The Dead Dilemma

Danzi and Magzi

The Danzi and Magzi of Yesteryearzi.

Back in the early aughts, I was touring with some of my favorite people in the world, Maggi, Pierce, and E.J.  Someday I’ll chronicle the adventures we had together, such as the benefit we crashed, holding hands with the fundamentalist record distributor, and my seedy past as the stripper Psycho Ginger; but today I want to focus on a phenomenon I encountered frequently on tour.  Our days were loosely structured: wake up around noon, grab a bite to eat, drive to the next venue, soundcheck, play until around 1am, get in around 3, sleep until noon, repeat.  While there was downtime, it wasn’t easy to predict when it would be, so it was hard to plan for downtime activities.  Most of the time it would be a few moments here and there that would just pop up.

On one hand, I was constantly having new adventures and playing music I loved every night.  However, I found myself missing the ability to plan my own time and the structure that comes with it.  I would plan projects for when I got done the tour, such as specific practice schedules, opportunities to put myself out there and make some money, and other creative endeavors.  When the tour would end though, I wouldn’t have the same influx of creative input, and I would quickly settle back into established patterns in which I would accomplish very little.

It all reminds me of the They Might Be Giants song “Dead,” in which grocery shopping is an oblique metaphor for life.  It has the wonderful line:

Now it’s over, I’m dead, and I haven’t done anything that I want
Or I’m still alive and there’s nothing I want to do.

This pervasive mindset is not just frustrating or depressing.  I find it outright terrifying.  It’s the idea that you can’t trust yourself to work for your own best interests, as at some point you will let yourself down.  And it’s far from a solely tour mentality.

While I’m working my full-time job, I’m fantasizing of everything I can do when I get home.  I can get home, make a good dinner, practice some tuba, maybe work on writing songs, then go to an open mic.  When I get home, though, I’m exhausted, and I have just enough energy to make a quick dinner, talk to some friends, and browse the web.  If I have an event coming up, I might set aside some time to practice, but otherwise I often can’t bring myself to do it.

Granted, a full-time job does sap a fair amount of my energy, so I feel justified in taking some time to unwind.  Downtime, I’m learning, is vital to allow me to rejuvenate and approach my projects with new perspectives.  However, then I start to tread some dangerous ground.  If I believe my job is the thing that’s keeping me from have the energy to focus on the areas in which I want to improve, would I still feel that way if I left that job?  Or will I fall right back into the patterns and find something else to “exhaust” me?

I found a corollary to this concept recently involving practice.  I have difficulty making the time to practice on any given day.  Over the past weekend, I began to get excited about practice and improving after listening to some particularly inspiring players and getting involved with some new ensembles.  Last night I had a great time playing around on the sousaphone trying to play some of those thick, flowy NOLA brass band grooves , and I was making some great progress!  On Wednesday, though, I’m heading to a gaming conference, and I’m not bringing my sousaphone (you’re all welcome!).  I have to ask myself the question, did I get excited about playing because I knew there would be no way for me to maintain steady practice?  Would I have gotten excited to play if I weren’t going to be in a position where I couldn’t play?  Or bluntly, am I just fucking with myself?

I’m trying to balance this lack of predictability with order.  I’ve been trying to plan out my days a little bit better to make sure I have time set aside to accomplish what I want to.  I’m also marking my downtime into my scheduling.  One potential issue is that my tendency is to set a basic outline for a weekly schedule and just follow it.  I think this might be the kind of thing that needs weekly reevaluation to account for the particular tasks I have on a given week.  The idea seems like an all-encompassing vortex, slowly eating away my free time until my weeks are spent planning when I’m going to schedule the scheduling of my my week.  I don’t know that I can trust myself to do any less than that.

At least, though, I’m in the process of breaking some of the patterns I have.  There are plenty of methods for accomplishing our goals; I just have to find the one that works for me.  And to be fair, I’ve accomplished quite a bit so far this year alone, what with my CD, podcast, website, this here blog here, etc.  That spectre of the “Dead Dilemma” always feels like it’s right around the corner, though.  I’m hoping that this time around, order can conquer entropy and I can feel like I’m actually in control of what I’m doing.

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7 thoughts on “The Dead Dilemma

  1. D says:

    Oy. Aint this the truth. The creativity comes in waves and it usually seems to have an outside motivation. Why cant I carve out enough time to strengthen my left hand lead? What the hell is the point of that waking dream journal I’ve managed to not lose for the last 15 years? I’m sure I’ll get around to developing those ideas at some point….I mean now that I’m taking 21 hours of classes, working 25-30 hours a week, all while trying to maintain a moderate level of porn intake intake? Is it that most of us in the arts peak well short of mastery relying on the fact that we’ve learned enough to impress our parents and the people around us? I suppose as artists we can let some things go as long as there is SOME level of productivity. Do I have an outlet or have I just shoved my drums in the closet until the next reunion tour? There seems to be a substantial correlation between my lack of practice and the size of imagining my uncharted future concerning creativity. Are the ideas in my head getting larger because I know they’ll never be enough time in the day? Have you ever just got the urge to run South across the border into Mexico to start your own tubariacci band? Not that Im trying to plant and seeds here….

    http://youtu.be/7XU_0GF78cw For a midwestern ska bands take on the grind…

    • neonandshy says:

      I like the cut of your jib!

      Some people seem to be able to break through and realize their “waking dreams.” What’s the breaking point? Desperation? Insanity? Heavy-handed organization?

  2. Preach on, Brother Dan! I live with the fear of not accomplishing the things I want to accomplish on a daily basis, so I fear that the full-time job isn’t the real problem. I know that for me, personally, I still find things to keep me from doing other things that I want to do. What I strive to do is find the right balance between self-flagellation (Why haven’t you solved the mysteries of the universe yet, Sam? You’re almost 33. You’re not working hard enough.) and understanding the most I can accomplish in any given day, week, month, year, etc. is what I have the energy to do. And some days I have more energy than others. It is what it is. Somewhere in between those two is the sweet spot for me, where I push myself just enough to move forward but not too much to stifle creativity.

  3. Will says:

    Dan, Dan, Dan. You’re forgetting drugs. Wonderful, wonderful drugs. Like cocaine and amphetamines and 5 Hour Energy. What would Johnny Cash or Stevie Nicks or Rick James have been without them? People you saw at the grocery store and nothing more. Damn, I wish we didn’t know how bad they were again sometimes. Or that I had bigger balls like my neighbor Dennis. Then again, I haven’t seen Dennis in four months and his water was turned off the other day and I’m pretty sure he’s in jail. So maybe it’s a good thing. I am pretty fucking tired most of the time. Back to the couch and streaming NOVA on the interwebs. I love you Dan.

  4. […] tool in my classes, I found myself floundering a bit in my personal life.  As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve been trying to find ways to optimize my time to find time to do the many projects that […]

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