Dealing with STRESS

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Namaste, Dear Music Lover,

I hope that today is going well for you, and that tomorrow goes even better.

Pursuing ANY career (and especially for people seeking work in the movie business, a particularly competitive, demanding field) often involves nearly constant (or maybe intermittent weekly/daily) challenges.

Stress is a given part of modern city life. While my musical training began in a village, I’m no stranger to the stressors and daily rigours of city life—stressful experiences like an occasional careless/oblivious pedestrian or reckless driver simply go with the territory.

I won’t even get into the topic of multiple forms of pollution in this screed. Most of these blog posts are meant to support aspiring singers and instrumentalists. (By the by, rural/off-grid residents and villagers are also subject to stress, especially now.)

How people deal with adversity is one measure of their character—if they abandon hope, admit defeat and/or run away from the issues, they cannot know how surviving feels. After being knocked down, a true measure of character is whether we quit or we get up and continue to persevere. Hence the modern aphorism: winners never quit and quitters never win.

This may all seem theoretical, with dubious importance in practical terms for a singer’s training and career, but in fact virtually all performing artists will experience some form of disappointment. It’s easier in such instances to try to lay blame on other people or factors beyond our control. Please let me clarify this, speaking from my own experience.

What in any case we can (or at least should be able to) do is to control how we respond to adversity/disappointment. In nearly all moments when a door is suddenly closed to us, another door awaits our decision to pass through into our future life. We must simply well up courage to take that next big leap of faith.

Another popular phrase: [If] you snooze, you lose! Join us for a morning coffee? Perhaps, although surely there are better ways to start a busy workday than pouring a bitter acidic drink onto an empty stomach! (Hence the existence of scones, crullers and clotted cream.)

One cannot avoid stress entirely in this life! Likewise difficulties, possibly even disturbing experiences—they are simply endemic to modern life. Surely even centuries ago, people felt and learned to deal with stress.

One ancient “remedy” for headaches? Holes drilled into skulls and brains. (Truth, though nowadays such wretched ‘treatments’ are not recommended by any legitimate physician.)

Who made Joe an expert?

What do I mean by stress? In the music field it can occur in terms of finding a position or gig (temporary job), or while learning or rehearsing a song or live set list (group of songs), or perhaps during a performance something disrupts our usual flow, interrupts the meter and/or throws off the musicians and singers with whom we’re performing… the classic example of a stressful experience for any artist is when they face an audition with people new to them. We face others who are critically examining our skills, our appearance and how we interact with others new to us.

For an audition, do we strut right up with swagger as if to express in body language that our confidence is impressive, that we possess deep technical and artistic mastery, and that our skills and character are both exemplary?

Or do we meekly approach the audition panel with fear and hesitation? In the end the quality of our performance (even if awkward or unprofessional) can still land us our next musical opportunity. I know that when I was 18, I lacked stage presence (but vocally I could hit my marks).

Moreover, how do we actually perform before during and after the audition? If it goes well, do we retain some measure of dignity, or are we smug or arrogant? If we struggle to perform our best, do we blame it on nerves or outside distractions—maybe even accusing the judges of intentionally setting us up for defeat?

Does any of this resonate with you, Dear Music Lover, or does it all still seem merely theoretical? Would you hire a chronically-nervous person? Honestly, I likely would not. I might worry that they’re hiding something.

When facing such things as a proliferation of stage/TV/movie set lights and/or cameras, sound gear (booms, wind screens, wiring and electronics, house engineers or production staff traversing catwalks, stage rigging, monitors, etc.), even the most nimble-footed artist can misstep and/or get snagged on something like a piece of a dancer’s costume that fell off in a previous number.

I’ve yet to add the curse on many young artists: stage fright (also described as a creeping fear of being found somehow unfit or simply artistically weak by a large audience).

Accidents happen, and outside of scripted comedy or practical joking, they appear without warning (hence their surprising name/nature). It seems that comedy is often called the most-difficult moviemaking. I can attest to that, since my very-first Bollywood feature track was a big farce, literally as I acted the role of a less-than-adept aspiring singer. It ran contrary to my instincts, lol.

But I endured it and survived to sing better songs. Trust me, if you manage to catch a break or two, it does get easier—and with experience, being in the public eye becomes more exciting than frightening!

The full list of possibilities for minor accidents or inconveniences potentially impacting upon our focus or concentration is too long to recite here. One needn’t be fearful.

Accidents occur either way, the best thing is to handle one’s work as a competent professional. We don’t need to allow petty annoyances any control whatsoever over our genuine artistic expressions.

Don’t become overwhelmed. Take an extra breath or two and relax. That’ll improve your outcomes. It’s also best not to presume ill will as the cause of any irregularity. Accidents occur by sometimes what’s termed as a “perfect storm” of coincidental happenstances. The few times we are set up as a joke turn out more often than not to lead to disappointment rather than ribald humour.

Practical jokes are best made by and between jokers. In my experience, jokers haven’t the requisite patience to master musicianship in any long-term useful context. Jokers should stick with what they’re good at!

Suffice to say that every “seasoned” singer, dancer, musician or other performer will have survived multiple tense moments in front of a live or recorded-for-broadcast audience. Such struggles do build character, and something akin to stronger emotional muscles.

When someone accuses us of wrongdoing with no real basis other than their uninformed suspicions, we can choose to succumb to the disruptive influence of their accusations, or we can remain true to ourselves and carry on unperturbed. Just ask Pritamda—he’s endured far too many unwarranted accusations!

1989 (U.S. radio) #12 hit.

At times and in situations where others are actually out to “get” (or “compete with“) us, again: we can let them ruin our day or night, or we can face up to them and stand our ground. Note that even being involved in hostility with haters is one way of giving them power they neither earned nor deserve. Spiritual forces for good around us have more power, anyhow.

I learned early in life to let haters hate and to instead focus my attention on those with better moral character. It’s not always easy to simply walk away from hostility, but trust me: it’s better than giving one’s power away to some foolish or hateful self-styled rival. True, some must learn life the hard way. My philosophy is learn what’s interesting rather than purely academic. Or at least balance the dry facts/hassles with the fun/new pursuits.

Even I have seen tense moments when e.g., a stage manager tries to move between featured moments/show scenes or acts, but fate has intervened and now the wires are tangled, or the power circuit has tripped a breaker—or worse, the outlet or audio signal line/connector is “not hot” meaning the amplifier/speaker or mic setup effectively does not work so the mic is “dead” due to a bad cable or unanticipated mains power outage. Or worse: due to an incompetent sound engineer who left a fader shut off!

Such things happen to us all at various inconvenient moments. Are they avoidable? Often yes (one solution: a good sound check), but in life there’s another way to begin to learn how to handle such things: rather than become emotional/angry at someone (who may or may not have actually been to blame for the difficulties), we are far better advised to gain/maintain control over: a) our own thoughts and emotions, and b) whatever else is directly under our purview (however much or little it may be).

Among the many good things I’ve learned from Pritam da is how to deal with sudden annoyances due to working with lower-skill or inept people who create unanticipated issues for everyone, usually unintentionally.

Here is my key point for this post, Dear Music Lover:

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Note: it’s ALL small stuff!”

Life will “throw us curves” and “sneak up on us” with unexpected problems. No one is immune from every pathogen. To be so invincible as to be unfazed by whatever comes our way is to also be a study in callous insensitivity, to be covered in a thick coat of armour all around ourselves. Not a happy way to live, except when surviving brutal attacks. Like online: it’s best to connect through a digital firewall and have malware detection enabled. Why lose privacy by being just a little bit or two too careless?

To go forth closed-mindedly in our pursuits avoiding the odd chance that we may be exposed to some awful illness or disease progression could rob us of our happiness (and/or our ultimate success). One is drawn to ask: So, is that a healthy way to live? My fast reply: it’s very doubtful!

This post is already running long (by my standards—and I don’t know whether my web team will put it up before Holi), though I want to add some ideas that have helped me along the way: we who do music generally also appreciate hearing (possibly also dancing to) live music. So for me, a great concert whether it’s in a pop/rock/hip-hop genre or perhaps Hindu classical… maybe a good jugalbandi (percussion improv), or for singers, who can resist a great Abida Parveen Sufi concert?

Another guaranteed pastime that has some additional benefits: sports! While my preferences may tend more toward being in the stands rather than on the turf, it could be a track meet, a cricket match or pony polo. My manservant Joe is also my horse and tack guy. When we get a week off, we like to go for a (slower-paced, thank you!) ride in beautiful countryside and breathe in that good air!

My relocation to Mumbai brought respiratory challenges with big-city air pollution that many villages don’t have. I grew up far enough in Kolkata’s suburbs that pollution wasn’t so oppressive. When we mix in the global threat of coronavirus so gripping Earth these days, as hipsters say: it’s a lot! Now a few spices and supplements help me cope with atmospheric annoyances like vehicle-produced air pollution. Maybe I’ll do a spice post.

There are only so many hours in a week and although Joe loves his aerial yoga (it’s all the rage these days), I haven’t quite warmed up to that exercising routine. I do love to dance, however, and I do various types of visual art, that with my canvas/sketch book or digital device gets me out in a park or other restful area for a commune with nature and animals, however brief.

Smartphones are a revelation as they cram better and better cameras into each new model. iPhone? iPad? Yes, thanks! As you’ll see on my Facebook artist page, photos are a passion of mine—from selfies to landscapes. The thing about visual art is not owning giant canvases and expensive brushes and paints, it’s about sharing the gestures one creates.

I like to find inspiration in nature for my home sand paintings (or sand mandalas), and I have fun with my laptop, too. But that hardly constitutes a sport; it’s more of a mental exercise. I am learning to use various tools for photo and video editing, so maybe one of these weeks I’ll post a new homemade video to my YouTube channel. Doing videos of songs at home with friends is fun, too. We don’t have some huge budget to pressure us to crank out the video super-quickly, either. But music is my passion—for life.

It gives us all a reality check—about how much goes into a Bollywood film—in terms of not only story/content, but so much more: costuming and set/scenery design, soundtrack recording and editing, with post-production mix processes (for in my pro work, that’s all managed by seasoned experts, with my only input being vocal tracks—at home I get more control over the final edits, like for our Bengali community projects).

Want to co-sponsor or volunteer for a learning experience with us in our next home-video clip? Let me know! We have several ideas in various stages of production, and well-skilled yet unpretentious people are always welcome to join our production team here at TMantra Music.

I’m opening a door briefly for a new intern or two this year, maybe more in 2021. You’ll get more value in learning alongside other friends than any “square day gig” could offer. We’re hoping to expand the reach of this site [and one or two others] next year. Please “stay tuned“ (visit here often) to get the full narrative and timetable. We may be a little less-organised than a train operation in terms of scheduling, but we’re committed to personal and professional growth.

Other than sports as a great outlet to “take the edge off” from a hectic work week, or maybe a night out with friends at a club or restaurant, I love cultural and spiritual events; raucous politics I suppose isn’t my cup of chai, but I feel that there is room for activism on so many fronts.

Look at the many ways our spiritual paths lead directly to being of service to the poor, the hungry and the unhoused. There are countless temples and schools in need of volunteers and I can tell you: giving a bit of your time for free to others can be equally or even more rewarding for the givers than the receivers.

You may have noticed that I haven’t (and won’t suggest) recommended drinking or smoking as stress remedies. That’s because they can simply mask our stress but instead of helping us to cope better, often taking pills or other stimulants/sleep aids simply gives us an affect, not a long-term fix for stressors.

While these days my time is often booked solid and very limited by so many demands that I cannot always find time to volunteer, I do consider making visits to fans who are suffering in hospital or in a nursing home.

Thankfully my family is generally in very good health—and God willing, none of us will succumb to any viruses, be they novel or whatever (maybe a computer virus? Lol, I joke—but not to trivialise the suffering of real victims). Looks like I’ll be cocooning a lot more than usual with my homies due to the crisis these days, and I hope that all of our fans will surely STAY SAFE and SMART, too.

Yes, art inspires me and is often a respite from weaving through full traffic to/from rehearsal halls and movie/audio production studios. I’ve done some yoga and meditation, and though I’m not part of any devotee sect in that field, I occasionally drag out a mat and move through some asanas. Saluting the sun or moon can be rather calming (if done with requisite purpose).

Whatever clears one’s mind from the mundane daily endeavours that use so much of our time between shopping, cooking, cleaning, and I like to experiment with clothing accessories (Footman Joe says I like to make more work for him to keep track of my growing shoe collection, but hey: I think great footwear pays dividends both in terms of fashion and health, especially when one finds 30 min. for a jog in one’s newest track suit or sport look.)

I ask so little of my footman; I think he can handle more, lol. So stop complaining, Joe. I reward you well enough—and I don’t complain about your fancies (like horse riding)! Ever smell a guy who just brushed a big hairy horse—from withers to hooves? Lol, that’s what I’m talking about! But again, I rarely complain. ;)

One thing that really calms my mind: researching Bengali literature (books, songs, plays—all of it). I love reading (and I suppose that’s why I ended up needing eyeglasses). Our south Asian literary traditions are unlike anywhere else’s both in scope (length) and breadth (variety). Who can resist forging through the next chapter of a good romance tale (while taking a 20-minute sunbath) by one’s hotel pool? Not I, lol.

So, if you’ve already found your personal passion(s), you won’t need my ideas of how to spend your free time constructively. I am only just recently learning how to drive recreational vehicles like jet skis, and while downhill skiing has yet to become the big pastime (wait, hot snow? Have I lost my mind?) in India, it is quite the rage in many tourist destinations (and skiing is definitely one of my footman’s passions).

For years, my manservant has promised to teach me how to jump moguls on expert slopes (which sounds criminal to me!), claiming it’s great for relaxing (after descending a frightening slope!). I find his sports all a little intimidating, like riding those big horses, but fun is fun. Nothing tried, nothing learned!

Still, give me a seat at a lively football or cricket match (with my frosty iced lassi or a sip of his), and I’m all-in. In Mumbai, simply driving a car of any size (especially a band van) can be exhausting. Just avoiding traffic on a busy marg can almost wear me down, so I usually let others take the wheel.

I have yet to learn all the neighbourhoods (or even all seven historic districts) of Mumbai. It’s so enormous. I’ve been thinking of getting a motorbike (or maybe a self-powered one), though my down time is so rare, I wonder how far I’ll reach on two-wheel jaunts, yet Mumbai has pushed my horizons so much farther that I’m ready to explore another new hill station before we finally retire to our next secluded abode.

If you wonder why I seem so frugal when dining out or dancing, I’m saving my rupees for that big family home we’ve dreamed of for decades. I want to provide for Mamaji and Babaji like they have for me growing up, too. Footman Joe? He can do his building part so long as he’s not out of his actual skill zones.

Our primary contractor in Daman and Diu says that I may have a second career in interior design (especially for modern kitchens). We haven’t discussed children, but I’m definitely not ready to add more mouths-to-feed just yet, even with our still-years-ahead Union Territory kitchen soon or nearly-so in progress! I still enjoy being the baby myself, lol. As it is, there are sufficient stressors and grown-up issues to face daily. :)

To put a cap on this how-to-cope-with-stress discussion, whenever we finally end a session and the producers are pleased with my work, just putting my feet up at day’s end in our flat takes a lot of the tension off.

I’ve never really taken up swimming or other water sports, but I like to float or do laps to relax, too, and I’ve heard that people of any age can swim, so maybe in some distant retirement scenario I’ll get fins and a snorkel, lol. It’s all not so far apart from the many costumes underneath which I encounter movie actors hiding (at the bigger studios where I work).

I’d better find a cute nose clip and ear plugs, too. I like to look the part, even when I’m only an extra/background player in a far-larger scene. That reminds me: a shower or swim cap is also the topper for swimming in a hotel pool or the sea. Quite the fashion accessory (not), lol. Especially when one is tasked (okay, blessed?) with maintaining a healthy head of hair.

I’m not much of a rubber/Spandex fan, yet I also want to survive under water without ruining my hair (that’s taken me years to grow out). Goggles? I’d rather Google, if you please. Surfing and water skiing? We shall see (or sea, lol). I’m more of a boardless body or plastic boogie-board surfer, anyway. I like to think that I can web surf along with the best of ’em, too. ;)

I’ve recently (okay, it’s been several months) been impressed by Jacqueline Fernandez’s new workout/fitness line, Just F, though I don’t see myself competing in any Olympic events this year—and winter sports although fun, so far simply aren’t my jam.

I helped Jacqueline launch her fitness line. Now if she could just help me launch myself from a cannon or something to jump-start my workout routine (yes, I’m  joking)… On days off, a walk to the dog park is quite sufficient for me to take a break from anything potentially troubling.

So that’s my gloss on dealing with STRESS. I try to limit or reduce tension by staying active, and rather than letting worries over viral threats lower my mood, I may grab a bag of Tasty Treat and veg out on online videos. To those who haven’t experienced the joy of binge-watching Netflix, there are worse pastimes out there, for sure. I try to keep it to less than a full bag of snack mix (yet few homemade snacks can favourably compete with the sapid store-bought kind).

Namaste,

AM

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