I can’t do much of anything when I’m feeling down, let alone write a song about it, but one day in 2019 when I was trudging my way back, I made an attempt to leave a breadcrumb trail for my future self.
“The Only Way Out Is Through” is my attempt to trap the “shapeless forces” that “pull at me”, making them solid by assigning words to them, reducing their power and size to something I might feasibly be able to overcome. The aspirational sentiment that “resistance is crucial, forgiveness is beautiful” is one I find very hard to enact in the moment, but something I can at least continue to strive for.
Ironically, this song is being released during my lowest fortnight of the last 12 months, so the safety line of lyrics I knotted inside the music is a helpful reminder of brighter days.
The choice to release music in a universally dark time isn’t one I take lightly. “The Only Way Out Is Through” is the most resonant and useful piece of music I have to offer right now, a rescue raft for whoever needs one.
That’s what this song is for me.
Gotta get out of this Making a meal of distress Fatalistic to the bone Thunderclouds in every home Gotta get out of this
The only way out is through Not gonna lose my heart – I never meant to The only way out is through
Gotta get out of this Drowning in yesterday’s tears Intimate conspiracies Shapeless forces pull at me Gotta get out of this
The only way out is through Not gonna lose my heart – I never meant to The only way out is through
The only way out is through Not gonna lose my heart I never meant to wish on a falling star But I won’t let it go
Denial take me away Pretend like I’m not the queen of stretching the days In all the wrong ways – til they break Denial take me away I crave your sweet mistakes but Resistance is crucial, forgiveness is beautiful
The only way out is through Not gonna lose my heart – I never meant to The only way out is through
[music] Written, produced and performed by Laura Kidd at The Launchpad, Bristol. Drums by Max Saidi. Mixed by Dan Austin. Mastered by Chris McCormack at Blacklisted Mastering.
Sometimes I wonder why I spend my time in the ways I do. A life’s primary occupation builds up through an infinitesimal series of decisions – what we wanted to be when we grew up, which subjects we chose at school, what the careers advisers told us we could aim for (secretary, in my case), influence from books we read, friends we had, good and bad relationships with good and bad people, exam results, the necessity of earning money to live on, and on and on.
I don’t need or even want to get immediate results from the things I make, but I like to stand back occasionally to get a better view than I’m able to have in my busy day to day life. I’ve never liked the idea of doing things just because I’ve always done them.
Maintaining a career in the arts once you’ve carved one out for yourself is a separate challenge to creating it in the first place, and a lot of work has to go into that, but I do like to remind myself to check in every now and then and take a longer view. What am I trying to achieve with this thing? Am I spending my time wisely? Am I able to keep a roof over my head this month? Ah, but is this part of my daily or weekly work schedule seemingly frivolous but personally enriching? And how about proper time off?
I find it helps me to have solid reasons for why I’m deciding to spend time on something, and if it’s something to be shared, it’s important to have an idea of the effect I’d like it to have on others. I didn’t start thinking about that second part until I started listening to the Creative Pep Talk podcast last year on tour.
After a recommendation by the show’s host Andy J Pizza, I read Seth Godin’s book “This Is Marketing”, in which I learned first and foremost that marketing is NOT advertising, it’s about making a positive change in the world through the things you do, the skills you offer and the things you make and share. I started learning about the idea of “serving your audience / community” by thinking about what your core values are and, in Andy J Pizza’s words, “owning your weird”, and “baking” all of this into what you do, in order to attract likeminded people to your world, people who will get the most from the thing you make because it resonates with them and mirrors their personalities and experiences. It’s a world away from trying to work out what people want to buy and making that – BLARGH. No no no no no.
It was nice to learn that I’d been instinctively doing quite a lot of this stuff throughout my solo music career, but with my new knowledge, I could see how haphazardly I’d been spending my time. I think I know why – my goal to become a full time artist wasn’t clearly defined. I thought a lot about how nice it would be “one day” not to have to work for others, but I also couldn’t imagine that little old me would one day “win the prize” of getting to decide exactly how I spent my days. There are some deep-seated self-confidence issues going on there that would be more suited to a therapy session, but you get the idea.
Spending time thinking more deeply about the ideas I’ve been learning about has enabled me to take a huge leap forward in my life as an artist running a creative business. The reason I’m writing about it here is that I know it doesn’t only apply to careers where people make things and tout them on the internet.
I don’t think a lot of us give ourselves the time and space we need and deserve for self reflection, to ask ourselves simple yet difficult questions like “what are my core values?” and “are they reflected in the things I spend my time doing, both in and outside of work?”. These can be very challenging ideas, and for many reasons we can find ourselves in situations that really don’t fit, but are necessary to sustain our finances.
It’s important for me to keep my goals and my reasons for pursuing a project in mind so that when I feel tired, or low, or like everything I do is frivolous and pointless, I can easily remind myself of them. I need these reasons, that aren’t linked to short term ideas of success like money, or followers, so that on the occasions I do step back and wonder why I’m putting so much time and energy into something, I can remind myself, and keep going.
I started reading “Man’s Search For Meaning” by Victor Frankl this week, subtitled “the classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust”. In the preface, Frankl writes “I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”.
I’m very happy with the concept of defining my own measures of success, unrelated to finances or acclaim. It’s a topic I’ve spoken about at length during various panel discussions, seminars and talks to students as a visiting guest over the years, and something I regularly ask the guests on my podcast.
So, what struck me most about Frankl’s quote – aside from the obvious incredible generosity of spirit, coming as it does from someone who lived through such horrors – is the first line – “listen to what your conscience commands you to do…” – that mysterious, tantalising “call of adventure”, as Joseph Campbell would describe it in his “Hero’s Journey” framework, the elusive thing that gives us the enthusiasm, energy and drive to do something, make something, learn about something. We can’t put our finger on why we’re interested in that thing, but we are, and there’s so much adventure in indulging that, putting in the minutes and the hours, starting to break a big dream down into manageable chunks, working gradually towards a goal and being open to whatever exciting avenues open up to us along the way.
In “Art Matters”, Neil Gaiman writes about your goal as being a huge mountain in the distance. It’s not necessarily clear how to get to the mountain, but you can tell if you’re getting closer or further away with every decision you make. Since reading that book, I’ve practised asking myself questions, whenever something comes along to pique my interest, or I’m invited to do something I hadn’t planned on – will doing this take me closer to the mountain, or send me further away? Is this thing a diversion, or a way of getting closer to where I need and want to be?
Are all diversions bad or worthless? Of course not. But we have to set our own priorities. It’s up to us to define our own mountains, and there can be many that sit under different categories of our lives – a health and fitness mountain, a creative mountain, a “one day I’ll do X” mountain.
Just under two years ago I eloped to Canada with my beau to get married by a waterfall in a mountain range just outside Vancouver. It was glorious. The day after the wedding we embarked on an epic driving trip that took us all the way to Banff and back via stops at Kamloops, Vernon, Revelstoke, Lake Louise and Canmore.
As we left Vancouver on day 1, I remember my jaw dropping as I gazed at the most beautiful mountains I’d ever seen. I couldn’t imagine anything more lovely, and yet as we drove, they got prettier and prettier.
I used to think that I didn’t need to reach the mountain, because it was too far away and the journey towards it was so beautiful anyway – and it is – but I now know there are always other beautiful mountains to aim towards, and only by taking those steps will I ever learn how to keep trying to reach them.
So – what’s your mountain, and what’s your first step towards it?
The thing that’s got me through the ups and downs, the fear, the uncertainty, the confusion, the anger, the frustration and the sheer bizarreness of 2020 is the daily routine I established for myself in early January.
I spent the last chunk of 2019 hopping from tour to tour to tour, winding down a long running music project, wondering what to do next, and how. I played 35 gigs around the UK, France and Germany between September and Christmas. There were ups and downs; some great shows, some awful ones and, as always, a hell of a lot of travelling time to ponder life, the world and my place in it.
I realised that, above anything, I was craving structure, routine, something I could be in control of. Time to develop ideas, time to reflect, time to get fitter, healthier and happier. I’ve always been a bit of a productivity nerd, reading all the major works on the topic throughout my years of freelancing, trying to learn how to run a small business and, in more recent years, how to be a better, nicer boss to my one employee (me!), with varying results.
For me “productivity” isn’t about being the most efficient machine possible, squeezing every last drop of usefulness out of yourself in an effort to “kill it” or “smash it”. If, like me, you’re someone with a lot of ideas and a burning desire to make or do things, getting organised is essential – however you do it.
Over the years I’ve tried different ways of trying to be able to make steady progress with long term goals while having manageable and enjoyable daily and weekly plans that incorporate exercise, reflection and introspection, deep work on the things I care about and healthy food that gives me the energy I need to have the most pleasant day possible. This is the ideal and, while I’ve occasionally managed it, I’ve often felt like the classic duck on the pond analogy – giving off the impression everything is calm and under control, all the while paddling wildly just beneath the surface.
I love the fresh start of a New Year, so in early January I set up some new daily routines for myself, started The Artist’s Way for the third time (and actually completed it, woop!), got serious about being consistent with exercise and meditation, and almost immediately started feeling fresher, clearer headed and more galvanised than ever to make my best work possible. On bad days, I trundled through the hours, tried my best and then moved on. On days when it all seemed utterly pointless, I tried to do a little exercise anyway, knowing that every deposit of good faith I put into myself would do *something* positive, whether I felt it immediately or not.
So, what’s my secret? Planning, showing up, trying my best, tracking my progress and then showing up again tomorrow. That’s it.
There’s something about drawing a tick on a piece of paper that just makes me happy. I get a jolt of satisfaction that makes me want to keep going so I can do it again. Where the dopamine hits we get from seeing notification alerts on our phones can actually make us feel worse, there’s something wholesome about crossing off a task in my bullet journal. Knowing that I’m one step closer to reaching a goal is part of it, but I think the knowledge that I’m living an intentional life full of useful things is also a big driver.
I’ve been keeping a bullet journal for a few years, and would highly recommend it (I use it alongside Trello for longer term goals and moving tasks around easily, Evernote for storing information, Bear for writing without distractions and Google Calendar for scheduling things), but how I do things isn’t perfect, or fixed, and I’m always interested in tweaking and improving.
The key difference between my old system and this new one is the accountability aspect. If I didn’t manage to meditate three times a week in June, I just shrugged and thought, “I have to try harder to do that next week”. This month, every time I don’t manage to achieve one of my small goals, I have to write down why that happened.
One of my July goals is to get to bed by 10pm (so I can read for longer!) and another is to get up at 7.30am to exercise. The latter I can usually manage, the former I find really hard. So far this month I only have three + signs in my “go to bed by 10pm” row, and by the middle of the month when I make the next tracker page to take me to the end of July, I might choose to revise that goal, if it’s clearly not working, or have a think about how to achieve it, if it’s something I still really care about trying to achieve. I like this. Instead of feeling like I’m failing at a simple thing I think will improve my life, I can look at whether it’s actually achievable given everything else I’m doing, and adjust it for the next batch of 15 days if necessary.
It’s easy to feel like we have no control over our futures, but we all have at least some control about how we spend some of our minutes, hours and days. I work in the nebulous art of translating feelings and ideas into audio that moves other people, which is why it’s so appealing to me to be able to do concrete things every day that have an effect on how I feel, and therefore how well I’m able to move through my day, working on the things I have decided are important.
Getting back into running has been one of the best things I’ve managed this year, because it shows me that’s true every single week. Every time I run up my local steep hill I’m able to take a few more steps before stopping to walk for a minute, and every week I consistently run twice a week (21 in a row so far, yay!), I can write that down and feel proud of myself just for showing up, again and again.
You may not be able to run, or want to, but I’m sure you could find a little something to do for yourself every week, or every Monday and Friday, or every day, that you can feel good about ticking off each time, and that will show you what you’re capable of as time goes on.
It’s not about being the best at something, it’s about showing up, trying your best and then doing it again. I feel the same way about making albums. I could make the best album in the entire universe, and I still wouldn’t have any control over how it’s received in the world. Once my work is “out there”, all I can do is go back up to my studio and make some more.
I choose to keep turning up because, as photographer Chuck Close so wisely said, “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Over to you:
What could you do towards your big goal next month? What could you do towards your big goal next week? What could you do towards your big goal today?
“Attention Engineer” episode 4 is available now, featuring my conversation with songwriter Frank Turner! Recorded on the precipice of the UK lockdown backstage at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, Frank talks very candidly about the highs and lows of touring, the importance of giving a leg up to other artists and the unsustainability of being an arsehole in the music industry, alongside his love of Chas ‘n’ Dave and a surprising story about an ex-Prime Minister that leaves me speechless.
Thanks to everyone who’s rated and reviewed the show so far, it’s massively helpful especially over on Apple Podcasts, because that’s how new listeners find out about things.
YOU ARE NOT A NUMBER (AND NEITHER AM I)
On 1st June I made a birthday promise to myself to meditate three times a week, after managing to completely let it slide for several months. Of all the things I put into my new morning routine at the start of the year, I know that meditation is by far the most nourishing, and so I have done 6 x 10 minute sessions in the past couple of weeks.
Meditation grounds me, energises me and focuses me. It’s an opportunity to reflect, to notice what’s jumping about uppermost in my busy thoughts, to process immediate stress, to feel like I’m doing something caring for myself. But the problem with being more self aware is…being more self aware!
Day to day, I’ve been feeling pretty much totally fine for the last little while. I’m very good at setting myself seemingly impossible tasks and focusing on them to the exclusion of all other things, which is a brilliantly effective coping tactic short term, but not a very grounded or holistic way to live life.
It would be pointless to put in time to meditate and then ignore the things that come out of it, so I’ve been trying to be more aware of how much I’m using work (fun work, this work, the work of making music and podcasts and communicating with this wonderful community of people) to deal with or minimise my emotions around this lengthy lockdown, and that has led to some wobbly days this week.
I think I’m generally doing a pretty good job in pacing myself during this long distance race with no clear end, but every now and then I just want the world to stop so I can get off. I’m nervous about lockdown rules easing in this vague and confusing way, of other people deciding it’s fine to walk right by me when I’m out because the government has told them it is. I’m wondering whether it will be possible or safe to celebrate my Dad’s 70th birthday with him in August.
How are you getting on with all of this?
Following my notes last week about assessing my social media use, I decided to bite the bullet and take a proper look at Facebook this week. I don’t think I can deactivate my personal account without it having affecting my ability to spread the word about Penfriend on there, so instead I started hacking down my “friends” list.
A few years ago I decided to say yes to every friend request. As I didn’t want to share my deepest secrets anyway, I thought it could be a good way to spread the word about music-related things. Unfortunately, that led to my feed being chock full of strangers and their thoughts. I’m not someone who can casually glance through a timeline of personal loss, political bile and images of animal cruelty without feeling lots of feelings, even when I don’t know the people posting, so I had to stop looking. I actually weaned myself off looking at feeds for quite a long time last year, and my brain felt so much better for it.
When I started scrolling down the list of 3000+ names the other day, I felt creeped out by how few I actually recognised. It was easy to start with, unfriending people who I’d never met, never engaged with in any way, people who seemingly cruise Facebook collecting people. I regularly have upwards of 70 friend requests a day from men around the world, and it’s not because I’m at all well known. It’s…odd.
The criteria became a bit more complicated as I went on. Someone I’d met once, years ago, befriended online and then never talked to again doesn’t need to be linked to me forever, do they? What about primary school friends who I haven’t spoken to since then? Or fellow musicians who use the site for networking? There’s nothing wrong with that, but as I’m not using the site for that purpose, why am I privy to the inner workings of their minds, and they mine? What about people I do know in real life, who wouldn’t say hello to me and have a chat if we saw each other offline? Why on earth are *we* still connected?
Ultimately, we all have to make our own decisions about whether to use certain sites and how to use them. When I read “Deep Work” by Cal Newport last summer, it changed my mindset entirely. He writes about how people use social media services because they’ve become convinced that at some point, there will be some benefit. Newport suggests we should view them as a tool, dispassionately, figuring out what we’d like to use them for and assessing whether that tool is the right one to achieve those goals. For instance, if I want to use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, but I can’t see their posts in my feed, and we never exchange any words, am I getting what I want from Facebook? No! Is there a more effective way of achieving that goal? Perhaps. Do I know what that is? Not yet, but that doesn’t mean Facebook wins by default.
What I feel very strongly is that it’s unmanageable to subscribe to so many other peoples’ lives.
Have you heard of Dunbar’s number? Evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar shared approximate numbers of relationships the human brain can handle: 5 intimates, 15 good friends, 50 close friends, 150 friends. Beyond that, he surmises 500 acquaintances and 1500 people whose faces you could put a name to are the limits of what we’re able to manage. So you can see why 3200 people on a friends list was becoming stressful.
I eagerly jumped aboard the social media train and have had many positive experiences over the years, made real friends, had fun and shared my music. That may even be how we first came into contact, and that’s a wonderful thing! I’m not here to judge anyone else’s actions or to give unsolicited advice (that’s ALWAYS annoying), and I really don’t give a hoot what anyone else does on Facebook.
What I do care about is having energised, clear headed days where I balance my need for sociable interactions offline and online with time to make the things I care about. I want to have proper conversations with those 5 intimates and 15 good friends, and keep up with what my 50 close friends are up to, cheering them on from the sidelines.
If you used to be my Facebook friend and discover you aren’t any more, please rest assured it’s not because I don’t want to be in touch with you, it’s because I don’t think that’s a very good way to be in touch.
I always love to hear from you in the comments or by email.
Thank you for reading, have a great week and take good care.
When I was a little girl, one of my favourite possessions was a shoebox that I filled up with bits of paper, envelopes and leaflets gathered from wherever I could find them. I called it my Post Office, and every now and then I’d take the box from under the bed and pour my treasure out on the floor. I’m hazy on the details, but I remember loving to “play Post Office”, which I imagine meant sorting the assorted paper into different piles and then putting them back in the box.
Later, somehow, I ended up writing letters to children I’d never met, who lived far away – Svetlana in Belarus and Alastair in Derbyshire. It was utterly magical to send my closely written pages to people I would never talk to in person, carefully copying the unfamiliar Russian words onto Svet’s envelopes well enough for her to receive my missives.
It was to Alastair I first proudly declared my aim to be a songwriter when I grew up, having never written a single song, and knowing nothing whatsoever about how to do so. Letter writing predated those heady days when I started to discover my favourite bands by some years, but both activities were a youthful statement of independent thought at an age where actions were dictated by adults.
As I grew older I gathered more people to write to. My family moved every three years, so there were always friends left behind, and in my early teens I wrote to kids I met on school trips, boys at other schools, even friends at the same school as me. We challenged each other to fill up more and more pages and somehow still had enough left to say to talk on the phone for hours in the evening. The freedom I found to express myself in letters is one of my fondest memories of childhood.
On my journey into adulthood, switching to email and blogging and Twitter felt intuitive, but my love for words written by hand on paper never left me. As I released music over the years, getting to “play Post Office” more and more regularly, my role as the maker and sender of things became clear. Writing songs and dispatching them into the world, in whatever format, is a natural progression from the innate desire I had to connect with others from a young age.
I’m delighted to invite you to watch this short video. See you on the other side x