"The greatest teacher, failure is." Master Yoda, Star Wars

composer seeks cake...

I find it immensely interesting that as I wander through my seemingly unfocused and unproductive life, I am learning all the time. This week I discovered I actually like music theory. Oops.

Did you fall down? Pick yourself back up while I explain! It's not all that exciting to me to know that a Bb on the treble clef means we're in the key of F. But what is interesting to me is how we use intervals and chord modulations to achieve emotion and nuance in what we write. Play a C chord (C, E, G), nothing wrong with that. Try it as a C11 (C, E, G, B, D, F) and what delicious texture is created. Resolve that to a C9 ((G) C, E, Bb, D)... oh, lovely.

Also through watching feedback sessions and speaking with a composer mentor, I started to think about my identity as a composer. My old 'elevator pitch' seems out of date and doesn't really say much about me ("Vikki Flawith: Fresh, innovative instrumental cues for film & television. Horror/Creepy, Quirky/Light, Drama/Tension, Investigative/Science, Orchestral Hybrid."). One could argue the word 'innovative', while hopefully true, is a bit much. Thus I started mulling over a change.

It occurred to me in my work as a singing teacher I developed 'the shy singer' as a way of reaching out to those who have had similar experience but wish to walk a path towards finding and releasing their voices.

I asked myself what I could say about myself as a composer that would do the same.

I'm not much for hard sell, or marketing speak - those newsletters and websites which you have to scroll down and down while they tell you what they are giving you for $90 is a $900 value and this unique gift is free to you when you sign up, ad infinitum, until finally at the very end of all that junk they finally say it costs an incredible ... wait, this is a one time offer buy now before it goes back to the regular price... oh yes for you right now if you buy in the next 10 minutes it's only $1,049.99 for the book, course, special items and free gifts or three easy payments of $399 each month!!! - oh, yeah... drive me crazy.

(In fact once I had a discussion with someone who insisted I should not put my prices on my website, make people call and find out. Nope. Never. Don't play games. Here's who I am, what I do, how much it costs.)

Back to the elevator pitch. It's important to present yourself clearly. Say who you are, what you know, and what you have to offer as concisely as possible.

Of course, for a composer or other creative, what you produce demonstrates your abilities. But really it's who you are as a person that will matter most to those who are thinking about working with you. Do you come across as someone they'd like to have lunch with? Easy, respectful, professional, real?

Am I reinventing myself? Not really. I've just somehow, in the past few days, established a clearer sense of who I am as a creator of music and who I'd like to collaborate with on what kind of projects. I didn't know that before now. Maybe all these courses and webinars and mentoring sessions are making a difference. Having that clarity helps paint the path ahead.

If I get invited to lunch, I hope there's cake. ~

finding a way forward

The past five weeks have been scattered, filled with insomnia, a feeling that I am wading through quicksand and achieving very little. I haven't been shy about talking about this struggle with middle insomnia. Did I say talking? Maybe I meant whining. Good friends tried to give supportive advice, I listened but somehow nothing seemed to work. But yesterday and today something clicked.

These words came to me from trusted sources... maybe I don't think I feel stressed, maybe I feel I am coping with the sweeping global affect of a dreadful disease... but maybe when I lie down, that suppressed anxiety about this state of affairs gains traction, even if it doesn't appear to be present in a conscious fashion. There's immense sadness and grief over the loss of life; there's worry about friends and family and tribe members; there's a deep concern for the differently-abled, the elderly and the other vulnerable human beings whose right to life can be and is being profoundly impacted by the decisions made by overwhelmed health care providers; there's worry about the cost of groceries, savings disappearing, downturn in income... gah. No wonder sleep takes a holiday.

I'm also very aware of the potential to self-sabotage. Don't get enough sleep, feel exhausted, achieve very little, beat oneself up for not being productive, wave the getting-longer-every-day to-do list at my head until all I want to do is go numb and binge-watch Restaurant Impossible.

But you know what? I'm tremendously lucky. I have terrific friends and wonderful mentors. People who are making specific time to talk to me and maintain that vital connection between creative spirits and musical hearts. My conversations today in particular have been so helpful. I finally sorted out my schedule - the demise of which had haunted me for the past five weeks of 'lock-down'.  My Zoom chats, my live streams, my composing time, my mentoring time, my client sessions, my time to update social media, all sorted and appointments set with myself for these activities as well as self-care.

And it's not all written in stone and inflexible. A block of time called 'composing' could be the act of creating music, or it could be working through a module in one of my orchestration, film scoring, or film trailer writing courses. It could be writing lyrics or writing melody or practicing the guitar or piano.

I sang my usual live stream yesterday for an hour and I noticed that I felt more tired than usual later in the day. Ah. I decided that, besides taking a walk every day, I need to sing every day because that act is a form of physical exercise too. It's breathing and vibrating with sound. So now I am going to make sure that on days when I am not performing, I still sing.

I did that tonight, and it reminded me of being fourteen and sitting on the edge of my bed with my guitar, singing covers and originals. How that calmed me and gave me solace in the face of a world that was full of bullying. It also reminded me that on the days of my voice lessons (which often lasted 90 minutes or two hours), I would feel quite pleasantly tired and have no problem sleeping. Opera takes a lot out of you!

I feel better now. I'm a very creative person and I dislike routine, because it's boring. Yet at the same time, having a structure helps focus my energy and helps me actually accomplish things, which helps subdue the sharp voice in my head that delights in telling me I'm not doing enough, that I'll never be good enough, who am I kidding, and I'm a fake.

That voice dances around with glee, rubbing its hands with exaltation when I listen to it and allow it to imprison me in stagnant procrastination. I know the only antidote is to do something. Even if it's imperfect, or a struggle. It's only by taking action that inaction can be thwarted. ~


(What follows is an organic sharing of my thoughts about the situation we find ourselves in the world today. It might be sad or bleak, so please take care and only read on knowing that.) 

March 30/20: Like many others out there, I just started my third week of self-isolating. The last time I went anywhere, other than to pick up groceries, was (believe it or not) Friday the 13th. That day I had an oil change, and picked up a grocery order. When I got home, I contacted my family and said I was self-isolating because I didn't want to take any chances. I'd been out and about, and teaching in my studio, and who knew if I had come into contact with someone without symptoms who was contagious. To be on the safe side, I also made the decision to close my teaching studio for two weeks.

I naively thought we'd be through the worst of things by the beginning of April. On March 13th, there were less than 150 cases in all of Canada. (Seventeen days later, March 30th, it's 7,437.) On March 13th, anyone I knew seemed to be okay. Seven days later, the brother of an old friend I'd known since I was twenty-one called to say my friend had passed away from Covid-19. I begin to see that this is not going to end anytime soon, and that the losses will grow. It's heartbreaking to think of those all over the world affected by this.

I try to stay away from the news, allowing myself 15 minutes in the morning. At first I turned to Facebook, a place I seldom go, and now I am backing away from it again. There are some wonderful groups posting excellent information and demonstrating a spirit of positivity and encouragement. I love that. There are also those posting misinformation, making racist comments, being hateful. Still, I'm anything but 'isolated' in terms of being social. I've spoken to friends in Europe, the States, and here at home. I have regular facetime appointments in my calendar. I'm finding groups that meet virtually to discuss things I'm interested in.

I keep busy during the day, although I sometimes feel scattered. And tired. When I lay down to sleep, my mind runs ragged with the anxiety I keep sequestered during the day. I watch children's shows and Jane Austin movies, and try to avoid anything suspenseful or violent.

I try to eat healthy and stay hydrated. I probably don't go outside the house enough. Every surface I come into contact with outside the house... the door handle, the lock on the gate... I'm extra aware of the things I touch. I get into my car to go get my grocery order, and I marvel at how itchy my face feels when I keep reminding myself not to touch it. I keep a box of kleenex on my front seat, so if I am desperate I can grab a couple and rub my face. I try to be conscious of where my hands are. And when I come home... I wash my hands. And wash my groceries. And wash my hands.

I leave things that don't need to be refrigerated in a box for four days before I touch them. Or, if I need them, I go through the ritual of opening them, washing my hands, reaching inside the container or bag to remove the contents without touching the external wrapping, putting whatever I don't need in a new freezer bag or other clean container so I know it's ok to touch. Then I toss the wrapping away and wash my hands again. Like a doctor scrubbing up for surgery. Then I contemplate the things the store was out of, and wonder how I will manage.

I prefer to eat non-processed, fresh food as much as possible. They were out of potatoes, oranges, bananas, bathroom tissue, unsalted butter. But thankfully they had tea, juice, tuna, eggs, cheese. But no potatoes? How is that even possible?

It all just brings home how much things have changed.

That popping out to my favourite cafe to have coffee and read the paper, is impossible. I wonder if they will be able to survive. I see my favourite restaurant - where most of the servers know my face and know my usual order - at first switches to take out/delivery, but then announces they need to close. They'll do renovations during the shutdown, they say. I think of the kindness of their staff, and their wonderful cooks, and hope they will make it through. I recall my beautiful-spirited massage therapist, whose work is so vital to my quality of life (she literally helped me to walk again), knowing that, like me, she's had to close down her business until we are all allowed to breathe the same air and open our arms to others for a hug.

It occurs to me, I'm missing spring. The cherry blossoms are heavy on the trees this time of year. The rufus hummingbirds will be back soon. I have to get over my fear and go sit in the garden. Bask in the weak rays of the sun. Remember not to touch my face, and wash my hands when I come back inside.

Most of all, I try not to think of what might happen next.

I'll do everything I can do to follow the advice of the medical professionals. I'll try to retool my business to work online. I'll try to be supportive of friends and family. I'll try to forget my own worries and listen to those of others, and find things to say that might bring a smile. I'll try to write music and keep singing and drawing and painting.

I'm staying home to protect my friends and family. To protect my community. To protect our precious health care workers. To save any life I can save by doing what I'm asked to do: stay home. And by doing that, perhaps I will also save my own. <3

we can be alone, together

You know, I think we have to be careful in our perspectives right now. Thinking of ourselves as isolated from each other makes us feel more disconnected than ever. Although we have agreed to put distance between ourselves to assist everyone around us to stay healthy, and to help the medical system to cope, our actions, our voluntary cooperation with the recommendations coming from the experts, actually show a wonderful spirit of community.

Yes, some of us are afraid. Yes, some people are hoarding. Yes, some are not listening.Yes, the news is depressing and sad.

Yet, I look around me and I see the generosity and kindness. The student who writes and asks me if I am ok, can they pick up something for me? The landlady who leaves a note under my door, telling me to let her know if I need anything at all. The calm generosity of the delivery driver. The spirit of camaraderie in the groups and tribes I belong to, consoling each other, encouraging each other, trying to find something to smile or laugh about in how we are coping, in how we are trying to enjoy our 'time off' in spite of all the things it is far too easy to worry about.

In a sense, in our social distancing and self-isolation, some of us are reaching out more. Finding safe ways to connect and shore each other up. Passing along good information, correcting misinformation. Offering virtual hugs.

I loved this quote from Dr. Lindsay Jernigan: "Try this perspective shift. Instead of seeing 'social distancing' and travel bans as panic, try seeing them as acts of mass cooperation intended to protect the collective whole. This plan is not about individuals going into hiding. It's a global deep breath... an agreement between humans around the planet to be still. Be still, in hopes that the biggest wave can pass without engulfing too many of the vulnerable amongst us."

scatter the scatteredness

It is... a time I never thought I'd see. I'm a science fiction buff, but I never thought I'd actually live through a scenario like this. I was talking to someone today about how it feels. We both said we feel like our energy is scattered, that there is an underlying sense of stress and worry about the days to come, with income dwindling and the wherewithal to replace it beyond our ken. Yet, on the other hand. The kindness and compassion of so many people, the spirit of hope and togetherness we've seen is wonderful. People caring for each other, thinking of each other. Those that are well, understanding that it's not about themselves as an individual, but about all those who they meet. For those who are ill... hopefully our social distancing and change to so many facets of our regular life, will assist them.

I end up asking myself what I can do. Call my friends. Zoom chat. Take part in online community events. Reach out to comfort others and thereby feel less alone.

And then there is always my creative work. My singing, practicing playing guitar, working through my orchestral and composition courses, drawing and painting. Just before this all began, I had signed up for a graphics art course, purchased a graphics tablet and Photoshop. I've been starting and stopping. I know the healthy thing is to hunker down and work on creative things. To turn off the news, and Facebook, and go sit in the garden to read. Listen to music and work on Photoshop tutorials. Create music of my own.

In the coming days I hope to use my time wisely and well. I know the key is 'to start'. So I'm starting now by writing a blog.

If you're reading this, I hope you are doing okay. I hope your friends and family are too. If there is one thing we can take away from this is that we are truly a global people, and we are, all in this together. Take care <3

Growing in circles

My own journey has not been a linear path, anything but. Sometimes I approached success and went off in an entirely different direction for some reason I can't fathom now looking back. But there are a few things I have learned:

- don't give up your dreams to have a relationship. I don't mean you shouldn't respect your partner or work on that togetherness. I mean, if someone tells you your dreams are not their dreams and you need to choose, don't give up yours. The price of love should never be the thing that lights you up inside. If someone really loves you, they will support that thing that inspires you. That's what makes you you.

- don't give up your dreams because you have wasted time doing something else or have reached a certain age. Creativity has no number attached to it. There are wonderfully talented young people, and wonderfully talented seniors, and everything in between. Like I said, I have been on the road and off the road, gone around in circles, been in deep ruts, lost and unsure. Forgive yourself, get back up, and start again. I have, more times than I can count ;)

- allow yourself to play. Not everything that you 'make' or 'create' is going to be perfect. Do it for the joy of doing, and trust you'll find a way to smooth the edges later, or, if it ends up being something you can't fix up, know it's experience and grist for the mill.

- do what you can when you can. Everyone is different. Some have full-time jobs and families and all sorts of responsibilities. Find 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there. It adds up.

- take time to take care of you. Your mind and your heart need peace, serenity, sleep, nourishment.

- not everyone is going to like what you do or how you do it. Listen to the feedback of those you trust, and let the rest go. Remember Star Trek and IDIC... infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

- pay it forward when you can. It's amazing how generous our creative tribe is. Part of that is taking responsibility for being informed and being responsible for disseminating good information along with encouragement and support to others on the path.

- everyone can sing. Everyone can be 'in the music'. We should encourage this in our children, in our friends and in our world. Music is the only human activity that lights up the whole brain. It's one of the most beautiful things humans do and create. Relish it and treasure it and share it.