I wasn’t having a creative block, let’s just get that out of the way off the bat. I was having a Showing My Creations To Other People block. I was hitting a wall for sure, but it was an anxiety wall, not a creative productivity wall. Five and a half years went by between a performance I had in Austin at the 2012 SXSW and a Thursday this past summer on which I’d decided to go to a performance space near my new home and play one single song for a monthly storytelling event that includes a little bit of music.
There were five and a half years during which I played no public performances and put out no recordings (unless you count a few things I did for film stuff, only one of which made to a final cut or some stuff I put on soundcloud but didn’t tell anyone about). But during those years, I was writing. I was recording demos and writing regularly. I went through a period of time wherein it was more difficult to feel inspired after my daughter was born. I still played, but I can now clearly see in hindsight that I wasn’t doing well in the aftermath of a traumatic birth experience and it was everything I could do at the time to just function on an everyday level.
There were a lot of things piled onto how I went from being a person who regularly performed in public and released recordings – since I was a teenager! – to someone who basically only made music for myself, with my family essentially as my only occasional audience. There were also a lot of things piled onto how I finally heaved myself out of that reclusive hole and put out my first single in a long time. “Burn Like a Mother” is actually the first song I’ve released in any official capacity in eight years. I never would have imagined it would take that long. You can listen to it here (and feel free, for the love of supporting creativity, to actually buy the song for $1 or more!):
It’s also on Spotify (and YouTube, Amazon, iTunes – all that stuff) if you’d rather listen to it there. Maybe add it to one of your playlists if you like it!
I have dozens more songs that I actually like and would like to record. I’m presently back on the horse of this all and figuring out what my next step will be, but I will start getting this music out of my head and into a public sphere if for no other reason than I can’t keep up with the pace I’m writing without first releasing some of what I’ve written to the ether. But I’ve been thinking a bit lately about what contributed to me getting out of this block. This block that wasn’t a creative block, but a sharing my creations with other people block. Anxiety, be damned.
Here’s what I’ve come to see and I hope that if you’re experiencing any kind of similar block that this might help guide you out of the hole:
- I changed my tools. Sometimes if what you’re doing isn’t allowing you to break through to the next level, you might be using the wrong tools. For me, that was my guitar. I have a Taylor 310ce that I got in high school. It’s a great guitar, but a regular steel-stringed acoustic guitar just wasn’t doing it for me sound-wise and hadn’t in a long time. I have a Taylor T5, which is an amazing thing objectively in my opinion, but for whatever unknown reason, I’ve never defaulted to playing it. Ben’s Les Paul was too heavy, metal-sounding, and generally burdensome for me. I’d played it with a band (the first thing I did as Collapsi) back in Austin and always felt like the music I wanted to make was a bit mismatched for a Les Paul. Ben has a nylon-stringed classical guitar which was the main thing I was playing for a long time. I love it and still play it regularly, but I knew I wanted something else. Without ever having really played a Telecaster, I somehow knew that’s what I needed. I had a simple white Tele in mind for a long time, but didn’t expect to randomly see it in a music shop in West Virginia for half off one night two years ago. Ben saw me see it and decided to make the exceptionally grand gesture of buying it for me as a joint Valentine’s Day/birthday present. It was an excessive gift, but it was game-changing for me. Everything about the Tele felt right immediately in a way no other guitar had ever felt right and my songwriting instantly progressed. I suddenly loved playing more than I had before. I’d found the right tool.
- I forced myself into things I knew I’d have too much pride to back out of. I had a moment of bewildering confidence one morning while at a coffee shop. I had seen a thing on Facebook about an event taking place at a performance space that’s within walking distance of my house (and as coincidence would have it, the space itself is one that had been on the market when we were house-hunting and we’d seriously, foolishly, considered putting an offer in on it). The thing on Facebook made a reference to music-makers being welcome to contact the event’s organizer about performing. As I typed the email address into a message, I froze briefly. But then I unfroze and forced myself forward. I knew I needed to start dusting myself off somewhere and a new event at a performance space that wasn’t even hard-opened yet and was in my neighborhood seemed like the perfect opportunity. I knew I wasn’t going to back out of something that was scheduled (opposed to an open mic), especially not when it involved creative people getting together near my house. A month later, a friend introduced me to the guy who’d recorded his band’s stuff while they were in town for a show. Not knowing anything else about this guy at all, I made a plan to meet at his studio and discuss what I wanted to do with my music. And then, right there on the spot, I scheduled myself in for some studio time. It required a deposit and everything, so I knew I wasn’t going to back out of that. I didn’t have the money for it, but I made a decision to do it, anyway. That’s not in line with how I handle money as a rule, but in this case, I knew I was going to have go out on a limb in order to summon my less-anxious musical spirit from the dead. To put it succinctly: I cornered myself into performing and recording.
- I started talking openly about my struggle to anyone who would listen. I told the bartender that night at that performance space about how ridiculously nervous I was to play and how it made no sense because I used to tour, for crying out loud. That’s how I introduced myself to her. She turned out to be the owner of the space and I now know her to be a remarkable woman I’m proud to call my friend. I started talking about this weird place I’ve been in creatively publicly – on here and social media. The more I talked about it with people, the more two things – both of which were really instrumental in me moving forward – happened: One, I found support for the anxieties I’ve been dealing with and I found encouragement to be gentle with myself. A lot of people spoke up to remind me of what I went through with my pregnancy and birthing experience, not to mention the fact that I’ve made big cross-country moves FOUR times since I last officially released music. It’s not easy to get your footing steady on much when you make four cross-country moves in a span of seven years. Two, I found that the more I acknowledged this to others, the more I felt in control to change course. When you can adjust from a “what the hell is happening, why is this happening” mindset to a “so this is what’s been happening and I’m looking for a way out of it” mindset, you’re getting closer. For me, continually openly admitting that I was struggling and hearing others’ take on that put me in a place where I was acknowledging what had been happening and actively seeking a way out instead of just throwing my hands up in the air, baffled and shocked at the blindsiding circumstance.
- I made something that I thought needed to get out there sooner rather than later. When I’d first scheduled studio time, Burn Like a Mother wasn’t even a song yet. I wrote it in the two months between my studio sessions. I wrote it as my way of publicly saying #metoo. I didn’t expect for a song I’d written on a whim – something that was so raw and feminism-focused – to push all of the songs I’d been working on for years out of the way and take priority as my first single, but that’s what happened. I’d created something that I thought needed to get out there soon – something that could maybe even have the effect of empowering other women to speak up if they heard it. And make no mistake: the courage of so many other women speaking up gave me courage. I do wonder if I would have gotten any other song out as quickly. I imagine that I very possibly could have received a different song back and delayed endlessly. But this particular song was a song for right now. Sometimes timing itself is the thing we need to honor when attempting to break out of a block like this. I wrote a song that wouldn’t stick its landing the same way if I delayed, so I decided to jump with it.
In a way, it feels weird to write this all out like this already. I’ve only released one song. I still worry that the anxiety monster that’s no doubt trailing me will catch up with me again and prevent me from ever getting the rest of them out. But I battled it for years and finally beat it and that gives me some confidence. Also: talking about this all right here abides by my #3 of putting my struggles out there in the open. I’m hoping for the best but also keeping this in mind: if I start slipping again into that nervous blackness, I’m going to catch myself sooner next time.