Not Okay

He said I needed to submit my composition portfolio by July 1st. So I scheduled the email for 8am.

Okay, I was having some trouble figuring out what to do with the last piece. I probably could’ve done a lot better. But I thought the stuff I pulled together was interesting, at least?

At first I just wanted a break from composing like non-stop, and getting so anxious over the deadline I couldn’t focus. So for a few days to a week I played Skyrim.

And I didn’t hear back. I was still anxious. So even though I “should” do this and that, I’ve had trouble getting myself to. I’ve emailed him 3 times asking him to at least confirm that he’s received the portfolio. Nada.

And it’s just gotten worse, and worse. I started doubting whether I actually have what it takes. I imagined him saying I suck at this. I kinda feel like I suck at this. And I feel guilty for not writing a single note since I submitted my portfolio on July 1st.

I mean, if it’s living, then wtf am I doing?

Then Fox lost his job because the idiots running his company couldn’t make enough money to keep his store open (HR outright admitted that the employees were doing great, corporate screwed up). So he’s been dealing with unemployment and applying for jobs… but mostly we’re both just kinda at a loss.

I dunno, I did the dishes today, that counts as something, right?

Oh and I got a call from people fundraising for a local police association. I listened to their spiel, then asked what the association is doing about police violence toward people of color. The salesperson forwarded me to his supervisor, who said she’s just a paid fundraiser and gave me the number of the association. I found their deer-in-the-headlights response… interesting. I’m kinda undecided whether to call the number. On the one hand I’m genuinely curious about the answer. On the other I’m anxious about cold-calling anyway and I don’t know if the person will be nice and explain things or hostile or manipulative or what. But I’m kinda hoping getting questions like that will put pressure on police organizations to do something – like training cops to treat POC the same way they treat white people. Right?

I dunno, I talk big but I’m finding it very hard to do anything.

Fortunately one thing that was kinda hanging over my head has been resolved, so that helps me feel a bit freer to look into new possibilities. And I’m gonna follow up with whats-his-face (you know I’m mad at someone when I call them whats-his-face) on Monday. Depending on his answer – or if I don’t get an answer – I might start composing again out of spite. And possibly looking into other programs, or other careers. (I feel like a lot of the jobs I’ve seen and thought “hey that could be cool” require computer programming.)

Oh and Duolingo has an Arabic course. It’s… entertaining, at least, with some of the stuff it teaches you to say. So I got into that and now I can recognize all the characters and (mostly) associate the right sounds with them. My reading is very slow if I’m trying to sound things out, but I’m starting to recognize specific words as a whole. I can also sing the Arabic lyrics in “Beyond the Stars” by Myrath. And my library provides card holders free access to Rosetta Stone, so I’ve started its Arabic course. If I’m accomplishing anything lately it’s… basically that.

And tabletop RPG collective storytelling. I’ve GM’d a couple sessions recently, experimenting with different levels and types of preparation. I tend to write out guides for myself kinda like the pre-created adventures in D&D? To be honest it’s a lot of work and you end up having to improvise a lot anyway. (Pro Tip: If you want players to learn about a location by exploring it, do not tell them it has a library, or a hall of records. :facepalm:) But, I gotta admit, part of me is wondering whether that’s something I could find a way to get paid to do.

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why I don’t like the term “Recovery”

Disclaimer: If you find it empowering, that’s fantastic! I don’t want to shake that. Your mental health and well-being are much more important than my opinion. This is post is about my personal relationship with the term.

CW: potentially ableist language, references to death, descriptive imagery of quasi-suicidal feelings

I don’t like the term “Recovery” because it suggests that there’s something to recover.

Which works if it’s like: “Last week I sprained my ankle and for a day it hurt too much to put weight on it. Over time I was able to start moving it around and whatnot… and now I can get around the house no problem. Though to be honest it’s still a bit swollen and painful.”

That is recovery because I remember a time when my ankle didn’t hurt, wasn’t stiff, and I could walk normally. I have a sense of there being something I had, then lost, and an idea of what getting it back would be like.

And for some mental health experiences I think that might make sense. If it were just a matter of my father and both my grandmothers and my dog who was like a brother to me dying within 5 years of each other during my adolescence, then maybe there would’ve been something there before those traumatic experiences fucked everything up that I could try and recover!

But there’s not.

Because my parents didn’t know how to parent me in the ways I needed. Which isn’t really their fault. They didn’t get the parenting they needed. Probably because my grandparents didn’t get the parenting they needed either. Because… well, there are reasons why my great-grandparents left their homelands and came to the U.S., possibly with small children – or in the case of one of my great-grandmothers, completely alone. I don’t know the specifics, but I can look into what was happening during that time.

This isn’t about that. “Recovery” isn’t about that. It’s about my life and experiences.

Which were shit.

Not all of them. But the term “Recovery” suggests to me that I should be looking back at my life before those traumatic experiences to find something I want to recover. Most of what I see is darkness. Most of what I feel is pain. And the moments that aren’t are ones I can’t get back, because the people they belong to are dead. And to be honest they’re overshadowed by the pain. The sorrow. Grief? Anger? that horrible sensation of being alone and hungry gazing into the Abyss while some terrifying monster eats you from the inside and you’re drowning and all you can hear are your own cries…

Or we can go with the language my therapist used: she called it Complex PTSD. There’s not one or more easily identifiable traumatic experience(s) I could pinpoint and say yeah, before that was good, let’s recover that. Instead there was a childhood of emotional abuse and neglect.

When I look back at what I had, I’m grateful that on a material level there was never anything I needed and couldn’t access. Food, clothes, shelter, and healthcare were all there. I was safe for the most part, physically speaking. There were aspects of my education that could’ve been better, but they were offset by things that were better, so… I dunno. I’m just trying to acknowledge that I’ve always had financial security, and that’s extremely important. And my grandmother was awesome. And my mom did what she could – at least, she meant well, she just… I’d say she could’ve done better, but if that were true she probably would’ve done better, is all I’m saying.

My point is: I don’t see anything that I want to recover.

I see things I wish I could go back in time and change. I see things that make me sad, angry, wistful, nostalgic, grateful, or glad that part of my life is over. I see strengths and areas for growth and things I’m proud of and things I regret and experiences I’ve learned from.

And I see myself hanging on through all of it – yes, loving people supporting me (including my mom), that’s very important – but it’s the choices I make that guide me from one place to the next.

The choices I’ve made are why I’m breathing today.

So there really isn’t anything to recover. The things that would be worth recovering are still there – are more there now than they were in the past. There have been things for me to discover, maybe – like being able to acknowledge my own resilience – but not recover.

It feels more like I’m BUILDING something. It’s constructive. I’m in Constructory.

I’m looking back at all this pain and realizing it didn’t kill me. And if I could live through that, I can live through just about anything. I’m giving myself permission and acknowledging my ability to recognize when I need to “just hang on” for a while, and trusting myself to do it, and to get my feet back under me when there’s something to stand on again. I’m learning to reach out for help when I need it, (and figuring out who and how to ask,) and actually using that help constructively.

I’m looking back at the things that have made me feel alive – and the things that haven’t – and choosing what to keep, what to discard.

And unlike with my ankle, where I know what it’s like to walk normally, and I’m trying to get that back, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M BUILDING. It’s not something I had before, it’s something new and it’s both exciting and terrifying. For example, I was freaking out for much of the semester because I’d never felt so happy and it was great but it was also overwhelming. Like in April when I had a fantastic meeting with my advisor and he told me I was getting an A in music theory… then I sat on the stairs for an hour crying… and then I went to the library to do my homework.

I’m embracing and building upon my love of music. Composing. (and theory!)

I’m composing myself.

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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it’s never really gone

dunno… ever since I went all-in with composing things just seemed to be… fantastic. I loved what I was doing. I was getting so much love and support from the people close to me. there were a few blissful days when everything just felt right, and I was genuinely happy. like not 100% happy 100% of the time, I still felt the full range of human emotions. I still got frustrated, and doubted myself, and felt guilty about composing while other people (e.g. Fox) work soul-crushing jobs to put food on the table… but for once when people asked how I was I could honestly say that my life is good.

for once I wanted to talk about my life. and people seemed to enjoy watching my face light up when I did so.

and every day I’ve been loving my husband more and more, appreciating him more and more. (especially since he’s being so super supportive!) we went away last Friday to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary, just a night at a bed and breakfast, and it was wonderful. tbh we hadn’t been sleeping together – in either sense – for quite a long time, and we both wanted to change that. well, it seems all we really needed to do for the more entertaining interpretation of that phrase was spend some time cuddling in a comfortable bed with the intention of being close. no distractions. no technology. just our love for each other. it was amazing!

we had gaming on Sunday, which was awesome and fun [and interestingly enough involved one of the other player characters (PCs) getting married. among other things, my character coordinated with a third PC and some intelligent animals to incapacitate mercenaries who had stolen dishes and kidnapped part of the catering staff. I had a blast sneaking around, shooting arrows past the mercenaries’ ears, throwing things to mislead them regarding my location, and scaring the pants off one of them – ironically enough, while naked (to make better use of my character’s camouflage mutation). then some intelligent flying squirrels volunteered to serve food at the wedding, and somehow most people were okay with that…] gaming went on for a long time though, with kibitzing afterward, so by the time Fox convinced me to get off Discord and go to bed I was completely emotionally exhausted. like ready to cry exhausted.

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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!

[A Suitable Metaphor]

So sometimes explosions can be helpful. Things did not go well within the EP the other day, everyone was very unhappy, and I came this close to resigning (or being kicked out)… but it made me realize how important the EP is to me. So the next day I apologized and had my meeting with Wakana and told her everything. She said it’s a thing that happens to people who’ve had traumatic experiences and who’ve been enmeshed and whatnot, like I have… I’m afraid to get too close and be overwhelmed, so I push people away. I get anxious about being on the outside so I create the situation where I’m on the outside because at least that’s familiar and oddly feels safer even though it sucks. I told her all about how it’s always been rare for me to feel like part of the group (I feel more like an outsider trying to interact with the group). And I told her all about my friend asking me to be his business partner, and feeling out of the loop, and feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing more, and feeling like I couldn’t do more because of various things happening over the summer and and…

She told me if something’s important to me I need to commit to it and actually follow through, even when it means doing things I don’t want to do, even when it’s work. She helped me realize that I had dropped the ball by not telling my friend that I was feeling out of the loop and didn’t know what to do and felt like I wasn’t doing enough and felt bad about that and so on. I realized that as hurt as I felt about the whole situation, when I stepped out of my own head and looked at the bigger picture, him giving me a much smaller role in the company makes a lot of sense. I’m actually the one who gave myself that role, if I’m being completely honest. Complaining about it to the people who have been working their butts off, instead of talking to him directly, was counterproductive. Well, except that it pulled everything out into the open and provided a valuable learning opportunity.

When I called my friend he was my friend. We he asked me about my efforts to switch programs and I told him how that’s going and he told me how he’s been doing and what he wants for the company and so on. He made it clear that what happened needs to never happen again. I told him how I’ve felt this whole time and apologized. He said that if I need to talk to him about anything I can call him. Overall I didn’t really get everything I wanted from the conversation, but we’re still friends and that’s enough. And talking to him helped me feel a lot more “in” the company.

I bounced back and felt fantastic telling our new social media person she’s awesome (it’s the damn truth!). I took an article about something I wasn’t particularly interested in, learned about it, and was happy. I got to be creative figuring out how and what to write about it. I also got to finally post an article I’d done a lot of research for over the summer, which felt fantastic not just to see it up there and getting views and whatnot (so glad we waited) but there was also the satisfaction of having two things to offer the group. I want to do this work and I feel more a part of the group than before for the first time, thanks to how everyone has moved on from the explosion.

And today we got a request from someone who wants us to interview them and write an article!!! We were all squeeing because this is the kind of thing we were dreaming of a few months ago and now it’s happening!!!

… and speaking of It Happening… I finally heard back from the composition department… around the same time all this stuff was going on, that’s why I hadn’t written about it yet. The chair expressed appreciation for certain aspects of my composing, but said there are other aspects I need to work on – and I agree with his assessment wholeheartedly. He said I would make an excellent addition to the program after addressing the issues he’s concerned about, hooked me up with another faculty member to take composition lessons with, and suggested I take the theory courses so that if I reapply and am accepted I won’t have wasted any time! So instead of waiting until next semester to start I should be able to enroll in composition lessons next week… OMG IT’S HAPPENING!!! And it’s happening now!!!

I’m so excited! but also for some reason I’m kinda fixated on the fact that for the first time ever I’ll just be studying music, not in conjunction with or alongside something somehow related to behavioral science. The form, the relationships among frequencies, the interplays of rhythms and melodies, the sounds that can be made by various instruments, how to intentionally weave all of this into something… well, it depends on what you’re going for. Expressive. Magnificent. Soothing. Arousing. Inspiring. Divine… All of it, right there.

 

And Banji’s home. And my mom is awesome. And I’m getting to connect with nifty people doing stuff we enjoy. And I survived dusting my desktop for the first time in way too long. And everything just feels… balanced. Like right now there’s this perfect harmony going on, but it takes a lot of concentration to maintain and things are going to tip one way or the other, it’s not sustainable as it is, there’s a certain energy and tension and yet calmness, focus, maybe even peace. That moment of silence between the cadence and its resolution. The calm before the storm… Which I guess is oddly appropriate since it’s Mabon (either today or tomorrow), the Autumnal Equinox. Everything is in balance for this brief day and night and then we descend into the darkness and cold of winter. But there’s a certain power and strength and majesty to the darkness that I love and that I can…

okay, let’s be honest, it’s feeling more and more like Halloween. I could go into the significance of Samhain and the sabbats and so on but seriously. HALLOWEEN!!! Who doesn’t love this time of year? I need to stop writing and start figuring out my costume because damnit I’m dressing up this year and it’s gonna be awesome!!!

Exhales slowly

Potential crisis averted, I think. I had some concerns regarding the code of ethics that was posted for the entrepreneurial project (EP) this morning. But when I shared my concerns in the group chat (which is currently our official means of communication), it didn’t go over so well. I didn’t respond so well either, at first. Then someone wrote something that, to be honest, I found mocking and offensive… but I decided to focus on their last question: “why are you still here?”

I answered that I think the EP is a great idea with a ton of potential and I appreciate the creativity my friend brings to it and I’m proud of what it’s becoming – all true. I want to be a part of it – in particular, part of what we’re working toward. I have to admit, what we’re doing now appeals to me considerably less, and I want to find a role that will help us get to where I want to be, that isn’t the thing I’m not enjoying so much, you know? So I tried communicating with my friend about this, didn’t get a response, felt forced to bring it to the group chat so folks would understand what I was trying to address in my comments on the code of ethics… and yeah, explosions.

The problem I had this morning was with the HR person basically slamming me (I felt), instead of there being the mutual understanding dialogue I’d hoped for when I raised my concerns in the first place… I mean the ethical standards say let’s resolve this amicably, using terms like “collaboration” … I don’t think saying “no you’re this now do the thing you just said you don’t want to” is particularly amicable or collaborative. And then one of the board members basically said “if you don’t think you’re a fit for this company, leave.”

Excuse me? Tempting as it is to say “good bye and fuck you” I… I dunno, maybe I’m just being too stubborn for my own good, but I do want to see this endeavor succeed. I’m trying to challenge them to be less butts and I dunno, develop some people skills or something. I’d say maybe I should be the HR person but that sounds too much like emotional labor, and it’s not what my friend pulled me into this project for. The HR person was kind enough to remind me what that was, so I said “well if you need me you might want to refrain from driving me away” and wished everyone a good day.

Basically I feel like my options are 1) shut up, put my head down, and accept that this will be that soul-crushing job I’d hoped to avoid… oh, except that I’m not currently being paid 2) invest enough capital to be on the board and then I get to tell everyone else what to do mwahahahahaha!!! 3) tell them I don’t want my current position, but they can hire/contract me later as what I want to do… who knows, maybe by that time I’ll have found a better job! 4) walk away.

This is really pointing me toward “I’d much rather just dive in and be an independent content creator,” but I don’t really know what I need to do in order to make that remotely sustainable. To be honest that’s the thing I need from this company, possibly the main reason why I haven’t walked away: if I’m part of the company I benefit from my friend’s business knowledge and the sponsors he’s reaching out to and the equipment he has or plans to acquire… Though most of what I lack is stuff I could learn…

But I’m not even sure it’s something I’d want to do on any kind of regular basis… or if I can do anything on any kind of regular basis, considering my mental health and trying (failing) to be a good offspring / significant other (x3) / family-type person / friend. I think to make content creation work I’d need to be part of a team, so it’s not all on me to be whatever form of entertaining I’m going for… especially if the goal is to post every day. I mean, look at this blog. 😛

But when I think about composing… yeah, there’s gonna be stress in a profession like that, there’s stress in every profession. There will be times when I sign on to a project and things don’t go the way I’d hoped and I have to work with (or under) people I butt heads with… but they’ll be paying me, and I’ll know I’ve been hired as x, not think I’m gonna be q and find myself relegated to z without any kind of meaningful discussion and agreement. I hope. Right?

And I mean everyone needs a day off from everything, but I think composing is something I can do full time and be happy doing. I think. I hope. Though I thought writing would be and to be honest it’s not. Part time maybe. Or maybe I need something that involves a variety, some writing some composing some video-related stuff and something that’s not creative at all because as much as I love being creativity sometimes that needs a break, too.

(Yes, I wrote “being creativity” and decided to keep it because it makes sense in my brain.)

I just… I don’t know. People have told me I tend to latch on to one thing and that becomes my identity and my world and when it falls through or is over or moves or dies or whatever I fall apart. Completely. and I need to not do that. This isn’t worth risking that. Composing isn’t really, either. Nothing is.

“It’s not you, it’s not permanent, it’s not going to solve all your problems and make you happy.” So what is? Is anything? Is it possible to find a something – like a higher power – that can fill that role? Or is that just an illusion… kind of like how the ‘Self’ is the psychic embodiment of never truly being one whole coherent entity, if nothing else because there’s always the person and their concept of their Self, co-existing as two different things. (Jungian something-or-other, I’m not studying psychology anymore.) Maybe I’m just not meant to have one profession or identity or whatever; maybe I need more fluidity than is allowed by typical understandings of careers and whatnot in the U.S. I don’t know, I just have this weird urge to go make something and post it on YouTube.