I don't smoke, but nights like tonight when the old ghosts start raising hell and layers of who I've been start sheading, my fingers itch for something to burn.
I'm well acquainted with the little demon that sits on my shoulder and says "you don't belong here". When you work in something as competitive as music and newer, younger, prettier people pour out of the art schools on a regular basis, a few rounds with self doubt are to be expected. It's not such a bad thing to check my motivations from time to time. Now that I've crossed the threshold into my 30s , sometimes I wonder if perhaps I wouldn't be better of with a slightly less exotic career. If perhaps I should seriously consider teaching or counseling. If I hadn't already tried leaving before, I might be tempted.
I was 19 years old. It was the end of my Freshman year of college and I was signing up for next years courses. I went to The Evergreen State College partially for the option of creating a contract, since I knew no state school would have a music business program and my family didn't have the money to send me to a dedicated Arts school.
The problem was there really weren't that many music faculty, and all of them were focused on the academic side of music not the business. On top of that, faculty could only take a handful of contracts which made the whole process extremely competitive. While some people are energized by competition my natural response is to remove myself from the running. The fact of the matter is competition rarely, if ever, goes my way. There are too many politics involved, too much popularity at play, and I am traditionally much happier on the outskirts of all of that. This, though, this was my future, and I cared enough to give it a real shot.
I held myself together until the pre-registration event when students could pitch their ideas to the faculty they wanted to work with; but once I saw that long, long line I was overwhelmed. Probably 98% of the people standing with me were male, a few of them I knew had bands that played around campus, had impressive record collections, knew obscure bands that I, with my eastern Washington radio music education, never even had a chance to hear about. All of those boys with unwavering belief that they deserved this written all over their faces just destroyed me. The longer I stood in that line, the more reasons I came up with for why everyone else there was more worthy than I was. I left the line and I did my damnedest to convince myself it was the right thing to do. It wasn't.
For years music was like an ex that I couldn't quiet get over, and always accompanying it the lingering fear that I was a fraud. I quit writing my own music, I jumped hoops and got a degree that was pretty much useless to me, I sang in other people's bands and did my best to be content with music as a hobby. I got the comfortable job, dated like my life depended on it, got a cat, and wondered why I was so depressed all the time. It took five years until I couldn't stand it anymore, five years until I finally decided to figure out who the hell I was instead of trying to fit into a box other people had made for me.
The cold air prickles my skin and brings me back to the present. I've tried to sate my temporary pyromania by lighting a bundle of sage and I watch the smoke spiral up into a rare, cloudless sky from my balcony. I'm starting to understand what brought me out here. Those old doubts have been creeping in. Who am I to think I deserve "this"?
I learned to sing "Roll on Columbia" while crossing the Columbia River in a moving truck when I was four; my dad teaching me about harmony and rounds to keep me occupied on the trip from California to Kansas. My first poetry teacher was the Song of Solomon, which I would read to entertain myself during mind numbingly dull sermons. I devoured Maya Angelou's "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" when I was 13. I can get lost in a thesaurus. I get the tingles from people's creativity. I hum when I paint. I can remember lyrics and melody after hearing a song once and remember it for years. I taught myself the basics of guitar, and then I picked peaches so I could buy my own.
My relationship with music has been propelled by my own curiosity, passion, and long stretches of silence. It isn't the result of the right kind of education, or an off shoot of my parent's interests, or a desire to be famous. It's just who I am, how I relate to the world.
Before I ever left that line and pushed my future off the rails, a class I was in was asked why we make music and what we thought music was. As the answers came out around the room I remember feeling more and more upset as my classmates talked about how music was just organized noise. For me, it felt like they were cutting the heart out. They were missing the point, as far as I was concerned. Music is about community and shared connection. It is about making a whole room of people feel the same things at the same time. How can you possibly talk about music without talking about feelings? When it was my turn, I choked out "I make music because if I didn't, I'd go crazy"
The last embers go out and a pile of ash sits on the glass candle holder where I had set the sage bundle. A comforting heaviness seeps into me.What was true then is true now. I still make music because without it I would loose my mind, and maybe in that place between "sane" and "crazy" I find the words that ease others back. I am worthy of my present, of my dreams, of my talent, of my passion. There is room enough for me. There is room enough for all of us.