Monday, September 5, 2016

My Douglas Adams Birthday

This past Saturday, I celebrated my Douglas Adams birthday. Douglas Adams is an English author, and my favorite of his works are the books in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series: first a BBC radio play, then a novel, and it's been made a couple of times into a movie. One of the major plot points is that a super computer, named Deep Thought, discovered that the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything was 42. The remainder of the series was an attempt to find out what The Question was. (Spoiler warning: the planet Earth was manufactured as an even bigger, organic supercomputer to figure out the question. The closest it got was, "What do you get when you multiply six by nine?") 

So, I turned 42 this year, and it's been a year of questing to figure out what The Question is. Who am I? What am I doing here? What should I be doing with my time? You can call it a midlife crisis; that wouldn't be too far-fetched. Google defines a mid-life crisis as "an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age." That's 42, isn't it? Granted, I'm not going to do anything THAT stupid - I can't afford a cute little sports car, and the other traditional trappings of midlife crisis are just not appealing to me. 

But, I have been questioning the direction of my life. I've doubled down on making time to spend with my family: I left directing Greater Harmony Chorus after a five-year run full of joy and song and great friends. I couldn't rectify, at this point in my life, missing baseball games and violin recitals and such. I was even missing just sitting around and reading books or playing video games with my kids. The Boy's hitting 3rd grade and getting much, much closer to the age where he doesn't really want to spend time willingly with his father. The Baby, who's entering Kindergarten in the fall, is reaching the age where he's independent enough to want to see and to do his own things with me. 

This past season, I really enjoyed playing the role of coach and teacher for Little Bear's and The Baby's baseball teams. I truly enjoy working with kids, and something like baseball allows for a lot of hands-on, individual instruction. There's so much to the game - besides the continual improvement of catching, fielding, hitting, and baserunning techniques, there are position-specific issues to handle. You have to learn who your position backs up, which bases you cover, what happens in multiple specific in-game situations (for instance, man on second, 0 or 1 out(s), ball grounded to the third baseman. You don't have a force play at 3rd, but you don't want to blindly let the runner take 3rd base. So, you have to look at the runner standing on second; if he's running, then tag him out and just hold the ball. If he's staying put, then throw to first and run to third base to receive a throw back, if the runner decides to break for the bag. That's not a natural thought process, but one that has to be practiced and reinforced, because it happens all the time.) After the spring rec baseball season, I was one of the assistant coaches for the 7 & under tournament team, and we had an absolute blast. The other coaches and I had a lot of fun with these kids. We just kept getting together to play ball after the spring season ended, because we were in the habit and because we liked being around each other. It was nice - one of us send an email, "Hey, my kid and I are going to the field to play on Sunday afternoon. Anyone want to come?" ....and five or six kids would show up. After two or three of these, we just scheduled time every week for 2 or 3 45-60 minute practices. The head coach organized our practices, and I enjoyed being an assistant and just doing what I was told. It's good to be the king; in my situation, it was awesome to be a knight instead of the king. Much easier to do what I'm told rather than make the decisions, you know? 

Last year, most of the team was "baseball 5" - meaning playing very young for the league. This year, after a year of experience and a year of growing, they were much, much better. We won 3 games in the tournament season, including reaching the semi-finals of our final tournament. That was 3 more games than we won last year, and it was just amazing. I can honestly say that those games, for me as a father and a coach, were far more intense than any professional game I've ever seen. Those kids were into it, having fun, and playing as hard as they could. Our final win, the other team had the bases loaded, with the winning run on first base and one out; two sterling defensive plays ended the game with a victory for our team. Due to a lack of players for one game, we even had to dress The Baby - who had turned 5 literally 7 days before - in catcher's gear to play! He did a good job, including an RBI groudout, and the other team game him the MVP game ball. 

Little Bear played a couple of games with the 8 & under crowd, which was wonderful for him. He's a special kid (not that the others aren't), and we're honored that they stuck him in right field and let him play. In the last 8 & under game of the season, he made a brilliant fielding play: cleanly fielded a hard ground ball to right field and threw a fast strike to the second baseman, who tagged out an aggressive baserunner trying to stretch it into a double. I think that that was his favorite moment of the baseball season - well, that or an RBI double he crushed in an 8 & under win early in the season. 

But, I digress. Back to my midlife crisis. 

Just as important: my creative juices are just drained. I have been fighting significant fatigue issues for more than a year now, and I'm starting to figure out that it was related to creative burnout. I've spent a lot of time and energy thinking about, studying, and teaching voice and singing and barbershop. To a large extent, I've done nothing but barbershop with my free time since about 2003. That's a long time. I love the society, and I love the hobby, and (most importantly) I love the people that are involved in it; but I'm in desperate need of a break from barbershop. Frankly, it's not just directing barbershop; sitting in a performing group of any kind, at this time, is triggering flight responses in me. I feel like I need to take some time, step back from the artistic world, and let my battery recharge. I know that it's only a temporary thing, and I know that I'm going to want to create and to express myself soon. But, for the moment, I want to concentrate on being Daddy to three wonderful boys and number one fan to my wonderfully talented wife. 

And, I'm not entirely sure what I want to do. I don't know that I want to get back into what I have been doing for the last several years. I certainly can't keep singing without getting some real help with my voice. I've backtracked over the last couple of years, embarrassingly so. Do I change artistic direction? It's been literal years since I've picked up my saxophone, and part of me itches to play again. The only problem is, saxophone isn't a satisfying instrument to play by yourself. You need something - a concert band, or a big band, or a quartet. Something. Clarinet is easy - no community band in the country will turn away someone with a master's degree who is quite content to play 2nd or 3rd clarinet in band. But, there are always a million saxophone players ready to play in a concert band. Jazz bands are even worse, because for every concert-band trained saxophonist, there are 4-5 "jazz guys" for every slot. Plus, my improvisation still sucks. I can improvise, just not well. 

Riding on that, I guess that I really just want to do something WELL again. I'm tired of trying to sing and not making the time to practice. I'm tired of thinking about playing an instrument without emotionally preparing myself for daily practice time. Whatever I do eventually decide to do - and, for all I know, it might be writing, or home improvement, or whatever I do to get my creative fix - I fully intend to dive in, head-first. That means, time spent every day; lessons if applicable. I'm not going to be a B- singer; I'm going to take lessons and practice daily. I want to show the boys that creativity takes work, and fun, and failure, and persistence, and consistency. 

At this time, I'm not in a rush. I'm going to wait it out, let my reservoir refill, and enjoy my time spent with my family. My boys are engaging and fun. My wife's musical and artistic career is a beautiful sight to behold, and I treasure being a part of it. I'll get there. Uncharacteristically, I'm prepared to be patient.


Update, 3 weeks later: Feeling better, starting to get the itch again and actively discuss options. Doing a Jewish life class on Thursday nights for this school year, which might wind up being my thing for the indefinite future - particularly considering that I'm assistant coaching / volunteering with Little Bear's and The Baby's baseball teams. LB has done a great job with kid pitch so far, for the record. More later.

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