My handsome and talented boyfriend, Anthony, is an amazing writer. Many might not know this about him, since he is a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara for Composition in music. He also has an ensemble that he plays with, where he performs percussion and electronics.
But his mother is an English professor and he has such a talent with words also. I wanted to share a piece he wrote years ago, about coming to Santa Barbara and balancing his art with his academic career. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
And it’s from a place of relief
Likely temporary- like most things- but you are too.
It’s me, really, it’s me. But for me, it’s you even though it is in fact me. You with your rigid box of westernization and eras of acquired mass and weight. I’ve spent a lot of time bearing that load, we all have.
Those shadows, your shadows, so long. So long and so dramatically inescapable that we mortals can’t even make out where they end. But, ironically, it is that final shadow- the last dusk- that curves the light around the arcs of your darkened scalps.
The crushing rules and the counterpoint and the pressure of originality and modernity and the checklists of classes which hook creative flesh to increasingly massive boulders and slow already exhausted limbs until you just can’t go and you’re afraid of the very thing that severed the previous cargo. You can’t even bear to look at it- let alone think it- without some insane brain pop.
And it’s from a place of relief that I write. And it’s me, really, it’s me.
In any case, I choose to wriggle free of those hooks, even if the resulting rips in my skin scar over and forever become a reminder of you, even though I never realized my own hands helped you pierce my spine with them. Because you are not evil. I made you evil and I resented you for what you did. In reality all of our shadows were the same height.
Terrifying, humbling, freeing.
It’s been a tough road. I have to admit, it’s been a very tough road. I came to Santa Barbara with expectations and hope but something wore all of that down. I’ve never been a great student and I often I wonder why I came here. I wonder why I would once again volunteer to be in an environment where I feel inadequate, constantly compare myself, always come up short, and inevitably become more afraid.
They’re feelings I’m all too familiar with. They’re feelings that rule me and inhibit virtually everything I do. After so long it’s so easy to give in and let that be who you are.
And that’s who I was yesterday. I was inhibition and fear.
I fell asleep, as I usually do, to some movie that looked vaguely interesting; something that would put noise in my head. I chose Kevin Smith’s Burn in Hell. If you don’t know, Kevin Smith is the director of Clerks and Chasing Amy fame. I really liked him years ago, but haven’t been much in to him lately. I remember seeing other Q & A sessions with him and finding him to be a pretty interesting guy to listen to, so I put it on. I almost immediately fell asleep. But I did wake up just in time to hear the words “You want to feel about your art like the way you feel about that chick in high school or that dude in college” It starts right about the 1:00 mark in this clip.
I’m an artist. As much as saying that makes me gag, I’m finding it harder to just call myself a composer lately. Something I’ve come to realize about art is that its effectiveness is reliant on just a little bit of craft but almost entirely on context. The context in which I happened upon this clip was beautiful. The words were unexpected, poignant, and I needed them. If I’d seen this in a different situation, who knows how I’d have felt. Maybe I would have found it contrived, maybe not. It doesn’t matter. It matters that it did something for me.
I used to have that fire and that raw passion for my art. It was driven out of me, extinguished. It would be easy to blame that on people who told me I wasn’t good enough or situations that made that notion crystal clear, but it really comes down to me and my willingness to accept that. It’s the weight of years of self-deprecation compressing and pushing all of the oxygen out. It’s a direct result of my increasing shame about my art and my self-expression. It’s weak and it’s bullshit.
My passion was borne of exploration and love. It was not informed by years of schooling, it did not know rules, and it was pure. It listened and was not afraid. I approached everything I did with joy and a fervency I havent felt in a while.
One of the first times I can remember feeling that total, elevating bliss about music was hearing John Adams’ Harmonium. I must’ve been about 17 at the time and it was 6:00 AM, my dad was driving me to marching band practice. There was story on NPR about Adams and the clip from Harmonium they chose to play was the third movement: Wild Nights. I heard it and I was in love. When I came home that day, dad had sent me the link to the stream of that broadcast. I fast-forwarded ahead to the music and closed my eyes. The darkness behind my eyelids began to shimmer and explode with color. It was electric and unrelenting in its pulse and it was fucking magic in its orchestration. I had never experienced anything like it. There’s a section in which the horns are hocketing upward pitch bends, like un-yielding, impulsive cries of new love and adventure. I smiled and I rewound that part. I listened again and I rewound. I must’ve done this at least fifteen times. I loved what it did to me- that it made my chest feel like it would burst, that it made me hot and excited, that it made my eyes fill with tears.
I deserve to feel that way again, and I’m going to. Instead of viewing my environment as oppressive and constrictive it’s time to accept things with that old joy, stop comparing myself, and start loving what I do and create.
As artists, we have very little control of that context within which our art is received. We cannot control the time in which we exist or the places that we are heard. There is only the hope that something we say might be unexpected, that maybe someone in our audience might, by some exceedingly small chance, need exactly what we offer. And we owe it to them to speak with unapologetic truth and genuine tone.
Like the video clip, the poem at the beginning of this entry presented itself without warning yesterday. It’s my own, and I had forgotten I had written it. I needed to remember though. I also needed to remember a part of a letter I wrote to my students at Casa Grande High School just before I left to come to Santa Barbra:
I know I have told you this before but I have recently strengthened my resolve in this belief so I feel compelled to say it again: talent is non-existent. Do not ever doubt your own abilities because of a mislead belief that you are unable. This is a mistake I am perpetually making and I know it has only held me back.
Also, no matter what you do always make music a part of your life. Continue playing if you can, but always continue to find and question new music- even if you think it sucks, figure out why it sucks and learn from the experience. Never limit yourself, give all music at least one full and focused listen.
I mean, it can’t get any more direct than that.
If you want to hear me gush more about this dude, check out this post.