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Question: How do you balance health and productivity?

FROM : Anonymous

Question: A large part of being able to create is feeling healthy, which can be hard given stress and anxiety, a lack of healthcare options, and any other number of things that can make it hard to focus. How do you balance being creatively productive with maintaining a healthy mind/body?

I haven’t found a real balance yet. I’ve just figured out how to keep my body and mind from fully breaking down, and the creative productivity can come or not come—but I don’t have the capacity to worry about that.

I don’t think real balance is possible as long as you’re in a fundamentally unbalanced place, like the music industry. A lot of trying to stay healthy is learning to say no. I schedule regular short breaks between tours or between shows so I can go to the doctor, pick up my prescriptions, or just eat a real meal and get a full night’s sleep. I keep these short maintenance breaks no matter what, and I turn down a lot of gigs for them. I don’t drink alcohol on tour, and I go straight to sleep as soon as I can after shows. I also have a workout regimen that can be done without equipment in a small space in about 20-30 minutes, so I can work out in a corner of the venue after soundcheck, where I won’t bother anyone. I used to get very ill or just collapse on tour, and realized I wouldn’t be able to keep doing this if I wasn’t physically strong. I’m only able to do this type of work because I’m able-bodied—I can’t imagine how prohibitive being on tour would be if I was disabled in any way.

When I’m on tour, I keep a water bottle, a thermos, and lot of pre-packaged non-expiring food with me because I don’t know when or what I’ll be able to eat next. I only do press or promo when I have something to promote, otherwise I say no. As an artist, you’re given the impression that every opportunity is the last and only and best opportunity you’ll ever get, and there’s a lot of pressure to say yes to whatever opportunities or working conditions are thrust upon you. You have to keep reminding yourself that there will be other opportunities, and that no matter how shiny or fleeting the chance in front of you looks, if you’re sick or burned out then you won’t be able to follow through on new opportunities anyway.

And lastly, something I’ve been working on is staying in close touch with my support system. I don’t think I would have survived this long if I hadn’t been able to text or call my musician friends on a regular basis.

Mitski is a multi-instrumentalist songwriter who has released five albums. The latest, Be the Cowboy, came out in August 2018. She sold out her most recent tour in advance. She has a great Twitter account.

I think about getting to a place where I’m not thinking about my mind/body 80% of my day. The ideal is to just be. I rarely get there, but choices matter for sure. Whether it’s eating something that’s not going to give me brain fog or trying to find an hour at any time to go to yoga, or taking supplements... I’m a freak about health. I do all of it, which tends to stress me out! The main thing I’ve learned, though, is that yes—it’s good to know what’s going to negatively affect your body so you can always move towards freedom by making good choices. But, it’s also important to take as much time as you need. I will sit for a whole day or longer listening to isochronic tones to clear my head when I’m working on a new piece. I think that the anxiety of time is often what leads me to feeling unhealthy, or to making poor decisions. But time is not something we can avoid, so grappling with it can be difficult. Learning to take time to do what I know helps me, as well as taking time to explore and discover in general, has helped me have a healthier mind/body.

One half of the performance group FlucT, Monica Mirabile is an interdisciplinary artist working in performance, video sculpture, choreography, and installation. Her work navigates the processing of information in the body.

Maintaining a healthy mind/body is a very tricky balance to strike, and I don’t always succeed. Lately the things that have helped me the most are knowing when to say no, knowing my limitations, and understanding that creativity is not a race. Quality > quantity. When you are maxed out emotionally, psychologically, and physically, you won’t be able to operate at full steam, and will therefore be less likely to deliver in ways that represent what you are truly capable of.

Another thing is knowing your innate worth as a human being first, and then as an artist. You must believe that what you have to offer matters no matter how outside influences and voices attempt to diminish that. I think a lot of artists struggle with feeling inadequate, largely because of capitalistic structures that tell us we don’t matter unless we are turning a profit. For musicians nowadays that means touring all the time, releasing a constant stream of music, making endless vapid social media posts for the sake of “branding” (barf), and so on and so forth. For many musicians, the resources to achieve that intense level of operation and “content” (double barf) are impossible to come by. So it’s a chicken and egg kind of thing, which can be maddening.

Overall, the process and the work itself are what matter most, not whatever attention, validation, money, or followers may or may not come from it all. Trusting in that is hard, but necessary. Meditating on all of these things keeps me in check mentally. Physically, the most important thing for me is to sleep and to avoid excessive drinking, partying, etc. Everything is connected, and physical wear and tear affects your mental state as well. Every day brings another opportunity for an idea to blossom, or a skill to be honed. Don't trash your body. Don’t burn out. Don’t die. Take baths. Go for walks. Spend time with loved ones. Find affordable therapy if you can.

Hether Fortune is a musician, poet, writer, and artist. She fronted the band Wax Idols for a decade, and is currently at work on a debut solo album as well as a memoir. She published her first book of poetry, Waiting in Various Lines (2013-2017), earlier this year.

When I am deep in a project—especially one where maintaining momentum is crucial—is when I’m most likely to start ignoring self care, eating a handful of chips instead of dinner, working ‘til midnight, and getting up at five. What I do to stay in balance requires reasoning with the part of myself that insists that I don’t have time to rest, or that more coffee will take care of it. I have to remind myself that it will only take 20 minutes to cook a decent meal, and that I can still listen to the thing I am researching then. I also have to remind myself to go walk for 40-60 minutes and listen to a dharma talk or a podcast that feels nutritive, and “feed” myself that way, because my creativity needs fuel to be sustained, too. I find that nothing serves my mental and emotional health like meditation, yet when I am deep in production on a project it’s always the first thing to go. Because of this, I have reminder alarms on my phone that pop up every day and ask, “What seed are you planting?” And “What matters most today?” Having a meditation bell app that rings at random intervals also helps to pull me back into awareness and out of my head, and I find that really valuable.

Jessica Hopper is a music critic and the author of Night Moves and The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic. She was formerly the Editorial Director at MTV News, and an editor at Pitchfork and Rookie.

In short, I think I haven't been doing a good job of maintaining anything like health for a very long while. I agree with you that a large part of feeling creative is feeling healthy, and feeling like I am one with my body processes. I haven't felt like that very often over the past few years, partially because my day-to-day life has involved a lot of care-taking. Another reason that I haven't felt healthy is that I've faced some health stuff that has made me pretty sedentary. Ideally, I am most creative when I am running nearly every day and eating lots of vegetables and drinking lots of water. It's crazy how simple it is and yet how hard it is to make that happen. The other thing is that, in order to be creative, people need to be in control of their time. Maybe this is why a residency can be so helpful for some artists. Again, creating a balance is so key, but I haven't figured out yet how to do it. I am best when I am blissed out by passion or have a plate of endless fruit in front of me. Right now I feel like a stale, slowly vibrating cracker. I am not sure what this means for the poems I have been writing.

Dorothea Lasky is the author of five books of poems, most recently Milk (Wave Books, 2018). She teaches poetry at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and lives in New York City.