an unmusical post lands on the blog

If you asked yourself what you wanted in life and answered it, would your fairy godmother be able to read it, flick her wand, and make your dreams come true?

Radical changes force people to think about their futures, and to resurrect the ridiculous search for their true selves. Then, a split second goes by and most folks realize that it takes being uncomfortable to find comfort. Uhh…Bam! (Just because I live in New Orleans doesn’t mean I can’t use Emeril’s harebrained slogan) – and so operation-unsatisfying-life resumes. I think though, that most of us owe it to someone in our past that caused some unbearable challenge for us. They would precipitate the plead for change – for a break in the cycle, whatever the cycle may be… Usually at least the acknowledgment is there.

Really – no one wants a dreadful life. But if you asked me, I’m not sure I could define a great one. I could qualify it maybe. I’d want it to be useful, musical, fun, full of love and laughter, rhythmically complex, honest, without a bucket of ‘shoulds’, and chock full of travel experiences to bore the great-grandkids with around a campfire in the Berkshires.

The concept of success scares the hell out of me. By yearning for it, I climb ladders and potentially push people off of them- every childhood Buddhist ethic gets sucked up the vacuum tube with my husky’s undercoat. At the other end of the spectrum, I get pushed off the ladder. The middle way? Does it exist anymore?

I define success as the absence of worry stirred clockwise with laughter and a few ounces of love, a wee splash of suffering (like tobasco, for kick), and a well-worn bar to set it on. Mahogany. Screw the mantle and trophy case. I need to let go of the worry, and I need to let go of other peoples’ expectations. Easier said than done. I have no idea if the life I want is attainable because I have no idea what I want, even as I sit in the pool of it. I’ve had nearly twenty-six years to think about this. Shouldn’t I be satisfied at this point?

In two weeks I’m moving to a brand new city – new house to live in, new friends to meet, new academic environment, and a new job… I’m hoping it’ll help me iron out a few answers. I want to help people through music and I don’t want to spend my life searching for gigs or standing in a classroom teaching quarter notes. I have definite ideas of where I want it to take me, but the second half of the path is still blurry. I’m so grateful for the upcoming opportunities I’ve been given – if I’m having doubts, it’s because of my own insecurities. The universe has suddenly dropped everything I’ve ever asked for in my lap, so I’m listening to it – going with it. I just hope that what I’ve asked for isn’t going to slap me around and cause me to realize that I already had the tools I needed without the letters behind my name.



  1. Unmusical? Never.

    I love your description of success, though like you, I also struggle to reconcile it with a Buddhist ethic. Let me know when you figure it out 😉

    As for what defines a “great” life, I need to think about that one. I have a sense of it, of course, but I’m not sure I have quite the right words to describe it precisely.

    1. There’s got to be a modernized success sutra somewhere. Maybe Dharma the Cat had something to say about it.

      This whole thing is difficult to think about. But in doing so, I think if anything, you figure out what you don’t want in life…. which puts you on the right path at least.

  2. Funny, defining a good life by the absence of suffering is also something Epicurus is big on.

    I think living a great life presupposes knowing what you want. My great life turned out to be not apologizing anymore. I had a good job, but it turned out to be in exactly the wrong town and profession. That took a while to figure out, but now I know what I want. It took me thirty-some years, though.

    Also, ambition is not a dirty word; meritocracy is a myth and one must always work for success. The middle way is not actively stomping on other people’s heads to get there. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

    1. I think knowing what you want is a good first step. At least it didn’t take until you were 65 and ready to retire (or 70+ like many professors these days) to figure it out.

      And actually – the whole process of becoming a professor led you to becoming the WorstProf, right?… I cant imagine you’d have such strong opinions on the subject (or would currently be writing the same book) had you not been there in the first place.

      “Ambition is not a dirty word” needs to be stamped on the back of my hand every time I go into certain frames of mind. I remember hearing the Williamson quote in the film “Coach Carter” and thinking “yep. spot on.”

  3. Funny, the only thing that has been in my mind lately (and perhaps keeping me sane) is:

    Om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha.

    Never forget that you taught me that.

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