Why are we so quick to cling to a story that we can smush our life into? Can’t we just let life unfurl day by day without cramming it into a neat, premeditated sequence? What’s that? Because we are big-brained, long-term planning super animals with unyielding instincts to survive? Ok, fair enough. We need to sleep somewhere and eat things. And sometimes get noticed and feel loved and experience accomplishment. But surely there can be wiggle room. Is it possible to satisfyingly plan for the future without clinging to a disappointment-inducing narrative?
I see people in the 30’s (like me) looking around and saying, “shit” (with the i drawn out, long enough for them to mentally go through all of their regrets, lack of accomplishments, and disappointment over who they’ve surrounded themselves with). And why now? Thinking back to me in my 20’s, I had a ton of expectations for myself (where they came from, who knows), but I also had a ton of time. Or I lived outside of time. Time hadn’t touched me.
And I don’t know if time has touched me much yet. But I’m starting to question those expectations and those narratives heaved on me by society or my 6-year-old self or who knows what. As a woman in her 30’s, the big question is kids or no kids. I am supposed to want kids. Or really not want kids. But definitely feel strongly one way or the other. I look at women around me. Our dear bass player, Lindsey, is undergoing in vitro fertilization, i.e. spending a fortune and suffering a lot of discomfort because she so badly wants kids. Then I talk to some of my students in their 40’s and 50’s who regret having kids because they had to give up their life for those kids (and now for the grandkids…it doesn’t end). Shiiiiiit.
An entire book could be written about women artists and child-rearing. But just to quote a few exquisite lady musicians:
“I made a conscious decision that I was not going to have children. I didn’t want others raising them, and looking after them myself would get in the way of being a musician and a writer.” – Stevie Nicks
“An unhappy mother does not raise a happy child.” – Joni Mitchell (pregnant at 21, baby daddy ran off to California, the poor folk singer gave up the baby for adoption)
“Finding that balance between work and family is the hardest thing I’ve ever done – by far.” Gwen Stefani (mother of three)
“Any other woman who has to go to work and pick up the kids and make dinner- that’s way harder than what I have to do.” – Beyonce Knowles (mother of three)
Each of these women wrestled with decisions over art (work) and family, just as women all over the world do. It’s a process I wish we all could go through in a careful, quiet, relaxed and controlled manner, ideally in a bubble protected from the pressures of the outside world. I wish I could make all my decisions in this bubble. Or at least find a safe little nook to scrupulously examine and rewrite my personal narrative.
What about the narrative I have for the band? It’s been smashed to pieces a few times, and thrown me in all kinds of directions, but why didn’t I expect it to be that way? Same thing with jobs and relationships. I held in my mind a strong, stable and unyielding story, a story of how things were going to go, and I’m afraid that has produced a lot of heartache. Not only that, but surely it’s locked me out of all kinds of experiences and opportunities.
So my personal narrative is maybe not so much my enemy as my highly suspicious ally. I need to scrutinize it more and ask myself, is this causing more grief or more joy? Am I beating myself up over this? Am I missing out on my actual life because of this life I’ve created in my mind? I look at my acquaintances in their 60’s and 70’s, They’ve lived and made mistakes and currently find more joy in life than just about anyone. And they’re not saying “shiiiiit.” They’re saying, “Fuck that, and fuck that, and fuck that.” Because they’ve learned to toss out expectations. Because joy is everything. So I will start training myself to be a 30-year-old with a 70-year-old mindset. Whenever something gets in the way of my music, my energy, my joy, I will look very hard and suspiciously at my narrative. And probably my answer will be, “Fuck that. This story needs a rewrite.”
Erica Bisbey is a rock entrepreneur, jam enthusiast, musical provocateur, and founding member of Denver’s original jam/pop band, Skadi.