It started with a simple question among friends: do you consider yourself a SCAdian?
For those who don't know, the term refers to a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA, and my answer was equivocal: "yes, but with an asterisk".
Identity is a very tricky beast for me, especially since I've woven my own from many disparate strands. There are very few identifiers that I ascribe myself unconditionally, while claiming each as a part of my whole self. Rennie? Asterisk. Busker? Asterisk. North American? Asterisk (growing up among certain Old World Italian rituals left me with a sense of otherness).
The one label to which I could wholeheartedly ascribe, through the course of the conversation, was artist. Part of that is the vagueness of the term itself, but more probably lies in my longstanding efforts to embrace the term. "Artist" is so culturally loaded that I spent years adapting and shaping my conception of the label until I could embrace it as my own.
Apparently those exertions worked, and I can't decide whether I need to expand my efforts to other characterizations or to accept that I'm neither fish nor fowl in the other dimensions.
It wasn't a great day, but it was far from a bad one. I'm busking the ByWard market in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and today's highlight was a large group of middle-school kids, early in the day, who clustered around and listened to both to the music and my explanations of it. Not only were they intent and asking good questions, but they were surprisingly generous tippers. A definite win!
I was making dinner plans recently and fascinated by watching my date make her decisions. I'm often torn by second guessing after the fact, and seeing her weigh and optimize her options was an illuminating contrast.
When I make a choice I'll typically have a set of parameters. With dinner, for example, I'll typically have a budget and perhaps a genre preference. Having set those parameters I will then take the easiest option available. I won't look for 3.5 vs 4.2 stars on Yelp, or try and find the $10 vs $12 meal if my budget is $15. I'll look for close and easy (no left turns onto busy streets, for example).
The benefit to this is that I think very quickly on my feet: having stripped the problem to its bare bones I use laziness to break ties. It also means that I save effort for the things that absolutely require it. The downside is that I don't optimize, so I'm often left wondering if I could have had a better or cheaper meal if I'd kept looking, even if the answer is no.
I was in a dodgy neighborhood of Buenos Aires after dark, with my iPad, iPhone, and a bunch of American cash. I woke up, heart pounding, and said to myself "apparently I'm afraid of being vulnerable".
I went back to sleep, only to find myself behind the wheel of my car in a pouring rain storm, driving down a very steep hill. I woke up, heart pounding, and said to myself "...and it looks like I have issues about losing control".
After a month of being stressed about money, my accounting says I nailed my target!
It's been a doozy of a trip: I've had an amazing experience, but it's driven my anxiety through the roof. Two weeks before I was due to go to Bologna, a city which has been very good to me in the past, I found out they passed a new anti-busking regulation. My back up, Padua, has also recently passed such legislation. I switched my plan to Perugia, another city that has been good to me in the past, only to run into different problems with polizia who acknowledged I was right on the law but shifted me anyway. Plus it's been a wet and chilly spring, which has been problematic in general.
On the good side of the ledger, I took a calculated and successful risk to play Prato and Pistoia, cities where I've had difficulties in the past but have since liberalized their busking policies. I got some grief in Prato, but I pulled out my phone with a PDF version of the regulations and for the first time in my career won an argument with the law (she said she'd come back to discuss it and I never saw her again).
Ultimately, I can't argue with a positive result and it's not unusual for me to feel I've aged an entire year in a few months of busking. I love it, and it inspires me even as it physically and emotionally exhausts me. I'm torn between being ready to come home and never wanting to leave, but as I tally the numbers I know that I'll be coming back soon.
I never really believed my cousin (there's an Ohio accent?) until I talked to my friend Chiara, who left her native Genoa to live in France and California then came home to distrust because she no longer sounded like a local. There are several affectations I've embraced (I'm sorry, Canadian spelling just looks better), and others that have snuck in on their own.
I'm rather proud of and pleased with the process. I don't dress like an Italian, but I dress like an American who spends a lot of time in Italy (which apparently looks German). I don't mold myself to my surroundings, but instead become something new from absorbing their influences.
Change terrifies me, until it thrills me. This is frequently my pattern, a sharp panic attack followed by an invigorating hunt for opportunity.
Recently two of my favourite busking cities, Padua and Bologna, passed harsh regulations that take them off my circuit. This continues a recent trend, as Rome, Ravenna, and several other cities have also recently cracked down. I started thinking about limiting my exposure to Italy (I've been yearning to go back to Croatia), or even cutting back on my European travel.
Then Wednesday I had a run in with a Perugia polizia who acknowledged that I was right on the regulations but said my playing could potentially disrupt nearby government offices (although he cited no complaints). I wasn't completely unprepared: as a contingency plan I had originally booked lodging equally (in)convenient to both Perugia's historic center and to the train station, so I'm well-placed for local commuting. Still, it was a further blow to my confidence.
The combined setbacks, however, have unleashed a flurry of creative energy as I research and plan future trips. Rather than cutting back on Italy, I may even expand. Every step back holds the potential for a leap forward, and I am relentless when it comes to seizing opportunities.
I just rolled into Pescara, where I played a few sets eight years ago but haven't done much since. I stopped by for a layover in recent years, though, and decided it deserves a second shot so I'm walking the streets with two days off before I play again, seeing potential everywhere.
It's an exhilarating feeling, and one of the reasons I keep coming back to Italy and, more broadly, a reason I'm an entrepreneurial musician. Seeing potential and bringing it to life make my heart pound as I seize whatever opportunities pass my way.
It may be great and it may be crap, but this part here is what I live for.
As I mentioned in the last post, I've been having some anxiety lately. That anxiety has led me to massive amounts of googling, which has happily averted a real problem: two of my favorite busking cities, Bologna and Padua, have enacted newly strict street performing laws in the past few months. I had intended to spend a weeklong Italian holiday in Bologna, traditionally my best busking week, with Padua as my back up. Now I'm rebooking and making other changes as I research the remainder of my schedule.
Happily, my anxiety about potential problems is a lot lower now that I have real ones to deal with. I can only hope that the original panic-inducing issue stays dormant, but I have no control over it either way.
I'm glad I'm on a little weekend* break; I had an anxiety attack of all the things that could go wrong, which lasted about a day, even after so many tours doing exactly this. It could all go pear-shaped at any minute, and now that the panic has worn off I'm finding a headspace open to possibility rather than terror.
It's never not a leap of faith.
*performers get "weekends" Monday-Tuesday, which does interesting things to our social lives.