I’ve slept four and a half hours and I’m on a plane to Florida, on my way to another show. As I type, my raw freshly-calloused fingers have a dull ache. Though I happen to like this feeling because I’ve always associated it with self-improvement. Right now I find myself thinking a lot about the emotional connection we have to our craft, what it means to have a positive attitude, a negative attitude, be self-deprecating, or so loudly confident that it’s incredibly vom. More than that, I find myself zeroing in on what the very personal, and often painful, experience is of how one sees oneself in relation with one’s craft and it’s place in the world. And most importantly, and less logically, how it makes you feel. I’ll call this your perceptive, your outlook.
Perspective is a blessing for me one day, and hell on earth on another. I don’t think I can write about my thoughts on perspective without touching on mental health, so I will say that sometimes I find myself wondering if my emotions roam within the confines of what’s considered “normal.” It’s hard to define what normal is. We often hear people talking very vaguely about bipolar disorder, depression, or manic depression, but I think a lot of us, myself included, don’t really understand the details of these illnesses. Theories on others’ mental health get tossed out all the time, especially lately, even about the president of the United States. I find myself shying away from a conversation when I hear someone say “but, you know, I think they’re going to have to break up because I just get this feeling he’s… unstable, he’s bipolar or something.” It seems like a dangerous diagnosis to make as just another dude with no connection to this person walking down the street sipping your cold brew, and it’s also kind of insensitive.
I wanted to write about perspective because I think right now, more than anything, this is the thing I want and need to work on. I can have two days in a row that are very similar in circumstance but that are so different in my personal experience. Let’s say I wake up early, I eat breakfast, answer some emails, answer the same amount of frustrating emails to clients or managers, then set foot in my studio to work on a composition. One day, my coffee has never tasted better as I stroll down Graham Ave in Brooklyn. I’m cheery and kind to the people I pass, offering a smile, and a hefty tip to the barista. Life feels good, I feel good, and I like who I am. The next day, it can start kind of similarly, but without warning, this darkness will set in. All of a sudden I’m worried about my career and where I’m heading, if I’m wasting time, an impatience sets in, and there’s this much deeper, more intense, anxiety that takes hold and it stays. I drink my coffee just to stay awake without even really tasting it, I’m unkind to the people who pass me by, and my unkindness is reflected back at me which keeps the cycling going as I think “everyone in New York City is so miserable, what’s their frickin’ problem, I hate this place.” I step foot into the studio and I hate the way the room looks — I see all the things that I don’t have yet, instead of seeing all the things I do have. I see that I don’t have a window, and it kind of smells like pot even though there’s a no smoking policy. I curse everyone in the building and scowl at them in the hallways. My head wants to explode every time I have to put down the toilet seat in the shared bathroom, feeling resentful and confused that I’m the only lady in a studio space of about twenty rooms. You can see how this all plays out on a bad day.
The main contributors to my downward spiral within an awful day is that all the little things really, really get to me. An email about how I need to arrive at a gig with my hair curled will frustrate me so much that I’m on FaceTime in less than 10 seconds complaining to my boyfriend about it, pushing my anxiety right onto him. Another clear indicator that I’m suffering from a lack of perspective on a given day is that every little email and text overwhelms me, whether they’re nice or frustrating, a friend or a work-related thing. They all seem unsurmountable and I can’t find the right, normal words to respond.
These kinds of days are the worst. And I’ve started to wonder how it can be that two days that are so similar on the outside can feel so insanely different on the inside. When my emotional 180s keep on going like this for many days in a row I go to bed anxious because I don’t know what hand I’ll be dealt the next day.
But is it a hand that’s dealt to me? Am I just simply at the mercy of my emotions? I regard myself as professional enough to never really let these ups and downs affect my work, so there is that range of control. And when I find myself in a calm, stable place, I truly feel I have so little to complain about, that the things that I find myself pontificating about to my boyfriend over FaceTime really are trivial and could be handled on my own when I’m feeling a little more emotionally-neutral. Sometimes I think that if I could just reason with myself, if I could flip it around, I could change my perspective and see that all these anxieties are really just in my head, nothing has changed, it’s all good.
So how do you maximize the days where you feel good, or at the very least, neutral, stable, able to handle the world? If you’re reading this hoping that I’ve made some sort of break-through then I’m sorry to disappoint. But what I do want you to know, fellow creator, is that you’re not alone. And you’re not crazy. These things are what make us colorful and unique, able to empathize, to write and create with such detail and connection to others. But, more than I want to improve my skillset, practice more hours a day, be better at my “online presence,” promote my shows better, be a better composer, I want to feel good about myself in relation to my work and my relation to the world.
I also suffer from joy due to praise… fake joy, I like to call it. When I put out a song and it’s received well, I feel on top of the world, like I have purpose. When I put out a song that I believe in just as much, or even more, and there’s no great reception of my art, I feel deeply sad, like I fucked up. I tell my song it’s terrible and I should never have trusted it. I don’t want to play the song live and I shun it; it’s the under-achieving child amongst the successful ones. But isn’t this losing perspective of your work? How can your feeling towards something you put so much love and care into when creating shift once it’s not received in exactly the same way by the public? I know that if I don’t break this cycle, which I’ve gotten better at with each release, that I would lose my mind and be afraid to release music, and that’s not what making music is about for me.
Which leads me to wonder if perspective, trusting yourself and your art, loving yourself, believing in yourself is actually as simple as you’ve always known it to be. Have we just forgotten how to live mindfully? I believe we don’t spend enough time listening to ourselves and showing up for ourselves as we used to before the internet came about. This is why people (who I hate in this moment of interaction) tell you that their lives have changed because they started meditating using an app called Headspace, or they started doing yoga three days a week, or they started acupuncture. All that’s saying to me is that you’ve found a way to be still, show up for yourself, and listen. We keep carelessly tossing our emotions out there. When something tragic happens, people write write about it on the internet, but more often, when something awesome happens people also write about it on the internet. But, how do you really feel about this? Before you can even realize what this event may mean to you, you’ve shared it with others, and you constantly check the comments section to see how it’s received — which I believe leads you to pick up on how you probably should feel about it. It’s like living with your insides on the outside and everybody can poke and prod and judge. You’re on display and their reactions inform your opinion on the matter.
I used to do this a lot. I’d have something pretty cool happen, let’s say it’s playing on live TV, and I’d do the usual humble-brag post about it, showing people I’m working and promoting what I do (yes, it’s promotional, I’m not gonna lie to your face about this). People always GO NUTS for this stuff. They love it, they make comments like “you’re famous now” or “you’ve made it”. Because isn’t this how you’re supposed to feel about your achievement? But if you really know me, and if I really know me, I know that a much seemingly smaller achievement in line with my own composing or songwriting, my artistry, is a hundred times more meaningful to me than rubbing elbows with the famous. There is nothing wrong with celebrating something very cool, something that you maybe worked very hard to achieve. In the end, I worked hard for a decade playing an instrument before the very cool things started to happen. But where do you really stand on it? Do you feel fulfilled? Is this your own definition of success? These are important questions to ask yourself. I never asked myself these things until I noticed a chasm between how people saw me and how I saw myself. At the time when the most “amazing” things were happening, I probably had the lowest opinion of myself. It took me a long time to figure out why… I wasn’t being honest about what was meaningful to me. Please, find what is meaningful to you and not just what gets you the most likes on Instagram. Though if numbers on social media are very meaningful to you then all the more power to you, and I don’t mean that in a condescending way at all. We’re all different and freaky and wonderful and that’s what makes the world an interesting place. Just figure out what makes you proud.
I’ll tie all this rambling together by saying that what I’ve found to be my best friend lately, in regards to keeping a healthy perspective, is to listen for what I need. I’ve tried all the things and will keep trying them — meditating, running, yoga, journaling, eating healthy food, juicing, avoiding the news, listening to the news, drinking, not drinking, a really good make-out session. But on days where I just feel like dog shit, the best thing that I can do is to listen to that very small, tired, weak voice telling me what I need. Sometimes if I’m lucky enough it might mean taking the day off and turning off my phone for a while. Reading a book in a coffee shop or chatting on the phone with my family. Kicking a soccer ball in the park with a friend. Closing the curtains and having a cry, it happens okay? We’re human. But on days when I’m on the road or in sessions and have to work and leave it at the door, the best thing I can do is to zoom out just a little and remember that I’m just a tiny human on this giant earth and no one really cares if my hair is curled for the gig or not, it’ll all be fine in the end. Our plight always feels so huge to us, but it actually helps me to remember that it’s not all as serious as it feels. And if you’re a creator like me, then remember that we’re pretty much doing this to keep being the child version of ourselves and to have fun. So fucking have some fun sometimes or you’re missing the point!
If you’ve found ways to keep yourself calm I’d love to hear what you’ve tried. My favorites so far for keeping a healthy perspective have been twenty-minute at home yoga, reading (which I’m convinced helps calm your racing mind), and taking Sunday mornings off to stroll around town with my boo and dog-watch. And let’s face it, if you think you’re wasting time by stepping back for a second to take care of your emotional health, then you’re a fool, because you’re going to lose time when you inevitably reach your limit and break down during an important moment. Trust me, I’ve had years of making this mistake, thinking I’m invincible (Leo’s can be this way). Nowadays I can handle much more, and I think it’s thanks to really good coffee and cute dogs.