Birthdays are strange and powerful. I don’t know what it is, but no matter how dismissive you try to be about your own birthday, you can never quite convince your own heart that it’s just a day like any other day. For me at least, it’s evolved from a celebration that I greatly look forward to every year until I turned twenty-two and started having a quarter life crisis. And every birthday since then has marked another year in which I’ve achieved less than I’ve wanted, spent more time doing things I don’t love and less time doing things I do love, and to top it all off, it’s another year gone.
Quite ironic, actually, for someone who naturally tends to be an obsessive compulsive planner (born and raised also by extremely foresighted planners). Yes, I am that girl who:
- not only showed up with job interviews with a lengthy prepared answer to the question “Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?”, but also had an answer to “What do you want to do with your life?”;
- had picked out her high school electives as soon as I started seventh grade and took and ran with the plan my parents had laid the groundwork for into my early twenties;
- is one of those typical paper tigers whose first objective was to get a job at a global company with a very well defined career progression, saved every penny for three years and then immediately bought an investment property during the period when the First Home Owners Grant from the Australia Federal Government and the NSW State Government amounted to a glorious $24,000 with no stamp duty.
- when the topics of weddings came up, always talked about how I knew exactly when I would get married (at 25) because I did not want to have children any later than 29, assumed I would have the ideal picture perfect two kids one year apart (i.e. first one at 27, second at 29) and wanted to spend a few (i.e. two) lovey dovey years enjoying a romantic world of “my-husband-and-I” before settling down.
I am that girl who was so focused on the goal and the prize that I never stopped to ask whether I still wanted to run that race at all. And by the time I realized I wanted to run a different race, it felt like I was giving up half way and choosing to fail.
And so in typical Deb fashion, I’ve not technically “given up” yet and tried to get somewhere with a halfway compromise, all the while telling myself that it’s the smart thing to do (because, who would give up a stable job when you have one, right?). Sometimes I wonder whether the fact that I’m not waiting on musical success to be able to feed, clothe and house myself makes me less determined to achieve it.
Recently, I’ve been going through the backlog in my reading list so I picked up
Developing Plan B
Well-meaning friends and advisers never hesitate to reach out to artists. They suggest we have a backup plan, something to fall back on if the art thing doesn’t work out so well.
You’ve probably guessed what happens when you have a great backup plan: You end up settling for the backup. As soon as you say “I’ll try my best,” instead of “I will,” you’ve opened the door for the lizard.
The resistance desperately seeks to sabotage your art. A well-defined backup plan is sabotage waiting to happen. Why push through the dip, why take the risk, why blow it all when there’s the comfortable alternative instead? The people who break through usually have nothing to lose, and they almost never have a backup plan.
—Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Much as I would like to throw caution to the wind and just go for it, I can’t because – as Seth Godin would put it – my “lizard brain” won’t let me. So I’m doing the next best thing. I’m going to take advantage of my proven track record to cram crazy amounts of commitments into my waking hours, except this time, I won’t be doing it with maths, chemistry, CA textbooks, or anything work-related. I am going to overload with music and drama.
- I am going to see at least one show a week.
- I am going to read at least one book a week.
- I am going to keep pushing myself to write pieces outside of my natural style at the Juilliard Evening Composition Class without limits. Twelve-tone music, music with non-musical instruments, serialism, minimalism, whatever – bring it on!
- I am going to be a part of the inaugural group of composers forming the Composers’ Collective and I am going write the opening number of
Auditors: The Musicalfor our spring concert.
- I am going to learn how to improvise by doing the Berklee College of Music Jazz Improvisation class with Gary Burton.
- And because it isn’t overloading without going over the top, I am going to write an album this month for February Album Writing Month. 14 songs in 28 days. Even if all of them are terrible, at least I’m writing stuff – and I will remember that the first draft of everything is $#[email protected].
With all of that going on, it should get me back on track with 26 songs. Especially since the Composers’ Collective meets fortnightly, with the intent to bring a new work to share and get feedback at every meeting. And it was quite fitting that for last Friday’s meeting, that the theme was “happy birthday”. Of course, as seems to be typical with every song I write, it is on the depressing side of things (it’s okay, I’m fine, I’m okay, I’m not projecting, I swear).
The inspiration for the song came to me as I was walking home from class last week, singing
Just Keep Moving The Line from
SMASH to myself.
When I sat down to write it, I had
Maybe Next Time from
Cabaret in my head.
The version I am posting now is the third revision from what I initially brought for Friday’s reading, but it’s still pretty rough around the edges, particularly notation wise, so what you’ll hear in the recording does not necessarily match to the score as currently written.
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Sheet music is at the bottom of this post.
What’s so special about a birthday?
A day when somebody was born
Birthday girls get presents
Birthday boys get praise
And everyone else is carried away
By nothing special at all
What’s so special about a birthday?
To celebrate with cards and song
Birthday girls get kisses
Birthday boys get drunk
And everyone else just goes along
With nothing special at all
It’s the one day of the year
When people you don’t even know
Remind me you of fears in your soul, oh!
When will you get it together?
When will you settle down?
When will you stop looking for all things you still haven’t found?
Oh! What’s so special about a birthday?
The day when somebody was born
I don’t want your endless questions
Just leave me here alone to be disappointed with my life
There’s nothing worth a party
Nothing worth a speech
My birthday’s nothing special at all
Happy birthday to me
—Music and lyrics by Deborah Lau
Today is not my birthday, but it is a birthday of sorts. I always tell people that I’ve moved to New York three times in my life: once to study, once to work and once to chase my dreams. Each time I’ve always arrived in early January and taking the few weeks until February to really settle in. So today feels like a birthday, for my life in New York. And while it may not be anything special, I am still thankful I have today.