I was in Maine recently, visiting the town where I grew up, and had a conversation with an old friend. He is a photographer/filmmaker in California and we’ve known each other for more than 10 years. When we first met, he was seventeen and a guitar player in a pop punk band who had dreams of making a career as an artist – a movie maker, photographer, musician. I was fifteen and had no thoughts of the future apart from the ardent desire to be done with school. I had faith things would fall into place.
Growing up, I was involved in every school chorus and talent show. I sang in the All-Eastern Chorus – a regional singing competition that chooses only one representative for each vocal part from each state, did a play with Broadway performers, and led my senior year school play (Footloose!)
Despite all of this music-related activity my chorus teacher, Mrs Murphy, wasn’t a fan. When I graduated from high school, she refused to write me a recommendation. ‘I can’t,’ she said, ‘because you don’t work hard enough. You skate along on your talent.’ I was angry and hurt. But she was right.
I’ve thought about that a lot in the past few years as I work to build a career as a musician and songwriter. I used to skate by on talent but now I have no choice but to work. Firstly, I want it more than I used to. Musicality was an identity placed upon me as a kid and I distanced myself from it for a period, only to come back to it organically (read more about that in my first post) Secondly, there are a million talented people around me working hard to achieve success. In order to carve out my own space, I have to work hard, too.
The beauty and terror of doing something entrepreneurial, something without a set path, is that there is no infrastructure, no architectonic to support the route ahead. The road is in my mind, and it takes work to carve.
One of the reasons it felt so good to speak with my old friend recently was because it reminded me that this path, while it is one less traveled, is one that many are on. And it feels good to be reminded of that. That there are many others who are embracing uncertainty and making their own way in pursuit of something largely intangible. I’m not alone in that.
This experience of uncertainty, wandering, searching, is sometimes the most challenging thing. But it’s also the most exciting. And it’s what has led me to everything I love. It’s what has led me back to myself.
It’s the experience of gambling- placing small bets here and there to see what pays off. It’s the experience of hard psychic work without the promise of reward aside from the work, itself. It’s the experience of having a mental vision – a color, a feeling, a shape- and following following following a path that only you can see in order to bring that misty shape into hard reality.
It’s cosmological, metaphysical, insane, frustrating. Amazing.
I feel proud of the fact that I am so obsessively following a path that only I can see, but sometimes the uncertainty of it is difficult for me. I feel that the world around me expects me to move in a straight line, to proceed with foresight, with logic.
Sometimes all I can think about is how illogical my path has been. I am college-educated woman and many of my peers are going into professional fields that immediately yield steady incomes and social cache – doctor, teacher, coder. Mine makes little to no money most of the time and is anything but linear. I don’t know where it will take me. But I have to have faith that it will take me somewhere, if only closer to myself.
The world at large is not waiting for me to make a new album, write a new song, pursue my dreams. But I am. And no one else will do it for me.
I am so thankful that I have my partner Shawn to talk to every day (sometimes too much) about things with, to make plans with, to process ideas with.
But it is, at its core, a process that feels secretive and clandestine. A solitary path.
There’s the writing. It is intense, emotionally, to write a song, but so rewarding. It demands a lot of focus in order to hold onto the inspirational impetus and, at the same time, an open mind to let in inspirations and associations for lyrics, melody, structure, and mood. It forces you to sit with emotions that are uncomfortable or painful. It’s therapeutic and, at the same time, often feels close to alchemy – magically transforming something that was bleak and heavy into gold.
I also love the recording. Getting phrasing perfect. Layering harmonies and sounds. In recording, there is infinite possibility. If writing is like sketching a pencil portrait, recording is like adding paint.
But I spend most of my time on the internet trying to figure out ways to get my art out of my mind and to the rest of the world- blog posts, social media, reaching out to other artists and managers and promoters and producers to try to make connections, setting up tours and coordinating with venues, maintaining the online presence that lets people know I exist.
That part doesn’t come so naturally. But it’s necessary. And it’s the part that forces me to own my illogical path, in all its glory. I put it out there into the world every day- ‘I’m a musician’ my bios say, ‘I write songs. I am a singer,’ they proclaim. ‘This is what I do.’
Through hard work and singular focus I have secured opportunities and support, but that’s not why I work the way I do. I don’t do it for recognition or exposure. I do it because I’m obsessed. I suspect it’s a Sisyphean task. But I’ve been cursed and blessed with the hard-headed determination to roll that boulder up the mountain over and over. It’s all I can do.
And, Mrs Murphy, if you’re reading this, rest assured that I’m working hard.