The Refried Beans Ephiphany

“I like refried beans. That’s why I wanna try fried beans, because maybe they’re just as good and we’re just wasting time.”

Mitch Hedberg said that.  If you can read it in Mitch Hedberg’s voice, the joke becomes much funnier.

The music industry is hard.  You have to devote your body, your mind, your soul to your craft.  You have to be willing to sacrifice your comfort, your money, and sometimes your sanity just to get in the game.  Bands that are doing well now are doing so because they’ve already spent 5-10 years sleeping in their car or on a friend’s floor to make it to where they are. That’s just the way the industry works, so if you’re having doubts or uncertainty now, get out and make way for someone who can take it.

So say the powers that be, which is really a way of saying that this is a story that our culture has accepted.   I have no illusions of the music industry’s being a cakewalk, or about having a lucrative or even sustainable income handed to me on a silver platter.  I have the utmost respect for the friends of mine who have been able to make a career out of performing, teaching, and producing music.  However, I have a really hard time with that last part: “That’s just the way it is.”  The inexperienced, tentative part of me shrugs and says, “oh well.”  The creative and inquisitive side of me shouts out, “Why?!?”

I’m curious as to both the why and the meta-why: why is this definition of the industry a) the way it is, and b) accepted, tolerated, and paraded as a badge of honor?  Every leap of innovation is preceded by the established cultural voice of the previous generation droning, “it can’t be done.  This is just the way it is.”  Then someone develops a new idea, a new way of approaching the problem, and suddenly the the landscape of ideas becomes unrecognizably different.  The voice of the old guard, while often wise and experienced, can be stuck in approaching its problems with the same perspective as always.  Worse, there’s often a strategic advantage for the culturally established to stifle the new approaches and put people on the same old path.  It can be job security, ego security, or even the womb-like embrace of the status quo.

Here’s another one:

Women have to sacrifice the important things in their lives if they want to occupy a position of power.  Ann-Marie Slaughter recently wrote an article on this subject in The Atlantic, discussing how her high-profile job in the State department was at odds with her family’s well-being.  It goes on to explore the various facets of high-profile jobs that are unaccommodating to women, as well as take a stab at some innovations that would make it more possible for women to, in her words, “have it all.”  As noted previously, the chorus from the outside, i.e., the established (and unsurprisingly, the predominantly male), is that this is just the way it is; that if a women isn’t able to build the life she wants within the upper echelon of politics, it speaks more to her lack of commitment to pursue her goals than any flaws inherent in the system.

While I have no doubt that this is the way the culture works, and even was designed, I get excited about finding loopholes and exploring solutions to the issues above, and the many similar paradigms in our culture.  I’m reminded of when I played chess.  I was quite the average player, but I got very excited when I taught myself a way to get out of a sometimes desperate situation.  If I was in a situation where my opponent had me on the back foot and was pushing me into a corner, I would look for a way to quickly turn the tables by putting his or her king in check, rather than just falling back into deeper and deeper defensive moves.  Once they are checked, your opponent can’t put the pressure on you until the they are out of danger.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with promoting my music in different ways.  I have an album coming out next month, I designed a Neon and Shy t-shirt, I’m bolstering my presence on multiple web services, and I’m making punchcards with prizes for fans.  I’ve been trying out a lot of different venues for my live shows, traveling to different cities, playing with different people, and experimenting with the kinds of things I play in each show.  I’m in a data collection phase right now, otherwise known as the throwing-it-against-the-wall-to-see-if-it-will-stick.  As I’m going along, I’m evaluating and re-evaluating effectiveness.  It helps to know that correlation doesn’t imply causation, and that sometimes trying things more than once can make a difference.  I also understand that there are differences, subtle and grand, between how I approach my promotion and another musician does.  What works for him or her might not be a viable solution for me.  The process is difficult, but it is also fun and thought-provoking, especially when I start to view it from the perspective of the detached observer; the scientist!

Ultimately, we don’t need to swallow any the stories we’ve been told without poking around to see why they exist in the first place.  You may discover the disappointment that what you want is actually beyond your means, or involves task that you don’t want to do.  And that’s totally ok!  But what you might discover, is that the impediments you’re encountering are just a mirage, and by digging just a little deeper, you find a way that lets you have what you want.  It certainly won’t be easy, but it is the ultimate gratification.  When you do discover it, make sure to come back and talk to all those people mired in the same-old, and show them that those refried beans didn’t have to be fried again after all.

Refried Beans

This means something…

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9 thoughts on “The Refried Beans Ephiphany

  1. Bryce Moore says:

    Good post. On the “women can’t have it all” note, I’d like to point out that I found much of the article didn’t ring true to me. (Full disclosure–that’s an awfully long article, and I didn’t read 100% of it.) However, the sentiment seems to be women should be able to have “it all,” just like men have “it all.” And they’re held back from attaining that ideal that men have reached, because society won’t let them have it.

    See, I’d argue that *no one* can have “it all,” for the value of “it all” that’s being advocated in that article–namely, being a high powered success in the career world while being closely tied to your family. It’s not that men have been hogging all the great jobs that let you have a successful career and time with your kids. It’s that those jobs don’t exist. Family life and work life occupy different spheres. To excel in one is to make sacrifices in the other.

    I grew up with parents who were very much succeeding on the career side of things. I’ve seen first hand what success in business costs. Slaughter talks of a “work-life balance,” but I feel like what she’s advocating is some sort of split where you can spend 75% of your time at home with the fam and 75% of time at work. The math just doesn’t add up.

    For me, the answer is to ignore society when it tells me I have to define “it all” by its standards. I feel like I already have it all. No, I don’t have a lot of money. But I have a job I enjoy. It pays the bills, and I can leave it at work. I’m home by 4:15 every day. I have time to write, to spend time with my family–to do things I want to do.

    So the solution–in my opinion–is to ignore society when it says what you ought to be wanting. Which is pretty much the same conclusion you came to, I think.

    Then again, it’s Friday, and my brains are about the consistency of those beans pictured above . . .

  2. Andrea Wittchen says:

    I am always pleasantly surprised when a much younger person (like you) sees things more clearly at a much earlier age than I did because it gives them (you) a leg up on life. So from the wisdom gleaned from my last year in the 5’s, let me suggest that continuing to stay in that experimenting process throughout your life will be enormously more rewarding than ever thinking you “found it” and stopping there. Like a shark, you have to keep moving or you die. You’re in that mode right now. I suggest you never completely leave it.

    • neonandshy says:

      Thanks Andrea. It really does seem that way. I hadn’t thought about it as much in your life until just now, but now that I do, it is remarkable to see the amazing strides you have taken (this year alone!) to do the things you want to do that are outside of your comfort zones. The successes you’ve had are quite inspirational.

      • Andrea Wittchen says:

        Thanks, Dan. Considering the last 3 weeks, that’s really reaffirming to hear.

  3. neonandshy says:

    Thanks Bryce. I didn’t get the sense the article was complaining about not having “everything,” but more the general idea that you can have a high-paying, high-profile job, and find a way to balance it with your family and personal life. She was saying that the standard line is that if you can’t manage this, then there’s something wrong with you; you’re not dedicated enough, or you haven’t explored your options enough. Instead, though, there are parts of the system that make it nearly impossible for women to do this, though not so much men. So it was a reflection on why that is, and what could be done to even the playing field and change the system.

    Having it all really seems to mean, being able to do everything you want. Like you said, you do have it all (or enough of it all to be satisfied). My main thought in this post is to listen when someone says you have to sacrifice everything to get what you want, and then explore your own options, the less judgmentally, the better.

    • Bryce Moore says:

      Agreed. But I still feel like men are held to the same unattainable standard. The main difference I’ve seen is that men are more willing to pretend they’re meeting it. They’ll make it to one baseball game in ten, for example, and talk on the phone the whole time they’re there, but they turn around and claim they’ve got a great work-life balance. No one’s meeting the standard. Men pretend they are, women worry why they’re not. (And vice versa–some men worry, some women pretend.)

      • neonandshy says:

        Actually, I think most fathers are held to ridiculous low standards. When my brother-in-law goes out with his son, he gets constant praise about what a good father he is. And while he is, going into the grocery store with your child is not the metric we should be measuring it by.

      • Bryce Moore says:

        And that’s society helping the man pretend again. The difference in my book is that the kids know better. They know what sort of a life they’re living with their parents. They know who’s engaged. There’s a thin veneer of “He’s a great dad” that society likes to put on in those cases, but it doesn’t actually *do* anything.

        I definitely agree it shouldn’t be like that–for men or women.

  4. […] pieces fell into place on the subject of hard work.  A few weeks ago I wrote a piece called the Refried Beans Epiphany, which opined about how we artists get held back by the powers-that-be citing the mantra […]

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