I’ve been seeing a lot of dead mice lately. There was the tiny grey one, its fur like the softest cashmere, lying on the sidewalk by our house, and then there was the little, shiny-black one, glistening in the sun on the side of the trail, both of them looking merely like they were settling in for a nap. They tugged at my heart just a little, tugged at my dog’s curiosity a lot. Then there was the less endearing is-it-a-very-large-mouse or a very-small-rat partly-eviscerated thing on the sidewalk near town. Whatever it was, it doesn’t really matter, because it just elicited a kind of nauseating horror in me. I yanked on my dog’s leash and moved on.
I am generally not prone to falling for superstition, religious signs, or calls of spiritual awakening by the universe. I tend to be much more grounded in the realities of this thing called life. I like to spend time mucking around in the earthliness of life, getting my hands dirty and experiencing things on a visceral level. But still, when something shows up with greater frequency than normal, I will sometimes sit up and pay attention.
When I saw the third deceased mouse, I decided to pull out my native american animal wisdom book, the one I bought nearly two decades ago when I was always on the lookout for some kind of sign, any kind of sign, to guide my way. I don’t put much stock or faith in it, but I still find it fun to look at, see if there is anything I can glean from it.
And so I looked up Mouse Medicine. Which apparently has to do with scrutiny and detail. People who have mouse as their personal medicine tend to be very organized, have a place and a system for keeping everything in order.
I will not show you photos of my desk, but I will tell you it is evidence that I do not have mouse medicine. I could use a little more mouse medicine, especially at tax time. Maybe that’s why all the mice I’m seeing these days are dead.
But there is another aspect of mouse medicine, its great weakness according to the animal totem people, and that is its tendency to chew every little detail to bits, a failure to see the big picture, an inability to view life with a more expansive perspective. Since all of the recent visitations were by decidedly dead mice, I decided maybe that’s what I’m supposed to be looking at.
As independent musicians, we do everything. We create our art, we write, we arrange, we rehearse, we practice together and individually, we produce, we record, we perform. We book, we promote, we work on websites and social media and networking, we do our bookkeeping and our taxes. We actually rarely stop working. But we are pretty lucky because we both, over the years, have slipped into roles that work for us individually and as a team.
And we love what we do. We let it sit on a side burner for too many years and so now we are like two horses at the gates, ready to bolt, now that we are recommitting to the art we love. And with that comes a lot of impatience, a lot wanting things to happen NOW, not tomorrow or next month or next year.
And so in the midst of the dead mouse visitations, I realized that I was so eager to get the music OUT THERE, that I was getting hung up on really, really stupid minutiae. Like how many Facebook likes our page has received or how many times a video has been watched.
Another musician friend of ours recently posted a question about noticing little ups and downs on her Facebook page likes. I was relieved to know I wasn’t the only one obsessing over that kind of thing (and a little jealous, because she has WAY more likes). But I was also a little horrified that so many of us have come to a place where we know, on any given day, just how many likes our page has — or should have, according to our last check. Like a bunch of little mice, so buried in the quantification of details, details we sometimes conflate with the value of our art, that we forget to step back and see the big picture.
Maybe bigger artists aren’t so hung up on those numbers. Or maybe they are, but they are able to hire someone else to manage that part of what has apparently become a necessary part of an independent musician’s career. And maybe paying attention to those kinds of things does have some place in the life of a musician.
But maybe it’s also important to take the time to step back. To see how many people who didn’t know your band existed six months ago now actually do. To recognize that we weren’t even officially Society of Broken Souls eight months ago. To always, always, always keep working on the craft by never forgetting the small details that really and truly matter: the perfect addition of an organ part, or just the right note on the piano, a chord that makes your heart ache, or a song lyric that takes weeks to uncover.
I trust the Facebook likes will come. Or they won’t. But in the end, what matters is the love of the art and the way the marriage of words and music makes us come alive. And that love will always be the single, most compelling reason why we do what we do.
September 2, 2015