how-free-writing-can-free-your-mind

How Free Writing Can Free Your Mind

creativity, self-love, songwriting

My dad is an avid journaler, who has a stack of red, hardcover notebooks that date back to when we lived in Russia, and, though my parents never taught me the importance of journaling or introspection, I have always seen them practice it. To this day, my dad sits down every night to write at least one page in his journal. My mum writes like she lives – sporadically, in great bursts of enthusiasm.

My journaling practice started early on but wasn’t consistent. It had more to do with my obsession with pretty notebooks – I had stacks upon stacks of spiral notebooks, sketchbooks, diaries with locks that I kept losing the keys for. I usually started the notebooks with a lengthy introduction of who I was – my favourite colour (purple), my favourite book (‘The Secret Garden’), my favourite film (‘Spirit’ or ‘Home Alone’), and then promptly forgot they existed. I still have all those notebooks in a box in my bedroom. I’m a hoarder at heart, I guess.

What started as a hobby that I wasn’t all that committed to, became a lifeline when I was a teenager. I remember anxious nights before school, anticipating eating my lunch in the girls’ toilets or spending breaks hiding in the library. I remember the comments the teachers made about how my uniform was not the right shade of green, and how respectful they were to my mother when they thought her accent was German, and how swiftly their faces changed when she told them it was Russian. Filled with frustration, anxiety, and loneliness, I spent nights journaling.

Somewhere down the line, those midnight journals turned into morning pages and bullet journals, but the purpose is the same – purge whatever’s holding me back and stressing me out, write down my thoughts to understand them, own up to other thoughts I didn’t even know I had. It’s a practice that has always sustained me, but I have made another discovery recently, which has changed my life and my writing: free writing.

I was reading ‘Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women‘ by Mirabai Starr, a book given to me by one of my spiritual friends. Mirabai writes about female mystics and how we should implement their wisdom in our daily lives, offering writing prompts at the end of most chapters. Her writing prompts follow the rules of free writing by Natalie Goldberg, which you can find here. The main idea is: time yourself while writing and write as fast as your hand can move and your mind can think. Don’t edit yourself. Not on the page, not in your head.

I was reading ‘Wild Mercy’ after coming home, feeling uprooted and out of whack. I spent a week feeling at a complete loss, and the only thing that helped was talking to friends. Even the morning pages weren’t cutting it – I felt I wasn’t being honest with myself anymore, I could feel I was suppressing something but I wasn’t sure what. In short, I felt stuck.

But then I sat down with one of the writing prompts Mirabai Starr suggested: “What do you want from the Holy One? Write a letter to your Beloved, stating your demands.” I’m often sceptical about anything that has to do with God, after having been to a humanistic school and grown up in a mostly atheistic family (apart from when my mum lit candles to help my brother or me pass an exam). But for this exercise, I let go of judgement. I just wrote. And it all spilled out.

I wrote about why I felt like the ground was disappearing underneath my feet, I wrote about what I wanted the Universe to take away from me, like my anxiety, stress, the want to be liked and loved by people I don’t even care about. And it was stuff I’d been holding back in my other writing, but setting a timer for ten minutes and not stopping until I finished, stopped that inner censor from creeping up. I’d been talking about our inner censors for a long time now, so I was surprised to find out I still hadn’t banished mine. I’ve been keeping up that free writing practice for over a week now, and it’s made its way into my morning pages, my lyrics, my academic writing. I’ve been writing more easily and honestly.

If you want to try free writing, here are some writing prompts to get you started:

  • What are my values? What would my life look like if I lived it accordingly?
  • What do I believe to be true about myself? Which of these beliefs are limiting? How will they affect my life if I act as if they’re true? Why are they not true?
  • What does living with intention mean to me?
  • What emotion am I trying to avoid in my life? What do I think will happen if I allow myself to feel it?
coming-home-is-hard

Coming Home Is Hard and That’s Fine Sometimes

self-love

Last week, I returned home. After two months of hungover walks in Treptower Park, drawn-out breakfasts with friends, and spaces filled with music, patchouli incense, and poetry, I came back to my childhood home to spend time with family, record new music, and self-isolate.

After having been sent off by three of the most radiant, loving people I’d ever met after a massive breakfast together and a loud Uber ride full of hugs and I will miss you’s, I arrived at a train station in Aachen to find my dad waiting for me with a coke and a banana. It was a bit of an anticlimactic welcome when he sprayed my hands with alcohol before hugging me. “You sure you don’t have corona?” he asked. “Not at all,” I replied.

I had this vision of what being home would be like – a little like ‘Walden’. In Belgium, where lockdown is still in full force, I imagined I’d fill my life with contemplation, long walks, and writing. Even though I was gutted I had to say goodbye to my friends and a city that had taught me so much, I was also looking forward to all the deep insights I would have in my hometown.

Instead, I had massive FOMO. All I could do on that first day was imagining the excitement I was missing in lockdown Berlin. To ground me, I wrote down a list of challenges for my stay in Belgium. What was I gonna do to make my time here worth it? I wrote down so many goals it ended up stressing me out more. I tried meditating in the morning to ease my anxiety and ended up crying for an hour before leaving the bedroom. All the while, I was terrified of picking up the phone and calling my friends to offload. All these thoughts are first world problems after all.

It was a weird shift being back home with my parents. Everything I did – from how strong I drank my coffee to the weird itch behind my left ear – seemed scrutinised and analysed. “Why do you wanna go back to Berlin?” my mum asked. And when I told her, she replied: “We’ll see about that,” as if I hadn’t moved out of the house almost three years ago and was waiting for her seal of approval. Which I was! Every small comment set me on edge, and in just one week, my journal went from talking about how happy and centred I felt to how small and unsure of my choices I had become. The walls I had carefully constructed around myself in Berlin had started crumbling, and I was letting everything in again – the doubt, the anxiety, the stress.

I wanted to come to everything from a place of love, but, increasingly, I had started to come to everything from a place of fear and insecurity, including my music. My practice sessions became regimented and timed, and if I didn’t accomplish what I’d set out to do, I considered the day a failure. Even though I had more time than I did in Berlin, where I was working, studying, making music, and spending time with friends, my days here seemed busier and I collapsed in bed at eleven after a full day of to-do lists. I hadn’t really laughed in a week. I snapped at my parents. But I did make a kickass apple cake last Tuesday, which was ace.

But yesterday, a friend called me and she had that warm, radiant voice that made me light up. She was watching the sunset at Tempelhof and thinking of me. And she said that coming home to her parents made her dislike who she was with them, and I exclaimed: “Yes, me too!” It’s like a fight you can’t win. You’re always going back to that person you’re trying to escape. And it’s not your mum or your dad, it’s you and that unfortunate picture where you look like a 12-year-old boy that your mum has hung on the wall in the hall.

Maybe being here is not going to be the contemplative practice I’d imagined, but it is a spiritual practice nonetheless. It is not going to be the glorified, romantic spiritual journey of walking in the woods (what woods?) and writing in solitude. It is going to be a tug of war with my parents about my every decision, I am going to question my ideas and to doubt myself many, many times over the next month. But maybe that will make me stronger than a solitary retreat ever could.

I came here feeling rooted in love and community, with the idea that I had found what I had been looking for as an artist, as a friend, and as a woman. Now, that feeling of rootedness feels like a distant memory. I guess it’s because we can’t run from ourselves. And coming home means coming face-to-face with yourself in the most confrontational way.

Usually, this knowledge makes me feel overwhelmed. But this time, I’m going to take the time to acknowledge this feeling. I want to take it in, think about it, wallow for a little, and maybe write some songs about my parents and my teenage years. Then I’m gonna let it go. All because the good feeling I talked about, that light that exists inside of all of us… I want it to shine here too. And that’s why I can’t run back to Berlin just yet. Because I’m home. And I’m dealing with it.

time-management-kaia-vieira

GUEST POST: Structure and Flow: The Artist’s Guide to Time Management (Pt. 2)

artist, productivity, self-love

Part 2: Finding creative freedom in the grid 


1. Bullet point journalling to prioritise


The phrase ‘bullet point’ may not resonate with your freedom-seeking inner artist, but hear me out. I’ve found (again and again) that when I have a lot scheduled for one day, some stuff slips through the cracks. I used to berate myself for this, but I’ve learnt to accept that I just have mad high expectations for myself. Prioritising the most important goals for the day and letting go of the rest has become essential. 

I came across bullet point journalling in a low down of Tim Ferris’s morning routine I found on YouTube, in which he bullet points his ‘3 Main Goals’ for the day, letting himself know if he does these three things, he’s crushed the day. I started trying this, and it generated SO much more focus and follow-through on accomplishing my most important tasks, and SO much more peace at accepting the things that I didn’t manage to do that day. Your head needs some space and leeway to celebrate the wins instead of obsessing over the losses! And space creates freedom.


2. Honour the present, it’s all we have 


The great thing about time management, and time blocking in particular, is that it sets out certain amounts of time for you to let go of everything else and focus on ONE thing because you know this is the allotted time you have to commit to it today. But this won’t work if you’re fretting about that appointment you have to book after your practice time or are pissed off because you couldn’t get your ass out of bed on time. Not being present, when you become aware of it, is actually the cause of much of your distress, because you’re resistant to this moment, now. 

Eckhart Tolle, the king of presence in New Age philosophy, explains: “Your entire life only happens in this moment. The present moment is life itself. Yet, people live as if the opposite were true and treat the present moment as a stepping stone to the next moment – a means to an end”. I’d fully recommend having a read of one, if not all of his books (I confess, I’ve only read “The Power of Now”, but after the spiritual bombshells it brought, the rest are now on my ever-growing, neverending reading list).


3. Accept that the ‘perfect balance’ is a myth


I came across this gorgeous book “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety” by Sarah Wilson, in which I found this quote:

“Women have got it into their heads that they should be able to do it all, and in perfect balance. And this has resulted in more stress, and less happiness. I speculate that men are feeling the same, but it’s just not reflected in the research yet. In response to these findings, UK pop researcher Marcus Buckingham investigated, inversely, what the happiest women were doing differently. And his conclusion was this: they strove for imbalance…These happy women, he said, realised that balance was impossible to achieve, and trying to do so caused unnecessary anxiety… Instead, Buckingham found these chilled, happy women tilted toward activities and commitments that they liked and found meaningful, amid the chaos. They didn’t wait for the chaos and the commitments to get under control. I loved this idea: tilting – it’s when you’ve so much to do, and you could list it all, and try to prioritise, or you could just sit in the everythingness and lean towards stuff as it arises that feels right.”

Sarah Wilson, ‘First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety’

I was initially attacking my struggle with time management from the standpoint that if I were to find the ‘perfect balance’ across different areas of my life, I would be fulfilled, and my anxiety would lessen. I discovered, however, that this ideal continually eluded me. It was only when I shifted my focus from needing complete control to simply enjoying every day as much as possible (tilting towards activities that I like and find meaningful) that I found much greater fulfilment and, paradoxically, more balance.


4. Regardless of all your time blocking, follow your inspiration when it comes!


Regardless of your well-intentioned structure to BOSS it daily, when inspiration comes – follow it! First and foremost, before any of this structure, YOU ARE AN ARTIST. Be prepared for a whole day’s pre-scheduled activities (or a night of sleep) to be thrown out of the ballpark. If the idea is demanding it be born right here, right now, let it come. Everything comes when it’s meant to. Accept it as part of the artistic experience and don’t lose any sleep over it (aside from the sleep it claims)! It’s okay to wipe out a whole day in service of our creative flow. Just get back into a rhythm the next day or two and accept that life is about honouring both the structure and the flow. At the end of it all, the ultimate goal is creative expression. The kind that moves through us like another entity in itself. So, when it comes, embrace it and jump onto the ride.


5. Mercy for yourself (and in turn the rest of the world)


Any kind of self-development without self-nurture, self-forgiveness, and self-love, can quickly become a **** show of self-harm. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Big Magic”, and one of my favourite humans outside of my real-life ones, puts this idea across as developing mercy for yourself, and in turn the rest of the world. In her 2014 blog post “MERCY. Dear ones…”, she says:

This is perhaps the strongest argument I have for learning how to come to peace with yourself — for healing your wounds and learning how to regard the softest and weakest and most shameful parts of yourself with gentleness and compassion. If you can practice mercy upon yourself, then gradually that mercy will radiate outward to the rest of us. And that will be the end of Judgment Day, every day. 

All of which is to say: It is not selfish, to learn how to be loving toward yourself: IT IS ULTIMATELY A PUBLIC SERVICE.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

I noticed in my own journey as I began to treat myself more kindly, my judgements of others’ weaknesses softened. I began to see how my vigilant, aggressive self-discipline was having an unintentional ripple effect on my relationships, holding others to the inhumane standard I was holding myself. I didn’t want to be that person for my friends, my family! I end on this because despite all of your beautiful, honourable intentions with any kind of personal development, without self-mercy, you can quite easily and unintentionally begin to become a person you don’t like. So, do it with love, do it with ease, do it with compassion, every day. Try and try again, but accept the failures as necessary stepping stones and give yourself a break, MANY TIMES OVER.

Other than that, you got this, you crazy little hyper-controlling entrepreneurial boss of an artist.

time-management-kaia-vieira

GUEST POST: Structure and Flow: The Artist’s Guide to Time Management (Pt. 1)

artist, productivity, self-love

I want to introduce this blog post with a big fat disclaimer: by no means have I mastered the art of meeting deadlines and being a thoroughly accountable, high-performance entrepreneurial expert that will get you managing your time like an Elon Musk spawn. I say this as Erika, whose blog I’m writing this for, drops me a message the night before the deadline, and I panic, having only written the first draft of this article.

I confess my struggle with deadlines because I want to be clear: time management for artists is different from time management for a left-side brainer. Saying that, I’d like to note that I believe (thanks to Julia Cameron’s teachings in ‘The Artist’s Way’ – FULLY recommend) that we all have an inner artist. Here, when I say, ‘left-side brainer’, I’m either talking about someone who genuinely thrives in a more analytical, left-brain field, or those who haven’t yet discovered their inner artist. I’m talking about the individual who doesn’t get quite as tempted to follow a rabbit hole of inspiration at 2 A.M. or has a relentlessly defiant inner rebel that appears every time the alarms of *imminent deadline* creeps up (seemingly out of nowhere). 

As much as us artistic folk want to master our time management, it seems almost paradoxical: the very nature of our work (and the core of our being) relies heavily on the nature of responding to unexpected bouts of inspiration. So how can we be free to flow with such waves when adhering to a rigid, predetermined structure? I’ve struggled with this heavily on my own journey. But, like the balance in all of nature, there is a place for both. If we practice the art of improvisation within our time management just as we would with our instrument or canvas, the balance between both can be a joyful, continuous dance. 

I’ve split this article into a 2-part list: the first collection of bullet points focuses on the management, left-brain side of this dance, and the second on the creative, right-brain side. They’re structure and flow, yin and yang: they need each other. And, since this is time management, we also need bullet points. Not to mention, my OCD nature gets a thrill out of categorising these for you.


Part 1: The building blocks of time management


1. Health first

“To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep the mind strong and clear.”

Buddha

I discovered yoga at eighteen, at a time when I needed a self-care practice, badly. I was a spiralling teen, using drink and drugs to a dangerous excess to numb and escape my turbulent childhood. I always had high ambitions for my music career, but my complete lack of self-care wasn’t sustainable and was certainly going to destroy any promise of fulfilling my dreams. I started to awaken to this realisation through yoga and haven’t looked back. 

If you haven’t got into an exercise or meditation routine, or developed healthy eating habits, addressing these things can feel daunting. But every tiniest step in the right direction is as valuable as the next and you can gain momentum by focusing on small, short-term goals. It’s 100% a journey. 

I now have a morning routine of journaling, exercise, meditation, affirmations and visualisation, and I follow a plant-based diet, but I did NOT build this up overnight – this is the result of 6 years of trial and error! And though I recommend any one of these elements, I’m not saying any one of these are exactly what you should do (including the plant-based diet, no vegan pushing here). They’re simply what I’ve found make me feel best, in body and mind.

When I feel clear and energised, I show up for my day in a much better way than when I rush out of bed in a hurry. Making the time to nurture your body and mind before the demands of the world come rushing in isn’t a luxury, it’s essential.


2. Time blocking: the groundwork for all time management


In 1958, Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British historian, invented the infamous Parkinson’s Law: one of the groundworks for time management. The law states, “work expands so as to fill the time of its completion”. This means, whether we give ourselves two hours, one week or a year, we will subconsciously find a way to fill the time we’ve allotted for it. Saying this, the law should not be used to set unreasonable deadlines (of which time tracking can help with in Step 4).

By time blocking, you set fixed amounts of time to focus on a given activity, and then schedule these blocks into a schedule/calendar. This practice revolutionised my ability to see how I’m balancing my time across the whole week, and in turn, creates urgency to show up each day.


3. Schedule breaks and unscheduled time just as you would any focused activity


It can be hard at first to create estimates for how much you can REALISTICALLY fit into any given week, but trial and error is the greatest teacher. My kryptonite was always being overly ambitious and obsessive at the expense of my well-being, but I hit a turning point during lockdown that I can’t stress enough: SCHEDULE BREAKS. As mad as this may sound to some, I predict that if you’re reading this, you’re an ambitious artistic entrepreneur that struggles with making enough time for yourself. But it’s as essential to block out time for rest as for any focused activity.

Breaks fall under two categories: 

  1. Regular breaks between focused tasks
  2. Daily/weekly blocks of free, unstructured time

Regular breaks between focused tasks:

The ‘Pomodoro Technique’ (another groundwork of time management) is a method that uses a timer to break work down into intervals with focused productive time, followed by a small break. Traditionally, the method advocates 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break, but you can change that as you see fit (50m/10m is my personal favourite). The idea is that when the focus time is longer, so is the break. As artists, this can feel quite rigid when we get into a creative flow, but there’s a hefty amount of research to back up how beneficial this is for your brain.

Another point that needs to be stressed is that a break is NOT the time to check your phone, consume TV, or engage your brain in any other stimulating way. A break is a break from all activity and can include (some of my favourites): making tea, doing a few stretches, meditating, closing your eyes and listening to some music, or people watching from your window. 

Brendon Burchard, author of “High Performance Habits” (recommend for you self-development junkies out there), stresses that regular breaks are crucial for sustainable high-performance. He has an interesting “release tension, set intention” meditation technique:

  1. Close your eyes, scan your body, releasing any tension you notice
  2. Set an intention for your next block of work/activity

Daily/weekly blocks of free, unstructured time:

This is VITAL. In my self-research, I discovered I need at least 1 day completely off, and preferably 1.5 (i.e. Saturday off from the afternoon, after a productive morning, and the whole of Sunday off). This was alien to me for the first two years of London life, but I’ve accepted I need it as much as I need focused time. We’re not robots – we need freedom from our schedule, especially when we’re highly ambitious and most of our week is regimentally structured. 

Scheduling it ahead of time allowed me to let go of a HELLA lot of guilt I would put on myself if I had an unplanned day off. It gets you to be more intentional and creative about how you could make the most of this day (go on an adventure in the city or country, organise a meetup with mates) as opposed to numbing yourself with Netflix in an attempt to have a break. As much as Netflix and Prime Video are one of my go-to’s for some time out (I might be obsessed with productivity, but I’m human), research has shown that binging doesn’t give your brain much of a break at all and is actually extremely energy-draining in comparison to energy-generating time with friends or in nature.

One more note: schedule a couple of hours each day to have unstructured time too, preferably 1-2 in the afternoon, and a couple in the evening before bed (minimum). Having everything structured for even one day can result in you rebelling against your own schedule. Daily free time helped me feel more human: having the space to go outside for a walk, connect with my loved ones, or even just regain the freedom to CHOOSE what I want to do in the moment.


4. Use time tracking to find out how long it ACTUALLY takes you to complete tasks


Research about task completion times conducted at the University of Waterloo in Canada found evidence that “task completion plans normally resemble best-case scenarios and yield overly optimistic predictions of completion times”. Yep, we’re crap at accurately predicting how long it’ll take us to do anything, and never seem to want to take into account any unforeseen circumstances, which can be a problem if you want to manage your day. Enter: time tracking. 

For the next week, I suggest you get a super cheap, tiny pocket journal (or do it on your phone, Gen Z-ers) and track every activity you do. This helped me to learn how much time I need to feel truly satisfied with a practice session (anything under 1.5 hours feels rushed) or to be more realistic about how long it actually takes me to get ready in the morning, accepting more and stressing less. This will also hold you accountable for time you wasted scrolling through that influencer’s Insta account. When you see it written down, it makes you think twice the next day.


5. Habits and routines


Habits and routines are GOLDUST for efficiency. My morning routine sets me up, primes my mind, and generates energy for the day. If I ever miss it, I feel like a slug. One book I’d highly recommend getting your hands on if you’re interested in setting up your own morning routine is “The Miracle Morning”. Author Hal Elrod proclaims that “focused, productive, successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful days – which inevitably creates a successful life”.

Once habits are set into our daily routines, they become consistent patterns that we don’t have to think about. When they become instinctive, they eliminate ‘decision fatigue’: a psychological phenomenon coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister. Decision fatigue suggests we each have a finite store of mental energy for decision making, and so self-discipline outside of a routine is much harder than one that’s set up by automatic habit. Once you get through the first month (the time to set a habit is constantly up for debate, but this is a widely accepted rough guideline), you’ve paved your way to save all that energy for the rest of the day. And, positive habits will look after you like a well-trained coach, giving you more energy to focus on your creative work.

Written by Kaia Vieira


Pt. 2 will discuss creativity within time management. Coming this Friday!

why-music-matters-retrain

My Rant About Why Music Matters

artist, creativity, music, self-love

All my important memories are tied to music. My first big love, my first breakup, all the other loves, and all the other breakups. Summer trips, my high school graduation, birthdays, Christmases. I remember being seventeen after my first boyfriend broke up with me, sitting on the couch in our living room, scrolling through Youtube. I remember finding Lesley Gore and hearing ‘You Don’t Own Me‘. How empowering that felt, and how that song catapulted me out of the couch and onto the street for the first time in days.

One of my most cherished memories is mouthing the lyrics to ‘Ignition’ by R. Kelly to my ex-boyfriend from across the room (and yes, I am ashamed of the memory being tied to this specific song). I still can’t listen to it without thinking of him. I have other friends who have had similar experiences – I have a friend who can’t hear ‘Psycho Killer‘ without thinking of his ex-girlfriend, though they’d been broken up for years (it is an unfortunate title for a song that reminds you of your ex).

I remember the weekend of the Philosophy Olympiad when all the finalists were staying in the same hotel, and someone kept playing ‘Pumped Up Kicks‘ in our room. And when one of my classmates sang ‘7 Years‘ by Lukas Graham at our high school graduation and we all cried (okay, maybe not all of us). I remember dancing in a club to ‘Valerie‘ when I first moved to London. And what would Christmas be without my dad playing free jazz in the background? Or studying for exams without ABBA or the Disney soundtrack? What fun is cleaning the house without singing along to Taylor Swift?

Yes, maybe on a practical level, musicians don’t matter as much as doctors or engineers. But can you imagine a world without music? Without dance? Or art? Would you want to live in it? I wouldn’t. This has been uttered by so many creatives before me, but how would we have survived lockdown if we didn’t have music, films, and books? Yet still, people seem to doubt the importance of the arts.

Most artists were already juggling jobs before the virus and scraping by on dismal paychecks while honing their craft because they believed that their work mattered enough to endure the questions about when they were going to get ‘real jobs’. It was already hard before COVID. But it has become harder – now that the UK government is telling people to rethink, reskill, and reboot. Now that the professions we have been training for our whole lives are being degraded and disregarded.

But imagine… Imagine if we listened. If all the artists that had ever been told to quit and do something else actually stopped and did something else. How many musicians and dancers would be left? How many writers? Or actors and filmmakers? Because no matter how talented they are, every artist has heard those words before. Yes, even Beyoncé. So I ask again… Would you want to live in that world?

I Can Be Happy For My Friends And Also Really Jealous

artist, music, self-love

“I’m so happy for you,” I lied through my teeth. “This is just amazing.”

We were sitting in my kitchen, eating the three-day-old curry I wanted to get rid of. Clara (obviously not her real name) is one of my closest friends but she makes my life insanely hard sometimes by being better at things and having the nerve to talk about it. That day, she had just told me that she was working with a producer who was a household name in the industry, recorded a live session in some expensive studio, and was working on the release of her EP that I knew was going to knock it out of the park.

It’s not that I didn’t have accomplishments of my own – this happened pre-corona, and at the time of the conversation, I was still scheduled to do a work placement at ‘The Guardian’, I had just performed at my first spoken word open mic, and had started playing with a cellist. But all these milestones paled in comparison to Clara’s. She had a manager for fuck’s sake! And it wasn’t one of the music business students from our uni, it was a grey-haired man with glasses, the epitome of professionalism. Eating the soggy curry, I regretted not having made dinner that night. At least I could have shown off my cooking skills.

Clara and I didn’t become fast friends when we met. First, I resented her for several months because she looked more professional, sang with more confidence and better technique, and I didn’t want to admit to myself, let alone to her, that there were musicians out there who were better than me. Never mind that she was a completely different artist and that comparing yourself to anyone will almost always end badly.

Our first foray into friendship came when we both got drunk after the last day of term before Christmas. I become a nice, honest person when I’m tipsy. A couple drinks in, I blurted out: “I am really intimidated by you. I’m sorry if I’ve been a complete bitch, you actually seem quite nice.” We talked about female friendship, and how common it is for women to be competitive and jealous of each other when we should be holding each other up (which should be a blog post in itself, really). We went clubbing together that night, and we laughed so much that Clara said she’d peed her pants a little when we took the tube back to her place, and I crashed in her bed wearing her sweatpants.

We became friends after, and a lot of the bad blood between us (that was mostly in my head, anyway) disappeared. But every time she brought up her successes, it still bothered me, even though I tried to be happy for her. There was a voice in my head asking myself whether she was showing off, or telling me that stuff to make me feel incompetent. Every time I talked about my achievements or my problems, they didn’t seem to matter as much as hers. And then I started asking myself whether I was jealous, or if that feeling of discomfort at her good news came from a deeper place – a crack in our friendship.

I was thinking all that while Clara talked away, ripping off a piece of naan bread and dipping it into the curry. It all happened in my flatshare in Battersea – the perfect flat on the fifteenth floor where you could see the London Eye from the window if you squinted. I still mourn about giving up my room due to COVID. We had tea and exchanged books, and when she left, I breathed a sigh of relief. I felt like a complete loser.

I spent that weekend avoiding her texts and thinking about my life. I called my parents, who wisely said I should talk it out with Clara. Obviously, I ignored that advice. I journalled about how annoyed I was at Clara’s perfect life. I talked to my flatmates and some of my friends about it. Literally anyone but Clara herself. And then I went to one of her gigs to watch her play. And she was perfect.

She was playing with her band and the spotlight was flickering on and off, reflecting on her golden jacket with puffy sleeves. She was singing a disturbing song about death as the audience was jumping around to the beat and ignoring the lyrics. Her face was constantly assuming weird facial expressions that I inadvertently found myself copying while singing. Something about it all made my heart melt. I had seen her play so many times, but I only thought about the first time and how much she’d grown since we first got drunk together and danced to ‘Sk8ter Boi’ by Avril Lavigne. That’s how mothers felt, I thought.

A while later, we were standing by the bar after another gig of another friend, and I said I hadn’t talked to her because she was barely there when I was going through a terrible time with my ex-boyfriend, and she said: “You penis! Why didn’t you just tell me?” And I thought: she’s right, why didn’t I?

Now, when we call (because the pandemic has scattered me and my closest friends all around the world and talking by the bar at a gig of a friend is not an option anymore), she tells me her good news, and I tell her mine, and sometimes, I feel jealous. For example, now, she has a lovely boyfriend, and I have a cold sore on my lip. But I’d never want a friendship where my friend can’t tell me something that made her happy. Sometimes, it’s terrible timing. Sometimes, it makes me feel like I’m not good enough. But I’d feel even worse if she didn’t have all that good stuff to tell me. Of course, I feel jealous! But maybe that’s okay. I can be jealous and insanely proud and happy, all at the same time. It’s hard to be a woman as is, so I want to be her safe space. And I want to know everything.

starting-over-new-start

The Beauty of Starting Over (and the Horror of It)

artist, creativity, self-love

I could never commit to one thing for a long time. I get bored easily – with hobbies, people, places. Music has always been the one constant in my life – even though I might go a month without looking at my guitar, I know I will always come back to it. Everything else has always been in motion – I have never had the same friends for longer than a few years, I grow restless if I stay in one place for too long.

I started growing restless again a year ago. Having lived in London for two years, I wasn’t sure if I could deal with the constant grind and the busyness culture for much longer. I wanted to go out and not worry about spending all my savings on three pints of beer. I wanted to live in a city where people don’t jog to work but have enough time to go for an afternoon run. I wasn’t getting bored. I was growing tired.

A month ago, I went to Berlin. I drank beer by the river in Kreuzberg, walked around flea markets, laughed and cried a lot. Life almost felt normal again, after six months of strange nothingness. Berlin was pulling me in the way it always does – with cheap food and good people. I wanted to stay.

Moving is always a big decision, and no matter what you do, it almost always means starting from scratch. For me, it meant that no one in Berlin would know that I have already done years of open mics, or that I started gigging when I was thirteen. I wouldn’t be able to draw a crowd to a concert. It meant I didn’t know anyone who could play the guitar or the cello with me. I didn’t know any promoters. There were so many things I would have to do again, even though I’ve gone through this twice already.

As I packed my suitcase, I changed my mind about leaving for Berlin twice. I made pro and con lists (absolutely useless). I talked to my friends and family about it. Usually, leaving comes easily to me, but this time, I felt like I had built something in London and I didn’t want to leave it behind. I asked myself at what stage I had to put my music first.

But music has always been an inseparable part of me. No matter where I go, I’m taking all the songs I’ve learnt and written with me. I’m bringing my guitar. And I might not know any musicians in Berlin, and my music career might hit a temporary standstill, but think of all the adventures and all the new songs that I’ll write. Sometimes, the choices we make as musicians are not the best for our careers. But they don’t always have to be.

Other things make musicians tick apart from promoters and rehearsals. Stories are just as important. Living life is just as important. And there’s beauty in starting over again. I can sing at an open mic with a bad hangover for the first time, and no one will know it’s out of character.

On my first night in Berlin, I arrived with a guitar and a suitcase full of recording equipment and books on songwriting. A friend had to pick me up from the station because I could barely lift the thing, and one of the wheels broke on the way to the U-Bahn. My backpack got stolen from under my seat in a bar that same night, with my passport and laptop in it (partly my fault for bringing it with me in the first place). And then I realised that I had just moved to a city where I only know one person, and I cursed myself for coming.

But now, I’ve written a song about how my backpack got stolen, and it sounds like regret but also like hope, and a little bit like Berlin.

Guest Post: On the Impermanence of Artistic Personas and Authentic Imperfection

artist, creativity, music, self-love

I changed my persona from Kantisunflower to K_anti because I didn’t want to go by someone I was not anymore. Producers would approach me with a very particular style of music but I’m a versatile person, I want to explore everything. Before music, I wanted to be a director, before that an astronaut, before that a cheerleader. But we’re taught we can only pursue one dream. Fuck that! I want to pursue and do anything; the space in-between is the space for me to do and be anything I want. Music should be as fluid as any other type of artistic expression, and this is what I intend to explore as K_anti.

My newest EP “Go outside and meet your love” has cyber-space vibes. During quarantine, I was inside all day on my phone, iPad, laptop, wired in. It was a sudden change from exploring the world, touring Asia, to this brutal reality. But it helped me self-reflect and evolve more than I’d ever done before. “Logging off”, the last track, is my favourite because it sounds like freedom to me. Like I was breaking free from this digital world. I think social media is unhealthy. I hate the instant gratification it gives us, that everyone is so wired. We don’t talk and look into each other’s eyes. I missed human connection and intimacy. 

The funny thing is, I was always a bit of a shut-in. I loved my space and could spend days doing nothing. But as soon as we were forced to stay inside, it became a prison. There’s so much life out there, so much beauty to be seen and felt. Now I make an effort to go do something every day, even if I’m alone. I was always hurt by people, so I closed myself off to everyone, only to learn that there is so much beauty out there that the pain is worth it. 

I’ve always been open to sharing my vulnerabilities online, but I struggled more with being open in real life to my friends. When you share something online, you don’t see a reaction, so it can feel quite freeing. I think people have gone through so much, if we were more open about it, we’d be able to connect with everyone. The reason we’re afraid of vulnerability is because of judgement. To release the fear, you should withhold from judgement yourself. If more people acted on empathy, vulnerability wouldn’t seem so frightening. 

I’ve always fought with perfectionism. People think I don’t care, but I put a lot of effort into the things I make. I just do everything by feeling. I don’t know technicalities, so my work won’t be perfect to professionals, but I think that’s beauty in itself. That’s when you start creating things no one else could remake. I’ve seen perfectionism impair people. We need to let go of this box and rules we’re taught. We need less perfect and more authentic. I think this is why I battle with education so much because it’s an establishment that teaches you to follow all these rules. I never resonated with that.

I’ve been diving into Hinduism lately and reading books about Hare Krishna. In one book, Guru Prabhupada wrote about how we once had a child’s body, and though that body isn’t around anymore, our inner child still exists. Every day we’re changing, we should let go of the expectations people hold of us. Our physical body is a man, woman, mother, daughter, teacher, friend, lover, artist, musician, but these are labels created by others. In reality, we’re nothing. If we accept that, we’re free to be and do anything we want to. When you realise this, you can start living the way you want.

We can’t change anyone’s perception of us, only how we view ourselves. This was my biggest lesson in self-love. I try to give myself as much love as I give others, and living this way has made me very happy. To idolise a person is unhealthy, and I think that’s why praise has always made me uncomfortable. I don’t connect to that aspect of “fame”. We’re all the same, a pure spirit. Remember that. I’m no better than anyone, no less than anyone, I’m just me.

Written by k_anti

time-off-from-making-music

It’s Okay to Take Time Off From Making Music

artist, creativity, music, productivity, self-love, songwriting

Last year, I didn’t write a single song all summer. I didn’t touch my guitar until September and only read non-fiction for three months. I didn’t want poetry and I didn’t listen to music, except for Lana del Rey’s “Lust for Life” that I already knew by heart. Sometimes, I watched Netflix, mostly “Gilmore Girls” that I had already seen twice, and lay around on the couch eating ice cream and thinking about quitting music.


I have friends who worry about writer’s block. I don’t have writer’s block, I have stretches of time when I believe music has ruined my life and I should become a lawyer and make my parents proud. Sometimes, it’s when I have one too many gigs where somebody shouts a sexist comment from the bar or walks out in the middle of a song. Sometimes, it’s after I get another rejection email about how my voice is not folky enough (even though it’s not, that’s true). Most of the time, it has nothing to do with my music and everything to do with what other people think about my music.


And it’s not that I’m one of those musicians that put in hours every day playing their instrument or warming up my voice, so, at times, I don’t even notice when I haven’t played or written any songs for over a week. But, after a time away, I always feel the urge to come back. Artists split themselves open to show others the pain and the rot inside, to share their joy and the love they feel, and sometimes, all that splitting open, all the honesty can feel like too much. And it’s okay to take time to heal from that once in a while.


“If you’re having difficulty coming up with new ideas, then slow down. For me, slowing down has been a tremendous source of creativity. It has allowed me to open up – to know that there’s life under the earth and that I have to let it come through me in a new way. Creativity exists in the present moment. You can’t find it anywhere else.”

Natalie Goldberg, “Writing Down the Bones”

Last September, after a summer with no music, I went into a bookstore in New York and bought a notebook (okay, five) and got home and started writing. I didn’t stop writing for the next three months. Not just because I had missed it, but because I’d spent the time away from it living my life, and I had stuff to write about.


Sometimes, we just need a break. Every time I take time off from music, I believe I’m quitting forever. But I never do. And neither will you.

i-still-struggle-to-be-everything

I Still Struggle with Rejection

artist, self-love

I had a shitty day today, and I figured that if I’m not gonna talk about it, there’s no point to this blog. I’ve spent a long time trying to be everything people wanted a perfect person to be, only to realise a couple years ago that no one likes a perfect person. But I still don’t deal well with rejections of any kind and every time I get one, I feel like I’m not enough. 

It’s still hard to unlearn the compulsion to please, and from a conversation with a friend the other day, I’ve realised that my self-worth is still very much dependent on other people. Even on compliments I get from random guys on Tinder, which is a precarious position to find myself in. I’m not a psychotherapist, so I don’t always know how to deal with this shit. I’m not depressed. I just have off days when all I want to do is watch Netflix and cry.

Sometimes, it’s only a day. Sometimes, it’s a week. It’s happened that it’s lasted for months, too, though. I don’t deal well with rejections, but all artists get plenty of them. After releasing a new EP, apart from compliments from friends and family, I also got emails from blogs that didn’t want to write about it because my voice was not folky enough or my guitar sounded too harsh in the recording. I regularly get emails from promoters who don’t think I will be able to draw a sufficiently big crowd. Sometimes, I don’t get any replies at all. It can get tough, especially because often, I’m too embarrassed by the barrage of rejections to even talk about it with my friends. Here’s what I do instead:


1. I write

When I keep everything inside, I inevitably crash. I overthink everything, and if I don’t write stuff down, my thoughts spin out of control. When I sit down and write – lyrics, diary, essay, whatever – it helps me to put my thoughts in perspective. Another thing that I do is affirmations. When I feel really low, I try to write down thoughts that are the opposite of what I’m actually thinking, like “I am a good musician”, “I’m proud of myself for putting myself out there”, “I’m brave”. Even if I don’t always believe it, it puts my mind in a better place.


2. I clean my room

When I feel like shit, it’s usually because I’m not in control. Cleaning the space around me makes me feel like I still own my narrative and like I care about myself enough to make an effort. It also prepares me for a better day tomorrow, when I’ll wake up in a clean room, ready to start a new day. Besides, cleaning itself is pretty therapeutic (maybe that’s just me).


3. I hold a pity-party for myself

Some songs always put me in a good mood. ‘Dancing with Myself‘ by Billy Idol, ‘Istanbul (Not Constantinople)’ by They Might Be Giants, ‘Paper Planes‘ by M.I.A. make me want to dance. So, I put them on and sing along and dance awkwardly, as you do. Sometimes, it doesn’t work and I return to bed. But sometimes, listening to those songs makes me want to get out of the house and get a drink with friends, and I stop feeling like I’m a sad vegetable and go have some fun.


4. I do something I’ve been putting off for a while

I have this Spotify playlist that I’m really proud and only slightly embarrassed of. It’s called the Bad Bitch Playlist. When I get rejected for some – according to me – unjust reason, I don’t always feel like shit. Sometimes, I feel angry. So, I put on this playlist and go to work. I go through my to-do list, do something I had been planning to do for a while (like recording a song, writing a blog post, learning a guitar lick), and it leaves me feeling better about myself.


5. I go easy on myself

It’s hard to remember, but I can’t be everything people want me to be. I’m only myself, with all my weaknesses and limitations. But then again, no one expects me to be perfect except for myself. I try to remember that when I feel like a useless, emotional wreck. I try not to judge and I try to listen to my body. If I’m tired, I take a day off – maybe go for a walk, maybe take a shower, maybe watch some Netflix. I give myself a break, so that I feel better when a new day comes around.