How often do you have level up moments?
As a kid, they’re abundant. You’re growing, learning, understanding boundaries. You’re sussing out what you can and can’t do, where the edges of your potential lie. You learn more, understand more, those boundaries shift. You’re capable of more than you once were, and with this recognition, your potential grows. It’s exciting, and even a little scary. Sometimes it doesn’t happen when you expect, or you’re ready for an outcome that doesn’t work out. Coming up against this friction is frightening, but important. Oftentimes it’ll cause you to shift back, be reticent to put yourself out there. Growth, however, comes from facing the adversity in front of you and pushing past it. Learning to recalibrate and find new opportunities or directions to take. If everything’s too easy, you’re not growing. If you have nothing difficult to face, there’s no level to surpass. Nothing changes, and you stagnate. As an adult, this is plateauing, and it’s all too common.
This all sounds very heady, especially given where I’m going. Bear with me, it’s heading somewhere. Years ago I worked in radio. I was a production engineer, which is a fancy way of saying I edited audio. I recorded voice, made foley and mixed it all together with music and other SFX to make radio ads and station imaging. It was the best job I’ve ever had, and I feel like I’ve spent my entire adult life chasing that high. I had an amazingly creative boss, who constantly pushed me to experiment, throw shit at the wall and go beyond the limits of what I thought possible. I learned a lot, and there are lessons he taught that still continue to pay dividends. It was also a job. No matter how creative it was, it was a 9-5 and I treated it as such. Despite the opportunity in front of me, I rarely shifted from my “home by 5” mentality. I just wanted to get shit done and get out of there. I was stuck in this rut (right up my anus, really) where I was from the big city. I thought I was better than the work, that this was all a stopgap on my way to greater things. It was arrogant as fuck. I was also 22. I was arrogant as fuck. Much as I value the opportunities I took, I can’t help but think of the myriad that I missed because I’d mentally already flown the coop.
A week or so ago I looked at the pro tools hardware sitting on my desk. It always sits there, mostly disconnected. I was lucky to pick it up second hand for a steal, because even if it’s a few years out of date, it’s an incredibly powerful piece of hardware that enables infinite creativity. It’s been idle for a long time, there if I’ve needed it, but otherwise unused. I haven’t needed it much over the past few years, but whenever necessity has struck, it’s been there. Looking at this digi 002, I wondered why, with this powerful piece of hardware next to my keyboard, I was waiting for necessity to strike. I had the skills to do something, and was letting them languish. In my head there’d always been a link between audio editing and work. It was prime for necessity, simply because I’d never considered it any other way. What if, just maybe, I tried messing around with it for fun? Not because I had to, but because I could? Because in the grand scheme of things, I had the ability to do something that not everyone could, and casting that aside was a total waste. That if I only ever did what I had to, I’d rarely find out what I could do.
I’ve never particularly liked the song “Miss You” by Blink 182. When it was released, it signalled a departure from the more juvenile toilet humour the band prided itself on. It was their stab at a mature, haunting ballad, and they shit the bed entirely as soon as Tom DeLonge screamed out “WHERE ARE YOOOU” in his needly pitch. Over the years I’ve had endless laughs from shitting on it relentlessly. It’s been the subject of innumerable jokes and memes with friends. Nathan Fielder asked twitter to make a 12 hour loop of Tom’s verse, and I’ve trolled my mates with it on countless occasions. On Wednesday I wondered, just for shits and giggles, if the isolated vocals were out there to fuck around with. I found the vocals and made a seven second audio scene turning the dual vocals into a telephone conversation. It was incredibly insipid, and very fun to make. I went out to a beer event, stoked to have done something with my skills no matter how small. When I returned from the event, brimming with alcohol inspired pep, I dug back in and made a new version that was about a minute long. I listened in the morning, it wasn’t amazing, but it was kinda funny. Then Friday night while I was home alone, I remembered this neat thing people were doing circa 2008, where they’d take songs and slow them down 800%, creating surreal audio landscapes. Justin Bieber’s “Baby” was the flare that launched a thousand imitators, and it was a blast while it lasted. I thought about applying it to just DeLonge’s verse, and wondered how to do it in a technical sense. I got the software and tried it out, first 800% then 1600%. It clicked. The outcome was sorta haunting and, weirdly enough, probably more of the atmosphere the original song sought than it accomplished. I was tickled.
It’s no secret that I’m a big Neil Cicierega fan. I even know how to spell The Godfather of the Internet’s last name by now. Like I said, big fan. He’s an immensely talented and creative dude, and also embodies the kind of gonzo oddity I adore. One of his more well known shticks is his propensity for making mash ups with Smash Mouth’s “All Star”. They’re ridiculous, absurd but also intentionally jarring. Yesterday I was thinking to myself, what’s the opposite of Blink 182’s “Miss You”? Immediately Earth Wind and Fire’s “September” came to mind, a song that’s joy incarnate. There was no way the two tracks would fit together, which only made me want to force it more. In all my years of mash up fandom, I’d never made one of my own. Why not give it a whirl? I found an instrumental of “September” and started fucking around with it. Weirdly, it worked better than I thought. I hastily threw it all together, mixed it and put it out to friends. I was beyond chuffed. I’d actually made something for the sake of making something, nothing more. No necessity, just desire. And it was decent. Not perfect, but decent. I noticed little errors the more I listened, but it was fine, and that was good enough for me. It was done.
One of my friends was like “oh, that’s fun, but you should probably bring this down in the mix, try inserting some of these parts from the original” etc. I innately bristled. I didn’t see him making a mash up from scratch. Where did he get off throwing advice my way? I was the one who’d put myself out there and done something from my own provocation. Fuck this guy and his attitude. Then two seconds later I was like wait, fuck me. He’s right and I’m the one with the attitude. There is more that can be done here, and just because I’ve finished one version, that doesn’t mean I need to be done with it all. There’s nothing stopping me from going back and changing it, improving it. Nobody is waiting on me, expecting anything or even asking for it in the first place. To wit, NOBODY WANTS THIS, except maybe me. Maybe. This is entirely for me, and I deserve to put out something better, right?
Here’s the thing that I’ve always kind of known and never wanted to admit to myself. I’m intellectually lazy. It’s not that I’m not intelligent or talented, but I’m terrified of putting in hard work. It’s a common trait amongst gifted kids, but if you get used to things coming naturally and easy to you, the thought of trying becomes verboten. If something is difficult, clearly it’s not worth doing, right? This intellectual laziness has plagued my entire life. I’ve always taken the easy route, or rejected an outcome if it was reliant on grit. I can’t begin to fathom how many projects I’ve phoned in or half-arsed. Work I’ve submitted when I knew it wasn’t my best, but it was enough to make it seem like I’d gone all in. I hadn’t. In most cases, there was almost always more in the tank that I didn’t want to give. I saw it play out all through university and my work in radio. I’ve seen it most every day with this writing project, where I’ll get to 30 minutes and think well, I’ve done as much as I had to, let’s get the fuck out of here. So many abandoned pieces of writing that still had unexplored headroom. It’s exactly what’s held me back from comedy, just thinking about the re-writes, editing, and endless nights out workshopping to incrementally improve my content. It’s all been too much work, so I’ve done the bare minimum to avoid taking responsibility instead.
I don’t get to have an honest conversation about what I deserve without first acknowledging what I’m willing to do to get it. The two notions are inextricably tied. Whatever life I think I should be living, it’s something that I need to earn, and I’m not sure I’ve really even earned as much as I have. It all comes down to fear, of course. I’m afraid that maybe I’m really not all that talented. That if I do put in hard work, the outcome won’t be all that great. That deep down I’m not as creative as I think I am. That if I put my heart into my work, it’ll sink when I discover mediocrity all the way down. That the life I deserve, really, is less than what I’ve already got. I’ve arrived at where I am with the consistent pattern of not trying my best, so I always have an excuse in my back pocket. That if I don’t put in the hard work, I can always point to that potential reserve that’s been forever untouched. It’s easy to do nothing, and it’s also fruitless.
It’s not good enough anymore. I need to do more, because I need more in my life. I need to try, stumble, fail, and get back up. I need to take the time, put in the effort and earn my outcomes. As dumb as it sounds, I’m gonna go back and work on my stupid Blink 182 mash up because it represents more than just a silly idea. It’s a chance to try at something, and I’ve squandered enough of those for a lifetime.