You also know that I live with sometimes severe depression and some auto-immune stuff, all of which is medically interconnected somehow.
(Relax, nothing's happened. I'm fine.)
Finally, you know that I am something of an outsider in the world of contemporary Jewish music.
So what I offer here should come as no surprise.
With the latest news that, even with a vaccine we still won't "get back to normal" (or anything like it) until at least mid to late 2022, I have had to begin to rethink some of my personal and professional goals.
The country and much of the world have been devastated by a host of issues and situations, some of which have, rather sinisterly, been in the works for decades; and some of which are byproducts of our current social and economic malaise.
If you read my blog, or otherwise know anything about how I live and why I've made the choices I have, you know that I am probably quite a bit lower down the economic ladder than the majority of my colleagues. There are lots of reasons for this, some of which have to do with who I am, and how and where I live, and many more of which have to do with, well, being on the margins of a sphere I wasn't born into or raised up in. That I have made the connections I've made, that I've somehow managed to get my music on anyone's radar, continues to surprise me, even now.
That said, I am also highly aware that it is hard to sustain the energy required to maintain a social media presence, let alone to come up with the resources required to travel to conferences where you can get your name and your music "out there" for consideration by synagogues and community centers across the country.
We soon enter the ninth month of a global pandemic that my country's government has handled badly -- horribly. The handful of homeless tent camps near my home has mushroomed until there are veritable tent neighborhoods and shantytowns popping up all over Portland. I'm sure it's the same elsewhere, too.
Congress has adjourned without reaching agreement on an expanded aid package to help the millions of Americans put out of work by the pandemic -- and has evidenced no plan to adapt or evolve the job market in order to help those of us whose jobs are never coming back. The current aid package expires in December. After that, unless we somehow manage to elect a different president and add more progressive seats in Congress, many of us who are out of work will lose everything, and will be forced to join those already sleeping under tarps and freeway overpasses.
I am not exaggerating things.
So, to be honest, these days I am really struggling with finding relevance in what I do as a musician.
I still believe that I am a good musician and that I have something useful and meaningful to offer. But right now, the world doesn't feel especially positioned to receive it. Too many of us are struggling just to make the rent right now, to feed ourselves and out kids, to stay safe and simply alive.
Sure, there are a host of online services and performances and other gatherings in the Jewish world right now and they are mostly available to the general public (with a Zoom password and/or Facebook account, anyway). But I feel incredibly far removed from all of that. I've seen too much deperation and outright poverty around me, and I've heard too many reports of hard right gatherings with guns less than five miles from where I live, almost every other day. (As I type this, there is right now a gathering of Proud Boys taking place at an apartment complex about four miles from here. The police are so far doing nothing, as has been their habit since the protests began in late May. Because too many of the cops sympathize with the white supremacists, and that has been proven through leaked emails and texts, and videos of cops turning away so they won't see the Proud Boys harassing peaceful protestors. So nothing has really changed, at least here in Portland.)
I have not been able to find the creative spark I once felt inside, the thing that helps [push me to write music, in months. When all my gigs were first canceled, I didn't touch my guitar for almost two months. I had to force myself to put on live online shows on Facebook, and while these shows were appreciated by those who watched, the audience viewership has been pretty small. There are SO many more online shows now that it's like we're all vying for audience share in one really big concert venue; plus everyone has some kind of screen fatigue these days that none of us could ever have anticipated.
The world is a really wacky place.
I cannot think of gathering with anyone here in town. It's simply not safe to do so. So I am really quite isolated from my friends and most of my family. And I have an even lower tolerance for Zoom than most; being on Zoom gives me headaches and serious eye strain, and I have to limit my time carefully. (High Holy Days was really, really tough for me this year, because of the demands of the technology on my mind and body. I got through it but for at least a week afterwards I was basically useless. We didn't bother to observe Sukkot this year because the effort of putting up the sukkah would have been too exhausting so soon after HHD. We did manage a carefully distanced visit to a friend's sukkah one night and that was lovely, but it killed us to be eight feet apart and not be able to hug our dearest friends.
I do not know what the future holds for the world, for the country, and for me and my friends here in Portland. I know that we still have some seriously dark weeks and months ahead to deal with COVID, and as long as people are fighting with each other and arguing with health officials about not whether or not to wear a simple cloth mask and socially distance ourselves, we will continue to be plagued by this virus. Some medical experts suggest that it could be well into 2023 before we have a handle on it, and along the way many, many more people will get sick and die.
All of this means that it will be quite some time before I play music before a live audience again. Maybe another year or two at least. And that is IF I even have what it takes to hang in there that long.
I don't know if I do.
I don't even know if I will have a music career of ANY kind in 2023. I will turn sixty that year, and while I still derive meaning and joy from being a professional musician, I know my career won't last very long under normal circumstances, for a lot of non-medical reasons that are part of simply living in the world and dealing with the corporatization of the music industry in general.
The thing is, right now I feel like I have bigger fish to fry. Like helping pay the bills so we can stay housed, and working up a plan in case expanded aid never comes. Like figuring out how and where we'll live if we can't stay here. Like worrying about my mother-in-law, whom I haven't seen since last winter when we helped bury her husband (thank God he didn't live to see COVID, or this dumpster fire of an election season. Seriously), and who has handled the craziness amazingly but who is still alone in her house and soon to be 82. I don't know what we'll do if things get a lot worse.
So forgive me if I can't get fired up about making Jewish music right now. It feels about as far from my reality as anything in my life can possibly be. It's enough some days to just hang out with a pad and sticks to do some therapeutic drumming for half an hour each morning. Many days that is all I've got to give musically, before I either go and fix bikes to help pay some bills or I find other ways to scrape up some quick cash. Mostly I try to remain a decent human being, a loving sister and aunt to my beloveds and a loving spouse to my Sweetie. If I have extra energy after that, it's all bonus.
I hope to return to greater energy and productivity around working and creating. But I can't say when that will be or what it will look and feel like.
In a fit of hopefulness over the summer, I went ahead and renewed the web site and domain name here for another couple of years. I don't know what I'll do beyond that.
I don't anyone really knows what things will look like even in the next six months.
Thanks for hanging in there with me. If you want, feel free to contact me with any more questions or whatever. I'll still be on Facebook, with which I definitely have a love-hate relationship. It won't be quite as much as before, as it hasn't been good for my mental health lately.
And I can still be found over at Instagram, where I'll continue to share photos of the interestingness and beauty I see in the world. Maybe now and then I'll even toss up a musical fragment.
No matter what else happens, please STAY SAFE.
Wash your hands. Avoid close contact with people outside your home.
And WEAR A DAMNED MASK.
Because however we come out of this, I want ALL of us to be here when that day comes.