Archive | April, 2012


20 Apr

I don’t know what I’m doing. I fake self-awareness really well, but in reality I haven’t a clue. A year ago, I was convinced that being a college professor was my path. Now, I’m not so sure. I keep getting distracted by the immutable desire to play music professionally. There are several pitfalls to this.

I have the soul and spirit of an artist, and I have shackled my soul and spirit to bullshit notions of legitimacy. And for what? To try and live up to American society’s definition of success – that work has to be horrible and shitty, or it’s not really work, it’s just play, and how dare you try to go out and play all the time when the rest of us suffer? I was given this set of ears by God to use to hear the majesty that is applied physics – sound organized in time – and that is what these ears are wired to do. I can’t explain it to anyone else, really, except for other musicians, but I feel like a fish out of water around them, too. Like I’ll never be good enough to be taken seriously by the people I look up to. All I ever want to do is just hang with my musical heroes and play music with them and talk to them about the stuff we love and why we love it. I have the intellect and the savvy and the command of musical language to do that for the rest of my life. That is paradise, bliss, absolute and total contentment.

I have a hard time believing God wanted me to do anything else. Otherwise, why would I have been gifted with the sense of pitch that I have? (Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty solid.) The sublime ability to convey the most inexpressible of emotions through something as abstract as a big hunk of copper and zinc? Why can I grab that passion and feel it with gusto when I have the horn in my face, but shun and run in terror from the same passion when the horn is put away? Why is the only vessel for my emotions something that a great many people regard as trivial, and that I myself try to “turn off” so that people don’t think I’m a lazy, over-sensitive artist?

I spent so much time and energy trying to suppress my “no one gets me!” teen angst when I was actually a teenager, trying to be as “mature” as everyone thought I was, trying to be an adult when I hadn’t even started buying maxi pads yet, that it has now manifested in my late 20s like a terrible, abusive boyfriend who keeps popping up to remind you that he fucked your shit up. I spent so much time and energy nailing passions and emotions to the wall alone, never reaching out or asking for help. I’ve internalized every bit of my personal struggle to validate my one true passion. When people ask me, in that half-pitying, half-smug tone, “So what do you DO with that?” I can barely contain my rage anymore. So I retreat to the solitude of my bedroom, and I listen to records. I’ve been doing it the same way since I was old enough to have a stereo.

My greatest fear is going deaf. I am terrified of losing my hearing. I cannot say for sure what would happen to me if I were to lose my ability to hear. It’s not something I want to entertain in detail. I don’t see a positive outcome from that – I see an abrupt end to my existence. Why bother? I’m not being dramatic. It is what it is.

I have this opportunity to be selected to do a job that is in great alignment with my extra-musical skill-set. It’s where I want to be geographically, it’s where I want to be musically. I’ve been trying to see it as the perfect scenario to feed myself and my cat while feeling safe enough to cultivate my musical persona. That’s what a lot of musicians do – they get a day job and they spend the rest of their time sheddin’. That’s why I want this job; that, and to be surrounded by positive influences and absolutely absurd levels of musical talent. In that scenario, all I would do is learn to set that part of myself free without the horn in my face – to be OKAY with the side of me that is a passionate, sensitive artist. To STOP trying to validate what I do to people who will never understand.

I’ve walked that line of “If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen,” for so long. Sometimes, I just want to be tossed a god damn bone. I want the work that I have been doing for the last 10 years to have an outcome. The best experiences in my life have been those that just sort of happen, without any pressing or expectation from me. I wanted more than anything else in the world to go to Oregon, and that didn’t fly. So I went to Idaho instead, and my life has been forever changed (in positive, immeasurable ways!) because of that. So while I do believe that we’re always where we’re meant to be, for once in my life I’d like to experience REWARD – I’d like to have the experience of lusting after something to the exclusion of all other things and chasing it down in the end. And even as I write that, I know that what I want and what the creator has in mind are rarely one and the same.

I’ve started to define success in terms of setting goals and attaining them. This goal-setting thing is new for me; I used to be too afraid of the whims and cruelty of life to ever plan anything beyond the next two weeks. I’ve tried to visualize this scenario coming true for me; I’ve gone so far as to start apartment-hunting and canceling appointments that are scheduled past the date when I would start the job. I’m trying to act as if this is a foregone conclusion. But there are negative people in my life, and they talk.

I want to be where I’m meant to be, but if I feel like a fish out of water wherever that happens to be, what’s the point?

18 Apr

“So why is there a perception that musicians are exempt from this contract? I believe it is because music, which everybody loves and most have dabbled in in some way during their life, is perceived as a leisure pursuit, an enjoyable sideline to the real business of life. The warm memory of the camaraderie at school band practice or those three-chord strummings in a teenage bedroom give music the glow of a happy hobby. At the same time, the get-famous-quick culture promoted by shows like the X-Factor encourage audiences to believe that musicians get in front of their audience by not much more than luck and the ability to look good holding a microphone. And if it’s so easy and so much fun, why should we be paid?”

Elisabeth Hobbs

Musicians become musicians because they have a passion and a talent. They also have high levels of self-discipline and perseverance. To become a professional musician takes a lifetime of work. Most will have started playing by the age of ten: at that age, you might practice half an hour a day, but as you improve that soon becomes an hour, then three, then five hours (that’s per day, not week, on top of your schoolwork). By the time you’re at music college – if you’re one of the very tiny minority who make it through the highly competitive audition process – you are likely to be practising six or seven hours a day, in addition to a daily schedule of rehearsals and classes.

The pressure is relentless and doesn’t end with your graduation recital. Except for the most utterly exceptional, the life of a musician is a perilous journey, through…

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13 Apr

A must-read, even if you aren’t an orchestral musician.

David Beem

Update 4/11/2012

This blog has been published at the Huffington Post. Please have a read there, (this link) while it is up, and add your remarks in the comment section there, in order to boost this discussion on to the national stage with a greater contingent of non musicians. Thanks for your support. The original blog follows here:

10,000 hours.

That’s the number going around these days when people spit-ball what it takes to master a skill: 10,000 hours of practice. I happen to think it’s on the low side, but maybe that’s because I wasn’t as gifted as some. Yo-Yo Ma, for instance. But then, someone of that level only comes along once or twice in a generation. He’s not competing for jobs against the masses.

Still, a number of years back, Yo-Yo Ma did joke that he’d never pass an audition to join the Philadelphia Orchestra…

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7 Apr

Dude. I hope these brats grow out of this shit.

Alex W. Rodriguez

This morning, I finally caught up with the jazz internet hoopla surrounding the Toronto-based trio Badbadnotgood (BBNG). I will not link to any of their music here, because they have received plenty of attention already.

I will, however, link to Peter Hum’s excellent take.

Read that, and then come back to see why I even bothered weighing in: because this group exposes the racist underbelly that haunts today’s systems of music distribution and consumption, something that many jazz musicians have been diligently and intelligently resisting for decades. 

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Infidelity and Me

7 Apr

This post is going to be ridiculously meta, because apparently that’s how the internet works now. So I’m going to be writing about someone’s input on someone’s opinion on someone else’s article, and how I relate to it all. META.

First up, this story got the wheels spinning in my head just because I recognized the situation from personal experience:

And then this blog post was published earlier this week, which called out an (admittedly boastful and bitchy) article about being The Other Woman:

The links to the links are all on Natalia’s blog, but if you don’t feel like diving too far into this clusterfuck, here’s a quick and dirty version: A woman named Lisa Taddeo wrote a fake-edgy, sophomoric, really mean-spirited article about what it’s like to be the woman that men cheat with, in which she blasted the wives of the men she screws and blames them for the actions of their cheating husbands. She does all this under the guise of laying bare “Why We Cheat,” when in reality, she just comes off like every stereotype of an ignorant, selfish homewrecker.

I thought I’d offer a little insight on what being The Other Woman is actually like.

Women are sort of conditioned to see other women as threats, competition, etc. As with society in general, the easiest way to absolve yourself of guilt when harming another person emotionally is to dehumanize them. We’ve succeed in making every aspect of human existence into a commodity – what we eat, who we fuck, what we listen to. There isn’t a single aspect of anyone’s so-called “identity” that isn’t constructed on some level by a capitalist system, one that idealizes the concept of ownership and makes us all into hyenas scrapping over pieces of meat. This is why you turn on Jerry Springer (or whatever trash the kids watch these days, Jersey Shore I guess) and hear women screaming at each other about “my man!”

You know, I can admit to really loathing women for a long time and completely being part of the problem. A Women’s Studies professor would definitely call me a “tool of the patriarchy” and in many senses, I was and still am. I saw women who lambasted men for nothing, for leaving their underwear on the floor, or for leaving the toilet seat up, and I would think, “What a stupid fucking thing to get worked up about. No wonder men whine about bitches.”

I’d like to think that I’m somehow above all of that crap, and that I avoided thinking “Oh, that bitch treats her husband like shit, so he’s justified in fucking me instead,” but I didn’t. I thought all of those things that Taddeo brags about in her piece. But they never really sat right with me, and there was always a nagging Pac-Man of guilt that chomped away from the very beginning. I wanted to believe that the wife of the man I was screwing somehow deserved what she got, that she brought it on herself by not being perfect for him the way I clearly was, etc. Man, did I want to believe that. I never could buy it, though, and the self-loathing started to aggregate.

And then…he did the same thing to me. Concocted a woe-is-me tale for yet another woman, only this time I was the bitch, the one who wasn’t good enough, the easily replaceable imported Chinese TV that you can just throw away when you decide to “upgrade” because this model has “better features” and “doesn’t require upkeep.” And I thought, shit, this is karma. This is what it’s like to be on the other side. And when that happened, I wanted to call the ex-wife of the man who had just made me into an “ex” and apologize to her. I very nearly did it, too. But I didn’t, because I didn’t want her to feel like she had to pity me. This is a story for another day, but – I loved her children. They were his children too, and I loved them. To this day, the thing that guts me the most is that I will never see those kids again.

And once, when that man’s ex-wife told me, “My kids are going to grow up without a father because of you,” I wanted to say, no, he’ll be their father, he’ll be there for them. I was wrong about that, but so was she – it’s not because of me that they may grow up without their dad.

You can go ahead and call me a whore, terrible human being, whatever. Get it all out. Any nasty name you can think of to call me, I guarantee you I called myself a long time ago. This self-hate train is long and it ran through my life for the entirety of my relationship. I never confronted the demons from making a choice to be complicit in the destruction of a family. I make a little bit of progress with this every day, but I may never truly forgive myself.

No one tells you this stuff when you become The Other Woman. It is not all fancy dresses and jewelry and secret bank accounts and road trips to the next town so no one sees you together. There is no “Mistress Handbook” that they give out down at Homewrecking Whore Junction.

I have myself convinced that I will never comply with a cheater’s insecurities again, but to be honest, I really don’t know. All I can do is keep morphing into a REAL feminist, the kind who loves men and loves women equally and doesn’t assign blame based on body parts. If this experience taught me anything, it’s that society loves to pit women against one another and make us all into “frenemies” (god I hate trendy portmanteaus) who only pretend to commiserate. We’re human beings first, and we should be treated as such.

I wrote this so that someone could perhaps learn something from it. Not seeking pity or comfort or anything – I’ve mostly made my peace with myself and with the situation. Learn from my mistakes, kids. And don’t let a man cheat on you. If he does, move on. Because if they do it once, they will do it again. I’ve lived that nightmare, and it would break my heart if someone I loved had to go through that same five-year emotional roller coaster.

Peace and blessings.

Diplomacy 101

1 Apr

First, allow me to submit for review the blog post concerning the issue I’m about to discuss:

Second, allow me to state my bias up front: the girl on the far left of that photograph is the daughter of the woman my father has been dating for 10 years. I’ve known her since she was 9. She’s a member of my family. Just so that’s out there.

Third, allow me to state an additional bias that’s causing me no small measure of cognitive dissonance: I am predominantly Native American on my mother’s side. My great-aunt has successfully traced our ancestry back to the Trail of Tears, and my great-grandmother was one quarter Cherokee. It’s been pretty diluted by the time it has reached me, but the women on that side of the family all have native features (by that I mean, not heavily European features), such as dark eyes and high cheekbones, so it’s in there somewhere.

So, a fraternity and a sorority had a party. As these things often are, it was themed, and the theme was quasi-Western: “Cowboys and Indians.” Not the most culturally sensitive thing in the world, but then again, underage binge drinking isn’t exactly something to boast about and yet it’s often given a pass in the Greek setting.

The advisor of the Native American Student Alliance at the University of Denver demanded, and received, an apology for the publication of photos from this party on Facebook. The Greek organizations involved were contrite. They admitted that racism played no factor in their choice of theme, and that they were merely ignorant of the notion that someone could take offense to the “indian” costumes. Let’s consider a moment the demographics that Greek students often come from: white, upper-middle-class. Used to homogeny in their choice of friends and in their classmates. Saturated with white privilege. And this doesn’t make them bad human beings, or somehow deserving of all the flak they’re getting. It just makes them…privileged.

White privilege is a difficult issue to tackle for even a self-aware white person, let alone someone who has never given thought to the idea that their skin color has automatically bestowed on them certain social advantages. And if you are an academic or an intellectual who actively LOOKS for issues of white privilege in research (which I do), it can be extremely frustrating to see this stuff simmering underneath the surface of public discourse knowing that 95% of the population is unaware of the concept.

However, it is certainly possible to be hyper-vigilant in the observation of issues of privilege, such as the case I mentioned above. The NSA advisor received the apology he requested, and it wasn’t good enough for him. No, he’d like to institute “sensitivity training” and make everyone involved FEEL REALLY, REALLY BAD about the whole thing.

If you are a member of a group which is benefitted by an oppressive power structure, you get all kinds of advantages which it probably never even occurs to you that you get. There are several such power structures in our society: sex (men over women), race (whites over non-whites), sexuality (heterosexuals over non-heterosexuals), and class (the wealthy over the rest). Having privilege does not mean that your life is automatically peachy keen or that you are evil scum; it simply means that there are advantages you get which some people do not.

Privilege is the consequence of living in a systematic power structure and being top dog. And these things are undeniable. I’m not being overly politically correct by pointing this out – these are embedded structures that play a part in nearly every facet of our lives. And if you doubt me, ask Trayvon Martin’s parents how they feel about the structure of white privilege.

However, privilege is NOT guilt. If you are in possession of a privilege, it is not something you did; it’s something that was done on your behalf. When people say that you have privilege, they are not saying that you should feel bad about it (and in fact the concept of “white guilt” is generally loathed by anti-racist intellectuals and activists, as it should be). If you choose to be willfully blind to it, or you defend it, however, that’s another issue entirely. But it doesn’t apply in this situation, in my humble observation.

It is one thing to hold people accountable when they cross a line. It is another thing entirely to demand that, as penance, everyone be forced to think JUST LIKE YOU about the issue, and if they don’t then they are terrible people who don’t deserve to live. Some kids had a party and didn’t do themselves any favors by reinforcing some really dated stereotypes, and they apologized for it. The case should be closed there. That party and its cultural missteps aren’t the be-all end-all of who they are as human beings.

Instead, the NSA advisor (who writes for the Denver Post and CLEARLY has an agenda of some sort) feels it is his duty to make an example of these students by forcing them to respect other cultures in a manner that he approves. I’ll say that again – FORCING. Rather than accepting the apology and encouraging self-reflection on the part of the students, he wants to control exactly what they think about Native Americans. Since when has trying to control what people think EVER been a good strategy? This gentleman wants to inflict guilt, not awareness.

Incidents like these are why people (typically conservatives who are fully invested in the idea of white American exceptionalism) complain about “political correctness run amok.” None of us are without biases and prejudices – NONE of us. Hell, I used to dislike lesbians until I met two incredibly amazing beautiful people who happened to identify that way. I had a concrete reason for disliking lesbians – too many highly negative experiences with aggressive women trying to “turn” me – and I had to confront, acknowledge, and release this prejudice of mine on my own. No one forced this on me. I simply hadn’t been exposed to a woman who identified as gay who wasn’t interested in trying to rudely bull (no pun intended) their way into my pants.

Did this prejudice make me a bad person? No, just a sheltered one in that regard. I had a specific negative experience with a subset of the population that made me want to avoid that group. When I began to have positive experiences with that same subset, my opinion of the group changed. That is how you breed tolerance – by acknowledging that we are only as noble as our life experiences. Maturing means willingly adapting what you think to fit your experiences, not clinging rigidly to personal dogma in spite of being shown “another way.”

I’m trying to point out that cultural, social, and gender norms/identifications are self-imposed and imposed by society at large. And they can be taken away just as easily as they are imposed. AWARENESS of our tendency to stereotype, to judge, and to blame the “Other” for not thinking like we do is the most important weapon we have in the fight for equality. Awareness. Not forced guilt masquerading as “sensitivity.” By forcing people to think in a certain way about certain groups of people, all we are doing is reinforcing the “Otherness” that already exists. Does it serve anyone’s best interest to require someone to acknowledge how different someone is?

Acknowledge that white people live with a distinct advantage over the rest of society. Be aware of that – it’s real and its effects have been having devastating consequences for centuries. Acknowledge that the people who have historically been “Othered” are understandably pissed about what has happened to them. The problem with discussing these issues is not the topic – it’s the audience. Knee-jerk reactions from both camps keep us in perpetual “us” and “them” stasis.

Again, the NSA advisor here may mean well, and he may feel that he is defending his culture from continued stereotyping, but he is still insisting on inflicting guilt on these students. That is counter-productive and will do more damage long-term than simply encouraging self-reflection and a little cultural awareness next time around.