The last few weeks, I have been locked away in my freezing cold apartment, “working on my creative projects.” Aka, feeling significantly depressed and doing anything and everything I could, to AVOID said project.
I was supposed to be doing a creative residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts this month, to write the music for my first solo show: “You’re Not Alone: Music and Stories about Solitude.” (Title likely to be changed, because that phrase “You’re not alone” is so over-used at this point in the pandemic, when you know what? A lot of us really ARE all alone right now, at least concerning our immediate physical surroundings and/or emotional support)
When the residency got cancelled, I decided that I was going to just rent all the gear I needed, and do a “residency” from my home studio. I proceeded to subtly push all of my friends away, letting them know they wouldn’t be seeing or hearing from me much at all over the next month.
A few days went by, and then a couple of weeks… and all I have to show for it is a half-written attempt at a “crime caper;” an obsessively organized studio; and about $150 worth of freshly-adhered weatherstripping. It got reeeeal cold here in Montreal.
There were full days spent curled up in fetal position, in a state of heightened existential angst, wondering what to do with my life, why I am clearly INCAPABLE of being a productive artist, and whether I even HAVE friends; because nobody was reaching out, asking me to hang out, asking how I was doing…
Hold up. Okay first of all, I pushed them away. ON PURPOSE. Second of all, EVERYONE (in my version of reality) IS FEELING DEPRESSED RIGHT NOW. (Are you not depressed? Really?!? Well just pretend you are, for the sake of my argument, but I’m pretty sure deep down, you felt depressed at some point) And third, if I’m so lonely, ASK SOMEONE TO HANG OUT FOR GOD’S SAKE!!
So I did. A couple of nights ago, I reached out to someone and made plans for later next week. Then I reached out to another friend and made plans for next weekend. Both turned into long text threads, commiserating on how fucking hard this month has been, how little we’ve “gotten done;” but also how absurd/hilarious our #moods are, when we can manage to zoom out.
Then just yesterday, I met up with a friend, and we went for a walk around our neighborhood; talking feelings, anecdotes, isolation-fueled revelations—and oh—the BANTER.
“So I texted this guy a while back that I’d been admiring from afar. I said, Hey—your posts are my favourite thing on the internet. If you’re in the market for a new friend, maybe we could meet up sometime?”
“And then you attached a nudie pic, right?”
“Oh for sure, my butthole. Front and center.”
“You’re just giving him all the tools to make a well-informed decision.”
“I attached the measurements too.”
“That’s very kind of you, most people these days don’t show that kind of courtesy.”
As we walked around, empathizing and bouncing ideas off of each other and laughing; I had this sense that we were affecting our surroundings. Like, for sure we were probably making it really hard for people to pass us on the claustrophobic snow-flanked sidewalk, with our wild hand-gesturing and slowish pace; but it just kindof felt like as we walked, we were creating this energy that was trailing behind us in a yellowy-orange cloud. I’d like to think that any living entity to come into contact with that yellowy-orange cloud was, for at least a brief moment, uplifted. Hell, maybe the buildings even perked up a little.
No, I wasn’t on shrooms.
When I got home, I felt rejuvenated; and this morning… I no longer feel depressed. This may only last a day or two… but I feel suddenly like, I have the capacity to do something creative. I mean, I’m sitting here, writing this aren’t I? Maybe I’ll even pick up my violin and knock out a stem in Ableton after this. (I didn’t. I went to IKEA to get more shit for my studio)
I think I have always known on some level that we need outside inspiration in order to create. Hangs with friends, concerts, art galleries, new locations etc. Julia Cameron calls it “filling the well” in the Artist’s Way. You need to put something in, before something can come out.
But I think this is an over-simplified way of explaining the incredibly mystical thing that happens when we have a new experience in the natural (non-virtual) world, such as going to a live show. It’s not so black and white—where we create in direct proportion to how much we receive; as though determining the mass of an object by putting it into a full tub of water and measuring the volume of water expelled.
I think what is happening when we attend a live show, or spend time with a friend, or explore a new city—is that we experience a profound exchange of energy—and it feels like the purest most wonderful gift. Something is given to us, but absolutely nothing is expected of us in return. And it is exactly this absence of pressure, that makes us want to give. We go home and suddenly we MUST create, whatever that means to each of us; as a way of giving back to the universe.
I think our true purpose here on earth is so wonderfully simple. It’s to continuously propel this divine flow of energy. To ensure that it never stops. Because the moment it stops, we have all ceased to live.
I think this is why every single artist I know is absolutely exhausted right now. Why we are ALL exhausted right now. It’s not just the damn pandemic; it’s this toxic mentality that has been drilled into us since we gooshed out of the womb. We must give in order to receive. We must produce in order to survive.
We are not propelling energy, we are rationing it. We are CONTROLLING it.
In my experience, artists in pandemic/lockdown times fall more or less into two categories:
- Those of us who have temporarily or permanently given up on our craft. Everything “non-essential” (The Arts) was shut down, we are not (supposed to be) seeing friends; and so, we are not receiving divine inspiration. We are not experiencing those mystical exchanges of energy that make us want to give; aka create. Many in this group, including me, are considering quitting the careers they spent their whole lives working toward. Because we are realizing just how little we are valued.
- Those of us who are creating from nothing. There is no divine inspiration; and yet—we push and we push, making endless Tik Tok videos, organizing virtual concerts, and learning 5 million new skills; until something sticks and makes us go viral. We are creating, in order to X. In order to make rent. In order to gain followers. In order to feel worthy.
You could also hypothesize that the first group has depressive tendencies; the second anxious. Or the first group has some sort of government support to help with living costs; the second group… lives in the states. Cough. Or, that I’m full of shit.
However, I would wager, that as much as that second group would like to have you think they are THRIVING right now over social media—posting announcements that they hit 1 million followers, instagramming pictures of their sweet live-stream set-ups; deep down these people are feeling pretty drained, too.
Because we are in this new reality—where instead of heartfelt applause and belly laughs that INFLUENCE our offerings in real-time; we get a trickle of emojis. Instead of a warm conversation with a fascinating person after the show, we get 20 more followers. We get a DM. I’m sorry computer-enthusiasts, but this is NOT a true exchange. This is not a propelling of energy.
When I get a thoughtful message online, it’ll warm me up for a few minutes, a day even… but It does not leave me feeling changed. It doesn’t inspire me to write, or make music. And then, even with the best of intentions, the digital message is forgotten forever; because there is no unique sensory information in which to ground it. The way this person smiles or touches your arm as you talk; the smell of the hipster coffee being brewed behind you; the lighting of the sky that day; the sound of seagulls screeching as they circle your heads, pooping on you from afar. This is how moments are imprinted into your memory forever.
A source of infinite inspiration 😉
Even BEFORE the pandemic when concerts were still live, particularly in my line of work (symphony orchestra); we had it all wrong. We were not performing to GIVE, we were performing to GET. We were showing up to rehearsals and concerts to GET a paycheck. We were over-worked to INCREASE ticket-sales. We were obsessing over perfection, in order to ACHIEVE and MAINTAIN high status. In the audition process, we were prioritizing a superficial set of skills demonstrated over a finite period of time; rather than the actual HUMANS ATTACHED to those skills. Rather than prioritizing the community we want to grow and nurture.
Is it any wonder I want to quit the classical music industry, when I have been perfecting my craft for 30 years; I have proven I am a wonderful colleague both technically and socially; and yet, I am still “just a sub” at a workplace I have been contributing to for over 8 years? Simply because I am unable to perform a perfect audition under extreme stress? (Or while an entire jazz band is rehearsing a hit tune in the room next-door?!?!?)
What if we just showed up, and played as beautifully as we could, for the sole purpose of giving something to each other and our audiences?!? What if the focus wasn’t on achieving the highest level of perfection, but on human connection? Providing a space where everyone involved both on and off the stage feels like they matter?
We are all exhausted, because WE WERE ALREADY EXHAUSTED. The pandemic has simply made us realize how much. We are dying to go back to our roots. I don’t think any of us actually want to live so selfishly, jumping through endless hoops, giving only to get. Sacrificing real, meaningful connections in order to get further up the ladder of “success.” Whether that success be measured by money, followers, or even mental health. How on earth can we ever hope to claw our way out of depression, ALONE?!?
We are locked in a prison of our own creation, and we need to figure out how to get the hell out.
It sounds like an impossible task, but it’s really not. All we need to do… is
We reach out, we spend time with each other, we ask questions, we lift each other up; and THEN we create. And the sharing of this creation empowers others to create. We give so we can give, so we can give.
We don’t need to go from capitalism to communism; or to some sort of anti-society utopian commune where we forego showering and bicker over the only comfortable sitting-rock. We just need to learn how to inhabit the space BETWEEN the extremes.
We need to learn how to walk through a city that appears black and white, and fill it up with yellowy-orange clouds. Or purpley-blue. Or pinky-greeny-brown. To fill every single tiny square inch of space with love and laughter and tears and ideas, so that the next person to pass through loves and laughs and cries and thinks with just a little bit more ease.
And again, and again,