This week I realized that I hadn’t read a book in over a week. This will shock people that know me well, (especially my parents, who routinely had to take my book away so I would sleep as a child). I was the person always lugging around at least one book, usually a fairly big book. I read on the subway, on the bus, on my practice breaks, in church, and during orchestra breaks. On any vacation I worried, not about what clothes I needed to bring, but if I had brought enough books, and whether I would finish them before I got home and be stranded in the car, airplane or at the beach with nothing to read.
So upon realizing I hadn’t even picked up a book in a week, I panicked. That’s a slight exaggeration, but I was appalled at myself. How could I claim to be a book lover if I don’t read books? Not that I wasn’t reading. I was reading the news online, researching teaching ideas, looking at books I might be interested in, etc. But I didn’t have a novel at that moment. So I got one, and all is well in the world again.
However, this minor drama of self-identity prompted me to think of other ways I identify myself. Self-identity has been a recurring idea in my life for years. Every once in a while, I have a day where I get a little depressed. Usually all I’ve done that week is lay on the couch and watch bad shows on Netflix, and I wonder what I’m doing with my life, if I can make this work, and most importantly, if I’m not a musician, who am I? At the core of my identity is being a musician. Occasionally, I struggle with my identity as a musician, and specifically a performer, usually when I haven’t done any performing for a while. When I voice my concerns, (usually with some melodrama about failing at life) my much more philosophical boyfriend tells me that not having a gig, or not making money playing music, doesn’t mean I’m not a musician. That just because our culture links identity and profession together, that’s not the way it has to be. That I am a musician no matter what I’m doing or not doing. So I then go away and think about the idea that I don’t have to link my identity to what I’m doing professionally.
Of course, I can never not be a musician. It doesn’t matter what I’m currently doing, whether it’s music related or not. I’ve been playing music, (on an instrument) since I was seven years old and have always considered myself a musician. Music, learning to perform on a very high level, studying it, and just performing have affected my personality and outlook on life so much that I can’t fathom anything being different. Somewhere in the course of my meandering reflections I consider what my life would be like if I didn’t play music professionally. First I panic since I don’t know what I would do with myself, and then my mind goes to my dad, who is not a professional musician, but has played guitar forever it seems and loves it. In fact, I think it’s from him that I got my passion for music. Not contemporary classical music, but just music. Some of my earliest memories are dancing and singing with my sister to my dad playing The Who’s “Magic Bus” on guitar. He is a musician, despite the fact that he is not a music professional.
This idea is very hard for me to accept. I’ve noticed that I tend to view the world in black and white. For example, it took me several years to accept the fact that people on the other side of the political spectrum can be rational, intelligent individuals. I still struggle with this, especially with regard to polarizing issues (gay rights?). The result of this is I often don’t realize I can do something without it becoming my entire life. It is possible to be a musician and do something else professionally. It’s hard to be a high-level performer, capable of playing the most exciting and challenging music in packed concert halls, while doing something else for money, but that’s not everyone’s goal.
In my own life, I’ve struggled with whether it’s worth doing something if I can’t invest the time and energy to be really good at it. This is good for when I’m teaching -I research everything and try to educate myself to be the best teacher possible without an education degree- but a little harmful in yoga, where I want to do multiple classes a week so I can be “good” at it, and when I can’t, feel that one class here and there isn’t worth it. Of course, this is not the case. I can do yoga once a week and enjoy it.
I don’t even think I can say I’ve accepted “casually” doing anything, though I have come to terms with the idea that one doesn’t have to do something professionally to be good at it, which is a small step in the right direction. I give credit to baking bread for this revelation – I have zero desire to bake professionally, but I’m passionate about it, and I do make very good bread if I say so myself.
I’ve slowly been learning that even if I’m not performing right now, I am a musician. It doesn’t matter if someone gives me that judging look when they ask me when I’m playing next and I don’t have a gig lined up. It doesn’t matter that I don’t make a significant portion of my income from performing. I play the flute and I’m still figuring it out, so maybe I don’t have a lot of performances right now. I will, when the universe makes it happen.
Or really, when I decide to make it happen.