[This is an archival post from February 20th, 2020]
Today is a post of gratitude! I’d like to express gratitude for all that I’ve accomplished recently, for the community and connections I’ve made in my new home, all the help and wisdom I’ve received, and for the perspective I’ve been lucky enough to acquire by taking a break from routine and examining my life (and my world) through lenses previously unavailable to me… And of course, gratitude for my family for making sure I don’t end up homeless or stranded in another country.
Last month I got my Freelancer Visa to stay in Germany for two years! I’ve deliberately avoided a big public announcement as part of a larger effort to avoid big life questions that I know people ask with the best of intentions, but that stress me out nonetheless. The whole ordeal is super exciting and I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity, but I must confess that it also felt anticlimactic and a little disappointing. I’d put so much effort into the visa application process that I hadn’t planned for what I’d do once I actually got it. Of course I had a vague idea having to do with making music and making money, but the specifics were woefully unspecific. Study German, meet other musicians…get work?
It’s been interesting to be in the space between “I’m new here and therefore it’s completely acceptable that I have nothing going on,” and “I’ve been here for a few months and feel like I should more established.” Other transplants have echoed the reality that it takes time for things to pick up and for your place to open up, and I don’t know any artist who feels comfortable in their career, regardless of what stage their in. But as much as I can understand that building professional connections and opportunities takes time, that recognition doesn’t change my internal sense of pressure or urgency. People ask me all the time, “What are you doing here in Berlin?” simply because I’m meeting new people and they’re curious about my life. It’s a fairly open-ended question, yet I can’t help attaching expectation and judgment to it. I’m also learning to appreciate that when people then ask, “Do you have any concerts coming up?” it’s not because they’re asking me to qualify my assertion that I’m a musician, but rather that they want to support me and enjoy live music. In her TED Talk, “The Art of Asking,” Amanda Palmer asserts that audiences are naturally inclined to support you, and that part of your job as an artist in the public sphere is to be vulnerable and open enough to accept their generosity. My former professor Jeanne Baxtresser echoed this sentiment as well: As artists, we are trained to judge ourselves and seize every opportunity for criticism and growth. Audiences, on the other hand, are generally there to support you. They’re in the hall because they are curious or even excited about what you’re about to do, and they want you to do well! I always see this exemplified when I go to the circus and a performer misses a trick on the first try. Instead of skipping the trick and moving on with their act, they try again - sometimes 3 or 4 times - and when they get it right, the audience always cheers enthusiastically. It makes them so happy to see a performer they’ve gotten to know, even briefly, succeed.
With that in mind, I’m trying to cheer for myself as I would for another friend or artist who’s made a big life leap, and internalize the advice I’d give someone else. Namely, that progress is a non-linear process with varying tempi, and that taking stock of your accomplishments is a clear way to remind yourself of everything you’ve actually done. Here’s are two lists I made for myself to quell my anxiety.
Since arriving in Berlin, I have…
Completed A2 German (started with nothing!)
Been approved for a 2-year Freelance Artist Visa
Applied for my Freelance Tax ID
Applied for KSK, Germany’s health insurance plan for artists
Gotten a local library card
Resumed work on a personal musical project formerly relegated to the back burner
Stayed motivated by learning new works for a friend’s house concert series
Made enough connections to start organizing concerts!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take stock of my personal accomplishments as well, such as:
Finding the best Glüwein at the local farmers markets and a great glutenfreie bäckerei
Befriending my neighbors who only speak German
Reaching out or asking for help when I felt lonely or aimless
Honoring my need to rest (i.e. not feel guilty about binging “Sabrina” on Netflix when I desperately needed a weekend to not be productive)
Making new friends and joining a regular tabletop gaming group
Practicing yoga and Alexander Technique regularly again.
Taking sewing and electronic music production classes simply because they sounded fun & interesting
Please let me know if you find this practice helpful too, and feel free to share your lists with me if you’d like! It can be really clarifying to contrast your mental list of things yet-to-accomplish with a clear vision of things you’ve actually accomplished.