The Relationship Between Hunger and Creativity

Living mushroom art

Photo ©2015 Shanti Singleton

A friend and I were discussing hunger. This was some time ago, so I hope he will forgive the artistic liberties my memory has taken with his phrasing. 

“The problem with being a wealthy artist” says he, “is that you stop being hungry. Not that actual starving is good for creating much.” he added thoughtfully. “You’re too focused at that point on food itself. But when you’re not at all concerned about where your next meal is coming from it takes the pressure off. You can create when you feel like it, not because if you don’t you won’t eat next week.”

I nodded, thinking it over. “It seems like the best place to be if I follow your logic is the point where hunger is nipping at your heels but hasn’t quite caught up to you yet.” My friend flashed a grin at me, pleased that I was following along, and added “Of course there are exceptions, there are always exceptions. But it does seem to be true that fewer great creations happen after an artist gets comfortable than before.”

I’ve come back to this conversation over the years, mulling it over and looking at my own life. I’ve come to the conclusion that hunger can be metaphorical. That in fact for me, loneliness is a fluttering ravenous moth that sometimes breeds and swarms. When I am feeling totally safe and loved and understood and accepted my need to create drops significantly. When that moth is fluttering in the shadows I create company for myself in songs and stories and paintings. But then I want to share it with someone real, and the moth gets more persistent so I make something else to distract myself and so it goes. 

As an artist, plenty of solitude suits me. As a person who quite enjoys not feeling lonely, I desperately miss the company of the ones I can just relax and be all of myself around. And yet, when I have that and months go by where I create nothing at all, I begin to fret and worry that I’ve lost whatever it was I had. 

Right now I’ve a moth or two fluttering in the shadows. There are people I’m beginning to miss fiercely. But I’m writing like I haven’t written in years, and I’m not in a hurry for that to stop. Nearly an album in a week. And most of them are keepers. It becomes its own hunger after awhile, to create and keep creating. 

I keep looking for that balance point. The place between starvation and total comfort and the more I understand the nature of balance and apply it to myself, the more I realize that it may not be a point so much as a tiny pendulum. Perhaps the shifting in and out of comfort is needed. Times to rest and be cared for and times to create without ceasing. 

On the upside if I ever do become one of those rare wealthy musicians, I don’t think that will impact my creativity terribly much. I might not worry about my next several meals, but I’ll have a traveling roof over my head and I’ve yet to find a way to keep a moth or two from getting inside. 

Inspiration Can Wear Many Forms

Heart of the Tide

Photo and art ©2017 Shanti Singleton

Inspiration can take many forms. A turn of phrase, the light just so making us see something familiar in a new way, a smell that triggers an old memory or perhaps a sound that you’ve never heard before and want to mimic. Many of my best songs are inspired by my muses, though not necessarily about them. 

With my Goblin King much of the time it’s the worlds we spin and weave together, forming something tangible out of the essence of dreams. 

With many of my other muses I was trying to reach out in some way, to comfort, to connect, and sometimes the song would slip sideways in my grasp and go somewhere completely unexpected that had nothing to do with what I thought I wanted to write. 

My latest muse has me spiraling around, walking a Labyrinth as all my songs lately turn in on themselves and go elsewhere, and I realize I’m fishing in deeper waters than I ever expected. There are things that were too ragged and raw as they happened throughout my life for me to even wrap in a fairy tale. I couldn’t make them beautiful, I didn’t have the voice for strong and angry, and so all the raw material has just been sitting there, dark and heavy, weighing me down. 

Suddenly I’m baiting my hook with a little bit of my current inspiration and catching threads of old stories and weaving them all together, making something beautiful out of something that I thought would never add joy to my life. 

Being able to transform that dead weight into soaring lyrics and melody and sometimes surprising humor leaves me feeling so much cleaner and lighter. And getting it out of the way leaves room for random inspiration to wake me up at 4am or to just see something and need to write about it. 

To my Goblin King, my Wolf, Dragon and Raven, my Knight and Monk, my three favorite Pixies, my Fire, my 13th Doctor and my Peter Pan, and the muses I don’t have a nickname for yet. You probably know who you are. 

Your songs are the ones everyone else love best. I couldn’t have gotten here without you. Any of you. 

Thank you. Thank you for being exactly who you were and are and will be. Thank you for the conversations and stories and love and heartbreak. Thank you for sharing your compassion and your loneliness. Thank you for sharing the places that needed to be filled or wrapped up with a song or a story, and for finding it in you to appreciate what I came up with. 

I look forward to seeing who I’ll meet down the road, what songs and stories will take shape, and all the new flavors I’ll get to learn to make. 

If you’re an artist, my best advice is to seize life in both hands and live it. The good and the bad. Avoiding the bumpy and hard times is like removing half the colors from your palate. You can still make a pretty picture but it’s missing something vital. You don’t have to be defined by what those experiences leave behind. Instead use it as shading to define your art. Use what you need and discard the rest into the scrap bin. 

(Not that I advocate seeking out that which will harm you, just don’t be afraid to live vibrantly and well.)

Eclipse in a Ghost Town

Waiting for the Eclipse
Photo ©2017 Starlisa Black Photography

Waiting in a ghost town, standing in dry golden grass watching the colors of the world hover between a faded photograph as a whole and yet, taken individually each color has an inexplicable vibrancy. The more I look at each thing, the rich gold of the grass, the glowing red of Dara’s hair, the intense blue of the sky, the dark aged brown wood of the broken down farm building the more it makes no sense that taken as a whole the scene should seem slightly… faded? Grayed out? I can’t quite place my finger on it, and it’s changing too fast to matter as I sneak peaks at the rapidly disappearing sun through my filters. 

Eclipse Shirt!

Photo ©2017 Starlisa Black Photography

The irreverent thought crosses my mind that Cookie Monster is eating the sun, but will spit it back out soon enough when he realizes it is not a cookie. It makes me giggle a bit as I make pinhole cameras with my fingertips and let eclipse shadows fall on my skin. 

I start to feel sunburned and my eyes grow a bit achy, not from looking too long at the sun but because the changes in light are happening so quickly that my eyes are struggling to keep up. I can’t bring myself to care though as there is only there barest sliver of the sun remaining. 

Suddenly the sky turns ultra-violet and periwinkle and no one ever told me it would do that, and the sun is a jet black disc surrounded by opalescent diamond flames that are a color beyond white and the sunset is everywhere, and I can barely breathe as I turn and turn and drink it all in, eyes wide in wonder and awe. The darkness shifts and shimmers about me as though I’m in an underwater dream on an alien world, and I’m glad I put on long sleeves before it went dark and cold. 

Total Eclipse

Photo ©2017 Starlisa Black Photography

I’m vaguely aware that mom is taking photos with her DSLR camera and Dara is shooting a panorama even as her eyes stay glued to the sky rather than the back of her view finder. I don’t even bother trying. I already know the things I want to capture most won’t get caught on my cell phone camera. I forget I wanted to see if a pinhole camera would capture the corona, because I’m too busy being mesmerized. 

Then suddenly there’s a diamond flare and even without a shouted word of warning, we all know to tear our eyes away, because that last lingering second isn’t worth never being able to see it again, and the crowd cheers. 

We cheer for the most profound thing we’ve ever seen, for the beauty and the lack of words and because all the energy has to go somewhere and we don’t know what to say. And we cheer because even though we wanted time to stop so we could stay like this for longer, something in us deep down is glad that the sun has returned. We wake as though from a massive collective dream and life becomes surprisingly… normal. Except that the memory keeps bubbling to the surface and we turn to each other and say “That was just…” and someone else smiles, with a light in their eyes and says “I know!”

And they do know. For 1 minute and 27 seconds (plus or minus) nothing else mattered. For 1 minute and 27 seconds at least a million people in Oregon alone (who when they left home might have been hating each other over countless things) all looked up and didn’t have room in their hearts for anything but the sheer magnificence of what they saw. That’s a special kind of magic, especially for an empath to be around. 

I started texting a friend about it when I was back in range and he told me that all I needed to do now was write a song about it. I said “Well, actually…”

Because I had in fact just started one. There may not be words but it doesn’t stop me from trying anyway. 

Leslie Hudson Does Not Write Love Songs (except for when she does)

Hudson-Pixie Kenmore Concert 2017
Taken by Carol Blackbird Edson and used with permission

I won’t lie. The first thing I noticed about Leslie Hudson was her striking red hair. The second thing was her keyboard (a Roland), that she was setting up while I was helping run cables for sound for last Saturday’s Kenmore concert. Clearly I’ve been away from mine too long because I really wanted to find out how hers played.

With new musicians you never know what you’re going to hear. With new musicians that Sooj brings in, you do know they’re going to be amazing.

Soundcheck and Leslie kicked it off with just a bit of Sisters and Sinners (from her album The Wanderlings Volume 2), a gorgeous bluesy pub in limbo frequented by the women of the Bible, and I was in love. You may not know this about me but I love to go blues dancing, and this was smooth smoky perfection. Thankfully she was kind enough to do more than just tease the sound crew with a taste and I got to dance to the whole song once the show proper started.

From the same album comes Carving Knife, fueled by bitterness sung by those forced by circumstance and emotion into the role of the villain. The dance floor is about the only place I allow myself the luxury of really feeling dark and bitter because I can dance through it and leave it behind, and this song is made for dancing to.

Nibble Nibble is inspired by Hansel and Gretel, sung by a very unapologetic coaxing witch. Those of you familiar with my music may be starting to see part of why I’m so delighted with Leslie’s songwriting.

The rest of the album is heavily myth and folktale based, and worth the musical tour through the history of Ireland.

The Rift can be found on Wanderlings, Volume 1 and it isn’t the song you might think. It’s about a warlock who carved out his own heart so as not to feel, and is sung from the heart’s perspective. Whatever context you wrap it in, this one hits me hard right now.

Tantalized is a seductive tasty piece of music to dance to, based on a shapeshifter folktale (as retold by Jane Yolen) called the Serpent-Woman. Leslie is really, really good at enjoying being the villain.

Like volume 2, the rest of this album is very folktale based with some familiar favorites and well worth a listen.

Stepping away from the folklore and fairytales, Leslie takes us Into the Mirror with her song Cracked which feels a bit like some of the music I’ve been writing or trying to write lately. It certainly resonates very strongly. I’d love to bring some of the fierceness of this song into my own music.

My Dear, My Doubt is a song I want to be able to sing, and do justice to. The whole of it holds meaning for me but for those that are link adverse, I’ll quote part of the first verse.

“Where are you when I need you
To watch me struggle through
Not to save me
I can swim
Just to bear a witness to”

The Redhead League is a concept album about nine red-headed comic book characters. Anyone that loves fan music (Filk) this one is for you.

Welcome to Eden is Poison Ivy’s song, and I seriously want to blues dance to this one. It’s super tasty, like most poisonous things are.

Unmasked is sung by the real Mary Jane Watson, a woman attached to her freedom unwillingly in love with a boy. A Spider-boy.

Feel it All is sung by Jean Grey, and as an empath myself, Leslie gets it, intimately, and writes it well. This is one of those “wish I’d written it” songs, but really I’m glad that someone did so I can listen to it.

Jumping fandoms from comics to Star Trek, we have the album Yeoman on the Bridge. Some of the songs are pretty funny, like Holoaddiction.

I particularly like Children of Light. I know I’m not a hologram, but I still identify with the song.

“I am more than my programming told me I was.
We’ve a right to determine if it matters.
It matters. “

For Awhile is about a symbiont relationship, but to me it also captures some of that feeling of meeting someone for the first time that you’ve somehow known forever.

Empath is what it’s like to be me. Or, since we are talking Star Trek, Deanna Troi. Better, more beautifully than I’ve been able to put it myself.

“Your heart is an ocean
Your mind an expanse
A map I can follow without a glance
No I can’t shut you out
Even when I try to be lonely
An empath am I.”

This is a musician who has serious range. Stylistically, emotionally, topically, take a listen and you’ll probably find something to love.

Four A.M. Muses Are Demanding 

Apparently this song fountain I’m sitting on doesn’t think basic human needs like sleep are terribly relevant. In this particular case I blame interesting dreams and Leslie Hudson for the new song Mirror, Mirror. Sung from the perspective of an abused and lonely child who finds a magic mirror tucked away in the attic, before she grows up to be an Evil Queen. Sadly my second dreaming songfish got away because I couldn’t wake up enough to get it down. 

…Hang on. There’s a song in that. *scribbles frantically* 

Oh! And just to tease you all, at least until I have a Patreon setup (which yes, I’m working on), some of these new songs finally have a bit of that bluesy feel I’ve been reaching for and never quite finding. 

It really helped me get past the internal block that had me thinking I just couldn’t get there when I started singing along to several of Leslie’s songs and found our ranges match well, and I could follow what she was doing with her voice. Suddenly it was like something clicked in the back of my head and it was like “oh! I can do that. ”

I still can’t manage the slight snarl that she and Sooj do so well, but it’s also hell on your voice done wrong, so baby steps. Actually, I’m somewhat curious if it’s something that just comes naturally to some people, or if it’s reasonably learnable without damage. 

Three New Songs in One Day

2015-04-20 15.37.45.jpgI will say this for heartbreak, its one hell of an inspiration to write. I wrote three songs the day before yesterday. Three. And one more today for good measure. 

And before you all go jumping to conclusions, feeling broken-hearted isn’t exclusively limited to romantic relationships. Ask any parent who has to watch their child make really terrible decisions or anyone who has empathy for the state of the world and wishes there was far less hate and far more acceptance.

Its funny, all the songs I’ve written lately and I still haven’t written the one I want to write. Its like the elements are broken up and scattered in between all the the others like a jigsaw puzzle or a riddle that you have to piece together to find the hidden image.

Of course given that Faerie folk are rarely straightforward, I suppose that may be frustratingly appropriate.

I really want to start sharing some of what I’ve been working on, but I’m saving up material to start up my own Patreon. I want a backlog in case life happens so I don’t disappoint all you wonderful fans by not coming up with new shinies for you. 🙂

As a tease, the working titles for my new songs are:

Bigger on the Inside (Strip Me Down)
Its an empath song about being done with being less for other people who don’t appreciate how hard it is to suppress so much just to interact.

The Rules
Or how to survive in Faerie, and the cost of taking any Faerie creature for granted.

Artifacts of You
About how hard it is to truly let someone go in this digital age.

And

Space Isn’t Big Enough
Another empath song, about the kind of connection you can feel anywhere and can’t ever fully shut out. Structurally this one is interesting. 

Tricky Hudson Pixies!

This weekend brought us two wonderful events in the form of three of our favorite traveling bards and a new addition in the form of the fiery Leslie Hudson who won me over from the first notes out of her piano during soundcheck. And then she started to sing.

Let me tell you, if you ever get a chance to see this amazing woman perform live, it is absolutely worth it.

As for me, why was I getting to hear her during soundcheck? Because thanks to John Seghers (who totally rocks at what he does), I got to help set up sound for the Saturday Hudson-Pixie concert for my first time out doing live sound! My desire since I went into the Digital Audio Engineering program was to practice and develop my live sound skills in the very same community that has helped me get my start and that has supported me through the years, so I was honored to get to start with a few of the people I most wanted to thank. 🙂

Once the concert was underway, I was free to dance my heart out. I haven’t danced that hard or freely in what feels like forever, and I was delighted to have one of my favorite dance partners in attendance. One of my favorite video captures of the night (shared with permission) is Daughter of the Glade, it will open in a separate window if you want to go see what you missed. Or relive the moment. 🙂

We flooded the hall with water magic and when the rain hit, I could feel a thread of tension just melt away. I want to thank everyone who got up at the end to dance the last song with me. It was fantastic to end on such a high note, and then follow it up with the Lost Girls anthem.

We’ll never grow up, and we’ll never give in!

I had such a grand time Saturday that I simply had to head over to Silverdale for Sunday’s concert and was delighted that there were few duplicated songs, which meant lots of tasty goodness overall for me. I didn’t help with sound for this one, but I danced until I had no reserves left, convinced small children I was a fairy just by being me, and got all the smalls dancing with me for Uffington Horse (which was adorable). I knew fewer people but more of them were dancing, and one of the young girls was watching and trying to imitate those of us doing more complicated dance moves. It reminded me a lot of me when I was her age, and I hope she keeps it up. The world needs more people who aren’t afraid to dance.

I sadly can’t follow Sooj, Leslie and Betsy down to the Sacred Well in Portland this week, but if you can make it yourself I highly recommend going. Remember, two of these lovely ladies aren’t local so opportunities to see them live are limited!

Some particular new-to-me musical highlights that stuck with me…

A Betsy Tinney song (I didn’t catch the title, but I loved it), featuring many different animals.

S.J. Tucker’s1157” (Felt entirely too timely…)

Leslie Hudson’sChildren of Light“, “Empath“, “Feel it All“, “Sisters and Sinners“, “Carving Knife“, “Epona’s Wild Daughter“, “Eleven Feathered Sons“, and “Tantalized

Honestly, I’m probably going to do a separate post just on Leslie’s music (the songs I resonate with in particular), because I had several moments of wishing I’d written that because this song or that says so clearly something I’d been trying to fit into a song myself. First I need to go listen to the rest of her music though. You know, so I don’t miss anything. As of now all of her albums are on my wishlist though…