What a time to be alive. I’m absolutely exhausted.
The reasons are myriad and obvious, and I know I’m not the only one. The endless parade of news headlines reads like something from a slightly absurdist movie. Nearly everyone on social media is engaged in an endless, all-consuming culture war on all fronts. (Of course, that’s not to say that it’s not for righteous reasons. But, at the end of the day, if all you’ve done is pushed out some snarky comments and tweets, what do you have to show for it? What have you done?) Many lives are turned upside down for a litany of reasons.
I’ve tried quite hard over the last decade or so to keep this blog music-focused rather than an all-encompassing personal diary. That said, I’m veering off that some here. Mostly because it’s on my mind. Also, in my “day job” I work remotely from a home office and have done so for a number of years. Between that and being the primary caregiver for our son, I’ve been living a version of “pandemic life” for years before it was the new normal. (Of course, at-home kindergarten wasn’t in the plan years or months ago, which has been the biggest complication for me personally, but here we are.) So, below are a couple cents’ worth of notions if things are all turned around and you’re drowning in the mania.
With everything going on, it’s hard for me to focus or care enough about a music topic to attempt to write at length. I’ve attempted to start dozens of posts for this site, only to abandon or trash them. I’ve even found it difficult to properly publicize and plug my most recent album with Matt Borghi. (Read about it here!) Gigs have dried up, of course, as they have for everyone else. Dozens were canceled for me this summer, though we managed to keep a small handful in the end, and I doubt there’ll be another until the spring. It’s just been a lot of time practicing punctuated by a little recording here and there for a nascent endeavor. I dove deep into the classical literature for a few months during the strictest parts of quarantine, which was refreshing, and I’ve also explored a number of new-for-me jazz standards. But ultimately it’s not worth discussing too deeply at present.
[One exception on music topics is my most recent contrarian hot take. I’ve long been a firm believer in separating the art from the artist (or, if possible, the person from the artist), so the constant arguments over whom to cancel don’t interest me much. That said, if I were to partake, given the relatively arbitrary nature of where people decide “the line” may be, my vote would be to cancel J.S. Bach on account of seemingly being a bad parent. Let’s face it: between his work obligations, his extra-curricular musical pursuits, and voluminous progenitorial endeavors, I have a hard time believing he could’ve been an engaged, attentive parent at the individual level. And yet: great contrapuntal technique nonetheless!]
Ultimately, it helps to just tune out, unplug, and focus on the micro. Though everyone has their own method, the following combination works for me (and admittedly I’m not as good at them as I’d like to be), in no particular order:
- Limiting my social media consumption and engagement.
- Reading my (paid for!) newspaper articles straight from the source instead of dealing with scores of comments.
- Keeping at the horn, learning and exploring new material.
- Exercising in the fresh air.
- Saying no.
- Getting involved in my local community.
“Limiting my social media consumption and engagement.”
This helps. Greatly. If you can—and you certainly are able to!—keep these things off your phone or tablet, or at least strictly limit when they’re allowed to be on there. There are seemingly no areas of the internet that aren’t infected with some level of infighting or riling up. Even my supposedly music- or arts-only feeds are littered with bile-spewing all around. Ultimately you’re just doom-scrolling, raising your blood pressure, and likely regretful when you see how much time has passed.
“Reading my (paid for!) newspaper articles straight from the source instead of dealing with scores of comments.”
If nothing else, start with your local paper. That national horse races and scandals-of-the-hour are sexy, but they often have little to do tangibly with what’s going in your backyard. If you can get multiple news sources outside of social media, then you’re ahead of the game.
— A related note: don’t make socio-political leanings the end-all of humanity. I have deep convictions on a broad array of topics, but as the years pass I tend to not really care to casually discuss them with most people. I’m perfectly fine engaging on far less visceral topics. As an example, in the cover band I belong to, I’m the odd one out politically, but we still get along nicely and play a tight rendition of Chicago’s “Make Me Smile.”
— Another related note: I’ve made a point to read more books over this year and last. Again, it takes time—sometimes only 20 minutes per day—but it’s a nice distraction that helps me unwind.
“Keeping at the horn, learning and exploring new material.”
For me, it’s music-making. Whatever your interest is (professional or amateur or hobby or otherwise), focus on it and shut everything else out as consistently as you can, even if for short windows of time. It doesn’t have to be Productive, but if it’s far removed from the constant daily noise, that’s best.
“Exercising in the fresh air.”
Go for a walk. Get outside. (The gyms are likely closed or at reduced capacity anyway.) Whatever it is you’re partial to or tolerate. For me, I’ve always been a walker, but I’ve been running quite faithfully the last ~16 months. It took a couple months for me to make it an iron-clad routine, but now it’s a reliable part of my week. Listen to something if that helps. (I’m in that minority of folks who don’t listen to anything while doing so. Partially due to aural health, and also because I prefer the quiet and to be lost in my thoughts.)
This is the biggie. I’ve always been a “yes person” by default—always wanting to participate and not miss out, or feeling like I don’t want to disappoint. Now, though, between family and work and my own well-being, I only have so much time. “No” is still challenging to say sometimes, but I’m quicker with it than I used to be. It’s helped far more than it’s hurt, even when I’ve turned down something I wanted to do.
“Getting involved in my local community.”
This is a big one, particularly in the age of online activism. Sharing articles with your peers (like-minded or not) is fine, but, again, what are you actually doing? I’ve long had a strong interest in municipal politics, so I guess it’s easy for me to recommend this. But, even if you’re not that interested, the village/town/city, county, and state actions and decisions are the ones that most often affect you directly, whether you’re aware of it or not. A lot can happen at your local school board or town board or city council meeting, especially when almost no one from the public attends or cares. Volunteering time or money or both is great if you can too. If you don’t care at all about this sort of thing, then all right. But if you find yourself endlessly awaiting the next !BREAKING NEWS! alert on your device, check out what’s happening at town hall.
Stay connected to those whom you’re close with, including yourself. The former by making time, and the latter via some of the above.
Time to log off.