A few weeks ago a former band member posted this on his Instagram profile:
“Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you’re doing”
My immediate and visceral reaction was anger: OH, PISS OFF.
Go to hell with your t-shirt quote. It’s so bloody easy for you to tell people to “always be confident”, when you have no idea what a real crisis of confidence looks like. ‘Be my own artist’?? What the hell is that even supposed to mean?? HOW DARE YOU.
As I fumed at someone who I do know had only the best of intentions when he posted that, I also eventually had to admit to myself that it might be the kind of thing I would have said a few years ago. Because I was confident as an artist, too… before I had kids.
Of course, there were occasional hiccups along the route, and the ongoing self-reflection and evaluation that I think are integral parts of how you develop as a musician and performer, but I never seriously felt that I wasn’t good at my job. I was quite secure in my choices and proud of the various products that I put onstage.
I was entirely unaware that things could be any different.
Then I had a baby.
And everything changed.
There’s nothing quite like having a newborn to make you feel like you don’t know how to do anything right.
First Baby, with his terrifying fragility and apparent full-scale overhaul of his needs and wants every 36 hours, was 100% dependent on us for food, safety, cleanliness, warmth, entertainment, and education, and was also 100% fully prepared to scream his freaking head off when we had failed at any of those. Which, judging by how much he howled, was often.
I went from being an intense but competent person to a high-strung, jittery one in a permanent state of frazzle that I literally only now feel abating.
That’s a long time to feel anxious, unbalanced, and quite sure that I will never figure shit out.
Maybe it all would have been manageable if it were limited to the confines of motherhood, but fractured sleep, rollercoaster hormones, generally crappy nutrition, persistent brain fog, and oh, did I mention, NEVER GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP caused my feelings of insecurity to snowball into every part of my life, making me unsure of how to navigate the world.
Consequently, I find myself here, ankle-deep in a four-year crisis of confidence as an artist.
I used to be neck-deep.
Ankle-deep is better.
At moments when it is low-grade, my misgivings about being an artist mean that I finish shows wondering, was that any good? Did I sing well? Did anybody like that? I can only hope so, because I honestly cannot tell.
When my crisis was severe, I was struggling to exchange pleasantries with guests or staff at the venues, feeling nauseous during and after the shows, crawling out of my skin in discomfort when complimented, and even suffering a couple of episodes where all I could hear, despite the fact that I was literally mid-song, mouth open, singing away, was a pounding in my head that just kept repeating,
I can’t do this I can’t be up here I can’t have these people watching me I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this.
It really, really sucked.
I wonder, now, why I didn’t throw in the towel. I don’t like doing things I’m not good at. I won’t even go bowling because I am the queen of the gutter ball. (And no, I won’t just put the ball between my legs like a child and roll it, no, I don’t know how to make the damn ball go straight if I don’t. Ugh. Bowling. PASS.)
But I kept singing, taking new gigs and getting up there week after week despite never being sure if what I was doing was any good, because I didn’t actually consider that there was another path. For two decades I had been identifying myself as A Singer. I didn’t know how to be anything else.
And – let’s be real – the lack of security net, as a freelancer, made sure that my ass kept gigging. Nothing like the looming threat of homelessness to keep you working! Huzzah!
And so have gone the last four years. Highs and lows on the confidence rollercoaster, always unsure. Just muddling through.
Until this fall.
First Baby (AKA Theo) started school in September and it completely transformed our lives.
We went from being in our bubble of self-determined bedtimes and ebb-and-flow structure to having to absolutely be in the car at 7:15AM on weekdays, having to open emails as soon as they come in because oh my God what do you mean tomorrow is World Smile Day and you have to dress in yellow couldn’t they give us a little more heads up on this stuff and your t-shirt with the dump truck on it will have to do and what did we buy you a uniform for if you’re going to have all these damn free-dress days?, and to grappling with the dark evil that is the onslaught of primary school germs.
(We didn’t do daycare. We had a pandemic instead. Other kids’ germs are new for us.)
I spent the entire fall exhausted, sick, and scrambling.
How could I make good music in this season of life? How could I feel good about the music I was scraping together when I knew that it was far from my best?
Forget about things like practicing on my own, rehearsing with others, going out networking and drinking in the evenings, or trying to drum up new gigs. My life was persistent fractured sleep, cold medication, and trying to keep up with the needs of a kindergarten kid and his 2-year-old brother.
For the first time I thought, I can’t do this anymore.
I used to think it was super lame that women became moms and abandoned their careers. I mean, isn’t that why God created paid caregivers? So that you don’t have to wimp out and stay home? Just get it together, Lady!
Harsh and completely ignorant? ABSOLUTELY.
BECAUSE NOW I GET IT. It’s so fucking hard.
I thought that if I could just get a good night of sleep I could maybe figure out the scheduling and the doctor’s visits and reply to the emails, but what I couldn’t get over was the feeling that this industry that had been mine for twenty years was now saying, “you don’t belong here anymore”.
Even contemplating no longer being a singer made me scared and sick to my stomach and paralyzed with sadness. I was so stuck: I didn’t feel good about my work and it was a constant struggle, but neither could I give it up.
I wished desperately that there was someone to tell me: do this, and then this, and then it will get better. Hand me the roadmap to being a working musician and mom.
(Spoiler: still looking.)
Instead, I have spent the last few months listening to podcasts, following and unfollowing wellness types online, meditating, reading, feeling sad, journaling, sometimes managing to actually feel joy again, and persistently getting really deep with myself about who I am now.
Not the pre-kids version of me that I had been clinging to, no longer able to maintain, consequently making me feel like a total failure. But the me who is here now: two kids in, 16 years and 3000 shows into a career with my other half, at 44, singing, mom-ing, and wanting to show up authentically everywhere.
I’ve been scrolling and searching online for four years looking for the person whose life looks like mine. The full-time gigs, the kids, the husband-musician, the worries, the tips n’ tricks, the creative challenges, the small wins, the industry frustrations, the triumphs.
I still can’t find her.
This past week I was listening to my favourite podcast, Help Me See, and the host brought up something that she was taught, as a photographer, but that she has struggled with: share from the scar, not the wound. It’s the premise that, as creatives, we’re only supposed to be putting things out into the world that are neatly sewn up, tidy, presentable. Not messy, ugly, transforming. Healed, not heal-ing.
And she says: fuck that. Despite the fact that people may criticize you for your unsightliness and disorder, if there is one person who can be helped by knowing that you are in the trenches, covered in muck, confused, and still persevering in spite of that, then the good that you do showing up for that person outweighs the noise of all the detractors.
So, here I am: sharing from the wound.
Trust me, if there’s a guru out there who would like to just swoop in and give me her Quick n’ Easy Guide to Being a Happy Musician Mom, I will still take it. GLADLY.
But, until that fine day arrives, I want to show up here in case there’s one other musician mom who feels at her wit’s end and her career’s end and just needs to hear: I see you. I am you.
I don't have all the answers. Hell, most of the time I barely understand the question.
But I have had some dark nights of the soul, and have found some things that have made me feel… better.
Compiling them here would have made for a motherlovin' monster of a first blog post, so I'll end this one now, but I'll be back to share where I’ve been and what I’ve learned and hopefully some of it helps somebody.
That's why I'm here.
Now, you beautiful human: go get yourself a snack.
You deserve it.