Lately I’ve been flooded with projects, and it has been glorious glorious glorious! I’ve been cramming about as much gigging as I can into my 40 work week and the weekends. I’ve had the opportunity to play with 20’s trad jazz bands, 2nd line wedding bands, orchestras, and impromptu jams. I also started a polka band (Polkadelphia!) and have been busy learning and playing a whole new style and repertoire. I recently recorded a new song I wrote about Dungeons and Dragons to be used as a Kickstarter reward for my friend’s project, Kobolds At My Baby… in color! I have been teaching piano lessons and developing a songwriting class for teenagers. I have been honing my design skills and am currently working on revamping a friend’s website. I’ve been taking (c)old projects out of storage and working on finding viable venues. I’m about at the end of my wits, and I’m loving it!
On a parallel track, ever since I graduated from college in 2000, I have been absolutely terrified of going back to school for “formalized” education. Many of my friends went for their masters degrees, and I went off and did my own thing. For the past 6 years I’ve worked at a university with free tuition benefits. Yet, except for a semester of German, a music and technology class, and an audited yoga class, I have eschewed using those benefits. Many friends and colleagues think I’m crazy for not taking advantage and getting a free masters degree. But I have my reasons, the biggest being that I don’t want to commit myself to classes and projects that may become a burden over time.
While I know it’s not a direct parallel (and frankly, what is?) I look at these two areas of my life and see some incongruity. In one, I am tearing up my free time and immersing myself to be as busy as possible. In the other, I am fiercely guarding my free time from waste. Let’s debunk a few things here too. It’s not a fear of learning new things, because in my current projects, I’ve learned more than I have in my whole life. And it’s not that I perceive formalized education as a waste of my time any more than my projects might turn out to be. It’s entirely possible that I commit myself to a project of my own devising that turns out to be draining and lackluster. I think the biggest difference between the two for me is the quality of self-direction in my own projects.
Before any academics get in a huff, I do believe that when someone enters into a program for a graduate degree, there is a significant amount of self-direction required and encouraged, as opposed to undergraduate degrees which tend to be a bit more cookie-cutter. I’d also like to point out that while my experiences with graduate degrees are second-hand, I have spoken to a lot of people who have gone through such programs. However, at the end of the day, there are prerequisites to finish, auxiliary tasks to perform, and a standardized finished product to turn in. It all seems pretty externally directed to me. My many friends who have advanced degrees also attest to the bureaucracy and the “old guard” of the system that detract from the learning process.
It’s true that any industry has its old guard and bureaucracy, but I’ve been finding that approaching my projects with a degree of experimentation and innovation helps to dispel some of the feeling that I’m playing the game. It’s kind of like that moment as a songwriter when you stop trying to write songs in the style of people you admire, and start to really focus on your own modes of expression. All of a sudden, there’s this sense of newness and genuine connection. When done in the right circumstances, people really sit up and take notice.
Perhaps I’m being naive, but the naivete is part of the joy of it. I’m approaching the parts of my life that I want to change with many ideas and few expectations. I’m learning about the things that matter to me, and while I’ll never feel in control of the outcome, I do feel quite confident about the direction I’m going.
I’m also really enjoying how each new morsel of knowledge opens up new avenues. It reminds me of classic NES games like Metroid; after you get certain items, you can unlock new areas that were previously inaccessible. Likewise, with a CD pressed, I get access to venues I couldn’t play before. With Polkadelphia, I get access to a new market, and the people who manage that market. I can see these webs spreading out before me as I go. Also like Metroid, I can choose the order in which I make these discoveries. And also like Metroid, it’s pretty fun.
At this point, I don’t know necessarily what the take-away is for this post. Certainly you should try to be in touch with what it is you want. It’s both fun and fulfilling to explore what it is you want from a variety of different angles. I suppose what I would impart is that you don’t have to give up the process of self-directed exploration just because you are an adult (or because you are a child). It increasingly seems to me that only by continuing to explore and expand the parameters of our lives in directions that we choose can we truly live a life that is glorious glorious glorious!