Now. And now. And…now. i.e. how to be present when drained.

While a “final” song bounces, I thought I’d share about my struggles with anxiety this week and last.

I’ve wanted so much to do well, to get these done to my standards, but music I love often has $40,000 production budgets…and people who’ve taken classes or gotten degrees in audio engineering, and conversely I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.

But my ear still says “no” “no” “no” “no” over and over.  Like trying to release these songs is almost (definitely) more stressful than never doing it.  And potentially, completely pointless – to have hundreds of songs not up to a commercially listenable standard.  I mean, I DO like lo-fi music.  But I think it goes best on certain songs…that effortless sound, like an outfit that looks somewhere between hipster and homeless, and worn quite right it’s an amazing feat of nature.  But other times, it just looks homeless.  Or like more care should be taken (if that’s what you’re going for).(if not, then more power to you)…

I think I battle inner demons of worth and “potential”…I don’t know.  What the elusive “good enough” is.  I can’t stop writing, and I don’t want them to not be good enough to my OWN standards…but this challenge is helping me see, that my own standards, without proper money and time, are not acheivable, without me saying OKAY ONLY 10 songs from this decade get to be produced, now pick which ones!  And then I could save up again and hit the studio.  Like a real studio, not my computer+ProTools.

Anxiety is pure evil.  Like I can’t function in this place.  I mean I can, and do, and did all the way through school and AP classes and scholarships and grad school…I CAN stress myself out and get shit done.  But I’m getting older and I don’t know anymore what the point of losing all quality of life is.  I can teach piano until I’m too old to talk, and it’s a sustainable thing as long as there are kids who need piano lessons, and the weirdest secret is I love it and I’m helpful – as I’m great at working with kids who hate strict teachers or unkind people.  I like being kind but still thorough.  But teaching doesn’t fill my bucket when it comes to creating.  And I don’t know, there must be a point for all this pushing through me…

And you.
And everyone with a loud muse.

I think perhaps we’re supposed to entertain each other?  In our own communities and friend groups.  Release those albums, acheive those goals, do the project, art, etc.  We’re not supposed to all be world famous, nor is world famous supposed to be anymore important than community famous.  I think.  Maybe it’s also been messing me up that all my most beloved loved ones are far away (except my bf).  And I get that I’m probably a community-famous type.  Not driven enough for world dominance.

And if I really had no other marketable skills, and had to hang my hat on something financially, maybe I’d push harder.  But I can teach piano, all my life, anywhere I go, and I actually love it.  I have no “day job” to escape like some people do.  I like my day job.  This challenge is forcing me to come to terms with why I’m casual and meandering about this path.

Okay pause – gotta bounce the next track…

***

3 1/2 more hours before it’s not July.  And then it doesn’t “count”.  I almost don’t remember how to breathe.  I’m sadly not kidding.  I don’t know what kind of mental illness I’m trying to stave off, or am creating for myself…like this whole Trump presidency and scary 1984 thing, maybe not yet but the seeds of it are sowing and I hope whoever comes to reverse it finds a way to speak to ALL sides and those not on a side.  I feel like a whirling dervish of political opinions and no outlet, I remember just after Trump and his team of madmen with selfish interests were elected (some kindhearted people too I’m sure, but definitely a domanance of “my people, my team, my toys, my stuff, I’ll grab what I want when I want” energy…maybe the kind ones are the scared to go against the bully followers, as cowardly as they come, getting rewarded for keeping silent? i don’t know…) the thought I had was, I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO PAY FOR THERAPY BECAUSE OF POLITICS!

I was so angry and anger was foreign to me.  Angry at those who didn’t vote, at those who threw their vote, who thought having a creepy reality star was okay…I didn’t know what to do with all that anger, and still don’t.  So I’m doing this.  Talking incessantly about myself and the arts and music…it’s better, for me anyway, than internalizing shame and sadness during such a tumultous time in history.  Not that its solving anything, but maybe other upset creatives will be more emboldened, and maybe someone will write the anthems of our day, expressing our outrage.  That’s too direct for me.  Oh…gotta break again.

**

This energy is reminding me of the energy I used when I pulled all-nighters, writing the longest most passionate papers in class, probably getting As just for passion and intensity and LENGTH.  One time a prof gave me an A and talked about me for years to his classes just cuz I feverishly wrote a paper on Moliere in rhyming couplets (iambic tetrameter I think?)  I was just being funny, and passionate.  Mostly funny.  But apparently the content was good too?  I don’t know. Wouldn’t have calmly worked on it for a month, I imagine…probably did it the day or two before it was due. That’s how I am.  I FLAILED as an adult without deadlines and structure. And kept going back to highly dysfunctional or wrong-fit-for-me jobs, just because the goals were clear and I could get that back-pat feeling in obvious ways.

Now I clearly create my own structure. I like it and I don’t.

If you’re going to assign goals and deadlines to yourself, then you can’t change them, or they are lies and not real and the whole thing falls apart. But if you can’t change them, then YOU ARE YOUR OWN AUTHORITY FIGURE, which means every existential crisis of “why am I doing this” and “you can’t make me” and subtle secret rebellion ends up AGAINST YOURSELF. Which is crazy, or crazy-inducing.  I miss the days of outside influences saying “this is due tomorrow, no exceptions” and grumbling mixed with wanting to please them and have them go “WOW YOU’RE AWESOME!” That feeling was the best. When, oh God, WHEN do I say this to myself? It’s like the piece that’s missing, it’s why – I imagine, in a nutshell – this process isn’t very fun.  I’m not pausing to say, holy shit you’re doing it.  I’m not pausing to be pleased with myself, or proud of myself, for showing up for myself, for getting the internal good grade, for doing the hardwork, I’m not rewarding myself…just cracking that whip, trying to do 12 years of work in 1.

I don’t know. It hurts. I’m tired. I’m sad. I’m sad at a life mostly wasted. I’m sad that I didn’t move to L.A. and try to get to know the industry. I know that it would have probably overwhelmed me, I’m probably most like Maria Bamford as far as celebrities go…so I think the city would have eaten me alive.  NYC was 2 years of music directing, being groomed for Broadway, being celebrated, working hard, but losing site of what I wanted in being there, following instead what others could use my skills for…even if there was money in it (potentially, not much in the interim, lots of stipends and resume-builders).  I know that’s a path I COULD have gone further down, if I weren’t homesick and lovesick and needing a lot more help financially than I knew (grad school debt for $120,000 kicking in while trying to support yourself in NYC? ha!)  I’m okay with having left, it’s okay, Chicago was a better fit for me I imagine…nearer to home and family.  But then ending up here in Michigan…what a detour.  Basically dropped off my ex with his mother, and was stranded in a 10hr a day job, in a field I never meant to get into…piano playing so much my arms were shot again (after years of acupuncture and healing in Chicago from a previous piano job related injury).  So now I’m here. With a piano studio, and I love teaching.  I go into kids homes.  I teach one day at the HS I used to accompany for.  I teach one day at my own house.  It’s pretty simple and magical, and I feel useful and specialized.  I know a lot.  I was a music theory T.A. at a music conservatory, so I’m probably more highly specialized than I need to be…plus all the performing experience, teaching songwriting too, I’m happy and I should be grateful.  And I am.  But I also feel this …ennui.  Maybe that’s the artists’ condition.  Maybe it’s healing from traumas (too numerous…some songs lately flash me back to abuse from partners including my head being thrown into the floor repeatedly, I’m lucky to be alive really).

That should be, full stop.

Why aren’t we just grateful to be alive?  What are all the questions about?  Why do some of us feel like its never enough?  Why is it actually never enough?  Because we can’t make money from it?  Because some people build a career in the arts and are celebrated by society, and the rest of us feel like we’re making tiny fools of ourselves by not being successful enough?  Like it’s a personal or moral failure to not be financially successful?  Like where did I even think art meant money? Or success?  Is it even art if its this sloppy? Probably not.  More like listening to a journal by someone who sings everything…

I’m so sad right now, I think because this album isn’t everything I wanted it to be.  It’s 7 songs shorter than intended, and the quality isn’t as high as I thought it’d be…I was trying so hard, bouncing tracks right now (rendering big protools session files down to single .wavs) and I’ve had more technical glitches taking up all my time than on the other 3 albums.  Like something out there is saying NOPE to these songs, or to me in general.  It just feels like effort does not equal success…

Maybe that’s a truth I need to learn.

How hard you work on something is not an indication of its success.

Some people have more luck, more ease, more flow, more…whatever that easy special something is.

I had it when I was young, but as a kid, polishing things isn’t part of the deal. So maybe it just FELT like I had it, and everything was cute, and all my output was sloppy then too but for a kid its cute haha.

That’s probably it.  Honestly.  Now, getting older, I never took classes in production, never had ProTools til this year (thanks Bryan!!!), never had all the resources to be successful…just had help from kind strangers and producers…tried buying every book like IndieBible to research how-tos, got ASCAP newsletters, registered everything, followed lists, filled my head with all the rules and should and to dos.  And all it did is confuse and alienate me from my peers (I’m guessing).  Or it’s just an incredibly difficult path to find any financial success in, and only the past two years have I started saying F that, and did what I wanted to do for me, no matter what it does to my “brand.”  That’s probably it too.

Oh, gotta bounce…one sec.

***

Okay…my only other assessment of all this darkness is that, last month felt cute and fun and light and healing, and I was recording songs from 1st thru 7th grade that were about healing and light and love and friendships and there was an innocence to it.

This month has been about ressurecting some of the most tragic things I’ve lived through, and I have probably blocked them all out of my mind for a reason.  To not split, to not get lost in pain and wallowing…who chooses to stay with someone who is systematically abusing them?  I did.  Twice.  Once for 9 months (intense abuse), and later for 9 years (“mild abuse” in comparison, so it was “okay”).  All of these things, don’t scratch the surface.  This is why I’m not a writer.  This is why I’m secretly hoping almost no one reads this.  This is for me, to receive a little universe comfort from anyone who reads it and sends me a hug through the airwaves. This is for die hard fans who want to understand where my transcend-everything perspective comes from.  Why I write about being a cloud and floating away and lettting gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Can’t wait to get back to that.

Thanks for reading. And listening. And being there. For each other. Or sending me a hug in your mind.  I probably need it more than I’m letting on.  I usually just smile at people and show a brave face or chat happily and hug friends and listen to music.. Like it feels like a betrayal to not smile at everyone I see…unless they creep me out, but usually I try to be kind anyway. I’m like the least punk punk I know.  My friend tried to call my music ‘rainbow punk’ once but I care too much what everyone else thinks of me to earn that label 😦  Someday, maybe.

xo Jessica

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