The Infinite Beauty of Losing your Mind

I stand facing the bathroom mirror, head of a fresh Venus ladies razor in hand detached from it’s body. I don’t know if this will work; I’ve never done it before. I angle it toward my neck, take a deep breath, and start cutting. Clumps of dirty blonde hair fall into the sink and onto my sheep-shaped bath mat, as my cat watches judgmentally. You’re finally losing your mind, aren’t you. His sharp green eyes dance back and forth following my every movement. “Whatever you do, don’t cut your bangs!” A meme joked, circulating social media during week one of isolation. Bitch I already DID my bangs, I’m in the big leagues now. I’m doing what I would normally pay $70 for plus an overly large guilt-tip all by myself, before I’ve had coffee, IN THE DARK. I haven’t even turned the lights on. It doesn’t matter. This isn’t about looking like Taylor Swift on the red carpet, it’s about taking charge of my own shit. I had some dangly bits I’ve been eying with distaste in all my video chats, and it was just time to deal with them. Honestly, it looks pretty good. A $35 haircut at worst.

Look, things are getting a little rough here in Casa de la Roller. I’m single, I live alone (with judgy cat), and I have a VERY small family (just my mom and her partner who live in Nova Scotia). I have nobody to share ideas and emotions with unless I pick up a phone, nobody to eat with, nobody to rub my back or give me a hug when I’m feeling anxious. Every picture a couple posts of a delicious meal they cooked together makes me wince with pain, as I eat sardines out of a can with my fingers.

Yesterday I sent a message to a group of friends on Facebook asking what their exciting Friday night plans were, joking that I’d been invited to a zoom wine party with my mom and some other 65-year old ladies but was accepting other offers. Then I left for a long walk to the park. As I walked, I started to feel off, like it was getting harder and harder to breathe. Every inhale was shallow, while every exhale could have blown all the candles out on a senior citizen’s birthday cake. I felt like I could easily faint. I realized I was about one sloppy chess move away from a panic attack. Being just a little stubborn, I stayed my path, focusing on my breath and all the sensations in my body, ready to sit down if necessary. Exercise is what I need, I told myself, having slept horribly the last few nights because of a surplus of energy and a seemingly constant stream of ambulance sirens in my neighborhood. I tell myself when I get home, I’ll meditate for real and get myself back to normal.

The moment I walk in the door however, I reach for my phone, which I’ve left on my desk as a stern reminder to actually enjoy my walk. I’m clawing for something immediate. Something quicker than meditation. I check to see if my message got any responses. Nothing. They’ve all seen it, but nobody has taken the bait. I feel like a giant dangling high-five. I’m disgusted with how much this innocent thing is affecting me, but the reality is, I have so little in terms of human connection right now, that even the tiniest snub like that can completely derail me.

The fun and games are over. Some real shit is starting to come up that I need to deal with. I sit at my kitchen table defeated, and ask myself: “Why is this bothering me so much? Why do I need friends to respond to my texts? I don’t need to take this personally, they could be doing any number of things right now… Why do I need people to like my Facebook posts? To leave supportive comments?” Why do I rely on the validation of others to feel loved? And it hits me, why I feel so shitty. I’m clinging to something that has begun to slip away. Something I’ve depended on for so long, but don’t really need. I’m losing my identity.

I’m a professional violinist. A writer. A comedian… though I don’t quite feel I’ve earned that title yet. I’m independent, creative, optimistic. Curious, wise. I have lots of friends, I’m lovable. I’ve made sure of that since struggling all throughout my childhood and adolescence, convinced nobody liked me because one of my mom’s emotionally abusive partners drilled that into my head when I was 7 years old.

Shout-out to Helene! Hey gurrrrl *catty lip smack*

I lost part of my “identity” when all my orchestral work was cancelled until July at the earliest; and then I said goodbye to some more when I realized I don’t need to be creating “content” daily for social media to prove I’m an artist . Now I’m left with just “has lots of friends/is lovable,” and I am clinging to it like a motherfucker. (Note to self work on similes) I’m going to say something harsh here, but bear with me: Facebook is not “friends.” Facebook is fragments. It takes literally seconds to like somebody’s post or comment on it, but a real friend will take the time to actually reach out, one-on-one, and ask if you’re okay. I don’t have lots of those, but I have a few. A precious few I want to start leaning on more during this. It’s scary to ask for help right now because I know everybody is dealing with their own shit, but no amount of Facebook likes can tear me out of a funk quite like a heart to heart with someone who really knows me; and I know I can give the same in return.

I think every single one of us is fighting a very specific set of demons right now. Every time I wrap myself in a blanket cocoon and feel sorry for myself, I remind myself this is a privilege. To be alone and healthy while there are sick people out there dying, and healthy people close to murdering their families.* To be given the chance to let go of what isn’t working for me anymore. If I say goodbye to my identity, what is left? What happens when I “lose my mind?”

*This is a joke. I am funny. I AM FUNNY GODDAMMIT

In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle shares that amidst the most intense suicidal depression of his life, he thought the words: “I cannot live with myself any longer.” He writes: This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly, I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. “Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” “Maybe,” I thought, “only one of them is real.”

What I’m trying to say is, I think “losing your mind” is a GOOD thing. Losing your mind is quieting that part of your brain that tells you what you should be doing, and listening to the part that tells you what you want to do. It’s getting rid of that strict set of rules that determine your worth, and just allowing yourself to BE. It’s cutting your own hair, coloring for hours, making up dance routines with your cat, making a giant batch of chocolate pudding then sticking your entire face in it just because it feels good. It’s learning HOW TO BE A FUCKING KID AGAIN. Remember watching Hook when you were little and thinking “that’ll never be me?” Well we all grew up, but we’ve just been given an express ticket back to Neverland.

Let’s be honest. This fucking sucks. My inherent optimism can only get me so far during a global crisis where hundreds of thousands of people are dying alone while emergency services work themselves to the bone and the rest of us have existential crises and sob nightly at so much as an unexpected plot twist in Offspring. But these crises are breaking us down so we have a chance to rebuild in the way the universe always intended. Less judgment, more fun. Less superficial, more deep and meaningful. Less suffering, more love.

See you all on the other side.

Avoiding the Quarantine Crazies

Okay. So we are all starting to get used to this new, slower pace of life. But that doesn’t mean it’s getting easier. Sometimes I’ll think I’m actually starting to enjoy all this time to myself to relax and work on whatever project my heart desires, then within hours, I’m spiraling into a lonely self-pitying anxiety funk.

I know I’m not alone in this, but I am observing that we all have different coping mechanisms to deal with these funks. I think a lot of us are turning to booze, cannabis, netflix binges, masturbation, or wild sex romps if you’re lucky enough to be cooped up with a partner you still like… *Glares at lower neighbors menacingly* I consider all of the above to be “avoidance” techniques: ways to escape reality.

Some of us are traveling in the complete opposite direction, choosing to dwell in a constant state of terror: reading every Covid article the second it’s published and scouring Facebook to pick fights with anybody “too ignorant” to grasp the imminent danger of the current situation.

In my humble opinion, I don’t think either of these habits are completely wrong, but they definitely aren’t sustainable. We could be self-isolating for months. I think we owe it to ourselves to find a way to allow ourselves to be fully present, but not stressed the fuck out.

Even though I am single and live alone, and my family all lives out of province or country, I am coping relatively well with all this. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert, maybe it’s because I spent a LOT of time alone as a child. But it may very well be because I am a master at extracting the good out of any situation. I’m going to share with you a list of all the things that are saving me right now, in the hopes they might help you too.

  1. When you’re feeling anxious, sad, lonely, or angry… put down that bottle of wine for a moment and just… acknowledge it. Sit down, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and scan your body from head to toe, paying attention to all the sensations happening no matter how small. I know personally when I’m feeling really anxious, I often feel a burning on my upper back between my shoulders. Don’t dwell on these sensations- and don’t label them as good or bad; just observe, and keep moving right the fuck along. This is essentially the technique of Vipassana meditation, which Jesus Christ himself apparently studied in India. And we all know Jesus had some pretty stressful fucking times. Did he complain once? No. Vipassana.
  2. On that note, Tara Brach has put together a great list of pandemic care resources on her website such as guided meditations and short talks.
  3. If you don’t have a live-in cuddle buddy, get yourself a gravity blanket!! I got myself this one last week when it hit me I may go months without a hug. I wrap myself in it every time I feel really anxious and I feel like a baby being swaddled. I got the 20 lb blanket even though I’m closer to 150lbs and it’s perfect. (You’re supposed to go with 10% of your body weight)
  4. Lots and lots of video chats, in all possible combinations. Mix it up! Start a Facebook thread with people you don’t know that well and start a video call! Dress up in an evening gown! Drag out your costume box and become a different character for every conversation! We are ALLOWED to get weird right now. We are re-writing all the rules people!!
  5. My freakin’ cat. Yes, he may be peeing on things more than usual because he’s not used to me being home 24/7, but it is nice to have someone to kiss on the lips and talk to nice to carry on a very normal human-cat relationship. Word on the street is the SPCA is desperate for people to adopt right now. As of the date published, the Montreal branch is still operating, and you can adopt by making an appointment.
  6. What else… okay a lot of people are doing live instagram shows right now, but my absolute favourite is Kate Bradley’s show “I Din Jus Wake Up.” You can catch it by following @redrandom and tuning in at 11am on weekdays. She is a staple in the Montreal Improv Comedy community and the show is hilarious. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to watch famous people I don’t know right now doing high-budget productions… I want to watch people in their pyjamas, drinking whiskey at 11am, yelling at their dogs and singing along to their in-house karaoke machine.
  7. Long walks. I don’t know how much longer this will be kosher, but as long as you can safely stay 6 feet away from people, going on 1-3 hour walks every day reminds me my muscles have a purpose other than bending over to pick up a chip I dropped on the floor before eating it. I particularly really enjoy watching other solo walkers sitting on a rock in the park, a smile on their face, just taking it all in. They get it. There is still so much beauty in the world.
  8. Okay so of course I still drink and smoke the green things and watch Netflix. Just, as little as possible. And I most definitely avoid anything too stress-inducing. Contagion? Pandemic?!? Jesus people what are you thinking?!? Here are my Netflix recommendations for creating a blissful bubble of ignorance for a little while: Self-Made. Please Like Me. Love is Blind. Feel Good. Queer Eye. Glow. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Lady Dynamite. Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The End of the F***ing World. Sex Education. Freaks and Geeks. Lovesick. Salt Fat Acid Heat. Easy. And yeah yeah, that tiger show.
  9. If you follow me on Facebook, it may seem like I have been extremely productive. In all reality, I spend most of my days sitting around on the couch wrapped in a 20lb blanket. But what I’ve taken to doing on my whiteboard fridge calendar that was previously reserved for anticipating my crazy work schedule, is RETROACTIVELY writing one thing on it every day that I did that made me happy. ONE THING. I’m not making a list of all the things I want to do or should do, I’m just going about my day doing what feels right, and then usually by the end of the day, one things pops out as somewhat useful.

Notice I added a couple of frowny-face “fails,” because while infuriating at the time, they were essential to my finally conquering said goal the next day. (That question mark for anybody wondering marks the day when I will probably erase more weeks out of my work schedule.)

You know what, I’m going to stop at 9. Because those are legit all the things that are getting me through this, and a 10th thing would be trying too hard. And this time is all about “less is more.” Let’s be okay with ourselves at our laziest, at our saddest, at our most vulnerable. If other people are being super productive and you’re not, who the fuck cares. If you see people enjoying meals with their loved ones and you’re all alone, let yourself feel sad. But don’t run to the booze the second you feel uncomfortable. Try to figure out how to give yourself what you’ve turned to other people and vices to get up until now. Trust me, you have everything you need.

I left my Heart in Paris and my Appendix in Berlin

Last year in early March, I was so stressed out from working up a high-stakes violin audition, living with a (now ex) boyfriend who was incapable of love, and getting bombarded by walls of anxiety texts from friends looking for advice or validation; that I downloaded an app that literally kicks you off your phone and MAKES YOU PAY to get back on. It’s called “Off the Grid,” and it is AMAZING. I made it so that friends could only solicit my emotional labour from 9-10am, and 5-7pm. (Realistically the problem was my boyfriend but I didn’t figure that out until 7 months later) On top of the $100/month I already pay for my phone bill, I added on another $5.95/month to have unlimited use of 5 apps that ensure my daily survival: Music, Clock, Transit, Google Maps* and Uber; plus the threat of a $1.29 penalty fee per infraction just to be able to NOT USE MY PHONE. (*I have zero sense of direction and there’s no way I’m going back to that dark time when my phone was in a repair shop for 2 months and I had to hand-draw maps in advance of every single place I went.)

I know what you’re thinking, “Do you have literally no self-control?!” “Can’t you just like, not respond to texts?! Or tell your friends to find a therapist??” And the answer is, nope. It stresses me out beyond belief to leave walls of text hanging in the air, unanswered, because I care WAY too much about other people’s needs. I’d probably help a complete stranger move during the apocalypse if they begged me nicely. I think because I’ve been disappointed so many times and know how it feels, I never want to be the one doing it to others. (I’m aware this needs re-evaluation)

Anyway, I was pretty excited to go on a 2-week tour to Europe with the Montreal Symphony in mid-March; to get out of the half-snow half-slush hellscape of Montreal and see a hint of spring. Embrace some new surroundings so I didn’t feel so tied to my phone. I could feel my anxiety dissipating already… I just had to pack my suitcase and get myself to the airport.

After a few days of extreme packing because I overthink everything, I’d finally assembled the perfect suitcase. All my outfits and shoes are perfectly planned out to accommodate the most possible color coordination combos; I have enough socks and underwear to defy all logic; travel pillow, travel blanket; some tasteful scarves to disguise the fact I’m wearing the same outfit for the third day in a row… 5 hours before my transatlantic flight, I’m making a last minute swap. The white blouse will match my jeans AND the green skirt while the purple one only really matches my jeans… when I get a whiff of a familiar scent from my suitcase.

It’s cat pee. My boyfriend’s cat has rage-pissed all over my beautifully packed suitcase, mirroring the way his human treats me in perfect feline symmetry. All over the clothing, books, inside my shoes… in and amongst the suitcase lining. I start frantically throwing all the clothes in the wash, hand-washing my black suede shoes in the bathtub (*tear*), and DOUSING my suitcase lining with baking soda, scrubbing it with hydrogen peroxide, then vacuuming all the powder up like some sort of hobo dry-cleaning service. I fucking HUSTLED, and made it to the airport smelling only a little bit like urine.            

WANTED: For Petty Pee

When I got to Germany, they had lost my suitcase, but I didn’t even care. I’d made it to a land without snow. I almost immediately started indulging in the local diet of beer, bread and sausage, and continued to do so for the next 12 days. I got constipated. Like, really constipated. So constipated I had to stop eating because there was no room for anything else… I felt like shit. I mean, I was probably 80% shit. But at this point I had a horrible cramp in my lower right side, a fever, and no appetite. Do these symptoms sound familiar to anyone? Yeah I hadn’t eaten too many brats, I had fucking appendicitis. I just didn’t know it yet.

For the last few days of my trip after the tour was done, I’d booked an AirBnb in Berlin to do some exploring, but all I wanted to do when I got there was go to my room, collapse on my bed and let the darkness consume me. Thing is, I had saved TWENTY WHOLE BUCKS by booking a “shared apartment” with a chain-smoking, neurotic old German lady with a penchant for leaving dildo boxes out in the open; who made it her business to knock on my door every few minutes to give me tips on Berlin or more rules to follow in her apartment. The Parliament Building is a “must-see, it’ll only take 6-7 hours. (I’d rather die) No eating or drinking in bed. (Where else am I supposed to do it?!) Don’t turn on the heat. But if you must, shut your window.

At one point I’m sitting on my bed fresh out of a hot shower, window wide open and heat on full blast, trying to simultaneously warm up and cool down from fever flashes. I’m so exhausted from pain I’m just staring at the wall. She comes in, ignores the fact I look like I’m about to drop dead, and asks me to squeegee her glass shower stall and then dry it with a towel. So here I am, appendix about to burst and kill me, on my hands and knees drying out her fucking shower so it doesn’t get water spots. Why? Because heaven forbid I disappoint this weird German lady.

After I finish, I calmly call an Uber to escort me to Emergency.

I leave most of my things in my room because I’m convinced the doctor will just push on my belly and I’ll let out a big fart or something and go back home… but he confirms I need to have my appendix removed the next morning and spend three days in the hospital recovering. I’d left my cell phone charger, my toothbrush, every single piece of clothing I’d packed… wet… and hanging to dry all over my room because of course I took advantage of the free laundry. But the last thing I want to do is contact my crackpot air bnb host to bring me all my things. So post-surgery, I just rest in my nifty hospital bed being doted on by nurses that don’t speak my language as my phone battery fizzles out; wearing half a paper-thin gown and hospital issued mesh underwear that broadcasts my entire ass to other hospital guests every time I walk to the washroom. I’m overcome with this feeling… Complete bliss.

I’ve been upgraded to “Off the Grid” premium, where for only $5000…

Living my Best Life

Death to the Internet

It’s March 15, 2020 and the world is in lock down. A few days ago, when EVERYTHING was cancelled for the foreseeable future, my first reaction was Cool! A chance to slow down, get creative, connect with those around me on a deep level and start thinking about how to grow as a society. Well, after a minor panic at losing all my income as a freelance artist that is. I am an optimist almost to a fault and some may call me crazy, but I believe the Universe (some call it God, some The Force…) knows exactly what it’s doing. This may seem devastating, but something bigger is at play here. I have been dreaming of something that would wake us all up… something that would scare us into making big, collective changes. If we can band together to reduce the impact of coronavirus on the healthcare system, maybe we can do something similar for climate change! Maybe people will realize what’s important! It’s not “work;” it’s Family! Health! Toilet paper! Maybe by cancelling all live concerts and events, people will realize just how important artists are to a community! With all this time off, I can lean into my writing, develop my professional website, learn some new repertoire on violin, do some improvisation with all my special effects pedals, work on my solo show…

And then I went on Facebook.

Facebook (or insert any other form of social media) is a dark, dark place right now. Sure it’s full of people offering support and information, but mostly it’s people freaking the fuck out. Sharing articles on how we are 2 weeks from becoming a cesspool of disease and suffering. Coronavirus is making it’s way here from Italy quicker than pizza did in the late 50’s. (Yes I looked that up) People starting innocent threads that turn into angry emoji bloodbaths, with some internet cowboy on their high horse preaching about how THEY’RE doing things and how anybody who has a different perspective is clearly a flat-earther. I can’t. Stop. Reading. It’s partially for survival, partially because it’s FASCINATING. Before I know it, it’s 11:30 at night, my blood is boiling, and I haven’t done anything that actually makes me happy.

A “quarantined musician’s schedule” has been going around social media that my friend @auditionplaybook had the good sense to edit, and I don’t think it could be more accurate:

It’s HARD to be productive when you’re burning to a crisp in the flames of your own anxiety!!

I’m finding myself wishing that the internet would somehow just stop working. Maybe we can still call our friends and family, we can still get essential news, but the internet… just… dies. Would it be so bad if all we could do for 2 weeks is read, write, play music, cook, meditate, and go on walks? I mean, we used to live that way, didn’t we?! I went on a 10-day silent meditation retreat a while back where EVERYTHING was taken away: no phone, no books, no writing material. It was definitely “social isolation” in the sense that so much as making EYE CONTACT with fellow leg-crossers was forbidden, let alone any other form of communication. All I had to entertain myself was my own neurotic brain. (And two hairy legs with a set of tweezers) Did I go crazy? Well, yes. But after 4 or 5 days, I learned to slow down, and relish in the tiniest of details. How the sky looks completely different every day. How the greens in the tree leaves are the most vibrant just after it has rained. The woman in the cafeteria who manually peels her apple with her teeth, spitting out each partial spiral onto her plate and then looking at her bald apple with pride, before consuming it along with the spit-covered peels anyway. At the end of the 10 days, I was BLISSED the FUCK OUT because I had learned how to be fully present.

The moment my phone was handed back to me in a ziplock bag along with my keys, wallet, and contraband peanut butter, a surge of anxiety went through my body. This small hunk of glorified garbage has the power to send my brain catapulting in all directions. Did my boyfriend, who I got in a huge fight with before I left, text me? Notre Dame cathedral BURNED DOWN?! Ooh better post about how much better of a person I am now because I did this retreat… #sospiritual… Crap, nobody is liking it, should I change the wording so it sounds more humble?! Fuck it, delete…

We are ALL holding the one ring in our pockets. Within minutes of taking them into our hands, we are flooded with feelings of anger, jealousy, anxiety, greed, narcissism. In this Lord of the Rings analogy, replace Sauron, the dark lord who created the ring in the fiery pit of a volcano with… Capitalism. Whoa. Didn’t think we’d end up here, but I’m pretty sure I’m a genius. What I’m trying to say is, if you’re feeling a lot of anxiety over the next few weeks, just turn off your phone and focus on those little details. What it sounds like outside with no angry rush hour honking. How your thick winter blanket wrapped tightly around you feels almost like a hug. How your cat’s breath smells, as he meows 2 inches from your face, begging for dinner 1 hour after dinner. Like rotten fish.

#sospiritual

Music for a Funeral

Yesterday for the first time in years, I played violin at a funeral. I hesitated when I was asked to do the gig a few days ago, by a dear colleague for a death in his family; because of the horrible travel time to pay ratio on a precious Saturday off, yes, but also… I cry when other people cry. I used to tease my mom when she would cry during a sad movie or so much as a sappy commercial about a family shopping for furniture at Ikea; but I’m realizing as I age, I am turning into a blubbery overly-empathetic mess.

And that doesn’t exactly make it easier to play sad music, contrary to what you might think. It makes it a whole hell of a lot harder; my shaky tense arm shitting all over the soft wistful beginnings and oh God why does it have to end on a high sustained harmonic…not to mention all the tears blurring my eyes making me unable to discern between sharps and flats, playing a disturbingly happy version of Schindler’s List. Nobody wants to see the musicians crying at a funeral!! Just like nobody wants to see the priest crying, unable to get through the words. We are on the Titanic, and something needs to remain stable while everything around us sinks. The musicians must go on.

So I take some deep breaths before walking into the church, and put up as much of a “wall” as I can muster to keep all my emotions inside. Ah, this must be how men feel.  

Upon entering however, I’m struck with how happy people seem! Wow, maybe I won’t need this wall after all! The guest of honor (is that morbid?!) passed in her wisest old years, a life lived to the fullest. This seems more like a celebration of life, a gathering of loved ones to reconnect and share stories, than a dark somber affair. I breathe a sigh of relief.

That is until the woman’s eldest son comes up to speak. There is something about watching a grown man, unable to get his words out while remembering his mother because he is fighting so hard not to cry. The energy in the room starts to shift. Oh God. Now they want me to play this slow beautiful ethereal piece… KEEP IT TOGETHER LAUREN!! I pull my violin, and my wall up; and get through the piece somewhat successfully. Those slight shakes in the long notes are a deliberate musical choice dammit!!

As the ceremony draws to a close, the priest walks over to the coffin and holds an incense bowl at the foot, letting smoke gracefully twirl and dance over this woman’s final resting place while a soprano sings one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Mother Fuck. I can hear it start in the front row… those very people that were all smiles and laughter when I first walked in are now hunched into themselves, Kleenex in hand, sobbing. Audibly. My wall starts to crumble. As though they’re doing “the wave” in a football stadium, the sobbing spreads to the back of the room and EVERYBODY is crying now. HOW the CRAP is this singer KEEPING HER COOL?!? I am so relieved I don’t have to play this one.

As I’m sitting here, taking it all in, my chest burning and my eyes welling up… it strikes me, what an honour this is. To be able to give these people such a beautiful release. Music has this incredible power to allow people to take their walls down and really process their emotions. If we were playing happy upbeat music, they might have stayed in that “celebratory” mode from earlier, but because we are playing slow, beautiful sad music, they feel safe to cry. They know it’s okay to be sad. That we will be up here playing until it’s all over, so they feel no pressure to do anything but reflect on their loss. They don’t need to talk to anybody; they don’t need to smile and pretend everything is okay. We are their protection when they are at their most vulnerable.

And so I build my wall one last time, but I build it big enough to surround everyone. I am strong so they don’t have to be. I take a deep breath, and make it through the last piece.