Today is the last day of the first part of my residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, an incredible place for creative thinkers on a remote island in southern Florida. With all of the travel, performing and organizing that takes place in daily life, it’s easy to lose sight of the great questions that I believe artists have a responsibility to explore. And now, more than ever, we must ask those questions. We must listen attentively to the responses and then contemplate how we as artists can play a role in easing the suffering that has clearly blurred the minds of many. To me, there is an opportunity in this moment: an opportunity to understand the human condition.
When I arrived here my mind was still moving at a New Yorker’s pace. I had lists of things to get done, and was carefully calculating every minute in order to saturate the day with productivity. I was motivated by the sweet satisfaction of crossing each item off of my list and could only sleep knowing that I had done so.
And yet, I wasn’t sleeping soundly. I was going to sleep knowing that I had already prepared a new list of things to do for the next day.
One morning, I woke up to my new list heard a voice inside myself ask “What does it mean to be productive? What exactly am I looking to produce?”.
I became confused. From then on, many new questions started popping into my head; questions that pertain to the meaning of life and time. Each question seemed fundamental and required immediate attention. How could I work if I didn’t know what I was trying to produce? How do I even quantify what it is that I “produce” as an artist? What does it mean to be an artist? What does it mean to be human?
The questions haunted me. I was constantly distracted, and often staring at the horizon line where the ocean meets the sky. Perhaps I was reminded of my childhood obsession with this line, and the questioning that came from observing it.
By the end of my first week here I was having a hard time concentrating on anything. The questions kept banging inside of my head. It was like having an army of ants in my brain, each with a little hammer, shouting at me to stop and turn my attention to them. Each holding a sign with a question. The army was growing in number, and force.
To add to this, I had developed a horrible toothache. This was baffling to me as I had already had a root canal on this tooth so I could not understand how I even had any feeling there to begin with. I went to see two dentists, and both concluded the same thing: I would need to have another root canal done. This was a particularly sensitive tooth, and there seemed to be a root that needed to be re-examined.
Between the ants and their daily protests, my sore tooth, and my growing hunger as I could no longer chew food, I was in bad shape. Desperate, I did what many of us do when we need help: I turned to Google and looked up “causes of root canal problem”. What I came across startled me:
“Teeth Problems: Longstanding indecisiveness. Inability to break down ideas for analysis and decisions. – Root Canal: Can’t bite into anything anymore. Root beliefs being destroyed.”
I stopped everything in that moment, took out a piece of paper, and decided to listened to the ants. It seemed there were three key questions they wanted me to start with:
1. What do I believe in? (about humanity/life)
2. What do I choose to do? (how can I take action?)
3. What do I know to be true about myself? (who am I?)
I wrote down these questions and created columns for potential answers. I knew this would be a process, and that answers, or “Truths” as I preferred to refer to them, would not come easily.
How does one seek truth? I don’t know that we actively can. In my case, it was through careful observation. I would watch how I would react to things, and started taking note. In doing so, I became aware of the inner voice inside of me. I read a lot, walked on the beach, and dug up old journal entries. I looked for threads-themes that had been consistent for years within my actions. There were many. Slowly, the ants started to speak in unison, and the noises they were shouting became clear sentences.
Today I am leaving the Hermitage with some Truths. I call these my new “Root Truths”. My toothache has, miraculously, lessened, and I am sleeping soundly. Instead of making lists of things to do and gleefully checking items off every day, I am happily and slowly growing my three lists of Root Truths, which I would like to share with you.
This I believe:
· People are fundamentally good.
· The deepest universals we all have in common as humans is our capacity to feel emotions.
· Music can change the world because music can change people’s hearts, minds and souls.
· Friends and family help us make sense of ourselves, while art helps us make sense of life.
This I choose:
· To explore the mysteries of the human condition, as a scientist of emotion: an artist.
· To listen.
· To use my voice, literally and figuratively, to advocate for the voices of those who need help.
· To lead by example. To strive to be guided by kindness.
This I know:
I am on a journey. I am not seeking to finding myself; I am looking to create myself. I make choices every day in an effort to be a better person. I choose to strive for excellence. I choose to listen, and to have the courage to face the questions even if they are difficult. I choose to seek to find better ways to interpret the world and make sense of life. I choose to do so through the arts, which I believe have the power to heal people’s souls.