It’s so easy to forget that I am an artist. I get buried underneath the bullshit, the piles of papers to file, the social media momentum to keep up, the correspondence to maintain. I pale. I curl up. I sleep too long. In the midst of all that, it’s so easy to forget that when I step in front of a microphone, I unfold. My trauma is held. My sadness is alive. My joy is palpable. The thing, that core thing, the singular thing I am always chasing, emerges in front of a microphone. It’s not love, or friendship, or even nature that facilitates the unfurling. It’s art. Art is impossible to ignore. It demands. It invites. It needs.
I want to give you the full picture I promised.
You have to understand that the full picture isn’t pretty, and does not seem conducive with making money, or receiving more support from the general public. But, I think it’s important to tell the truth somewhere. And since I can’t tell it on social media (I lose followers, shed likes, and lose engagement if my posts are not sunny and hopeful and perfect), I will share it with you here.
Let me back up and set the scene. I’m lying on an ugly couch in my beautiful home, cozy in a big, hooded sweatshirt from the University of Rochester, with a hot water bottle and my cat curled up at my feet. I am safe. I am panicking. There are too many people I have not called back, too many emails I have ignored and let slip into the dank muck of internet memory, too many songs I have not yet recorded, and too many opportunities I have been unable to pay attention to. I am panicking because I am not enough. Or rather, I believe I am not enough.
Two competing ideals vie for attention in my mind:
- The artistic freedom I possess in my life makes the “suffering” worthwhile.
- I am supposed to be living the dream.
Here it is in a nutshell: my innate musical talent is a gift, and thus I am encouraged to work hard to share it with other people. I practice piano and voice, create arrangements in rehearsals with my band, promote my shows online, haul my keyboard and gear to small bars, give all of my raw energy and passion to performing with my band, collect a couple hundred bucks at the end of the night, distribute the money between band members, and finally drive home, depleted, to start over the next day. I also record my songs, collaborate with audio engineers, book future shows, and maintain a Patreon community.
This is fine. It works for someone who has more tolerance than me and who gets energy from being out. I am very sensitive to noise, though, as well as socializing and being out late at night. Being out depletes my energy.
Then there’s the “making a living” part, which tends to be important for staying alive. I spend 20-30 hours a week making my music career work, not including the hours I spend teaching. Due to my sensitive nervous system, I can play about 3 live shows a month, and leave with $50-$100 bucks in my pocket. I make about $160 a month from my patrons on Patreon. With this income, at the current New York minimum wage of $13.20 per hour, I get paid for only 8 hours of work each week.
Eight. Out of thirty. At minimum wage.
So. It’s becoming clear to me that I’m doing community service when I’m working on my music. Okay. That’s fine. Community service is wonderful. The question is, is it strengthening me or slowly killing me? Is it my fault? The eternal question for everything challenging in our lives.
I don’t have an answer, and don’t think the answer is truly important, but I can at least start to think it through.
Mostly, I just want to be alone and quiet. That desire makes me feel unloveable and broken, and it also makes me feel like a failure of a musician. What musician wants to be alone and quiet most of the time? Living the life of a musician, I am almost never alone, and quiet is not the goal, to say the least. I am rehearsing with my band, or creating relationships online with my fans, or performing for a crowd at a bar who is half listening, half talking, and half numbing the stress of daily life.
These necessary, day-to-day tasks push me far past my limit. I’m so far past my limit that I can’t bring myself to call the people I love back, respond to supportive messages from friends, clean my office properly, or consider new opportunities. I’m at a standstill, trapped in the commitments I’ve already made, but unable to function properly. This is all obvious to me. I can write it out and nod my head and go “yes, I am burnt out.” But it also seems absolutely ludicrous. It’s ridiculous to me that I have such a low tolerance for stimulation, for other people’s experiences, for being out in the world. It seems impossible. I must be capable of more. I just have to bully myself into being capable of more. At least that’s what I tell myself.
We always have to answer to someone, right? I answer to my audience. And until recently, I loved doing it. I reveled in their joy, their excitement. I absorbed their energy and called it mine. But now, when I go onstage, I notice a huge disconnect between how I’m feeling on the inside and how I present to my audience on the outside. I can never go onstage and use my audience for comfort. I can’t go on and say “today has been really fucking difficult and I need some love.” They use me for comfort, not the other way around; that’s how the agreement works. The person onstage provides a respite for the people offstage. I am vulnerable, soft, exhausted in front of my audience. I try to be myself. I try to be open. I hold so much space for them. I bleed myself dry in front of a crowd of people for a couple of hours. The problem is, I cannot hold the same space for myself. At least not at the dizzying rate it would take to counteract the depletion of resources caused by performing. If I can’t love myself, or give myself the space I need to thrive, then the rest means absolutely nothing.
My life force, or energy, or whatever you want to call it, is at an all-time low, and still I push myself to play one more show, to make one more Instagram post, to keep expanding my business. That’s where I’m at, in this precious moment on my ugly couch. That’s the truth. Is this what I’m working for?
I thought I was doing all of this to build a sustainable music career. Simple. If I could gain enough financial and physical support from my fans, then I could relax a little bit and my days would be like a well-oiled machine, rather than the scrabbling rat parade they are now. I work super hard in the present so that I can relax a bit in the future. Tour the world, play big stages, make steady money, hire a team of people to book my shows, run my social media accounts, and market my music. Focus only on the music, not on all the stuff surrounding it.
It turns out I want to be cozy at home with my cats instead of touring the world with my band. So why am I really doing all of this?
Because I am terrified of failing. I’m terrified of not being enough. I’m terrified of letting go.
I have so many questions. As usual.
Why do I try to expand when I can’t yet handle the work I’m currently doing? Why am I trying to build this ‘strong foundation’ when I don’t want, or don’t think I can handle, the life of a touring musician? Is not wanting the same thing as not being able to? Is there a way to do this without martyring myself? Is there a way to do ANYTHING without martyring myself? My therapist tells me there is. She says I need to stop doing third grade work when I’m still in second grade (a clever reference to me skipping second grade as a kid) so that I can succeed instead of drown.
It’s true that I am drowning. In my own ambition. I am trapped in my own skewed sense of self and responsibility.
I’m not supposed to be telling anybody this. I’m supposed to keep up a rehearsed front, in which I am always excited and grateful to be doing what I’m doing, in which I’m always proud of my work, where I consistently advocate for myself with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I’m exhausted from all the springing and the stepping. I don’t want to advocate for myself anymore. I don’t have the capacity to do it. I just don’t.
I’m actually sick right now, came down with a bad cold. I’ve been sick for days, but I refused to let myself rest until today. I had too many things to do, too many tasks to complete, too many people to answer to.
Because I can’t fail. But I can’t keep going like this, either.
So. I just finished this podcast episode. Like I literally just closed GarageBand (that I used to edit the audio) and send the file link to Ben Albert (who is using his marketing platform to promote my podcast). AND I AM REALIZING THAT I HAVEN’T BEEN TRULY PROUD OF SOMETHING I HAVE PUT OUT FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS!! UNTIL THIS VERY MOMENT. This is it. This is the one. This is The Project. If you want to listen to it, here it is.
My first conversation with @zahyiamusic was absolutely life-changing, and felt immensely nurturing and healing. We talked about letting go of perfection, appreciating the small stuff, and adjusting the “grind” to make life more joyful. I know we both came out of it feeling less alone, more understood, and more in touch with ourselves. The podcast episode is jam-packed with valuable reminders of our humanity. I have a new epiphany every time I re-listen to it, and think about her wisdom at least once a day now. For awhile now, I’ve sensed that my role as a teacher and “understander” of music/creativity fits my soul better than being in the spotlight myself. Of course I love performing for its catharsis & joy, but there’s something about the attentive silence of listening that makes my body feel right at home.
This is why I’m so excited about this new project, The Process Podcast. Not only does it align with my values and artistic journey (aka career), but it will help me explore Big Questions. It’s an incredible opportunity to listen to artists who are figuring Life out right along with me. Plus, I love that this is something I can give you that doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t demand anything from you except your open heart & ears.
With music, I always have a qualm about something when I release it – my vocals in this one spot weren’t perfect. The mixing cost too much and now I need to make that money back. But with this….. it feels perfectly imperfect. I feel genuinely excited to share it with the world on Wednesday. I have such a good humming feeling in my body about it. I know it’s true to me. I know it will resonate with people. And now I get to share it with you, my patrons! That makes me feel happy.
The podcast has been months in the making. Ben Albert posted on Facebook awhile back asking if anybody was interested in starting a podcast to take over for his long-standing Rochester Groovecast podcast. I read the post, and kept scrolling, thinking “I probably don’t have time for another project.”
But… I kept coming back to the post in my mind. I turned it over and over in my mind. I felt the excitement at the prospect of creating a podcast. I thought about how, in the past year or so, I listen to podcasts much more (by a long shot) than I do music. I thought about how much value I get from the podcasts I listen to regularly. And I just could not resist. It felt right. I sent Ben a message.
Months, many meetings, an amazing interview with my first podcast guest, and lots of hours editing later, here we are.
You all know me. I’m a creative human – a musician, writer, artist, and teacher. I have Big Questions. How do we build a creative life? What keeps us going? What does our daily process tell us about ourselves? I genuinely just want to talk to other artists about how they do life. I’m working with Rochester Groovecast (by artistic community pillar @realbenalbert) to make this podcast the most valuable, most genuine project I’ve worked on in a long time.
Every month, I’ll have honest conversations with various artists that reveal the strength, challenges, purpose, vulnerability and joy of living a creative life. This is a place for people to feel less alone, and to gather inspiration for our own lives.
The podcast is complete. If you want to listen, here it is. Please enjoy. I am definitely enjoying myself making it. 🙂
On Desire (revisited)
In honor of the last day of my daily writing challenge, I am reconnecting with the same topic I wrote about on the first day: desire. Here’s the original post. That day, I asked an important question. Can desire be trusted?
Here are a few things I’ve learned about desire this month:
1) Desire is not the same as disintegration. I can fully desire something while keeping my values, self, and identity intact. In fact, I can use desire to live life with more integrity.
2) I trust myself.
3) I can’t control most things, and desire is just one of many things I can’t control. That’s okay.
4) Desire is not an action. Desire is a guidepost. To desire something is not an automatic decision to pursue that thing. The decision stands in the way of action. Desire can be heeded, and it can be brushed aside.
5) BEING OUT OF CONTROL IS NOT DANGEROUS. BEING OUT OF CONTROL WITHOUT A SUPPORT SYSTEM IS DANGEROUS.
6) Yes. A line can be drawn between joyful attraction and dangerous obsession. And there are so many different kinds of love, that this binary doesn’t really exist anyway.
I wrote last month that “I might be running away from my own stubborn refusal to allow my desire to take up space.” That was true. I don’t want to tell some false transformation story here. I’m not much better, a month later, at letting my desire run free and do its thing. I’m still scared of it. I’m still scared to laugh a full belly laugh because someone might take advantage of my joy. I still feel cautious about showing too much interest in strangers, out of fear they will rope me into some complex plot to drain me of all my money and energy. But something has shifted. I wouldn’t have been able to write that list a month ago, and I owe that to my daily writing. Sometimes it was hard as fuck to force myself to write, but I combed through my values, behaviors, and experiences in a really unique way. I wouldn’t have been able to do this in any other format. For that, I’m grateful.
Thanks for following along this month. If you want to get to know me on other platforms, please consider following me on Instagram, joining me on Patreon, or subscribing to my YouTube channel. I’m gonna switch back to poetry now. At least for a bit.
On Real Conversations
Tonight I actually forgot that I was supposed to write a post. I worked so hard today, doing way too many things with way too much vigor. I wrote a vision/outline for a new podcast I’m starting in January, sent the stems (raw audio files) for a live album I recorded at a festival in September to two different mixing engineers, started editing my new music video, and got my Pfizer Covid booster shot.
Now, with a headache and feeling woozy from the vaccine, I’m just going to quickly write about my ideas for this podcast. My friend Ben Albert, a fellow booking manager and creative business person in Rochester, NY, started this really awesome community called Rochester Groovecast. He wants to expand his idea into a Collective, including to a diverse bunch of artists, podcasts, articles, and creative showcases.
For my podcast, I imagine interviewing artists of all kinds: musicians, visual artists, craftspeople, designers, videographers, specialty food makers, dancers, actors, writers, etc etc etc. It’s an endless list. I want to have honest conversations with these people that reveal the strength, challenges, purpose, vulnerability and joy of making music/all other art forms. I want to disassemble romantic myths about the artist’s creative process.
I’ve already made a schedule for who I want to interview each month for all of 2022. Sometime this weekend I’ll start asking the artists if they’re down to do it! Nobody gets paid, including me, but I’m hoping I can provide something useful for these creators, even if its just a media/press link they can add to their portfolio. And, someday, I’d like to get sponsorship so I can pay myself for my time, and potentially provide each interviewee with a small stipend.
I want the podcast to be a place for people to go to feel less alone. I imagine building a community around art and creating art. I envision the podcast as a real space, uninhibited by social media algorithms or marketing guidelines, kind of like how I’m approaching this blog format. I want to be unafraid, or at least unabashed. I want to encourage my interviewees to be unabashed right along with me.
there is a time to rest
among the soft flowers
whether you are there
Trigger warning: abuse and body image issues.
As I read these two journal entries I wrote 6 years ago, I am reminded of how we can hold so many truths within ourselves at once. How we can be fully in our power, and fully outside of it at the same time. I am especially reminded of the corrosive effect of emotional and physical abuse on a person’s sense of Self and self-worth. How, after consistently being told that one is not hurting enough for the sake of others, even the most vibrant of humans can be diminished to a flickering gloom. When this abuse is paired with sexual violence and constant comparisons to other women in the form of forwarded Victoria Secret ads and pointed remarks, it is very difficult to find a way out of the murk. Add to this the “tortured genius” myth (if a man is an artistic genius, his abuse of others is forgiven – eg Picasso, Woody Allen, James Brown, etc.), and fuck. No wonder I have PTSD, anxiety & depression, and am struggling against dark forces that I wasn’t able to conquer five years ago.
But I can unlearn, relearn, remember, and start sharing my story.
June 21, 2015
In Dosso, Italy. Feel that I have been moody and unpleasant to be around. Feel that I am confining myself in what other people think people should do. Feel that I am literally judging myself for paying attention to these problems because “everyone has them,” which I have translated to “are not important.”
Feel un-stationary and without a purpose, a tumbling rock: not even a floating dandelion seed, because at least he has his mission. Feel deprived of my home, the grass, the lakes, the essence of myself. I am depriving myself of myself. School in the city, travel to Boston, back to school in the city in the fall.
I dislike myself right now.
É molto importante that I regain consciousness: this level of being, this earthy existence, this core of myself.
Feel anxious on each street because I look at other women and only compare myself to them: every inch of skin, each stitch in their clothing, the tightness of their jeans around their thighs. “God, I wish I had bought that style of pant instead of these.” The drape of her wet bikini over her butt: “I should have gotten the string kind instead of the style I have.”
The length of her shirt, the fabric the color her skin her lipstick her hair her knees I wonder how they compare to my knees I am beautiful so hot but look at what I could do with myself. Look how much more beautiful I could look if I just bought her shirt and those shoes and her jacket. Why can’t I wear a blazer over jeans and look clean and pretty and simple like all of them. Why. Why not.
I hate myself.
I hate myself for thinking this way. But I am always thinking this way. How can I improve. How can I look FOR HIM. For him.
“He wants a preppy, classy girl.”
“He likes workout clothing.”
He wants someone who does not look like me.
Then again. I don’t give a fuck what he wants. I know, rationally, that I am SO INCREDIBLY ATTRACTIVE. I am ideal for many, many people, men and women. I know damn well that there is no man or woman who is “too good” for me, but I am worried that he does not want my look.
I am sick of seeing the gap between the women he admires and lusts after, and me. Thin, clean women. Women who spend hours and hours on their makeup and hair each day. Women that really care about what they look like, and market themselves so that they will be liked, loved, and fought for.
I am not naturally like that.
I am trying so hard, and it sucks. I don’t like the anxiety, never feeling like I am living up to his standards. Non è possible.
I feel horrible. Maybe it’s not that I don’t love him right now, it’s just that I don’t love myself. I need to get back to the music, Vermont, and away from all these FUCKING CITIES.
June 23. 2015
A stream of consciousness:
I am escaping fragility. I have been actively avoiding the truth – that I cannot thrive without passion, waves of frustration that I can skillfully overcome. I cannot thrive without improving, working on something tangible, mobile, crazy, almost uncontrollable.
I have not lost that from myself. I have just been ignoring it in order to test out other options. I can see now that those options are not going to satisfy me. They will not allow me to carefully balance myself out. I must be creating.
I must be creating.
This is something that everyone around me has known or recognized when they saw me play piano, or write, but which I had to realize for myself when the time came. There is no other time or moment apart from now. They were all right.
I have greatness in me from past lives, and from this life. I have the ability to command, to move people gracefully, to inspire deep hope. I must not deny myself these qualities by hiding them away because they are more intense, and make less sense, than other machine-symbolic-manageable qualities I see in other people.
Mine are not manageable, and that is exactly-precisely-extensively why I need to bring them to the forefront. So that I can contribute something to the world.
I will resolve every day to never lose sight of them again. I resolve to forget how I have pushed them aside these past five years. I will focus only on what the pushing-away has taught me, and how it is the most important thing I’ve ever had to learn. I will, every day, come to know anew why I am doing the things I am doing, and what is the “right” and challenging path.
I will come to know anew why I am great inside, and how I can be more great.
Greatness ≠ control
Greatness = the ability to know yourself well enough to manifest your understanding into a positive contribution to the world
I have always known this. I forgot through high school. I forgot through intimacy with people who did not understand this truth, who did not grasp the power of my talent, understanding, and healing abilities. I may have lost touch with my healing power, but it is not lost. It will never be lost now.
Nothing is going to fall into place easily. Nothing will ever fit together, and if something does, it is only for a fleeting moment. My purpose in this life is not to fit everything together in order to be happy, but to allow chaos to give me peace, relief, power, knowledge, and focus. To allow passion to be my stability.
This is the truth and I will do it.
I must not settle for anything less.
All this time, I have been settling for the easier road, the least resistance, the social status, the smooth normalcy. That will never be enough for me. Home is a state of mind. A state of being. I will never feel at home if I settle for no passion. I can’t.
As soon as I get home I will start playing a Beethoven sonata, and will bring back the Bartok and the Liszt. I will begin a Brahms intermezzo, and maybe a Chopin prelude. And I will learn a Schumann or Debussy.
I have two months still until school. I once learned a piece in two months, then won third place in a competition. I can get to that place again if I watch my posture, do exercises, use passion, and remember that pain and exhaustion will only make me stronger.
Now I understand why he does not need physical touch and love like I do. His passion is invested in his music and writing, and that is how it needs to be for him to make his contribution. People will not be touched because he held his girlfriend in college when she was sad. People will be moved by his music, his words, his ability to capture a thousand feelings into one moment.
They will need him for that. He must not be needed in any other way, just how I cannot be needed in any other way until the right time.
It’s going to be hard, but I’ll choose the right path, not the result. The auditions are in March. I’m not giving up on myself.