What strange times we are living through right now. How on Earth do I even begin to make sense of it? It’s been an incredible roller coaster. Deep sadness, tears for days seemingly out of nowhere with no identifiable cause. Then calm serenity and surprising joy, delighting in pottering, baking being at home. Then isolation and shame and anger, days of frustration.
It reminds me of being on vision quest. We give people a rough outline of the emotional journey – periods of strong emotion, deep anguish, euphoria, peace, insight, boredom – then suggest that they tear it all up and scatter it to the winds because moment to moment there is no sense to it. The whole range of human experience all at once in an emotional confetti storm.
Much as the financial pressure of work drying up has troubled me, I have enjoyed having the space to feel. Truly being able to give myself over to whatever comes up. It has been a healing time. I have been winnowed, lost some chaff, connected with some kernels of inner truth.
It seems the journey towards my feather tail has been well served and it has taken some surprising turns. Inspired by a friend’s birthday I made a video of myself playing ukulele in my bedroom. There was something intimate about it, one song, one take, one audience member. I didn’t feel nervous the way I usually do when I play for people. It was just like playing for myself, like I do all the time, like no one was watching. At the same time, as I played, I recalled the friend, the feelings I have for them, along with all the feelings that have been so alive in this time of retreat. I sent the video as soon as it was done without watching it back. The point is not performance or perfection but connection, to show up for that person in that moment just as I am.
The impact was profound. My friend was so effusive in their feedback I decided to watch it back to see what they were on about. I was shocked. Not a perfect performance, not at all, but there was something compelling about it. I had captured myself in my natural state and the feelings were tangible.
I enjoyed it so much I made more, every week of lockdown I sent them off to a friend or two or three. I particularly sought out folks who are living alone, who might be lonely or people dealing with difficult life stuff. I played songs that I know by heart and was inspired to learn new ones. I followed my own inclinations and was surprised, again and again, at the synchronicities that turned up “Oh I love this song” “This song makes me bawl my eyes out” “This is my favourite” …. a chorus of “How did you know?”
People were touched.
I sit and play ukulele for an hour or so most weeks. It is instant joy for me, instant catharsis. No matter what my mood it brings me solace. All I was doing was using my phone to capture five minutes of my regular life, along with a few words. Extraordinary to consider that something so simple could be so powerful, bring forth such rich responses from people.
I call them ‘tiny bedroom concerts’ and it seems that they make my friends feel special.
It has renewed my whole relationship to my artistic practice. I often feel pressure to find big audiences for my creative projects. I regularly fail and feel so intimidated by the pursuit that it stops the work dead in its tracks. I have carried out some truly stunning projects only to leave them languishing, unpromoted, undocumented, gathering dust and shame in a corner of the internet. There is nothing so corrosive to my creative spark than feeling like a failure.
The tiny bedroom concert is like an antidote to this, dedicated to an audience of one and emerging from my relationships, it is particular, by its very nature it is anti-scale. This practice builds on and enriches my existing connections with people. I am finding deep nourishment in the reciprocal relationship between artist and audience and discovering that I have the power to move people with my art.
This discovery has been bolstered by listening to an interview with Rich Bartlett about microsolidarity. (You can also read about his ideas in this series of essays.) In the interview he mentions the famous Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Rich suggests that this quote is often misunderstood, that folks assume ‘the small group of citizens’ will activate a larger group to create change. He advocates instead for sticking with the small and letting the large take care of itself. This idea invites me to turn towards the communities I am already part of, the people I already love and invest my energy in enriching and serving those people instead of trying to convince ‘the crowd’ to get on board. I find it deliciously liberating.
So forget scale, I’m turning towards my cherished little corner of the world and creating art that inspires and nourishes us.