The state of the world continues to pummel us with bad news, cities in upheaval, wounds reopened, daily clashes. It’s a continual pile of awfulness on top of awfulness upon awfulness.
When terrible things are happening, it seems that our greatest challenge is our own powerlessness. There’s nothing we can do to end the pandemic. There’s nothing we can do to end systemic racism. There’s nothing we can do that is going to make us feel better.
When the problems are so enormous, there seems no way out, because we are hoping for a comprehensive solution that will solve everything. What we really need to look at is something far less complex and overwhelming.
Life is cumulative. It’s the end product of countless small decisions made by countless people, an outcome of a million billion individual actions. And when we think about that, we realize that we do have power, because we have authority over our own actions – one of those million billion that makes the world what it is.
When I’m overwhelmed by the problems of the world, I strip it down to this – what can I do, right here, right now, that would make it even an infinitesimal bit better?
I can’t take away the pain of unheard voices. I can’t change injustice. I can’t change the world in one fell swoop.
But I can use whatever skills I have, in whatever way I can, to create the smallest moment of understanding. And that is a step, that is an action. And I believe there are enough people out there who will choose to make their own steps, their own actions. And that we will move the world together.
I started this blog at the beginning of lockdown in San Francisco, and my original commitment to posting daily was to have ended in 21 days. Of course, that was extended, and multiple times at that – so here we are at June 1.
My intent was to wrap up my daily posts yesterday, but the events of the weekend – both across the country and in my own personal world – took my attention. So now I find myself this evening, June 1, 2020, going over 77 days of posts and trying to decide if there’s any way to sum up my experience in this ongoing pandemic, and the once unimaginable ways in which our world has changed.
In many ways we seem to be in a worse position than when all of this began; as I type, I’m witnessing my country teeter on the brink of dictatorship and our divisive president spew some of the most outrageous and incendiary rhetoric I’ve ever heard in this country.
As you can surmise from my last week or so of posts, it has been a rough 10 days for me personally, the chaos of this country aside. I’ve been struggling with my own stability, which has been exacerbated by insomnia (which becomes a vicious circle). The addition of acute stress (Pinkerton’s accident, rioting, the death of my friend) to chronic stress (lockdown/pandemic) would put a strain on any system, and I have to be particularly mindful of the vulnerability of mine.
What can I say at this point?
Well, three things have become clearly apparent.
First, that the stress of the lockdown and now this civil unrest is enough to cause anxiety or depression for those without chronic/preexisting conditions. For those of us who live with GAD or panic disorder or major depressive disorder or bipolar, the effect is magnified exponentially.
It is critical, absolutely critical, that we practice the appropriate self care measures and be vigilant about any medical protocols. To not prioritize these things is not just detrimental to ourselves, but can have devastating impact on our loved ones. Our first priority is to look after our own well-being so that we are able to participate in the lives of others and do what we can to make a positive impact in our communities.
Second, that art, and music, is absolutely crucial in times like these. Art is not an indulgence, a flourish, an unnecessary extravagance. Music is what comforts us. Music is what connects us. Music is the personification of the good that is possible in the world. Music is the representation of the best parts of humanity. And we need to be reminded of those best parts to bolster our hope for a better time and to remind us of the good within all of us.
Finally, that the last 3 months have forced me to reframe a though that, try as I might, has dogged me throughout the years. I’ve experienced enough trauma (abuse, suicide, serious health issues) and made it to the other side to know that I have the resilience to survive a lot of things. But that doesn’t diminish the first thought that leaps up whenever I’m struck with another blow: Why me?
I’m sure we’ve all felt that before. And it’s only human to feel that we’ve been singled out to experience a hardship. It doesn’t feel fair.
Here’s the most important thing I’ve learned over the course of writing these 77 days: Why NOT me?
Things happen to us, things over which we have no control. And most often they happen without judgment. They don’t happen to make our lives difficult. They don’t happen to make us unhappy, waving a fist at the sky. They just fucking happen.
“Why me?” implies purpose, and there usually is none. Adversity doesn’t come with purpose. And when we can approach without judgment, we realize the real question is “Why not me?” Which ends up to be the most liberating question you can ask yourself, because it frees you from believing that bad things happen to you because you’re a bad person, or that bad things happen to you because the world is wicked and cruel.
Shit happens because shit happens. So why not me?
Thank you for coming along this particular part of the ride, my friends. I want to be clear that I’m not done with this blog. Rather, I’m moving away from the daily post format. While I enjoy the discipline of daily writing, by necessity it requires me to write in shorter form, because I only have so many hours a day to devote to it. I hope to keep discussing the effects of the pandemic on our lives, and our mental health, posting Monday and Thursday.
I also hope to return to writing on my other blog, Work Still in Progress. I’m going to be starting a different project there, with multiple parts, that I’ve wanted to pursue for several years now; I’ll let you know when I get that going.
I fully intended to write a long post today – there’s so much to download about the state of the world and the state of my mind. I’d even drafted a few paragraphs. Then I was told of the death of a friend.
Billy Francis was Sting’s tour managers for 40 years; I had the privilege of being on tour with Sting over the summer of 2011.
Billy was everyone’s rock. He handled everything – transportation, emigration, schedules, security, room assignments, car assignments, making sure that everything was done, and done right, and done on time. Totally no-nonsense, a tough-guy presence that belied a huge heart, a wicked sense of humor, the best person to hang with for a post-concert drink.
I adored Billy, and we’ve seen each other many times since that summer. And now he’s gone.
I’ve spent much of the last 10 days both devastated and heartbroken. Loss is a part of life, death is inevitable, but right now I feel ill equipped to be at peace with those facts. I only have tears tonight.
You’ll have to forgive me the day off – it’s my wedding anniversary. And important one. In the middle of a pandemic, on lockdown. With a dog one week out of emergency surgery. At a point we have absolutely no funds to do anything but pay our rent, insurance and basic groceries.
Our friends, our extraordinary amazing friends, brought us a beautiful dinner, champagne, flowers, and their kids took chalk to our sidewalk. I’m touched, grateful, but most of lucky to have a partner who has been with me through the worst and best of times with nothing but love.
The world feels bleak to me today. Bit by bit my work in the fall is officially being rescheduled or cancelled. I’m horrified and angered by the murder of George Floyd. My once carefree, athletic little dog is confined to his bed for the foreseeable future. Political leadership continues to spread outright lies on Twitter (although Twitter swung back.)
Sometimes I just want to say, enough. Enough. I’ve had enough. The world is a mess even without this pandemic. I’m a mess. I’ve not been in a good mental space all day, and the continued cruelty and stupidity of what happens in the world feels overwhelming.
I know what you’re going to say. We need to practice gratitude. We need to look to a more long-term future. We should believe that these challenges will foment positive change and bring the world together. Life and music will return. Look at the bright side: your dog is alive. Hey, look, you can still pay rent, unlike some people we know.
And it’s not that any of these statements are unreasonable, or untrue. It’s just that sometimes, it doesn’t matter, because they don’t make me feel better right now.
I think it’s important to feel awful sometimes, to feel hopeless, to feel angry, to feel despondent. It’s important to understand that you don’t need to reason or cajole or meditate or whatever yourself out of those awful feelings. And we are often too eager to not fully engage in those uncomfortable emotions, eager to find ways to put them aside.
And this is what I want to say to you: sometimes it’s good to say, enough. I’ve had enough right now. To say, I don’t need you to tell me to look on the bright side, or that better days will come, or that I should be grateful. It’s OK to really sit in those awful feelings, and to feel angry and powerless. Because unless we can acknowledge their existence, recognize them as our own, and fully feel them, we can’t authentically be ourselves, we can’t authentically be human.
And when we can fully accept these feelings, we have the tools to be able to work through them, to work beyond them. And that’s a whole other post, and something I don’t want to write about right now.
Today I just want to say I feel deflated, and despondent, and that it’s ok.
(Note: this is a post I started last Thursday before Pinkerton’s accident, but I think it’s still an interesting discussion to have as I wrap up this blog.)
Today’s question is courtesy of Lilly; she asks what I think travel may look like when restrictions are lifted, and what I think about hopping back on a plane.
I’m guessing that travel will be challenging for many, many months. From a practical perspective, with temperature checks and socially distanced lines, the airport experience is going to become more protracted and unpleasant. Flying itself will look different – no middle seats, and, on flights that are not long-haul, no cabin service. And I can’t imagine what protocol will be put in place for bathrooms on board – sanitizing between each use? – I think the airlines have a lot to figure out.
Airlines themselves have cut flights by over 70%, and we don’t know when (and if) they will return to anything close to their flight schedules pre-pandemic. This means not only fewer flights but fewer direct flights, which will force passengers to route through hubs, resulting in exposure to even more people. It also means longer trips and more inconvenience for passengers.
In one sense, I’m not looking forward to the experience of traveling again – it was uncomfortable and exhausting to begin with and I feel like it’s going to be worse, at least for the foreseeable future. And there is the very real fear of exposure to Covid, particularly within such a confined space (although, to be honest, with their HEPA filtration systems planes may have cleaner and less contaminated than most buildings.)
In another sense, I’m looking forward to travel. Part of it is practical; I need to travel to get to work, and I can’t wait for both work and travel to return to my life again. Part of it is because I miss my friends around the country (and the world) who I usually get to see regularly as my work takes me to the cities in which they live.
And part of it is the nature of travel itself. I love being somewhere else, somewhere new, the anxiety and excitement of the unknown, the sense of possibility and the sheer novelty. I’ve loved having time at home during this lockdown, but part of me thrives on the stress of constant movement, negotiating new spaces, encountering a city and its people for the first time. It sparks my brain, gets my neurons firing in a way that nothing else does.
I don’t know when I’ll be hopping on a plane again. But I do know it will be an adventure.
Earlier on this blog I pondered the difference between acute and chronic stress as part of a discussion of the “fight or flight” instinct. As humans we are set up to respond beautifully to acute stress – the cortisol surge, the heightening of senses. But chronic stress besets us with a litany of both physical and psychological woes – the pandemic and ensuing lockdown and disruption to life are a prime example.
Like chronic stress, chronic pain wears both the body and the psyche. Sylvain asked in the comments section of my last post for a discussion of injuries among musicians; there are many. If you think of the position a flute player or violinist takes, with one arm twisted over the torso, another arm holding the weight of an instrument, you can begin to imagine the kind of small stress that is constantly asked of the body.
Bass players need to hunch over their instruments to draw the bow over their strings; pianists need to create downward force on the keyboard with the arms in a pronated position. As musicians we’re put in unnatural positions, and the motions are repetitive and incessant.
Most musicians I know are always nursing some sort of pain; tendonitis is a constant affliction, neck pain, elbow inflammation. It’s essentially like being an athlete, it’s just that we use smaller muscles and finer motor movement.
As a conductor my shoulders get tired; I’m try to do a lot of exercises for my upper body – yoga, weight lifting – to keep those muscles strong. And as my work requires that I stand for hours on a podium, I have to be very mindful of how I’m balancing my body and if I’m favoring one leg over another.
Most working musicians I know are always dealing with some sort of pain, and one becomes accustomed to it. There’s the delicate balance of knowing what you can bear and what might become something more serious, of course. There is also the sense that life is not always comfortable, but that it’s possible to find a way to make it work nonetheless.
It’s a kind of practical resilience that stands us in good stead in times of difficulties, and it’s a quality that I’ve witnessed in my colleagues as this pandemic continues. Many of us, especially freelancers/independent contractors have found all of our work dissipate like so much mist, no income in sight, maybe for a year. Yet I see my colleagues finding ways to stay creative, to engage, to adapt and to be open to a future vastly different from our not-so-distant past.
As I reflect back on these 2 1/2 months since the world changed, I’ve been thinking about the incessant stress on our lives, and the need to mitigate it as the world lurches forward into uncertainty. I’m going to continue that thought tomorrow – I’m back on nurse duty with Pink, the best stress reliever I know!
Pinkerton stood by himself for a few seconds today and it was glorious.
He’s been spending a majority of his time hanging out in his bed. The scar is pretty impressive, running nearly half the length of his spine. He hasn’t really complained – he sits up when he has to go out, and he still leaks a bit, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
He’s always been imperturbable. The only things that he reacts to are the doorbell, UPS trucks, the printer and the air fryer timer (all things that ding, beep or whir), and then it’s simply a few staccato barks of warning. He’s always wandering away somewhere, alone, to explore a corner of a park by himself, before trotting back.
My magical little creature is a little frail right now, but he’s on the road to recovery. And I’m grateful that despite everything that’s happened to him, he still looks out the window with curiosity, bright-eyed and calm, ready for his next solo park adventure.
Thank you for the messages, the well wishes, and the love. I’ll be returning to more general topics these last few days of the blog, although I’m sure Pink will appear as I attempt to wrap up this experience.
Are there any topics in particular that you think I should cover?
Pinkerton is my travel buddy and has been all over North America, and has even come to Europe with me. His presence is calming, and when I’m in the midst of a busy season of travel and work, knowing that I’m accountable to his needs and comforts is grounding for me.
He hangs patiently backstage as I work, lies quietly in his carrier when we go to the gym, greets all of my colleagues like old friends, nudges next to me on the bed after a long day. He’s my four-legged support system. He keeps me balanced.
Pink just got home from the hospital with a dozen staples in his back, his back legs immobile, his front paws shaved where the IV lines went in, his beautiful fluffy tail tangled and hanging. Now it’s my turn to be patient with him, to lie quietly next to him on the floor, to change his pads and clean him, to hand feed him his favorite food, chicken.
Pink has been central to my own mental health, and now it’s up to me to be central to his recovery. It’s a role reversal that I relish, and I’m grateful to be able to give him even a fraction of what he’s given me.
Thank you, everyone, for your continued care. When the world turned upside down, having the constancy of Pinkerton was one thing I counted on to keep a sense of stability. I’m just relieved to have him next to me again.