Some of that was expected. My partner and I left Phoenix for what is likely our only trip of the year so we could go meet my best friend (for the first time, since we met online), and doing that in a pandemic-safe way meant that instead of a few hours on a plane, we spent a grand total of forty-seven hours in the car. As Nick and I are still together, I consider that a massive success, if a nonstandard one.
We also were very fortunate to kick off the month of August by bringing home a new member of the family. Our new kitty, Lucas, is a one-year-old silver tabby who loves cheek scritches, any food he can get into, and sleeping on my legs. Marty fell in love with him in his first couple days. They’re already thick as thieves, and Nick and I are incredibly happy to see them both so content.
All that said . . . there isn’t a lot else going right for me these days. Before the executive orders and other political nonsense surrounding schools this summer, I was excited to get back into the classroom. But all that stress combined with rising case numbers, constantly-shifting internal policy, and still-low vax rates has turned anticipation into an all-consuming dread. Now I’m only willing to teach in-person at one campus to avoid ferrying COVID across the valley. (I’m employed by two colleges.) Course enrollment is low across the district. Adjuncts are seeing more classes than usual at high risk of not making—if they haven’t been axed already.
If not for both my bosses fighting tooth and nail to make sure I stay with them this year, I don’t think I’d still have classes this fall.
Since moving back to Phoenix, one phrase (besides “it’s better now”) has begun to permeate my consciousness—and weigh on my mind—more than it ever did while I was in California. I absolutely spoiled any chance at a surprise with my title, so yes, that phrase is “paying your dues.” Despite all the time I’ve spent wandering through various genres and fields of music, it’s never quite rung true to me. This is, I think, partly because of how intentionally nonspecific it is and partly because of the conditions under which I make music and move through the world at large. The depths of this issue are murky, and from here it’s difficult to see the bottom, but if I had to take a stab at a thesis, it’d be this: the gatekeeping, favoritism, and institutional bias that create the foundation of “paying your dues” stifle creativity, discourage participation, alienate newcomers, and serve the white patriarchy.
Wow, that’s a lot to unpack. So let’s take it a bite at a time, shall we?
Before we get into it, I’m not sure why this didn’t come up a lot while I was in Los Angeles, but the answer is probably partly regional and partly cultural. A wise jazz musician once pointed out to me that the prevalence and outward manifestation of misogyny varies drastically by location. Generally, New York and LA are noticeably different (though not necessarily less misogynist) than most of the rest of the country. And while this “paying your dues” thing can undoubtedly play into that, I think another part of the equation is that mindless playing-for-the-paycheck work isn’t as looked down on in LA as it sometimes is in some pockets of Phoenix—in part because gigs are a step up from the carousel of day jobs, plural, needed to pay Los Angeles rent.
The other part of this, I suppose, is that I wasn’t told to pay my dues in LA; I was told to put in the work. While both phrases carry similar weight, there’s a lot more flexibility to the latter. My friends and teachers saw me making angry assault music and counted that as “doing the work.” They saw me advocating for student life improvements and institutional change and counted that as “doing the work.” They see me blogging about the need for better treatment across the board and count that as “doing the work.” But regardless of the details, I didn’t hear or talk about or think about “paying my dues” much in California, and I do in Arizona, so it’s time to break down some concepts. Continue reading “Paying Your Dues (and other bullshit)”→
Sometimes it feels like I, a person with a 408 area code, was always destined for the 480. The universe likes playing tricks, so it’s not a completely unreasonable suspicion. That said, as many of my AZ-native friends understand, I left, and I didn’t really expect to be back. In fact, if you asked me a year ago if I ever thought I’d live and work in Phoenix again, the answer would have been a vehement no.
On the flip side, when your partner gets the opportunity to study with one of the best trombone teachers in the country, you take it. (Dr. E, I don’t think you’re reading this, but if you are, hi!) As a Sun Devil alum, I’m thrilled John and I will both have degrees from ASU (and CalArts . . . but in opposite orders). As someone with a handful of friends I’ve missed desperately, I’m looking forward to reconnecting. But as someone who took some very bad moments and memories with me when I left the desert, as someone who realizes the reasons I was so frequently brushed over and passed by are myriad and gendered, I am . . . less excited. Continue reading “Okay, Phoenix, Let’s Tango”→