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Unhappy Holidays Hits A Higher Note

Dissonance’s third annual Unhappy Holidays event on December 20th perfectly coincided with the very necessary need to hit the holiday stress pause button. It came at a time when people were facing lengthy to-do lists and mere moments more of work to meet deadlines before a holiday break. It came at time when anticipation, anxiety and maybe even depression were on the rise. It came when a pause was needed.

Dissonance serves as that pause to come together at an alternative holiday gathering that’s free of alcohol, substances and any expectations. The first collective pause of the evening was taken to listen to “Christmas Wish,” a song created and performed by Katy Vernon, Dissonance board member and ukulele songbird, a singer of sad songs on a happy instrument. The song is about missing loved ones during the holidays and was inspired by Katy’s work with Dissonance and reflections on the first Christmas her 12 year-old self spent without her mom, who had passed. The lilt of the ukulele hinted at happy with grief and loss woven between, capturing the Dissonance vibe to a t.

Dissonance co-founder Sarah Souder Johnson welcomed everyone and walked us through a breathing exercise to bring us into the present. Carl Atiya-Swanson, outgoing Dissonance board member, then took the stage as emcee to start the conversation with panelists about their art, the dissonance they experience in their lives and how they stay well (#howdoyoustaywell).

Brandi Brown, comedian of the Comedy in Your Community, MSP local libraries off-hours entertainment and more, covered topics from blackness to therapy, and being Minnesotan on the east coast to St. Paul and Minneapolis rivalry. With her no-nonsense and ADD-fueled wits about her, she shared her wellbeing mantra “Say no. Saying no saves a lot of lives.” She also highly recommends therapy, according to her, ”Therapy is a free workshop for jokes.”

Growing up in St. Paul as a refugee from Lao after the Vietnam War, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay’s story was no joke. But there is a childlike lightness in her beautifully illustrated book, When Everything Was Everything. The audience listened intently as Saymoukda and her publisher read aloud from the book on stage and shared vivid imagery from the bowl haircuts of her youth to hand-me-down jeans, worn while working in cucumber fields. A poetic slice of her life hinting at the residual optimism she may have inherited from her mother.

Throughout the evening, the ways these artists view self care and wellbeing connected the conversation and shared not-so-easy truths to accept with actionable practices. Chris Tait of Passenger Recovery, a Detroit-based services to help musicians and travelers find support away from home, shared a story of Saskatoon gig that shed a clear light on the need for supported safe spaces and community while traveling.

Wellbeing for Chris, keyboardist for indie rock vets Electric Six, starts with self-awareness about his role as an artist. While it’s easy to inwardly focus in a songwriting creative zone –- termed a guitar pity party in active addiction — he’s acutely aware of the need to look outside of himself. In recovery, it can be dangerous to spend a lot of time in your head. Chris shared two numbers with us that were infused with humor, kazoos and turtles “Oh Severed Head” and “Jonathan Turtle.”

Lydia Liza chimed in to share her journey from age 16 to present, specifically around co-dependent relationships and substance abuse in her 17-21 years. With her song “I Just Want To Know You More,” she draws from the experience of being in a relationship or space because you think its safe and you want to get to know them more, but it’s really not benefitting anyone.  Heck yeah, she’s in recovery now and she’s living her daily citizen life while being creative, noting that if you love your creative being enough you will find the balance.

Will she find that balance on Twitter? Maybe not. Lydia touched on the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” 2016 remake by Lydia and Josiah Lemanski that went viral and became the poster song to emphasize consent in relationships.  Proceeds from the song all go to The Sexual Violence Center of Minnesota, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and RAINN, which makes it all in good fun to take on the trolls on Twitter.

Well almost all in good fun…. as Brandi pulled up @lydializamusic on Twitter on her phone so Lydia could share a few of the comments, Lydia described how that experience effects her. While she deeply respects their persistence and she enjoys a bit of social media sassiness, limiting that engagement is probably best because it’s not worth it.

We ended on a high note of acceptance. Group consensus built around the idea that it’s not a lot of fun to take your own advice or take an objective look at yourself and be honest, but it’s necessary. Restore, compassion, honesty and ways to be well – one words and themes by each artist – wrapped up Unhappy Holidays in a bright red bow for all to take into their holiday season. Happy Holidays!

— Dissonance provides resources and actionable tools to stay healthy over the holidays and always – whatever healthy looks like to you. Shout out to our amazing partners for the evening! Resources: MPR’s Art of Counseling (@ArtOfCounseling), Call to Mind (@CallToMindNow), The Emily Program Foundation (@EmilyProgram), Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (@hazldnbettyford), Lyn-Lake Psychotherapy and Wellness, and Recovree (@recovree); and beverage partners: Hobby Farmer Switchel (on Insta @hobbyfarmercanning_co) and Hairless Dog (NA beer on Insta @hairless_dog_brewing).

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