New Year’s Resolution

It’s been awhile since I’ve used this website.  My composing life has largely gone into hibernation while I sort out the details of living my “regular” life. I moved into my first house with my awesome wife, and have been spending a large amount of free time painting, organizing furniture, and working my day job.

Trying to build a musical life from the bottom up is hard! When I first moved out here to California, I was determined to try and get something, anything, going for myself.  I had my horn cleaned up, and joined up with a local town band to try and rediscover that musical spark that got me started 20-someodd years ago.  I signed up for all the community college job board mailing lists and began a campaign of emailing every music department within 50 miles.  I went to the local universities’ composition colloquia and concerts to try and get myself into the scene.

Nothing happened.  There were no community college jobs to be had for the two years that I searched.  The town band made me frustrated because nobody practiced and I could hear that we sounded awful (when I was 13, I didn’t have the ears to tell how bad we were, nor did I care!).  I felt awkward and out of place at every event I went to, like everyone could tell that I was desperate.  I got a new job where I had to live out of a hotel for three months, being tested everyday — if I dropped below a 90% average, I’d be fired and sent home.

And one day, I woke up and realized that my life has nothing to do with music.  My CV was years old, and the only thing that needed updating was my address.  I thought about music all the time.  I’d get home from work and sit down to compose…and then do something else.  I’d sit down to listen to a colleague’s work…and then turn on a podcast, instead.

Every time I sit down and do something music-related, the same thing happens.  I have what I can best describe as a tiny panic attack.  A little voice in my head says, “You suck you suck you suck you suck you suck… ,” and I’m treated to one of those vignettes your brain does when you remember something embarrassing in junior high, except it’ll be about something I did with music.  I still compose, but it involves having to actively fight the urge to stop.  I can’t listen to colleagues’ work without my brain reminding me that I’m awful, and I usually stop listening after a couple minutes.  At work I’m embarrassed telling people that I have a PhD in music, because coworkers’ reactions range from laughing at me for working below my station, or for having spent such a crazy amount of money on a degree like that.  Most commonly, I just get a kind of head-cocked-to-the-side look, like I’m some kind of exhibit.

I’ve talked about my life not turning out the way I had imagined before, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had that happen to them.  I’m not trying to elicit pity, but I did feel it was necessary to build a little context for my New Year’s Resolution, which is this:  I’m going to figure out how to listen to music again, and overcome these weird panic attack things.  I like music, and it’s sad that I’m not experiencing it because of some weird groove carved into me by who-knows-what.  I don’t know if what I’ve been experiencing is common, but if so, I’d love any advice people have for getting over something like this!

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