Not the highway. Not the song. (Yes, there is a song.) Rather, the long winding path that leads to the Social Security office where I visited last week
This was a funny birthday. Not ha, ha funny. Odd, really. The day came and went without sturm und drang, included a nice dinner out with Sue and Jake, and a sweet telephone call from my older son Matt and his wife Alyssa. Unlike last year when I fell into a funk about mortality (mine), this year seemed smooth sailing. Even after I left the Social Security building there was still no depression.
It was something else entirely, and it hit a couple days later, actually on my music night. I totally sucked. Really sucked. So bad that when I began my lesson, I had trouble playing without squeaking and squawking.
It wasn’t the horn.
I made it through the lesson despite doing everything wrong. Then came time for playing with the ensemble (Polar Vortex). In general, I have difficulty playing at a fast tempo (even a medium tempo to be honest). That night I could barely get my fingers to move at all. It got so bad that for the last 20 minutes of our session, I just stopped playing, sat down, and wondered what I was even doing in the group. I had long before come to terms with being its worst player, but never felt so defeated. Often, exactly the opposite. When I struggled, it usually gave me greater determination to try harder. Not that night.
Much later, lying in bed watching Pawn Star re-runs, I tried to figure things out. Somewhere between a reproduction Gatling gun and a signed first-edition Edgar Allen Poe, I started to get it. There simply isn’t enough of my life left to become a decent musician. The night at music school had been a metaphor for decisions taken and, more importantly, not taken. Despite having always wanted to play an instrument, why hadn’t I first started to learn music long before? Why hadn’t I begun lessons, something where I don’t have natural talent at the time when I began to write—where I do have natural talent? It could have, should have (?) been reversed.
I guess “what ifs” and “if onlys” smack everyone upside the head some time or another. Sue teaches at a “low residency” MFA at Lesley University and, frankly, I’ve been pretty jealous. I’ve helped people with their writing, but working with students on a regular basis would have given me great pleasure. But if you only have one diploma (8th grade) despite attending high school, some college, part of a master’s program, and creating a school for high-school dropouts in Chicago, the end result is strikingly clear.
No teaching for me.
Other decisions also steered me in directions that precluded others. During that long, television-lit night, I reviewed every single one of them. Why did I leave Chicago’s People’s School? Why did I stop my counseling practice in Boston when I knew I was really good at it? Why did I fight my agent, editor, publisher about what they wanted, when I had a critically acclaimed set of novels under my belt. Why did I just stop writing?
Why did I choose serial careerism instead of becoming really, really good at one thing?
Sleep, wonderful restorative sleep. Next morning (after my usual growling, semi-hostile, coffee-deprived wake up) I reconsidered. Sure I’d made decisions that offed alternatives. Everyone does. And, I’ll make book that everyone has regrets similar to what I’d been feeling.
Three cups of coffee and I finally saw daylight. Understood what had immobilized me the night before and saw my way out from under. Blood under the bridge is indeed, blood under the bridge. I have a wife I love and who loves me, children and a daughter–in-law I adore, and oncoming granddaughters. I’ve worked and continue to work with people I respect and who respect me, friends who have my back, and more than just food on the table. Truth is, I can turn my head 180, look at the decisions I did make and feel satisfied.
Bottom line: I got it good and that ain’t bad. Better get my ass back to practicing the sax.
Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky. ~ Rabindranath Tagore