music school

Bizarre Love Triangle, or, a tale of two passions.

Self-portrait of a quarantine-life crisis.

On the left, a planner bristling with to-do lists, and a journal that’s more webinar notes and corporate data than intimate thoughts and creative writing.

On the right, a guitar I’ve owned for seven years but play with the skill of someone who’s been learning for maybe seven months?

When I joined the company I currently work for, our then-COO (he has a new position now) told me that the job would require I give my soul. I brushed that off. I figured I could navigate work/life balance like I always had; agency life had not been able to totally kill my personal life, and the ahensya world is notorious for being creative capitalism at its most toxic.

So I figured, heck, I’d manage.

I started music school the same day I started working for my current job. As in, I skipped out half my first work day to pass my enrollment papers. This set a precedent; I would leave work in the middle of the day, usually once but sometimes twice a week, to go to school and study my passion.

I’ve done this for about three years now. Recently, I’ve made the decision to withdraw from the Conservatory, most likely after the next semester. Maybe.

(But more on that later.)

One thing I’ve learned from the past three years is that you can have more than one passion. In my case, I have at least two.

Another thing I’ve learned from the past three years is that you can be burned out by your passion. In my case, both passions. At the same time. And yet still not want to let go of them both.

In the left corner: a career exploring the applications of psychology to marketing. The opportunity to help chart a new, more conscious, more conscience-driven form of capitalism…for at least one company. A company that actually does help people, and not just in the press release sort of way.

A place where I am growing. And a place that, at least for the next few months, will demand more.

In the right corner: the one passion I carry with me from childhood, and the thing that has carried me through twenty-seven years of ups and downs and breakdowns. Arguably, my most formative, definitive ability: I would try to sing, and sing onstage, before I could even form full sentences. Origin of my only surviving college nickname (Songbird). Biggest cumulative adult expense. If there was anything–aside from my faith–that makes me, me, this is probably it.

A field where, truth be told, I’ve stagnated. An area that does not ask, so it is so easily put on hold, but that needs more than I can (or should I say, will?Want to?) currently give.

If this were a romcom love triangle, the choice would be between the high-powered city boy with a steady job and clear direction and a bright-and-shiny future, and the childhood sweetheart, whimsical and manic-pixie dream, with only the vaguest prospects but who is all the best parts of your shared home.

There are romcoms that choose the former. There are romcoms that choose the latter.

I hate romcoms.

Post-COVID, my company will need my focus more than ever. Not because I’m a critical member of the organization–truth be told, I feel superfluous most of the time, barely pulling my own weight–but because, at least for the rest of 2020, it’ll be all hands on deck. We are steering a ship with 200+ families on board. We cannot afford to let it sink.

The thing about crises is they are exhausting.

The thing about crises is they are exciting.

I tried keeping up a steady, work-music balance the first few weeks of quarantine, but soon enough, I got sucked into the whirlwind of work and working to stay sane.

And this hasn’t been the first time, because this hasn’t been the first crisis I’ve weathered with my chosen (paying) career. The brain candy that brand development/corporate strategy/consumer psychology promises is addicting, and even more so when you raise the stakes, make it feel so close to life-and-death.

The adrenalin rush feels like I’m getting somewhere, which is more than I can say about my music. Sure, for the first three years of my working life I also had a steady musical “career” of sorts. I had a band. We rehearsed every weekend and picked up gigs now and then. We recorded an EP. We launched said EP. We battled in a couple of battles of the bands.

It wasn’t much but it was something, and that something was getting somewhere…until it wasn’t. But by that time, I was working on my solo EP, which distracted me long enough that I almost didn’t notice the band fall apart.


With that shut door, all my plans–the ones I’d leaned on to propel me forward–were tossed up in the air. I did not have a map. And so, not knowing where to go…I generally just stopped.

Sure, there was the occasional open mic. Bolt from the blue of inspiration. Even, relatively recently, blissful months of frantic creativity, of studio (instead of nationwide) lockdowns and MIDI controllers and Spotify playlisted singles.

But after the hype inevitably died down…what comes next? Nothing. Nothing consistent, except for the creative block and the artistic frustration and the broken relationships and the toll on the mental health from the conservatory education I many times question signing up for.

And most of all, the voice. No, not my singing voice. That voice. The one in my head always screaming “You’re not giving enough for this.”

“You’re not good enough for this.”

And meanwhile, my (responsible, practical, paying) career with definite directions and clear potential for getting somewhere and the whisper of, “Maybe you could be good at this.”

The same career that also constantly questions who I really am. Finds its way into my personal space even as I try to draw lines. Turns work/life balance into work/life blend. Requires me to forgo my self for the persona of the girl in the Facebook and Instagram lives.

(My identity, of late, feels consumed by that girl in the Facebook and Instagram lives.)

(It really does feel, at times, like I’ve had to give more than a little bit of my soul.)

And so I have two passions. The one I’ve always had and the one I’ve been discovering. And I love both in equal measure. And I hate both in equal measure.

And honey, this love triangle has me burned out.

There have been third options, here and there. Dalliances with other bright and shiny things that are no-pressure and help fill the days. First, KPop. Then, dance. Then, curated Instagram. Then, vintage fashion.

Lately, weirdly, it’s been a return to this other childhood sweetheart I’d loved and lost and am slowly rediscovering: writing in this blog.

But, in the end, these third options are merely distractions. Things I dive into so I can avoid looking one lover or the other in the face. Things to drown out the ever-increasing anxiety that one day, very soon, I will have to choose

…and I won’t know which one.

My professors are messaging about online classes and requirements that I’ve neglected. There’s a spreadsheet for presentation on Monday that I still haven’t completed.

Right now, I could practice piano. Or I could fill out that strat plan.

Instead, I am going to go to sleep. I’m tired. I’m worn out.

I am a lazy lover, and love triangles are definitely overrated.

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.