Under Pressure

Thu, Nov 12, 2020 3-minute read

I was carried by Kenny’s Room on my run today – a mixtape created and shared by one of the participants in Bayo Akomolafe’s We Will Dance With Mountains. It gorgeously weaves together a soundscape of words, vibrations and songs around the desire to root in love and the sacred during this time of Quarantine. 

In the track “pressure” (9), there is an intro describing the quality of rap music:

“when you talk about rap music, what you’re hearing is pressure. You know how you make a diamond? Carbon (no pun intended but it is black). Time. Pressure. That’s how this music happens.” 

I needed to hear this. 

As I’m writing this, I’m still feeling tender and my skin around my eyes feel tight. I cried yesterday night due to a build up of pervasive frustration and disappointment around the process of poiesis. I haven’t felt this so intensely since I worked on my Masters Thesis 3 years ago. The experience is being confronted with what Ira Glass called the taste gap, where the discernment and ambition of my taste does not match up to what I’m creating right now. Right now, what I’m creating: “is really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?” 

Facing this yawning chasm between my taste and what I’m producing right now, I’m resisting the impulse to give up. For the first time, I’m also choosing to lean into the painful feeling, to swim towards into my fears and indulge in the intensity of it before I release it into air. Because feeling this means I care.

I do think I’ve cultivated a vibe that I love – a strangely entangled, dream-like vibe of dark ecologies, esoteric magic, dissociative vibrations, existential meaning-making and sacred interconnection, all dancing together within the void. The soundtrack to my life oscillates between the alien dissociative track of Under the Skin to the luscious cacophony of Mary Magdalene by FKA twigs. The visual mise-en-scene is a dark lush forest deep with massive dripping roots, populated by kodama tree spirits from Princess Mononoke, with the blue planet of Melancholia looming in the background. 

I am out of practice when it comes to creation. I haven’t truly made art for myself since high school, the kind of art where you really risk yourself. My inner taste-judge is too loud, dismissive, and elitist: so I’ve always stewarded the visions of others, played the bass line of someone else’s song.

It’s shitty to be disappointed, but I’m learning not to run away. This is the time to slow down, and not rush creation. I can find the sacred in this gap, in this yawning crack in the ground between where I want to be, and where I am now. I can climb into the crack, curl up into its warm womb, and find the molten fire in it. There is a fire that is starting to simmer in me, and I have all the time to tend to it. 

The other ingredient that a diamond needs beyond pressure and time? Heat.

Julia, a woman in my kinship group also shared a line from Mary Oliver: “only heat so deeply and intelligently born can carry a new idea into the air.” 

I have pressure. I have heat. And of course, I have time. It is a goddamn pandemic after all.