I’m halfway through quitting music, or playing music live to be more precise. Phase one is saying no to anything new; my current relationship with music – not good – is largely a byproduct of taking chances with strangers that haven’t worked out, so I’m taking a step back from that. I know I’m on the right track because on one hand, I dread every single music commitment I get entangled with these days, even good ones with people I love and music I ought to enjoy, but especially when I’ve committed to something I know from the beginning is a poor match for my interests and love. And on the other hand I glow with pride whenever I successfully avoid something music-related, it feels righter than almost anything else I’ve ever done, at least in recent memory. A bodily sense of correctness and rightness. That’s not to say strangers are bad or that I can avoid all problems in my life by screening them out or that sticking to what’s known or familiar is somehow going to be a fruitful pursuit for me. I just know that it’s been a bad couple months for me and music, and it’s a period that has permanently changed how I relate to music.
Phase two will be pulling back from people I know and like and have been playing with. There’s not much going on now, so it’s no big deal yet – nothing to say no to. But I will when the time comes. I’ve been laying the groundwork for a while, so I don’t feel like I’m going to be ambushing anyone, and nobody really depends on me for anything so it’s not like I’m botching up anyone’s living. People will still seem surprised, partly because I’ve been having issues so long that people tune them out and don’t take them seriously, but that’s fine. I’m finding that telling people I’m “taking a break” yields no resistance, but telling people “I’m quitting” is a more threatening notion and raises lots of arguments that I’m not really interested in. This is not a cry for help or fishing for praise or encouragement. If someone realized that running made their knees hurt so they stopped running and started searching for another activity, nobody would fault them, so I’m trying to present it more like that when someone wants to argue. In truth, I feel strong and expansive, not weak and retreating, and there’s something that feels incredibly good about breaking the loop I’ve been in with music. At the same time, I’m so totally empty and filled with dread when it comes to all live music and everything that’s involved that there’s not really any question. I’m tired of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results; that creates pain. Duh. So rather than sweet talking myself into more of the same, I’m deciding to try something different. Whatever it is. I shouldn’t have an anxiety attack when I recognize a possible gig phone call on caller ID; that seems like a bad sign.
As a result, my music calendar is empty except for one possible date at the end of this week. That’s it.
In theory, I worry about my decision. “What if?” What if I change my mind? What if I miss it? What if I’m wrong? Those are purely thoughts, and I can count them and organize them and evaluate them. But when it comes to the real feelings involved, it’s cut and dry. No debate, nothing fuzzy, nothing vague. This is a rare occasion where my brain leans decisively either left or right, and it’s unfamiliar. And welcome. And it’s not like I make any important part of my living from it these days; I’ve avoided depending on music, and on the down side, that’s required me to pursue fallback plans that have worked out pretty darned well. But on the positive side, I’ve been able to remain involved as long as I have by effectively slowing the eventual complete burnout.
It makes me reflect; am I ungrateful? Is my ego undoing me? Am I cutting off my nose to spite my face? First, I am not ungrateful, or I don’t feel so. My quitting music is about the present and about the future; I regret very little in my past, and I’m thankful for the people music has put in my path and the places I’ve been and the things I’ve tried. But I’ve had very few great musical experiences. Very, very few. People get involved with their passions to have great experiences; I’ve given this music thing 3+ decades, and I don’t feel like I have another 3+ decades to wait, so I’m ready to try some other path or paths to positive experiences. It would be different if I knew what I was waiting for and just losing patience, but I don’t have any idea; all I know is I repeat the same things that make me unhappy and wait for them to suddenly make me happy for some reason, and the novelty of the process has long since worn off.
I realize that I should enjoy the “journey” and not the “destination,” and while it may seem that I’ve missed that point, that’s actually a driving force behind me stepping away. I’m not trying to get to some specific place where suddenly everything’s good, I’m just openly recognizing that I kind of hate the journey that music places me on. So I’m changing it. And I don’t feel particularly egotistical about it. I know that I’m good at what I do, and I know that playing OK is probably the 80th bullet point on the list of stuff it takes to make a living off music, and the 79 bullet points that are higher up are mostly stuff I’m not interested in. I never have been, and I am even less these days.
2 funny things that are happening as a result. First, I realize how deeply I enjoy NOT playing, or not playing gigs at least. When I have a conflict that prevents me from playing or I turn something down, I get a profound sense of enjoyment and accomplishment that playing a gig never, ever brings. A glow; a physical sense that I’ve just done something good for myself. It tells me that I’ve been sleepwalking through my involvement with music. I don’t work hard to set up my own projects and bands and gigs because I dread a lot of what’s involved, so I ride the coattails of other people’s work and projects. I do what’s required and with care – I do have pretty strong work ethic, regardless of my feelings – but I have been doing gigs in my present because I have been doing them in my past and for little other reason. If gigs are for fun and money, and I don’t need the money and I don’t find them fun, there’s not much reason to keep doing them. Is there? I’ve heard all the stuff like, “But you create because you’re DRIVEN to create, for the LOVE of it!” I’m DRIVEN to drink beer and LOVE fried food, too; does that mean that I have absolutely no say in whether or not I partake? Doing something because you absolutely have to is not the same thing as doing something because you absolutely adore it. There’s a difference between unhealthy, addictive behavior and joyfully participating in a passion. Isn’t there?
The second thing is that within minutes of deciding not to gig any more, I found myself in my office/studio doing a much needed cleaning and fixing up my music setup and just playing, and loving it. A cork pulled out of a bottle; a feeling of enjoyment and growth just from playing. New, calm music pouring forth. New ideas, new directions, just new. So I intend to just keep playing and enjoying that I enjoy it for a little while. No agenda, no business plan, no gigs, not even any sharing with others. Just me, playing by myself and for myself. For a change, and for the better. It’s a weird feeling, playing music for enjoyment, and actually ending up enjoying it. This kind of enjoyment has become distant and almost unfamiliar for me, and my intuition was telling me this me should not be the case. So I think I’m on the right track.
Who knows where I’ll be later today, next week, next year? All I can do is make the best decision I can right now based on who I am and what I feel at this moment, and for now I’m a little in touch with how I feel and what I want to do. “Quitting” is not quitting in this case, it’s drawing a line in the sand, closing one door with the hope and the intuition that I’ll find another one to open. Maybe I’ll start playing “new age” music or learn the blues for real or start singing. Well, I’m not going to start singing, but you see what I mean. Maybe I’ll learn some classical pieces I’ve shunned, if it feels right.
All I know is whatever I’d been doing hadn’t been working for me, regardless of how it appeared. It didn’t feel right at several levels, and rather than discovering that just now, I’ve just decided to stop ignoring the not-feeling-right. And in doing so, I feel that I suddenly have a feeble, but real foothold on something else that – working or not – actually feels right. I suspect that at some point, I’ll eventually evaluate whether it’s “working” by thinking about whether I’m making money off of it and that may change my new and novel feelings about it all. But at many important junctures in my life, just doing what feels right (once I discover what that actually is) has taken me in new and important and unexpected directions. After feeling off base for a long time, I feel like I’m starting to see hints of a path and I’m very interested in seeing where it goes.
Enough. Now to think about some changes in how I feel about my “day gig.”