Terminated

(for some reason my brain wants to go “pew pew!!!“)

I’ve been “in crunch time” for my current composition project for a couple weeks now. During Thanksgiving week I accepted 3 articles for the entrepreneurial project (EP) and ended up spending Mon-Wed writing them instead of composing. Then I spent 3 days straight with family – and when I wasn’t with family I was too exhausted to do anything. I didn’t fully explain all of this to the Editor in Chief (EiC), etc. when I said I couldn’t take a 4th article – twice – but I kinda feel like I shouldn’t’ve had to.

What I did do was talk to my friend / the CEO, who told me to talk to the EiC, who proceeded to ignore the message I sent her saying I couldn’t write 3 articles about frankly stupid topics every week because I need to focus on composing. (All unpaid, by the way. If this were a paid gig I would’ve handled it differently.) Last week I flat-out said “no.” This week I accepted the articles but realized I wouldn’t be able to meet the deadlines, so I said “I’m sorry I can’t do these.” Well to be honest I think I should’ve also resigned at that point in time but I dunno, I’ve been feeling ambivalent about this for months now…

They made the decision for me. In the form of an email notifying me I’d been “terminated.” No explanation, and there was certainly no discussion – at least not with me. I was upset for a while, but then I told a friend who was like “wait a minute: you were terminated from a volunteer position that wasn’t even what you wanted to do?” I laughed. And I will be laughing still, in the end… except that something about it is still bothering me.

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Living… for fun and profit?

Long story short, I wasn’t able to enroll in composition lessons this semester after all. I was upset for a while, but then I started thinking about what I could do. Maybe I could find a private instructor elsewhere, for example. Someone not tied to an academic schedule. Who might be willing to do, say, 6 lessons over the next month and a half, ending by Yule, for a fair price. So I could make some progress between now and next semester. I sent the composition program coordinator an email updating him on the situation and requesting a referral – 5 days ago. Nada.

So I decided to go all-in.

I’ve brainstormed a business plan for being an independent composer / content creator – drawing on what I’ve learned from the EP, actually (I’ve been enjoying my role in that, by the way). What platforms do I want to be on? What do I want and need for a professional website? How do I copyright my music? Do I want to let people use my music in their works, and with what stipulations? (Generally speaking I have no problem with individuals as long as they credit me – tbh I’ll be honored! – though I do need to make money somehow. I just don’t want corporations profiting off my work without my consent.) What should my Patreon reward levels be? Etc. There’s still a lot that needs to be worked out, a ton that I need to learn, but it feels good to be moving in that direction. People have been super supportive. And Fox even agreed to be my webmaster!

Which so far has been good for our relationship, as we get to talk about and plan something that’s meaningful to both of us. I’m a bit torn between relying on his skills as a web developer to create something custom but without the bells and whistles of, say WordPress… and going with a platform that will let me post and edit all my own content directly with fancy widgets and SEO tools and all that, but with limits on how much I can customize the precise look and feel. (None of the themes I’ve seen quite fit.) The thought occurs that if Fox is managing the website for me I will have more time to focus on composing. He’s willing to learn new skills to accommodate my needs. And I think WordPress costs money, whereas Fox is willing to do this for… well, we share whatever money we make. Plus he’ll be able to include my site in his portfolio. Win-win!

So far I have the possibility of composing for the EP, though I need to meet with my friend (the CEO) to work out details. Ron’s running for public office, so ze asked me to compose the music for zir campaign video(s). And another friend (jokingly?) said he might need me to help him come up with a song. So I already have multiple potential projects that I’ll be able to point to as examples of people using my work. But none of them are in progress yet.

After a while brainstorming – and struggling to focus on, you know, actually composing – I now have a specific project in progress. It’s an arrangement or orchestration of a traditional Christmas song, but I’m writing my own… I’ve been calling it a ‘countermelody,’ not sure if that’s the correct term… to weave with it. My goal is to have it ready by December. Ideally I’ll be able to post it and a couple other songs, so folks looking for holiday music will find my channel. Maybe they’ll share and subscribe, possibly even support me on Patreon? I dunno, right now it feels like a bit much to ask, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Right? Everyone’s gotta start somewhere.

And where I am feels absolutely amazing! I’ve been brainstorming like crazy. found a piano score online. orchestrated it for strings. experimented with different sounds. put all the instruments I like the timbre of in one score omg I hope I can narrow that down! scribbled all over the front and back of a page in my giant sketchpad, sorting out the feel I want. figured out what steps I need to take. came up with what I want the structure and story to be. suddenly sang a gorgeous 2 minute countermelody! which I interrupted notating to write this post. Because I want to shout it from the rooftops: I feel fantastic!

It’s kinda like being in love, only better, because it’s not focused or dependent on someone else. I feel fully alive, in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before. Alive and whole and powerful and happy. This deep wonderful contentment. Like everything’s right – in my personal bubble at least. I don’t mean to discount what’s been going on in the world, but right now I’m writing about me. My internal state of being is one of joy and creativity!

About 7 weeks ago I wrote about putting my portfolio together for that initial application to the composition program:

It felt so good starting with something I was already proud of, seeing how I could make it better, carefully patiently meticulously caressing it like a sculptor working with wet clay, and then the magic when it sounds right… oh, by the gods, to do that for a living…

That would be living…

and I ended the post with:

If composing is my idea of living then I should live, and have fun with it.

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing! and I love it!

To Live…

I reached out to the graduate music composition program at my school about 3 weeks ago. They asked me to email my portfolio and said we need to schedule an interview, during which they’ll test my theory and aural skills. I took about a week and a half to prepare my portfolio, which unfortunately meant that the fall semester was already starting by the time I emailed it. Until recently I was still hopeful that I might be able to make the transfer in time to start taking classes, and I was getting very anxious about it.

On Tuesday I let go of starting this semester, mostly because Wednesday marked the end of the add/drop period. That helps somewhat: I actually prefer the idea of starting in the spring and not having to rush. It would be rather stressful to jump into graduate courses after missing the first meeting or two, especially since 1) I’ll be getting used to a new approach to music, new professors and new classmates and 2) it’s been a couple years, I’m feeling a bit rusty…

I’m still anxious about whether I’ll be accepted, though (reading into the lack of response and lack of indication that they’ve listened to my recordings, which I’d posted online, and which were produced by my notation software – will they judge me for that?) and second-guessing my decision (I have literally 2 requirements left to finish the music therapy degree, but I actively don’t want to do them, but it seems irresponsible not to… and even more irresponsible to incur more student debt when I haven’t earned any income in, gods, almost a decade…)

If I’m not careful I start going down the what-if spiral and getting depressed. What if this doesn’t work out? What if I don’t have what it takes? What if I can never find gainful employment? Etc… I’ve started a new game of Skyrim, in part because I love the game but also to distract myself from existential dread (well that’s a bit melodramatic) worrying about something I can’t control. (Thought occurs that studying theory and practicing my aural skills would be a good use of my time, but I’ve been having trouble getting myself to do it… I want to know I’ve passed this first hurtle and scheduled the interview first…)

Speaking of not having control over things, I’m still kinda feeling things out with the entrepreneurial project (EP) I’ve mentioned a couple times. I thought I was going to be one of the people in charge but 1) I feel a bit out of my league 2) I feel very out of the loop and 3) my friend is calling all the shots (which I can’t really complain about since he’s the one who’s actually gotten it off the ground). We’ve butt heads a few times – especially when stuff got posted that can be interpreted in ways I’m uncomfortable with – and I thought I was supposed to be an editor but people don’t seem to respect or appreciate my input and I don’t know whether they consider me a valuable member of the team or a pain in the ass and it’s agitating my anxiety and depression.

It doesn’t help that helping Banji move followed by over a week of basically composing full time+ to prepare my portfolio essentially derailed my level of involvement and status in the EP.

Part of me is saying I should run now, but another part of me keeps hoping it will get better (and doesn’t want to miss out on the profits, should they happen… eventually). And part of me actually does enjoy doing this – especially certain aspects of it – and the people seem pretty cool… when we agree on things…

Maybe once we’re in our office and have x y z set up and I can focus on q and…

I dunno, I’m kinda worried this might end up being like the Green Party all over again. Complete with serious ideological disagreements about how to handle something we’re all passionate about causing me to question what I thought/hope were/are meaningful friendships. Or maybe my appraisal of the friendship isn’t what matters, it’s whether it can survive these disagreements. My friend has gone from “I want you to be my business partner and keep everything on track” to “if you want to be part of the board all you have to do is invest capital…”

He’s known from the beginning that I don’t have capital – I’m investing my time, energy, and talents… that’s “appreciated” but somehow less meaningful? I dunno I respect that actually putting money into this is a big deal – and very necessary for success – but money isn’t everything. It on its own shouldn’t give one person more authority than another person earns through their labor – and we’re all putting in a lot of unpaid labor. (So basically I think we all should be the board, unless someone doesn’t want to be on it, but that’s not in line with the laws governing the type of company he decided to make – they require at least some “liquid” investment to be on the board… does “liquid” by any chance include blood, sweat, and tears?)

Ugh. Why do I do this to myself? (Because the alternative is either living in fantasy or working a job you hate… and there’s drama everywhere at least have it be drama you’re passionate about…)

I. don’t. know.

I do know that the week and a half I spent preparing my composition portfolio was amazing! I got to revisit and rework pieces I wrote back in college and the years since, going through the creative process. A lot of them were in a program that outputs midi, meaning low audio quality and inaccurate feedback regarding things like relative dynamics (to oversimplify, volume). I copied my compositions into another program that uses samples from live musicians playing real-world instruments, made some major edits to most of them (including re-orchestrating one) wrote some new material for some if not most of them, and playing with dynamics… oh, wow, that was a trip! It felt so good starting with something I was already proud of, seeing how I could make it better, carefully patiently meticulously caressing it like a sculptor working with wet clay, and then the magic when it sounds right… oh, by the gods, to do that for a living…

That would be living…

The only thing is, I need to have some kind of snack food by my desk (or wherever I’m composing) so I don’t starve. And I should really watch my caffeine intake, and make sure I sleep decent hours. I learned the hard way that the extra energy and high and creative fervor isn’t sustainable, and the crash sucks…

If I switch programs I’ll basically be restarting my degree: I only have like 3 classes that I’m fairly certain will transfer over. And I’ll have to take another version of research methods and learn a new writing/citation style. And it’ll probably take at least 3-4 semesters to graduate, no idea how much money but almost definitely adding significantly to the student debt my mother has been amazingly wonderful about paying down for me.

On the plus side, the ‘big bad requirement’ that could possibly pose a barrier to graduating is that I’m required to have one of my compositions performed… you mean have my dream come true!!!

And then there’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to make money doing it.

But oh, to do it… I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything this badly.

One thing the EP and composing have in common is that they both point to online content creation. The EP involves it directly, while composing probably doesn’t require it but the program coordinators did ask me to post my recordings online and send them links, rather than emailing audio files… It got me thinking about composing and recording the compositions however I can and posting them online and who knows? with things like Patreon maybe that’s all I’ll need to make enough money to live on. and/or I might get commissions. and/or someone might want to hire me for a longer-term project and/or…

I dunno, somehow the depressive what-if spirals are easier to maintain. Like I have to actively stop myself from going down them, whereas with the positive/hopeful ones I think “woah I’m getting ahead of myself” and just… stop.

“This is all wishful thinking. Go get a day job.”
“In what? My B.A. is in music and psychology…”
“Something soul crushing like everyone else.”
“That would probably kill me…”

And besides, ‘everyone else’ is trying to get out of their soul crushing job…

Ah, well, the composition program will email me when they email me. In the meantime I have stuff to do and look forward to with the EP. Banji’s parents want me to sell some stuff for them, that could be a way to at least make some spending money (and get my butt in their house more often, they’re good people). There’s no reason I can’t/shouldn’t compose just because I feel like it – especially if that will help me practice my theory and aural skills. I can post stuff online and who knows? maybe that will help with my application… it will definitely be adding to my portfolio!

If composing is my idea of living then I should live, and have fun with it. And of course there’s still gaming and my friends and my family and and and… so much good in my life, I choose to focus on that.