Maybe more of a life question than a love question. I’m a part-time musician but have always had a full-time job because I’ve never wanted to risk relying on music to make money. This has always left me feeling sort of like a music hobbyist, as opposed to a “real” musician who commit themselves to music all or nothing. At the same time, though, I’ve always sort of felt half-in with my career, even though it takes up a lot of my time. I like my job but don’t love it, and it’s never become soul-crushing and it’s allowed me to stay busy with music on the side without worrying about finances. I’ve always kicked around with the prospect of ditching the actual playing of music, hustling for gigs, etc and committing myself to some kind of course of graduate study that might get me a more satisfying job/ career but never done it. In my heart, I just like playing music. Sometime around a year ago, I decided to take a break from worrying about my career, and committed, in my head, to telling myself I was a “real” musician, and just see what happened. What happened, is at least I’ve grown to feel a lot better about how music fits in my life…the practicing and incremental improvements, the finding opportunities to play, the seeking out new music, all makes more sense and feels like fun, even though not a lot has practically changed. My overall mood is vastly improved and I just generally feel better about things.
A few months ago, on a total whim, I applied to a MFA program, not in music, just to see what would happen. I ended up getting accepted and now am facing a decision. The MFA would require a lot of my time for about 2 years and doesn’t relate to my career in any way. I’m very excited by the prospect of doing it, but worried that music would be totally back-burnered for a few years. I need to keep my job, so dropping that isn’t really an option, so the time spent on music would be what goes out the door because that time will get spent on the degree. Deferring the program isn’t an option, though reapplying next year is. Struggling with what to do…I love music, and love the feeling I get from making it a big part of my life. But trying something new could be a lot of fun and be rewarding, also. Thank you in advance for your thoughts.
Dear MFA (Mother Fu**ing Artist),
It seems like this is a problem for most of the people I know these days. So many of us feel like we are giving our all to our Art and really worried about paying rent or working our asses off at some job and not having time for our muse. That's how it seems. In reality most of us are getting a hell of a lot done and very few of us are homeless. There are a million ideas out there on "work/life balance". The truth is it is all Life. How do you want your life to be? We all want more time, but it's pretty much common knowledge that time is just a construct that has little use except being able to meet you for coffee at an appointed time. We have all seen it collapse when we are doing something we love. And how it grows exponentially when we are doing something we don't. It is flexible. It contracts and expands with our mood and attention. And, besides, we are all actually living in eternity anyway.
So there is this notion that there is only so much time and we can either do this or do that but we can't do both. That's not what I see. I see my friends raising children, getting married or divorced, working, going to grad school, weathering disasters and putting out a new record, finishing a book or having an art show all at the same time. Of course, they are always saying,"Something's gotta go. I can't keep doing all this." But they are doing it.
You have already decided you are going to grad school. You are stoked! That's great. Do It! I love this on a whim stuff. Whims are where it's at. It seems like nothing but it's really a great big deal. It's how we trick ourselves into jumping. But it's not like you are going to just stop thinking about music. At this stage, thinking is most of the work. Contrary to mythology, the muses (music among them) will never abandon you. You can try to shoo them out like cats but they just hang around. Sooner or later you have to feed them. I think it is comforting for us to think,"Well, I can do these six things, but I couldn't possibly do seven. That would be crazy." The idea of limitless potential is downright scary. We will find time in the funniest places. A half hour of focused, absorbing work can accomplish almost anything. And the good news is, again, there is no hurry.
I am really glad you got over that "real musician or not" crap. What a bunch of baloney that was, Right? Music gets a bad rap in this culture. It is often confused with some product or other. What you pay to get it. Or don't pay. The disks and chips. The devices. The venues. The stage. It is only when it gets out of these things and into your soul that it actually happens. Music and Art and Dance are actually integral parts of life. This idea of a pro musician is murky. If one of your jobs is being a parent and you sing to your kid, you are a pro musician.
Congratulations! You are having an adventure! You will know this new thing is working if you get from it some of what you get from music. Your music may change. Your relationship with it may change, but it's not going away. It is too important. For you, it is part of life and your other work will suffer without it. Be generous with yourself and allow yourself to have it all.
Nobody Can Do It For You,