Well, the world has changed since I last wrote here, how are you doing?
…it’s okay if you don’t have an answer for that. I don’t.
TL:DR – coping advice, release information
Well, the world has changed since I last wrote here, how are you doing?
…it’s okay if you don’t have an answer for that. I don’t.
TL:DR – coping advice, release information
Silence is the language of the gods. All else is just translation.
Breaking a silence is a difficult thing, once you are used to it.
I wanted to break silence on the first of December, but it took a few more days and returning to Ireland to sleep, to work up the energy to write.
In my last post, I wrote as if the worst was over. As if things were returned to normal. It still makes me chuckle. As if I was not still sitting in a burning building, waving through the window.
November came and went without a show. I wanted to write about No-Show November, but there simply wasn’t time. No time in between the doctor’s appointments, counselling, representing myself at a tribunal, moving out, rest, renovation and care. I took a hiatus from phones, from posting, from trying to promote myself. Promoting my work felt futile. Apathy set in.
I left my violin in to be fixed in the place I got it. Thank you, everybody, for your kindness and support with my violin. It means so much. I’m humbled by all of it.
December looks as though it will also be a no-show. I thought my violin would be ready by now, and it is now looking like end of January. I don’t know when I will be able to return to Ireland to retrieve it. It could be months. I feel burnt out. I looked into short term rentals in Ireland. To find something that fits my needs will be tricky, and more expensive than I can really afford at this stage.
This is a difficult piece to write, and a hard decision to make. I wanted to keep going no matter what, but I have had to accept that sometimes circumstances are a no go. At this stage, I want to restore my energy, and a show a month for six months on the trot has been a lot for me.
I am not stopping 12:12:12. I still want to do 12 shows, but they may not be every single month, and they may not be finished in a single year. I want to do them well. I want to make sure that any artist who works with me on these is recognised and well looked after.
Time is my most limited resource. For every show, there has been a tradeoff of organization, planning, research, promotion and marketing, rehearsal, songwriting, my attempts at production, rest and recovery. I could do a few of these each time, but not everything. Towards the last show, Scorpio, I was burnt down to a cinder. I was running a deficit on rest, even before the disaster that was the last few months hit, and then I walked into a whirlwind. I turned obsessive and exhausted myself. I called the last show the burning times, because I felt like I was burning alive.
This is how it looked in the Hashtag Gallery (photo and candles by the amazing Petra Nikolaou, custom corset by the amazing Kate Mior of Bone and Busk Couture). Wings? Claws? The phoenix is the creature I always identified with the most, and a crow can be a phoenix like any other bird.
I can’t say I know what the next few months will be. I went from planning months in advance to taking things one day at a time. I realised that among other things, I don’t really know how to be happy, and I would like to try to be.
I knew that taking this showcase on would be a way for me to generate data and learn fast, and I was fully prepared for it to fail, but I was not prepared for it to hammer me into the ground. This is the first project I have taken on for myself, bearing complete responsibility. For that reason, it was crushing to feel it falter and fail, at least for the time being. I want to finish what I have started.
I have been cautioned against posting about this and my mental health, but I think it’s more important to be somewhat transparent, given so much of my work is about mental health and recovery. There have been amazing highs, but I can’t deny that right now I am at a low ebb. Now is the only thing that’s real, and I have to work with what I have.
I miss practicing and I miss performing, and I want to be back to it soon, but for now, it’s more rest and recovery. I want the next show to be amazing, and I will work towards that.
For now, I’ll mostly try to listen.
12:12:12 Libra is just wrapped up, and the future shows are taking shape. 5 out of 12 so far. Next up, Scorpio, bringing 12:12:12 to the halfway mark.
That said, this is far from an automatic process, and I’m never certain that I can keep up the monthly show pace. Part of the reason is that the last few weeks have hit me harder than I would have liked, and details are below.
This next show, Saturday 22nd June, feels like a bit of a struggle. One reason is that I’m away for valuable preparation time and that’s a bit worrying. The next is because it deals with a fairly fraught subject for me: the concept of home.
So when I don’t know something and it doesn’t seem like the dictionary definition covers it, I ask. And ask. And ask. Strangers, friends, strangers who became friends as a result. One question.
What does home mean to you?
It turned out to be a much bigger question. Like a key that unlocked something really interesting. Complete strangers shared details of their lives and priorities in ways I never expected. It was almost overwhelming.
So I didn’t get to write down every single answer verbatim, but here are a few.
Where my love is
It’s where the heart is
Home means not feeling displaced anymore, means making long term plans
It’s the feeling of being accepted, safe and loved with a person(s) or in a place
A sense of belonging.
Where you feel the most yourself, the most free to be you and place you want to go back to right away
Where I get to be alone and therefore, at peace
When i am in destiny
Home is where I cook
You can shut the door behind you and feel secure.
Where you can be yourself without thinking about it
Home is somewhere when I reach it, I release the world around me. I feel safe. I feel like I will be accepted. I feel like it is a place where I can rest.
Where you plant roots. As long as you’re happy and have something to do, something you can make progress towards
Family, warmth, somewhere I can take a dump
I asked people in Toronto, Minneapolis, St. Paul, online and in person. I also realised that there were interactions where I didn’t want to know. Sometimes it seemed it wasn’t the right time, or maybe it was my failing.
Somebody who had two homes, one in Minnesota with most of their family and their father remaining in Mexico, calling them back. Somebody who had lived in different places in the US. Somebody who had family with them, somebody who did not. Somebody who had never moved away from where they were, or moved a city. Somebody who was planning to move and set up a new home.
I ask these questions because I wonder: can you have more than one home? What qualifies as acceptance? Can you feel you belong in multiple places? If you don’t feel peace with other people, can that change? Does it have to be tied to a physical location? Is home where you can determine your own actions? Is it proximity to things you have chosen, where you controlled that aspect of your existence?
I began travelling for music at age 14. I went to Switzerland with a youth orchestra, and then continued going on those trips over the years, until I ended up living in Boston for three months. Then toured around Europe in a van with a band for another three months, four years later, between different trips. Then, five years ago, I moved away for what I thought were two years, for a working holiday visa. I don’t really know fully why I went for a permanent resident card, at the time, and I certainly didn’t take it as it was called. The idea of permanence seemed arrogant to me. As if anything I do or anybody else is anything but long-term, at best.
Water wears away stone.
Why did I do this examination? Why did it turn out to be something bigger than research and curiosity?
Cancers are big on home. The tree that blooms in this time is the Oak. Daír (pronounced deer, put your tongue behind your teeth for the d). Oaks tower in the forest, a symbol of nobility and endurance. Wearing oak leaves was a sign of special status among Celts, ancient Greeks and Romans. Oaks are associated with life, strength, wisdom, nobility, family, loyalty, power, longevity, heritage, honour. Wearing oak leaves was a sign of special status among the Celts (as well as ancient Greeks and Romans).
Oaks are stabilisers. Oaks made up the sacred grove of Athena, in Dodona, which made the Argo, bringing Jason to finding the Golden Fleece. They represented loyalty, faith, a promise. The Argo fell on Jason once he became an oath-breaker, after the Argonauts were gone. A warning to be true. Those born under the leaves of the Oak are gifted with strength. They are chanpions and protectors. Oaks have a deep respect for history and ancestry, and need structure. Sometimes they will go to great lengths to gain the feeling of control in their lives. Healthy Oak signs live long, full, happy lives and enjoy large family settings and are likely to be involved with large social/community networks.
That said, Oaks attract lighting, too. Associated with the Dagda. (Worth a read.) The animal associated with Oaks is the Wren. King of the birds, who sings of devotion, creativity and loyalty. Wrens are all about E M O T I O N S. Similar to Cancerians, both ruled by water and the moon. A Wren became king of the birds by hiding in the eagle’s feathers, during a competition to see who could fly the highest. Because the wren beat the Eagle by trickery (Christian mythology), the title remains but a Wren remains hidden from the Eagle’s sight. Wrens were also queens, Tehi Tegi, or winter kings, symbols from the past year. Wrens are often small and inconspicuous until they open their beaks. They often build dome-shaped nests, often closer to the ground, although some nest in forest canopy.
Cancerians are big on home and stability, same as Oaks, same as Wrens. I never examined it before. I never examined how I felt about home. Or what that meant to me, because with the travel, I feel like I have more than one home. But over and over I did feel one thing.
Home, for me, is always when I fly back to Ireland, after I have got to see my family, and the first time I walk out to the sea outside my house. I take a deep breath of salt-laden air and I look out to a sea I looked at every day for over twenty years, that is never the same colour or mood, and I feel my shoulders drop, my jaw release. I am there. I am home.
Wait, what does this have to do with music? Or zodiac?
Well, there is a Celtic zodiac. And it’s gorgeous. I’ll start with a picture of a Hawthorn from my back garden. Ours is pink, but they sometimes bloom white or a mix.
In Celtic zodiac, the tree that is blossoming as you were born is the influence over your life. There’s an animal apiece, but that’s for another post.
Here’s where it’s even more lovely. Each tree is a letter in Ogham. Ogham is an old Celtic runic alphabet, usually found on monumental inscriptions dating from the 4th to the 6th century AD, and in manuscripts dating from the 6th to the 9th century. I’ll mainly be focusing on tree Ogham, or ogham craobh, for this, but all of it is fascinating.
you can see it below:
Hawthorn is the tree that overlaps with part of Gemini (May 13 – June 9). Some overlap into the other signs with Oak or Ash.
How are Hawthorns illusionists? They deal with duality. That tree may be covered in gorgeous, abundant blossoms, but those hide lethal thorns. Even though they are beautiful, they should never be brought inside the home, even the branches. This is partially due to the fact that the cut branches give off the same chemical components as those found in rotting flesh.
The Hawthorn is imbued with male energy, and yet it is historically a symbol of fertility and associated with the female goddess aspects (mother, maiden, crone). It is a perfect symbol of harmony between opposites, the sides of yin and yang. Those born under the blossom of the Hawthorn can live seemingly mundane lives, with a hidden (or not-so-hidden), inexhaustible, creative flame.
Naturally curious, an excellent listener, and extremely socially adaptable, with a particularly keen insight, Hawthorns are marvellous at comforting both themselves and others. Hawthorns match well with those born under Ash and Rowan.
The linked animal for this tree is the Seahorse, another versatile, adaptable creature, with hidden talents. Full of tricks and surprises, a Seahorse is happy to soak up all the information in their immediate surroundings, and needs a steady creative diet to remain buoyant. Seahorses are happy to float along until they find something worth grabbing on to with their tail and anchoring on. Another interesting aspect of the Seahorse, is its ability to camouflage – something that dovetails nicely with the duality of the Hawthorn.
A Seahorse needs to be enchanted by whatever they choose to do. Here are a few more keywords to describe them:
I took some of these ideas for 12:12:12, but overall it is a fascinating area of study. I love the idea of looking to trees and honouring a person in that way.
Welcome to 12:12:12.
12 months. 12 showcases in different venues. 12 zodiac signs.
Each month VANCORVID celebrates the strengths, themes and tones of the rising sign. Artists are invited to collaborate on a show of their choosing, or are welcome to apply. Photographers, videographers, graphic artists are invited and welcome. The intent of this showcase is to be multidisciplinary and immersive.
After 12:12:12 is complete, VANCORVID will commemorate the series in a collection of art, with permission of the artists. This will be in physical artwork and a video showcase to celebrate the work created along the way.
This will begin in Toronto, but will ideally showcase in both New York and Dublin, where possible. This would all be covered through Artery, and is flexible as to location.
This is the most ambitious showcase idea I have had yet, and I hope you can join me for at least some of it.
The wheel turns. Let us celebrate.
First show kicks it off this Friday through Artery, with Gemini, Hawthorn and Seahorse. Updates and details to follow! Very, very excited for this.
100 days of production complete. Well, that’s that for another while. I think I’d like a few days where I don’t *have* to do anything serious, but I’m also hoping that habit formation kicks in and I do the work anyway, just without having to post about it.
To mark the end of the hundred days, this is available on BandCamp. It’s rough and unmastered but as a rough draft I think it can still demonstrate some progress. I pulled apart Valentine and re-recorded most of this last night.
What have I learned?
What did I do in the last 100 days?
So what’s next?
I made a decision that is going to impact at least the rest of this year. Namely, that I’m going to start working on an album proper. Even typing that is terrifying. I want it to be part album, part artbook, and I also intend to try out crowdfunding for it. There is going to be a phenomenal amount of work involved. If it fails, though, I will still learn.
Being candid, the last few months have been pretty anxious for me. I have pushed through as much as I can, but it just means that I nitpick everything. This blunts the creative edge, as I’m judging to harshly, too soon. The anxiety is nearly constant. It’s daunting to keep doing what I’m doing and have a constant sense of nothing being enough, even though I must have improved somehow. Whether that translates through my work or not is not something I can judge.
Also, I’ll just say, if you have something you want to do and aren’t sure if you can follow through on it, I find being open about your vulnerabilities is the surest and fastest way to learn. So I will continue to do that. Last year, when I finished my last 100 days’ challenge, I broke down crying. It wasn’t even like it was a huge deal in retrospect but it changed a lot for me. I feel a weird sense of disappointment? disillusionment? It’s tough to say but I know I have the energy to keep going, even if I am gritting my teeth much of the time. Campbell talks about the crossing of the return threshold, and I feel a lot of this (bolding my emphasis):
The returning hero, to complete his adventure, must survive the impact of the world. Many failures attest to the difficulties of this life-affirmative threshold. The first problem of the returning hero is to accept as real, after an experience of the soul-satisfying vision of fulfillment, the passing joys and sorrows, banalities and noisy obscenities of life. Why re-enter such a world? Why attempt to make plausible, or even interesting, to men and women consumed with passion, the experience of transcendental bliss? As dreams that were momentous by night may seem simply silly in the light of day, so the poet and the prophet can discover themselves playing the idiot before a jury of sober eyes. The easy thing is to commit the whole community to the devil and retire again into the heavenly rock dwelling, close the door, and make it fast. But if some spiritual obstetrician has drawn the shimenawa across the retreat, then the work of representing eternity in time, and perceiving in time eternity, cannot be avoided” The hero returns to the world of common day and must accept it as real. (Cousineau, Phil, ed. (1990). The hero’s journey: Joseph Campbell on his life and work)
Every challenge is a paradigm shift. From the decision, to execution, to aftermath, it will bring a change and realisation that did not exist before. You may not want to return to the world you left, although most of the time it is unavoidable.
Returning to what was before the beginning of this is not always the most appealing option. I wanted to do this to see whether or not I could make this work. I was fully prepared for it to fail. If that had been the case, I would have chalked that up to a grumpy win. At least then I could move on with my life, and not defend my choices out of some misguided notion of sunk cost.
Small note on the social media aspect. It was equal, sometimes more work to come up with content, day after day, and try to reach people. Some days I felt completely burnt out, especially in this last sprint. I didn’t feel like I had anything to say. Keeping with it kept a journal I may not have kept as faithfully otherwise.
As one friend told me once, you find the energy. Somehow you get through it, even if you don’t remember exactly how you did. That’s comforting. Because statistically, knowing you got through something before increases your probability of getting through it again, or something equal or greater.
I want to thank everybody who showed up. Whether it was online or in person, in messages or just checking up on me, likes, shares, and all that, thank you. You helped me survive the impact of the world, and for that I am very, very grateful.
I’ve abandoned listing these as days.
My process is mainly movement and memory. Or to put it another way, I don’t really have one.
Usually I try to build what I can, struggle, equivocate, go for walks, try to think and think and practice. Sometimes I’m just sitting at a keyboard coming up with the same variations on a theme that don’t quite work.
The issue, partly, is because I am trying to do everything at once. Lyrics, melody, arrangement. Ideas are emergent. Words aren’t so hard for me, but they also aren’t something I can control. They manifest, usually like a wave breaking, and usually they’re made up of a peak of many moments or ideas or things I’ve read. With some elements I need to be more formulaic. Writing chords helps me but I forget to modulate and I find it hard to wrap my head around traditional songwriting. I should adhere to it more often but a lot of the time I find my words don’t fit. The thing is to me that my words take precedence so I find a form to fit them where I can.
When I don’t have any ideas, or feel I don’t, I remember Henry Miller’s line, when you cannot write, you can work. So I do. Scales, etudes, drills, ups downs until my brain goes I’M SO BORED I WANT TO DO SOMETHING COOL and then it makes a different effort. Bach doodled up and down scales over and over again, week by week, and had an entire cottage industry of Bachs to write it down. I’m splitting the difference between Johann Christian and Johann Sebastian here.
Every time I write something I don’t fully grasp what it is I’m doing, but it is more a signpost on something I need to develop. I only realise it fully when it is finished. Summon was about summoning courage that I didn’t have, in a way I had never tried to, up until that point. I could see the outlines of the idea, but not grasp it utterly. Valentine was about trying to remember what I loved about connecting to a person, mentally, physically, because I do not feel very much romantically anymore. It feels comfortably numb. I somewhat prefer it because it is less distraction, but I wonder how much I need to worry, whether it is permanent or transitory as a state, and how that will affect the rest of my life.
This is one reason why I need to be extremely physically active. My thoughts move as I do and they only reach a conclusion or reference point as I bring them to that. Most of the time it takes frustratingly long and my output level bothers me intensely. But I also know that while I am trying to balance as much as I can, there will be trade-offs.
This is why I am constantly on the move, and constantly trying to cram in as much information into my head as I possibly can. I see creating work as more of a distillation process, where a lot of ideas and experience gets burned away to create something more potent.
I say words happen first but that isn’t even a constant. I am not formally trained with chord instruments, which means that a lot of this is challenging to me. When you are used to learning a solo/rhythm instrument (violin/vocals) it is not always easy to recalibrate.
Yes, whine. BUT I am trying to learn as much as I can, while trying to do as much as I can. I need to fail, but also insure myself so that a fall isn’t a bad break. There’s the balance.
That said, you only need to get up one more time than you fall to count it a success.
I landed back in on Friday from a pretty full three weeks or so of travel (and I’m still not finished) and my body promptly decided to fall over and not get up for days. It was a needed couple of days indoors without the sense of immediate packing. I can pack tomorrow.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m just temporarily wrecked. I love travel, and I’m delighted to have got to see the things I’ve seen, talk to people, even play in a new country. Longer post on that later. There’s a backlog!
One thing about travel is that it compacts a lot of your activities. While I continued the challenge during the trips (including falling asleep over my laptop in an airport) I wasn’t able to do a lot overall. That lego-brick feeling of working on something every day can be effective provided there is a defined plan in place. In my case, there wasn’t. I was just sort of flinging bricks around.
The reason for that is I didn’t especially plan anything I did. I had vague goals I set out at the start and didn’t really know how it would shake out – in terms of what I would work on, I hadn’t planned it. I just began projects as I felt like it after the initial one.
I began to realise that in this challenge I lumped a lot of things into one, unlike last year. Last year was just “play the violin every day.” Done. Horrible at times, but done. And improved. This year, it was “open Ableton every day and use it” but also “have material ready by the end of it.” You may notice that both statements don’t exactly get along.
Working in Ableton for me requires multiple elements, of which I am ignorant of the majority. Writing, recording and mastering a track includes, but is not limited to:
This sums it up:
Cripes, before today I couldn’t even split a damn track. TODAY.
So some of my goals were unrealistic. BUT I have still been learning a lot. Video of the day – I love this. It’s a professional talking about what they love (production) and the ways they make it better. It reminds me of some of the workshops I attended at RAC, where you get into the levels of a track, or a home studio, in much greater depth.
Point to all of this is I’m realising that this challenge won’t be over in 100 days. A lot of my approach to this needs to change because I am in new territory. As well, that my original conception of “done” might not match my current one. I am still recording and working, don’t get me wrong, but I’m trying to grasp more of this.
Before I started looking at this challenge, I was a classically trained and not terribly dedicated musician. I could improvise enough and play by ear that I was able to perform live music in different genres without a serious change in trajectory. I played orchestras, but never performed more than cursory analysis, more focusing on my own part. Which, for violins, is usually a LOT of notes that you have to play the same as everybody around you, without rushing or dragging the group, but also providing that subtle calm tension to hold it together. (Ever seen a violin section start rushing a fast part of a symphony? That’s the herd panicking.)
Since I started trying to write music, I went from Cubase to a hiatus to GarageBand to Ableton 9. Back in the day I worked with Cubase for my Master’s and actually found it easier at the time, but to be fair all I was really doing was dragging and dropping sections around and recording some stuff. I thought I could tack on “mastering” to describing my project role, and a fellow student, who had actually done sound engineering, rightfully laughed at me.
The thing is that I’ve been trying to learn multiple disciplines at the same time. Which means that the actual tally of learning in each discipline is going to be low overall, shallow knowledge over a broad surface area. A puddle of achievement, if you will.
(why does that sound wrong)
I came to some of these conclusions early on, but they became extremely apparent when I decided to write out my worries about this. I’ve been feeling a bit cruddy mentally as well as physically, and I wanted to find out why. So I started to write out the things I don’t think are good enough or that I’m stressing about, to see firstly what I can and cannot control. Because if I can’t control it, then worrying about it is just a waste of energy I could spend worrying on something else. Or anything else.
I started writing out “not good at Ableton” and then went hang on, no. What exactly about it? It’s just another program and programs can be learned pretty simply, provided you have patience and some discipline. They don’t really involve talent in the same sense. So I started to map out all the areas in which I consider myself to be weak. All of those could even roll up to good ol’ fear of failure, and most of those fears were reasonably controllable.
I picked up a book in New York, at the Whitney, called Grit in the Oyster. It’s pretty useful because it’s helpfully colour-coded on failure, discipline, and so on. It sounds fluffier than it is, because usually the people who have the worst things to say about art, are in fact artists. It is useful to flip to random pages and read. But you do need that reinforcement. I did need to do this challenge and find out where I can improve.
Point being is I’m not stopping, but I will be stopping to think and plan better in future. Similarly, I am not going to beat myself up for not having intimate knowledge of every aspect of the enormous discipline I am trying to learn about.
If there’s one thing music has taught me, it’s that no matter how much you think you know, you are one step away from opening a barrel of what-the-fresh-hell-are-these worms.
There will always, always be something you don’t know. Whether it’s an ability to estimate your own work, supplies, equipment, material, skill, programs, something will be overlooked.
At least with music you don’t have a literal fridge full of rotting food. It’s just your brain. And with music you can be holed up working your ass off on new music, or curled in a ball trying to pretend like time isn’t passing, but it’s not a visibly empty restaurant, day in day out.
That said, when you’re not visibly busy, things do start to dry up. It’s like perpetual motion. Looking busy is probably more work than any job. I wish it was listed as a ratio on job descriptions. “You will spend 35% of your day staring fixedly at a screen/making cleaning motions with a cloth/polishing glasses so that people don’t hassle you.” Oh only 35%? Sweet. I’m in. (100% made up statistics based on many, many jobs).
It’s easy to be sincerely busy. Then there’s no time to overthink, but also, there’s no time to market it, to seed more work. “I’m busy, trust me” isn’t really a closer of an argument. Similar to the girlfriend/boyfriend in a different continent. Sure, bud. Light one up if you’re gonna blow smoke.
That said, unlike restaurants, you’re not as dependent on physical suppliers. There are pros and cons to this. One is that in the restaurant business, everybody knows when a place is done. In the music world, you can hang on for years, and others will define whether your work was a success or failure, or even allowed past the gatekeepers. Every musician is a failed musician most of the time, if you take that attitude. The moments of success are just that. Moments in time over a lifetime. You can stop and start.
I am massively guilty of feeling like a failure 99% of the time. And yet I haven’t done anything to be an egregious failure. I just haven’t had amazing success. And even if I had, I would probably compare it to somebody else. Comparisons will just make you vain and bitter, so I’ve got to cut it out.
That and remember not to open a restaurant on my own, at least. What would I even call it?