Turn Off the Screen
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I compose and produce music in a computer. I have a business on social media. I had (pre-pandemic) a life that was lived out of suitcases and shared with friends and fans all over the world. Getting grounded and tethered to home in the pandemic meant that my global community felt further and further away. I hadn’t cultivated as many friendships in Detroit where I live, because in the pre-rona days I wasn’t home long enough to be a very good friend. If I was home, I was with my child and unpacking and repacking for the next trip. So for me, the phone is a lifeline of connection. The internet is my place of research. My computer is an extension of my inner musical mind. I’m deeply grateful for wifi. I tell you that, because I’m not the one to normally issue such an edict. Balance is usually my mantra.
However, when it comes to the songwriting process it is necessary for me to enter a kind of altered sense of time, a state of less judgement and analysis, a looser mental structure... I am sure there is some science term for this, but the sensation is one that I feel a literal gear shift in my brain. If I have been in a very administrative head space, it will take me an hour or more to transition my mind into this “songwriter zone.” If I have a conflict with someone in the morning, it may take me hours to work my way out of being flustered / upset / defensive, etc., to cajole my soul into the condition I need to write.
If I can’t seem to transition out of these other states of mind, I will find some other kind of work to do, like building drum beats or looking for a harmony with a favorite synth plug in, but that is a more mechanical function for me. When I open my mouth to sing words or utter vibration, I am pulling from what feels like some other realm. My gut. The voice of my shadow. The ether. The subconscious mind. The angels and ancestors. The Light. The Dark. The unheard child. The warrior’s battle cry. Wherever those songs come from, the experience of allowing the songs to come is meditation by another name. Art making is a spiritual practice, at least for me, it feels like that kind of pursuit. The art is revealing my weakness and gently refining me. The art asks me to present myself to it vulnerably and with my full attention. I’m not saying there is a rule here. I know a lot of people write their lyrics ON their phone. Whatever Works!! I know for many people they see their art practice very differently, but there is something about the dopamine hit that the phone gives me, a quick hit or escape from the discomfort I am in, that ultimately disrupts me getting into or knocks me out of a songwriting flow. The screen is of course not the only kind of distraction which might take me out of the meditative state I hope to be in when I’m in front of a microphone, but the quick dopamine boost feels somehow more frequently sinister. I am addicted and I know it. If I keep checking my phone, it is going to be harder for me to allow this free flow experience that will hopefully reveal something more authentic in the voice, in the song.
I do need to take breaks, maybe a few within an hour, but in those breaks, I am also writing the song as I make a cup of tea, or sit outside for five minutes, or take a quick walk to the park. Even in those breaks, I find if I jump onto the phone or take myself too far out of the headspace of the song, the brain switches subjects and stops working on the musical problem or lyrical word puzzle.
I have a lot of music to write in a short amount of time. This is what I am telling myself. Turn offffff the screeeeeeeeeeeen.
(Full video transcript)
Today's provocation: turn off, off, off, off