The Day I Stopped Being a Songwriter (For 16 Hours Straight)
By Jennifer Haase - 05/02/2010 - 11:08 AM EDT
There’s at least one day out of every month when I give up on something. I happen to be a planner, a seeker, and a faith-filled big thinker; but when my little boat gets beached I can sure sink into profound hopelessness that I think, at the time, I’ll never come out of.
On the day I stopped being a songwriter, I woke well before dawn knowing I was done. I had a sudden hard smack epiphany that the songwriter in me was getting in the way of all things grounded and real. I woke knowing the album I’d been working on (well, off and on) for over two years had become a wasteful drain of my fragile financial and emotional reserves. I woke thinking my busy record producer was ignoring me. I woke convinced that my prospects were too slim and my waistline too wide to make a satisfying impact in this damned industry anyway, so forget it! Not another minute of this pointless pursuit would I blindly endure. Here, finally, was my reality check. I would instantly take heed.
I pushed heavily out of bed, but with new purpose and resolve. I tearfully fired off a lengthy “Goodbye & Good Luck” email to my producer, but felt stronger in the honesty and finality of it. No, don’t try to talk me out of this, I said, because I don’t want to want this anymore. No, don’t call, I won’t pick up. In fact, I don’t want to talk to anyone who might have anything to say to contradict the leap of non-faith back toward calm and contentment I had just made. No more delusion or denial. No more responsibility to me and to you and some fantastic milieu. Because, starting now, I’m not a songwriter anymore.
For a handful of hours, I basked in my newfound normalcy. I scrubbed cabinets and mopped floors. I worked on a Day Job project. Sales figures and data entry were numbing, but sensible. Folding warm towels was blissfully benign. Positive there was great joy to be had exclusively from daily function, I vowed to spend the rest of my marvelously mundane life trying to find it.
I checked my email. My record producer had responded, but it took me a few minutes to conjure up the courage to open it. I braced myself for the “What are you talking about??!!” reply. For the resistance, the shock, the rage from our investment abandoned without the courtesy of discussion. No matter what, I would not let his reaction change my decision. I would stay firm, but be compassionate. Maybe this would hit him harder than it did me.
I opened his email. He had written one tiny, lowercase word.
“ok.” he said.
No signature. No stammering or stomping about. No ego stroking, soap-boxing or “there, there” attempts to soothe.
I shot out of my chair and did enough stomping around for both of us. “Damn right, OK!” I shouted. I muttered obscenities. I upped my carb intake. I had a heated one-sided argument with my innocent 6-string Alvarez.
“Do you…” I barked into the sound hole “…know a single person who makes a comfy living as an independent singer/songwriter? Do you buy cheap toilet paper, go without haircuts and dodge creditor calls to pay for studio time and disc manufacturing when nobody’s even buying albums anymore? Are you strong enough to be a 40-plus female who has barely just begun in a business that would sooner rip her apart than find her a soft place to land?”
My Alvarez stared blankly back. I pointed an accusing finger toward the fret board and turned on my heel. I am right about this, I thought while snapping sheets across the mattress and slapping rugs against the house.
This was so much more than “ok,” this was full-on empowerment! All hail the reasonable analysis of ridiculous whims!
The thing about a day that often really bugs me is that it eventually turns into night again. And the thing about night that often really bugs me is that it can really kick my ass.
Maybe this is why the minutes that started closing in after sundown found me pitched across the sofa fighting off a panic attack. I was struggling with a strong sensation which I hadn’t the foresight to expect. How I wanted to deal with this day, how I wanted to make sense of this decision, how I wanted to talk back to my producer in some intelligently wise-crack way…
…was to write a song about it.
Well, for cryin’ out loud. Turns out my system was long ago hard-wired to lyric and sound and one song-less afternoon sure wasn’t gonna change it. Whether for price or for pleasure, songs are how I process and purge. Just as quickly as I’d decided to cut the chord (pun intended) 16 hours ago, I realized I could no sooner lead a life without penning a tune than I could survive one more day of faking data entry desire. My empowerment was replaced by emptiness.
Not be a songwriter? How could that ever be “ok?”
What now seems like a comically-similar night to what Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge experienced, I kept envisioning flashes of my past, present and future without the craft of song. I sent whiny and apologetic text messages to my record producer, which he did not answer. I admonished my fickle frailty and sunk into a deeper loneliness than I could remember experiencing in a good, long while. And so, I crept quietly back to bed again, where I tucked myself into a tight little ball of guilt and grief and fought unsuccessfully for sleep.
Sans my songwriter side, I would be nowhere near ok and my quietly wise producer already knew this as I tossed and turned and wrestled it out.
The thing I love about night is that it eventually turns back into morning again. The thing I love about morning is that it eventually leads to mid-afternoon, which is around the time that my producer typically gropes his groggy way toward his coffee maker and just might pick up the phone.
But before I connected with Mr. “ok” to grovel and explain, I had a reawakening celebration that might have made Dickens himself quite proud. I threw open the window and breathed in the sweet mountain air as I checked if all my songwriter vitals were still in tact. Was I still angst-filled and egocentric? YES! Did I still crave applause for putting melody to angry rants and partly-true memories? YES! Would I still rather write everything down and sing it to hoards of strangers than have a one-on-one face-to-face conversation? YES, YES, YES! I twirled like a little girl and flung myself again across the sofa, this time with the lightness of relief.
“It’s gonna be OK!” I shouted into the empty (but very clean) house that held me, where new songs were sure to soon appear even if I had to tear this place up again to find them.
I sent my producer a new text message, asking him to please call. When he did, I said I’m sorry. I take it back. I want to be a songwriter again.
What was his immediate reply?
Take one tiny, lowercase guess.
(SPECIAL THANKS to Mike "ok" Leslie, record producer for my forthcoming album "No More Invitations", for his infuriating, perfectly-timed lowercase responses that helped ensure my identity as a songwriter for yet another day.)
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