By Courtney Naliboff
A while back, I wrote my column about the joys of playing music. I mentioned, briefly, that I had started a band with two other North Haven women. We’re called Bait Bag, and I’m happy to report that we’re still a band, with some recordings, some off-island shows, and even some merchandise.
While I am absolutely shamelessly plugging my band in this column, I also want to use my little piece of print real estate to talk about how vitally, wonderfully, life-affirming it is to collaborate creatively with a group of women on something unrelated to work or family.
Not to say that my family hasn’t been involved. Penrose has been to a lot of band practices and recording sessions, and I regularly overhear her singing our songs. My husband Bill engineered and produced our EP (get it for free at baitbag.bandcamp.com!), took our publicity photos, and ran the sound board for our first two shows on North Haven.
But it’s the moments when the three of us, Claire (now of the Island Institute!), Fiona, and I are planning a set list, arranging a new song, printing T-shirts, or driving to a show, that give me the energy I need to be a parent and teacher. When I’m fully immersed in band activities, it gives me a brain break from the two self-identities that occupy the majority of my time and lets me return to them better able to concentrate and more willing to emotionally commit.
NPR had an interesting piece recently explaining how grasshoppers, when faced with the need to be close to other grasshoppers, turn into locusts and swarm. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, uses that adaptation as a metaphor for a flexible self-image, and touts the benefit of a “vocabulary of selves.”
I got to exercise part of my “vocabulary of selves” when Bait Bag played our first off-island show at Fogtown Brewing Co. in Ellsworth. Because we’re islanders, this entailed an overnight trip, as well as an hour and a half drive up the coast. We got to the brewery in the late afternoon, sound checked, and enjoyed their delicious beer and the food from the Eat at Joe’s truck. We hung out with the headlining band, Beach Trash, while their singer got into full drag. We played to a full and enthusiastic room, including some very supportive WERU DJs, new friends and fans, and a few familiar faces and band family members.
All evening, I didn’t make anyone a meal, give anyone a bath, or read anyone a story. I didn’t check my email, grade a paper, or conduct a band class. I fed no pets, made no beds, and tidied no toys. It was like a mini vacation, but one that made space for a project I’m excited about and devoted to. Bonus, we made a little bit of money (or at least broke even!)
Exercising our other selves, especially in the company of like-minded collaborators, is essential for mental health and happiness. Whether it’s a running club, community activism group, or chat and craft session, finding a way to honor the identities we carry around outside of our home and work selves gives us a chance to regroup, refocus, and return all the better.
Courtney Naliboff lives, writes, teaches, and parents on North Haven.