Quitting to Succeed

Time and time again we’ve heard people say “never quit” or “never give up”, but the reality is that sometimes the best way of propelling yourself forward is to know exactly when to quit and what to quit. One of the biggest issues in my career, and my life in general, has been that I tend to spread myself too thin. Even now, as I look at my iCal with all the things I need to do back-to-back for the next week, somehow my priority has ended up way at the end, shoved into a corner. The fact is that many of us have to spend our time doing things we don’t want to do but have to do, like a day job, and sometimes it becomes really difficult to keep your priority at the forefront. But this post is about those things we don’t necessarily have to do but maybe feel obliged to do or maybe do out of habit. Knowing how to “clean up” your life and use your time efficiently is exactly what could turn your situation around.

It’s been taking me a bit longer than usual to write this post - I keep stopping and stalling and overthinking. It’s because I don’t want to sound like the villain. I honestly do value helping others and contributing to society in a way that doesn’t only benefit oneself, but there’s a time and place for that. It’s also really hard to help others unless you’re cool with yourself. As I get older and I make new friends, have new jobs, and face lots of difficult decisions, I’ve learned that I really do know what’s best for me, not someone else. I’ve written about this before, about trusting your instincts - always learn from others, but trust your instincts. I have quit a lot of things. I’ve quite bands, I’ve quit classes, I’ve quit smoking, I’ve quit drinking (for a period of time), and I’ve quit relationships. This is the ugly truth people usually feel uncomfortable with - if you spend your life doing the things you feel obliged to do, committing to things you are uncertain about, and constantly lending out your talents to others instead of honing them in your own way, then you may miss your stop on this journey of life, so to speak. There’s something extremely rewarding about helping others, I’ll admit. Every time someone asks me if I want to play a show or sing on a song or mix their track, I almost always say yes, because I’m just literally excited for them and I want to be a part of the process. It took me a couple years to understand - after failing to do my part on these projects - that I just couldn’t be in two places at once. The place where I so badly wanted to be was alone in my room, writing my songs. I would feel more badly about this sentiment, except that anyone who knows me even a little, knows that I’ve dedicated a ton of my time to other peoples’ music. I love doing it. But sometimes it’s not always what’s right for me.

In 2014 I quit every band that I was in. I had some sort of melt down in which I realized that I wanted to work on myself as a film composer and artist. I’d had the resolve for many years, but could never make time for it. Because I didn’t know how to balance things, I bailed on everything so hard, and I don’t recommend this. Though it was one of the best things I ever did for myself in the long run, it was also one of the most hurtful things I’ve ever done. It ruined friendships (for a while) and I got a lot of unkind words thrown my way, but I understand why. Going from 100 to zero, so to speak, was an extreme change but I didn't know how else to navigate what I wanted. Now as time goes on, I’m starting to get better at it. But I still feel bad for every project I committed to and then inevitably bailed on when I became overwhelmed by not being able to focus on my priority. It always comes back to knowing what your priority is and managing your time realistically.

Quitting things doesn’t just include things in your career. It also includes bad habits, such as excessive drinking, or smoking, or being late, or trash-talking. Quitting also includes people. You can hate me for saying this, but there is such a thing as a toxic relationship. And while I’ve never intended to bail on someone forever, I have definitely let them know that I needed to step back temporarily and protect my heart. Don’t be afraid to tell someone when they’re starting to fuck with you. After all, the only way they can fuck you up is if you let them. So don’t let them. I’m always working towards maintaining healthy relationships with supportive friends around me. Many of us have conflict already existing in our lives - from bosses or family or others we are obliged to have relations with. Don’t add to the stress by letting a hurtful person continue to kill your vibe. You elected yourself to be with them, so make sure it’s healthy and fun. The best way I’ve described this is that I don’t want to “weave an intricate web of my life”. Confrontation is hard, and I am the fucking worst at it, but don’t be afraid to say what you need or when you need something to stop. Be strong enough to work through something, but also know what your threshold is.

Sometimes things just aren’t good enough, and that can be a sad reality. Our natural inclination is usually to try and salvage something. We’ve all tried to salvage the already broken relationship, believing the other person will see they’re hurting us and will somehow just chose to change of us. But maybe that relationship has served it’s purpose in our lives and it’s best to move on. It’s hard to quit things, even when they’re so blatantly painful. Remember to trust yourself and most importantly, to be brave. Because it takes a shit-ton of bravery to navigate through all the bullshit in our lives and still come out strong. Trust your instincts, know your priorities, and always act through love. Even when you’re quitting.

Wishing you the best,

Sulene

Small Victories

Sometimes we get impatient and we want everything right now. We want it all to go our way and for it to always be perfect. We want to be famous and wealthy and make our high school bullies jealous when we throw it in their faces that we’re successful artists and they’re still working at the local pizza place. But if you step out of your crazy, egotistical dream-world for a second (I'm a Leo, so I need a reality check often), you’re sometimes able to have a glimpse of the truth, which for most of us on our way up is that we’re making strides but that we don’t have it all (yet). And sometimes we’re even able to let this thing called patience wash over us as we’re able to pat ourselves on the back for those milestones we have hit and remember to just enjoy the moment.

There’s been a lot of talk around me lately about depression and how it affects our art. All sorts of kinds, how it’s affecting a lot of us trying to create, and how it’s distorting the way we see ourselves and our pursuit. I haven’t felt deeply sad in a long time, but I knew in the last few weeks what it meant to feel a bit lost and unsure about how each day was going to unfold and where my career was going to go (or not go). There’s something strange aligning in the universe because a lot of my close loved ones are dealing with a similar sentiment. I couldn’t talk about this blog post topic without touching on the emotional distress caused by the self-doubt that sometimes eats us alive. I think I found one way to tame the doubts and I wanted to share it with you.

I recently wrote a post called The Thing That Keeps You Going. The thing that keeps you going is the thing that makes you get up in the morning and work towards something bigger than yourself. This post takes that one step further - how do we believe in the cause and that we’re actually getting closer to our dream? Sometimes it’s really hard to see the progress. What I’ve experienced in the last few months since moving back to New York and pursuing my solo music is that you have to set up small goals so that the bigger goal seems attainable. Now I know I’m probably telling you something you’ve heard a million times but I can’t stress the importance of this enough. I wanted to outline in this post some small goals I recently pursued that have lead to small, but very significant victories, which in essence have kept me focused, away from the sad, and moving closer towards my big goals as an artist.

When I was off tour and back home in New York, I first decided that I would release content every week, usually on a Monday. I picked my blog and YouTube channel back up, and I drew up a plan in my iCal spanning several months to alternate between videos and blog posts. People now, remember to set up realistic goals. So often I’ve thought ‘I’m going to release a Youtube video every WEEK and it's gone be so AWESOME’ and I make it through about 2 weeks and then I can’t meet the goal and then I feel shitty about myself. If you set up reasonable goals that you’re able to achieve and stick with, then you feel good about it and proud that you met your quota.

Another thing I decided was that I would set up my own show in Brooklyn. I’ve never booked my own show. I’ve always been in bands that got asked to play or had booking agents or a manger who did it. Now I’m back here, with no manager and no booking agent, and I don’t even a band. But hey, fuck it, I have songs I’ve written and believe in and I can play guitar and I can sing and I can write some emails and hit up some other bands so why the hell not book my own show? I booked a show at Muchmore’s in Brooklyn and I opened the night with 4 songs. I got to share the stage with some of my best friends as well as my boyfriend and we brought in quite a few people and had a great night. Then we drank margaritas and ate Mexican food. Again, a great night. The next day I felt proud that I did it. It had been almost a year to the day since I played a solo show and I had now accomplished something very significant to my goals as a front person and solo artist. After I realized I could do this playing live thing, I started getting booked on some more shows and kept the ball rolling. People also reached out who had watched the live stream and it all made me feel accomplished and like an actual artist, as opposed to someone who just drank whiskey and sang songs alone in my room late at night.

This is what I’m trying to touch on; when I actively pursue my craft and I can see the results, whether those results are big or small, I start to feel more like an artist. All of our inspired ideas come from a very clear and pure feeling. When each of us committed to this crazy dream of making art for a living, we really believed that we could do it successfully. We’d day-dream about being on stage or being in a movie or writing music for a movie and we really could envision ourselves doing it. So take the steps towards that, every day, and feel yourself in your essence when you are on stage or recording a song. A great way to also feel that you are within your art is to share it with an audience because they react and you get this very unique connection with other people. If I had stuck to the initial idea that I shouldn’t play a show because I haven’t released music yet, then I still would have been sitting in my room feeling so teeny tiny for many months longer. I wouldn’t have taken that important step in playing live in front of my peers and developing my performance skills. I showed myself as much as I showed my audience what I am capable of right now.

The only way to avoid stagnation is to be pro-active about the things you want. And I’ve said this before, but when you do this, the world responds and helps you along and that’s when incredible things start to happen. If you’re an artist and you’re working on a dream, I advise you to set up weekly or monthly goals and to stick to them best you can. Whether you feel crappy or scared or stressed or overwhelmed - just do it. We’re all scared and stressed! Not that this is usually the case, but today I’m writing this post one hour before it comes out because my brain space has been so taken up by things outside of this blog and the world of music. But what matters is that I’m still writing it and I believe in the words I’m writing. Maybe there will be some typos or run-on sentences, but that’s okay! Who gives a shit!

The best phrase that comes to mind to end this post is “everything in motion”. Which is a Guided by Voices Song. Which is the band my boyfriend is obsessed with, so I give him full credit for this blog post ending. Keep everything in motion.

xoxo

Sulene

What's Your Story?

I’d like to start off with this quote: “When you were born you were dealt a deck of cards, but it is up to you to learn how to play that deck of cards.” My pal, Henri, posted this online and I’m not sure where it was derived from but it spoke loudly to me when I read the words. The more I thought about it, I realized that if we don’t constantly keep evolving, overcoming, and taking responsibility for the way that we really are, then we will never truly be happy and fulfilled. Every day, especially when we talk to others, we write our story - we chose how we define ourselves and what goes into our pages. 

Take a second to think about how you describe yourself to others. Be honest and think about all the things you fucking complain about. I complain about being away from home all the time. It’s to the point where I think I’ve started to define myself as a “home-sick person”, and how sad is that? Instead, I could flip it and say that I’m lucky enough to have traveled the world and moved to New York City, one of the greatest cities in the world, to spend my life doing what I love. This is just an example of what I’m talking about when I talk about what your “story” is.

Today has been a hard day. The whole week was busy and exhausting and I knew that when I finally had some time to myself that I would probably feel deflated and unable to give anymore. But that’s okay, because sometimes we just need to take a couple hours, or a day, to let go and feel human, whatever that entails. I found my thoughts being extremely negative. I felt angry at people. I felt annoyed that I wasn’t getting replies to texts or emails and I found myself thinking “they just don’t care about me, I’m not important enough.” I found myself annoyed at the security officer at this hotel who snapped at me because he was having a bad day. I let it ruin my breakfast as it stayed on my mind - “who is he to judge me and treat me like dirt? Especially today when I’m having a terrible time in my head.” The reality is that I was feeling like a victim and a little bit sorry for myself. I felt that because I had a heaviness in my heart, that I could have a chip on my shoulder. So I guess in writing this, it’s sort of a way to remind myself to be braver than that. You do it to yourself. You make yourself happy or you make yourself sad.

External forces that are out of our control constantly shift our mood, our inspiration, and our creativity. There are some people who let every tiny thing dim the light they naturally hold within themselves to create and feel energized. Then there are those who are like rocks and always put on a brave face, no matter what is thrown their way. If you’re a performer, you learn the ultimate tricks in putting on a brave face when you go out onto a stage for all to see. You let the music win and the bad things lose, even if it’s just for an hour. As I grow older and have more and more demands and responsibilities, it seems to become more and more important how I manage my emotions.

If there’s anything I can try to get across in this blog post, it will be this. You can skip through everything else and just read this paragraph if you’re pressed for time or bored of me by now. People choose to stick to their stories. I hear these stories almost every day - the person who was cheated on and so they can’t trust another lover, the person who is always late and acts as if the world should cut them some slack because they’re just a “late person”, the person who is mean to those around them because they’re constantly fighting with their spouse. We all find reasons to drop the ball or to not let others in or choose to hide because of a painful story. And isn’t it interesting that we usually define ourselves by the worst that has happened to us as opposed to the best? The thing is that everyone has a bad story. It just comes down to how you choose to overcome it. Some have terrible stories. Some people are born with much less than most, or with no family, or no love in their lives. I often get the “ugh, don’t talk to me about starving children in Africa” response when I debate hardship and perseverance with people. But it’s becoming harder and harder not to point out the spectrum of loss when I come from a place that faces many hardships that a lot of us, including myself, will never have to encounter or even be forced to think about.

Maybe instead of being the girl who was cheated on, you are the girl who has never cheated because you were cheated on, because you know how much it hurts. Maybe instead of just being a “late person”, you faced the challenge of being on time head-one, and you inspired your friends to make healthy changes in their lives as well. Instead of dragging those around you down when you are in a fight with someone, go out with them to have a good time, and maybe even forget about the bad for a little while. It’s too easy to perpetuate the cycle when you feel like a victim in your head.

I know that sadness and anger and disappointment are all inevitable in life. But don’t let them define you or be your story. Be thankful for what you have. Be thankful for your able body and those that love you. Count your blessings instead of your demons. You’ll surprise yourself when you realize just how resilient you can be with just a little more effort. Humans are born adaptable and strong, but a lot of us got soft and jaded somewhere along the way. Just remember - you write your story and not anyone else.

Love,

Sulene

The Thing That Keeps You Going

What I want to write about today is probably the biggest source of sleepless nights (besides the drunk hipsters outside the window of my apartment) that I’ve been dealing with lately. I’m putting these thoughts onto paper today, so to speak, because I know that I’m so not alone in this. With each passing year that I try my hand at growing into a fully-formed human, I realize that not all things in life are as they seemed when I was looking at them from a distance through rose-colored glasses. When I was a kid I was told by my parents, bless their kind hearts, that I could do anything I wanted to do and be anyone I wanted to be. I had, and still have, lavish dreams of being an artist. This dream took different forms over the years - pop artist, rockstar guitarist, film scorer, drummer in a metal band, etc - but it always sort of remained the same. Now the truth that I know is that it was easier to commit to this life when I wasn’t yet inside it, and still in a way sheltered from it. Now that I am living within and consumed by “the dream”, I find myself asking more and more why the dream must forsake me so. Why, music, have you made all the things so intricate and painful? All I ever did was love you.

Many of us leave school and go out in the world with our stupid hopes help way high. I laugh to myself when I remember that I dressed up as a “producer” on my last day of high school. We wear uniforms in South Africa, but this specific day we were supposed to dress as our future selves. I smile when I think back on conversations in the Berklee cafeteria about which record label my progressive rock band would decide to sign with and which artists we would be okay with opening for and which we wouldn't be okay opening for. It was all so easy when it was just day-dreaming. The thing is, NO ONE EVER TOLD ME HOW HARD IT WOULD BE TO PAY FOR MY LIFE. I literally just want to yell this right now sitting in this stupid airport. Money is the bane of my existence. I’m a woman of very few needs. I don’t care about rolling in it, but I do care about surviving and being happy and not uncomfortable all the time. I’m really just a huge, obsessive, loner nerd who generally wants to be left alone in my apartment with my instruments so I can write songs about cool things. I think I want to start collecting tapes too, that’s a hobby, right? I also like to knit. So I guess in my lavishly wealthy future I will need enough money to support my knitting and cassette-tape collecting hobbies, and maybe also a puppy.

When I moved to New York City in 2013 I was utterly shocked at how hard it was to survive. My rent was a low (yes, low!) $750 to live in an artist loft building with three other roommates in a shitty part of Brooklyn. This was basically a big room with almost no sunlight, divided up by thin walls to make four tiny artist-prison-cells. In total, we were three musicians and one actress.  We were basically a hilariously dejected TV show that never made any money. The musicians and the actress eventually parted ways because we argued over constant noise (I never realized how terrible musicians are as roommates until then). The basement floor below us was a venue, so I would often fall asleep to awful drum and bass pulsating my twin-sized bed. Our heat went out regularly and my room had no windows. I bought an air purifier so I wouldn’t die, and I sat there all day applying to jobs and writing film scores. After three months of this dark life (literally), I still didn’t have enough money to pay for my rent or my bills. How could this happen?? How could I only have made HALF?! I’ve literally been putting in 12-hour days and eating nothing but rice and beans and PBR and I’m unsuccessful at surviving.  I hate myself. I suck. I still remember that first night the anxiety set in and I realized just how fucking hard this was really going to be. ‘What have I done?’ I remember thinking. "I should’ve studied to be a lawyer like I thought I would for like a month when I was thirteen. I have made a huge mistake (spoken in Gob from Arrested Development's voice)."

Just in the nick of time, as I was losing my mind and day-drinking more than usual, I got a big-girl job. I went on to work for a composer who I very much admired, and this was my first set of musical work that I did that built up my resume and IMDB. I had a regular job, which by the way, in film composer’s terms is 12+ hours a day, 7 days a week, basically on call all the time. "It’s not like someone’s dying and I’m working at a hospital, how can I feel so stressed and sleep-deprived?" I’d often ask myself. The answer was that the film industry is batt-shit crazy and again, NO ONE TOLD ME THIS. I spent about six years of my life studying to work in that industry and no one ever took me aside and was like “listen, this shit is crazy, so get ready. Do you do drugs? You might want to.” I don’t do drugs. They scare me. And I lasted six months in the film and television industry.

Here I was at my first painful career crossroad, which I’ve now come to face over and over since then. My old friend, we meet again - the steady job that pays for my life, but which consumes my entire life. No time for working on my own music, building my own thing, or spending time with my friends. A boyfriend? Forget it. I had one dude end things with me because I could never go on weekend-away trips with him and his buddies. Dude... I'm working here, and I’m way too tired to smoke weed and listen to Zeppelin records with you guys every night. Go graduate college, then maybe you’ll get an idea of how dismal existence really can be. What’s that, I sound bitter? No, definitely not!

So I quit my job. Because I really missed sleeping and I missed my friends. I was working on incredible projects but I was so burned out and unhealthy. So I went into my first “floating” phase. I had enough money saved up for three months of survival. But, I wasn’t certain how to proceed. Do I go work for another composer so I can make money and gain experience? Or do I try work on my own film scores and probably not make enough money? OR, surprise option number 3! Does New Found Glory’s manager contact me via Facebook and tell me she digs my YouTube videos and do I maybe wanna audition for a tour with another band of her’s opening for NFG? It was one of the most liberating moments in my life to go… fuck it! I’m running out of money and what the hell do I have to lose? NFG are tight. Let’s do this tour thing. And I don’t need to explain the rest because it’s March 2016 and I’m sitting at an airport having just finished a show with the newest artist I play for. Touring found me by accident and I fell hard and fast; so in love with all the people I worked with, who I met, and who I played for. I had never felt such a strong sense of purpose as I felt traveling all the time and being on stage almost every night for a year and a half.

If there’s any sort of rock-God out there, I want to thank him for giving me this experience. Because here’s the point I’m making and it took me hot minute to get here, so thanks for reading: I got a taste of what I want to spend my life doing. And that’s enough. I’m starting to think that as a tiny human in this insane world, if you can find that one thing, then you can survive. For some it’ll be art, or a job, or a person, or a baby. But there was nothing that had ever made me as happy as being on the road with a bunch of other weirdo, nerd, loners like myself playing songs we love. And we have a hell of a good time. You mean I can actually be fulfilled as an artist and happy and pay for my life?! Yes, my friend, you can. But it’s tricky to achieve. And if you’re self-employed, it’s fleeting and non-linear and the rules are made up as you go.

Sometimes I sleep in too late on a Sunday and lie in bed cursing myself for being a lazy idiot and I bitterly think why didn’t college help me more? Why didn’t I win the lottery or why didn’t anyone just GIVE me money by now? You gotta be kidding me, this is insane, this is actually my life?! I have to work a job just like anyone else and bust my ass all the time? Yes you do. So get over yourself. Sometimes I can’t look at the whole picture. Sometimes I can only look at today. What can I do today to move one step closer to what I desire? Ask yourself that every day, drink a cup of coffee, and go fucking do it.

So here's my resolve - find that thing you love and never let it go. Everything else will fall into place around it. You will probably have to spend a considerable amount of time doing things - like day-jobs and kissing peoples' asses - that you don’t want to do in order to support the dream. But I’ll be ready to go out for margaritas with you and sing 90’s songs at the top of our lungs so we can forget about that part. The pay-off will be there.

Just keep swimming, or at least treading water.

Sending my love,

Sulene

Desire

This post is going to be a little shorter mainly because I’m on the plane back to Brooklyn after a 6-week tour and I was so excited to see my friends that I could hardly fall asleep last night. The general end-of-tour energy suck and ramblings of a half-crazy person have been going on for about four days now and I seem to be hanging on by a very caffeinated thread. But, life is good nevertheless and my thoughts are rushing around in a frenzy.

I have learned so much in the last couple of months about myself, about music, and about performance. Most of all, I have felt consumed by what it it’s like to want something so deeply. So this post is about desire. That incredible feeling that takes over when you day dream so hard you swear you can almost stretch out your hand and grab it. The thing is so close, but at the same time so romantically fleeting. That’s what keeps me striving for something that may seem so impossible.

Maybe to achieve the extraordinary we need to be crazy enough to believe that somehow we are the exception to the rule, the defect, or the special one. When we were kids we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up and our answers were (most-likely) always pretty crazy-sounding. We believed we were the lucky one. When I was ten I told my mom I wanted to be a “pop star”. Pretty funny at the time, but I spend a lot of time in the pop world now.

I feel incredibly grateful to have been able to just get my foot in the door of the day dream so far. Unimaginable events have occurred and it feels that every time I end a tour with a new group, I sit back and think, ‘what the fuck just happened?’ And the thing is that it all happens so fast that I can’t even make chronological or logical sense of it. It’s like a speeding train that I just hopped on at the right stop and have tried to stay on without losing my footing.

So now I enter three weeks of “floating”. No tour, no apartment, no time-sensitive commitments except those of my own. It’s going to be a great test of focus and desire as a work on my own music. But, that’s exactly why I’m writing about desire, because I want to remind each and every one of you to hold onto that crazy fucking feeling. Keep it deep inside you because that fire will guide you through the bullshit. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, to stand up for what you believe in, and to let your voice be heard. I’ve heard you guys – I’ve gotten your emails and letters and tweets and Facebook messages and each of you seem to have this amazing story, and almost every letter expresses a desire to do something big. And I say just do it. Do it harder and with more fire than you ever have and amazing things will unveil themselves. I don’t know how else to explain this entire last year of my life. All I can say is that it started with me really, really wanting to get up off the floor and put the pieces back together and rise above a sadness and hopelessness. I’m still trying to make it better all the time, to achieve a better quality of life, to build greater relationships, and stronger internal happiness.

That’s all for now. I’m about to land and see my loved ones and hold them and dance with them. They are the fuel that always keeps my wheels turning. Thank you to everyone who has been reading my posts. I’m so happy to be able to keep them coming.

All my love,

Sulene