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Fear of music



I had to write this to get it out of my system, so it's more than a little bit self-indulgent.

That said, I've always believed in writing as therapy.


For the past couple of years I’ve been taking a one-credit music course, Rock & Blues Ensemble, at the university where I teach. It’s what you might think: a group of 10-12 musicians—students, faculty and staff—who study the history of the blues and then, for our “final exam,” play a set of 10 blues songs in a local tavern, with the players rotating in and out of the lineup depending on the tune. The instructor is a talented blues guitarist; I take bass lessons from him.

I left last night’s class/rehearsal as quickly as I could. If it had been possible, I would have tunneled a hole in the wall and crawled out before the night ended. I missed the opening week’s class, so last night was the first one I attended. About half an hour in, the vibe was bad.

This semester we’ve been joined by a third bassist. She and my youngest sister were fast friends in high school, so I know her pretty well. She’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. We both grew up in our city’s West End, so we’re well acquainted.

She’s only been playing about a year and is already accomplished enough that she plays in a new band the instructor got together. He has serious chops, so she obviously does too. On the other hand, I’ve been playing for three years now and have no chops whatsoever.

We’ve also been joined this semester by a well-known local guitar player who may be every bit as good as the instructor. I’ve met this guy—in fact, I once had breakfast with him and one of my graduate English professors—and it made for an enjoyable and interesting get-together. But as a musician and as a person, he intimidates the hell out of me—but not through anything he does or says, I should point out.

The upshot is that I had two more reminders that I was the least-talented player in the room.

I also was reminded of the fact that I don’t know my way around the fretboard. When the instructor said to open a song with a B-flat or whatever, I had no idea what to do. I don’t read music; I read tablature, which is a visual depiction of what to do: put your index finger on the first string behind the third fret, then put this finger in this spot and this third finger in yet another spot. Should I have taken the time before to be able to find notes without having to be shown them? Of course. But I haven’t, so last night, when we were rehearsing a song that was new to me, I couldn’t play. Fortunately, I sit way back in the corner, where I had pushed myself into a defensive posture behind everybody else so no one could see me not playing.

I rarely feel that I’m the least-talented or least-qualified person in the room, but when I’m in situations where I know I don’t measure up, situations where I feel inferior to the people around me, my instinct is to leave as quickly as I can. Until last night, this hadn’t happened for a few years, largely because my therapist has got my brain meds dialed in pretty well.

It did last night, though, and when it does, my bipolar disorder sends me plummeting into the pit so quickly that the sensation is almost physical. As I drove home, I realized my mind was racing and I had a death grip on the steering wheel. I came home, took my night meds and immediately went to bed—but not before bingeing on black licorice—comfort food—which is about the last thing a diabetic should do.

A good night’s sleep left me better but still a little unsettled. I was able to get absorbed in my academic work for most of today, but there’s a lingering feeling of not being good enough. Self-doubt flows through my veins just like blood. I’m usually able to manage it, but when I can’t, a quote from my blog sidebar immediately comes to mind. It’s by Trent Reznor, best known for his work with the band Nine Inch Nails:

“Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.”

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Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“I hate to say this, but not many people care what you do. They care about what you do as much as you care about what they do. Think about it. Just exactly that much. You are not the center of the universe.” — Laurie Anderson

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”

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