Is this the end?
1. Life in general, at least in the form it’s been for me over the past couple years.
2. My husband and his abusive, drug-addled, mentally disturbed behavior.
3. Struggling to be sustainable as a musician.
All these things aggravate and amplify each other. Let’s break it down:
Why does my life suck? Because I have to spend practically all of my time doing things I view with varying degrees of distaste, ranging from simple boredom and disinterest to intense loathing, and on top of that, endure constant domestic strife. I write this knowing that I have a choice about every single bit of it.
So what exactly do I spend all my time doing?
1. Eight hours a day Monday – Friday is spent slogging through a menial job that even if I didn’t have a family to support, would still only pay enough to provide a barely acceptable standard of living. At least it’s not virulently toxic and is with an organization I am happy to be a part of, which is much to be grateful for.
2. Practically all the rest of the hours I’m awake are spent forcing myself to wade through an endless array of tedious administrative chores, time-consuming, crazymaking work wrangling digital media, and marketing/promotion work that I absolutely detest. I intensely hate the way that having to be the marketing machine for my band reframes my relationships with other people, and for that matter, I generally dislike having to deal with other people in the first place! As long as we’re on that subject, a quote I came across on Twitter sometime last year really hit a nerve with me: “If you’re enjoying the process, it’s your dream. If you’re enduring the process, desperate for the result, it’s someone else’s dream.”
3. That’s before we even get to the part about the abusive, drug-addicted mental case I’m married to, stuck with having to financially support, and play in the band with (i.e., that I can’t ever get away from!). At least if we didn’t live together and only played in a band together, I’d be free to come back to my own home, that ideally would be an environment I feel safe, comfortable and at peace in (depending on the background noise and crime level of the neighborhood).
Conspicuously absent on that list (or of such a negligible percent of how I spend my time) are things that at least theoretically, ought to be enjoyable and constitute a significant percentage of my personal timeline, but don’t: personal practice, ensemble rehearsals, creating new material, and, well, for what it’s worth… “me”-time. Why aren’t these there? Well, not to overstate the bleeding obvious, but there just isn’t any time or energy left after I slog through all the shit I have to do just to survive my life. We do ensemble rehearsals on a daily basis except under unusual conditions, but these would be far more productive and useful if we had a game plan for each one and I had the time and energy to do my own personal preparation beforehand.
While we’re on that subject, I guess I’ll vent my frustration with Chi and his apparent inability to work according to any kind of game plan on anything. He has some bizarre idée-fixe that we must have an insane amount of repertoire under our fingers and ready to perform at any moment, so he insists on spending rehearsals running through our long list of over 70 pieces, and flatly refuses to plan and prepare a “generic” set of specific repertoire. This is ostensibly due to his adamant insistence that shows must be programmed spontaneously depending on the vibe in the room and how the audience is responding, and to his credit, he has consistently demonstrated a strong aptitude for that. Nevertheless, it causes unnecessary awkwardness, which needless to say, is distracting and prevents me from being able to focus all of my attention on playing. Oh, and this is the same person who flatly refused to get a job “because he might get called for an audition!” Go figure…..
So why does my time get consumed like this? Well, for starters, someone has to keep a roof over our heads, and since Chi doesn’t see fit to take on that responsibility, or actually may not even be mentally capable of doing so anymore, it lands squarely and singularly on me. We won’t even bother addressing another unpleasant aspect of that, such as seeing to the upkeep and administration of said roof. Since we both want to make a living as musicians, we can be the best players with the most repertoire in the world, but it’s not going to amount to a single, damned thing if someone doesn’t do the endless amount of work to promote us, book shows and cultivate a loyal, dedicated fan base to purchase tickets to the shows and buy the recordings we create, and again, since Chi won’t lift a finger to that end, guess who gets stuck with it?
Back to my distaste for having to deal with people, let’s be clear: naturally I enjoy interacting with people I like, but under specific conditions, i.e., when I am able to focus on interacting directly with them in a relaxed social context. It has recently become crystal clear to me that I find chaotic communication distressing, so much so that it ruins situations for me that I might otherwise enjoy. For example, when I’m struggling to get set up for a performance (especially when we’re having to scramble to get started on time in the event that something went wrong), and I’ve got one person telling me something, another person asking me for information, someone else handing me something I’m not in a position to deal with, and Chi yelling at me to hurry up and get ready to play all at the same time; or the same thing happening while I’m trying to pack up my instrument(s), the PA, the merch kit, etc., and take a mental inventory that all our stuff is accounted for and work out the logistics for getting it all back to the car, that totally stresses me out. I would infinitely prefer leaving the setup and tear-down to roadies and stage techs, the face work to a PR agent, and being able to hide out in a secured green room and then walk on stage thoroughly warmed up with my instrument carefully tuned, clearly focused on giving the best performance that I can.
Ok, that’s another thing I strongly dislike about performing in this sort of configuration, i.e., a all-original duo that has much more in common performance-wise with popular music than the orchestral and chamber music I was raised on. I have absolutely no training whatsoever in extemporaneous “stage chat” and audience interaction, and feel infinitely more comfortable as part of a string section, or safely out of view in an orchestra pit, leaving the audience interaction to other people. Now that I write that, it strikes me as odd given that I am an inveterate non-team-player. Perhaps that contributes to my equally inveterate distaste for having to deal with people? In this particular ensemble, it is aggravated by other issues, such as Chi undermining my confidence by stressing me out so much prior to and during performances that it critically interferes with my ability to play my best, and makes it next to impossible for me to connect with the audience.
I find online communication similarly challenging. I am acutely sensitive to contact overload and data slam, so when I’m having to cope with several email inboxes flooded with a morass of exchanges to set up future performance/tour dates, requests for various information and promotional stuff for existing bookings, administrative wrap-up from just-completed shows, random booking requests, (practically all of this requires careful, detailed thought and having to create new stuff and reconfigure existing stuff according to specific requests on a short turnaround, and keep it all up to date as our resume expands and evolves) notifications and updates from this, that and the other web community we have a presence on, a hodge-podge of conversations with various friends, family and colleagues, plus an endless barrage of newsletters, announcements and stuff that I actually did subscribe to in addition to the unsolicited bullshit that eludes my spam filter; that totally overwhelms me and consumes an enormous amount of time and energy I would far prefer to have available for other things. And on top of all that, I also have to do all the communication, logistics, wardrobe contortions, etc., for Chi’s acting work that he does now and then.
Should I just declare emotional bankruptcy and fold, or should I soldier on? At what point do you just accept reality and surrender? One thing I do know for sure is that I am desperately sick of constantly feeling exhausted, totally stressed out and overwhelmed, and just plain miserable, and very dissatisfied with the quality of my life (or lack thereof) and how I spend my time. I am remembering that quote attributed to FDR: “When you think you’ve reached the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on!”