I'm composing this from home on day seven of a 14-day self-isolation after returning from a six-week Antarctic contract with G Adventures. The sun is shining brightly and the cracks in the drywall of our seventy-year-old house are slowly closing as the roof sheds another season of ice and snow. I'm listening to Ian Tamblyn's Middle Distance and sipping my second cup of coffee in a mug I bought in Grytviken on the island of South Georgia only a few weeks ago although it seems much longer. When we left Ushuaia for the Falkland Islands on February 12, Covid-19 seemed like someone else's problem as most problems like this do. But in only a few short weeks the whole world has changed and everyone is trying to imagine what comes next for humanity including us singer-songwriters.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has cut short the Antarctic season as well as put the Arctic trips in jeopardy. My next trip was to start in May in Edinburgh but it now looks like I'll be at home until further notice. All of us in the polar tourism industry are as uncertain about the future as everyone else while many ships in the fleet are currently unable to even find a port that will let them get their passengers safely home. Like the rest of us on planet Earth, we're all in limbo, unable to even guess what the post-pandemic world will look like let alone what our place in it will be.
Over the last year I've again had the privilege of visiting some incredible places. I've traveled through the breathtaking fjords of East Greenland and seen the stark beauty of Iceland. I've returned to the Whalers Church in Grytviken where I presented a concert for the guests of the MS Expedition along with the summer caretakers of the station. I've seen even more of the Antarctic peninsula and journeyed further south than I have ever been before, to Red Rock Ridge in Rymill Bay at 68°18'S. I have discovered that no matter how many times I visit these places they never fail to inspire and to fill me with a sense of wonder.
Since I've been home I have been wrestling with the problem of what to do next as an artist and musician. It's been thirty years since I embarked on this musical journey and there are days (like today) when I long for a new and purely artistic challenge. Like many creative people, the seeming impossibility of any kind of financial success has always tormented me. On the one hand, I've never written a song or composed a guitar piece with the idea that its purpose was to make me wealthy. On the other hand, working for weeks, months or even years on a piece of music only to have its worth determined by how successful a "product" it is is heartbreaking. A lifetime of striving to be the best artist I can be, only to be judged by the kind of car I drive and by how ratty my house looks is discouraging.
I've spent most of my adult life hunkered down at home, alone, trying to make something out of nothing. I am more than happy to spend several days in a pointless struggle to force a song in E major to resolve to F major! (For the solution see my song "Tomorrow is Another Day") There is no stick to prod me except my own curiosity and no carrot to reward me save the satisfaction of a job well done. Creative people are so often treated as burdens on society, immature and unproductive spongers who simply refuse to get a haircut and get a real job. How ironic then that suddenly everyone is being forced to live the life of the struggling artist, isolated out of necessity, subsisting on rice and beans, and trying to make their lives meaningful using nothing more than their imaginations.
So I for one am looking forward to the next few weeks (who knows, maybe months!) when I can take stock of my feelings, focus my energy inward and see what new creative ideas come to the surface. I've already started work on another novel (the first one, Omagee, is available here) and I'm putting the finishing touches on a new guitar instrumental inspired by my visit to South Georgia (check it out here). I'm reaching out to my artist friends online and looking forward to creative collaborations. Regardless of the grim stories about crumbling economies, the world will no doubt continue to turn, spring will unfold into summer, life will go on and joy will, as it always has, be found not by racing madly around trying to get ahead, but through drawing and painting, singing and dancing, playing guitar and telling stories.
Here's to this strange chance for all of us to really discover what being human truly means!