I like to make metaphors out of music. Music is easily accessible and complex, so I get a lot of options when comparing problems to it. As a hypothetical*, say you are playing an improvised solo in a jazz piece. You volunteered for it, to your instant regret. It starts out alright but you quickly realize you’ve lost your place. You panic. The point of jazz solos are to make it up as you go along but you begin to turn free flowing expression into stuttering chaos. Finally you’re at the end and you sit down in relief. But everyone is staring at you. Your friend whispers “It’s not over yet. You had twelve more bars.” You now have two options.
Option 1) Sit in shame for what will feel like an excruciatingly long time while the drums and bass guitar keep the beat to silence. You’ve embarrassed everyone enough and deserve to wave your white flag.
Option 2) Stand back up and butcher that song some more.
In this example you are you and the jazz solo is this thing called LIFE. When we screw up it’s easy to sit things out for a while while we recover our dignity. That is fine and all, but you’ve then wasted a whole 12 bars of music you could have been making AWESOME**.
For a few years there I was waving a white flag. I didn’t do much. Life was a road trip and I was ready to sell the car and settle down in a small, dying town in Nebraska and get a job as a short order cook***. Once in a while, I would get my hopes up. I applied for some jobs and never got called. I looked into finishing my degree at a different college and found out that only a single art history class would transfer. My family had issues, my health was at the lowest, and I got one or two new cracks in my heart through misuse. I was feeling pretty bad for myself.
And then I stopped feeling bad for myself!
Not much has changed in my life. I’m still lacking a college education, my family has overcome some major problems while picking up new ones, the Wii Fit board still cheerfully calls me “obese”, and I’ve still avoided taking my heart in for regular maintenance. It needs a rotation and oil change AT LEAST.
What I have started doing is ignoring my failures. They are life lessons, not imaginary obstacles barring me from my future. For almost a year I’ve been living on my own. I have a couple months left on my lease, and I have to ask myself: Did I use my time wisely? Hell no! Most of that was probably spent playing video games and eating fast food. AND YET. The past month or so has been different. I’ve started writing. I’ve started making things. More recently I’ve begun to work out and eat healthier. Last week I cleaned my oven. I feel bad I haven’t been getting back into photography. I’m disappointed that my jobs still suck and that I wasted so much time that, even starting over, I could have had my college degree by now.
Oh well. The progress I’ve made this year isn’t easily measured. In 2011 I didn’t make my life visibly better but I’ve begun to see things more clearly. I can appreciate what I did wrong and understand what I can do to make things right.
In 2011 I’ve become a friggin’ grown up****.
*This is actually the true story of the last jazz solo I ever played. I went with Option 2 and never looked back.
**It was not awesome. It was a train wreck.
***Actually this is by no means a bad Plan “B”
****Drop mic. Walk out.