Of Carts and Horses

This is also partially in response to some comments and questions I have received to my other posts; it is a public journal reflection, thus inviting further feedback; it is a contribution to the swirling pensieve that I referred to before; mostly it is just an attempt to clarify my thoughts for my own selfish purposes.

What do I want, what do I think the steps are to achieve my goals, and which of those steps am I willing/feeling able to take? Another aspect of motivational interviewing is the ‘ready-willing-able’ equation: if someone is feeling incapable of performing a certain task, it may come across as unwillingness or as a general lack of motivation. One may argue the standard line that willingness to try should come first, but bear with me. Just as musical abilities are achieved through several methodical steps – the 95% perspiration is accurate but is still a vague and useless admonition if one doesn’t know ‘how’ to do the workouts — there are ways in which the pop-psych admonitions, and even some of the respected self-help manuals are putting too many carts before horses, taking far too much for granted in the readers’ understanding of how to proceed with that self-help.

Here is a partial wish list for my life, along with thoughts on what I’m trying to do to address the wishes; it is un-ordered at this stage. I would like some relief from the internal chaos of my mind. Aside from the present writing process to try to order my reflections, aside from the current brand of medication, and aside from appointments I’ve been making and keeping with doctors and therapists, I know there are two practical steps I have yet to take: one is to engage in some more constructive physical exercise. I now have a bicycle and am awaiting a helmet. I would love to find a tennis partner who is also an enthusiastic and mediocre beginner, but that just opens up a whole new series of steps I have to take, and it really will represent a tangent for now, as relevant as it is. The second practical step to deal with mental chaos is one I keep coming back to: an active program of meditation. I need a different mental angle from which to approach the process of just getting started. To the people who say “don’t sweat it. Just focus on your breathing”, my response is: If you told me you wanted to learn to play piano and I gave you a series of steps that I consider simple, but you still couldn’t understand what I meant, would I accuse you of not listening or not making the attempt? There is definitely a cart in front of the horse for me here. But if I knew how to explain why I can’t even sit still for more than 2 minutes being aware of my breath before the anxiety kicks in and I have to get up and do something, I probably wouldn’t need to keep brainstorming on new angles, let alone invite new feedback.

I would like to find a day job that I can feel competent at, even if it only pays minimum wage. Please don’t yell at me when I say I can’t even multitask sufficiently to work at a gas station or Tim Horton’s. Please don’t yell at me and say I’m unmotivated. If you looked at my resume, you’ll see all of the jobs I’ve been willing to try. Getting my hands dirty is no problem. Heavy lifting is no problem, as long as you don’t trust me with anything fragile or that will be easily scratched. Standing for long periods is not a problem. I have 8 1/2 years of post-secondary education, resulting in an MA in Religious Studies and a Bachelor of Social Work. My brain started hurting before I finished the MA, and my training in Social Work made things worse, because it was all about intellectually analyzing what was wrong with the world rather than the hands-on skills of how to work with clients.
I made an attempt recently to find a career counsellor, and was told ‘Come back when you know what job you want to do’. Seriously. But that’s not the end of my story. Aside from using the present writing process, aside from hoping that when I start to achieve some mental clarity, that I’ll be able to sort out what kind of day job I’d really like to have, I know that one step I have yet to take is to start engaging in more conversations with people about the jobs they have so that I can do some more constructive brainstorming on what I would or wouldn’t like/be good at in such jobs. But aside from engaging in another tangent about my social phobias/shyness (introversion is not a precise enough word for my personality issues), I’m in search of some metaphorical horses here as well in terms of getting started with those conversations.

My musical wishes are the biggest example of carts and horses. I have dreamed of being a successful musician, but have long realized that first I need to become a more competent one. But the ironies abound. I have spent my life being a big fish in small ponds — partly because I become overwhelmed by large centres, partly because of other social and artistic self-doubts. I have a certain number of musical skills that are in high demand precisely because they are apparently rare. I have been told that I have innate ‘gifts’, and it doesn’t matter how much I beg to differ and insist that all of my skills result from having had some of the best teachers in my childhood and youth. I can still do things as a musician that other professional musicians and educators marvel at. I have had no shortage of successful gigs in my life, both solo and ensemble. And yet there are other practical skills that I lack. There are a number of high-paying musical contexts that I am simply not capable of going for because of the particular gaps in my abilities. But before you yell at me, please be aware of two things: first, the steps I need to take to fill these gaps are steps that I AM taking, notwithstanding the obstacles presented by my mood swings and attention span issues. Every chance I get, I’m working to build my skills. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe that it’s worthwhile, or that I am capable of achieving my goals.
Second, though, please know that this is not just artistic self-doubt. The skills that I do have, the ones that impress even the seasoned professionals, are in demand but are not sufficient to get me the kind of money I need to survive. The key word I need to add is “yet”. I will get there.

But having spent the last few years trying to grow as a competent musician, I do ask myself if being a full-time musician is really what I want. I’d be happy for the combination of being a damned good Saturday night musician and having the day job I can be proud of. People have yelled at me not to give up day jobs that I often never had in the first place. They thought I was being stubborn, but the fact is that for long periods of my life, music is all I have really understood. Far more than Religious Studies or Social Work, neither of whose content I could ever really retain. I can promise I’ve forgotten more of my education than I learned. I do know that I don’t want to take on more than a handful of students. I do know that there are certain ‘dream jobs’ out there for me as a musician that I’m already qualified for. I do know that I’m actually really close to living and not just chasing the dream of being a full-time musician. I know that I can get the rest of the way if I keep going. But my craving of a traditional day job is not just because of the occasional artistic doubts. It’s also because:

I mentioned in another post the issue of my loneliness. It is connected to my life as a musical artist, but I am willing to address it separately in terms of the steps I need to take. Although I’ve actively reached out on dating sites, this opens up a couple of paradoxes. First, before I can find someone to be with, I have to learn to be happy being alone. It’s not like I don’t know this. Second, I refuse to be dishonest on these dating sites, or in any other social context, about how chaotic my life is. I might be more attractive to a potential partner if I didn’t put all my cards (and my dramas) on the table, but what would be the point of dating someone who had false hopes about me having my life together? I don’t drive, I’m living in virtual poverty, I have two part-time jobs as a musician and scattered gigs, I haven’t been able to build my business as a music teacher, and my mental health is in ruins. Strangely, my physical health is actually pretty good, notwithstanding that I need to exercise more.
But before you yell at me, I’m just trying to address my loneliness from opposing angles: first, by working on all of the things above, I’m trying to find inner peace and happiness based on what I can achieve as a more humane human being. I’m also doing my best to reach out to kindred spirits (I’m often sad that I find more kindred spirits online and 1000 miles away than I do in real life, but there have been marvellous exceptions). Again, though, please understand not just the obstacles but also the issue of carts and horses involved in my very attempts to reach out for new friendships. If I were to wish for one result of therapy that would alter my entire destiny, it would be to overcome my shyness. Please don’t yell at me about all of the books and programs that are ‘out there’ to help with this. You might as well be trying to teach me how to understand sailing or nuclear physics.
I do believe that finding a day job that I would at least enjoy getting up in the morning to go to — as I said, even if it only pays minimum wage — would help with so many other aspects of my life, very much including being an antidote to the loneliness. Going home alone at night is still one of the most depressing banes of my existence, but I have always slept better when I know I’m looking forward to getting up in the morning.

The rest of my wish list is really secondary to the above. There is an old book called ‘Games People Play’. One of the games is called ‘waiting for Santa’. I would hope that I’ve talked enough about the steps that I’m trying to take instead of waiting for the fairy godmother to change my life, although a bit of deus ex machina is not something I would turn away.


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