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“is what i’m doing worth my time, and how will i know?”

April 18, 2015

“Is what I’m doing worth my time, and how will I know?” These are two of life’s big questions. Sometimes finding the answers seems practically impossible, and can take a really long time. For example.. I tried for over two decades to learn how to play guitar. I still can’t get through a whole song. It took me a very VERY long time to convince myself I should not have been trying to play guitar.

Now that I am trying new things, and thinking about trying new things, this question keeps coming up in my mind again. I’m over 40. I have far less time on this earth than I used to. I already wasted countless hours on something I still cannot do well at all (and I still have to fight the urge to keep trying). I don’t want to waste a lot more time. This is beyond frustrating. It can become so maddening that sometimes I don’t want to work on anything.

Nothing feels right.

I need something that can feed my heart. I also need to find a way to make money, if possible. Maybe I can do one thing to make money.. something I can at least tolerate, and do another to make me feel like a whole person, that I am doing something I was born to do.

Nothing feeling right, and not working on things that might feel right were I to work on them..

That is a major problem! For an amateur, I’m a good photographer, but even though I like my results.. the photos I take.. I do not generally enjoy taking photographs. Mostly I stress out quite a bit while trying to line up shots.

The amateur videos I’ve made of bands turn out fairly well, but shooting and working on the videos on my computer is mostly stressfu, not enjoyablel. Also, I’m making these band videos because I can’t play music well. I want to share music, and since I can’t share music by playing an instrument, I share music with others by posting the videos on youtube, facebook, and this blog. But, making videos of other musicians, although it passes the time, feels like a sad consolation prize. Sorry kid, you can’t play worth a darn, but at least you can make a video.

Singing.. I haven’t been able to get myself to work on my voice. I actually forget to practice. This is because I get fixated on other things. Things that are probably not important.

One problem with singing.. I often have sinus problems. I can avoid these somewhat by not eating certain foods, but the sinus issues are still present some of the time.

Another problem with trying to practice singing: I am often so stressed that my throat constricts. I have some voice-loosening exercises I can do, but sound really bad while doing them, and worry about annoying the relatives I live with. I suppose this is really not that big of a concern though. I can practice my voice exercises while they are watching TV or not home.  Also, I can go over to the home of my brother and his family, and practice while no one is home over there. But again, I keep forgetting to practice. Singing often doesn’t feel important, even though it is a therapeutic thing to do, and probably something I have talent at. Sometimes it does seem like the right thing to do, or a right thing to do, but I haven’t been able to get myself to do it.

What about playing harmonica? Learning the basics on harmonica is far easier than on most other instruments. But I feel I have tried too many instruments already, and don’t want to put effort into playing the harmonica, even though I might actually have some success at this. When I just make stuff up and blast away for awhile, I feel somewhat good, because I am taking deep breaths in and out to make the notes. Also, the harmonica resonating in my hands as I play feels good. But playing the harmonica makes my ears ring somewhat.. irritates my tinnitus. However, blowing harp (harmonicas are sometimes called “harps”) is much easier on my ears than playing the tin whistle. I’ve pretty much given up on that instrument.

Art? Back in the ’90’s, I spent a lot of time drawing. Since then, I haven’t been able to come up with much I felt like drawing, and when I’ve sat down to draw, my hand has cramped up. I’m guessing holding a paint brush would also cause cramping in my hand. I suppose I could work on digital art using a computer, but I find it very difficult to learn how to use software.

Foreign language? I was good at Spanish many years ago, while in a Spanish class. But I’ve found it is impossible to get myself to work on Spanish by myself, using educational materials. I keep thinking I need to know at least a little Spanish before I can practice with others, and I have to therefore learn on my own. I might not be right about this, but regardless, I don’t have anyone to practice with. Back in California, I knew many people who spoke Spanish. Here in Boise, I don’t know any Spanish speakers. There aren’t nearly as many around.

And why learn Spanish? I may never have any use for it. Also, I’m a lot older now than when I was in college. Maybe I don’t have as much of a gift for languages as I used to.

What about writing non-fiction for publication? Not something I’m interested in. Plus, I am very shy and anxious. I would feel strange writing up a piece about a concert or other event, then contacting a local publication, such as the Boise Weekly, and saying, “hey, can I send this over?” Perhaps writing non-fiction is a talent I have that I avoid developing. I have some talent. I did very well on almost all the papers I wrote while in college, and I wrote A LOT of papers.  But, this is a talent I’ve not wanted to have. More on this later.

What about writing fiction? I feel I’d like to write fiction, if I felt it was something I could actually do. My mind doesn’t naturally come up with plots. I suppose I could try to do what Stephen King advocated in his book, “On Writing” (the only Stephen King book I somewhat like.. the man is evil). He said not to worry about coming up with a plot, but rather, just sit down and write. The plot will come. Really?

One reason I don’t try writing fiction is I don’t feel worthy of doing so. Actually, I feel that way about many authors. There are so many best-selling writers who don’t write well. They aren’t worthy authors. They don’t deserve the money they make or the acclaim they receive.

Why do I not feel worthy? It is because I feel so blessed and amazed by many books by my favorite author, Terry Pratchett. Some of his Discworld books are so brilliant and well-written that I feel like it would be wrong to even attempt to write.

I feel like my very poor beginner’s attempts at writing fiction are an unintentional form of blasphemy. Striving to do something only a god can really do well. There are a few other authors who inspire awe in me.. John Steinbeck, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Shakespeare, Neil Gaiman (a few of his books), such poets as Keats, Byron, Frost, various biblical authors and the work of those who translated the King James Version of the Bible.

I suppose a beginning trumpet player might feel the same unworthiness after listening to a lot of Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong. A beginning guitarist might feel this way after listening to Christopher Parkening or Eddie Van Halen.

Fact is, something worth doing extremely well is also worth doing poorly at first. Doing very poorly at first is the only way to learn.

But this brings me back to my original problem. I have to work at things awhile to figure out if I can get past the doing things poorly stage. I don’t want to do things poorly at the start, only to find that five years later, after so much miserable struggle, I still have not reached a satisfying level of competency.

One other thing I want to address.. We are all told to follow our passions. This is great advice for some, and absolutely horrible advice for others. Why? It is because for some people, their passions and their talents are the same. But for others, like me, our passions and our talents don’t match up at all. My passion..my fixation.. is learning to play music and understand music theory. But I’m VERY weak in that area.

I have some talent for photography and videography, singing, foreign language, art, and writing, but don’t have a passion for any of these, except for a slight flicker of passion for singing. It’s extremely tough to get myself to work on improving my skills, and figure out which skills to work on.

But I damn well better work on something I’m actually good at, or have the potential to be good at, instead of spending any more time working on things I’m naturally bad at, like learning music.

Yet still I have to daily fight a compulsion to try to learn to play music. I’ve even got loads of instruments in my room. Having a divided mind is not something I would wish on anybody. People with attention deficit problems and other issues like I have don’t make good musicians. We need to do something else. But how do we manage to work on something else, if we are stuck on what we are not good at?

If our passions are destructive, how do we defeat them? I suppose one way is to force ourselves to work on what we are good at. Somehow.

There’s that old story about two wolves. A man tells his grandson that in each person there are two wolves, a good wolf and a bad wolf. The grandson asks which wolf is stronger.. which wolf will win? The grandfather replies, “the wolf you feed.”

How, if our passions are the bad wolf, do we feed the good wolf? If possible, we can avoid feeding our passions, and just barely manage to feed the good wolf one small bite at a time.

But what if there are many wolves inside us, not just two? If we have many wolves inside us, how do we know which one to feed?

The only way for me to answer these questions is to choose a few things to work on, and work on these. I have enough time in the day to dedicate myself seriously to more than one pursuit. But which ones to choose? I am not sure. I hope to figure this out. When I do, I’ll let you know.

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