Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Restless Muse

For years I was told by well meaning professors that I needed to "focus" in order to succeed. That was code for "pick something and stick with it." But that has never been my nature. At Lawrence University, a small, fabulous liberal arts college in Appleton, WI, my multiple interests and talents were both encouraged and rewarded. With a double major in Spanish and Music Composition, I found one interest fed another. My senior year I combined all my passions, completing an Honors Thesis on the Life and Music of Heitor Villa-Lobos and presenting a lecture recital on the 100th anniversary of his birth. To complete it I had to combine my training in composition, music theory, history and analysis, research, piano performance, foreign languages (most of what had been written about Villa-Lobos was published in Spanish, Portuguese and French) and writing. When I earned a summa cum laude on my project, I decided to pursue graduate studies with the aim of becoming a professor--a career in which I could employ all my interests, talents and training.

It was not to be for reasons I may write about some day. I earned a Masters but left shortly after. I thought my career was over.  But over the years I struggled and fought my way back, fought against the powers that tried to limit my advancement, my goals and ambitions. I had seen the ugly underbelly of academia and decided I wanted no part of it. But I had no idea what to do next.

I sought the advice of a career counselor. My advisor had a unique approach. From a series of writing exercises in which I listed people I most admired, I discovered what they all had in common--multiple careers and interests. They were Renaissance comrades in an era of specialization--both/and people in a world where we think in either/or terms. My wise advisor listened to my lists and essays and summarized my personality in a word. "You are a bridge", he said. "You are good at making connections between careers, between people, between ideas. You're so-called 'lack of focus' is your strength. Don't be afraid to be yourself."

It has not always been easy, and I often feel torn in too many directions at once. But I have learned to honor my "restless muse". These different passions and parts of my personality are like children: they each deserve equal attention, and if I neglect one too long I become morose and tired and difficult to live with.

I now hold fast to the liberal arts ideal that Lawrence instilled in me so long ago, and follow my own path. In this symphony that is my life, I will not neglect the strings, or the brass, or woodwinds or percussion, but give each a chance to sing, and revel in the glory of the whole that is more than the parts. For that is what I find most beautiful. That is why I am here.