After mulling things over, tonight felt like a good time to share some realness with you all.
You may have noticed a lack of steady activity here on my web page.
Or, more likely, you haven't noticed.
Because I haven't done a stellar job of maintaining a strong professional presence on social media.
The pandemic and other factors have made it difficult for me to really get in that game super-deeply.
That doesn't especially bother me right now. I know myself well enough to know that building a worldwide audience was never really my goal as an artist, especially in my very small chosen field of Jewish music.
And it IS small -- TINY -- when compared with other music scenes in the world. Here in North America, the music of Bollywood has a larger following than Jewish music does.
Since the pandemic hit, my songwriting has been almost zero. I gave it a stab a couple of times over the summer and again more recently, but the truth is that I don't feel especially motivated to struggle with that just now. And more importantly, I am not ashamed to say it.
Between the stuff I already deal with on a daily basis -- auto-immune issues, depression, arthritis -- and the new stuff, including eye surgeries that haven't yet gone quite as planned, I am out of energy to hurl at this particular void.
I felt horrible about it for months. And didn't know exactly what to say or how to address it. Online counseling did not help. Living with the most loving partner in the world, while it has been a blessing, also did not help. This has been my personal struggle to sort out.
What helped me find an answer was two things:
1. Artists need an audience, and they also need creative and spiritual support at home in order to flourish. As long as I limited my energy to seeking that support in my Jewish community, I wasn't finding it. That was a tough lesson to learn, but this year I finally learned it, and was able to let go of the last of my expectqtion and hope in that regard. My home shiul is a lot of things, but a nurturing place for artistic expressions of spirituality isn't really one of them right now.
It took a long time for me to be able to accept that, and shrug without tears.
But I think I'm there now.
2. Artists across the musical spectrum are now expected to create a near-steady stream of content.
Notice that I said "content" rather than "music" or "songs."
That's because the music industry has been reduced to a handful of online conglomerates that require artists to produce, rather than create. That is a significant change from the past. ASCAP and BMI have grown into juggernaut enforcers, working for the benefit of the owners of the bandwidth and the artists they have under contract to take their percentage every time a cover tune gets played in a bar. (A local brewpub ran afoul of ASCAP a month after opening last year, so that when I played at her pub I was asked to stick to original songs -- or NOT to advertise my show. I postered the neighborhood, ran some Facebook ads, and played originals all night. I went home with enough money to pay some of my utility bills that month, and ASCAP got none of it. That should explain to everyone why I will never join ASCAP, or J-License, or any of the other copyright enforcers that have set up shop in the last five years. I won't pay someone a percentage of my earnings simply to support their right to exist.)
Producing content is a full-time job with quarter-time pay.
You must constantly produce more and more content for the owners of the bandwidth in order to push the best of your stuff into being noticed. Production of content IS possible -- there are at least a couple of guys enjoying some kind of internet fame for their ability to write a song a day and post it online -- but submitting new content each day doesn't necessarily make you better down the road. Quantity is no guarantee of quality. All that quantity does is fill the pockets of the owners of the bandwidth with profits, because more consumers are tuning in to see what new product is being offered today.
And as we all know, hardly any of those profits are making it to the artists themselves.
I don't think that's creating art or beauty. That is just producing product to be consumed. And music and art cannot, MUST NOT, be reduced to a consumer product.
Yes, yes, I know that it already is, that the horse has fled the barn and I can't put the genie back in the bottle.
I can't do anything about that.
Not because I couldn't learn how -- I suppose I could -- but because I don't believe in that model.
I am not a producer of things in a factory. I am a songwriter and musician, someone who has trained and practiced thousands of hours over a lifetime in order to hone my craft and get better at it.
For every song I've released into the world, there are five more that went in the back of the file drawer, and two or three more that went straight into the circular file.
If I have to release every thing I write every day, or even every week, then there's not much time left over to dream, to ruminate, to read and to ponder about all the things that get distilled through me to become a song that has something to say.
I don't produce content.
I write songs.
The former can be done frequently and steadily.
The latter takes more time, and spaces between the songs.
The latter acknowledges that there are dry periods during which more time is spent ruminating and observing than creating. These are called fallow periods. Every artist used to have them. And many artists came back from those periods with wisdom and new songs.
Today, in our 24/7 world of commerce, there is no time for fallow periods. One has to produce or be pushed aside.
Those who can produce steadily, who can hype the social media machine, they're the ones getting "audience share" right now. I begrudge them nothing and hope they succeed on the path before them.
I don't have the energy or resources to keep up with them.
AND I cannot keep up with them. And that has to be okay, too.
I'm tired. My fallow period has gone on quite a lot longer than I would have liked for it to,. And ehile other artists have been able to make content during this time, I have not been able to write a song.
At first I thought it was all my fault, a reflection of my character. But over time, as I watched other people in their fallow periods be left behind -- by the music industry; by politicians; by employment departments overwhelmed with cries for help in a devastated job market -- I realized that a great deal of this was very much beyond my control. A great deal of this is a sort of economic Darwinism that I did not create and cannot change.
So after a lot of thought, prayer and struggle, I let go.
I began to exhale.
I let go of expectations, I let go of the struggle and I chose to sit with my Self and ask myself what I needed right now.
I've spent the last six months answering that question over and over. None of the answers have contributed much to new songs, but in the meantime I've fixed dozens of bicycles for people in need, practiced rudimental snare drumming (and become a better player than I ever was before), and scavenged and flipped things to clean up and re-sell and bring some money in while my state's Employment Department got its act together. I learned to listen to my body's cries for afternoon naps, and to give myself permission to need longer to get going in the mornings than I used to. And while money remains stupidly tight, I find that I am less productive, more focused on relationships with my beloveds, and far more accepting of myself and my own aging process.
And I feel more creative now than I have in a year.
Will this lead to more songs?
I don't know.
And after an especially dressed-down, peaceful, restful Shabbat, I realize that I don't care. I'm not on a timeline, mine or anyone else's. I will write when I have something to say, or when I feel moved by something I see in the world. I will continue to rest, and to dream, while things remain at a standstill.
I will rest and recover. I will nurture the relationships that matter. If things get dire, I will ask for help without beating myself up over having to. I will create on my terms, and not worry about what folks Out In The World think of my lack of "productivity."
Productivity is not creativity.
Productivity is a way of lining the pockets of those who do not create, but who merely own the bandwidth.
I don't feel a need to support them and I won't try to keep up with their insatiable demands for content.
I will stay home and stay safe. I will heal. And when I have the energy, I will create.
Wishing everyone a season of restfulness, of Self-care and Self-love, and the strength to own their own creativity. Because in the end, you only really have to keep up with your Self.
..::insert heart here::..