Tending to inspiration
This photo of me is one of my all-time favorites: I’m standing on a trail in the Jungfrau with the Swiss Alps at my back. In 1999, I was in Europe ‘working’ as a traveler’s aid to a not-quite-elderly woman who I did administrative work for back at home in California. My job on the 6-week trip was to assist her as she revisited places that had meant something to her in her youth. As well as ensuring we made our train connections, I drove the rental car we used in Austria, did the shopping and cooking in Paris and Zermatt and handled the luggage. After that, I was free, and during the week-plus that we were in Switzerland, I went hiking in the Alps nearly every afternoon.
The trails in Switzerland weren’t crowded, but they weren’t unbusy: there was usually a refreshment ‘hut’ or full-on restaurant along the route, and I often met other tourists while enjoying some well-earned apple strudel along the trail. On this day, I ran into two young women from the Midwest as I was coming back down the path. This was before iPhones and selfie-sticks, so we took one another’s photos and exchanged addresses before heading off. Between the mountains and the hike I was feeling literally on top of the world. Inspired by the scenery, the world seemingly at my feet, anything and everything felt possible.
Most feelings are ephemeral, some overly familiar. Months later, I was home in Marin, back to practicing yoga religiously at a local studio, but still very young in my practice and feeling a little lost. Mostly, I was longing to return to Europe to see a man I’d met up with along our route. I think I was anticipating a letter from him the day I checked my PO Box and instead found this photo, reminding me yet again what I’d forgotten so quickly: that my happiness rarely had anything to do with anyone but myself.
I still keep this photo somewhere I can see it. Attending to inspiration is like keeping a fire alive through dark nights and cold winters and reminders help!
As the pandemic thaw continues, I’ve been remembering how motivated I was in early 2020 before the shutdown, which now feels as far away as that trip to Switzerland does. Three years ago, I’d just released a record I was proud of and had landed an artist's residency at Chalk Hill Vineyards. I remember driving up to Healdsburg at the end of February 2020, thinking on an idea for a bird-themed musical I’d long harbored, feeling not unlike I did on that Swiss mountain. Anything did feel possible with two weeks of unfettered time and encouragement for a creative project! And I made a lot of headway on the project in the days before the reality of Covid-19 encroached. I went home with a folder full of new songs and sounds, but soon pivoted to porch concerts neighborhood ‘zines.
I was determined to keep going, but I still contracted more than I realized. While I kept chipping away at the project here and there over the past few years, playing the occasional ‘bird song’ around the house, my initial inspiration felt more and more like a distant memory.
At times I felt like my inspiration was too deeply banked to retrieve. But as the world has started to open up I started to feel like, hey, I’m not done yet! When Michael McNevin and I booked a reboot of our annual February birthday show, it seemed like a great time to resurrect my project as well. I quickly started telling people about my plan to resurrect my project so I wouldn’t back out, and now, well it’s on.
The project — currently named Flight Lessons — still feels like a stretch, but it feels much better to be honoring my initial inspiration and back in the process of creating than to stop because I didn’t know if or how it would be met.
If you’re in San Francisco on February 18, please join us for an evening of music at The Lost Church. I'll be debuting Flight Lessons followed by a set of Michael's inimitable songs.
Deborah Crooks & Michael McNevin Birthday Show
Saturday, February 18, 2023
The Lost Church, 988 Columbus Ave, San Francisco
$15 Doors at 7pm; Show at 7:30pm. There will be an intermission between acts.
Oooh! Tell me more about your artist residency! And yay for you and “Flight Lessons”