I’ve been under the weather lately, and I’ve taken to composing music to pass the time. As I broke out my music notation software for the first time in quite a while, I noticed an assortment of unpleasant feelings associated with the task. For some reason, I keep thinking that it is wrong for me to be writing music.
Wrong to write music? Ah, but this makes no sense. Where does that come from? Arguably, my father, though I’m sure the poor bloke was only trying to protect me from myself. He would see the delirious obsession overtake me, quite like his own very similar obsession, and he feared for where it might lead.
Wrong to write music – what do you make of it? I can somewhat understand the inherent dangers in the “new toy effect” of this amazing music notation software — especially since I first acquired the new toy over ten years ago, and one would think its fascination would have faded by now. Ah, but no – there is an almost addictive, compulsive quality to the way that I attack the Finale commands with such fervor, almost like playing a video game, or taking a ride in an amusement park. Too much fun is involved, and escapism. How can it possibly be good for me?
Escapism . . . I tend to escape the doldrums of life — by writing music. In fact, I even escape the demands of the music world itself. After all, I’m supposed to be finding other musicians to play my stuff, aren’t I? Other musicians are supposed to play my notes; other singers are supposed to sing my words. Instead, I belabor for hours over this feigned representation of my music, produced by the artificial, heartless software. I pretend that there’s an improvised saxophone solo between Measures 33 and 48. But let’s face it, every note of that “improvisation” has been painstakingly fabricated by the workings of my own tomfoolery, trying my best to mislead the listener into believing that there’s actually a sax being played there, rather than a sophisticated electronic fake.
Don’t I have more important things to do? Aren’t I behind on my blogs? I’m supposed to be writing about Homelessness, aren’t I? What’s music got to do with that?
Well, that’s just it. It’s got everything to do with that. And everything to do with this sense of wrongness that engulfs me whenever I try to write music these days. It recalls a former time, not too long past, when the average person in my life believed that my relationship to Music was the biggest problem I had in life.
It was widely thought, seemingly by everybody else but me, that it was a huge problem, this obsession I had with composing music. It was a conspicuous problem — a visible problem, something that could not escape public notice. In a way, it was like Homelessness itself. There was no way I could hide my homelessness effectively from everybody in the city of Berkeley. No matter how nice I tried to act, how good I tried to look, the cat was out of the bag. Everybody knew I was homeless. Everybody knew I was “just one of the local wing nuts.” So my obsession with composing music, whether I used the software, or whether I only walked about town singing “bop bop bop” and playing drums on my pants legs, was all part of that huge visibility. I couldn’t hide being homeless; and I couldn’t hide writing music. So to my observers, they only seemed like two sides of the same coin.
“That’s his whole problem right there! Look at him writing music all day long, while he’s homeless. No wonder he never gets off the streets! How disgusting.”
I remember how depressed I would become whenever I encountered this objection. Even at church, or at the recovery fellowship I attended, there was this idea that “music was more important to him than God.” And it disturbed me. I kept wanting to defend myself. I honestly did not think it was true. I just happened to be a deeply driven, tightly wound, highly charged composer, who just happened to keep getting all these musical ideas, that he felt a deep need to pursue. What’s that got to do with God? Other than that it was His gift? How would eliminating this huge part of me possibly help me, either to figure out how not to be homeless anymore, or to be a better Christian, or achieve more sobriety, or recovery — why would eliminating music be so essential to my health and well-being? Wasn’t Music what was keeping me halfway sane throughout all of this insanity?
I still feel the depression of all that. I start to relive it, even now, while trying to write music again, after all this time.
But it wasn’t like that when I first got to Moscow, Idaho, almost two years ago to this day. By that time, I had so much music accumulated in my mind, stuff that I had written without the software, that I’d kept track of in my head — I basically couldn’t wait to get it all notated, now that I finally had a computer, and a place to live.
When I sat in a cafe writing music, I couldn’t help but notice that the reaction of passersby was much different than I’d become accustomed to. Nobody scowled at me. Nobody looked over and thought: “There’s his whole problem right there.”
Why not? Because there was no huge visible problem that people were hung up on trying to determine the cause of. There was not this thing called Homelessness hanging over me everywhere I went, seeming to demand an explanation.
My friend Danielle put it nicely once, with this analogy. “You see a fat guy eating a doughnut,” she said, “and everybody says: ‘that’s his whole problem right there.’ But you see a skinny guy eating a doughnut — the very same doughnut — and nobody squawks.”
“So what’s that got to do with me?” I asked, naturally.
“The fat guy has a visible problem. He’s fat. Everybody can see it. So they look for the probable cause. As soon as he sinks his teeth into that doughnut, they think they know the answer. Genetics, upbringing, age, alcoholism — any other factor is thrown by the wayside. That there doughnut is his whole problem.
“Same thing with you. You’re homeless. You’re conspicuous. Everybody knows you’re homeless, and they wonder why. As soon as they see you writing music — and all the time, by the way, you must admit it — any time of the day or night, anywhere, for hours on end — they say: ‘That’s it! That’s his whole problem!’ Socio-economic factors, mental health, company downsizing, landlord owner move in evictions — none of those more disturbing, complex factors need come into play.”
“That is very disturbing,” I agreed.
“Quite so,” she nodded. “But now?” Now you’re not homeless. You don’t this big visible problem that everybody’s trying to figure. Now you can write as much music as you want, and nobody’s going to fault you for it.”
Needless to say, I was quite relieved. Now if only I could turn back the hands of time, and get them all to see that it was never my “problem” to begin with . . .
Or was it?
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