Experiment

A friend of mine has given up self-pity for Lent. What a useful idea! It got me thinking about what I could give up that would be helpful. I’ve been obsessed with the idea of giving up for a couple of years. Brent reminds me that most people my age go through a period of assessment. We’re asking questions about whether what we’ve been doing is what we want to continue to do, or at the very least, if we want to keep doing it the same way.   

When I moved to Colorado everything I’d been doing for 20 years stopped. I didn’t have a concert schedule, I didn’t have students to sing with, I didn’t have an audience, and I didn’t have the story I’d been living with to define me anymore. My sister-in-law, and probably lots of others, worried I wouldn’t thrive out here. What I experienced, though, was relief. I was anonymous, my weekends were my own, my husband loved doing things with me, and I was happier than I’d been in a long time. After a while, though, an undercurrent began to bubble up. Without performance and students I wasn’t sure who I was. I didn’t know my purpose. And I didn’t know what my life meant. The hardest questions were (and continue to be) if I’m not singing for others than what’s the point of singing? If all I want is the ego gratification of singing for others, what does that say about me? And, if I come to the conclusion that it’s ok for me to want an audience, how am I going to get it and what is the goal? In other words: am I still trying to “make it” in the music business, or is singing for my friends occasionally enough?

I started dreaming about singing professionally in my late twenties, but I had no clue how to get started. I moved to New York City when I turned thirty, then pretty much hid in my apartment because being in the city was terrifying. I didn’t know anyone in the music business, I didn’t have any experience, and I had no plan. All I knew was I wanted to sing. I thought that my wanting to sing combined with the strength of my voice would add up to a career.

Getting somewhere in the music business is like a narcotic: you get a little taste and you want more. With every success I eventually had, I wanted more. When I moved to Colorado and my professional life stopped, I was acutely aware of how much my ego was involved in my need to make it. What I wanted to know was what it would feel like to make music without attention to my ego, without needing my ego to be satiated. What I found out is it’s impossible. My ego is alive and well and needs to be fed just like everyone else’s. What I’ve been trying to learn these last few years is how to balance my need to make music with my need to make it in the music business.

So when Michele told me about giving up self-pity, I told her I was experimenting with giving up in general. I’d been toying with the idea of giving up my dreams for the whole of 2015 just to see what it would feel like. But a year-long commitment was daunting. What if giving up my dreams meant I was dying? I didn’t want to do that. Or maybe it meant I would lose whatever professional momentum I still have? Forty days seemed reasonable. I could give up dreaming for forty days, no problem.  

Normally when I sit down to write, or when I sit at the piano or sing, I immediately get caught up in the possibilities of what could happen if I were to do such and such: Maybe I should be singing the blues, or jazz, maybe that’s what I’m meant to do? Or maybe I’ll take piano lessons and practice for hours a day so I can do what Eva Cassidy did, that would work! Or I’d love to finish that book about my songs. There are stories to tell, if I could write them, maybe package the book with a CD, then maybe a publisher would sign me up! It’s not the ideas that are draining me. I love all that. It’s the constant need to make it, to be something more, to get myself on the map. A good friend of mine once confessed to me that she couldn’t stand the idea of not being special. I can’t stand it either. The idea of getting to the end of my life without being a songwriter whose songs are listened to thirty years from now, or whose picture goes unnoticed when the obituary is published, or whose writing is simply average, I don’t like those thoughts. Yet there’s relief in giving up. There’s relief in not trying to make it anymore. So what do I do?

And that’s what this experiment is all about. What do I do when I’m not striving to be more? What’s my day look like? How do I feel?

Turns out I like it. I sleep better, I get more done, I’m easier to live with, and I’m enjoying myself a lot more. Last weekend I even allowed myself to sit and watch Foyle’s War for six hours straight without a moment of high-mindedness or anxiety. Wow! Whenever thoughts of how to make an idea commercially viable come into my head, I ease them out of my mind just like my friend lets go of self-pity. The thoughts come in, then I do my best to set them free.

Love, Bar

*Because I am writing a book about my songs, and I do want to finish it some day, songs that are relevant to the ideas in this blog are: "Ah ha ha" and "Running Away" (from Journey) and "Up on the Hill" (from confession). If you're reading this and you have questions about my songs, ask away. You'll be helping me form my thoughts for the book.  (Am I dreaming again??)

    
(a coincidence?)

 

 

11 comments

  • Kevin Robinson
    Kevin Robinson
    Hi Bar! Jacob Glass has helped me a lot in this area. He suggests that the trick is not about giving up the dreams, but rather giving up what he calls "attachment" to the outcome of any aspect of our desires. It's the attachment to a particular outcome that deprives me of getting the most enjoyment out of each "now" I've been given. I spent most of my life focused on what I'd be "someday" when I'd "made it" instead of on who I was and why I loved writing. We keep hearing "it's about the music," but if the music (or novel) really has no value without my having achieved a certain level of "success," well the art wasn't the passion at all. Glass also says that gratitude isn't the result of good things happening; rather, good things happen when I'm grateful. That's a mind bender, but has proven true for me over and over. Trying to learn and practice these "new thought" ideas in our 60s has been challenging and very rewarding for Ellie and I! The other consideration for you might be to remember how many of us have been moved and blessed by your voice and lyrics through the years. Does it make your gift to us less incredible or valuable because you've not had the kind of uber PR necessary to reach more people? We certainly don't think so! :-)

    Hi Bar! Jacob Glass has helped me a lot in this area. He suggests that the trick is not about giving up the dreams, but rather giving up what he calls "attachment" to the outcome of any aspect of our desires. It's the attachment to a particular outcome that deprives me of getting the most enjoyment out of each "now" I've been given. I spent most of my life focused on what I'd be "someday" when I'd "made it" instead of on who I was and why I loved writing. We keep hearing "it's about the music," but if the music (or novel) really has no value without my having achieved a certain level of "success," well the art wasn't the passion at all. Glass also says that gratitude isn't the result of good things happening; rather, good things happen when I'm grateful. That's a mind bender, but has proven true for me over and over. Trying to learn and practice these "new thought" ideas in our 60s has been challenging and very rewarding for Ellie and I! The other consideration for you might be to remember how many of us have been moved and blessed by your voice and lyrics through the years. Does it make your gift to us less incredible or valuable because you've not had the kind of uber PR necessary to reach more people? We certainly don't think so! :-)

  • Bar Scott
    Bar Scott
    Dear Kevin, This is such a great message. Thank you! So right, and so much to think about here. I've never doubted the integrity of my musical motivation, but the need to be better known for it has bogged me down. I think the main thing I've wanted over the years was enough recognition that I could call on people higher up the ladder and have some hope of being taken seriously. Being blown off is heartbreaking after 30 years of work. On the other hand, you are so right, and i am grateful for the people who have been touched somehow by my songs or my words. It means a ton, as you know. Thanks for taking the time to read and for writing. What books can you recommend by Glass? Maybe others reading your comment would be interested, too. Thanks much, bar

    Dear Kevin, This is such a great message. Thank you! So right, and so much to think about here. I've never doubted the integrity of my musical motivation, but the need to be better known for it has bogged me down. I think the main thing I've wanted over the years was enough recognition that I could call on people higher up the ladder and have some hope of being taken seriously. Being blown off is heartbreaking after 30 years of work. On the other hand, you are so right, and i am grateful for the people who have been touched somehow by my songs or my words. It means a ton, as you know. Thanks for taking the time to read and for writing. What books can you recommend by Glass? Maybe others reading your comment would be interested, too. Thanks much, bar

  • Joanie
    Joanie
    I always thought it was important to have a dream or some kind of vision to hold onto. A wise friend once told me that "we move towards what we see". It seems that you see yourself sleeping better, getting more done, being easier to live with and enjoying yourself a lot more. How to get there is your journey and I think you have found a way to get there. Your challenge is to be willing to let go or is it a challenge to your ego to let go? Have I ever told how much I love the way you are able to share. I get so much out of what you write - and I am not saying this to stroke that ego. lol

    I always thought it was important to have a dream or some kind of vision to hold onto. A wise friend once told me that "we move towards what we see". It seems that you see yourself sleeping better, getting more done, being easier to live with and enjoying yourself a lot more. How to get there is your journey and I think you have found a way to get there. Your challenge is to be willing to let go or is it a challenge to your ego to let go?

    Have I ever told how much I love the way you are able to share. I get so much out of what you write - and I am not saying this to stroke that ego. lol

  • Bar
    Bar
    I like this, Joanie. And thank you for stroking my ego! The thing I've always seen for myself is singing. Just singing. The performance side of my life has long been the piece of my career that I loved the most. I settle down when a concert begins, and I like myself more than at other times. The part I don't like is finding gigs, convincing presenters, luring an audience and all of that. Recently my vision has changed, which is part of the problem. When I'm actually singing it comes back loud and clear, but when I'm lying in bed at night, I have a different view. There are other things that I visualize now, too, like getting better at the studio piece of my life. Recording is a whole different form of expression. I'm comfortable with the engineering aspects, but still not fully happy with how I sing in a studio VS how I sing on stage. I suspect many singers have this same gap. Adjusting my vision has been hard, and losing the original vision often leaves me sad. I'm getting there, though! Thanks for writing and thanks for reading. See you soon, I hope.

    I like this, Joanie. And thank you for stroking my ego! The thing I've always seen for myself is singing. Just singing. The performance side of my life has long been the piece of my career that I loved the most. I settle down when a concert begins, and I like myself more than at other times. The part I don't like is finding gigs, convincing presenters, luring an audience and all of that. Recently my vision has changed, which is part of the problem. When I'm actually singing it comes back loud and clear, but when I'm lying in bed at night, I have a different view. There are other things that I visualize now, too, like getting better at the studio piece of my life. Recording is a whole different form of expression. I'm comfortable with the engineering aspects, but still not fully happy with how I sing in a studio VS how I sing on stage. I suspect many singers have this same gap. Adjusting my vision has been hard, and losing the original vision often leaves me sad. I'm getting there, though! Thanks for writing and thanks for reading. See you soon, I hope.

  • John G Johnston
    John G Johnston
    Bar There are no right or wrong answers in my opinion. My question to you and for you to answer within yourself: "What is your passion or desire that motivates you?" Is it your voice/singing or writing? Great! These are within your control. If you don't feel like either writing or singing...so be it. You may pat yourself on the back every day for your accomplishments. But, if your desire is controlled by someone else; fame, concerts or recognition you will never be happy. Live life and enjoy yourself. The rest doesn't matter. Enjoy your day!

    Bar There are no right or wrong answers in my opinion. My question to you and for you to answer within yourself: "What is your passion or desire that motivates you?" Is it your voice/singing or writing? Great! These are within your control. If you don't feel like either writing or singing...so be it. You may pat yourself on the back every day for your accomplishments. But, if your desire is controlled by someone else; fame, concerts or recognition you will never be happy. Live life and enjoy yourself. The rest doesn't matter. Enjoy your day!

  • Bar Scott
    Bar Scott
    thanks John. I love to write and love to sing and I love to write songs. All three float my boat for different reasons and at different times. I'm getting better at shifting gears and not feeling badly about forgoing one or the other. Your question to me is one to ponder, and I will. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to write. Bar

    thanks John. I love to write and love to sing and I love to write songs. All three float my boat for different reasons and at different times. I'm getting better at shifting gears and not feeling badly about forgoing one or the other. Your question to me is one to ponder, and I will. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to write. Bar

  • Bar
    Bar
    I'm thinking that a distinction has to be made between Art and Entertainment. Artists have a whole different set of emotional baggage to carry around than entertainers. The latter really do have and want to make money. Artists, not so much. We have to but we only need enough to survive. That makes a big difference in how we make decisions. I feel like we artists have to remember that what we're doing is Art that might be entertaining but isn't necessarily Entertainment - I need to remember it, anyway.

    I'm thinking that a distinction has to be made between Art and Entertainment. Artists have a whole different set of emotional baggage to carry around than entertainers. The latter really do have and want to make money. Artists, not so much. We have to but we only need enough to survive. That makes a big difference in how we make decisions. I feel like we artists have to remember that what we're doing is Art that might be entertaining but isn't necessarily Entertainment - I need to remember it, anyway.

  • Janet Bruser
    Janet Bruser
    Hi Bar, I just want you to know how much I enjoy and appreciate your blog , your honest sharing . This one especially struck home today and also all of your friends comments . One - " we move toward what we see" is a powerful message for me. To dream, to fantasize is something I have stopped- how long ago escapes me. To begin "see" again(!). Re. Lent and ceding self-pity. An aim-my desire to be mindful of "gratefulness" regardless of circumstances. To acknowledge "I am blessed" when asked "how are you?". I may feel it that moment or not , it's still true . To reinforce remembrances of a state of grace- and find my way there again.

    Hi Bar, I just want you to know how much I enjoy and appreciate your blog , your honest sharing . This one especially struck home today and also all of your friends comments . One - " we move toward what we see" is a powerful message for me. To dream, to fantasize is something I have stopped- how long ago escapes me. To begin "see" again(!).
    Re. Lent and ceding self-pity. An aim-my desire to be mindful of "gratefulness" regardless of circumstances. To acknowledge "I am blessed" when asked "how are you?". I may feel it that moment or not , it's still true . To reinforce remembrances of a state of grace- and find my way there again.

  • bar
    bar
    Dear Janet, I always love hearing from you. Thank you! Since I read Joanie's comment "we move towards what we see," I've been thinking about how that's what's happened to me for better or worse. When I got out of college 35 years ago, the only thing I knew was that I didn't want to work for anyone else or be tied down by anyone else's schedule. That visualization is what I got. Looking back, I wish I'd collaborated more. When I see other musicians who have spent their lives learning how to play music with others, I envy their comradery. So there's an up side and down side. I've got my freedom, but I don't have the relationships I might have had if I'd done more of my work with others and learned from that experience. We get some, we give up some, I guess.I feel lucky in all kinds of ways, and I'm still really glad to be independent. Thanks for reading and writing. Love, Bar

    Dear Janet, I always love hearing from you. Thank you! Since I read Joanie's comment "we move towards what we see," I've been thinking about how that's what's happened to me for better or worse. When I got out of college 35 years ago, the only thing I knew was that I didn't want to work for anyone else or be tied down by anyone else's schedule. That visualization is what I got. Looking back, I wish I'd collaborated more. When I see other musicians who have spent their lives learning how to play music with others, I envy their comradery. So there's an up side and down side. I've got my freedom, but I don't have the relationships I might have had if I'd done more of my work with others and learned from that experience. We get some, we give up some, I guess.I feel lucky in all kinds of ways, and I'm still really glad to be independent. Thanks for reading and writing. Love, Bar

  • Stacey
    Stacey
    I love you and love when you sing. But more than anything, I want you to be happy. You already have a musical legacy so do what feels good.

    I love you and love when you sing. But more than anything, I want you to be happy. You already have a musical legacy so do what feels good.

  • Bar
    Bar
    I love you too, Stacey. You've been in my life for so long and I've always leaned on you in my heart and mind. Thank you for that. you know maybe better than most, how much I love what I do, especially the singing part. It's the striving all the time that's hard…Good to take a vacation from it every so often!

    I love you too, Stacey. You've been in my life for so long and I've always leaned on you in my heart and mind. Thank you for that. you know maybe better than most, how much I love what I do, especially the singing part. It's the striving all the time that's hard…Good to take a vacation from it every so often!

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