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!!

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