I decided to stop playing music round about Thanksgiving. Haven’t done a gig, rehearsal, jam session, or hardly touched an instrument since then. Regrets? Second thoughts? Refinements?
First, it’s been great. It’s been one of the best things I’ve done for myself for as long as I can remember. I hadn’t really realized just how must of a burden my involvement had become. An old friend and mentor asked me a little about it and “what I had been doing” lately. When I thought for a second, I realized that one important thing I had been doing was not-playing music. Not some passive activity, but actively and enthusiastically not playing.
Second, there’s space. My work schedule has picked up again and I’m spread very thin. Eliminating music from my list of things to worry about has taken some of the worst edge off the pressure. Now, instead of using all my energy for work, then using even more for music, then using whatever’s left for me and my family, I have a little space left in my life even during my crazier times. (I won’t say crazy-est because I never know what’s coming up…)
I’m reading, cooking, taking my daughter hiking, washing my dogs, learning some new dumb internet stuff for work. I’ve basically freed up enough of myself to circumvent what I call the Vortex of Despair; it’s the bad cycle where work creates stress and free time creates stress and since there’s no escape it spirals. If work is already stressful and I also know I’ve got 3 rehearsals coming up and music to learn, it’s even more stressful. If music is stressful because I’ve got so much other work to handle, and on top of it I have to spend time I don’t have to do things I don’t have the energy to care about and also learn new music and also disrupt my office to move gear around, and also I’m not spending enough time with my family, then my non-work time makes the stress even worse.
It’s such a relief to spend some time away from the Vortex. I probably ought to be embarrassed to admit to my limitations, but I never was able to do everything for everyone all the time. I’m still plenty busy and pack plenty into a week. But music was the thing that put me over the top so I wasn’t able to work well OR enjoy my spare time. Now I’m more effective at work and freer in my non-work time. Win-win. For a guy who thinks of himself as pretty smart, it sure took me a long time to figure this out and give it a try.
Third, I’m almost interested in playing again. Almost. I’ve had the computer on and tried to sit at the piano, and it just feels forced, so I mess around and then leave it alone. Partly, when I sit and screw around for 5 minutes, I do exactly what I would have done 6 months ago, and it’s not satisfying enough to keep at. And taking a break has made it clear how twisted my head was about my own music; I never, ever do anything just for me any more, and I don’t know what that would even be. I make stuff with my friend Pete in mind, he likes certain kinds of beats, or for approval from certain family members who actually don’t like anything I’ve ever been involved with (and in case there’s any doubt, that’s not a reference to my wife), and for my old mentor Andrew Hill who was very anti-convention, and for my friend Curt who knows every soul album (actually just every album) ever made, and for New York hipsters who need to include drum n’ bass and Indian night ragas in everything so it’s “cool.” Not much room left for me in all that. Jazzy non-jazz advanced-accessible noncommercial-commercial simple-complex personal-generic trendy-classic music for the masses that only I like. Tricky. If I get back into it at all, ever, I’ll have to either spend some time finding myself, or glimpsing a piece of myself may even be the little foothold thatpulls be back to it. Until I get that glimpse, I’m happier being me rather than playing music and spending time being not-me. (Or is that even possible; who else would I ever be?)
I still don’t know if this is honestly just a break or a permanent departure. Since it’s my own decision and rules and motivations, I’m free to interpret it as I like, and I’m open to re-evaluating where I am with it whenever there’s a reason to. But again and again, it feels so right to be away from it that I can’t picture going back. Playing music comes with a heavy personal cost to me, and without some kind of corresponding reward – and not even necessarily a material reward, even just some cute intangible like “fun” or “happiness” would be sufficient – I can’t think of any reason to start up again. I’d be nuts to seek out an activity that only serves to make me unhappy and stressed out. The idea that keeps popping up that one of the best reasons for me to quit music is that I can’t think of a single reason not to.
So there you have it; until an reason to not quit music occurs to me, I’ll remain uninvolved. And I’ll enjoy every minute of it. My wife is of the opinion that if I go back, I should tackle my own projects and not passively join other peoples’ stuff. I’ve done the sideman thing, and I’m OK at it, but I have to admit to feeling pulled in other directions. But these days, the idea of finding musicians, writing music, scheduling rehearsals, booking gigs, even recording, sounds like so much of a pain in the ass that I’d rather just do something else. Actually, almost anything else. I’ve been there, I’ve done it, and without some specific reason to keep on doing it, I just don’t see any reason.