[NO. I am not seeking attention with this post. Don’t feel compelled or even expected to say anything. There’s stuff in my head that needs to come out, and sometimes it keeps me on a sensible plane if I write it expecting someone I don’t know to read it. That’s all. No more, no less. One of my British friends used to call this “blog therapy,” and it is that.]
I had an appointment with my psychiatrist / psychopharmacologist / drug dealer this morning, on a day when I truly feel like crap. I didn’t sleep much and didn’t sleep well, and I’m feeling kind of down. So I’m across the street at a Starbucks with a large cup of venti ounces of caffeine sludge and my laptop.
Allison came home from Georgia last night. The animals had done some bad stuff, the woman cleaning the cages had done some bad stuff and simply not done some important stuff while I was gone, and I didn’t notice any of the above, so she was quite agitated — not at me, she was quick to point out, but displeased in general. We watched a silly comedy movie together while the apparently indignant Bella went and made a puddle in the kitchen. More agitation and chaos, and in my state of more or less perpetual exhaustion, I finally just gave up and tried to go to sleep. It didn’t go well. I have no idea how long I just lay there, awake, ruminating and trying to shut down.
For the whole time Allison’s been gone, through several evenings, weekends, lunch breaks, late nights and mindless TV shows, I’ve been thinking. Doing way too much thinking about my feelings, my career, my life choices, my self-worth. Some of this is directed. Some is just happening because my mind is just focusing on the highest priority problems. Some is probably hormonal or chemical or seasonal. Who knows. But I’ve gotten a lot of perspective on what troubles me.
One thing is the fact, which I’ve slowly come to understand, that I don’t create anything.
I’m an audio engineer. Engineers fix things. We make them better. We solve problems you didn’t even know you had in ways you wouldn’t understand. It’s in our nature.
When I mix a musical, that person standing on the stage creates. He or she sings, and that beautiful voice radiates into the room. All I do is reach out with my microphone and draw some of that sound in. With my tools I gently guide it, shape it. I gently trim away the small vestigial details that do not give me joy, and I carefully brush aside any dust or fog or debris that hides the beautiful details that do bring me happiness. I amplify it, I strengthen it, I let it flow through my console and my amplifiers and I release it into the room to compliment the natural acoustic perfection that’s already waiting to be joined with it. It is beautiful, and I smile as my fingers constantly adjust and perfect what I’ve done. But I didn’t create it. That beautiful person created it. I am but an admiring, helpful conduit for his or her art.
I can sing. I’m not terribly good at it, but I can. I know the mechanics and the physiology and the artistic technique of voice. I’ve even coached voice and have helped a few people develop magnificent vocal skills. But although I can force my voice to do things, I was not born with the natural talent to create. I’ve written maybe two or three songs in my entire life and they all suck. Creating vocal art is not what I was meant to do. Even one of the people I most admire, one of my former bosses back when I was just a kid, heard me singing in a radio station studio and with a rueful expression on his face, told me, “Don’t be a singer.”
I can’t draw. I can’t paint. In fact, you are at this very moment witnessing the one form of creativity, the one art form I have ever been any damned good at. I can write. I can take the stuff that’s inside my head and let it spew out over the keyboard in a way that somehow defies the image of a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters and manages to be comprehensible, intelligible, readable. Sometimes it even makes sense to someone other than myself.
So aside from this periodic drivel on my blog and the occasional bit of advertising copy disguised as a news story I don’t create diddly. I’m a mechanic. I’m a filter. I’m a processor. As an audio engineer I’ll give you more of what you already have. If you sound beautiful, I’ll make you sound heavenly.
So what am I good for? That’s the existential imperative for me.
I’m at the tail end of a very long career. I’m functioning in a small, sleepy backwater where although my skills can make a difference, the majority of people don’t know that. Mediocrity is king; in a world where mediocre sound is the norm, precision and dedication and the pursuit of perfection are nice, but by no means required. I’m used to being held to a very high standard in my work — not by myself but by those I work for. I’m used to being critiqued and using those critiques to improve my own performance and to revise my own personal standards.
Instead, I’m in a world where the only one listening with a critical ear is me. Some of the more sound-conscious directors I work with will give me notes, usually general ones about volume or corrective ones when I’ve made a mistake. But the list of notes I give to myself after every performance is much larger and more detailed. They’re after “better than community theatre has ever accomplished here.” That’s a lofty enough goal for most. I, on the other hand, am after “Better than any other person alive sitting in this chair at this moment could ever do.” That’s an impossible goal that is impossible to verify anyway, but that’s me.
A lot of things are missing that I feel I need to make myself complete, and almost all of them are external. I can’t make them happen on my own, though I try constantly. I don’t think I’m codependent but I will freely admit I’m needier than most. I wasn’t born with good looks, or a fantastic voice, or a Richard Burton talent for acting, or a body or mind for dancing. I got a pretty decent helping of brains, but those don’t show. That’s true of most of the things I like about myself; they’re things that probably no one else will ever see unless they spend a lifetime with me. I think inside I’m a pretty good person. I think I have a good heart. I think I have a well-intentioned but flawed soul, one I’d gladly sell to the devil for anything that would make me the kind of person people like. Why do I seek acceptance and approval from other people so damned much? I like myself, most of the time. I fall short of my own standards often but I know it and own it. I fall short of others’ standards even more often, and that’s depressing.
Rambling? Why, yes I am. People are walking in and out of this place, smiling, talking, laughing, shuffling along, frowning. Everyone’s got a life in progress. The most interesting person in the world might have just walked past me, face downcast, intent on caffeinating and getting on with the day ahead, and I would never know it.
What they see is a fat guy at a table, drinking high-octane coffee, typing on a laptop like the average Starbucks millennial, looking up occasionally in thought, unremarkable. While inside my head, there is so much happening, a struggle, a conflict, attempts at resolution, feelings rolling around, annoyance that the keyboard on this laptop appears to have issues with its lower right keys, sadness that I’m feeling out of sorts, happiness that I’m doing something about my issues but disappointment that such is necessary,
Please, doctor, a pill. Give me a molecule that will enter my brain and alter the chemical pathways just enough so that I am still myself, still abnormal, still atypical, still the same unique me, but a slightly different flavor of me. Make me happy when I’m sad. Calm me when I’m freaking out. Make me seek happiness from within when it is unavailable from without. Help me curb the need for things I will never know again. Help me find a sense of self when everything around me seems to be wanting anything but what I am.
Magic beans. Maybe magic beans would work.
I don’t need a life that’s normal. That’s way too far away. But something next to normal would be okay.
I’ll get by.