On Normality (a re-interpretation)

*photo above taken by Molly Mckew.

With a flip and a flurry Melbourne turns its charm back on. It’s a little greyer than normal: we’ve lost the coloured edges in a year where eight months both flitted past in the blink of an eye and expanded to feel like some fifteen years of bored afternoons, evenings and weekends. But we’ve made it to other side and with a brief haircut and a pub meal booked in we can all feel like life is normal and we didn’t just spend 2020 crying into our curried pumpkin soup and crusty olive sourdough.

With the return of ‘normality’, (and lets briefly assume that all is well and life is normal and we’re picking up where we left off, although as the scars of childhood trauma nip and harry their way through our adult years I can only assume this year of half-light stress will return to sink its fangs in to our psyches, long after we assume its done) re-arrives some of the aspects of a pre-COVID life that I’ve normalised for far too long.

I hear Raf Epstein on ABC Afternoons talking pre-COVID habits and how this eight month settlement could be just the trigger needed to reset them. In forgetting what a daily routine looks like, or the task and trials that used to fill a weekend, there is now a vacuous space: open and free for the sculpting. Like the teenager who leaves school and moves to a new city for university, there’s a chance to renew or redefine or reinvent (in catching up with old friends amidst a ZOOM call mid-lockdown, someone noted that I once expressed the desire to be known as ‘Dragon’, I’ll emphasize that I’m not sure why that nickname never took off).

I agree with the sentiment. There IS space and time and a big gaping hole where my emerging music career sits, somewhere back in early 2020 with the canned release of my second EP and the canned national tour and the canned desire to play gigs. There IS a chance to reinvent or redefine what I’m doing. It’s bold and beautiful and more than a little scary, for with the return of ‘normal life’, I start to feel the tingling return of FOMO, the return of the desire to ‘succeed’ (where success is defined as an inscrutable set of vanity metrics trotted out across social media ie. number of spotify streams or facebook followers or gigs on a tour poster) and the return of all the negative aspects of chasing a living as musician (ill-paid gigs, the feeling that you’re constantly selling yourself to everyone you meet to try to get ahead, the crushing disappoint of constantly pitching grants and applying for festival slots and comparing yourself to everyone within your ever-expanding circle of close friends who are all battling their own feelings).

This is where I start to itch. I’ve made it known to a lot of people that I left the wedding scene a couple of years ago. I used to play lots of weddings as a drummer, playing all the hits. It was a little bit of fun, it was a decent amount of money, but I got pretty burnt out by playing almost a hundred shows a year. It was very much a ‘turn up, greet the bride and groom, smash out three sets, go home’ vibe. And it was fine. And I’d happily return to it one day, but not to the extent that I did it in the past. And not because I NEED the money, for when you need the money the gig shifts farther and farther away from a musical experience to being a day job.

After leaving that scene I started this solo folk singer project, and if I’m completely frank I vaguely stumbled in to the same mindset. It took a couple of years, and a couple hundred gigs, but I went from loving what I was doing, embracing the nervous energy, getting a thrill out of being on stage to a vague sense of ‘yep this is good enough, I can wing it from here’. Which is fine, but again it just becomes a day job.

So here’s my sticking point. That’s all gone. The gigs were gone. I have this chance to reset my habits and start saying no to the things that make me feel like music is a job. How do I tackle this going forwards? How do I hit back against the FOMO that literally starts seeping in as soon as I hear one friend booked a gig next week and another friend is planning a national tour and suddenly everything is starting to float back to normal?

Fridays with Friends Ep. 10! This one has me physically playing music in a room with Molly Mckew. The first time I’ve played music WITH someone in eight months… What an experience!

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