An Artist’s Dilemma: Should I Move to a Cave?
As a musician, I crave artistic growth. Nothing scares me more than stagnation. I have this vision for the music I need to create, and there's so much left to learn first! Yet juggling life’s daily challenges while attempting to find enough time for meaningful creativity usually leaves me frustrated (and un-practiced). After struggling with this for years, I’m finally asking myself: Should I move to a cave?
Every Sunday afternoon, I sit down with a strong cup of coffee and Google Calendar to map out my week. I block off time to teach lessons, a few freelance editorial projects, and any upcoming shows. After throwing in the gym, personal obligations, housework, and breaks (I guess), I fill in the rest with practice/composing time. At this point, I usually feel pretty good about the amount of time I’ve blocked off!
The problem, of course, is that the week never goes the way I very optimistically planned it. Work takes too long, I get a last-minute offer to play a gig I can’t turn down, my car breaks down. Whenever my day gets screwed up, guitar time is the first thing out the window. It’s the most expendable, because there’s no external consequence to missing it. No one complains or yells at me if I don’t compose. I don’t get paid more if I practice. But I know I’m not meeting my goals as a musician. Instead I’m always left promising myself that next week will be different.
Hence the cave solution.
Mental Real Estate
When I first moved to Boston, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a full-time musician; in fact, I was sure that I didn’t want to be one! But I still tried to compose and perform on the side of my two jobs (non-profit administration and pizza delivery, for those curious). That didn’t work super well, as you can imagine. It took me over two years to write enough material for an album.
Eventually, a fire started growing in my bones and I had to admit to myself that I actually did want to do this music thing. I was still working two jobs, having swapped out my pizza delivery job for teaching piano. Between juggling fundraisers and teaching “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” artistic growth was not really much of an option (although I did become an master of nursery rhymes!).
I tried to find ways around this, setting up lengthy practices for when I would get home from work at 7 pm. I could do this for about a week at a time before reaching exhaustion. Back then, I thought it was simply a lack of time. But I’ve realized that the actual problem was a lack of mental real estate.
Mental space is finite, and a certain amount of breathing room is necessary for creative flow. Each commitment in life (work, relationships, self-care) takes up a small plot in your mental neighborhood. These days, I’m lucky enough to work about half-time. And although my mental real estate is significantly emptier than it used to be, you need a lot of land to build an artistic palace, so to speak.