women and age

I learned a new word recently—the Japanese word "yutori." It means "living with spaciousness." And the example they gave was "leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you’re going to arrive early, so when you get there, you have time to look around." I love learning new words that don’t have a direct translation in English and how you can see what another culture values by what concepts they decide to name.

This past week, with one or two out of town trips per month for the rest of this year, I’ve been trying to book new flights, change existing ones, practice for upcoming shows, memorize words for my TEDx talk, send invoices on time, and still do my laundry (did it), attempt to do my taxes (didn't do it), and go home to celebrate my mom’s birthday. Basically I have been practicing the opposite of yutori, running from one thing to another, and trying to get something checked off my to-do list during the 4 minutes I have while waiting for the train before I lose service. And yes, I’m getting things done, so I am "productive." Sometimes a week or month or two like this is necessary, but I realized I do this every single day. And days make up weeks. And weeks make up months. And I think you get where I am going with this.

Basically, I looked up and rather than "being" in my life, I have been running through it. Easier said than done to shift this, I know. But I realized that if I want to stop running, I have to change how much I want to get done. As in, maybe I don’t need to add a violin and cello duet to the end of my TEDx talk, which would then require my flying out to San Francisco a day earlier, finding a new San Francisco-based cellist, and adding a rehearsal and soundcheck to the weekend. It goes against everything in me that is yelling: "Do everything and do it fast!" but I also don’t want to lose my life to this voice.

I wanted to try to understand where this voice came from. I think it's especially loud in women because of how we're taught to relate to time, and age. We start learning the idea that there is a time limit basically as soon as we learn that we're female. We are told either directly or indirectly that we need to succeed by a certain age or we won’t succeed at all.

This is especially true for women in the entertainment industry. The first time I was told I "better get moving because time is running out," I was 19 years old. This is not unusual. In the years since then I've been told this directly on weekly basis at minimum (it's correlated with how often I go out and how many men in the music industry I interact with) and by osmosis at all times by mainstream media.

Last week at a dinner party I was seated next to man who used to run a major record label and now has started his own label. The following conversation is verbatim:

Him: What do you do?

Me: I’m a musician.

Him: What kind?

Me: Songwriter, singer. Mostly alternative pop.

Him: Are you on a label?

Me: No.

Him: How old are you?

Me: Can I ask you something? Why are you asking me this? And please be honest. Because in my experience, when women ask me this question, if at all, it's to relate to me. And when men ask me this question, it's to place some limit on me, either in terms of my career or attraction.

Him: I was trying to decide whether you are going to make it or not.

Me: Thanks for your honesty.

Him: My market and the artists I am looking for are 15 to 18 years old. I’m just telling you the truth about this industry.

I can't count how many times I've had some version of the above conversation. An older white man telling me why I’m already irrelevant and why I have no future in this industry. I know I am not alone in this. No woman, and especially no woman in the entertainment industry, will be surprised reading this. It's especially sad and backwards that it is exactly when women start to really know themselves, grow a backbone, and have something to say that we tell them "time’s up, you’re too old now."

The idea that my time is running out has been drilled into me for as long as I can remember. It has seeped into my days and hours and every moment, so that I wake up already feeling like I'm running behind, and I fall asleep feeling like I haven’t accomplished enough.

So back to yutori. Practicing yutori while being a woman in this fucked up system can actually be an act of feminist rebellion. I’ve been trying pose this question to myself each morning: "What if I have my entire life to have a voice and sing and write and tour? What if it doesn’t end at 30?" And when I do this, a part of me breathes again. My attention shifts from being focused on catching up to a place I will never reach to experiencing the present moment. Note that I said "a part of me," can breathe, not all of me, because this message has been drilled into me for my entire life. Unlearning takes time.

Even when I was writing this to you all, I felt myself rushing because there are 10 other things I need to get done today—rehearsal and recording and emails and more memorizing —but if there is no time to sit, and think, and write a letter today, and there wasn’t time yesterday, or the day before, then there won’t ever be time on any day and my life will be lame as fuck. And I don’t want that. I want yutori and I want to actually experience my life, not run past it. So I’m taking forever to write this long ass letter to you because I want to. And because there is time.