A Period of Dark Thoughts

***TRIGGER WARNING: Content about depression and suicidal thoughts, treated with humor and love***

Last week, as I was walking down St. Laurent in a “What even is Life” pandemic haze, it happened. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice to just like, end my life and get away from all this misery?!” I know, alarm bells are going off for some of you, but for others—I KNOW you know what I’m talking about. This was simply a passing thought, just my ego experimenting with how it might feel to imagine that possibility, nothing more. I went right back to the endless debate of whether or not I should get a slice of pizza on my way home.

I never used to have thoughts like this, though many of my loved ones have on the regular. Of course I worry about them, but I know the difference between PICK UP THE PHONE AND CALL 911—and just nod with understanding as they tell me about it, and maybe even laugh with them. It can be really cathartic to joke about this stuff. It’s such a taboo subject, that we feel like we can’t talk about it AT ALL, for fear of being immediately escorted to a psych ward and forced to eat microwaved Salisbury steak. But I think to an extent, it might be a pretty normal human instinct, to at least CONSIDER death as a solution to a pretty horrible situation. At the extreme, for my loved ones who struggle with serious depression and suicide ideation, my feeling is that it is much more helpful to be able to talk about it and not be judged, than to have to hide “the darkness.” That just makes things worse.

I don’t think I just speak for myself when I say I’m just fucking DONE with this pandemic. Especially living in a box in Montreal, where we’ve been in high red alert since October, and we have an 8PM CURFEW. On some level I get it, but jeese, it was 9:30pm a few weeks ago, and at least then we can go for a walk before bed so we have some chance of falling asleep at night. So I know that some of these sudden dark thoughts are very apropos, and temporary.

BUT.

I realized something really, really huge last week—it just took an idiot decision on my part to figure it out. I booked a (red zone) cottage getaway with my lovely, sweet boyfriend, during the week before my period. I knoww. We’ve been dating for 6 months, and by now, I have at least learned to go back to my own apartment and lock the door when I start to feel cramps.

But here we are, stuck together in the middle of nowhere, in a small cabin with no closed rooms, during what I’ve started calling “hell week.” Things he did 3 days ago that made me swoon, now make me want to snarl and smash things. He’ll come embrace me and ask for a kiss, and all I can think is how much I wish he’d just leave me alone. So I stay in a little corner I’ve designated as my own, and secretly jump out of my skin every time he moves his chair, clears his throat, or chews a banana. He picks up on my #mood and gets all mopey, so now on top of it all, I feel extreme GUILT for being such a royal garbage person. We watch an episode of Nadiya Bakes on Netflix, and I start sobbing because I’m convinced SHE is his dream girl, aka happy all the damn time. Seeds of negative thoughts grow into FORESTS of anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, and BOOM—depression. Though, I don’t fully allow myself to feel the depression until I get home. This is the mode I was in when I had the “dark thought” I spoke of earlier.

Which version of me is real?!? Am I just hiding my true personality for 3 weeks a month and then when I’m most “in tune” with my body, I tear off the smiley optimistic patient easy-going mask?!? I once read somewhere that the week before our periods just heightens what we are already feeling—we are simply more sensitive. So, maybe all these horrible thoughts are ALWAYS in my brain, just dormant?!? Ugh I’m the worst!!!

So now it’s like, holy crap. How are my boyfriend and I ever going to last if we have to plan getaways around my damn PMS? How are we ever going to live together?!? Will I need to build my own 1-person PMS hut behind the main house and outfit it like a bunker, but it’s purpose is the safety and survival of people on the OUTSIDE?!? The second I feel the first shooting pain in my left leg, I start screaming frantically at the person checking me out at Costco: “MOVE IT!! THE CHANGE…IT’S HAPPENING!! I NEED TO GET HOME NOW!!!”

Anyway, as I always do when I’m feeling less than desirable things, I started perusing online for validation. Where are you, other people that feel like me? Where my period werewolves at?? And while re-reading this article about periods being WAY WORSE during the pandemic, I stumbled on a condition I’d never heard of before. Premenstrual Disphoria Disorder (PMDD). It’s like PMS but on crack. Symptoms are anxiety, extreme irritability, crying at the drop of a hat, hopelessness, detachment from loved ones, isolation, fatigue, depression, headaches, cramps, decreased libido, heightened sensitivity, muscle spasms, difficulty coordinating, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, and many many others. I experience ALMOST ALL of them. For 1 week a month, women who are diagnosed with PMDD feel like they are not in control. Then, everything goes back to normal within the first few days of their period, like some kind of bloody miracle. Women with PMDD, understandably, are often misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. Some more fun statistics*: something like 67% of women who are admitted to psychiatric facilities do so during the week before their period. Up to 70% of women suffer from PMS, and 5-8% suffer from PMDD.

*I read these somewhere, and may have jostled the numbers a bit, but I remember my jaw dropping.

Can we please stop down-playing and teasing women about it being “that time of the month?” This is serious shit! It really, really sucks that so many of us go through this every month, and have to feel like we’ve lost our minds. We feel like we have to protect those around us from ourselves, making constant excuses for our “behavior,” when what we really need is support, and MORE DAMN RESEARCH. I will say though, it’s a huge relief to know that I don’t go crazy once a month, I’m just super sensitive to plummeting levels of serotonin.

So what now? Well at least with a possible diagnosis, I can seek treatment. Will I see a doctor about this? Maybe, but I’m like 95% sure I have at least a mild case of PMDD, and we all know what a doctor will say. “Here is a prescription for SSRIs (anti-depressants): they’re potentially dangerous, and they have like a million other shitty side effects, but with any luck, after many trials and tribulations you might feel somewhat sane in a few months. (You won’t want to strangle your boyfriend, but you also won’t want to have sex with him)” Yeah no thanks.

What I did stumble on in my internet travels, is that micro doses of psilocybin do something very similar in your brain to SSRIs in terms of increasing serotonin, but WITHOUT THE SIDE EFFECTS. Only caveat is that they’re not legal, yet…but tons of research is in process right now that will likely change that in the near future. In the meantime, there are ways around it.

Other things that can help increase serotonin, decrease anxiety/depression and get you through hell week are physical exercise (unfortunately all I seem able to do these days is go for zombie walks, which don’t really do it); meditation (I love Tara Brach); cutting out sugar and alcohol; getting lots of healthy carbs; daily vitamin B6 and Magnesium Bisglycinate; Omega-3 and Calcium (both taken from ovulation up until symptoms end during menses); and vitamin D. Herbal supplements that some people with PMDD swear by are St. John’s Wort, chasteberry, and primrose oil.

Another piece of armor: therapy. Specifically, of the Cognitive Behavioral genre. Please remember, I’m not a doctor or a scientist; I’m just scanning google and finding things that suit my bias. (I read that in a meme somewhere) Do your own research and talk to a medical professional!

If you’re relating hard to anything I’ve written here, and want to follow in my baby steps thus far, check out the Tim Feriss podcast, specifically any of his episodes on psychedelics and their healing properties. I listened to an episode with Michael Pollan, focusing on his new book “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.” I also got really excited when I found two women who have written books about their experiences treating PMDD with micro doses of psychedelics: A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life by Ayelet Waldman; and The Woman in the Basement: How to Live Your Best Life 75% of the Time by Tina A. Williams.

I hope this offers some of you solace, like it did me. Talk about this stuff with your friends and loved ones!! Listen to them without judgment! We all just want to be allowed to feel what we are feeling. The more we talk about it, the more we’ll realize just how many people are going through the same things.

How to Yell in Public

Yesterday I went to my nearest Montreal subway station, paid $3.00, then just sat on the platform screaming at trains. I’m one of THOSE people now. I swear though, this isn’t a sign that I’ve gone crazy, I had VERY good reason for doing so. One of those trains was talking shit about me behind my back, and I’m not standing for it anymore! No but really, it’s an INCREDIBLE way to release stress in your body.

A couple of months ago, while reading a book on female sexuality called “Come As You Are,” I stumbled on a science-y paragraph explaining different manifestations of stress in the body* (and why they make most people avoid sex as though it were two dudes in nice suits ringing your doorbell). We have three general reactions to stress, which will likely sound familiar to you: fight, flight, and freeze.

Picture yourself in your ancestors’ shoes, thousands or millions of years ago or whatever. You’re sitting in front of the hut that you made out of leaves and your own poop, just roasting some poor animal’s organs on an open fire.

Scenario 1: You see a freakin sabertooth tiger prowling towards you, but from far away. It’s in that place you went to fart last night so your cave-partner wouldn’t hear you and tell you how disgusting you are. You made sure to fart off-wind, but crap has that ever backfired. Your best option here, is to GET THE FUCK OUTTA THERE, aka, FLIGHT.

Scenario 2: You don’t notice the sabertooth tiger prowling towards you, because you’re too busy fishing out the 4TH EYEBALL you DROPPED in the GODDAMN FIRE. When you finally look up, the sabertooth is just sitting nonchalantly next to you, licking his lips. There is no way you could run at this point, so your best option here is to grab that stick that’s not even sharp enough to hold an eyeball, and FIGHT.

Scenario 3: Okay so this scenario is the darkest one. You realize, as the sabertooth is munching on your shoulder with no intention of stopping, that this isn’t the most fun place to be. You can’t run, you clearly can’t fight, but you CAN just mentally leave your body for a while so you don’t have to WATCH him EATING YOU. This is the FREEZE response.

*If you’re interested in reading more about this, Peter Levine has written some (what I hear to be) great books on it, with a focus on how to use it to heal trauma.

In modern life, our sabertooth tigers have become… a powerpoint presentation for all your coworkers. A girl you went on a date with who’s not texting you back. A um, global pandemic, where you have lost all of your paid work, you don’t really know what you’re meant to do in life, you are having EXTRAORDINARILY intense periods*, and you are completely isolated from your friends because your boyfriend lives with two pregnant couples and you can’t afford to take ANY risks, but they’re Quebecois, so like, even though they speak really good English you feel this inherent pressure to speak French, but really that just makes you stop speaking altogether and you spend most of the time you’re at their house just glazing over in your own thoughts because they’re speaking French so fast you don’t even really know what the TOPIC is let alone the nuances of the discussion; annnnd you got in a huge fight with your landlord over a slimy deal he made with you 2 years ago that you’re only just now contesting because it would put 900 more precious dollars in your jobless pocket every year. Just an example. (Those “theoretical” couples are, for the record, very sweet)

*If you are ALSO having periods that are ruining your life, check out this article for some juicy VALIDATION.

So let’s just say I’ve been very stressed. I’ve got loads of stressors, just like the rest of you, but where does that stress go?? Especially in the winter/early spring, where only the most die-est of hards put on their smooth-bottomed sneakers and RUN on ICE. In normal times, maybe we’d go to a gym?! Or go play laser tag and run around screaming bloody murder? We could go SIT on our DEAREST FRIEND’S COUCH and TALK?!? That’d be nice. So the stress just like, stays in your body. Maybe you don’t feel it because it’s really good at spreading itself out, hiding in all those lil nooks and crannies, but it’s there. It’s even speculated to cause diseases like cancer! But that’s a topic for another… person.

I’m lucky enough to be a part of this wonderful group of 9 women who meet every Friday morning over Zoom to talk about our feelings, disguised as a kindof creative book club. Last Friday, our week’s leader had us “shake out all the stress in our bodies” to this song, and I was shocked to find myself not only dancing like one of those uninhibited hippies from Burning Man, moving like I didn’t even know was possible; but I started sobbing. Quietly, so my neighbors wouldn’t hear me. SO MUCH STRESS was being released through this shaking, that it was overwhelming me. Then suddenly my throat started closing up, and I felt like I was being strangled?! Okay so I give the experience an 8 out of 10. I asked Kass, the leader, what might have been happening? And she tells me the same thing has happened to her. “You have to engage your throat” she said, otherwise the stress gets stuck there. And when you think about our caveman stress response system, it makes total sense. If you were running from a sabertooth tiger, or hell, running INTO battle, WOULD YOU NOT YELL?!?

We have trained ourselves to be so quiet, so neat and tidy, to fit into a civilized society, but we NEED to YELL. We need to run and dance and shake and fight and SCREAM!! Especially right now.

So, this is how I found myself on the furthermost platform of the Montreal subway system. (It’s called the metro, but despite fear of being kicked out of Quebec, I’ll use the term you ALL know) I came here to complete the stress cycle. My heart wrenched a little as I saw a sign on the wall with the number for a suicide prevention line—for some people, this situation is so much more dire than we could even imagine. Well, I’m starting to be able to imagine.

As I rocked from one foot to another at the spot where people statistically go to take their lives, looking at oncoming trains but never getting on, I wondered if anybody on the platform or in the security camera room was starting to worry about me. “I just came to yell at the trains!” I’d say, which I imagine would be returned with a look of recognition. “Just don’t do anything stupid!” I imagined them replying. That, by the way, is a line I just subconsciously ripped from Nisha Coleman’s amazing storytelling show about suicide, “Solving the Problem of Living,” which you can now watch on her website!

Let me just say, where you stand on the platform really matters. At first, my yells sounded more like high-pitched whinnies, as the trains weren’t as loud as I’d hoped. I was relieved to have a mask covering the VISUAL proof that I was screaming; but if you have ever studied EQ, my high-pitched lady range was actually sharing the audio space with the low-rumbling train quite beautifully. So I walked to the end of the platform where the train coming IN to the station was right in front of me, rather than on the opposite end of the track. The problem is that the train has already started to slow down as it comes in, so you have a very short period of time over which you can yell and be pretty sure that guy standing by the trash can is just going to think he’s hearing a ghost. What I found, is the best time to yell is at this very spot, when the train opposite you is LEAVING. It took me a few tries, spaced an unbearable Saturday-train-schedule distance apart, but soon I was just LETTING RIP from the moment the train started to pick up speed until the millisecond it left the station. At that point, people hear you again, as I learned the hard way.

After one yell, I felt pretty good. After two, I felt really good. After three, I felt fucking GREAT, and I started laughing my ass off to boot, just in case people were still on the fence about whether or not I was crazy. When I felt like I’d released all the stress I needed to, I calmly left the station, trying to walk with the body language of someone who clearly did not intend to kill themselves some other way instead.

Before I yelled at the trains, I was in a really big funk. I’ve been feeling super disconnected lately, generally walking around very slowly, mostly looking down, and avoiding people’s eyes in public. But after the trains, I was SMILING AT STRANGERS. I don’t DO that. I walked into a public library 5 minutes before closing, and just like, skipped around looking at books. I asked the librarian a question I could have looked up online at home, IN FRENCH! I ran into a couple of people I know, and felt myself telling them about my dumb landlord situation but all the while smiling so wide my cheeks were starting to hurt. I felt miraculously reconnected to myself, so I had the ability to connect to others.

So, I’m just saying. I really think there should be some sort of club for this, where we meet up outside and just scream. Maybe we could take turns chasing each other! I’m starting to understand why this one guy I went on a few dates with in the Fall told me about a fantasy he had that I would one day chase him naked through the woods with a gun. Or maybe that’s… unrelated.

Anyway go yell at something! Go to the top of a mountain, or to the middle of the woods if you’re lucky enough to not live in a crowded city. If you do, but you’re too shy to go to a subway platform, grab a few pillows to muffle yourself. Try it! There’s also a “Rage Cage” in Montreal and possibly places like it in other cities, where you can pay some dollars to go yell and smash things. Or you could just do like my downstairs neighbor did last night, and bang on your walls while drunkenly belting out opera tunes late into the evening, taking breaks every hour or so to go outside and scream “FUCK YOUU!!!!!” at the top of your lungs. While I was vaguely annoyed, I respected his ability to unabashedly release stress,* and we could all stand to take a page out of his book. A true sage for modern times.

*The cops may or may not have been called

My Beef with the New Year

Every year in December, I start hearing two things constantly from friends, family and social media that really irk me:

  1. “What is your New Year’s resolution?”
  2. Something along the lines of “(Current year) was a total dumpster fire, next year will be way better!”

I appreciate that for 8-12 days, people intend to infuse some discipline into their lives and kick that nightly Negroni habit. But, why does the changing of digits on a man-made calendar have to dictate when it is socially acceptable to make positive change? We should always be reassessing our habits, and figuring out what isn’t working for us anymore. Making a New Year’s resolution is like saving up all of your poop for one giant dump a year. We need to clean that shit out regularly because it’s toxic!!

(Poop analogy quota: filled)

Another thing I hate about this question is that it always implies a tangible, surfacey change. We are conditioned to hate ourselves for the exact activities we were conditioned to accomplish in the 3 weeks previous: eating waistband-expanding holiday goodies, and filling the ever-expanding gap between the floor and the Christmas tree through extravagant spending. So we boomerang, and suddenly make resolutions to eat healthier and spend less. Good thing for capitalism, we already filled its pockets!! Here is a list of the 10 most common resolutions, cobbled together by Brad Zomick on Goskills.com:

  • Exercise more
  • Lose weight
  • Get organized
  • Learn a new skill or hobby
  • Live life to the fullest
  • Save more money/spend less money
  • Quit smoking
  • Spend more time with family or friends
  • Travel more
  • Read more

What about, “Get my head out of my own ass and start asking questions and offering to help people more?” Or “Stop my cycle of toxic relationships and figure out why I am avoiding confronting my childhood trauma by fixing others?” Who cares if you put on a little weight over the holidays, it’s just part of the natural cycle of life. We’ll lose it in the summer when we can actually walk places without getting hit by a snow plow.

Just a thought.

Now the second phrase that comes up every damn year, the one about how this year will be better, makes me want to smack people. It reminds me of how every single winter we claim it’s the worst winter ever, when ya know, it’s not. Why are we always so much more focused on the future than right fucking now?! If we say “this year sucked, next year will be better” EVERY SINGLE YEAR, does this not mean that every single year has sucked?! You better believe if you already have this approach, every single year until you die is going to suck.

I will admit, 2020 has been a tricky lil bitch. Definitely the trickiest year of my lifetime thus far. But was it really the worst year ever?!? In some ways, I think it may have actually been the best.

I want to precede the following statements by saying that I am privileged AF, and I am aware that what I am about to say is by no means true for everyone…

2020 is the year that many people died suddenly and unfairly, but exponentially more people woke up and started living.

So many of us learned how to slow down. We learned that we don’t need to be in that constant grind of working like crazy in order to make enough money to be able to relax from all the over-work. I found, in the first few months of the pandemic, that despite losing 75% of my income (thanks CERB), I was actually saving money. Why? I wasn’t exhausted from work, so I didn’t need to eat out constantly and take weekend trips and binge drink with friends to trick myself into thinking I was doing it all for a reason. I learned that I could make just $2,000/month and be totally fine. (Ideally though, I would move out of my apartment that eats most of that up in one fell swoop)

We learned just how much family and friends mean to us. Normally I fly to Nova Scotia to visit my mom twice a year, for 5-10 days each pop. 5 days is around the time I start to pick fights over the antique triples of condiments in the refrigerator that should have been thrown out decades ago. A visit this year just didn’t seem possible. But after 5 months of isolation in a big city, with none of the social or cultural benefits a big city has to offer, I was desperate for some country time with people who love me. Ethically, I couldn’t fly home this year- way too risky. But we learned just how much we are willing to do to see each other.

I isolated for 2 weeks, getting a Covid test towards the end just to be safe.* Then I quarantined once I received my negative result while my mom drove 14 hours both ways to pick me and my Maine Coon up and escort us to peace and tranquility, where we quarantined for 2 whole weeks together. She made this exact trip AGAIN 7 weeks later to bring me back. That’s around 60 hours of driving. (My mom may also be slightly crazy)

*This method isn’t really kosher, and were I to do it again I would quarantine for the full 2 weeks before seeing her.

So you’d think, a mother and daughter quarantined together for 2 weeks, who normally start driving each other crazy after 5 days… how did that go over?! And I’m surprising myself just as much with this one when I say, it was amazing. Because we both knew I’d be home for ages, there was no pressure to spend every second in the same room- and I got really good at expressing when I needed some alone time, or when something was bothering me. We learned how to communicate. Who knew?!

What else… a lot of us learned a ton of new skills, that allow us to be much more self-sufficient! I’m talking bread, sewing, designing a website, starting a new business, how to freakin record and mix and live-stream audio, how to play the banjo!! (My friend Amy bought a banjo on July 4th, and plays just a bit every morning- the videos she has been sending me lately are blowing my mind. Note that she was already a fabulous professional trumpet player)

The dating climate improved! Yes that sounds like a load of bullshit given we’re not meeting new people in real life anymore. But, there’s still the apps. In the past, these have had a certain “reputation;” whereas now, we have to get to know each other really well before getting physical. We need to be super upfront about what we want, and whether or not we are monogamous because otherwise we could kill people. Forced monogamy wooo!! (Note that this time has been very difficult for polyamorous peeps) If you haven’t done so already, check out the article I wrote about how to date ethically during a global pandemic.

A lot of people realized their former lives weren’t really in line with their true talents and desires, and have embarked on new, scary, more fulfilling paths. I for one, recently accepted that writing is my true calling, not classical music. I can go weeks without touching my violin; but if I go a few days without writing, I am muddy, irritable, and I have a fun little habit of creating drama where it doesn’t actually exist. I am not giving up music altogether, I am just switching my priorities. Writing first, music second. Do I secretly wish I realized my dream is something that might make me more money than a dying niche art, not less?! Merp.

Let’s not forget the bigger picture stuff, like the Black Lives Matter movement. White people finally woke up and realized we are all at least a little racist, and need to swallow our pride, shut up, and make space for BIPOC voices.

and…

WE GOT RID OF DONALD TRUMP.

We got outside more!! Usually, come September, I wonder where the summer went. I feel a twinge of guilt that I didn’t take advantage of the beautiful weather while it was here. Getting outside on every damn nice day just feels like so much pressure. I would often stay in and watch movies out of pure rebellion. But we were damn fucking SICK of being inside, and getting outside was literally the only way to see our friends and family. I heard many, many people say that they have never spent more time outside during the summer, and consequently, it was the best summer ever.

We learned compassion. Do you remember the moment you realized that we are not wearing masks to protect ourselves, but to protect others? The simple act of putting our masks on every day slowly changes us. We are now more aware of those around us than ever. We are sending a very clear message to every single person we encounter: “I care about you.”

Are you starting to get it? How can a year with all of the treasures above, be the worst year ever?!? Are we so ready to abandon this year along with all the other “horrible years,” in favor of this new kid in town?! I don’t know 2021!! Maybe they suck!!! Why can’t we just wait until December of next year, to determine whether it was good or bad?! We’re just assuming 2021 is going to be better when in reality, the whole earth might explode.

Anyway, I’d like to start a New-New Year’s tradition. Let’s not look forward, let’s fucking look BACK. Every year, on December 31st, let’s count our damn blessings. Let’s grieve our losses, and celebrate our triumphs. Let’s not make up some dumb resolution that fat-shames us, let’s vow to love the skin we’re already in.

May you all have a Happy (but no pressure, it’s all just a constant wave of emotions) CURRENT Year!!

The Restorative Power of Burning Things

A week ago on the new moon, I sat in a “circle” of 9 women over Zoom, and set a bunch of shit on fire… in my living room.

(Who knew, I’m also a poet. And a witch, apparently)

I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t done this sooner, because it felt AMAZING. Damn. Why don’t they teach us these things in school?!? “Setting Things on Fire is Pretty Fun 101.” Seems like a no-brainer where absolutely nothing would go wrong.

Of course I’ve enjoyed many a fire before. I grew up right on a beach in rural redneck Nova Scotia where nightly summer bonfires were as inevitable as the attending drunks who would stumble into our yard to pee (or pass out on the tent containing me and two other kids). But this wasn’t just any standard burning of rotten wood and Bud Light cartons…

I was burning my creative demons.

I mean, technically I was burning little pieces of paper on which I had scrawled the names of all the grade A shit-turds I have encountered in my life. I don’t mean the kind of shit-turds who yell at you for saying 2 words in English on the streets of Montreal, or who walk around the upper floor of an apartment on the heels of their feet. (These are grade B or grade C shit-turds at best; or simply, “turds.”)

I’m talking about the kind of shit-turds who see the embers of something beautiful in a budding artist… and make it their mission to stamp it out. If I only knew from age 7, when I met my first creative demon, what I know now: these people are miserable, and feel a lot more comfortable when everybody around them is on the same level.

Helene, one of my mom’s delightful partners growing up, would listen to me playing concertos on a 3/4 size violin and call me a sissy, preaching that I should be playing hockey outside like a normal kid. My violin teacher for the first half of my Bachelor’s degree in music treated me like I was 8 and made me play matching repertoire, crushing my desire to practice. The conductor of my first real orchestral job pulled me into his office after my winning audition and informed me how lucky I was that he had decided to take pity on me, he could have just as easily not hired me. The man then proceeded to bully me during rehearsal breaks all year, aka when nobody was watching. Mm, so lucky.

The list of creative demons goes on, and on. Snore. We’ve all had them. It doesn’t escape me though, that most if not all of my demons bared their ugly heads during my classical music career. I wonder how much of a coincidence it is, that during this pandemic when all of my normal distractions are gone, I have realized that I don’t really love playing classical music anymore. Did I ever really like playing it? SHUT UP, BRAIN!!

Let me just humor this passing thought for a second though. I mean, of course I loved playing classical music, and still do. Sometimes. When I love playing classical music, it is because the intention is pure. I, and everyone surrounding me, want nothing more than to share something meaningful and gorgeous with each other and everyone in the audience. This happened a lot in my youth when I used to take part in summer music festivals where we were worked to the bone for free room and board, not a penny more. We must have loved what we were doing if we were doing it for free!!

Now as I progress in my musical career and call myself a professional, earning a sizable chunk of money for my services (pandemic shit-show aside), I find I am often surrounded by people who have forgotten why we got into this business in the first place. If we are being paid, that must be why we are doing it. We get bogged down in matching up all of our bowings and articulations and playing it exactly as the composer intended, in the “correct” style of that period.

We are the highly-trained musicians of an internationally renowned professional orchestra, and goddammit IT HAD BETTER SHOW!!

If my poor stand-partner (I write this but I really mean me) is unfortunate enough to play an up-bow while the rest of us play down, or they hold a half-note for a fraction of a second too long, or heaven forbid, they misread an accidental… you would think they just audibly sharted during the slow movement of a Beethoven symphony, their face will flush such a deep red.

We shouldn’t be deeply embarrassed if we play a wrong note; we should be deeply embarrassed if we play an entire concert in the pursuit of perfection, forgetting our true purpose: to connect with each other. What we lose in technical accuracy, we gain in creating a transcendent experience for the audience, and ourselves. I miss the concerts of my youth, when there wasn’t so much at stake.

I remember during one of the summers I played with the Verbier Festival Orchestra, we were performing Mahler’s 4th symphony. The one with the famous scordatura concertmaster solos in the 2nd movement. All of our concerts were filmed for Medici.tv, so we always had a bit of an extra edge to our already youthful adrenaline-fueled performances. Not even 4 bars into the sea of difficult solos, our concertmaster Roberto’s E-string (or, F#-string, in this case) snaps clear off of his violin, and he has to suddenly transpose everything over to the next available string. It’s truly every violinist’s nightmare. But Roberto is almost fired up by the challenge, and performs the rest of the piece with flair, sporting a mischievous smile- as though to let the audience in on the joke. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s exciting as hell.

After the concert, a bunch of us sit on my twin-sized bed crowded around a laptop, and re-watch the moment when Roberto’s string snaps over and over, freeze-framing on his face the exact millisecond he realizes he now needs to recalculate every single note of the solo, in front of live cameras. It is just pure, undiluted horror… and we are absolutely PISSING OUR PANTS laughing. Not at him!! But just, in utter glee because this kind of thing isn’t allowed to happen in the classical world. We feel exhilarated! We just witnessed something entirely new, something we didn’t spend hundreds of hours planning for!!

When we shared the footage with Roberto, he was understandably dismayed at first, because he is a fantastic player and he wanted the audience to experience the music exactly as practiced. This is how classical musicians are conditioned. But our laughter was contagious and soon Roberto was peeing his pants too. What Roberto gave us, and the audience that night- was something real. It was vulnerable, it was beautiful, it was hilarious. It was art.

I have had so many great experiences during my classical music career, but I’m just not sure it’s sustainable anymore. At least, not as my primary creative outlet in life. All of my creative demons along the way have certainly rocked my boat, but I think what is finally sinking it is the unbearable expectation to be perfect all the time. To have to hide a significant part of myself in my art, just because “that’s how it has always been done.” When we are only willing to present our creative work to audiences in a perfect state, we deprive them of the most special part.

On the new moon I don’t think I was just burning my creative demons. I was burning my identity as a classical musician. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I am here, on December 21st, 2020 (the winter solstice) standing on my figurative mountaintop and yelling my dreams at the top of my lungs. I need to be in a medium where I can be 100% myself. Where I feel safe sharing the whole, not just the polished exterior. Where I can make a giant mistake that becomes the story, and I make everybody piss their pants laughing.

“HEY UNIVERSE! I WANT TO BE A WRITER!!”

Does an Artist have to Art?

Sooo… it’s been a weee little while *cough* 4 months…since I’ve posted here- in this magical place I created in February 2019 where I can express anything and everything. Read: rants about horrible ex-boyfriends, and all my annoyingly preachy “advice” on how to live your best life- which I generally break within the week, because I’m HUMAN.

I started off strong, posting two epic over-shares per week. This I owe to the rigorous deadlines set by Kerry Clare in her online blog course, which I signed up for impulsively on the last day of registration. (All in one day, I thought of a DOPE domain name, bought it, and threw together this basic AF webspace on wordpress.com, thinking I’d update it later when things calmed down a little bit. *whistles and shuffles feet while looking at months of empty days in calendar*)

What have I been up to, you’re wondering? Ohh, so much, so much. I’ve just been so busy… um, refilling my cat’s food dish, hand washing artisanal masks that allow me to express my zazzy self even during a pandemic, and making various nut milks that ruin my morning coffee. I was thinking of hiring an assistant for the cat dish thing, because honestly it’s taking a lot out of me. The dish never… stays… full… and he stares at me with those perpetually judgy eyes that stamp my soul with the words “You’re a Horrible Mother…”

The key to filling up the days you see, is doing each task as it were shalt have been done’st in the Olden Tymes- washing thy socks by hand and wringing them through a treacherous metal gauntlet, making thousts own shitty gluten-free bread and contacting loved ones by way of dipping a diseased feather into a pot of ink and covering thine scroll in pretentious yet painfully boring goings-on to be sent by horse-drawn carriage (or modern equivalent: Foodora bike delivery person).

For real though, after a few months of angsty Facebook posts about how lonely I was during Covid isolation, I spent a month house-sitting a colleague’s farm, administering twice-daily antibiotic eye-drops to various 4-legged creatures (see previous blog post); and then two months staying with my mom in Nova Scotia YES TWO MONTHS fulfilling the delightful task of writing and applying for grants so I can pay my extortionate monthly rent as an artist who has no paid arts to art. More importantly though, I think the reason I haven’t posted in so long is because something CraAAazy happened to me between the beginning of the summer and now…

I lost my need for outside validation.

Just so you know how huge that statement is for me… here is an excerpt from my very first blog post:

“Oh hey! I have a blog now! As I write it’s still in pretty rough shape, but hopefully I’ll figure that all out in due time. But at least I have somewhere to barf out all my EXTREMELY important and relevant thoughts other than Facebook. Now here, I wish I had the skills to include a hyperlink over the words “important and relevant thoughts” that would lead you to one of my Facebook posts where I compare the size and shape of two different dog turds I’ve found in the street that got 3 likes… (Probably from: 1. my mother 2. a fellow turd enthusiast who is relieved they’re not the only one and 3. the socially inept aunt of an ex-boyfriend I broke up with 4 years ago who somehow still sends me Christmas gifts) But alas, no such post exists because I delete anything that doesn’t immediately get showered in heart and laugh emojis. Man if there was a Bizarro-Facebook where all of our panic-deleted posts go to roam free… now THAT is a place I would spend some time!!”

As much as I want to really explore this “Bizarro-Facebook” right now, the beefy part is that, while I write because I love to write, a HUGE part of my creative output is because I love receiving COMPLIMENTS. Validation. An acknowledgment that yes, I am an artist, and wow am I ever a unique/funny/lovable/good/tall one! God help me if I ever get famous enough to get trolled on twitter.

Anyway, at some point during Covid isolation, it hit me that constantly needing to get my validation from outside sources isn’t sustainable, especially when the only “outside source” right now is my computer screen. Some heart emojis may make me feel better today, but what about tomorrow, or the next day? My beloved facebook family will rise to the occasion for one overly vulner-emotional post on average per month, but on top of that, they have got more important shit to do than to butter me up and stick me in the oven! (I don’t know where that metaphor came from- it could either mean they prime me for optimum tastiness, or they burn me alive)

Where is my need for validation REALLY coming from? Can I get it from myself? Is there something I could do or create that would soothe me when I get to that anxious/vulnerable place that makes me super needy? And then, do I really need to SHOW that creation to people? Can I not just do it, and then let it disappear into the ether, never having “proven” that I did it on Instagram?!?

What ended up happening, is I just kindof did NOTHING for a while. Heh. And… that’s okay. You know what also makes it really hard to continuously produce creative stuff? Extreme stress. Yes. But even more so, in order to put stuff OUT there, we need creative INPUT. I find it pretty tricky to derive inspiration to create without the ability to go to live shows, meet new people, see new places, and I dunno, BE IN A ROOM WITH MY RIDICULOUSLY INSPIRING FRIENDS. So I went through a bit of a rebellious quasi-Buddhist, quasi-nihilist phase where I just experimented with BEING. Can’t that just be enough?! Do I really need to be constantly producing art to be an artist? And then, do I really NEED to be an ARTIST to EXIST?! WHAT IS LIFE?!?!?!

Fast-forward through a few hundred bags of kettle chips and trashy Netflix dating shows, and I have arrived at a place that is neither here, nor there. I create because I NEED to. It literally transforms me from a cranky passive-aggressive-letter-writing-blanket-person, to someone who smiles lovingly at screaming children as they crash into her while walking down the street. Classic list-maker/OCD organizer that I am, I came up with a flow-chart to help me through periods of anxiety, depression, bitterness, irritability- you know, LIFE DURING COVID. It’s a three-level system.

First, I get out of my “red-zone” by doing one of two things:

  • Call someone I love, who is able to mirror back my lovable qualities, not the dumb overly-critical ones. Aka, do not call Aunt Carol, who tells me I should really consider taking down all the videos of me dancing with a vacuum cleaner and what not, that it’s not good for my “career”
  • Turn my phone off

Then I get out of “Orange-zone” (aren’t these Covid references fun?) by doing one of these guys:

  • Rent a car and get out of the city into nature- either a day hike, or pitch a tent somewhere.* Someone’s backyard or an abandoned mall parking lot will do. I recently camped out on my back balcony, and while giant semis rattling by hardly rival the sounds of forest birds in the morning, it still felt like a fun adventure, and I could use my own bathroom.
  • Listen to some really good music with headphones.
  • Go for a nice long walk*
  • Go for a nice long bike ride*
  • Meditate, using a sell-out trendy app if I have to, even though all meditation IS is BREATHING

*I realize these need updating with the threatening glare of winter… I found some kids’ cross-country skis in someone’s garbage, I might try using those.

Next, and most importantly, I ask myself the question: “What am I blocking my inner artist from doing right now?” And the options bubble up to the surface:

  • Create/play music in Ableton Live like I’m playing Mario Paint on Super Nintendo as a child
  • Write a blog post, or write just for shits and giggles- stream of thought, only to be read in horror by my children after I die
  • Pick up my violin and create some gorgeous layers of loops over which I can improvise some grand, sappy melody fit for a movie about the Holocaust
  • Make a silly video. This, I haven’t done in a while, because I realized how much WORK it takes to edit them… but… not many things make me happier than dressing up and being a shit-head on camera. And maybe I can just let the editing suck.
  • Do something FUN and COMPLETELY USELESS. (What is this… “useless?” As an artist, should all of my efforts not in some way be a step towards my creative life goals?) Ugh. Just make some sock puppets, and film them making fart sounds for 4 minutes, Lauren. You know you want to. Chill the fuck out.

Boom, Yellow zone. No, wait what comes before yellow? WHAT WERE THINGS LIKE BEFORE YELLOW ZONE???

Anyway, I’m going to try to write here more often, I guess, even though I don’t technically NEED to, and every single goddamn day feels the same. Things ARE happening. Maybe I will write about toenails! They are short for eons and then suddenly, so long! Or I dunno, I could write about *cough* dating during Covid. I’m not dating, did I say I was? Cool yeah neither am I. I’M BEING VERY CAREFUL, OKAY?? Let’s say I was dating, it’s fascinating stuff. It’s like the olden times, but more intense. Lots of written correspondence, and walks around ponds 6 feet apart holding parasols to block out the sun. And basically waiting until you are married to hold hands. Maybe next time.

City Camping!!