Humans of Interest: Gwen

Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Today I bring you my first installment of Humans of Interest! Despite what you might think, I do get tired of talking about myself all the time. And, like most artists (and regular people) I know, I am endlessly inspired by the people around me (because I surround myself with some exceptional folks, let me tell you!) So, Humans of Interest is an opportunity for me to tell you about some of the people who are shaping my understanding of the world.

I’m going to start with Gwen, because without Gwen, the whole 21 by 31 challenge might never have happened. She cemented the idea in my head that if I put an “ask” into the world for my wants and needs, the universe will help me find answers. It was her public goal-setting and group accountability that led me to start a blog rather than just doing my challenges quietly in my own time. Heck, she even inspired this very feature, by first posting a number of “human highlights” of her own! It seems only fitting that I should tell you about Gwen first.

I met Gwen in Amsterdam in 2012, when Guy and I were at the tail end of a road trip through Europe. Guy and Gwen have known each other since high school (Gwen is from the states, but has lived in the Netherlands for over a decade) and I was nervous to meet this person whom he spoke about so fondly. When I saw her, a pocket-sized towhead in a white blazer with navy blue stripes, kicking the stand down on her bike, she did not match the image I had in my head. She seemed….cooler.

Then we started chatting and I realized she’s one of my people: nerdy about non-mainstream subjects, prone to laughter, wry and witty. I enjoyed that meal immensely, and was extraordinarily pleased that we ran into each other serendipitously the very next day, so we might partake of more food and company together. It was a delightful end to our two-week-long road trip, and the start of a lovely friendship for me.

Working under the artist name G.T. Thomas, Gwen is a producer, bass player, vocalist, and synth master. In her own words:

Amsterdam-based solo-artist G.T. Thomas highlights big ideas from her journals, transforming them into catchy refrains in her latest songs. Live, she’s a one-woman-band on vox, bass, synth & drum machine, simultaneously – all LIVE (no computer/ backing tracks/ loopers).

There’s a long-standing idea that you have to be “in a band” to be a musician, and Gwen shoots that right in the eye. She literally does it all, and with genuine passion and dedication. It seems like every time I turn around, she’s debuting a new sound, or gushing about meeting her idol, Donald Fagan (of Steely Dan), or teasing a new album release (there’s one coming up in November, for a project that materialized out of her psyche in just one month.) Even her Instagram page is laid out with intention (go see it, check out her music and art!) I’m just wowed by her amazing life, and I hope someday I can be as intensely focused on my goals.

Which is….how we all arrived here.

About a year ago, Gwen shared her own goals publicly (on Facebook) and asked her community for help. In a very thoughtful, vulnerable post, she shared some of the challenges she was up against, the reasons she wanted to be doing things another way, and then straight-up asked for some of what she needed to achieve her goals. The idea was, if she gave voice to these things, other people could help her do some of the work that she couldn’t do alone, and if they couldn’t help, at least they could support her along the way, help hold her accountable. She even went so far as to create a Facebook group, where she could update people who wished to know about her progress. I was floored by her honesty and openness, and it started my wheels turning.

Flash forward some months, to Gwen posting an update. It was very exciting, because one of the main goals on her list had been to get studio space outside the home (previously her work was done in their apartment) and on this particular day, changes were afoot that put her into an actual studio space. It had been a goal of hers for a long while, seemingly out of reach, but everything seemed to be organizing around her this time.

That’s when I really started thinking: I could reach some goals too. I’ve wanted to be a writer (professionally) and a musician (maybe professionally) for most of my life; perhaps it’s time for me to set some goals, and furthermore, to ask my community to hold me accountable, and to support me as I work toward these things that I really, really want. Maybe if I put that energy out there, which means focusing my own energy toward it as well, I can realize those dreams. It took a bit more percolating through my dense brain, and convincing from other sources, but that’s exactly what I’m trying to do now.

When I think about how I want my life to be, I think about Gwen. I don’t want to be her, or to do exactly what she does (though I am learning to play electric bass!) but I want to call myself an artist and know it’s true. I want to wake up in the morning and know that I am going to create something. I wish for other people to hear my name, and associate it with something creative that I’ve made or done. I want others to look to me for inspiration, and to want to collaborate with me.

At the end of the day, if I want to have what she’s having, I’ll have to try doing what she’s doing. So thanks, Gwen, for showing me one way, for fearlessly (and unknowingly) leading me in a new direction. I owe you one.

*Featured image used with permission from G.T. Thomas, via Instagram @gtthomasmusicandart