The Pandemic Persists: Are You Keeping Your Time Alive?

To say the last 6+ months have been tough is an understatement of almost hilarious proportions… It might be funny if it weren’t for people dying, massive unemployment, political chaos, and (not to be underestimated) the psychological weight borne by folks who aren’t even directly affected by those other problems.

Musicians have been hit hard, with gigs of all kinds pretty much disappearing and no reprieve in sight… But that also extends to plenty of other crafts, pursuits, and professions. If nothing else, we’ve been spending an awful lot of time cooped up and isolated from others. That takes a toll.

I’m not here (at least not at this moment) to lament the goings on in the world, but it’s important to mention them. After all, it’s the context that damn near everything has to exist within right now. We don’t have a choice in the matter.

We do, however, have a choice about how we spend these bleeding together days, how we react to the evaporation of so many things we took for granted less than a year ago. It’s a big ol’ setback – there’s no denying it – but as always, we get to pick an attitude.

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GRIT: The Musician’s Most Important Trait

A while back, I listened an audiobook called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverence by Angela Duckworth, a psychologist, researcher, CEO, philanthropist… The list goes on.

Not only is she shining example of “grit” herself, she’s also been studying the subject for a significant chunk of her professional career.

The topic itself is fascinating, but the whole time I was listening, as she made mention of students, military folks, classical musicians… I couldn’t stop thinking about what an integral part of ANY kind of creative pursuit this murky subject is.

Especially musicmaking…

“Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals. Self-control is the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions.”

Now, some of Duckworth’s work has been criticized (whose hasn’t?), but I’m not in the business of critiquing psychological research.

Instead, the concept is what’s important to me. How do we musicmakers stay the course in the face of setbacks? How can we dedicate ourselves to the long game without getting burned out? How can we cultivate grit?

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Getting Back on The Horse

I haven’t written anything here since May… In fact, since I first started this blog, it has been an inconsistent outlet, almost an afterthought, that I come back to from time to time. There’s even an entry a ways back about unintentionally wandering away from it…

So here I am trying again – and that’s what I want to talk about today.

Execution is important, of course, but in most cases, effort is everything. Maybe I don’t know exactly what my intentions for this blog are, or have some master plan for audience building and monetizing… So what? I like doing it, and I’ll figure that stuff out as I go (or I won’t, and either way is fine).

To even get an inch closer to whatever this or any other project/goal/art/idea/hobby/habit is, I have to invest some time and energy into it.

Now, here’s the kicker: starting something is hard… And REstarting something can be embarrassing and demoralizing. Restarting means you stopped, means you “failed.” Dusting yourself off and climbing back into the saddle is an act of courage, and one of the single most important components of any pursuit.

I fail constantly…

Ideas don’t pan out, projects fall by the wayside, best intentions get forgotten and old (bad) habits persist. That’s okay – that’s human. I beat myself up for not exercising, for letting my wonky sleep habits get the best of me, for not writing here, for all of it…

But I have to remind myself (and maybe you too) that every day is a new day, and every little bit of effort counts.

If you haven’t been practicing like you want to, forget about the past and put in five minutes TODAY. If that doesn’t work out, forego the misery and try again tomorrow. It doesn’t have to perfect, it just has to be progress.

So that’s what I’m doing – knocking the dust off this blog and climbing back on a horse that has bucked me quite a few times. I’ll probably fall off again, and you will too, but whatever it is you’d like to be doing and aren’t – it’s gotta start (and restart) somewhere.

Hopefully more here soon.

The Content Consumption/Creation Ratio

I’ve had this topic vaguely in mind for a little while now, but after a couple months of self quarantine, it seems more appropriate than ever…

With people losing jobs, being furloughed or working reduced hours, musicians without gigs, and well, nowhere to go, it seems like plenty of folks (myself included) are consuming a LOT of media.

I don’t just mean “news media” or current events. I’m talking about all of it, from books to Netflix, video games to YouTube channels, and everything in between (yes, social media feeds too). We’re all filling our time in various ways, and when we’re mostly stuck in the house, these outlets are a great place to turn.

Not all media consumption is bad, and I don’t want to indicate as such. Hell, if we consider ourselves to be any kind of “content creators,” we want people to consume media. I want people to watch my videos and read my words, and the giant teams that make movies, series, and games certainly want us to indulge in their wares as well (more on that later).

The trouble, however, is when consumption becomes the default mode of operation – especially for we creators. If you don’t make “media” of your own, this isn’t really for you…

But for those of us that do (in any capacity, even if it’s just music to perform for others or audio-only recordings), I think it’s important – especially nowadays – to strike some kind of balance between intake and output… And if nothing else, to be mindful of how and why we’re taking this stuff into our brains.

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Bad Guy Brain: Personifying Struggles with Mental Health

Before I even dig in, how many caveats can I put at the beginning? I am undiagnosed, unmedicated, untherapized… I am not a medical professional, and I’m sure this is all woefully unscientific. I know for an absolute fact that I don’t have things half as bad as millions of people on this planet… I know the severity of my purported mental illness pales in comparison to so many others…

And yet, I have depression. I get depressed.

Not “sometimes I feel sad.” Not “sometimes my empathy gets the best of me” (though it certainly does).

I experience, at times, and continue to experience, a sensation of apathy, sadness, listlessness, pointlessness, self doubt, and downright misanthropy that is untethered to specific experiences or ideas… A weighted blanket malaise that makes it hard to care about anything, and focuses the majority of my thoughts toward some vague hopelessness that doesn’t have a single solution in sight.

This has been going on for as long as I can remember, and while sometimes it’s just a matter of wallowing in it, I’ve learned one huge mental “trick” to changing my entire outlook on this plague of my personal mental health.

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Make Stuff, Put it Out

I started this topic well before all of the pandemic insanity, but perhaps now it’s more important than ever to flesh it out, as creative habits have been essential to my wellbeing, and a ton of us have drastically different schedules than we’re used to…

I’ve been slacking on this blog like crazy. This is only my second post since September of last year. I could give you all kinds of reasons, doing other writing, focusing on practice and booking, not making it a priority…

And while those things are true, there’s something else going on as well.

I haven’t felt very confident in my ideas for this project – or my writing about them – and that makes me hesitate. Like any other area of creativity, there’s the age-old problem of imposter syndrome, and it can leave me wondering why I’d have any authority to speak on these topics, why anyone would care what I might have to say…

But that’s only part of it. The other source of my waning confidence as a music/drumming/creativity blogger is, well, depth.

I tend to look at everything as a vastly complex nebula of ideas and sub-ideas (nerd alert). Eveything has near-infinite details that bear investigating… And I’ve accidentally convinced myself that if I can’t tackle a subject with all its myriad subtleties, then I have no business writing about it in the first place.

This post is my attempt to throw that thought in the garbage, and hopefully pull some others out of the wastebasket in the process.

Say this with me: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT. 

You can make and share work that has flaws and shortcomings, and so can I. Just because I can’t cover every nuance and chase down every angle of one topic or another, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to write about it at all… Or more accurately, fine tune it into infinity, and never actually let anyone see it.

Every piece of creative work we do is a representation of us in that moment in time. We use the skills we presently have, the headspace we’re in, and a current understanding of our ideas to make something, and the thing IS WHAT IT IS.

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Dear Gigging Musician: Pandemic Sucks, Right?

I was supposed to be in Ohio last week. I busted my ass for just four dates out of state with Flexadecibel and The Brandino Extravaganza… Now it’s a wash. The album release show tomorrow is canceled too…

And with longer stretches of mandated distancing, the whole calendar is under threat. We’re already out three festivals and the dominos are just beginning to fall.

It sucks bigtime.

BIG OL’ CANCELED

These are hard times for performers of all stripes, especially those that make the bulk of their living that way. And while I don’t purport to offer advice about dollars (beyond some unemployment or other hustles if you can get ‘em – maybe more on that later), I do want to talk about how we now gigless players can spend this trying time for good.

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The Fluidity of Skill

You can look at almost anything we do as a skill, from speech to tying shoes, mountain climbing to trading stocks. Broad categories like these are full of microactions, too: pronouncing certain words, getting the lace loops the right size, etc.

Consciously or not, we learn the little bits through repetition, and develop the “skill” of… Whatever. That brain process is basically the same. The more you do something, the more skillful you become.

But it isn’t reallthat simple.

People learn at different rates or excel in certain fields. Some skills are relatively permanant, like walking or wiping your ass… Others are shakier, and you run the risk of “use it or lose it.” Our bodies and minds change with age, too, and that affects deftness in its own ways, for better and worse.

Skill, then, isn’t just the ability to do something or not. It’s a spectrum, and a changing one at that. We can get a little better (or a little worse) at all kinds of things over the course of our lives – or far shorter periods of time.

This idea of fluid skill lets us off the hook a little bit. Instead of lamenting a deteriorated ability or feeling embarrassed by novicehood, we can think of many skills as “present tense.”

If skill is fluid, you can only be where you are right now.

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Hustle Culture

Look… I’m a “busy” dude. I have a job, I have bands, I have the ocassional freelance project… I’ve got relationships and booking and practice to tend to. I also waste plenty of time on Netflix and bullshitting over a pint.

When I talk to people casually (like strangers or loose acqauintances), the subject inevitably comes up. They see me gigging and making stuff like this, lunchbreak videos and the day job… And at some point the topic turns to time, motivation, productivity, and all that zeitgeisty jazz.

Some folks ask for advice, other “hustlers” offer it, and everybody talks about how they just don’t have time to do all the things they want to. I commiserate.

Why do we do it?

In short, it’s because of hustle culture.

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Fighting Through The Slumps

Perpetual positivity is a myth. The reality of humanity is steeped in peaks and valleys – good days and bad. This is as true for diets as it is conversations with your spouse… Dayjob performance or sleep cycles.

Sometimes the downs are brief, fleeting even. Other times they persist.

As artists and musicmakers, these pendulum swings can be even more extreme. Work you’re proud of; work you hate. Periods of fiery inspiration, and bouts of doubt so thick, you consider burning your instrument…

So, what can we do when the chips are down? When the gigs suck and we feel stuck and the whole thing feels like a chore?

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