‘Gestures’ Column: Harness the Madness – Featured Artists Erin Duffy and Jane Justice

This is the May edition of the new ABS column ‘Gestures,’ in which we reflect on women’s contributions to music and movement.

For the two featured artists of the month of May, American Blues Scene brings you Erin Duffy (she/her) and Jane Justice (she/her). These two women have experienced isolation through trauma to overcome a pandemic of their own volition by taking the madness life dealt them and making it beautiful through art. 

Two women, two artists, that do not know each other yet have both harnessed their physical limitations through art. It has been said, when it comes to creating art, you mustn’t hide the madness. Yet we do hide so much in this masked world of isolation today. To have faith, be bold, and keep progressing is an act of courageousness. 

Erin Duffy © Phil Solomonson

Erin Duffy (she/her): After high school, she and three bandmates packed up and toured with their band Under the Willow for four and a half years. Within the course of that decade, she packed up came home began teaching music and started a family. She continues to write and perform music with her new band, State of the City.

While Under the Willow had a more Americana stamp, State of the City takes on a whole new feel. Her signature vocal stylings are universal while what instrument she is tinkering today may be a mystery. Currently focused on violin, it will be interesting to see which instrument her son Django will pick up someday. 

Jane Justice (she/her): As a member of the SheWolf Sacred community, Jane is a dancer and performer in the group. She is also a healer and vibrational therapist, practitioner of singing bowl sound baths. Jane is a mother of a young son and every day they practice gratitude exercises. Very consciously, Jane tries to exemplify for her son what a strong woman and a strong man’s role in this new world will look like. 

Rebecca Jane Justice © Phil Solomonson

Besides their traditional use for meditation, Tibetan singing bowls are used for deep relaxation and muscle regeneration, to relieve pain in the joints, muscles, and shoulders, to ease pain related to sciatica, the digestive system, headaches, and migraine or spine injuries, to improve circulation, release tensions or blockages, to open the energy flow, eliminate the toxins from the body. In so many ways, Jane’s bowls can echo the sound of Erin’s voice. Although these women have never met, we can see that in art – it is important not to hide the madness. 

“I made it. Out of my own personal pandemic. From the depths of my microcosmic quasi quarantine, I made it. 12+ years ago, I was terrified of the future, so much so that I couldn’t even fathom one. And just like we’re seeing with the pandemic now, my psychological dis-ease manifested into physical disease. I was told I’d have to amputate my legs at one point. I wasn’t going to walk again, I had a staph infection, autious mikaitis, chronic anemia. It was just one thing after another. I felt like I was losing everything. Imagine that — I was so afraid of the future,  I literally almost lost my ability to take another step forward at all. Really what was happening was that things were being moved out of my way that were no longer serving me. I had to figure out how to amputate my fears instead of my limbs.” – Jane Justice

“I grew up In an intense environment but I remember feeling flow when I sang/played music, and from a very young age I knew I wanted to pursue musical endeavors. My favorite place to write music used to be the passenger seat of a moving vehicle but now it’s at work. When all the rooms are filled with people with their instruments it gets chaotic. Drums, violin, banjo, piano. It’s noisy and I like writing around that energy.” -Erin Duffy

The flow theory of creativity is not a rigid unchanging state. It is finding yourself wherever you are and channeling yourself to the muse. Mihály Csikszentmihalyi developed the term “flow state” because many of the people he interviewed described their optimal states of performance as instances when their work simply flowed out of them without much effort.

Erin Duffy © Phil Solomonson

“Having enough guts in my young twenties to get rid of most of my stuff to travel/tour. Overcoming the label of “having a disability.” The weight of a label can way on you…I don’t even like mentioning it much. People just think I’m drunk, or have MS or whatever but yeah I have CP. There are so many things that happen to your mind and body after carrying and birthing a baby. All of that is demystified for me now, glad I’m over that hill.” -Erin Duffy

“Pain pushes until vision pulls. So we will keep being pushed until the vision pulls us in a more forward direction. I think we are all where we need to be, respectively. If someone is putting something on me that doesn’t belong to me, that is a huge trigger for me. Any kind of hostility, being really loud and angry, makes me want to crawl up into a ball and hide. Or I might just yell back. I think it’s people taking ownership of who they are or not doing that, constantly pointing the finger outward. That triggers me” – Jane Justice

“You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.” – Nietzsche

Healing is messy. The redemptive power of art can restore faith in even the harshest of cynics. Refuse to inherit dysfunction. When we learn new ways of living instead of repeating what we have lived through, we create new neural pathways that can indeed bloom the compassion flower inside us once again. A woman who heals herself heals everyone around them. Doesn’t that sound like the power of live music?

“That realization that you can be okay at a bunch of stuff or really great at one thing hit me so for the last 14 years I’ve pretty much only explored art through music. I’ve lost focus though and that is why I like to play around with different instruments. I’ve accepted that I’m not trying to be amazing at any one instrument but just good enough to tap into that flow where the world gets quiet except for the sounds I’m playing or singing. I become unaware of my body’s movements, hyper-focused yet free at the same time.” – Erin Duffy

Jane Justice © Phil Solomonson

“When that dynamic fell apart, it took me a few years to really mourn the loss of the living in terms of being estranged from my family but after a certain amount of time, I still think now about it sometimes. I couldn’t live my life if my family as I knew them were in the forefront. Gratitude will get you everywhere.

“When I was in the hospital I was on sensory overload. It was very difficult to get through that time. It was also very humbling and a great reminder too, I was grateful to go outside and breathe fresh air. Things that I would be angry about years before, some things like, if it is raining or snowing or what. If I can just go outside and be in nature… I will be happy.” – Jane Justice

What bridges us from a place of madness to a place of flow? The expression of humanity that unites us all is music. The Earth has music for those that will listen. Using the talents these women were given and developing the skills that catch their curiosities, Music will lead us through the madness and into the bliss of flow. 

“Evolving all along. There are core parts of me that have never changed, but I like recognizing and accepting the ebb and flow of things in myself and the people around me. I mean some people will never change but I’m not one of those people.” -Erin Duffy

Jane Justice © Phil Solomonson

“As a mother & a healer, I’ve brought wellness classes & workshops to various schools (from daycares to high schools & beyond) for many years now, but such privileges should be available to All. The Dali Lama said that if every 8 year old learned to meditate, we’d have world peace within a generation. I tend to think he’s right. I’ve lived a few too many lives in my lifetime, I think. I’m not done yet.

“I think we all start out as this beautiful representation of divine love and then a lot of things happen that maybe take away from that or we forget our spiritual nature. We have to unlearn some of that, in addition to learning things over time. Certainly, it’s been a journey over time.” – Jane Justice

*All images: © Phil Solomonson / Philamonjaro Studio

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