I did a lot of soul searching in 2018. That’s cliche to say, I know, but it’s true. A lot of people these days are always soul searching, I am one of them, and I think that’s great. We should never stop soul searching, because that is the joy of life, isn’t it? Finding truth and beauty in ourselves, and sharing that with the world; it’s why we’re here, for the experience. And as it goes: the more you search, the more you find. I found a lot of fear in myself, this past year. I’m afraid of a lot of things, it turns out. The biggest fear that I discovered had a lot to do with time.
Y’all…I have major FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). This manifests in small ways: going out of my way to insert myself into a conversation, or be part of an inside joke, or watch a movie that everyone is talking about, or read a book that got rave reviews for no other reason than to have an opinion about it. Every time I encounter an instance where I feel I am missing out, I am instantly transported back to sixth-grade me: having joined cross country because my friends (it was just one friend and I may or may not have had a crush on him) were doing it, hopelessly lagging behind the tens of actual aspiring athletes, gasping for air, unable to catch my breath, trying to hide my retching behind the bleachers for fear of embarrassment, pleading with the coach to let me stay on the team. “I’m fine,” I said, when clearly I was not fine. I had never run a day in my life. Well, not actually ran. (Obviously I had run around the playground…away from the girls because they had “cooties”…and toward the boys, because…well, it was good cardio I guess.) But I pretended I had, so I would fit in. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I am this way. Your run-of-the-mill therapist would probably say something about insecurity and the need to fit in, there would probably be a “you need to learn to love yourself” thrown in there somewhere, but I don’t think that quite addresses the source of the issue. Sure, insecurity and not-loving-yourself are issues, but I think – at least for me – they are a symptom of something else. So, yeah, I’ve always had pretty bad FOMO, and, like most characteristics that develop into unhealthy behavioral patterns that begin to really expose themselves in early adulthood, I suspect it stems from my childhood.
I learned very early that time is precious, that earth-shattering loss waits silently around every corner, biding its time for the right moment to jump you and beat you and steal everything your money and your Pokémon cards. I learned that housing is inherently unstable. We moved a lot…and when I say “moved,” I mean we were constantly being evicted, and it was earth shattering every single time. During my last two years of high school, we moved eleven times – the final time of which, my mother was so incapacitated by her depression that she neglected to find us a place to move to. So, the police showed up, we hadn’t packed a thing, and told us we had two hours. And that was that. My siblings stayed with my grandmother, and my mom and I stayed with one of her coworkers – who really took charge of the situation and secured us a place to live out of her own pocket. I think it was only about a week, maybe two, but boy, you don’t really know you’re homeless when you’re homeless, as long as you have a couch to sleep on.
I was also constantly afraid of losing my mother to her depression. Out of respect for her, I will leave out the details, but there were several occasions where I was the one thing standing between life and death for her. That was a lot of pressure for a teenager. I struggled with my own demons, too. But they paled in comparison to the responsibility of keeping our family together.
My mom lost her dad when she was just a kid, seven-years-old I think. I never got the chance to get to know her the way I now know I would have liked, but I can only imagine the loss she suffered between then, and when she lost her best friend, Lorie, in her mid-twenties – the earliest memory I have of her own loss. I think I was five or so? Lorie was murdered in her own back yard by a drunk ex-boyfriend. I remember the night of the funeral. It was awful. I have never heard a human sob the way my mom did that night. I will always remember that, the actual sound of heartbreak.
Loss was ingrained in my mom. And thus, it was ingrained in me as well. We didn’t have a lot of money, but what we did have, we spent immediately out of fear that it wouldn’t be there in the morning. Treat yourself now, for tomorrow is never guaranteed. You never know when your last day on earth will be, so you may as well: eat that pizza, buy that car, splurge at Best Buy on god-knows-what, buy that new TV, or those clothes from Old Navy, or “whatever” at Wal-Mart. Do it now, because if you don’t, you’ll be old and gray and wish you had. That’s how we lived.
I didn’t inherit nearly the level of financial irresponsibility that my mother unintentionally imposed on me. Although I do have tendencies toward it, I can’t remember the last time I overdrew my bank account, so that’s a good indicator I’m moving in the right direction. What I did inherit, though, is an obsession with time. Or a fear of time…at least a fear of wasting it. And society doesn’t help either. “Live your best life” “YOLO” “Live every day like it’s your last” “Treat yo’self” etc. The mantra is everywhere. Time is finite. Every choice you make is a choice to utilize time in some way, and you will never get that time back. I’m sweating just thinking about it. Literally every choice. The route you take to work, how long you spend in line at Starbucks, how long will it take you to write a paper, or use the bathroom, choosing the quickest checkout lane, take a shower, make breakfast. I think about all of these things, how long they will take, and how to accomplish them in the shortest amount of time. So that I have time leftover to do…well, other things, I guess.
In my day-to-day life, I call it a fixation with efficiency. But, a professional might call it OCD. I don’t know, I’ve never talked about it with a professional. Let’s add that one to the list…I wonder how long that appointment will take? Anyway, this obsession with time has permeated my entire existence, totally unbeknownst to me until recently. And choosing a career in music poses unique challenges in the face of this fear. Before I even knew what I was getting myself into, I knew (or thought I knew) what I was getting myself into. I took a vow from the start to never be one of those musicians who spends their whole life practicing. I refused to waste unnecessary, precious time in the practice room. Of course I practiced, I just made sure to be extremely efficient (quick) about it. In undergrad, I would only practice if absolutely necessary. AKA, if I were particularly sucky at a particular thing. I practiced only to accomplish specific tasks, and I made sure to be as efficient as possible. Short bursts of hyper-focused practicing is how I have lived much of my musical life, because there is not a single moment to waste if I was going to live my life. I believed that even though overall improvement wasn’t my immediate goal, I would inevitably improve overall by piecewise-functioning my playing. (I don’t even know if that math reference works here, I just really like the word “piecewise.”)
It worked…ish. Or at least it appeared to work. I made it through my bachelor’s degree, got into grad school, got into music festivals, made it through grad school, won a job…everything you’re supposed to do, in relatively the expected order. It looks like everything is totally working for me, as weird and unconventional as it is. Except, it isn’t working for me, because I am still afraid to practice. I have a hard time acknowledging the success I have had, because I feel so guilty about all of the work I didn’t put in. My circumstances now do not allow me the time I had when I was in school; time I so ironically took for granted. Looking back, I can’t help but feel like I wasted so much time…even when I was so adamant about not wasting any time. How did I fill all of those hours? Days? Weeks? Months? You get the point… Well, I hung out with my friends, watched a lot of Netflix, ate a lot of ice cream, spent a lot of time regretting that ice cream (thanks, lactose intolerance). At the time, I really felt like I was “living my best live.” While that may very well have been true, I sure wasn’t building my best life. I was getting by, afraid to take risks because, what if they didn’t pan out? Think, if I had filled all of that time with practice instead of whatever-the-hell it was that I was doing, and the fruits of my pain-staking labor had failed to grow, what would I have missed out on? I justified a decade of near-complete inaction in the name of life-living, in the name of yolo’ing, #treatyoself’ing. I was so busy being “in the moment” that I neglected to build a life to live in, at least a life that I never really wanted to believe I wanted. The truth is, practicing gives me so much joy. It always has. Now, looking back, those hours surely wouldn’t been wasted. They would have been spent doing what I love doing most. But I convinced myself that doing for the sake of doing is worthless. You shouldn’t practice for the sake of practicing, because there is a whole LIFE going on around you that you’re missing out on! Wow, what bullshit. My deepest darkest fear is wasting time, missed opportunity, unrealized potential. Really they are all the same thing. And yet here I sit mourning the loss of a potential I never believed I had, because of time.
And I totally still do this. I don’t write music like I want to. I struggle to finish projects. I struggle to make time to practice, blaming a busy work schedule, or the fact that I live in a studio apartment with my husband and two cats – which are certainly hindering factors, but not at all insurmountable. I don’t wake up early to practice, because “she needs her beauty sleep, henny.” I don’t stay up late to practice (see previous). I don’t take my horn with me to work, or practice in my car, or compose during my lunch break. I don’t do these things, because I’m afraid of missing out on what I could be doing instead. But the reality is, I likely wouldn’t be doing anything productive, or meaningful. I wouldn’t be engaging in any particularly enriching activities during those few extra hours. I could be working and enriching myself, enriching my life.
Now, I don’t blame my mother for this, by any means. She did the best she could with the best tools she had. I knew that then, and I know it still. She loved us, no question. But her love for us shaped us as much as her own fears did. Sometimes we live a life of fear without even realizing it. Sometimes we live our entire lives fearing the fear. In my case, I feared wasting time so much that I ended up wasting time trying to make sure I wasn’t wasting any time. Thanks, Obama. I mean fear. But, since I am so in-the-moment 9,000% of the time, I don’t regret any of the memories I made when I was wasting my time. I made some amazing friends. I laughed SO much. I ate a TON of cheese fries (and ice cream, both regrettably).
So, my advice to 2019 Marcus is to work your fucking ass off. Do it, because you know you love the work. Put yourself out there, and don’t waste time being afraid of wasting time. Take time for yourself, too. But also know that sometimes taking time for yourself means making time to do the work you love. There is so much world out there waiting for you, and I bet there will still be cheese fries (and ice cream).