Am I a nobody?
The thought keeps me up late at night sometimes, especially when, like now, I’ve been burning through the limited supply of energy my body doles out to me, when all I want to do is crawl into bed and not write anymore, not fight to make money, not try to rise above my circumstances…
I think many people who do creative work feel this way at times. They pour their heart into something, or do it for the sheer enjoyment of the process, and then the doubt starts eating away at them, the “brain rats” as someone so astutely put it a while back.
“Why am I doing this?” the voices say. “What’s the point? I’m not good. I’ll never amount to anything. What if I die and all I did was this thing, and I didn’t even succeed in making it be what I wanted it to be?”
I was talking yesterday about how it’s so hard to manifest what is in our heads in tangible reality. In a recent speech, Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (one of my favorite movies) and Being John Malkovich (not one of my favorite movies), said that for writers, writing is very hard. (The speech is here, I can’t embed it. Check it out, the guy is speaking truth.)
I take what he says for musicians as well. In the studio, I had some malfunctions. Good thing this is all a learning experience and I’m not taking myself too seriously, right? But my guitar wouldn’t stay in tune because, “dur,” I had restrung it mere days earlier due to life getting too busy. And because it kept going out of tune, I stopped being able to hear what in tune sounds like.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13 years old. I know how to tune a guitar. But for some reason, when I’m under pressure and I’ve been tuning for a long period of time, I stop hearing the notes. I fall into this tone deaf vortex. It used to happen to me when I was trying to learn to tune pianos. My dad would tune by listening to the warble of the note in the air and I couldn’t hear shit. A piano has three strings for each key. After an octave, I would give up. Give me tuning a guitar over a piano any day.
At one point, the engineer, Jack Douglas, who was teaching the class at the college where my friend gave me studio time, helped me tune my guitar. My friend poked his head in the door, “most expensive tuner you’ll ever get.”
Douglas was super patient. I was frazzled, and yet, he stood there for ten minutes, helping me tweak each note on my Fender, determined that I’d get it right.
Earlier in the day, the drummer who I paid to help out was helping me tune my guitar, too. And the guitar tracks turned out terrible in spite of my friend Jafar also helping me at various points throughout the day.
I’m the girl who can’t tune her guitar. How…cute. (Grimace)
Kaufman also said in his recent speech that we have to stop pretending we know everything. We’re afraid to make mistakes, to mess up.
Being afraid to make mistakes kept me from progressing outside the bedroom with my songs. Don’t get me wrong, I still wrote songs, I still practiced, but not with a mission. Of the songs I am working on now, most came about in the last year or two–the ones I really love.
But I still feel I am floundering, often, like I falling down an endless rabbit hole with no bottom, like I don’t know what I am doing.
I’m caught in a wheel, in the grind, I’m spinning my wheels, and I’m working on music regardless, with no particular direction except that I want to finish this EP and have something tangible I can show people when they ask, “Can I hear your music.”
And I’d like to play out. And I’d like to do some touring, small venues is fine. But one thing at a time. First, the EP.
I was looking back through my facebook music page the other day. About a year ago, I posted that I was wanting to record four songs, with bass and drums, and I had no idea how to do that.
It’s a year later. I’ve auditioned for bands, I’ve worked with a number of musicians, and now I’ve settled on working with one friend, who has been helping me learn through this process, and I’m totally grateful. It’s odd, out of all the people I auditioned for music, I ended up working with someone I was friends with when I was going to high school in Walnut Creek. Small world.
I’ve come a long way in the past few years. I’ve overcome many obstacles. I have a long way to go to be where I want to be with my music, to have my songs sound like I hear them in my head, and that freaks me out, but I’m trying to remember that this is supposed to be something I love, not something I have a gun to my head to do.
I feel often as if I have a gun to my head, and I need, urgently, to do this now. I hear voices in my head, people I knew from a past life saying, “You’ll never go anywhere with your music.”
I hear myself going, “You’re too old to do anything now, success in music is for the young and the pretty. Soon, you won’t be pretty, and you’re not really even young anymore.”
I’ve got some mean, stupid brain rats in there.
I’m not letting them stop me though, like they did in the past. If there’s one thing I’m doing better than I ever did before, it’s allowing myself to make mistakes so that I can improve. There’s no improving without making mistakes. No musician or writer exists in a vacuum always simply advancing with practice. No, there are back steps and forward steps.
When I had gotten out of reform school in Jamaica, I was climbing Mt. Diablo, behind my parents house. I was around 18 years old. I was at the top of this very steep hill, and I started sliding down, down, down, all the way to the bottom. I had been at the top a few seconds ago, now I was not. I had no idea in that moment how to get back up. Great, I thought. Now I’m stuck out here and nobody knows where I am (I had gotten deep into the foothills, there were no cell phones on my person at that time, we didn’t use them like we do now.)
I noticed that the whole side of the foothill was tiny little rocks that slid when you tried to climb up them. I started climbing, and had to experiment with footing. Eventually, I realized that if I took tiny little steps, one foot, the other foot, one hand, the other hand, I could get up, slowly, without all of the rocks sliding out from under me. There was no firm footing, just these baby steps.
I remember thinking that this was a lot like life. Look at what’s in front of you. One step at a time. Keep climbing, even if you slide back below where you started (which I have done, many, many times). Life is not a linear path.