Thursday, December 13, 2007

Quitters Win

(Part One)
Earlier today I was writing to a friend with whom I haven't spoken in months. I wrote him that I'm discouraged about my music. Again. I've had no luck with (the service that hooks up musicians with people who want to buy songs for film/tv placement or for another artist to record). But more disturbing than my failure to sell my songs, is my indifference to music. I'm disappointed at how driven I'm not. Years ago, I wrote songs as a way to deal with confusion and pain, a way to make sense of life and sort through how I felt about things. Music just came out of me without even trying. It was what I needed to do, like eating and breathing. That was my relationship with music. I knew I was a musician because it was just what I did.

Now I suspect that music was just a coping mechanism. I wrote, performed and recorded the most music when I was the most miserable. Now that I've finally (at the age of 41) settled into a wonderful, domestic relationship with a man who makes me happy, I just don't get the same high from making music. I don't even get the same pleasure from it. I rarely practice my songs, have no interest in performing and haven't written a song in - years? And I really don't care!

In September I joined a community choir and worked for three months to prepare for a Christmas concert. I should be at that concert right now, but tonight I'm sick and have almost no speaking voice. Singing is out of the question. Yet I don't feel very disappointed. I'm missing out on performing all this Christmas music with beautiful harmonies and a full orchestra and I'm like "Eh, so what." That's not how I'm used to feeling about music!

So I'm confused and feeling like I'm really not a musician. How can I be when making music seems so much a a part of my past? I don't know. Maybe I'm really one of those people who tries to enjoy their job (once I find one), but doesn't really have any true bliss in their life and feels dissatisfied, like something's missing, but doesn't know what to do because they don't think of themselves as an artist of any kind. Ugh.

(Part Two)
Later in the afternoon I picked up the January 2008 issue of Oprah magazine. It has two articles that feel relevant to my situation with music. In one of them, "Know When to Fold 'Em," Martha Beck describes how great quitting can be. I'll paraphrase. Psychologists Gregory Miller and Carsten Wrosch studied two groups of people: ones who hate to quit and ones who tend to give up in the face of what appear to be insurmountable difficulties. The second group had a lot fewer health problems than the first (such as digestive trouble and skin rashes -- my two lifelong burdens!) and had fewer signs of psychological stress. Miller and Wrosch found that people who try but don't succeed eventually become depressed at their ongoing failure. Those who give up earlier do better psychologically than those who keep trying and keep feeling like failures.

Quitters are better off than try-try-again-ers!

The other article seems to contradict the first and I wonder why the O Magazine staff put them in the same issue. In "The Willpower Myth" Stephanie Losee explains that the key to real change, whether it's adjusting diet and exercise to avoid another heart attack or getting off drugs and learning to keep a job, is having a mentor you can truly relate to. She writes that having a relationship with someone who's like you, but has succeeded where you have failed, has a powerful effect on one's self-image. In other words, if you're looking at someone in whom you can see yourself, you think, "If she can do it, I can."

This makes sense to me. If I hear that Carny Wilson successfully lost 100 pounds, I think, "Of course. Wealthy, famous people can do whatever they want. But I can't." The same will happen if I hear Bonnie Raitt's long tale of paying dues before she got famous. Her background and resources were so different from mine, it's not an inspiring story. It just confirms that I don't have what it takes to be a successful musician (and by "successful" I mean "paid").

But if I were to meet another middle class, Anglo-raised, Hispanic, older woman who had no musicians or musical resources in her family or environment, who spent the first half of her life having nothing to do with music, but who then changed her whole life to become a successful (PAID) singer, that might make me start to think there's hope for me. Specifically, I'd need hope that I someone will pay me for my songs and I can earn at least part of a living from music.

I've always regretted the lack of true role models in my life. I've never met anyone who served as a mentor for me, mainly because I've lived my life in the white, dominant U.S. culture and few people in that culture look like me. I've wondered what could be possible for me if I didn't always to have to forge my own path, hoping I'm getting things right.

After reading these two articles, I'm wondering: do I seek out a role model I can relate to and be inspired by, someone with whom I have enough in common that I can believe that what was possible for her is possible for me? Or just give up? I have to say, I'm not feeling very motivated to begin a big long search for a singer like me with whom I can forge an inspiring relationship.

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