If you need a bit of inspiration and can carve out an hour for yourself, I cannot recommend enough that you take a look at the NEA Jazz Masters 2020 Tribute. What was to have been a live event in April has been turned into a beautifully produced hour hosted by the incomparable Dee Dee Bridgewater and honoring Dorthaan Kirk, Bobby McFerrin, Roscoe Mitchell and Reggie Workman.
My friend Lilly, the Director of Programming at SFJazz, produced this online event, and she created a program full of insight, heart and connection – and amazing performances, of course. It brings me so much joy to watch my friends find creative solutions to the conundrums of the continued closures here in San Francisco and across the country. Listening to these masters of jazz – their music, their stories – brought me some much-needed inspiration.
At a time when the ugly side of human nature is too often rearing its head, it’s both refreshing and heartening to see the best of what human beings do.
There’s a lot on my plate right now – we’re moving in less than 2 weeks, I’m working on a potential project with an entertainment behemoth, and it looks like I’ll be conducting my first concert IN 6 MONTHS the first week of September. It’s all good, but as it often happens, I all of a sudden have a lot going on at the same time.
For me, a slightly heightened/excited period of life (like the one I’m in) can tip me into a mild bout of hypomania. I’ve felt the familiar buzz in my head, the slight numbness of my fingers, and the very irregular appetite that let me know that of the sleeplessness and rapid thoughts and inability to stay still that may follow.
So, yes, I guess I’m dealing with that right now too.
Forgive me if my posts are shorter for the next few weeks!
The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco
Attributed to Mark Twain
Everyone is bemoaning a summer lost to this endless pandemic. As the frosty fog rolls in every afternoon here in San Francisco however, summer is the last thing on my mind.
It gets chilly here in July and August (thus the quote) and I’ve spent the last few weeks bundled in long sleeves and puffy vests. It’s like we’re a season ahead, already moved on from the disappointment of a summer without beach hangs and barbecues.
There’s something I like about this weather, though, as the tops of buildings slowly disappear and distant trees become blurred. It feels a little wild, somehow, a little mysterious. I love feeling the fog blow in as I crest the hills in my neighborhood – it smells of sea and wind.
As the foggy days roll one into the next, I can’t believe it’s August. It’s hard to imagine that so much time has passed since the lockdown began. It’s hard to think about the time lost, the lives lost, the work and income lost, the visits and vacations lost, the concerts and festivals and tournaments lost.
These days instead of feeling anxious and depressed I’m feeling a little blank. I suppose that’s OK, although, knowing myself, I need to be careful about that blank feeling – sometimes it’s a precursor to withdrawal and ultimately deep depression.
But for now I’m enjoying being lost in the fog, the outlines of the world softened, the cool dampness enveloping me, as I gently fold into myself.
Fortunately we’re dog sitting for some friends in Tiburon, so the view from my office is pretty spectacular for the next few days. A lot has been going on in the last week; it’s good to have a change of scenery and a little time for reflection.
Since the mask mandates have been in place I’ve put together quite a collection of face coverings.
It helps of course that I have a friend who’s a brilliant seamstress, a mother with too much time on her hands and friends who are constantly gifting me scarves and kerchiefs. For many, masks have become a sartorial choice (maybe the only variable in a uniform of leggings and tees for some). Even during these pandemic days, our outfits can be a form of self-expression.
Which is ironic, because these face coverings cancel out much our ability to be expressive.
As face coverings became de rigeur I noticed that Pinkerton, ever the reader of body language and facial expressions became confused when I would call to him at the park. Was I annoyed? Excited? Serious? Playful? He would trot up to me cautiously, looking into my eyes, trying to read a face that was mostly covered from view. I imagine that other dogs are probably confused as well.
Then I started thinking about infants and young children, who learn about human behavior and interaction largely through tone of voice and expression. What effect do masks have on their mental/psychological development? Or do they grow up assuming that everyone outside their home walks around with their face covered?
I’m very sensitive to facial expressions, body postures, unconscious movement. I like to read people non-verbally, as picking up on their physical energy gives me an indication of how to best approach them. Take away the possibility of seeing a facial expression, and it throws me off balance. It’s literally harder to get a read on people.
My friend Lilly and I, on our weekly walks, jokingly play a game called “hilarious or furious” in which we try to guess the other’s expression just by looking at their eyes. We know each other well enough that we guess correctly, but what if we weren’t so close?
I wonder how mask life will continue to impact us. Sometime I feel that the physical barrier constructs a psychological barrier, a visceral reminder of our separation for others. We each are apart, behind our own little curtains. And for me it exacerbates the sense of unsettledness that feeds into my anxiety.
It’s hard to feel anxious. It’s hard to feel anxious during a global pandemic. It’s hard to feel anxious during a global pandemic when you can’t get a read on anyone walking down the street.
So in many ways I’ve become more verbal, and also aware of the rest of my body language. I’ve also made a conscious effort to smile behind my mask, hoping that the crinkle in my eyes will translate. I’ve been waving a lot more. It’s just that I can’t wait to actually see people again.
It’s 10:17 pm and I’ve suddenly realized that I haven’t written my post today. There’s a lot going on right now – we’re trying to figure out if there’s any way we can stay in our current apartment, but it looks like we can’t afford to do so. The logistics of moving mid-pandemic are disheartening, but life is life and I’ll figure this out just like I’ve figured out everything else.
That being said, my brain is tired from the number-crunching and my eyes are a little bleary from staring at real estate sites for the last few days. So please forgive that I have little to offer you today.
I wrote last week about practicing acceptance. My mind today is full of what-ifs and why’s. I suppose some part of me is waiting for things to get better, or at least to have a brief respite, and neither seems to be in the cards. Today it feels like defeat more than acceptance.
But acceptance also means accepting the days that you don’t have the fortitude to practice acceptance, if that makes any sense. And I can accept that…
So, Taylor Swift is dropping a new album tonight. Artist release albums all the time, of course (that’s what artists do!) but the catch here is that she wrote, recorded and released an album all during these 5 months of lockdown.
Now, I’m a big fan, so this is great news. The music-consumer side of me is delighted to have something new to listen to.
The musician side of me reacted with a noxious combination of resentment and guilt.
When the shit hit the fan in March and our lives were put on pause, many of us, in an effort to find a silver lining, made grand plans to use this opportunity to do something we had no time to pursue pre-pandmic. Maybe we could finally clean out our closets, learn Italian, write a novel, take that online art course, read to our kids every night, meditate, lose weight, bake the perfect sourdough levain. Many of us were ambitious.
The reality of quarantine, of course, was anxiety and inertia.
And the truth of it is that my closets are still a mess and my Italian hasn’t improved. I feel like I get lost in the fear and frustration of our current global situation on a daily basis, and therefore don’t get anything done. I feel like I’m not producing anything, not generating income, not acquiring a new skill, not improving myself, not taking advantage of “down time”. And at the same time, Taylor Swift made an entire freaking album.
Comparisons are useless, of course, but that doesn’t mean that our minds don’t go there. And when we do so we can’t help but feel lacking in some way. It’s at the core of my own constant struggle, of not doing enough, of not being enough. And it can send me into a tailspin.
So today I’ve decided to practice some acceptance and to treat myself kindly. To find contentment in the simple acts of getting up, making coffee, caring for Pinkerton, supporting my husband, being available for my friends. To keep my gaze firmly on the day that is front of me, my own day, the one that only I can live. To move from comparison outward to focus inward.
But of course, at its 12 am ET release, I’ll be downloading that album!
I try to keep positive and busy and flexible but sometimes I just want to pull the covers over my head. I miss what I do. I miss my colleagues. I miss traveling. Being away from creating music for so long nudges my anxiety up day by day.