2021 has gone off to a really rough start, but I’m “fortunate” in that I have so many deadlines, I’ve got no time to really be anxious or feel sorry for myself. In fact, I’ve pretty much been in isolation at home (except for a scant 3+ months at work before injury/surgery was followed by another WFH directive) since last March. I’ve fallen into the daily rhythm of to-do lists, housekeeping (since I have not had the weekly cleaners in here since last February, I’ve been doing a lot of housework. The good news is that housework burns a lot of calories, haha), cooking, necessary sourcing of supplies (deliveries, occasional forays for groceries and meds), academic deadlines, music learning, gardening.
But in order to achieve far more in yet another horrendous year, I need to seek that balance. I don’t want to forget that I am an author. I feel like that would be a serious loss. A huge chunk of my identity comes from the fact that I write, and that I have always been a writer/storyteller for as long as I can remember.
And that’s part of the problem with my music posts. When writing is your entire life, when you are able to dive into copious research, it is possible that to the random onlooker, your music/playing aptitude is better than it actually is. I think I have the same imposter syndrome in smaller doses about my cooking — but not too much, especially since I have been cooking so much since the first lockdown and every other day I am all “HOT DAMN, CAN I COOK OR WHAT?!”
Music however — I am torn between the need to express how much joy and pain and love and despair and disillusionment and determination and sheer bloodymindedness is going into my work of becoming a better musician — and the fear that I may be seen as misrepresenting my actual levels of aptitude.
So I said, “No, no music posts”, but I’m worried that in so doing, I’m actually silencing myself.
It’s all about the balance, isn’t it. Maybe writing this long-ass waffle is also a sort of course-correcting. I don’t know!
I *feel* I am becoming a better musician now than I have been in all of my years of stumbling. I never considered myself a musician in all of those years because I was not able to put my emotion in my classical guitar playing. 2020, something melted. And it doesn’t always happen. But it was the day when I realized I was putting emotion in my playing, that I was finally able to play emotively that I said, “Wow, I have become a musician.”
I hold on to that moment, like so many other moments and pockets of joy when I feel like giving up.
I give a sigh and go, “This is what I am doing it for. This is who I am doing for. For me. For the music.”
This is not a hobby. A musician is not just your job (for those of us who don’t do music as a profession). It is something more fundamental. More ontological. It is who you are. I’ve been a duckling waiting to be a musician my whole life. I’m not a good one. But it is who I am. It may be a part of what I do but it is WHOLLY who I am.
I am an academic, an educator, an author, a poet, and yes, I am a musician. I never said I was a good one. But I am one. And I am a composer. Fledgling yes, imperfect yes. But one. But I shan’t wear that so loudly on my sleeve. I’ll just do the work. All of these components above? If I was a Venn Diagram, I would not be an intersection of circles. I would be stacked circles. One atop another. A full circle of me.
As to why I, personally, want to sit for exams, well. Mostly it’s because I’ve been robbed. Robbed of so many vital music-learning years. And I’m determined to claim those years back.
It’s very personal. And it matters a lot. It doesn’t matter if I’m never going to be a concert performer because frankly I couldn’t be arsed about all that (though I might not mind smaller, more intimate venues/gigs at some point).
And it’s not about showing off qualifications. Listen, I already have a PhD from one of the top 50 universities in the world. I have a title I will wear for life. I know how hard it was to get to that point, I know how torturous that journey was. So I will wear that accomplishment with well-deserved pride. Overall, structured studying agrees with me because I am analytical and academically inclined.
I could very easily see myself writing a musical thesis if I wanted to in my retirement years, for example. It would amuse me and bring me considerable joy. But if I want to play for myself with any degree of flexibility and comfort for additional joy derived from the sheer arete of it, I need to do the work. It’s as simple as that. I’ve always been about the craft and the method, no matter what the creative discipline. Music is no different.
But. Balance. I love teaching. I’m proud of my students. I love academic research, it lights my fire. I’m privileged enough to be employed in a job that I am passionate about and where I am positioned to be able to do at least a little bit of good. So, most of my day goes to that. The rest goes to aforementioned housekeeping. Some time for necessary relaxation for mental health, and then music.
At one point I was practicing 3-4 hours a day on classical guitar (during semester break) and 30-45 minutes on piano. As I get better and more proficient on the piano (in a year, it’s almost a miracle!) I’ve been practising more on that. So an hour for the piano, and an average of an hour and a half for classical guitar. I also take music break days and when I return, I often find I play better on both instruments. The body is weird. I guess it’s like fitness (the days when I went to the gym 3-4 days a week). Your body and mind needs the off-day.
So far, it sounds like I have everything figured out. Yes. But. Where does my creative writing fit it?
That’s the question I need to answer in 2021. And this post is a “kind of” accountability post.
No to-do lists, no music lists (Instead, I have taken to emailing my excellent music teachers what I’m learning and what my expectations are). But every now and then, there’ll be waffle.
This year I must have better academic articles. This year I am organising two literary webinars/online conferences. This year I am working on two academic collections as the main editor. This year, I aim to bring out at least **some** creative writing. This year, I aim to do well at two music exams.
There’ll be pain. There’ll be days of utter inertia. There’ll be days when I want to give up on music altogether. I’ve had many of those days in the past year. Days of saying “What are you doing? Nobody cares if you get the qualification or not.”
Answer: “I care. I was robbed. I’m taking this back for me.”
That’s all. Stay tuned, folks. 2021 is going to be one hell of a ride.