This week was a rough one, my friends.
In fact, it's been a rough couple of weeks. And I'm certainly not the only one.
Our presidential race is one of life or death, where our moral conscience hangs in the balance.
My nation is still full of selfish idiots that have prolonged a pandemic to the point of insanity.
My profession has been lauded as heroism then immediately thrown to the wolves to be torn asunder, and burned at the stakes of sacrifice.
And at the first sign of trouble, no matter the climate, it is ALWAYS the teacher's fault.
Student didn't turn in the work? My fault. Student called me names? I must have upset him. Student hates my guts because they got a bad grade? I didn't try hard enough to reach them and I should just, ya know, LIE about their grade so they feel better.
And when we see positive COVID cases in schools, they'll blame our protocols and our distancing, and NOT ONCE look at their stupid barbecue without masks or distance. Yeah, definitely OUR fault. Has NOTHING to do with your downplaying of a deadly contagion and refusing simple safety procedures like washing your hands and, I don't know, not coughing on people!
And I think I finally landed on the reason I stepped away from teaching for a year to pursue game mastering professionally...and why I ultimately returned, but we'll get there.
A Life Outside The Music
Anyone who knows me understands that I went to college with many interests, yet achieved quite a lot in academia. After deciding NOT to create my own major in Screenwriting & Film Music (still, that would have been very cool), I settled on Music Education. At the time, I figured I could teach during the day, and, like a superhero, pursue my other creative endeavors (Composing, comics, drawing, video editing) until they really started making some moolah. ...Hang on to that idea, it is the crux of this entry.
Long story short, the music education degree was a powerhouse of training. Hundreds of hours locked in practice rooms perfecting a tuba recital (and it was still crap), studying pedagogy of all the "great" music teachers only to make my own adaptive curriculum every year because the setting is outdated in each book (seriously, you can have the greatest lesson plan, but if you don't learn some classroom management, you're screwed), and then breezing through the simple papers in the School Of Education after the hell of the School Of Fine Arts. Seriously, we had to cut our teeth on endless rehearsals, intense training in every instrument, quarterly playing tests, building our own instruments, memorizing every sound bite of music history, sing and play everything with a near-perfect pitch, listen to a symphony and transcribe EACH INDIVIDUAL PART, and fully analyze the theoretical merits of the Futurist Movement... ALL BEFORE entering the School Of Education with all the other majors. By then, any paper they threw at us was NOTHING. Barely a blip on our radar. For all my struggling, sleepless nights, bad breakups, and insane rehearsals only to scrounge barely a 2.5 GPA, I rocked the last two years in the School Of Ed with a 4.0 easy and I slept great.
And I'm no genius. I just work hard.
By the end of that 6 year journey, I'm holding two Bachelors Degrees and an Initial Certification, and a whole bunch of workable knowledge for composing. One album and one year later subbing for everyone I could find, I decided I still didn't know enough and returned to the punishment for another two years and got my Masters Of Music Education Technology, and then spent the next 8 years paying off THAT debt (woohoo).
I was working throughout my Masters Program, and I continued to hop around districts for a couple years there, a couple years here, and picking up extra subbing gigs to supplement my income. Not once have I ever held a full-time position over the last 10 years of teaching music, which should you tell you a few things about the market of a Board Of Education and how little so many value the arts (not something they tell you when you're throwing thousands of dollars at a college program). Slowly, I was able to expand and cultivate my positions from 4 jobs to 3, then 2, and kept 2 jobs for some time.
Then, I interviewed to teach D&D. And that exploded. As you've already read about.
And as that began to expand, it helped open the door in my soul to all the things I had sealed away in order to make ends meet. In becoming a professional game master, all of my educational training came to fruition, AND I was given not only the opportunity but the follow-through of my smaller professional pursuits. I started writing music again. Writing short fiction. Designing comics. We started a podcast. I breathed new life into my YouTube channel.
With each new step, I was reforging and rekindling all the things just outside of traditional teaching that made me...happy. And now, here's a business model that not only makes me my own boss, but celebrates and networks all of my other pursuits. In a profession that often threatens to define you, I was encouraged to be MORE than a music teacher.
And for a time, it was beautiful.
Living Is Expensive
To deny that money is the driving force behind the majority of our decisions is to tempt the universe to kick the crap out of you and argue that it shouldn't matter.
My car needs repairs, electricity just tripled its delivery fee, house ownership sometimes feels like a trap, insurance is worthless - cuz you're paying anyway - and I'm convinced my car payment is cursed. Somewhere in there we need to eat, and the rest needs to be saved so as to escape the crushing reality that I'm only working to live and living only to work. I must be doing SOMETHING more than simply perpetuating.
And yet, when I was there, I felt fulfilled - needed - powerful - important - satisfied. And, with every paycheck, felt more and more helpless. Debt was rising. Selling everything I could for a quick buck. Offering extra services, some only half-formed, just to keep the lights on. All the while trying to desperately to hold onto that fire in my belly - the same inspiration I'd walk out of a team meeting with, ready to take on the world.
But the hits kept coming, We'd rally, then fall. Over and over again, until the business closed.
And I needed a job.
A Return To Security
So with a ton of experience still, and only a year away from the public sector, still teaching mind you, I set to work finding a new and old place to reside. My previous school offered me my old job back due to a sudden opening, and that meant we'd at least return to more of the same (.25 teaching assignment, woof). And then I nailed another placement at a different school (.5 assignment, better), and the two were happy to play nice with my schedule. With the latter's reassurance that full-time was coming, I would later trim down to one school...in the middle of a pandemic.
This Is Not Normal Time (Yet It Is All-Consuming)
This is where we are. Still.
I have returned to the school. Doing one main job professionally, while trying to maintain those side gigs (that used to be full gigs) to keep my sanity. And, all things considered, it's going very well.
My responsibilities expanded (not yet full-time, but it helps) and I'm there everyday. The kids are pretty darn cool and for the first time in 10 years, I'm able to teach music the way I've always wanted to. We're connecting, we're rocking, we're doing our best. It also doesn't hurt that I can pay the bills without worry; it's still tight, but I'm no longer desperate.
And yet, I am struggling. Immensely so.
For a time, I could not surmise nor articulate WHY I was struggling so much. I wish I could say this was some point of clarity; rolling a Natural 20 while I Insight Check myself, but the closer parallel would be a training montage of failure. Complete with 80s Synthwave and bad acting.
Gone are the days of me actively "closing my loops." I'll make my usual checklists of the past, but by the time the school day ends and I return home, I have NOTHING left to tackle these tasks. And many of these actions would make me REALLY HAPPY AND SATISFIED. Yet, I have little spell slots to dedicate to them. In fact, for a few days this week, I chose to go to bed early instead of writing this blog. That's NEVER happened before.
Am I just getting old?
Drying up and embracing boredom?
I still have surges of motivation and creativity...but they are fleeting. I can only hold on to that happy motivation for minutes or even seconds at a time, then I'm exhausted.
I have to keep telling myself that this isn't "normal time," so I shouldn't give myself normal expectations. And this is important to recognize. Do not be cruel to yourself over elements you cannot control, and be open to the changes and silver linings present in our current climate.
But there's a big difference in the tolerance and forgiveness of bad behavior, and the cultivation of poor habits. Forgive yourself, sure, but if you take no steps forward toward a goal, instead opting to always "be kind to yourself," you're only building a new habit of laziness. There's resting and recharge, and then there's using this plight as an excuse to avoid personal growth.
My personal fitness has taken a hit, and that SHOULD NOT BE OKAY. Not anymore. Why? Because I WANT to be healthy, COVID or not. Adapt your plan, sure, but don't toss it out the window just because the world's on fire. At least not every day. Be flexible, sure, but get creative on how you can still accomplish your tasks and crush your goals. Forgive yourself, sure, but try again the next day, and the next, and the next until you've got it down.
I have so many posts planned for Lore Drop, yet each is just a string of sentences and then my brain turns to jelly. I had planned out another ten fictions for Gray Owls, yet here we are at the end of the campaign. I have multitudes of podcast and video content to finish, and two commissions to write, and more painting to do...they've all taken far too long to be professional in normal time. This isn't normal time, and yet I expect myself to produce as if it were, and this doesn't change the fact that they MUST get done.
So when does your forgiveness give way to laziness? When does our lack of communication breed dishonesty? When does our tolerance allow hate to grow unchecked?
This isn't normal time. No, it is grow time.
We learn the most when in disequilibrium. So no matter what table you sit around, or what metaphor you cling to, remember that this time isn't a moment to wallow. This is your time to rebuild, to work on yourself, and decide who you will be on the other end.
I, for one, will strive to be better, with full knowledge that I won't look the same as before.
Welcome to the new you. Bring them to the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
Mondays: Patreon Mini
Tuesday: Lore Drop
Wednesday: Other Corners
Thursday: Moonriver Bar
Friday: Podcast goes up!
Saturday: GM's Corner
Sunday: REST DAY