Apparently, I’m the Christopher Columbus of Music
A n important part of building a creative career is feeling like you’re going nowhere. In the last two months, I’ve been focused on finishing a novel I started more than a year ago. In my spare time, I blog, make music, and do improv comedy.
Having finished the latest draft of my novel and moved onto revisions, though, has left me feeling slightly adrift. It’s much less satisfying to reread and rewrite work you’ve already done than it is to crank out words as you watch your manuscript get longer and longer.
This past weekend, I tried to escape my funk by reading a book called You Are a Badass, in which writer Jen Sincero promises to tell you how to stop doubting your awesomeness and be a total badass.
This is not my first cattle run at the Self Help Corral, so I wasn’t surprised to find that the text contains many inspirational quotes. That’s what self-help books are — a collection of sugary sweet, vaguely deep, occasionally meaningful quotes. Like Instagram but on paper. And fewer pictures of sunsets. And no DMs.
But one quote struck a chord with me:
One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.
— André Gide
The sentiment resonated with me because, lately, I feel I’ve lost sight of the shore but can’t yet see the destination. What if this novel is never what I want it to be? What if I have to go back to a 9 to 5 I’m not passionate about? What if my ambition far outstretches my talent? What if I’m stuck out here in the middle of the ocean forever and I’m either eaten by sharks or kidnapped by mermaids?
The only thing keeping me from doggy-paddling my ass back to an office job is the possibility that there is a destination out there. That if I keep swimming I will, eventually, run into a beach. I will stand up and trudge through the last stretch of water and the shells and rocks will tear up my feet. And when I get to dry land, the sand will stick all over me because I’ll be wet from swimming — and also because my feet will be bleeding.
Anyway, as I sat there reading this quote in You Are A Badass, I thought to myself, “Yes! I may have lost sight of the shore but that’s part of the adventure. I’m an explorer. I’m like Christopher Columbus!”
Some of you may already see the problem with this particular comparison.
I have been Christopher Columbus before. As I mentioned, when I’m not writing or revising, I’m trying to make music. Few things make me feel more inept than stumbling through GarageBand and trying desperately to make my guitar and my voice sound like the ideas I have in my head.
But sometimes inspiration strikes.
Like it did a couple of years ago. I was playing guitar and stumbled onto this simple but impactful riff. So I kept working on the song and it kept coming together. It was like I’d finally seen the shore after treading water for days. So I kept swimming, I kept writing, and I kept playing power chords because I’m not a great guitarist.
And, finally, I arrived.
I felt the sand beneath my feet and I came up out of the waves and thought “YES! I have done it! I have found this new land. I have discovered something and it is mine. I have the whole nexus of creation within me! I have written this song and I’m walking up onto my new land, just like Christopher Columbus.”
I thought, “There has to be some mistake, I found this,” — the thought process of every white person in history who has stumbled onto something cool and decided it’s theirs.
My uncertain voyage from the safety of shore had taken me to a land no one else had ever known.
But just like Columbus, I saw… something I wasn’t expecting.
There were already people on this land. People who had been there for a long time. I thought, “There has to be some mistake, I found this,” — the thought process of every white person in history who has stumbled onto something cool and decided it’s theirs.
But the people on this land I’d found were also white.
They had long dark hair, wore black jeans, and looked like they hadn’t showered in a while. So I marched up to them and said, “Excuse me, you’re on my land.”
“Don’t think so,” one of them said, spitting on the ground.
“No!” I shouted. “I pushed through the uncertainty, and I wrote this amazing song!”
And it’s only then that I recognized them. I’d seen them on T-shirts. I’d seen their names surrounding that iconic logo. This land was already occupied by the Ramones.
That awesome song I wrote was “Blitzkrieg Bop.”
I hadn’t written lyrics yet, so I didn’t have the “Hey! Ho! Let’s go!”s. But the main riff was there. My incredible discovery had already been found in 1976. And that’s why Johnny, Dee Dee, Joey, and Tommy were looking at me with such disdain.
I stood there on the beach, sand digging into my cut-up feet, arms aching from hours of swimming, feeling the peculiar embarrassment of going from brilliant to idiotic in two seconds.
I didn’t keep arguing, though. They were right.
And in this way, I am not Christopher Columbus, because instead of exploiting, stealing from, and killing the Ramones, I just turned around and waded back into the ocean.
Because maybe you have to run into a few not-so-new lands before you find your own.
And because imperialism is bad.