Friday, November 6, 2015

My Journey to an Artistic Life

San Marcos – The Final College Years (Grad School)


From 2012 to 2014, I worked on getting my Master’s degree in Music Theory/Composition at Texas State University. During that time I lived in the town in which the University is located: San Marcos. There are many great things I could say about, San Marcos, most of them food or boardgame related, including: an amazing Salt Grass Steak House—with an outdoor porch that is built overlooking the San Marcos River (breathtaking at sunset), the bazaar/unique/fun/confusing store: Hastings – an unusual mixture of video store, book store, game store, and sports. Essentially, if you wanted something fun to do, you went to Hastings. It was there that I became interested in boardgaming (that and watching Tabletop on Youtube – Go Will Wheaton!) and began competitively playing the card game, Magic the Gathering. Side note, other great food places are: Cottenseed Deli, The Root Cellar, and, of course, Jason’s Deli.

 It may be an understatement that my wife and I loved Jason’s Deli and went there a little to often. At 6pm, after I was at school all day and my wife got off work from the bank (she was and still is a bank teller), we just didn’t want to cook. One of the employees whenever you would ask him “how he was doing” would sarcastically respond: “I am living the dream, man.” This statement never lost its humor for me, but also caused me to feel sympathetic for this worker who was self-aware of the mostly dead-end nature of his employment. At the time, the median income in San Marcos was under $30,000 a year, an impoverished area comprised mostly of college students who come, stay for a few years, and then leave – a viscous cycle where no one gets ahead.

But that’s not why I told this story, the statement: “I’m living the dream, man” a little sarcastically, but even more literally, perfectly captures my current artistic lifestyle.      

Living the Dream: How I Got to Where I Am

Currently, nope need to go back further, ok… Back in 2007, when I had just finished high school, I began teaching piano lessons. At that point, I had played the instrument for only 5 years, but teaching beginners didn’t seem too hard so I started working with two students on a weekly basis. Two became four and so on. In the process, I discovered that I enjoyed teaching, especially one-on-one instruction. I worked for a local charter school as a vendor of piano lessons as part of my studio, and continued to perform as one of the three primary pianists at my church in California. My teaching of piano lessons continued throughout my college years (2007-2014). 

My original career goal was to become a professor of music theory/composition at a university, requiring another 3-4 years of work beyond the seven that I have already completed to earn a doctorate, but that goal, for now is on hold. After working hard for the last seven years, I needed a break, but also wanted to take some time to see what I want to do with my life. Becoming a full time professor at a university, with a growing number of applicants and a shrinking number of tenured, full-time positions available, means that it is very difficult to accomplish. I am not one to shy away from hard goals, but after conducting a cost-benefit analysis without assuming that getting a full-time position at a university is a matter of course (the assumption made by many of my professors when trying push me into going straight on to doctorate work).

There are three things to consider when starting a new project:

Time commitment

Here is what I came to about getting a doctorate:

       Time: 3-4 more years!
     Money: Unknown Amount (potentially 40k-100k debt)
 Stress: High level

What does a doctorate earn me?

The ability to become a part-time adjunct professor for two or more years, no benefits under $20,000 a year income, and then if I am lucky: a $35,000-$40,000 a year job with benefits with wage increases if I produce a number of research publications a year, not including committees, and then travel for conferences. Over 40 years I could be making six figures, but do I really want to spend my life that way?

The math didn’t work out, to many unknowns for my taste, but the worst part of it for me was the nonchalance that my professor took with the cost of the doctorate (I do not take debt lightly, and managed to avoid incurring much debt these past seven years) – “just go where they give the most money” I was told, but how much was unknown, unless I spent $100 per application + time on them, plus travel fees to interview at each of the universities, and I was told I should apply to at least 3-5, just to find out if they will give me any scholarships/fellowships or a graduate teaching position?   

Bottom line: I was broke, couldn’t afford all that and wasn’t about to charge blindly ahead.  

Living the Dream: Here I Am

A few years ago, soon after my wife and I became married, we had discussed our life ahead and thought about having a “bohemian” lifestyle where we lived as simply as possible, working for ourselves and cobbling together an income to live and save. As an ENFP (see blog post on personality), I was never to keen on the idea of a 9 to 5 office job (boring), I could continue to teach piano lessons, performing, and pursuing my dreams of being independently employed and a space where I can be creative. My wife initially thought that she might want to only work part-time; she ended up continuing her job as a bank teller, but I am getting ahead of myself.

We searched around the country to places where we thought we could make it and settled on the Triangle Area. We packed our small 500 sq. ft home, with our two cats in tow, began a three-day journey, traveling from Texas to North Carolina. The trip was long, but during that time I was able to see many new states that I never thought I would ever see. Growing up in California the word traveling meant going to San Francisco, up into the Sierra Nevada mountains or the coast, leaving the state did not happen, well ever, but I was always curious what was beyond the eastern range, so I found out…. Not much, dessert, barren but beautiful.

But I digress, now that we live here in North Carolina I have started my own private piano studio, perform piano professionally, began this blog, started YouTube channel dedicated to painting, and love living the dream, an impulsive artistic life that I am excited to share with you all! Art is a way that I can express myself – an outlet for an artist like me, and I hope to inspire others around me to become more creative as well.  

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