life

What’s Next?

I’ve been telling my friends that I plan to quit music school soon.

To be honest, I always knew I was going to drop out. A degree was never the objective. Instead, I enrolled because I wanted to learn…or at least, that’s the press release. The real answer needs deep introspection, and introspection needs time that’s probably better spent studying for Solfeggio or practicing Czerny.

Time. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons I’m planning to leave UST: music school takes up so much time. And I knew this, my piano teacher repeats to me when I show up to her studio looking run down the nth week in a row. And I did know this. I knew that school would take up time, effort, that I would lose Saturdays and sleep and a whole host of other things.

I also know what a parametric EQ does and how it works. But I still struggle to use it on Garageband.

There’s a lot of difference between knowing and knowing. The latter, I guess, you can only gain through experience. I’ve been in UST for nearly two full school years. If I stick to my plan—and I don’t know if I will—then I won’t last a third. I haven’t made up my mind to quit, but I’m nearly there. The only thing holding me back from definitively making that decision is that I am just as uncertain about why I should leave as I am about why I started in the first place.

I know why I should go. I should go because I keep turning down gigs for this. I should go because I don’t get to sleep much. I should go because there are ministry opportunities that I miss out on because I’m in school on Saturdays (and what nobler thing is there to leave the conservatory for than church?). I should go because, ironically, music is taking time away from music.

But is it really?

Someone asked me—I forget who; maybe it was a lot of someones—what I planned to do after I quit UST. I think the exact phrasing was, “What’s next?” At first, I found the question odd, but then I realise that I have always had something going on. I can’t remember the last time I had Saturdays free; probably back in university, but even then I’m convinced I was probably doing something. For an introvert homebody, I don’t like staying home: I always need to be doing. And, for at least six years and maybe more, that doing has had to do with music.

Back to the question of why I enrolled in music school to begin with. The easiest answer would be that I simply traded ST for UST. The band broke up the year I got in, and school conveniently took up all the hours I would spend rehearsing in Marikina, week after week. If I’m less kind to myself, maybe I’ll even admit that getting into the conservatory was me trying to prove a point: I got in on the strength of two songs I wrote and produced all on my own, no bandmates or audio engineers or “hitmakers.” In that last, horrible year, I remember constantly feeling like I had to prove I was worth the band staying together.

My ahia would say this sounds about right, but they don’t to me. I know they’re correct, somewhere, but like I said before there’s a difference between knowing and knowing. I know what I know isn’t quite it.
I plan to at least finish my four freshman AppMaj requirements (Solo, Duo, Trio, Quartet) and my piano minor before I go. If I go. When I go. To be honest, even now, with Saturday in just a few hours and my dread of it growing, I’m still not 100% sure if I should leave or if I should stay. My old university professor—also a musician, also a current music student—shared a post that went, “When you feel like stopping, think about why you started.”

But what if I don’t remember why I started? Or else, what if there’s nothing to remember? What if I never really had a reason, a real reason; I did this because it was a convenient “next,” because it felt like the logical thing to do, considering my “dreams.” I don’t even know what my dreams are anymore, but that’s something for another time. Or maybe it isn’t, because that’s why I’m writing this to begin with. Because I feel like I’ve lost my way, and now I don’t know where to go or what to do or why I’m even here.

Maybe the harshest truth is this: I knew what I was getting into, what I was going to give up. What I didn’t know then, that I might know now, is that maybe I wasn’t so willing to count that cost. The “self-care” and “self-love” posts on Facebook say that it’s okay to take time out for “mental health,” and I think they’re right, but when is it self-care and when is it just laziness? When is it me being soft on myself?

When do I face myself, look in the mirror and admit that maybe I just don’t have it in me?

I don’t know. All I know is that there are open mics I want to play, dance classes I want to join, ministry opportunities I want to take, and goals I still keep in view, even as I wonder if I’m ever going to hustle hard enough to reach them. There is a Google Keep account with an album’s worth of songs, and a constantly moving target for when I want to release them. There is a sound I keep chasing that I don’t ever know if I’ll be good enough to make.

There’s a weight in my chest I can’t shake, that keeps me awake even after my homework is done.

There’s a wish, faint but if I’m honest getting stronger by the day, to close my eyes and maybe never open them again.

There’s a difference between knowing and knowing. Perhaps that’s why I stay. Because for all of these things I know, I don’t know the answer what’s next.

And I don’t know if I ever will.

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1 Timothy 4:12: scattered thoughts on being young and setting an example.

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this verse lately.

When I was younger, I read it as a vindication, something I could use to beat old people on the head with (not literally, of course) when they patronized me for being young and ignorant. The NIV translation is even more effective for this sort of thing; it reads: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young…” and that “Don’t let” feels forceful, powerful, defiant in the hands of an angry teenager who thinks that grown-ups just don’t understand.

I’m twenty-five now, and while in some ways, I’m still that angry teenager–I think they call it “moody artist” now that I’m closer to thirty than my teenage years–I’d like to think I have a better grasp of what that verse is supposed to mean, one that’s made me less likely to use it as an immediate and violent comeback, and more as a call to–forgive my choice in words–play the long game.

At a meeting I was in last week, someone said something that stuck with me. They said, and I paraphrase: “If you aren’t married, with children, in debt, and struggling to keep a business afloat, you have no right to complain.

The angry teenager in me couldn’t help herself: I retorted with, “Try living with a mental illness.” This sparked a mini-argument where I, the lone twenty-something notorious for being emotionally unstable, was pitted against a table full of “adults” who were, by most standards, further along in life and life experience than I was. Most of them chose not to engage with either me or the original speaker, but enough was said that I left the meeting angry.

That I am, to be honest, still fighting that anger, even now.

In the initial rush of “righteous indignation” after that exchange, 1 Timothy 4:12 popped into my head, and I was tempted to wield the initial half of it as a weapon against that old enemy: grown-ups who just don’t understand. But before I could march over to the person and “rebuke” them, I suddenly remembered the second half: “…but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

Timothy was a young leader in charge of shepherding a multi-generational church in a culture that placed the old above the young in status. In this situation, Paul does not ask Timothy to use his calling or his position to exert his authority. Instead, he asks Timothy to set an example.

A friend and I had a conversation recently about the things he didn’t like in the music industry, one that boiled down to me encouraging him to make the change by being everything he felt the indie scene should be. We see posts about this on the internet all the time–be the change you wish to see in the world, and all that–but lately it’s hit home that the best way to fight things you don’t like is not to rant or shout them down: it’s to just be different.

I don’t often feel like a good example of what is like to be a Christian or a leader. Actually, scratch that: I never feel like a good example of either of those things. I will be the first to admit that I can be impulsive, stubborn, arrogant, and self-righteous: things that lately I’m becoming more aware of. Heck, I know that my initial violent reaction was, for all of my good intentions, colored with self-righteousness. And yet the charge is clear: to ensure that no one “despises me for my youth,” I need to overcome all these things and set that example in speech (good luck), in conduct (for real?!), in love (oh boy), in faith (you’re kidding, right?), and in purity (does a ring count?).

Funny, though, that this realization feels less like a rebuke and more like an encouragement. I know what I am, and what I’m not, but lately that knowledge has stung less. When God points out my self-righteousness, my anger, or my pride, I don’t feel like he’s condemning me at all. Instead, it’s like dance class, when the teacher tells me my back isn’t straight yet or I need to watch my turns: an implicit acknowledgment that we will get there, together, eventually.

I got angry at what that person said in my meeting last week, because it felt like someone was invalidating my struggles, telling me my problems were not “real” in comparison to more grown-up concerns like taking care of kids or working on one’s marriage. But looking back, how many times have I invalidated someone else’s problems because they weren’t to the scale of my own? How often have I worn my own issues–child of a broken family, bullied throughout grade-school and highschool, rejected by relatives and peers alike, struggling with mental unwellness–as badges of honor, as marks of experience that somehow make my opinions and perspectives and issues “more valid?”

I’m still sorting out my anger. That’s probably why I wrote this, to be honest: because I don’t think it’s right to say that if you’re not married, with kids, in debt, and running a business then you have no right to have your problems be seen as real problems. But I will be the first to say my way of handling the issue–picking a fight in front of a bunch of other people, turning it into me vs. the grown-ups who don’t understand–did not help things. I recently finished reading Wikichurch by Pastor Steve Murrell, and in it he emphasizes how generations need to labor together, but it’s hard to when one side is saying, “You’re inexperienced, ignorant, whiny babies who have had everything handed to you because of our hard work,” while the other is all, “You’re obsolete dinosaurs who ruined everything, and now we have to fix it.”

Picking fights won’t help. Beating people on the head with the first half of 1 Timothy 4:12 won’t help. Instead, the calling is to be better, even when the truth is you are an inexperienced, ignorant twenty-five year old with a truckload of issues and bitterness and character flaws.

But hey, as Paul says in another letter, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Here’s to, hopefully, learning to set better examples.

 

I wrote this a year ago. Still true.

I wish I could tell you there was an end to this.

I wish I could tell you this was a phase, a rainy season;
after, that there would be a long, mild summer: all sun
and no burning.

I wish I could tell you that sadness
could break like a fever, and after you are better.
You are stronger. You bounce back.

You are stronger, maybe, but you do not bounce back.

At least, not the way you used to.

I wish I did not have to tell you
that the world would grind you down.
That it would tell you to stand up for yourself, but each time
you dared fight, it would sucker-punch your gut,
send you crumpling to the floor, leave you
breathless, grasping your middle, gasping for air,
waiting for the next blow.

I wish you didn’t have to know
what all those blows feel like.

But you do,
and so I say to you
the one thing I still know is true:
life is terminal, but it is survivable.
You learn to live on a little less oxygen,
take the punches as you are dealt them–

even, eventually, shake off the bruises.

It will take getting used to, but the good news is
a body can get used to anything.

Even bruises, darling,
even sadness.
So pull your punches.
It’s only pain.

Fin.