On the 2nd of January, 2017 I decided that my New Year was due a restart. I was in bed with Salmonella food poisoning –there was no way I was going to start the year like that.
I’ve aligned my celebrations with the Chinese calendar instead. Happy New Year of the Rooster to you–and do avoid drinking raw milk fresh from the udder while you are touring a New Mexican dairy farm (yeah, I did that).
With all that time I had recovering in bed – binge-watching The Crown and being as active as dirt—I had a lot of time to ponder the notion of… receiving support.
Allow me to explain.
This past November, a 60-something-year-old man named Buzz moved into our little seaside village here in St. Agnes, Cornwall. His camp was nestled into the arched entrance to our local cemetery. If you were to pass by Buzz any time after 5PM (when the winter sun is set), you would see him lying flat on his homemade bed trying to keep warm, his head peeking out under a thick pile of blankets.
For those of you who know St. Agnes, you might not think that it’s the type of place to see a homeless man. Let’s be straight, it’s not the easiest place to arrive without a car—not to mention the demographics here. This is the land of second homes, shops that solely sell Cornish succulents, green smoothie cafes, and, of course, the cold water surfer crew from Finisterre. Homeless people sleeping rough? Not necessarily.
When it became clear that Buzz was really here to stay, My Man and I decided we couldn’t just observe. No way.
As we tentatively walked over to his make-shift camp, I practiced lines in my head:
Can we get you some … soup?
A hot water bottle? A sandwich?
What do you need?
But…. when we arrived there were a dozen empty tea mugs, three thermos flasks, and piles of packaged sandwiches that had already been delivered. We’d been beaten to it by several others before us.
As the days turned into December, Buzz started to acquire numerous things that the community brought to try and help: a heavy-duty feather duvet, piles of books, brand new sneakers, fish and chip deliveries, beer, even more sandwiches–and socks. Lots of socks.
By Christmas Eve there were a pile of presents waiting for for him, and into the New Year he was a reliable presence in the cemetery, chatting to numerous folk on a daily basis. His camp began to look well-assembled.
Then, just last week … he left.
All that remained of Buzz were various gifts he had been given. They were stacked neatly in a corner of his camp, waiting for someone else to come along to claim.
The thing that I liked about Buzz’s visit here were the reminders to myself about receiving support from others. For example, it wasn’t just one person supporting him as the sole ‘hero’ who ‘saved the day’. It was literally numerous bits of generosity from everyday people that pulled together to see this man through the cold, coastal nights.
Also, despite all of many items that were given to him, in the end, he took the essentials of what he needed and politely left the rest.
In a way, it’s had me thinking that Buzz’s way of receiving is not too dissimilar to an ideal model for receiving support in general, but especially as a budding artist.
I’ve reflected back to all of my music teachers over the past decades: the nurturing ones, and the ones that could be really cruel. Teachers who were encouraging, and ones who were uninterested. Teachers who I wholeheartedly owe my career to, and ones that really didn’t seem bothered. Despite what I thought of them, they all had something to offer in our time together. There were plenty of things to leave behind, too.
But not just teachers— other bits of support also have helped to shape my whole musician-self: parents, siblings, colleagues, best friends, former flames, My Man, yoga classes, meditations, jogging, Alexander technique, therapists, creativity coaches, podcasts, books, my students–and even you, who read these blogs. It truly takes a village.
What I am saying is that each one of these little support systems—whether they knew it or not– have given me a slice of something to take away to refine my art, even if it was just to realize what I didn’t want.
I like to think that the ideal model for receiving support goes something like this:
Soak it in.
Try it out.
Only take the gold.
Politely leave the rest behind.
This model protects both parties involved: the giver still gets to impart what they think is helpful (even if sometimes it’s just not) and the receiver will eventually decide whether it’s worthy of keeping. It’s a win-win approach if both parties surrender to this giver/ receiver style of thinking.
Buzz did it so gracefully.
And you? Would this be your formula, too? What are your main support systems for your playing?
What (or who) helps to carry you through tough times?
With special thanks to mysticmama for the images above.