It’s like learning a new language really… and there are levels of fluency to be achieved, from basic “one beer please” or “where is the toilet?”, to being able to express complex emotions, or write poetry.

I’m talking about the undertaking of a new artistic medium or method.

I can remember very clearly still (because it isn’t really that long ago) the day I actually said out loud “I am an artist” and actually believed it to be true, and didn’t hear the giggle of my internal critic.
I am fluent (enough) in certain things. I can draw. And I can stitch. I can’t draw like a photo-realist would draw. But I think I have a fairly high level of representational competence. I can draw a thing or a person that looks recognisable to another set of eyes.
I can stitch probably better than I can draw. I can manipulate fabric and thread to a high standard… I can make the “stuff” do what I want it to do. It’s taken many many years of drawing and stitching to gain these skills. Using them to communicate my thoughts is another thing, of course, but, in recent years I feel able to say I am an artist, with confidence. Yep. That’s what I am. It even says that in my passport now.

So… the new language… songwriting… singing… performance…

There is in this too, in each of those things (because although they are connected in my practice, you can do one without doing the other two) a hierarchy of fluency. I doubt that I have the time left in my life to become as good as I could have been in terms of technical ability as I might have been if I’d started earlier, but I’m  doing it.
I am at the point with these things where I can say “I write songs” and “I sing in a band”. But I’m also still at the point where I can’t quite bring myself to say “I’m a singer-singwriter” because I don’t feel worthy. I’ve not put the time in. I don’t have the … what is it I don’t have? Anyway… I still have the internal critic sniggering when I talk about it.

Last week however, I performed with the band, songs that I had written (co-written) in a “proper” live music venue where I have previously sat in the audience and watched bands and singers I admire. This time, the other side of the mic. It felt slightly surreal. Other than my usual pre-gig session of contemplation and meditation in the loo, I didn’t feel any more nervous. It was great to do.

But… we (and by we I really mean I) hijack ourselves don’t we?

The venue is small and intimate. Extraneous gear is a problem. I usually have my lyrics in front of me, because the terror of performance for me, lies in forgetting the words. About three years ago I bought a special clamp so that I could use my iPad on the mic stand. But I have persevered in carrying around a huge heavy music stand and a folder full of paper instead. It can be impractical in terms of space, and sometimes the light isn’t good enough for me to read them anyway. But I make a big deal of erecting it and hiding behind it. Because apparently the iPad clamp thing is too professional a device for idiots like me… Says the internal critic.

Anyway, at this performance I used the iPad. It worked well. I had my paper with me, just in case the technology failed, but it stayed at the back of the stage, untouched.
The gig went well. I loved it! We were received well, our songs enjoyed and commented upon after, and we sold some cds too.

I’m wondering what it will take… and if I will ever get there?
But here is the crux of the matter… I’m doing it regardless.

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I think any blogger would agree that it is hard to remain permanently positive…

I always said I would be an honest blogger, but sometimes that means actually not posting anything, because no one wants to hear me moan all the time do they?

Quick moan, and then perhaps an explanation…

I’m in pain with my knee. Sometimes this is low-level, ever present but manageable and mostly ignorable in terms of what I can get done. Sometimes it is the sort of pain that is shouting in my ear, and rattling my brain, making it really difficult to listen, process and respond… I’ve had a few of the latter lately, and it grinds you down doesn’t it? I know there are a few who read this who put up with similar, and worse. It’s not a competition and I’m not really looking for sympathy here. I state it in order to put things into perspective. Some days I go to the studio to be distracted from it. Some days I feel I shouldn’t drive. Some days if I got there, I’d have trouble getting up the stairs. This has an effect on my thinking about how I work, and indeed what I work on. Content, context…

I am also fortunate in that there may soon be a solution to my problem, through surgery, medication or both. So I hang on by my fingernails, trying to stay positive. But it isn’t real life that, is it?

I have been having many conversations lately about the mental health of artists, how to sustain and how to build a life, and how it may or may not be possible to earn a living. Not many artists I know, for instance make enough money (from just their art) to pay tax. That is nowhere near a living wage if you have a home and children. There is always something else that has to be done in order to pay the bills. Whether this is shelf-stacking, bar work, teaching or caring, it takes a toll on the creative self. It is easy for the creative self to be subsumed, consumed… exhausted… forgotten?

And yet, I know to my cost that this has its perils, so I now choose to not do those extra things – or rather – not too many of them. (Because I am older, this is possible now, without going into personal details.)

I have built a tool kit of ways to maintain myself, and build myself. I also now try to surround myself with people who understand what it is to maintain this part of the creative self, and we help each other along. I find it helps to explore my own nature… to go with the flow and not worry too much about when things get done. Sod the dusting, washing… even the cooking… most things can wait… including the blog writing…

This bunch are keeping me afloat at the moment… they bring me so much joy!

(photo credit Simon Meddings)

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