Again on the brink of an ocean crossing, with the northwest alredy calling me home, I feel I have one last chance to reflect on the past year before I let myself flow ahead in the new currents.
In particular a recent event made me realize, it’s time to talk about something I’ve had on my mind for a while.
So here’s the event. I’m waiting for a parcel, a very valuable parcel of cello strings, which was supposed to arrive yesterday and was not delivered. I waited all day at home, during and after the delivery slot, worrying about these strings (I ordered them to receive them before I leave on Wednesday next week); this morning I called the royal mail, explained the situation, placed a complaint and I was left with the exciting perspective of just waiting.. as “the parcel is already in your local office and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be soon delivered to you”.
Allright, so more waiting? Enough with that!
This brings me back to the topic of this post: my “25 a year” challenge. I learnt about it back in Wiltshire 3 years ago, from a fellow artist who learnt about it on the web. It stays for “25 rejections a year”, as for the amount of applications for grants, scholarships, jobs, residencies and internships we place, and come back unsuccessful.
Last year was a weird year -far from my ideal life of frequent performances and free traveling. So I took up this other adventure instead; let’s see how many applications and rejections I can score in 12 months.
Well, as I am now receiving the last answer this week, these are my numbers:
In 2021 I placed 35 applications. I received 25 straight rejections, and among the ones that were not unsuccessful, I landed one part-time job, a residency, a grant, and a shortlist placement in a competition… In the end it is not a particularly exciting score, except for the fact that, hey! at least I nailed that 25 a year goal!
I’m laughing as I write this, as the last 2 months have been so much closer to my ideal life and profession, so free and joyful, that all those hours spent writing applications last year feel more like a nightmarish delirium than an actual memory. But here’s what I’ve learnt:
-Applying for things -and especially grants- is a job in itself. Foundations have people employed just to do that: they specialize in picking the right grant and writing successful applications.
-As jobs go, applying for grants is as far off from my creative practice as being a plumber could be. (Although, being a plumber and being an artist is not that far away as we both work on clearing channels for stuff to flow through…)
-“Selling” your work can extract you from it – you have to be able to see it from outside, in order to explain what it is. What’s its purpose. Why you do it and what are your goals. (Wait -what? A purpose? I do it because it gives me joy and makes me feel alive… Yey, let’s write that to the Arts Council!)
As a go-with-the-flow person all of this takes me a big effort, and changing perspective every time to adapt to the different grant … well, a lot of effort. Not to talk about the fact that, hey, goal or not, receiving rejections is not fun!
With effort goes time, taken away from the actual creative practice -what actually gives me joy. Singing, playing. Drawing. Writing. Being in nature.
And here should come on stage a sort of traffic policeman, a vigile as we say in Italy: blue helmet, white gloves and a whistle in his mouth (puffy cheeks and a bushy moustache if you like).
Phiiiiiiiii! Aaaaalt! Warning:
35 applications in 12 months means almost 3 applications a month. That’s almost an application to be prepared, edited and sent out every 10 days (the vigile knows I’m not an ace in math).
This kind of routine can become a mental rabbithole -if it’s not accompanied by a good deal of self-love and care. It dries you out: it makes you wonder why on earth you are going through so much hassle in the first place.
It would be good never to get to this point, to be able to balance things out so that the fun of the practice itself counteracts the boring and harsh side of placing applications -and being rejected. But if -as I was- you are going through this for the first time, you just end up banging your head against a brick wall of self-doubt and overall sadness, and realize that something is not right.
Then it’s time to adjust the bearing; but first of all, it’s time to get a reminder.
A day trip to the sea; singing my heart out, write a new song, play cello; go watch a good concert, and dance; meet up with friends. Reconnect to my alive self and free those creative pipes; leave my desk self to itself for a while, give it time to rest (it needs it too!). Find the joyful flow again: the “sacred fire”.
And then, decide how much (if any) of that energy I want to use to keep applying, maybe to not as many as 35 things in a year (definitively excessive for me, but hey, you gotta try it to find out), but maybe just to as many as to keep improving… so that with time, the process will get smoother and require less and less investment.
Another side of these applications, is the waiting time. How long have I spent waiting in the past year? Not exactly waiting as in a station or before a doctor appointment; waiting in my head.
That feeling that you have done what you could and now it is time for the universe to give its answer…
…but still you are hanging on to it, a little bit. Or a big bit.
Wondering when the answer is gonna come. What I’ll do if it works. If it doesn’t. B plans. C plans. Z plans. And so on and on.
Aaand welcome again to a cozy-but-bottomless rabbithole!
Waiting for the parcel at home yesterday, I realized how this mental place kills my practice and my freedom. After a day of waiting, I asked my brother to join me for a night walk just to be outside, get our bodies on the move, breathe some different air. This morning, after realizing that the parcel arrival was just as outside of my control as it ever was, I decided to go get it myself -Ha! Ya better gimme those strings, you evil Delivery Office!
It felt great to get outside and go for it, shake that static rigidity away, feel like I was taking the matter in my own hands.
It didn’t really work (wrong office address eheh) but ah! it made me feel better. And as I got back home I realized, that I’d rather just let things go as they go. I wouldn’t wait for the parcel in the house and place my life on hold; if it comes while I’m out, I’ll go to the delivery office and fetch it there then.
And I realize now that this applies to all 35 times I have spent hoping/worrying about applications outcomes in the past weird year; there’s a space now, a protective space between my soul and all those frets and stress.
I’ll call that space faith -not just faith in the universe and any kind of providence you may think of, but also (and I am guessing now, most importantly) faith in myself. That I can take in what will come (or not come!) and get through it, I’ll be allright, it will be allright.
As the Lumineers told us at their wonderful concert in Kingston last week…
“Where we are… I don’t know where we are, but it will be alright” The Lumineers
And I know now, this is the amulet for any of those spiraling moments in the future, because as I perceive this space inside me, move in it,dance in it, let it glow and shine from within… I understand I am not even worried about the strings anymore!
It’s like opening a window; let the nasty thoughts out and the fresh air in. This air that, maybe you noticed… already smells like spring.
…And after another walk towards delicious sicilian arancini in Herne Hill with my brother, I come back home to edit this post and… dlin dlong! Here come my strings!
“Don’t do anything that isn’t play” J. Campbell
I have a couple of last notes about the “25 a year”, before leaving this questionable endavour behind me for good.
Learning not to take things personally is a huge advantage. Our work and our selves, despite all the feelings and projections and bonds that connect them, are not the same. Prizes, grants, scholarships and jobs are given depending on endless criteria that have nothing to do with the quality and value of our creative work; and a judjement on what we create is not a judgement on us as human beings.
Also, remembering why we do it in the first place -exactly what I wouldn’t write to the Arts Council but I’d be ready to tattoo on my forehead right now: the joy of it. I do it, because it is my way of being alive.
It’s the real deal!
Finally, there were moments in my last year that made all the applications&rejections disappear as just unnecessary details of my story. Moments when I was reminded that what I do not only means something for me, but can have a meaning for others as well… That it can be shared.
It happened when my friend Ebenezer Galluzzo asked me to use my song “C’era una volta” for a video, presenting his new fantastic book of photography; when I got news and pictures from a mom about how much her daughter loved the EcoAdventures; when, after a rainy hike on the coast I did my latest musical portrait, in a small chapel on a british cliff; when I found out that, as it was offered the chance to have an art program for its pupils, the school in Oregon where I gave a workshop in 2020 asked for me, to come back and play for the children.
(Which is exactly what I’ll be doing, around a month from now…)
These stories make the real difference…this, again, is the real deal!
No 10 figures grant could ever replace them; they move me and make me cry and proud and ready to step up on Pride Rock (Lion king fans will get me here) in the rain, with an epic soundtrack, and shake my mane and let my roar resonate in the air.
And now let the future come!