Study Hall

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Living The Dream: Musing About The Pro Audio Tech Journey

So you got the golden ticket to the career of your dreams...

The ceiling sometimes seems like a mighty long way up when you’re laying down.

I usually contemplate this when I’m showing off for civilians, pretending to do something über-technical, all hunched over and muttery, arms buried to my shoulders in the back of a pouting outboard rack, trying to coax light from what appears to be gaping dark.  (I imagine sometimes that parts of my chosen path are not unlike those experienced by large mammal veterinarians).

Immediate sidebar: Broken stuff is mostly structural misbehavior… we kick fragile, wonderful studio electronics over land and sea, and then get miffed when something has the temerity to suffer a mechanical ailment. Along with selected under-breath blessings, we grudgingly repair the offending piece while invoking the manufacturer’s name as a notorious purveyor of feces… all while every audio junkie within earshot instantly nods sagely… as if this is a thing. (It’s not always a thing.)

Anyway, back to the ceiling.

I have strong, large, manly hands that take to fine thread nuts and bolts like a duck paddling in a non-Newtonian fluid. (OK, seriously, I absolutely just wanted to use non-Newtonian fluid in a sentence so… I’ll wait while you look it up. Got it? Awesome. Tell me that previous bit of quip wasn’t freaking hilarious.)

I actually have angry misshapen Irish hands and kneecaps, contorted by a lifetime of knuckle cracking, nail biting and label people… and they most certainly don’t take well to sustained periods of close quarter troubleshooting. Occasionally, while elbow deep in a stage cage, I need a break, so I flop on my back to regain circulation. This is where my deep thinkin’ occurs.

During one such torpid interlude (after five back-to-backs), I was staring morbidly at the roof of a baseball stadium wondering if the riggers ever spit on us from up there. That kind of led to my musing about my place in life, and the big, wildly easy metaphor of the distance from the floor to the ceiling being like one’s career vector.

Got mental whiplash yet? Yeah, that’s what it’s like in my head. Welcome.

Saving The Day

Anyhow… while lying upside down contemplating life, along with how utterly and terribly I was being put upon by people demanding unreasonable things in intolerably short time frames, I did what I suspect most people would do. I felt sorry for me. After all, the pressures, the demands, these expectations of performance were… well, pretty much exactly what I had sought out my entire life.

Grrrr. I hate when reasonable me interrupts self-pitying me. Stupid truth, it totally gets in the way of what I prefer to feel.

So…

Additional sidebar: Seriously, when did prefacing every single response with “so” become a thing? I mean… for my part, I do it dramatically… to make everything seem as if I’m taking the time to reveal deeper truths to lesser beings, but is everyone of the opinion that their words are an order of magnitude above the listener’s current understanding? Or maybe it’s just a jackass mannerism.

So…

Sleepy, angry, horizontal musing. That’s pretty fertile soil for a revenge fantasy to take shape. Not in me, mind you…like some totally different tired system engineer. (So, to be clear, Not Me.)

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OK, me.

It turns out that revenge fantasies and hero fantasies activate the same pleasure sections of the brain in people that are pre-disposed to such things. (I just made that up.)

Along those lines, I used to have weird hybrid fantasies of rescue and redemption balled-up together. Mostly they involved me receiving a late-night phone call from a massive show just about to kick off, but somehow an audio issue is impeding everyone’s happiness. The phone rings and I answer.

Immediately (if anyone were looking at me), I would suddenly appear in soft focus with a very light headwind rustling my perfectly sleep tussled hair. I’d nod seriously to no one in particular as I received the symptoms of the malady, wipe a single hand over my face from top to bottom, man-spread my knees to rest my elbows on, and commence issuing systematic instructions for the diagnosis and correction of the issue.

One more sidebar: It’s worth noting that I was single when I whipped up this virtual world, so pretty much the only witness to my incredible calm would have been one emotionally anechoic ficus tree that seemed perpetually unimpressed with me.

After a quantum speed analysis of the data, my intuitive solution, as always, was spot on, and the PA would suddenly spring to life… quite possibly sounding better than it ever had according to later reports that happened immediately in my head.

I’d hang up, allowing the neutrinos of praise to pass through me without effect. I was, according to me, rightfully immune to gratitude.

And then slowly, while busy doing actual things, fantasy started becoming reality. I did start getting those phone calls. But it was occurring gradually, like someone quietly upping a turkey’s grain over the summer. (Most turkeys don’t wear button jeans or have access to scales in turkey decimals, so they’re easy to fool… plus they’re turkeys so… OK, you get it.)

Full Circle

Reality, as it often turns out, was unlike my hero fantasy. In actuality, I was much less handsome and calm on the phone when rescue remedies were anxiously requested. On average, my response when looking at a caller ID after-hours was usually just a single word: “Seriously?”

It was typically followed by non-heroic body language and puffy cheeks contemptuously exhaling through pursed lips. I also became married somewhere along the way, and unlike my stoic ficus (which I had killed for being aloof and unafraid of me), my wife suffered no issues with engagement.

“Stop being a beefwhistle.”

She often utters things like this. She’ll sit and watch me spin off through the seven stages of grief about some first-world problem, observing me with a patient, bemused expression until I get to acceptance, then say something like “I know it’s difficult living in a country where you have no choice what profession you’re assigned to, but maybe someday… someday you can pick what you do for a living and then you’ll truly be at peace.”

This is usually coupled with her finishing off whatever crunchy thing she was munching on and spinning on her heel to leave the room. She calls it Marital Mic Drop.

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Unlike the previous, full-time cranky me, these days I manage to take her point. I did request this. I did seek this. I did even fantasize about this… I just didn’t see it coming as I marched my way up to the view from the riggers perch. (I haven’t quite made it yet by any stretch of the imagination, residing somewhere between the limit of a lull’s reach and the first half of a downward Australian repel.)

The difference now, between my ‘tween rescue fantasy and my middle life grumpy push-back, is exactly the thing I preach constantly to our worldly and wise teenagers: self-awareness. I’m aware that I control the direction and rate of climb or decent and that magically, if I was working towards something with enough passion, chances are some version of it is going to occur, even if I happen to be looking the other way when it does.

Instead of startled, I should be pleased… instead of angry, I should be honored. I have, somewhere, somehow, opened myself to Roald Dahl’s advice at the end of Willy Wonka:

Mr. Wonka: “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.”

Charlie Bucket: “What happened?”

Mr. Wonka: “He lived happily ever after.”

Possibly… but one thing is sure. I may not be able to see it lying on the floor, but the view from the roof these days definitely shows a glinting golden ticket lying next to my head.

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