(Time for another visit with my friend Jack …)
William: Hey, Jack, good to see you again!
Jack: Always a pleasure, my friend!
William: The news about the economy lately is sure amazing. It’s an astonishing and sad thing to behold.
Jack: Yes, there’s a lot of misery out there. How are you doing?
William: I’m doing fine. But I’ve been where a lot of those folks are right now.
Jack: Really? Do tell…
William: Well, in the 1990′s I got sucked into the computer-tech craze. I was a “contract programmer”—basically a “temp” doing 6-9 month contracts for various companies in the Seattle area. There was amazing money to be made doing that. By the end of the 90′s, however, I knew the whole tech-bubble would crash—far too many start-ups with absolutely no idea how they would actually make money someday. In Seattle there were only a few big firms that weren’t software companies—Boeing was one of them, so I got myself a contract there to “weather the storm”. And the tech-world did indeed crash in 2000–but I was OK at Boeing. Then one Tuesday morning, 9/11/2001, all of us there at Boeing watched those planes fly into the Twin Towers. I was watching this, standing next to the folks who had personally designed and built those planes. It utterly defied comprehension.
Jack: As I recall, the whole air-travel industry pretty much augured into the ground after that.
William: It sure did. So Boeing had to lay off all its contractors and lots of their full-time employees. They kept me around longer than most, but eventually it was my turn to go.
Jack: And you couldn’t find another job?
William: No. And I had a good resumé. Just a year prior I could hit “send” on my resumé and my phone would start ringing within an hour. At this point, however, the software field was truly on life support, and there were just no positions. “We wish we had something for you, but we just don’t.”
Jack: So what happened?
William: I tried everything I could think of, but it wasn’t enough. I ultimately lost my house and went bankrupt. Music, which had been part-time income all along, was now my sole source, so the judge let me keep my glass armonica, other music equipment, my 10-year-old truck and basic personal stuff. After the final bankruptcy hearing I went out to my truck and wept. I was just stumped, and beaten.
Jack: That is tough, my friend.
William: Yes—those were dark days…
Jack: So, what did you do next?
William: Well, the “good” part about being reduced to zero is that you have complete freedom on how you rebuild your life. I decided that if I was going to be broke, I’d rather be broke doing something I really believed in instead of doing something just “for the money”—especially when the money was gone! Computers had been easy money, and I had succumbed to that siren song—and crashed on the rocks—just like Homer warned us. Mind you, I’ve known folks who really love programming itself—they eat and breathe it. But I wasn’t one of them.
Jack: Apparently you settled on music.
Jack: So you say you’re doing music because “you believe in it”.
Jack: And not because “it’s fun” or for “fame and fortune”?
William: Well, I won’t deny that when you’re doing what is fundamentally your path, it is also fun—just as my colleagues who really love computer programming were constantly lost in an amazing zen state when they were coding difficult algorithms.
Jack: And what about “fame and fortune”? (Grin!)
William: (Laughs.) I don’t know about that! The thing is, however, that although few musicians are wealthy, it’s still eminently possible to make a reasonable living at it—as long as you approach your craft like a professional.
Jack: You still haven’t explained “you believe in it…”
William: Right. Well, my 2001 crash-and-burn wasn’t my first trip to the “dark side of life”–as a teenager my youngest brother committed suicide and my whole family imploded after that. People would try to tell us things like “it must have been God’s will” or “you just need to get over it” or all sorts of horrible things. The fact is, I don’t think there are any words that can help when you’re in the midst of an agony like that. All that helped me was music. I found myself powerfully attracted to the music of composers who had gone through their own agony—Beethoven is a good example, especially the music he wrote after he went deaf—and their music was able to reach out across the centuries and say something to me like: “I really know what you’re feeling, but you’ll get through this.” Not that they consciously thought that when they wrote their music. But that was the end result.
Jack: And now you want to do the same?
William: Yes, I suppose so. One of the results of trips to “the dark side of Life” is that you become sensitized to it, and all of a sudden you can see that the world is full of “walking wounded”. I don’t know or care if my story is “harder” or “easier” than someone else’s–it’s certainly not a contest! But music helped me feel better, it helped me survive, and to remember the feeling of Hope. When you’re in the middle of hell, it can be hard to even remember what Hope feels like. Telling someone who’s there that they’ll be OK is pretty useless—a hug communicates so much more, and a “musical hug” communicates more still.
Jack: Looks like you brought some music…
William: I just finished a new piano piece: “A Leaf in the Wind”. Just a “meditation” on how I’m probably more like a leaf in the wind than I really care to admit to myself–carried along by forces much greater than I. Thought you might like to hear it!
Jack: Bring it on!!
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