Award-winning author and Smith English professor Ruth Ozeki ’80 shares insights into her fourth novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, which recently received the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction and is this year's Smith Reads selection.
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‘Slowing Down Was at First a Challenge, Then a Gift’
During the initial pandemic lockdown in March 2020, I was at home in Los Angeles. I had just finished a successful 10-day California tour and was looking forward to soon working on my sophomore album at legendary FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Wilson Pickett to The Allman Brothers Band have cut their most iconic hits.
In the early days of the lockdown, I felt bitter disappointment as I watched recording sessions and performances that had been scheduled months and even years in advance—sources of my livelihood—evaporate before my eyes. Ultimately, however, this interruption brought me back to a place of stillness that I had all but abandoned in my years hustling to make it as an independent artist. As it turned out, that return to stillness was an invitation to refocus on my creativity—the very core of my artistry— which lies at the center of what I do and all I hope to accomplish.
For someone used to being in constant motion, slowing down was at first a challenge, then a gift. This past year, I’ve spent more hours alone with my guitar and my notebook than I have since my teenage years. I’ve had time to commit to working through Julia Cameron’s creativity course, The Artist’s Way. I’ve relished the simple tasks that feed the body and fuel the mind: walking, cooking, cleaning, taking baths, listening to music and reading for pleasure. Forced to adapt to a completely new paradigm in the absence of live shows, I changed how I communicate with and perform for my fans. I launched a Patreon page where supporters can purchase a monthly subscription; in return, I share new music, essays, unreleased recordings and other creative musings. I learned how to stream professional audio and video for my weekly series, INSIDE LIVE with Alice & Freebo, which I began co-hosting with my producer, Freebo, last September. We’ve featured an incredible array of musicians—from rock and blues legends to promising newcomers—providing an invaluable opportunity for me to form friendships with other artists as well as connect with new and existing fans.
As for that recording session in Muscle Shoals, I can honestly say that the delay could not have been more fortuitous. I’ve written some of my best songs in the stillness of the pandemic, and now I can’t imagine the new record without them. When I finally return to the studio this summer, I will be prepared, rested and ready on every level to perform as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and co-producer. I can’t wait to share all that I’ve been working on.
This story appears in the Summer 2021 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.
Read More Smart Ideas for a Post-Pandemic World
Gender Gap: Carrie Baker, ‘The Economic Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Women’
Remote Learning: Jennifer Smith ’91, ‘Education Is Meant to Be Active’
Pandemic Response: Angela L. Rasmussen ’00, ‘We Must Approach Preparedness Collaboratively’