The Way We Get By: Noël Wells on Sibylle Baier’s Colour Green and The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts

The actress and singer-songwriter recommends an album and a book that have helped her during coronavirus isolation.

Most of us are sequestered in our homes, doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. That includes some of our favorite artists, so we’re asking them to tell us about one thing — a book, a movie, a record, whatever — that’s helping them get through this difficult time.

There are two things I want to recommend that I have returned to during this time of social distancing. The first is Colour Green, a beautiful collection of songs by the artist Sibylle Baier. She’s one of the female singers who, like Vashti Bunyan and Margo Guryan, were rediscovered in the past few decades, geniuses who maybe couldn’t handle the intense way the world was moving.

Baier was originally a German actress who recorded some of her own songs on a reel-to-reel in the early 1970s, and then gave up music to raise her children. In the early 2000s, her son found these songs and released them as Colour Green. The songs are poetic and hauntingly gorgeous, and touch on themes of nature, quiet moments of domesticity and loving observations of her relationships and children. You really get the sense she’s living in a deep stream of unconditional female wisdom and love. For me, it was essential to revisit during the self-quarantine, as we’re all finding ourselves in the home, many of us face-to-face with our loved ones at a level of intimacy we don’t normally experience. It also takes a certain capacity for stillness to drop into the dimension she’s inhabiting, and these quiet times are perfect. Once you’re in, it’s incredibly comforting and sonically soothing.

The other thing I want to recommend is Alan Watts’ book The Wisdom of Insecurity, which I first read a couple years ago and just revisited. It is all about how our culture is obsessed with knowing what to do and trying to control circumstances and this obsession with consumerism and productivity. Watts writes about how there is a deep, abiding wisdom in releasing intention to the will of the universe, and how universal guidance comes through that. When I first read this, and I had just finished a movie and was absolutely exhausted and felt very betrayed by “the system,” but I didn’t really have the space to share it with people because we weren’t in a collective moment where it would ring true to people that maybe we’re all working way too hard for no reason and that collectively we’re all spinning our wheels to get somewhere that doesn’t exist.

Now that we’re all in this situation, it’s not so crazy to point to this book, especially since there’s been this suggestion that we should all be super productive during this time. The Wisdom of Insecurity talks about rejecting the cultural pressure to force reality in an attempt to achieve, so you can actually just let life happen to you. I think we’re in a time where we literally have no idea what’s going to happen next, and we have an opportunity to give into something bigger, and in fact, we’re being forced to, whether we like it or not. Even last week, I was freaking out about how best to use my time and be productive. I was spinning myself into such a mental frenzy, I started to actually panic, and suddenly, this book popped into my head. Something I try to tell people all the time is that humans should be allowed to enjoy their lives without feeling they have to perform or climb some ladder to nowhere, and that your life is your life and when you let go of the “shoulds,” you’ll hear where you’re supposed to go.

I hope we all can embrace “insecurity” and stop putting pressure on ourselves to perform and achieve. Who knows what “value” and “money” will even mean in a month; there’s really no way of knowing the economics and health ramifications of what is to come, and we may be stripped of everything that we thought we knew for sure. With this time, we all have this grace to get in touch with what’s essential for us, on a personal and collective level. Personally, outside of the daily work I do, I’ve mostly been cleaning, calling all my friends on FaceTime, organizing emails and unsubscribing to all spam, revisiting great movies and books and albums, and slowly investigating steps to acquire new skills like painting and recording on a 4-track. I’m keeping myself open to helping where I can, and trying my best to not try and control things I cannot control.

The coronavirus has hit many people financially, and it’s been especially tough on musicians who rely on touring to support themselves. If you’re able and inclined, check out Noël’s website here, and order a T-shirt, some vinyl, or whatever is on offer. Every little bit helps.

Noël Wells is a director/writer/actor living in Los Angeles, currently best known for her appearance on Master of None and her feature film Mr. Roosevelt. She likes making things and is passionately not a comedian. (Picture by Garrett Charboneau.)