Have you ever tried to make your life into a storybook, or thought about the story arc of your future biopic? Have you created a narrative for yourself and turned back to it for comfort when things didn't seem to go right? Have you let a self-imposed role tell you who you are?
What happens when you lose all that?
Ten years ago, I wrote a song.
I had been going to a second youth group with my friend from cross country. I didn't know many people besides her, and I was painfully shy. She wanted to come early to talk to the pastor, so I killed time messing around on the piano. I came up with an original rift, took it home to some lyrics I had written in my bedroom, and after an hour or so of pounding it out I had "Numbness."
Thus a confessional singer-songwriter was born.
No matter how shy or reluctant I was to express my emotions, I had songs to turn to. Every emotion got poured out (x10) in musical form. I thought that one day, the world at large would hear the songs and finally understand me.
I have to smile at that idealistic teenage dream. It never worked, of course. Even when they were heard, the songs seemed to always leave people more confused. Otherwise they were just overlooked as a quirk. And over time I grew to resent the mission of making the world get what went on inside my head.
(With lots of time, vulnerability, and effort, I can make a few friends understand. But in the end we're all alone inside our own heads, aren't we? Isn't that the human experience?)
I tried to guilt myself into making more confessional music. "But, Jana, the mission!"
It's not my mission anymore.
I'm not sure I even want to do this anymore.
Admitting that to myself has changed everything. I feel like I'm not only rebuilding my relationship to music, but also my whole life structure, how I see myself, what my life's about. It's beautiful and it's healthy... but boy is it uncomfortable.
First: If I'm not a confessional singer-songwriter, who am I? What are my defining qualities? Am I interesting, nuanced, worthwhile on my own? What kind of person do I want to be? Kind, adventurous, vulnerable, thoughtful, giving?
Second: If being a singer-songwriter is not my "destiny," do I still want to do it? Am I okay with the strong possibility that I might *gasp* fail? What kind of music would I make if no one were watching? Would I make music at all? Do I still have anything to say?
It's all rather complicated-yet-boring quarter-life crisis stuff—identity, purpose, goals, etc. It's funny, the kind of boxes we put ourselves in, the kind of baggage we carry with us. Not just with how we see our "destiny," but the roles we play in relationships, how we want people to see us. I still sometimes catch myself acting ditsy and cute to get people to like me. Every way in which I deny my true self has become painfully clear now.
What gives your life meaning? Write to me. I genuinely want to know.