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.