I received a large response to my blog post last time, and the feedback was very mixed. I'd just like to clear up any confusion for anyone who didn't get the joke, or is unfamiliar with the terminology, and why this sort of thing is important to think about and discuss.
Within the gay community, specifically the black gay community, there is a subcategory of people who call themselves discreet, or on the DL. With issues like HIV, AIDS, and gay rights at the top of the news, many people say men who are in the closet (especially grown gay men in heterosexual relationships), are hindering progress. Unfortunately they are attacked and receive (sometimes) undeserved heat from openly gay men and activists alike, and are blamed for many of the issues of inequality we're dealing with today. Granted, no one deserves to be bashed for their beliefs, but at the same time no one should hide or be ashamed of anything they were born with, in my opinion, so it's important to step back and look at this situation with different eyes, just to see if what you think holds true in a parallel situation. People on the DL say that it's no one's business, and that sexuality isn't relevant information to most people in most settings. While somewhat true, I chose this idea to center my last post around.
Unless you're headless (in the words of Karen Walker) it's obvious that I'm gay - trying to hide that would be silly. Some guys do everything they can, though, to keep it form friends, family, and the like. Maybe it's that they see it as wrong, because there would be no reason to hide anything we're proud of, like being a musician. Like one's sexuality, a person's level of artistry isn't at all relevant information to most settings, but wouldn't it be strange if someone worked so hard to hide it they way DL men hide other things? For example, in my last blog post I demonstrated a situation in which someone asked if I played guitar, and I answered no. I think most musicians would follow that 'no' with a "but I actually play....", but when many gay guys are asked "Do you have a girlfriend," they leave it at no. Now tell me, do you think if someone asked a straight guy "Do you have a boyfriend," he'd leave it at 'no'? He wouldn't, and he shouldn't. Straight guys (and gals) wear their sexuality with pride, from having pictures of their children in the cubicle at work, to discussing how last night's date went in the lounge or cafeteria. We black gay men just don't tend to do the same thing, and it's a shame. Each scenario displayed in the post represented a situation I've seen first hand in the gay community in terms of hiding, and "putting it to music" helped me see my opinions clearer.
So what's my point? We're not all activists - I'm certainly not, but the least we can do for the sake of creating a better world for our children is to treat ourselves as equals, and not allow one group to be treated better than another. Everyday we can do something small or learn something more, so that we can be on the correct side of history when children are looking back at us 100 years from now. Those little things include being able to clear up the misconception that true Christianity is anti-gay, declaring your sexuality without the lies of omission, and refraining from giving your money to companies that feed these anti-gay organizations, like Chik-fil-A.
There has been a lot of talk over the past few years concerning equal rights and equal treatment under the law for many different groups of individuals. If we look at history, every movement eventually becomes law, and is slowly integrated within American culture, from women's rights, to the Civil Rights movement in the 60s, we have seen a lot of change, and for the good. One change that is beginning to creep into my personal life concerns what I do with my music, and my sentiments on the issue seem to go unshared by many. Again, looking back historically, artists, actors, musicians, and so on were not considered to be in the top tier of society by any means. The actors of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, in fact, were seen back then the same way we'd view say, a stripper today, and would choose to keep that part of their lives a secret just to save persecution and dis-entitlement. Artists in today's age are accepted and treated as equals, but some of us just don't think it our responsibility or obligation to "come out" as musicians, specifically me as a bassoonist.
There are many different phrases and terms used for people like me - discreet, down-low, and so on, but I don't care about the negative connotations they hold or what "out" musicians think of me. There's no shame in what I do, but I just like to consider myself someone who doesn't put all of his business out there. I mean, the fact that I'm a bassoonist isn't relative information to everyone in every situation, right? Everyone expresses themselves in some way - humans are expressive creatures. Whether you like to paint, write, dance, or if you're a teacher, lawyer, or doctor, we all do what we enjoy for our own enjoyment, not for anyone else. What does my being a musician have to do with anyone else?
Music isn't the only think I do, after all. When I'm working my part-time jobs, my purpose there is to do the work allotted to me and that's all. I really don't feel like being judged by people who have certain feelings against musicians, so I simply choose not to disclose that information, which is not to be considered shame or fear. The bassoon has nothing to do with, nor does it enhance my abilities to perform office tasks at Memphis City Schools and dispatch calls at the taxi company. Telling my co-workers that I'm a musician would simply make them put that in the forefront of their minds when they think of me. I'm a diverse person - why should I be defined by one part of my life?
I get especially aggravated at social gatherings and family events. To the people who choose to put all of their business out there, I say good for you, but what I do in my practice room is my business. Some people are just so nosy! On one occasion, a guy said to me "You look pretty artistic, like you could be a musician." His friend who was standing near by said, "Yeah, I agree! You must be a musicians or something. Do you play the guitar?" All I had to say was no. It wasn't a lie, because I really don't play the guitar. It's not my responsibility to tell him I'm a bassoonist just because he thinks I could be a musician, or made the assumption I play an instrument. I've even had family to nudgingly say, "So, when are you going to settle down in a nice profession? It seems like you do more than just work part-time office jobs". They probably knoI ignore it, because it's none of their business.
What the biggest challenge is though, is trying to keep it from Andy. Usually I have to wait until he goes to work, or goes to bed, to go and enjoy some time with my bassoon. He doesn't know, and it's not hurting him either. Sometime I feel I should tell him, but at the end of the day there's nothing wrong with the current situation. As soon as people hear "musician" they judge you, and I'm sure he would do the same. I think someone needs to make some sort of website where discreet musicians like me can meet and discuss discreet issues, and put away this mainstream idea of what I musician is. In the meantime, I'll live the way I'm living because I'm happy, and no one has to know. The way I play the bassoon couldn't possibly affect anyone, or bring joy to anyone, or teach anyone else about something they've never experienced, so this whole "coming out" thing is just silly, and not my obligation.
_ Last week I enjoyed some of my time away from work and practice watching a Japanese anime called “Fullmetal Alchemist”. Even though I have a Japanese language background, anime has never really been of any interest to me, but I decided to give this one a try based on the opinions of a few of my friends. After having finished the entire series (thanks to Netflix) I must say I’ve been entertained, and the show has provoked some thoughts about our everyday lives in my head. The idea of the show is that alchemy is a science that deals with the redistribution of the make-up of objects to create something new, centering around the law of equivalent exchange which states that in order to gain, something of equal value must be lost. For example, if a clock is smashed to pieces, alchemy allows all of the broken parts to be redistributed into a working clock again. I like this concept because it exists, in a way, in real life, except that what we gain isn’t always equal to what we’ve lost, and when we lose, we don’t always gain something in return.
Let’s start by considering something simple, like cooking. To bake a cake, certain materials are put into a bowl and “lost” into a single substance, and when heated gives you something different from what you started with. That exchange is pretty equivalent, right? The same could apply to home repair. Right now we have a slight leak under our kitchen sink, and it’s an issue I’d love to lose right about now. In order for this to happen, though, an equivalent amount of effort must be exerted, which I guess me, Andy, or a plumber need to get on top of. Even buying items at the store (theoretically) are equivalent exchanges – an amount of money for the equal amount of a product (yes I know it’s not like that always but let’s pretend for now).
In my work life, however, I tend to doubt this law of equivalent exchange, simply because it doesn’t always feel as such. Consider the alchemy of music. How many hours a week go into practice, reed making, listening, and the like? For that time and energy spent, is the outcome always equivalent? I feel that I’ve been fairly successful, but I haven’t yet earned the money that could pay for thousands of hours of work, or maybe I have. I most certainly haven’t gotten an equal amount of reeds based on my effort there – if you have let me know! Either way I thank God because it has given me so many things indirectly, like friends, travel, and other experiences. Beyond that it’s given me hope. Playing for an orchestra professionally was a bit of a pipe dream for me, but it’s happening and I couldn’t be more excited. Putting effort and time into a dream offers hope if nothing else, and that’s definitely priceless.
The work I’m doing this summer, however, definitely shows qualities of unequal exchanges. When I look at surplus lists at my job with MCS and see teachers who may be out of work next school year due to budget cuts and other things, no number of years as a teacher can help – there’s no safety zone or subject area, and it’s a shame that education isn’t a priority in our society. Losing a job after 20-something years of experience does not automatically give way for something equal to be gained – it has to be sought after and maybe even fought for! I hope it works out for all of our teachers, and I hope a way is made for those individuals who have a passion for it to take precedence over those looking for a two-year segue between college and graduate school (no tea no shade). As far as my part-time job as a taxi dispatcher, well, if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you know how I feel about it. The time I put into that place is by no means returning what I feel is deserved, but what is time worth? A physical price can’t be put on someone’s time, so maybe no one thinks they’re making enough money at their part-time jobs, if your budget requires you to have one. It’s just good to know that it’s temporary and that one day my job won’t be something a dread, but love.
If I don’t win the audition I have coming up next month, I’ll enjoy practicing my musical alchemy up in Detroit and learning new things about a different part of the country, a world-renowned orchestra, and myself. I’ll just have to remember to only expect to receive as much as I’ve put into something, and vice versa. That means I need to get on that bassoon when I get off today! Are you looking for more than you’re willing to sacrifice? Do you sacrifice more than you expect to receive?
_ It’s a common idiom – birds of a feather flock together – and it’s one I think we overlook or forget about from time to time in our everyday lives. When we try to make new friends, improve existing relationships, or enter into a new work situation, a common likeness or goal is key in bringing us all together. Here in Memphis, my clique definitely (for the most part) centers around the black, very fabulous feathers we have in common. There are exceptions of course, and it makes our flock of birds even more colorful and beautiful, because all birds are multi-colored in some way. It’s easy to focus on what’s obvious about a person and let that be at the forefront of their personality, but sometimes the subtle under-feathers can be what link you to people.
Other feathers that tie me with different types of people are my musical feathers. Music has created relationships with people all across the world and even throughout time, between schools and professional performance. For me, one of the latest projects I’ve been honored to be a part of is the Twitter Symphony, which flocks musicians from all over the world into a common goal, led by composer Chip Michael.
Twitter has quickly become one of the main bird baths of the internet, and this site is home to everyone from Beyoncé stans (stalker-fans) to funny characters like the Condescending Wonka and the Drunk Baby. Our obvious colors, as well as our more subtle ones, are mixed together to bring us all together to tweet our lives 140 characters at a time. As I flew through the site one day, I came across interest in creating a symphony through Twitter. After the success of the YouTube Symphony, I figured this would be a great opportunity, so I sent in my audition tape. What started as an idea has hatched into fruition, and I’m excited to announce that our first symphony, entitled “Birds of a Feather”, will begin release soon! Preparing very, very challenging parts without a conductor was not easy, it was like trying to fly blindfolded at times, but when all of the chirps are put together (with the help of sound engineers) the Twitter Symphony will break the skies as something truly 21st century.
Hopefully one day the Twitter Symphony can be caged together on one stage for a live performance, but until then follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and bird watch as our first piece is set free to soar across the internet. In addition to this, examine the colors of your own feathers and see if you can chirp with people you never have before, whether it’s virtually, physically, or artistically. Birds are so free – it seems that they could go wherever and do whatever. If we allow ourselves, we can have this same freedom.