There was a piece going around on Twitter a few weeks back- an acclaimed author had posted a thread about how much of his success was about luck and privilege, and that it’s completely possible to be good at what you do and work hard and still not come out a winner. It’s so refreshing to hear someone who is never going to have to worry about paying bills step down from what seems like a great height and acknowledge things like luck and advantage. Especially in the humanities, there’s a pervasive trope of the immaculate success; one that never relies on the financial backing of family or partner, that shushes any mention of nepotism or friends helping out.
It got me thinking about my life, and what turns (good and bad) have made the biggest impacts. Here are two examples that stand out in my mind. I’m pretty sure I could fill a book with heaping servings of stories like the following:
Unbelievably good luck
I was taking winter session general ed classes to try and finish my degree and had my cello case with me one day. I think it was Psych 202 or something. The teacher asked me to play a little something, and afterward, one of my classmates approached me and said her husband was looking for musicians to record a jingle for tv- would I be interested?
I met with him, contracted a small session, and recorded the theme for a new show called Survivor. It would turn into a reality TV juggernaut that kept us working for years. I later worked for him as a ghost writer, mostly churning out silly loop-based music: but it was my entry into writing music for tv, something I would dabble in for the next ten years. He showed me the ropes, taught me how to build a computer, gave me some insight into that side of the industry. None of which would have happened had I not been behind in science credits.
Utter catastrophic luck
There are a few tragic intersections of time and place that still cause waves of nausea-like grief to wash over me. The most recent was the opportunity to teach at the Levine School here in DC- my dream job since the day I moved here. I’d sent too many CVs, cover letters, harassed the poor HR woman who was polite but firm; we will keep your information on file, Ms. Wright. Positions would appear open on the website, only to be expired by the time I’d discovered them. Last year, around this time, the head of the strings division emailed, and said there was an opening for me- all I had to do was come in and play a short excerpt.
Last year around this time, I was neck deep in viticulture and enology classes, taking a break from playing to try and allow my arm to rest and recover a bit as I prepared to change careers. I scheduled the audition with mixed feelings, and the night before, wrote an email (with tears pouring down my face) saying that while it was my dream job, I should really commit to the winemaking thing wholeheartedly. It was like breaking up with someone you love desperately because it’s supposed to be the right thing to do.
The strings area chair was quite understanding, and I began 2017 with hope for a new career that would not be the one of my dreams, but perhaps wouldn’t injure me, and would allow me to feel productive and happy, In March, everything came crashing down, as the pain became overwhelming. I had to stop doing nearly everything. My harvest internship— the single most important step a winemaker takes towards a meaningful career— had to be cancelled because I was flat on my back 48 hours at a time.
I’m limping towards being healthy again, and my studio is slowly growing, while the winemaking career literally withers on the vine- and I’m happy for it. I may well retire to a life in the vineyard, but music is my home, my dream, my heart and purpose. It’s not over yet. I don’t want it to be over yet.
Saying no to that position is perhaps my biggest regret, and that’s really saying something, as I have made some bold and foolish moves in my day. Alas. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, but the experience gave me renewed confidence in my gut. I won’t veto it again, that’s for sure.