Monday, August 13, 2012

Lemons for Sale

If You Have A Lemon, Make A Lemonade. That is what a great educator does. But the fool does the exact opposite. If he finds that life has handed him a lemon, he gives up and says: "I'm beaten. It is fate. I haven't got a chance." Then he proceeds to rail against the world and indulge in an orgy of self pity. But when the wise man is handed a lemon, he says: "What lesson can I learn from this misfortune? How can I improve my situation? How can I turn this lemon into a lemonade?

This comes from Dale Carnegie's How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, a book that I fear has run its course. Its wisdom, which actually used to inspire me, is not applicable in the shared set of private realities that have taken over the way we share news, information, and humor, and the way we do business. It certainly has no applicability in the current world of live (or even recorded) music of the "longhair" variety.

I used to be generally optimistic. I would always look on the positive side of every issue, and would try to consider changes that happened that were beyond my control as opportunities.

Opportunity has never really "knocked" for me. I have always had to do the "knocking." I have put tremendous effort into trying to make a life for myself in an area where very few people care about the things that I do, but as people leave the area (some move away and others die), I spend much of my energy simply partaking in activities for my own amusement, which sometimes pays off (if I'm lucky) in the act of amusing a handful of other people as well. But what I do no longer matters to most people, and it is clear that in my neck of the woods it never will.

The music classes for the upcoming semester (which begins next week) at the community college where I teach are seriously underpopulated. Teaching music appreciate classes used to be "lemonade," but I'm afraid that the young people who go to community college are not terribly interested in drinking the stuff I brew. (Remember that I identify myself mainly as a composer and secondarily as a string player. Teaching music appreciation as an underpaid adjunct instructor is the best I can do professionally in the area where I happen to live.)

That leaves the internet, I suppose: my "window to the world," where I feel I am being "marketed to" far too often.

I made the mistake of reactivating my Facebook account about a month ago, and have found the experience almost as unhealthy for me as I found it the first time. It is not for me. I just don't do superficial communication very well, and it pains me greatly to see friends from my past who don't seem to want to communicate with me directly. (Is it something I might have said? Or has it just been too long?)

I also don't do one-way communication very well, but I feel like the people who read this blog respond to what I write, even if they don't comment or send me e-mail messages. It is a safe space for me, and I hope it is for you as well.

Now that I have deactivated my Facebook account, and have done away with the problems that "window" caused for my state of mind, I think about what I could do for gainful employment if the "lemonade" of teaching music appreciation runs out.

For gainful employment I could "monetize" my blog. The very idea of this makes my stomach turn.

For gainful employment I could make my own publishing company and "market" my music to under-employed musicians who probably wouldn't buy what I would hypothetically have to sell, anyway. Even though I appreciate the honor or being offered commissions, writing music is not about making money for me. Its about making music. Still, when someone asks for something, what comes out is generally of higher quality than what comes out when I write for a hypothetical person.

For gainful employment I play string quartet weddings and orchestral concerts. They make me feel that there still may be a place for music in the grand scheme of things, but wedding season is pretty much over, and the orchestral season has not yet started.

Is it any wonder that I feel at loose ends?


Jude said...

Okay, since we're all friends here (albeit anonymous friends), I'm going to recommend that you read Chris Guillebeau's blog. He set a goal of traveling to every country in the world, and figured out a way to make a living from it. In many ways, his point that we are no longer limited by living in a particular place is a valid one. For example, I've grown quite fond of you and your blog and I enjoyed your posts about the music you were discussing in your class. What if there are 10,000 more just like me out here in the Internet-i-verse who'd be happy to pay to take your course? Anything you charged would go directly into your pocket. I see this as a perfectly viable business idea (one of many you could come up with if you brainstorm a little). So there's your lemonade.

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you, Jude. I fear that I am at a very different place in my life from Chris Guillebeu, but I will give his website (which I just glanced at and was rather intimidated by) a serious read.

It would be interesting to think about doing an independent internet course, if I had the business skills to do so, but I fear that my repeat readership has never even made it to 20!

Perhaps there are just not that many people interested in what I have to say, but I'm very glad that you are.

Anonymous said...

One reads: "Still, when someone asks for something, what comes out is generally of higher quality than what comes out when I write for a hypothetical person." Might I ask why? Why not imagine writing for Perlman or Heifetz or Bernstein?

Elaine Fine said...

Because I believe writing music is primarily a conversation with the living. In the case of Perlman, who is still alive, the chances that he would play something I wrote (even if he did know me) are extremely slim. Imagine cooking a meal for a hypothetical dinner guest. Now imaging serving it.

Carl said...

I wish I had something encouraging to say.

Elaine Fine said...

Thanks for trying, Carl. Perhaps our way of life, which has been hurt by the very technology that also helps make it possible for us to grow, improve, and communicate, is simply coming to an end.