It’s gonna take awhile.
"It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
~ Ira Glass
Mat and I love This American Life. It is our go-to in the long road trips between Minneapolis and Chicago when we are driving back to visit my family a few times a year, and we always look forward to it. We'll get in the car, get settled down, and once we have been on the road for maybe an hour or two, we will turn on an episode. A few hours later, we are magically in Illinois, and it feels like not much time has passed. I also love Ira Glass. I love his curiosity, I love his presentation - he's really great at what he does. One bit of Ira Glass wisdom that is really meaningful to me (you may have seen this video), is when he talks about becoming good at creative work. He says that you have to be not very good at what you do for awhile. You have to just get in there and do the work and and be okay with it. But you have good taste, that's what got you into doing the thing you are doing to begin with. So you have to keep seeking, basically, until you can catch up to what you know is good work. I have been reminding myself of this quote a lot lately. Being in the home country of my instrument is intimidating, and that is vast understatement. It is wonderful, and I love seeing people who have beyond mastered the instrument, and the depth of knowledge is incredible, but all of that is still very, very intimidating. Especially when I meet other musicians, and they ask what I do. I say, "Well, I was trained in Western percussion, but really, I just play tabla now." And they say, "Oh... like classical percussion?" And I say, "Yes. But I mostly just teach that. The only instrument I play out anymore is tabla." A little wave of intimidation pulses through my brain, and I remember the magnitude of my choices.
But then I remember that I don't know how to do it any other way. This instrument makes me feel the most like me. It has also helped me through some tough times in my life, and I don't think I would be as happy playing anything else. So I just have to accept where I am, and play as musically as possible with the skill set that I have, and work harder to build more skills. It also helps to remember that I am here on a mission - I have a project. Someone looked at what I propsed and said, "Yes, we think you can and should do this. Here is some money." And in a moment of doubt, remembering that is really helpful, and makes me want to do the best work I can while I am here not just for me, but because I have some support. Someone else knows I can do this, too.
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to meet up with George Brooks - a really incredible musician whose music has hugely inspired Matra. I had heard he would be in town, and I sent him an email saying hello and asking him to meet up. He told me to come by before the show, and we could hang out and catch up. If you haven't heard of him, please check out his stuff. Not only does George Brooks create really fun, intelligent music, but he recorded with Zakir Hussain and Steve Smith on his album Summit, which has provided a huge source of inspiration to Matra. So, in trying to get to the show, somehow I had gotten the time wrong, and ended up showing a full two hours before his show started! It worked out well, though - George was really kind and a wonderful host. He introduced me to his bandmates in Aspada, and friends who had come to see his show, all of whom are ridiculous musicians and wonderful, kind people. It was a really incredible night, and it made me thankful for the sense of community that being a musician can bring. I know that this doesn't always happen everywhere you go, or with every musician you meet. I have actually had friends who have told me, "Well, that's just the industry. That's just how it is," when someone is behaving poorly. It's not, though. That is not a thing, and we need not accept it. Because when you meet people who are the entire package, of being wonderful people and great musicians, you know that this IS what it's about. It is important. Knowing that makes me so appreciative that all of the musicians I have had the opportunity to meet on this trip have been so kind, inclusive and welcoming. It's so huge to be able to meet people who are great at what they do, and have them welcome you into it.
Leading up to this trip, I had a lot of mixed feelings. While I have wanted to come back here ever since I left, which was a long time, I also was nervous about coming. I flipped back and forth a lot emotionally, and it felt stranger to me to leave this time, like I couldn't believe I could just go. This past year I have been overworked, which I know is something I need to work on. I have been so used to being relied upon for so many different little things for so many different groups that it felt strange to me to be able to be free of those responsibilities. I also was afraid to leave it, in a way. I had settled into my life at home and working and feeling good about what I do everyday, that I almost felt like I shouldn't disrupt that. I know that's not right, though. Staying in a comfort zone isn't what I want to ever do (despite it feeling nice). And I also knew that it was the right time to come because once every day or two days, I would hear this demanding voice in my head say, "Ugh, I just need some time to myself to do the things I need to do." Then I would realize that I am getting exactly that in x amount of weeks. And now here I am.
Whether we like it or not, a large part of the human condition is want. We always want things we can't have, even when we are getting something we just wanted. I think that is why one of the keys to happiness in life is being grateful. But really, truly grateful, not just a mundane and uninspired listing of your privileges, "I am thankful for x, and for y, and for z." There is a difference between saying what you are grateful for and feeling grateful. You have to actually feel the appreciation to be happy. I have strived for this in my regular life and it really does work. I think acting grateful can lead to feelings of appreciation, but it takes a some effort.
Right now, I need to practice the act of feeling appreciative. For months, I remember hearing that little voice in my head, demanding my time and space and energy back. Now that the time is here, I feel lonely! Because it is not really a holiday season, there have not been too many traveler types passing through my area, which means it is harder for me to meet new friends. I am on my own for most of the day, and it is pretty solitary. As someone who is used to being around people all the time, I think I have forgotten what it is like to really be on my own and alone. Today, my acceptance of this has been better. I was able to remind myself of that voice, and really, of that need to be alone and make things. It is important to me to create - maybe the most important.
To do that, I need to be alone. And that's okay.
Another moody tabla picture. I can't help that they are so beautiful.