I’ve had my mind on the piano for the last few months, mostly thinking about sitting down and playing again. I wasn’t ever a virtuoso by any stretch; the recording below has me fat-fingering a Rachmaninoff piece (and enhanced applause at the end – I was in front of maybe 10-15 people at the time it was recorded back around the time electricity was invented) and I never gave it the dedication needed to hit decency. Though it is evidence that yes, I can play more than Chopsticks or Heart & Soul.
It’s the spectrum of dedication, passion, and obsession that I’ve pondered in the few quiet moments, often when driving or when sitting and waiting for the next thing to happen. I fully recognize I’m a mediocre fiction writer; I’m not particularly creative or inventive, but have just enough ability and talent to squeeze by. And (to some extent) I’m okay with this – I recognize I won’t write the ‘great American novel’ or anything of the sort. I likely won’t ever sign a book deal as forcing myself into a commitment day after day isn’t my idea of security. It’s my idea of prison.
To some extent I feel fraudulent – as though I’m giving up – when instead it’s that I’m shifting my focus.
[To what, you ask.]
To which I reply “A career.”
My safety net is a small neighborhood cafe and bakery, the type of place I find myself aching over each and everyday. It’s evolved through the grandiose visions (known then as Cauldron) and the quirky hole-in-the-wall existence (known then as Baked). Some girls grow up dreaming of their wedding; I’ve seen this dream through twenty-something years. But similar to fiction writing, I can’t do just that. Never have I ever just done one thing; I lack the ability to accept only what I have in front of me and not think/dream/work toward something bigger and brighter, a characteristic known simply as ambition.
And what a waste of ambition to throw away on sweet and savory baked goods, day in and day out. (Never mind the hundred other skills, abilities, and desires I’ve cultivated over the years. If I never practice law, I’ll be a happy camper. If I never own my own business, I’ll consider this life a waste.) Paired with a larger vision and a plethora of things to accomplish – and the right team – I can give all myself to a project. All the dedication, all the passion, all the obsession simmering below the surface.
Contrast this with my current situation: I’m working for a company who’s singular goal is to bring educational opportunities those those who couldn’t afford it, couldn’t make time for it, couldn’t achieve it, not because they weren’t smart enough or capable enough, but simply because life got in the way. I’ve never worked for anyone or any type of organization with not only a crystalline goal but a crystalline goal I very strongly (and very deeply) believe in. I’m thrilled to go to work almost every morning because it’s my job to help convince a person that yes, they can/should/will do this. I find myself slipping into obsession, not out of dedication, but out of passion for this goal – I am inspired by those I work for. I find myself uniquely frustrated by those who can’t or don’t hold this goal as close as I do; to many others it’s just a job, the same job that can be accomplished anywhere else. And I’ve finally dug out of that mindset – after years of careers that dried up passion and dedication, jobs that shattered closely held ideals and left syrupy residues of nasty ethical compromises, I’ve found my swansong.
But am I ready for where it could take me? Am I ready to put aside the small-town dream of a bakery, the mid-town dream of owning and managing commercial real estate? The American dream of owning my own business and putting my ideas to work be damned for someone else’s great idea?
A few days ago, I saw my ending with this company. It’s a political suicide, not shrouded in loyalty or pride, but in self-respect. The metaphor I’ve used to describe it to others: imagine you’re twenty pages into a book and you already know exactly how it ends. It doesn’t matter how long the book is, it doesn’t matter how the plot twists or turns – the ultimate destination has already been cast, the pieces are moving, and now I’m playing the game.
The question isn’t why I’m playing – that answer should be pretty obvious. The question is who am i: the ‘go get shit done’ piece or the pawn who ‘gets capped quick’? Do I play the game with agility or finesse? Who is working against me, seeking nothing other than to trap me? It appears that no matter my passion, my dedication, or my obsession my fate is written. For some, this bleak post-modern outlook is persuasive. It justifies the conspicuous spending and paranoid hoarding of resources. It allows the ego to take on mythical qualities. It reduces us to a caste despite the ravenous clawing for power in each interaction.
It’s an one-sided outlook of the game. A philosophy I don’t subscribe to.
But it does give me pause to consider whether what I believe – no matter a fleeting state of passion or perpetual state of dedication – is true. And whether knowing the ending should influence my decision(s) in the game.