Feb 10

The Funny Thing About Normal

by Hannah Holt »


The other night I ate dinner with a group of professional soccer players. Over grilled vegetables, one of them made the comment, “I’m not that athletic.”

Me: Um, you’re a professional soccer player. What do you mean you aren’t athletic?

Her: Well, for a professional soccer player…

Just to be clear here, this individual is a starter for one of the nation’s top teams. If she’s not athletic, I’m a pudding pop.

This exchange reminded me of an interview I heard on NPR with classical pianist Emanual Ax. Of his schooling, he said, “I was just a normal piano student.”

Peter Sagal: Normal piano students tend not to end up at Julliard has been my experience.

Emanual Ax: Well, maybe normal for Julliard.

Normal is a tricky beast. It’s a lie but also a gift. The lie part says, “You’re not that good, sucker.” But there’s a biological reason for self doubt and deprecation. That’s gift part: sensory gating.

Char sleep study 1

{My daughter in a University of Colorado study on infant sensory gating.}

Gating is how the brain filters out unimportant information. It’s why people living next to hospitals will eventually learn to sleep through ambulance sirens. But it’s also why professional pianists aren’t continually thinking, “OMG! I’m playing Rachmaninoff! Do you see my fingers? They’re like lightning!”

When the brain receives a signal it makes a snap decision: Is this new? Is it important? Is it dangerous? If the answer is no, the signal probably won’t get our conscious attention. Gating is good. People who can’t gate have trouble tuning out unimportant sights and/or sounds in their environment. They might also have trouble distinguishing between thoughts and reality.

Just imagine if every time we drove down the freeway all we could think was, “Holy! I’m sitting in a chair and travelling 65 MPH!!!”

It’d be impossible to drive. So the brain filters out the miracle of modern travel for most of us, and suddenly we are home without any recollection of driving there.

But sometimes gating goes too far. There is no joy in driving life on autopilot.

Lately, I’ve been working through a creative funk. Trying to break out of normal, I’ve been testing boundaries and trying new things. I wrote a novel in a new genre. I also started several new art projects using only canvas and embossing powder.

I wish I could say the results of these new projects are extraordinary. They aren’t. My new manuscript kinda stinks. And the embossing projects have been a lot of trial and error (mostly error).


Every time I work, I pick up new ways to improve. Expanding normal is a messy process. Sometimes I feel like I’m flying down the highway at 65 miles and hour. Other times, I’m stuck on the side of the road with a flat. However, I hope to come out of this funk with a stronger and bigger creative tool set.

The line between ordinary and extraordinary might not be as far as it feels.

After all, if my professional soccer player friend feels “not athletic” and Emanual Ax considers himself “average,” maybe all of us are unknowingly living über cool lives. Maybe the only thing standing in the way of us and this alternate universe of awesome is opening the gates and trying something new.

Extra ordinary

Nov 21


by Hannah Holt »


My (somewhat silly) Thanksgiving tribute to two things I feel especially thankful for this year: music and babies.

May 18

Fractured Fairy Tales

by Hannah Holt »

one comment

Just for fun…


Once upon a time, over a bridge where the grass is greener, there lived three little pigs. One fine spring morning, the pigs left for a walk. A few minutes later, a girl named Red drove by and ran out of gas right in front of the pigs’ house. Red was from England and thinking ‘no one in North America pays attention to manners anyway’ walked right into the pigs’ house.

On the breakfast table, she found a steaming bowl of oatmeal. “This breakfast is too hot,” she said and walked onto the next plate, which contained stuffed french toast. “This breakfast is too French,” she said and plugged her nose. Finally she came to the last plate with toast and tea. “This breakfast is just right,” she exclaimed. “And only two Weight Watchers points!”

As she prepared to tuck-in, someone knocked on the door. Peering through the peephole, Red saw a big bad wolf. “Little pig, little pig… let me in!” the wolf hollered.

“My what a big temper you have,” called Red. “I’m not a pig, and if you think such language will induce me to open the door, you are sorely mistaken.”

“Huh?” called the wolf.

“Get lost!” yelled Red.

“I’ll give you three chances to open this door,” cried the wolf, “and then I’m gunna turn you into a goon.”

What is a goon? thought Red, but she didn’t have a chance to find out.

At that moment three billy goats came barreling over the bridge and ran smack into the wolf. As he fell, the three pigs strolled out from the forest. The wolf stood up and the pigs started squealing. Then little bunny foo-foo walked into the clearing and bopped everyone on the head. A nearby family of bears heard the pandemonium, pawed their way through the crowd, and started pounding on the front door.

Red did the only thing she could think of and called animal control.

A handsome woodsman arrived with an animal containment truck. He rounded up all the animals and sold the bears to a circus, the wolf to a zoo, the pigs to market, and the goats and bunny foo-foo to a petting zoo.

Red stared into the eyes of her rescuer and knew that this was the man for her. Red and Woody settled into the pigs’ fine brick house and lived happily ever after… until they got the bill for their property taxes. Turns out woodsmen don’t make much dough and Red couldn’t get a work visa. So they all moved into Grandma’s house.

Mar 08

Teen Numbers Coloring Page

by Hannah Holt »


I put this together awhile ago for my oldest. Hope you enjoy.

{Click twice to enlarge}

And in color:

Oct 27

Things That Scare Me

by Hannah Holt »

Comments Off on Things That Scare Me

1) Spiders. Eww. Just eww.

2) People who text and drive. You know who you are. I’ve seen you driving down the road taking up one-and-a-half lanes. Big foot is a fluffy kitten compared to you.

3) Typos. I hate those sneaky devils.

4) Artificial sweeteners. This isn’t a rational fear. I think it stems from my general paranoia about things that promise to give you something for nothing. Besides, all my pregnancy books say to stay away from them. If they aren’t good for baby, can they really be good for me?

5) Twins. Speaking of pregnancy, have I mentioned that I’m expecting twins? I alternate between feeling elated and totally freaked out.

One fun thing about expecting around Halloween is all the fun costume options: penguin, prom queen, watermelon… However, one prego-costume is sure to strike fear in the older trick-or-treater crowd; it is the sometimes scary and tragically misunderstood semicolon.

What are you doing for Halloween this year?