When I was a teenager, I had a livejournal. (And no, I’m not going to tell you the username.) Today, I’m still doing the same thing: writing about my life online. But the content has changed. My sense of what’s appropriate to share has changed. And holy hell, I’ve changed. You want evidence that I’ve changed? Get this. On my old livejournal, in the ‘about me’ section, I wrote: I love uncertainty.
I know. A totally teenager thing to say. What the hell was I talking about? It’s easy to say you love uncertainty when your parents are providing you with three meals a day, a place to sleep, and free transportation — not to mention love and stability. But still, there it was: I loved uncertainty.
Fast forward ten years and I’m not so wild about uncertainty anymore. Uncertainty means an unpredictable commute. Uncertainty means not being able to pay my phone bill. Uncertainty means seeing my close collaborator suddenly sidelined by injury. Uncertainty means that my student might quit. And it means that all of my friends and loved ones are mortal.
You see my problem? My mother’s death has made everything seem TOO uncertain, and so my instinct is to put down anchors, to hold fast to something stable, to cocoon myself in routine and order.
But there’s another, parallel desire emerging: the desire to be surprised, to keep discovering. I want to keep having conversations with my friends, learning all the things I didn’t know about them. I want to keep meeting interesting artists, to keep picking their brains and taking inspiration from their work and their lives.
Uncertainty boils down to vulnerability. And frankly, vulnerability is what keeps me from feeling like I’m getting old.
One of my most artistically satisfying nights in Chicago happened last spring, when Nick and I played a set of original songs at a friend’s art show. I hardly knew anyone there. Our music is personal, my lyrics are personal, and the act of singing those lyrics publicly is very personal. I might as well have been standing there naked. And it was one of the most exhilirating performances I gave all year. Was it a good performance? I’m not even sure. I enjoyed doing it so much, it doesn’t really matter to me if it was any good. (For a classical musician, not caring if something was good is kind of a big deal.)
Being a classical musician is funny because at a certain point in your career, there’s a pretension of expertise. Hell, it’s not a pretension, it’s a fact: we’ve been studying this art form since we were children, and now damn it, we’re experts. We’re not vulnerable, because we know exactly what we’re doing. Or we’re not vulnerable because we are playing the great masters, and if you don’t like it, that’s YOUR problem.
And the truth is, being an expert is not really what excites me. Don’t get me wrong — sometimes it’s nice — but it’s not the chair I’m most comfortable sitting in. I’d rather be on the edge of my seat at a concert, wondering what the hell sound I’m going to hear next. There’s something about who I was when I was a kid that I’d like to get back.