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Looking for the center

Updated: Aug 13

Hello!


This feels like a strange time to be writing you (finally) after a 2+ month silence again. But it feels like time. 


Being an artist (or a person) in Seattle right now is strange, scary, and a bit confusing. With the outbreak of COVID-19, there's talk of shutting down all public gatherings. A friend who teaches theater in high school is going to stream the show instead of holding public performances. I've been holed up in my house with a light cough, trying to do my civic duty and taking no chances of spreading the virus to someone else. Information and best practices are constantly evolving, and the public sphere, at least as we know it, is fraying. 


If you're not in Seattle this might sound like an exaggeration, or an overreaction. It's hard to take something seriously if it's not right in your face. But authorities in our region is discouraging gatherings of over 10 people.They believe the virus has been spreading here for weeks, and expect the death toll to rise into the thousands. So that's where we are. 


That's not what I had wanted to write about in this newsletter. I wanted to write about work and day jobs. I really wanted to write about inequity and representation in the arts. I also wanted to write about two gigs coming this month, as well as my new day job and the lengthy, grueling path I walked to get it. I still want to write about those things, because day jobs, inequality, and money are some really big constraints that come up on a daily basis. But it's been hard to focus. Especially because in the background to all of this is the Democratic Primary, and constant heated debates about what an equal, fair United States should look like. 


These are the times I really wish I was a more religious person: as the world around gets more chaotic, people could really use a center. Back in September as I worked through some cash flow instability, I dealt with that by making my practice my center. That's come unglued as the chaos around us now isn't merely individual precarity, but high stakes, global questions about our future. How do you ground yourself through that? Especially when being around other people, showing up for concerts, protests, canvassing, rallies, and even dinner, is out the window? I've been grateful for the technology that's allowed me to stay connected to my friends and family, but I also feel like the noise from all around me is drowning out any kind of guiding voice within. 


There is not a lot we can control. In the past couple weeks, in addition to the primary and the outbreak, I've had friends lose jobs, have their house broken into, get hit by a car, and lose a dear friend to cancer. I've also had friends get pregnant (intentionally), buy their first apartment, fall in love, receive a grant or residency, and release an album. 


When I imagine a center, I see myself sitting in a chair, alone in a quiet, sunlit room. I feel the sun on my face, and I can hear the sea in the distance. In my lap I am holding something small and solid, like an orb or a stone. It's a dark, bluish slate color, and I can hold it in my hands. It is a prayer and a practice, it is faith and truth. It is solid and amorphous, and the thing to do is hold it, loosely, like a salamander or a snake. Our dominion is this small, this ordinary, and this precious, and whatever else is happening inside our body or outside our house, it's there. 


I need to remember that center more. Not because it will fix anything or make anything better, not because I'll ever get to a place where I won't have to search for it, and not because it will give me magic superpowers to do all the things I want to do even when the world takes away time, energy, and resources. But because at the end of my day, above a certain threshold, more news, more correspondences, more work, more texting and phone calls is not more of anything. It's a lot less, because I'm a lot less able to remember what is important to me, why I'm here, and why I get out of bed every day. 


"An imaginary stone, Gedney? Really? That's what these newsletters have come to?" Well, yes. Yes it is. For me, the stone is an emblem for my piece of the pie: in this very very big universe, I have been allotted a small portion to tend and develop. And in spite of the Mozarts or Dr. Kings or Katherine Johnsons of the world, I happen to believe that all of our allotments are exactly the same size. Because what's important is not the weight or circumference of my stone. What's important is it fits in my hands. 


What does your center look like? What does it feel like? And what are the things in your life that you candothat remind you of your center, of sitting within the eye of the storm? For me, those things include playing guitar, writing, washing dishes, feeding my dog, flossing my teeth, making my morning coffee, and eating dinner with my partner. During this health emergency, it also includes washing my hands all the time. There are days, though, when those things will slip, days when, because of health, jobs, family, or emergencies, we can'tdo the thing that usually centers us. And that's when the image proves so vital, the prayer and the practice of imagining: because it is held within. 


Keep healthy, keep safe, keep centered,


G. 


PS. Should those gigs happen: one will be at the Royal Room on March 26, celebrating womxn in music over the past 100 years. I'll be playing with my band The Married Men and the Red Rose Combo. The other gig will be at the Wild Mermaid on Vashon, and will be a solo show. We're still nailing down a date, and looking to current health conditions, so please stay tuned if you're in the area. 

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Gedney Barclay is a writer, musician, and artist based in the Pacific Northwest.

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