it's a classic "crabs in a bucket" syndrome. When one tries to climb out the others will pull it back down.
So I suppose I was not entirely caught in the middle. I sometimes describe myself as "half-and-half", with a chuckle. But that doesn't really describe me. In reality, I am more like 75/25. In the last ten years, I have learned to embrace my Danish roots, while also fully encompassing how American I really am. Immigrant heritage and all.
In truth, it probably doesn't matter what continent we are on. Denmark for me was a time in my life when I tried to hide who I truly was, in order to try and fit in. It was a time of listening to others over my own intuition, my inner voice. It was a time of not being and owning who I truly am and what my life's purpose is. The US for me has been the journey of fully growing into my true self. A journey of growth and self-exploration. Of owning all sides of me, even the ones I don't necessarily like. And most importantly listening to my own truth rather than what others say. It's not about Denmark and it's not about the US. It's about what each country represents to me and who I became during each timeframe I spent there.
I can now look at being "half-and-half" and feel grateful that I was blessed with so much diversity. And I can own my big voice and my larger than life attitude and put myself on a stage and feel right at home. But I can also remember where I came from, and what is truly important in life. Love of family, love of friends and most importantly, self-love.
As I am writing this I am in Missouri for my final showcase of the season. I'm sure, if you follow me on social media, you will have seen all these showcases I've been going from state to state to perform at.
Long story short, in an attempt to move my musical career forward I decided to start showcasing at conferences. My first ones were at the ArtsNW booking conference (NWBC) and MPAC (Montana Performing Arts Consortium). This year, with the addition of the amazing Liz Gregory to my team, I've been traveling from Fair Convention to Fair Convention to showcase. Mostly with the band but also sometimes solo.
Every one of these endeavors is a pay-to-play scenario. I use this term purposely because it usually makes every musician I know run away screaming. I know musicians who adamantly declare that there is never a reason to pay-to-play and they steer clear of anything that involves an upfront cost to invest in their band's future. Obviously, there is a reason this pay-to-play term has been banned from civilized conversation. It's because it has been misused and people have either been cheated, or their gamble (because it is a gamble) didn't pan out. But I believe there is a time to invest. There are times when it makes sense to pay-to-play.
For each of these showcases, I had the cost of airfare, food, lodging and pay for myself and 3 other musicians. Sometimes car rental too. So I'm sure you can deduct that just by those expenses, doing eight of these showcases this winter was a huge investment for me and my husband.
Is it worth it? So far my first little dabbles in showcasing have paid off and then some. So I am confident these will too. Ask me at the end of summer if I still feel the same!
During these months of constant expenses, I have had to keep my cool during some crazy experiences. Being sick for one, having to pay triple the original cost of airfare for another, having to borrow a bass at the destination at a third, and driving all four of us around in the snow on glassy roads at a fourth. I don't have a manager. I don't have a tour manager even. I have been in charge of planning every detail while also performing.
It has also made me more efficient, and made me have to have to work smarter, not harder. I've had to stomach much bigger sums of investing than I have previously ever had to do. It has made me practice gratitude, visualize abundance, and exercise trust. Trust, that this will all pan out in the end.
In the end, I have been in front of more talent buyers from fairs and festivals than I could ever dream to reach out to on my own. With the help of my team and the follow-up they are doing, this is already panning out. It's a tried and true method, and that's also why I believe it's going to work. My job is just to put on the best damn show I can and the rest will fall into place.