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  • Isabelle Stillman

I Hate the Grocery Store

I hate to go to the grocery store. The frozen section makes me anxious about the amount of plastic in the world, the produce section makes me worry about what exact day I should plan to eat this tomato so that it’s not underripe but it also hasn’t gone bad, and the yogurt section completely freaks me out because like who needs this many types of yogurt, definitely no one, why are they all here, what kind of capitalist hellscape are we living in????  


I wish I saw the grocery store as a warehouse of possibility. I could be inspired by the fruits I’ve never tried, by the seafood counter’s catch of the day, the bountiful carts of passersby. But instead, I put my blinders on, find the same cheese, pretzels, and peanut butter as always, and get the heck out of there. 


Obviously this is a metaphor, not the beginning of an essay about the actual grocery store. Obviously, life is like grocery store. And, maybe less obviously, life is like Isabelle at the grocery store when there are so many types of yogurts that she bursts into tears and doesn’t buy any of them.


Last week I went to a folk music conference in New Orleans. It was honestly so cool - thousands of artists and managers and venue owners talking shop in the morning and playing music all night. I was so happy going from panel to panel and meeting with industry people and hearing new friends play their songs. I wrote down all the perspectives I heard, all the advice I received, and all the things I should do to actualize all the possibilities I saw in front of me. 


And then I got home. And went through my notes. And my head exploded. Because the perspectives and advice and possibilities went like: 


Someone plays 200 shows a year and thinks booking yourself is the way to go. Someone plays 300 and thinks you really ought to get a booking agent. Someone spent 25 years on the road and just landed a record deal. Someone just got signed and they've never toured. Someone thinks people shouldn’t play live until they’ve written 100 songs. Someone thinks no one can make it without a really good publicist. Someone’s from Colorado is recording their EP in actual Nashville. Someone books artists based on how many tickets they can sell and another books them based on who recommended them and another books them based on whether they actually want to listen to their music. Someone’s music is funny and someone’s a really good guitar player and someone’s using an electronic drumkit that someone else thinks is poser-ish someone has all their songs in a film/tv catalogue someone says that’s not worth the money (but radio promotion is!) someone only plays payed gigs someone says take any gig you get someone cares about follower numbers someone wants to discover an artist with no following yet someone doesn’t believe in streaming someone thinks the album is dead someone says only focus on writing someone says only focus on touring someone says you’re never too old someone thinks you’re way too young someone someone someone someone someone someone o geez. 


And that’s just five days of this conference. Don’t get me started on every time you go on Instagram or every playlister who promises you 50,000 streams or every platform that will put your song in an ad for Premium CBD Face Moisturizer. It’s like, he’s playing that venue that won’t email me back! She’s on that playlist! And o god I never even thought to think about getting myself in a face lotion ad I can’t believe I’m so behind on this everyone must be doing it without me!!!!!*


In an industry where there is no guarantee, where there is no ladder to the next level, where you don’t have a yearly employee review or get a promotion, where every person who’s gone before you has had a different story and path – in this industry, everything feels like being Isabelle in a grocery store. 


What are you supposed to do when you should try to do everything? How are you supposed to feel assured in your own path when everyone else is on a different one? When you can’t plan or predict anything, how do you take any step forward? 


I ponder this and ponder this and get stuck every time. Until I think about the grocery store. If I’m really honest with myself, I don’t ever want to buy the catch of the day. I don’t want a rare kind of fruit. I don’t want to look in anyone else’s shopping cart for ideas. It only makes me feel bad about my own. 


What I want, more than anything, is pretzels and peanut butter. And I love going to the grocery store when I remember how great cheese is. Why can’t I just love these things instead of resenting them for not being everything else? Why can’t I love that I love them? 


I love writing songs. I love composing in the studio and planning releases. I love telling stories on stage. I love picking out harmonies and designing album artwork and writing things like this. I love working with really cool bookers and wise business people and artists.


And I think that, if there’s no definite path, you might as well take the one you love. 


What I fear is that Music will think I’m not good enough. That if I’m not doing and knowing and working on enough cylinders in the crazy machine that is the music industry, that I’m not worthy of it. But the truth is, if there are infinite cylinders, there’s no such thing as “enough” for the machine. There’s only “enough” for you. 


So. I’m gonna start loving the grocery store. And the music industry. Because I love cheese, pretzels, and peanut butter. And they are enough for me.


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