Hmm. So this is what a landmark feels like.
I'm afraid I'm not quite certain as to what the usual schtick is for the landmarks... They seem to fall somewhere between a personal monologue, story, and confession. I suppose I'll attempt all three in one shot, and leave it to you to judge me, or not, if you want to.
As of right now, I am an English major at the University of Texas with a minor in Governement with the intent of going to law school. This might seem to many to be a worthy thing for a young man like me to try and do, but, to me, it's a settle, a compromise, and not a good one.
Once upon a time, long long ago (but not in any galaxy that's particularly far, far away), I was a first-rate violist in my high school, the best of the best as they say, competing in all of the competitions and always faring fairly well. In my high school, that was what I was, and that was what my future was going to be. My name was synonymous with the words, "Fine arts."
I liked classical music. It inspired me. It put images in my head I never knew where there, it was complex and emotional, constantly changing and moving. I like music.
But I was never a musician.
I don't know why. Actually, I do. I never really believed in myself. I always believed my talent was a fluke, never truly backed up by any real willpower or resolve to become something great. I still do. I fundamentally cannot see myself as a professional musician. I love music, and I love to make music, but I just can't do it for a living. It would be easy to say that it's just the money, or the the difficulty, or the obscurity of it, but it's all these things combined to make up what it really was: self-doubt.
But my parents wanted me to. In my family, that's what our "nuclear" family is great for: me. My talent, to be more specific. When we all get together, that's what everyone asks about. That's what everyone talks about. Everyone except me. And, you know, as many rebellious kids as there are, a whole lot of them just don't want to let down the folks. So I didn't. I went to UT and studied under the prestigious viola professor there, and, to everyone else's great surprise, but not to mine, I sat dead last chair. His words: you're a bit under par, but we'll try to fix you up a bit, get you there in no time.
I don't know if I took on those words as a blessing or a curse. Somewhere, I wanted to hear them, to know that I wasn't worth anything, but another part of me was just shocked. The less intelligent, prideful part, I believe.
So I tried to practice, to become what everyone wanted me to be, but I just didn't have it in me to sit for four to five hours a day in a tiny room with a piece of music in front of me doing something that my heart and mind told me I couldn't. I wound up spiraling into a deep, deep depression. I didn't go to many classes, I stopped practicing. I spent hours at night walking through the urban wasteland of downtown Austin or sitting in the serene, eerie shadows cast by a neon light set up in the bows of an oak tree on the capital grounds, just thinking. Wondering what it would be like to just withdraw all the money out of my account and just get the hell out of there. Get a job somewhere, a cheap, down and out job across the nation, like in Chicago. It was always Chicago in my head. Its dreary, cold perception matches my own personal disposition. Ugly buildings, people, and an uglier sky. I just wanted to start walking into the night and not come back, never look back to the mess I'd made of my life, and never feel everyone look at me, disappointed, and say, "You know, we thought this kid was something, but in the end he was just a ****in loser. Just your regular college burn out." Home wasn't home anymore. It was a trap and an ambush waiting to happen.
That's my worst nightmare. Being seen by everyone, naked, unobscured, for what I am, and the immense failings not only of what I've done, but of my own personality.
I drank, I smoked weed. I didn't go to classes. I listened to a lot of Shostakovich. I didn't sleep much, and I spent a lot of time wondering how it would feel to start all over again in a place where people didn't look at you like something about to explode or fall apart. And I wondered how it would feel to not feel that way all the time.
But depression always has to end sometime, and a lot of the time it winds up in catastrophe, because of the grave you dug for yourself when you were moping, when you were wondering how far this sidewalk could take you, and where you'd go from there. Mine ended that way.
Wound up failing two classes. Theory and base level mathematics, because I never went to those classes. Got a C in Astronomy, a B in Viola, A in Piano theory and an A in orchestra.
Low. Lower than I'd hoped, but not lower than what I'd expected. Part of me had wanted to fail.
I changed my major to the ill reputed English major, the place where people with no real talents go to wait and waste money until unemployment. See, I was open to the idea of leaving and getting some odd-ball job for one reason: being a writer. That's what they do, I thought then. Writers experience the things we can only dream about, they go out into the world and see it for what it is, they take it all in, see what they want to see and make into some kind've delicate design that's almost incomprehensible.
Because, besides being a good violist, back at the ol high school everyone thought I was a virtuoso writer. The most memorable example was my english teacher hearing about some last minute competition which our representative dropped out of, and then they ripped me out of study hall, asked me if I wanted to do it, and then packed me into a station wagon and sent me to another high school. I wound up getting first place, essentially pulling things out of my ass like a magician doing a scarf trick. Even I was impressed with myself, and, in light of what I've written so far, that must sound pretty amazing.
But there was that thing in the back of my head, that voice I heard so much: you've written some things. A few things. Good things for a high school kid. Won a few trinkets, got a few pretty documents with your name on it in fancy writing. But do you think you've got a novel in you? Even one good short story? You've tried, I know. You sit down, plunk a few paragraphs out, and then you lose interest. It winds up at he bottom of the My Documents barrel, a word document so small it has a single digit next to it.
My Documents is a graveyard, filled not with stories, but just with titles. Little page icon tombstones with little dead title epitaphs. Maybe there's a page or two, or, hey, maybe there's ten, but they're all worthless, all dead.
What was it Shakespeare said? Words are but dust? Air? Maybe both.
I don't know, I said. I don't know if I've got it in me, but people say I do, people say the stuff I write is good, and that's okay, isn't it?
And the voice said, "Ah, but they also said you were a great violist. What ever happened to that?"
And I didn't have anything to say.
But I went home. And when they saw my grades, there were tears. They didn't know what to do with me. They didn't know me. And I didn't know me. And I knew with all my heart that I didn't want to.
My parents were both English majors, but they were wary about the major change. I guess they didn't consider themselves successful, and even though we live in one of the richest neighborhoods possible, I guess they thought they were just lucky. Apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Or maybe they wanted me to be what they always wanted to be. That's what parents want, isn't it? Or maybe that's what they need.
I didn't care. I went back to school, and I didn't write anything. I worked. I worked hard. This was penance for me. I was living under the abysmally painful stigma of three digits, just three digits that read 2.77 and it hurt. It hurt a lot, like a tumor or the mark of Cain, blaring across my forehead the great fat words FAILURE for everyone to see. This was death for my life, death for my career. Dreams vanish like smoke in front of digits like those, gone up and borne away to God knows where, nowhere good. I didn't know what the hell I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that nothing good would follow after digits like those. Digits like those send people to Chicago. If it weren't for that one first semester, I would've had about a 3.6 or 3.7. Isn't that a shame. One more strike against me.
I thought about being an English professor, because somehow I decided I wasn't going to be a writer. That dream had NO GOOD stamped on the back of it in bright red paint (but I ignored it, or thought I did.) I thought that would be an okay life, nothing special. I'd just sit in my crowded office with my old books filling every available space, my desk covered with papers and odd trinkets, cartoons and paintings and pictures covering almost evey inch of the wall. That'd be okay, I thought. It'll be something you like. Telling kids all about the art you love. Right?
Wrong. I went to my English professor's office every once in a while, and it was a hell of a lot smaller than I thought it would be. Just a closet in the library, really. And I thought to myself, "If this is what disturbs you about this job, the goddamn office, I don't really think this is the place for you. Because I don't think you're in it for the art, or for the kids. You're just in it so you can carry a briefcase and wear a tweed suit." And that was true. I guess I just liked the professor image.
Maybe that's what I'm all about: image.
But I was practical, in the end. Too much education, too much comeptition, too much work, and not enough money. Plus, just like the music, you just don't have the spirit in you. You might like to read a lot, and you might like to write a lot, but that won't make you anything more than some bag full of hot air at some silo college out in the boonies, teaching kids T.S. Eliot when they're just going to leave class and get alcohol poisoning.
I went to a psychiatrist for a while, because I didn't have any answers. I don't know if you guys know this, if you've gleaned it from my scattered posts, but I tend to have a very socially paralyzed life that is tempered with bouts of extreme, amoral aggression. I can be charming and intelligent at times, and I can make some pretty good conversation, but to me, it's all an act. A tired one. And from time to time I just kind've want to shout out something incredibly offensive and just laugh at all the pretty shocked faces.
She said I had an enormous inferiority complex that resulted in distinct self-destrutive pattern. Apparently my inferiority complex is so severe sometimes when approached by someone whom I deem superior, by whatever light, I have difficulty even recognizing their humanity. I just see a threat and what's wrong with me, personally. And then, hey, I just get so damn frustrated with myself I want to go out and pick a fight. The best example of this is when a friend scared me in my car back in high school, and I chased him to his jeep, where he had a huge American flag sticking out of the back (this wasn't much more than a week after 9/11). For no reason at all, I just grabbed the flag and picked it up, ran across the entire parking lot waving it like a madman, got to my car, dropped it on the ground in front of the whole parking lot, got in and got the hell out of there. The entire place exploded with shouts, honks, and jeers, and all I could do was laugh like a madman as I drove away. I don't know why. It felt good to cause trouble. It felt good to put in other people the same fear and frustration I felt in myself.
My French teacher put it best when the assistant principal talked to him after that little stunt. "Robert is a very intelligent boy, but unpredictible. He's a little like fire: amusing, and entertaining, but also uncontrollable."
There's freedom in being a monster. It's an awful kind've freedom, but it's a freedom, nonetheless. I guess if you're a monster, you can push any limit you want, and it doesn't matter if you fail. You embrace the failure, full on, grinning like a skull, and wait for the destruction you so desperately need.
So that explained my inability to see myself in any kind of light that wasn't "subpar." That explained why my greatest fear was to have everyone look at me and see me for what I was, or what I thought I was. That's why when someone makes fun of me I want to beat him in the face with a Louisville Slugger, and hit him again and again until the rage stopped or his teeth were gone.
So I asked myself, "Well, are you a monster?"
And I realized, I have never gotten in a real fight in my life. I've never hit anyone in the face before, much as I might like to. I cause trouble, and I love it sometimes, but not all the time. I like my friends. They're good people, and we like to make each other laugh. If you catch me on my own, I'd say I'm a pretty decent kid with a good sense of humor. But stick me in front of a crowd and I go nuts. I just love the "all against me" philosophy. But I'm no monster. I might be angry, frustrated, and broken somewhere, but I'm no monster.
The end of the semester came. Three A's, and one 88. Everyone said I should be happy, and I guess I was, but I was mad as hell about that 88. I killed myself that year.
And at the end of the year, I still had no resolution as to what I wanted to be. I didn't know what to think. After all that, the way was still not clear. But then I thought, "You know what, Robert? You're just a goddamn kid. The reason that you haven't written the Great American Novel yet is because you're nineteen years old, and that's a mighty high bar to set for someone who can't yet buy beer. And there's a lot of things that you haven't done, either."
Which was true. I had never had someone I considered a best friend. I had never shared good secrets with someone. I had never held hands with a girl, been kissed or smiled at, been hit on. Never been called "boyfriend." I had never been loved, and I had never really felt love. I didn't really even know what the word meant. I couldn't imagine that degree of intimacy with someone; I couldn't imagine that someone could see me for what I was, massive faults and everything, and still smile at me and want to be next to me in the same bed at night. I was used to being something ugly. Something people thought was smart and funny, but in the end, heartless, dangerous, and uncontrollable. And I decided I didn't want to be that way anymore. I didn't want that awful freedom anymore. I wanted to change, but I didn't know how.
That was a year ago or so. Things haven't changed much, but I'm more content with them. I have about a 3.3 and rising, should be 3.5 or so by next year, and it feels good. It feels angelic. Divine. I was told to look into law, because I was extremely "verbal, tedious, determined, rule-bound, and morally ambiguous by nature, which is just what the world of law needs," as my grandfather said, whom we buried this past semester. I have ideas for stories, but I don't do much about them. I plunk a few out, save them, and let them sit. There's a life for me to carve out somewhere, and I know it, and I know that I'm going to do well because I can't even conceive of failure again. I'm hungry, dammit. I'm hungry for what life has to offer, for what I can take from it, and what I can give to it, too.
And My Documents isn't a graveyard anymore. Now it's just... possibilities in waiting. Maybe some of the things I throw away have some value to them.
I don't know how to be a writer, but I don't think even most writers know that. I don't know how love works, but when I see it, I guess I'll know what it is. I don't know if there's a God, and I don't ever expect to. All I can do is pick myself up after I stumble, keep walking, and faintly trust the greater good. After all, stubborness has never been something I lacked.
[ April 19, 2004, 09:43 PM: Message edited by: Book ]
Posts: 2258 | Registered: Aug 2003
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My former SIL also started out a music major, and then switched to liberal arts (and, in her case, a different college). While it was a very difficult choice for her, it really did work out for the best -- and it sounds like it is for you too.
I don't know whether you are a musician or not, but that post was definitely written by a writer!
Good luck finding your niche. And when you do, could you help me find mine?
Posts: 32919 | Registered: Mar 2003
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Ah, this is such an inspiring story for those who are still trying to decide what to do with their life!
I totally understand the feelings about the violin. All growing up, I was "the artist". I could draw better than anyone around me. To my family, I was "the artist" and they all just assumed I would do great things with it.
The fact of the matter was, I was nothing speacial when it came to a university full of talented people. I really thought hard about majoring in some artistic field, maybe illustration. But the major was sooooo competitive. I felt I wasn't prepared like I should be, that I would be eaten alive or simply be denied entrance. So I never tried.
To this day, I regret sometimes not going with art. You see, I don't do art very much at all, and I don't know how to do so many things. But I know I still have my life ahead of me and I can still learn, grow, and educate myself.
While I can relate with many of the landmarks I've seen, few seem to rip the very thoughts out of my head. Congratulations on that. As a lackluster writer/musician, I totally grasp where you're coming from. You struck too many chords to address here, though.
All I really feel a need to say is that you seem to have discovered hope and strength along the very spastic way and I wish you the best in that.
And if any of Your Documents are "ready for prime time" I'd love to take a look. Your ability to put words together simply refreshing.
Posts: 1090 | Registered: Oct 2003
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Book: I know where you are coming form, or so close to it that it gave me the willies.
Take it from me, things aren't that bad. There are people in this world that never have a GPA above a 2.3, and are wonderful people who live wonderful lives. It is so esay to buy into the numbers game when yopu are young, but that is just a load of bull.
It doesn't matter how hight your IQ scores were, or what chair you were in high school; what matters is that you learn to love yourself not just for what you do but for who you are, and to allow yourself the time it will take to grow and learn and become. It doesn't really matter what we become as much as learning to be grateful for who we are and for loving ourselves.
I'm sorry if I sound like a Leo Buscallia tape here, but I am speaking from experience. I ahve seen some of my friends chase arter their "numbers", be those money or power, or loves (of the week), and they never seem to be happy because no matter what they do it's never enough.
I gave up playing the flute for 12 years because it hurt me to play. I was great in high school, first chair Varsity, in a band that traveled the country playing gigs. We marched in the Orange Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, and in 2 half time shows for the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, with 15 nationally televised gigs in 3 years. I lived for music, and learned 4 insturments in the last 9 months of high school.
I lied about my age and went to an open audition for the DSO when I was 18, and played a capella because I couldn't afford accompaniment, and I gave the judges my sheet music and played by memory because I couldn't afford the extra sheet music.
I came in second out of 100 applicants, and found out it was for a second alternates position that only payed $3,500 a year.
I moved here to NE, and gave playing up because it reminded me too much of MI, and I regret it every day. It was my passion, but I gave it up because I doubted myself and my talents, and I am only now, 12 years later, beginning to play again.
So hang in there, take a break if you need to, but never give it up completely. You can still play and not become a professional, you know. And that way, if you change your mind later, you haven't lost all your skills like I have.
Dude, that's where you should have spent your first two years.
I made the mistake of going away to a highbrow university my first two semesters. I still have nightmares about that place. I just didn't belong. Not that I was a dummy, but they just weren't my type of people. Living at home, taking general ed. courses, sitting next to cute girls in bluejeans...dude, that's where it's at!
Posts: 2655 | Registered: Feb 2004
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