Reclaiming creative identity after a loss (Mara Thomas, ASBX blog post 014)

Greetings, Soapboxers!

I’m a nerd about dates. Birthdays, anniversaries. I generally love acknowledging these annual markers. A recent anniversary has me thinking about creative identity, loss and Ronnie James Dio. Well, if THAT didn’t grab you, maybe this will:

Five years ago this month, I experienced the distress of a home robbery. The most painful part for me was the loss of all my musical equipment. For the previous ten years, music was my primary creative outlet and social sphere. I played in various bands, wrote songs, designed ridiculous stage costumes and props and experienced the joy and exhilaration of playing loud, aggressive music with people I loved.

But, as anyone who has been in a band can attest, bands are also a giant pain in the ass — particularly when you’re young, loud, and snotty (as Dead Boys might say). To varying degrees at various times, you can find yourself swirling in an unhealthy mix of ego, substance (ab)use, and immaturity. As much as I loved playing music, I knew I needed a break from bands.

On the day my house was robbed, though, I felt like someone else made a choice for me. They chose to end my music career.

The person who took my gear had no idea what they had. Not only the rarity of a few of the guitars but the pieces of my identity contained within. The Ibanez I used to write my first songs. Learning my way around that Fender amp when I was so young and so green and so thrilled when I perfectly replicated the tone from “London Calling.” Working alone with the producer while my bandmates got lunch, hearing my Ric through a vintage head, opening myself up to experiment and play around with his suggestions.

Each guitar was imbued with these memories. And now they were gone. If I no longer had a guitar, could I still call myself a guitar player? I was so utterly heartbroken that for years the answer was “no.” I took the robbery as a sign: my musician days were behind me.

But nothing real can be threatened.

My first play, Yes To Nothing, borrowed heavily from my experiences in punk bands. Up until then, I thought of my music life and my theater life as existing in separate orbits. My heart stills swells with gratitude to think of all my musician friends who came out to support that play. I lost track of the number of times I heard, “Why aren’t you playing music right now?” or “We need to get you out playing again.”

At the time, the thought of being in a band again terrified me. It had been so long. I still had creative blocks around writing music. Previous bad experiences made me doubt I could find people with whom I would genuinely enjoy playing music.

Fast-forward. I found them. We’re a band. It’s all of the good stuff and basically none of the bad stuff. With their encouragement, I just bought my first guitar since the robbery. My first real reclamation of my identity as a musician.

Because, much like Cheryl Chamblee expressed in blog post 013, I am a still musician. Even if it has been a while. Even if I’m rusty. Even if I’m intimidated. I have been a musician all my life and that is never going to change. Beyond my artistic identity, music is fundamental and essential to my human identity.

I don’t think I realized how much old grief I was still carrying around from the robbery and the loss of my identity as a musician. Finding these fantastic bandmates and allowing myself to feel their support and camaraderie opened the emotional floodgates. Call me old fashioned, but for my money there’s nothing like a good ol’ uncontrollable sob fest in the car. The tears flowed, and I mean HARD, as I let go of old pains and embraced the freedom and ease and acceptance I felt with my new bandmates. [Though I was definitely crying my face off, I did note that the song on the radio was “Holy Diver” because, c’mon, that’s just hilarious.]

Soapboxers, I want to hear from you. Have your past identities or difficult experiences kept you from yourself? Have you been down too long in the midnight sea?  When did you realize you were ready to jump jump jump on the tiger?

OK, now that I think about it, hearing Dio in that moment was 100% apropos. Of course. Never doubt Dio.

‘Til next time,

MT

*Mara has a website! marathomas.com

Hear Mara on Bonus Episode 002Episode 017 and Episode 001 of the Artist Soapbox podcast.

Mara Thomas is a Durham-based playwright, actor, musician and teaching artist. Her newest original theatre piece, YES TO NOTHING, was commissioned by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and played to raving crowds at music venues in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham in fall 2017. Mara is working on YEAR OF THE MONKEY, a new play.

Blog post and podcast episode about the Creative Accountability Group:

  1. Take your work seriously: put Creative Resistance on notice!
  2. Better together. A Creative Accountability Group debrief with Mara and Tamara

Blog posts about creativity resources:

  1. Cleaning house: Making space for creativity
  2. Nourish your creative self: Give your creative self a lift with something beautiful
  3. The importance of physical practice: Get out of your head and into your body

Blog posts about creative obstructions that present themselves when you’re on your creative path.

  1. Imposter Syndrome: Who do I think I am? Why even try?
  2. Perfectionism: I’m so afraid that my creation will not be perfect that I never actually do it.
    1. And another one about perfectionism!
  3. Comparison: I’ll never be as good as that person. I should probably quit.
  4. Distraction: I’ve convinced myself that all these other things have priority over my creativity.

 

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Artist Soapbox

Artist Soapbox is a platform for original scripted audio fiction and an opportunity for artists to discuss their creative work in their own voices. We do this through our interview podcast, our blog, and original audio dramas.

Artist Soapbox is an anti-racist organization. We believe Black Lives Matter. In addition, as a podcast production company, ASBX has signed the Equality in Audio Pact on Broccoli Content.

Artist Soapbox is more than just a podcast.

We lead writers groups, accountability support, workshops, and events. We produce and create audio dramas too! Listen to the Master BuilderThe New Colossus Audio Drama, Declaration of Love, and ASBX Shorts. Stay tuned to hear about more projects written by the Soapbox Audio Collective Writers’ Group.

Audio Dramas

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The New Colossus

The New Colossus Audio Drama is a totally unhinged dark comedy reboot of Anton Chekhov’s classic play, THE SEAGULL.

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Master Builder

This audio drama was adapted from Tamara’s 2018 stage play produced by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and inspired by Henrick Ibsen’s classic, The Master Builder published in 1892.

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Declaration of Love

Co-producers Aurelia Belfield and Tamara Kissane of Artist Soapbox commissioned eleven NC playwrights to craft short audio scenes based on the prompt “Declaration of Love.”

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ASBX Shorts

ASBX Shorts are six short audio fiction pieces created and produced by North Carolina artists. Artist Soapbox Shorts were specifically contributed by the artists to aid in fundraising and to get everyone excited about Jesus Pancake, our new audio fiction series in development.

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