The career I could have had (honey)

Tops of trees against a half-cloudy sky

Song Exploder has been one of my favourite podcasts lately. It’s about artists picking one of their songs and talking about the creative process behind it, from its perception to production. The first one I ever listened to was with Robyn, who talked about a song called Honey.

This episode talks about how like probably any other creative thing, a song that lasts 4 minutes can be a result of many years of work and exploration – starting from some random experiment on an old keyboard, some lyrics inspired by a painful personal story and ending to a series of collaborations before resulting to the final released song we get to know.

I loved the passion, rawness, simplicity and depth with which Robyn described her creative journey. She said that writing this song, like any other song, had a healing purpose. The process sounded very similar to how I’ve been exploring parts of my own traumatic or difficult experiences, even if the result isn’t always necessarily a creative product to be shared with an audience.

But listening to this podcast triggered a lot of difficult feelings for me. It brought up regret about the things I wanted but didn’t manage to do in my own life. Music always played a very important part in it; it’s been my best friend in loneliness and listening to it was one of the main forms of expressing my feelings. I never allowed myself to think that it’s something I could do something with though – something I could learn, study or use as a tool for creativity. I used to tell myself that there was nothing special about it, especially because there were so many other people that loved music.

I’ve been listening to music since I remember myself. At the age of 16 I got a phonecall from a friend who told me that someone she knew opened a new radio station and they were looking for volunteers to broadcast. Kind of by chance I started my own weekly show playing greek music. These were some really happy times. I was sometimes spending whole days in the studio, putting music on live when the decks were free, keeping other producers company or helping them with technical stuff.

After school and when I moved to another city for uni, again by chance – and with the help of a friend, I got a small job as a greek music dj at a small cafe/bar. It was a very easy and enjoyable job but I had to stop after a year. I was working late at night and it was getting in the way of my studies. That was the end of my affair with music on a professional level. After that and especially after my social anxiety, shyness and all the related social phobias started kicking in, I kept my passion for music private. I kept listening to stuff, got into electronic music and learned to beat-match, but even when I was offered to play for an audience, I either declined with a lame excise or did it half-heartedly and with a lot of detachment. Around the same time I discovered the world of production. I tried to learn theory and music-making software from online resources but I couldn’t go very far with it – there was always this block keeping me from diving in further and enjoying the process.

I still find the world of music fascinating and I know that if I would have discovered it when I was younger and if the circumstances were different, it’s probably what I’d choose to do professionally. As I listened to Robyn describing how she was losing herself in experimenting creatively, how she spent hours in her private studio to get the sounds she wanted, how she worked with other people who she exchanged ideas with – I thought how this is the life I wanted but I just didn’t have the same opportunities. I wondered how it would be if I was introduced to the idea of making or playing music from a very young age, how it would be if my parents or other people around me were musicians or at least loved music the way I do. I wondered how it would be if when I chose to learn an instrument when I was 14, I had people around me to encourage me not not to stop when I got bored of it. I thought how this is also a matter of socio-economical background, and how if my parents were coming from a more middle class and educated background I might have been exposed to these sort of opportunities and I might have taken up a different career path. And I also thought how it would be if we had been taught at school from a young age the importance of community and creativity.

I feel regret for the things I haven’t done, but I mostly feel sadness; sadness understanding that it was never up to me and it was never a matter of willpower. Even if at times I pushed hard to do these things, read books or tried to find ways to manage my time properly, with aims and goals, I wasn’t able to get past a certain threshold. There was something holding me back, something telling that it’s perhaps too late for it, something nagging me that there’s other stuff that have priority.

Maybe it’s true, there is other stuff that have priority. It’s something I find difficult to accept but perhaps where I am now it’s where I’m supposed to be. Perhaps I needed to understand my history and trauma first, connect with the things that made me the person I am now and share them with others in the form of words – which is what I’m doing right now. And maybe also the grass is always greener everywhere else and whatever I’d have done wouldn’t have been enough – I wouldn’t have been enough.

Despite the regret it doesn’t feel like all this effort to learn stuff and new skills have gone to waste. I may not have managed to do something with them but I’ve learned to be a great music listener. I’ve learned to sit down from time to time and devote all my attention to the music I listen to, appreciating each sound and all the effort each person put into making it happen – the artists, the band members, the sound designers, the producers. And as I listen and I feel more and more connected with the sounds and with myself, I feel one with them too. It’s as if creativity doesn’t really belong to one person, but it belongs to all of us. Perhaps it does.

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