Wayback Wednesday: Valentine’s Edition
I wrote this post (originally published here) in 2011, in between breakdowns and hooplah and before I’d officially decided to leave Chicago. It popped up in my Facebook memories today, and it still rings true.
These days, between self-employment, family obligations, and what’s left of my social life, I sometimes struggle making space for music….but it is still the thing I want to do more than any other thing. I feel like The Newsroom’s Will McAvoy – I fiddle with a little internet on the side. Anyway. Happy Wednesday.
The Love of My Life
On this day of widespread cultural propagation of bullshit stereotypes and false boundaries related to love and romance, I sometimes find myself frustrated (if you can imagine). As a non-partnered person, the pressure to couple up can be a bit stifling, especially since even my wee black heart has internalized some of those mythologies…plus, the truth is that I would actually like to build a stable long term partnership someday, and that’s been a stalled process lately, what with my own mental/emotional fragility.
I know, however, that I am surrounded by love – family and friends, for starters. Today, though, I want to talk about my soulmate. Because if love is that thing that brings you to your best, highest, transcendant self….then music is my soulmate.
I remember with startling clarity the first time I got an inkling of how important music was to me. It was a winter day, and my mom, my brother, my sister, and I were on the highway to the university where my mom needed to hit the computer lab to do some homework. We were in the pea green Chevy Nova my mom drove at the time; I remember the snow-covered fields of semi-rural Michigan rolling past outside the windows. I had scored the front seat, and I was singing a very silly song I had just learned in music class (this one, if you’re interested). I loved the song, and I loved singing it.
My mom, however, did not share my love of me singing it. The words – and I’ll never, ever forget them – she used were: “couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket.” Those words hit me in a pretty squishy place, as if they were trying to suck out a piece of my soul.
Many years later, after spending most of the intervening years learning how to sing properly and making music one of the best and happiest parts of my life, I tried to give it up. I went to college to be an engineer, and between classes and homework and two work study jobs to pay for what my scholarships didn’t cover, I didn’t have time for music of any kind, let alone the time and energy it takes to rehearse, perform, or otherwise create music. This was before the days of constant iPod companionship, so I didn’t even listen to much music…the best I could do for music was VH1 on my tiny black and white TV in my dorm room, or my equally diminutive tape collection, courtesy of a brief Columbia House memebership. (Ye gods, how old AM I??)
There were a lot of things that contributed to my eventually dropping out of college…but the biggest qualitative difference? Music. After I dropped out, I bought my first guitar and started teaching myself to play it. I studied different styles of singing and performing (to expand my choral/classical background), and I took the first baby steps toward what I would eventually consider to be the closest thing to a life purpose I can imagine for myself.
The first time I ever played a song I wrote in public, it was a revelation. I’d been performing in various kinds of shows since I was a little kid, but to perform something that – start to finish – came out of me….was so much more intense – and it felt so completely right and natural, in a way very few things in my life ever have.
Often when I am playing (whether for an audience or not), I lose myself completely in what I’m doing. I used to call it “stage blackout,” but I think it’s actually something like a peak experience. I think of it as being so present with what I’m doing that the internal running commentary, whatever it is that catalogues my activities for future review, stops working. The downside is that I don’t really have clear memories of my some of my performances, but the upside is that nothing makes me feel more wholly myself, more completely where I am “supposed to be” doing what I’m “supposed to do” than making music.
There’s an ad campaign for Breedlove guitars (which are, incidentally, fucking gorgeous) that says “Who says your soulmate has to be a man or a woman?” and sometimes I really get that. I’ve had feelings for people before, and likely will again; maybe someday I’ll find a partnership that works for me in the long term, though that’s not something I can plan for. Music, though, is always there, and always takes what I give and returns it many times over. And that, to me, is real love.