Any worthwhile path will probably involve risk, discomfort, adversity, suffering and pain.
It is the reason why people don’t write a novel.
And systems have made sure we avoid that pain, that we stay comfortable, avoid risk and stick to complying, showing up and doing what we are told and expected to do without finding our own path.
I see it happen all the time. I hear people say they won’t do something because they are setting themselves up for disappointment, I’ve seen children denied a pathway because they parents are scared stuff of the risks involved.
The pain is real and it’s only natural to avoid it.
But the things that that part of us dares to do, feels compared to create is hard to ignore when we dig deep and listen to our desires. And I think it’s worth leaning into the tension to pushing ourselves to do it. There are choices to be made.
And one choice we have is to build the skills necessary to achieve what we want. With that comes the acceptance that if we want to write something good, we are probably going to spend significantly more time writing stuff which is bad. It’s only through the ongoing process of attempting, failing, failing more, failing again that we find ways to make things better. It may take years or decades to achieve your best work, but it can happen if you’re willing to pay your dues.
I thoroughly dislike the way ‘talent’ and ‘genius’ are used. As if a scarce amount of people are blessed by external force. Nonsense. This kind of limelight success story is more a tangled web of exceptional hard work, a supportive environment, benefit of the doubt, luck, being in the right place at the right time and often privilege.
You have the potential to create and make something. You just need to decide whether taking the path with many dips is the right choice for you.
This year thus far has been an impeccable one for music thus far and yesterday is what I could call one of the most highly anticipated Monday’s of my life as I waited for the post man to deliver the deluxe edition of Steven Wilson’s new album Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Anyone who has heard of my work with Eden Shadow or has met me in person will be aware that I take a lot of influence from this artist. I grew up with Porcupine Tree and besides Dream Theater, Tool and Opeth; Wilson has been one of very few artists to carry the torch through the last two decades for a genre of music that was constantly pushing boundaries (deemed by many as prog).
Besides being an unusual artist emerging through the 90’s, it has become very clear to me why Wilson has now gained the deserved amount of success he has had with Porcupine Tree and now his solo career. Firstly, the guy is relentless and completely prolific in writing music every single day, continuously making records, he has failed at achieving what he’s wanted at times but he’s kept going. It took him 15 years before he gained any prevalent recognition for what he was doing when PT released In Absentia, and every time he has faced success, he is adamant in ensuring that he does not repeat himself. Secondly, his attention to detail at times is astounding, you take many of his records, and the way in which they’re presented both sonically and in it’s packaging is remarkable, leading to a unique and immersive experience. Finally and what i would argue to be most important point is the context of his music. I have heard so much music from this scene, which is completely contrived and says so little that I would say even though most of my time is dedicated to writing progressive rock music, I avoid listening to most of it! The older I get, the more I realise what makes music work for me is how much I see of myself in it, which is when people ask me what my favourite records, I’ll say something like Vespertine by Bjork because it is a complete reflection of my introverted self. Wilson has more and more through the years delivered albums where he has had something to say. Music is a language after all. He is also one of very few artists who, low and behold, can actually be articulate in an interview, listen to to a question and say something insightful.
In terms of having something to say, and a mirror to hold up, after listening to Hand. Cannot. Erase. for the first time, I regard this album as one of the most relevant to me he has yet written. The album concept in brief is this,
“The story of Hand.Cannot.Erase. is a about a girl who grows up, moves to the city and begins to erase herself”
This is loosely based on the disappearance of Joyce Carol Vincent, who was a young woman, had a family, had friends but erased herself from everyone around her, died in her apartment and wasn’t discovered for three years. That is an incredibly macabre subject matter, but it holds a lot of pathos about modern day life in the city, and I have experienced this myself! I moved from the Welsh countryside to my student town, just outside London, and there were times when I was in London on my own and I felt completely isolated from the millions of people around me.
It’s not just the idea of being able to isolate yourself in a metropolis that is explored in this album, it’s also the impact that social media has had on my generation in particular and the fact there are people who can loose themselves in social media and video games where they do not walk outside their front doors for days on end. I am all to aware of the benefits of social media, but I share some ambivalence about it. More so than anything else, I use social media to share ideas, to share my thoughts, my music as well as other people’s idea and works but all too often, people who are using social media for those purposes are contending with a mass volume of trivial noise of people portraying their lives in a way that is faux. The lyrics from ‘Home Invasion’ seriously hit home.
Download sex and download God. Download the funds to meet the cost. Download a dream home and a wife. Download the ocean and the sky.
Another day of life has passed me by. But I have lost all faith in what’s outside. They only are the stars across the sky And the wreckage of the night.
Download love and download war. Download the shit you didn’t want. Download the things that make you MAD. Download the life you wish you had.
I’ll save describing the music or concepts any further, but in my humble opinion, this album is again an incredible achievement and I look forward to seeing it live. For more context, here’s a great interview.
‘There is no point trying to go for you dreams in your life because you are only setting yourself up for disappointment’
For whatever reason, that quote looks as pessimistic as when you read it but is surprisingly passive when said, and I’ve been really surprised by how many times it has been said by young people to me in the last few months.
I’ll admit it, I’m extremely lucky. I have only met a handful of people who found their calling as young as me. As soon as I picked up the guitar at 8 years old, it intrinsically defined me. Therefore I am not very good at empathising with people who have yet to find their passions, and in the past, I have come across as insensitive on this subject. So to make amends to that, I want to at least attempt to offer encouragement by flipping that quote on it’s head.
First of all, when you attempt to go for anything you dream of doing, you are by default setting yourself up for disappointment; but is that truly the only thing your setting yourself up for? Perhaps you are setting yourself up for finding something you have a natural disposition for, or enjoy doing it regardless of your ability, or gaining a load of lessons and knowledge in the process. It’s been said so many times before, but you never know before you try.
Success is a concept that has been held on such a pedestal in society, that it continuously halts aspiring racers to run even before the gun has been fired. The anticipation of failure, the premonition that you won’t succeed is actually more difficult to overcome than failing itself. Well here’s an open secret, happiness in pursuing something is not defined by its success or failures, it’s by the process.
When a child picks up the guitar and becomes so much in awe of the strings and the potential of the instrument, do you think that he or she is thinking about success or having approval when playing the thing? The concept of failure or success is a conditioning that is imposed later on. That’s not to say that when I make records, I don’t want to share them with as many people as possible, but regardless of whether I sell 100 or 100,000 records, I won’t ever stop because I love it too much. There have been times where I have experienced disappointment, felt completely inadequate and failed miserably, but it’s times like that where I trace back and remind myself of the first experiences I had of picking up the instrument. Along with all the inevitable neuroticism and negativity one can experience at times in the creative process, I’ll always believe the following quote that Rick Wakeman once said.
‘Success is found in a garden of failure.’
I have indeed set myself up for disappointment, but I have a heck of a good time!