I didn't go to college until I was 35 because I'd had my first child right out of high school and quickly became a single parent. Instead of sitting in classrooms, I sat in factories, shipping rooms, and offices, each in their turn. When I finally was able to enroll as a music composition major (in my mid-thirties), I applied myself with a fervor that worried the people around me and raised no little degree of jealousy in my fellow students...
This application served me well. It was what caught the attention of Maestro Frank Salazar and got me a post as his assistant with the Ventura County Symphony for six full years, as well as the honor of being his sole (gratis) private pupil for just as long, earning me a masters degree equivalency. These were amazing opportunities that I refused to waste. This was Act II in my life's movie. Act I had been spent teaching myself to read and write music and to promote myself as a performer. I did pretty well, too, as many of you know. Act III was different. It was spent in reclusivity. Illness, fatigue, and emotional exhaustion forced me to hide out in a small town in Oklahoma where I have slowly healed, loved and am loved, nurtured a marriage and raised a family. I have now entered Act IV and I'm discovering that certain things in earlier acts were actually the foreshadowing of things that I'm only just now beginning to grasp.
At the end of my last year at school, my piano professor called me forward to perform my final. I played both a piece by Mozart and a piece of my own. The last one wasn't actually required, but I was very ill with pneumonia, had a fever, and was barely able to even make it to my finals. I had in fact missed that last three weeks of classes. My professor and I had agreed that by composing and playing a piece of my own, I could make up for the time I'd missed. Because I'd carried a 4.0 GPA, I was certain that I'd do well. After the performance phase of my final, she asked me (as she had every other student who sat in class that day) to run through a number of technical drills. No problem. But then she placed a simple piano piece on the music stand before me. Nothing difficult, just two parts, treble and bass. A melody in C major with a basic bass line.
"Play this in the style of Mozart," she instructed.
What's going on, I wondered. No one else has been asked to do this. Although my head swam from fever and I felt like I could faint at any moment, I improvised using thirds and horn fifths, trills and a 6/4 deceptive cadence, and adding an Alberti bass in the left hand.
"Now, Bach," she said when I was finished.
That was a bit harder, but I threw in counterpoint, a small fugal passage, and diminuted the B section. Stuff like that. She asked me to play it in a couple of other styles, then she sat down on the bench beside me.
"You have your A," she said. "But let me give you some advice. Chronic illness is no excuse for not committing yourself fully to your talent. Don't make excuses—illness IS no excuse."
What the hell is she talking about, I wondered. I thought she'd confused me with someone else. I was the promise child, the resident campus Mozart, the terrifying over-achiever. It was carrying a full load and working two jobs (besides being a single parent and my parents' housekeeper/laundress and cook) that had run my health into the ground. And hadn't I just jumped through her monkey trick hoops as well as performed the required final? She didn't have the other students do all that. I left feeling resentful for having been singled out.
Looking back, I still think she was being grossly unfair, but maybe it was more than that. Maybe she was seeing something in me that had yet to rear its head: a propensity for making excuses and procrastinating. Maybe she recognized certain hidden weaknesses in me that would later threaten to stymie and cripple me. Maybe she saw nothing. Maybe it was just a bad day. But, as they say, "out of the mouths of babes".... or professors, as the care may be. Sometimes messages come from the mouths of ordinary people who have no idea they're being used. In this we are all prophets to some degree—perhaps we just don't know that we're seeing into someone's future, or that at some future date that person will finally find meaning in something we've said.
These days I'm learning to heed everything as a sign. Just as observing birds clustering together on a power line, and knowing it's going to rain, I'm learning to be careful to consider every seemingly inconsequential thing that confronts me as a possible message because, before I shuffle off of this mortal coil, I want to know that I've given life my best shot, damn it. I want to know that I left no opportunity unexplored. So many have been lost already, but every day is a new life and a brand new chance at the life I want. I may be a late bloomer, but I'm going to bloom even if it kills me. I'm giving life my 500%—I refuse to spend what time I have left here on my ass with my feet up, my eyes glued to a television. More and more I'm learning that this isn't the rehearsal, this is the damned production and it's time to be the director, not an extra.
There are certain people I know who have gotten their work noticed where it really counts. They have written movies, television shows, documentaries—some have even directed and produced. None of them are 'rich and famous' by the popular standard, but they live where we want to live and are supporting themselves doing what they love to do. Who better to turn to for advice?
Most of us are just bumbling around, waiting for the Schwab's Pharmacy fairy to discover us, but it rarely happens that way. I found that out when my music career tanked at the end of Act II. I'd spent years upon years wondering, what's the key? What's the secret? Who do I talk to, meet, or approach? Is there a formula, a road map that I'm just not getting?
These days the goal isn't to be rich and famous, to buy the 12-million dollar house, or to walk the red carpet. All I want is to live in California. I can't see why I shouldn't be able to make that happen; I was born there after all, and have moved back twice already throughout my life. It is to this goal that I am now dedicated. I have a TV movie screenplay that I put on the back burner three years ago. I've taken it out again and will finish it within the next couple of months. Then I'll find out how to deliver it to the right people. I have as good a chance as any and more resolve than most.