What would you do if you already had all of the validation, attention, and money you ever wanted?*
It’s not that I already have these things, it’s that I want to align my goals as a musician with what’s most important.
About a month ago I left my job of nearly five years. I said a very fond farewell to my co-workers at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a well-run organization with smart, principled staff that is doing big things for the world.
I did this for two main personal reasons: First, I wanted to have a chapter in my life, however short, in which I am letting music be my main pursuit. It felt like it would be something I’d regret on my deathbed if I didn’t, and it would only get more difficult to do from here. Second, this was a solution for my partner Jesse and I to spend more time together in the same city--he very generously, amazingly, offered to partially financially support me for awhile. So far so good on that part--It’s really opened up time for us to connect, eat more home-cooked meals, and develop a shared vision for our life together.
The third reason is this:
In the great struggle of trying to figure out how the world works and how to fix it, I believe that each of us has a unique insight based on our particular life experiences, and a particular contribution to make based on our gifts. These change as we evolve and as the world shifts.
My personal journey thus far has led me to believe that many of the problems with the world lie within the the human heart. I believe that if we can examine and shift our mindsets, motivations, and fears, the workings of the human world will follow suit. Art, music, faith, storytelling, and philosophy are some of the tools that we have to access those foundational inner chambers. The challenges ahead require creative solutions; we’ll need to learn to draw on our most creative selves.
And so this is the tiny drop in the giant bucket that I would like to contribute for awhile; to invite others to be part of my life in God, in seeking, in creativity--in the hopes that perhaps they will reciprocate and share their wisdom, too.
I am afraid of doing this and I definitely have my doubts. I’ve decided to name these doubts and fears so I don’t confuse them with myself. I can greet them at the door with a cup of tea when they decide to show up uninvited late at night.
Maurice - Maurice says I am not a trained musician; I barely know what I’m doing at all. I can’t solo, I can’t jam or hang with the real musicians, I don’t know that much about theory or history or even contemporary artists. They’re going to think I’m such a loser and a fool for doing this.
Susan - Susan says that I ought to be doing something more worthwhile that actually helps people.
Mildred- Mildred says that music is selfish and vain. Over and over again you have to say, “Pay attention to me! Come to my show! Give me money for my album! Let me crash on your couch! Do this thing or that thing for free!” It asks so much of my family and friends.
Stefano - Stefano says that the music industry is a brutally competitive paradigm; that there are all of these poor saps out there trying desperately to get people’s attention, following this mirage of a rock star dream. There are thousands of these pathetic people out there, do you really want to put your dog in that stupid, pointless fight? What if you wake up someday and you’re old and weary and have nothing to show for it?
Mac - Mac says that I don’t have the looks for this line of work. Look around, nearly all of the female musicians who have garnered any degree of success are very thin. The music industry is a male-dominated place and guys are drawn to women who are conventionally attractive. Maquillan says that I should give up now, or if I really want to move forward, I should lose weight and dress to suit their taste. And really, I’m too old to be doing this -- to get a good start you’ve got to get going in your early 20s at the latest. (Mac is nick-named for a guy from 6th grade who told me that I Iooked like a monkey because I hadn’t started shaving my legs yet).
Scrooge - Scrooge says that it’s very difficult to make money from music, and as soon as you start to tie your income to it, you end up going off track from your original goals. Leaving your job now will make you less competitive whenever you decide to get back into the nonprofit sector, and your future children will pay the price for your irresponsibility.
Hughe - Hughe says that as a person from a privileged background my role should be to listen, not to talk. It’s my privilege that has put me in this position in the first place. I am a hypocritical messenger for what needs to be conveyed. Shouldn’t I instead be using my privilege to elevate more worthy artists who haven’t enjoyed these advantages?
Gretta - A lot of the sound that people like comes from the talented instrumentalists and singers in my band. They are solid companions but they are keeping their jobs and can only be with me for a small part of the journey. What if my solo act just doesn’t cut it?
I don’t really know what to say back to these folks. So for now I’ll just drive around the country playing shows with them piled into the back seat of my old Civic, telling them to shush whenever they start to snicker or hurl insults at me. Maybe one of them will eventually convince me to stop doing this.
This first month has yielded a lot of ups and downs, but I feel very alive. My band has driven hours to play shows at which no one seems to be listening--those shows definitely throw everything into question. Then there are the shows where everything clicks; I end up making new friends, learning new things, and building new relationships as a result -- like at the Richmond Ukulele Society last night. I think that’s the price you pay for being a musician; rolling with the punches, being a steward of your own morale. I feel more open to possibility than ever; perhaps happier than I’ve ever been.
It also feels significant that I was in the process of leaving my job just as the Baltimore uprising was taking place. My eyes are opening wider and I’m exploring ways to support the amazing organizing that is going on.
My partner Jesse is a co-director of a summer camp for teenagers; they go on three-week long hiking trips on the Appalachian trail. It’s based out of a beautiful intentional community in southwestern Virginia. This year I have the great joy of going back to work there for three weeks (I leave this afternoon!). There is no internet or cell service so I’ll be signing off for awhile.
Then I’ll be headed to Early Country Music Week at Augusta Heritage Center-- you should definitely check it out. I'll be back July 11th.
I’ve gotten off the path and am wandering around in the woods for awhile; I’ll let you know what I see.
I hope your summer brings you great wisdom and great joy.
*This was a good question posed to me by a blog that I read sometime ago, but I can't remember who it was by or where I read it.