I’m back from dates in Seattle and Tacoma where I had the distinct pleasure of sharing the bill with Roy Zimmerman, Ann Randolph and Jay Leonhardt. These are three wonderful artists who write and perform their own material and offer a fresh look at life through their stories and songs. I’ve written a blog about these guys before so I won’t go into details – just read Dropping Keys if you haven’t already.
Whenever I go through a chunk of time when I’m performing a lot and not squeezing it in between teaching I am reminded of how happy it makes me to be on stage. I wrote all day, performed at night and occasionally went out afterwards for drinks with these fascinating individuals.
I love my students. God I love my students. Okay not ALL of my students but most. They make me laugh, they challenge me, they make me think of what I need to work on in my life. If I were to walk away completely from my job, I would really miss them.
I want to miss them. I want to spend my mornings writing, walking, stretching, and my evenings performing. Anyone else out there dealing with this? I know my ex is. He was telling me about a conversation with his Dad – a man I deeply love who is slowly slipping away due to Alzheimer’s AND Parkinson’s. A double-whammy. Anyhow, they were discussing dreams deferred. My ex’s Dad was a wonderful writer but he hid in the university and never fully threw himself into his writing. It’s only now, thanks to the diseases that he is candid enough to admit his deep regrets over this. They discussed the Robert Frost poem Two Tramps in Mud Time – in particular this stanza:
But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight
.Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.
I guess that’s what I’m wanting – to unite my vocation and my avocation. I know most people would say I already do that – I teach eager young ( and not so young) people performance skills. Why is that not enough? And why do I get sick every time I get close to a career breakthrough that will allow me to perform and step back from teaching?
During the performances I mentioned earlier in this blog, Jay Leonhardt sang a song about Robert Frost. It’s a funny yet oddly moving song that addresses the plight of so many wonderful artists I know.
Robert Frost did write of settings beautiful and rustic
He wrote of rolling hills and green terrain
Poor me I must do my writing in the chaos of the city
Sometimes even on a subway train
How am I to ever learn about the woodlands
And the falling leaves of autumn and such things sublime
When I must spend all my life just truckin’ round this dirty city
Doing what I can to make a dime, dime dime
The song goes on to humorously ponder whether or not Frost had an attractive and rich lady sponsor who took care of all the day-to-day minutia so he could spend all his time being….well…Robert Frost. The song has a beautiful twist at the end:
Boy if I had Bobby’s life I could be a hero
Go out and find my fortune and my fame
The only trouble is I’ve heard from people who have found it
That everything in life stays just the same, same same
Jay is such an authentic human being that the last lines don’t surprise me at all. He’s a husband, a father and a superb musician but he hasn’t ( it would appear from my vantage point) sacrificed his family or sense of self for career. Also from my vantage point he is wildly successful but not, I guess, compared to Robert Frost.
The Greeks wrote these cautionary tales in which parents sacrifice children for career or love/lust. Medea kills her children to revenge herself after Jason jilts her and Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to insure good winds for his journey to war. Abraham is ready to kill Isaac for his religious beliefs (he was probably hearing voices and this was before anti-psychotic drugs) and we see countless stories of people divorcing over career disparities. How many times has A Star is Born been remade?
Is the desire to unite vocation and avocation nothing more than a deceptive temptation? Are we meant to have these polarities pulling at us – a sort of spiritual isometrics? What is my body telling me when I get sick after /during creative triumphs? I want to listen to the wisdom of my heart but my head is so loud and obnoxious it’s hard to hear anything else.
I’m reaching out into the blogisphere to ask the artists out there – how do you deal with the competing demands of doing the work you love and making a buck? What sustains you through the dark moments? What does your dream life look like? Are you living it?
To the potential patrons out there – if you adopt me I’ll create your money’s worth and then some!