I'm sitting in my car, a prisoner on Interstate 40 as traffic is re-routed around an overturned 18-wheeler.
Generally, when I get stuck in this kind of a traffic jam, I take the optimistic attitude: at least I wasn't in the wreck that's holding us all up. It always feels strange to take the optimistic attitude, as I'm naturally more of a pessimist.
"Good thing I didn't leave work ten minutes earlier," I think to myself, but the optimism isn't working. I just slimp in my seat and wince as my temples pulse. I've had a headache for hours and this situation isn't helping things at all. I feel a sharp pain as I accidentally grind my teeth into the inside of my lower lip. After growling the "F" word, or the "S" word, or maybe both, I sigh in frustration. My jaw is already in chronic pain from nightly teeth-grinding; now my lip, tasting of blood, is going to be swollen for several days. I grip the steering wheel, shut my eyes tightly for a second, and let out a kind of audible, moanish sigh. I want to cry, but my contact lenses already feel like sandpaper in my eyes, and, and salty tears will only make things worse.
I listen patiently to the self-righteous drone of talk radio while waiting for the traffic report. It doesn't come. I finally switch on the CD that I've been listening to: The Teaching Company's "Beethoven: His Life and Music," part of their "Great Masters" series presented by Professor Robert Greenberg.
So Prof. Greenberg is talking about Beethoven. Talking about all of the pianists in Vienna in the early 19th century. Telling of how Beethoven outplayed everyone and bamboozled Joseph Haydn. I already know all of these stories, but I listen anyway. It doesn't hurt to hear them again.
But then I begin playing that most dangerous of psychological games: comparing myself to a "great master." Beethoven was born in 1770. By 1805, he had already written immortal masterpieces. I was born in 1970. By 2005, I ... um. I'd taken up residence in a cubicle. By 2005, I'd learned to dress in chocolate-point siamese-cat colors and not mind it. By 2005, I was trying to find ways to squeeze in my long-abandoned musical pursuits ... lunch hours at work, a few minutes before work, or the leftover tired hours after work, before bed.
I started playing piano when I was three. Would come home from church on Sundays and sound out the melodies to whatever hymns were sung that morning. I learned to read music, learned to play and memorize and sight-read at an early age. I had, almost from the moment I started picking out hymns, felt the longing to write music. Since then, I've written quite a bit of it, despite my limited knowledge and lifelong lack of self-confidence. Now, I'm fitting my music theory studies into the hard-to-find cracks between work, and home, and the commute, and piano, and writing, and everything else.
Why didn't I pursue this dream more ardently before becoming a stressed out, lip-chewing daily prisoner of office cubicles and interstate traffic jams? I don't remember picking Door #1, Cubicle Dweller, over Door #2, Musician.
When did I become so crazy about the safe life?
I know my life is good. I haven't been hit by a tsunami and I'm not a prisoner of war in the Middle East. I'm thankful for that. I'm thankful that I wasn't smushed by the overturned 18-wheeler on the interestate. Heck, there's even something to be said for not being a starving artist! But ...
I know I'm just depressed. I get like this, sometimes for months on end. And often I just look back and wonder how I ever managed to get here. To this place in my life. Because this wasn't part of the plan.
Anyone seen the plan lying around? If you see it, let me know, OK? I need to find my way out of here.
Meanwhile I'm waiting for the traffic jam to thin out so I can at least start moving again.