Cleaning out the closet can reveal the bones of projects long forgotten...
For the second time in two years, I've had to move apartments. The first move was a huge cross‑country adventure, while the second was a quick shift across to another unit in the same building.
The first required that I go through all the stuff I had accumulated in the previous 10 years, deciding if each item was either something to get rid of, something to store, or something to take with me.
If you've ever gone through this process, you'll know that it can be a tremendous ordeal. Each time you pull up roots, it takes you on a little 'memory journey'. With each item you evaluate, you recount the circumstances through which you obtained it, how you were going to use it, and how long ago it came into your possession. You can find yourself cycling through a stream of odd emotions.
I thought I had gone through a major purge before I moved West, so I was very surprised to find that — less than two years later — I had accumulated another mass of crap that needed to be sifted through before the second move could take place.
As I clawed through my new junk pile, I started to become frustrated with the number of items that represented projects I'd never finished, and in most cases, never even started.
Sure, it's normal for a musician (professional or otherwise) to accumulate instruments and gadgets, so I didn't give myself a hard time about most of those, but some items really forced me to wonder what I was thinking.
I came across three metronomes that I had purchased in just two years. Why? Because with each one came the promise of a new piano‑practice regime. It never happened. One of them is completely unused. I probably thought that if I shelled out some money, the hard part was over, and my piano playing would start improving immediately.
I found some instruments that I played no more than once each, the melodica being a great example. When I bought it, I thought that, with a bit of practice, I'd become the funkiest and hippest melodica dude on the planet. Unfortunately, it hurt my mouth and sounded awful so I abandoned it. But I didn't store it or chuck it, because I still, in some part of my little brain, thought that I might one day become the Charlie Parker of the melodica.
Books are another big issue for me. Even after the original purge, I still have dozens of books with un‑cracked spines. With each book came the fantasy that with new-found knowledge, I'd have all I needed to become a better composer, arranger, piano player, poker player, chef and magician.
Again, the mere act of purchasing these books was enough for me to say "I'm done — good work, Dave!” I share the blame with Amazon's 'buy with one‑click' feature. In my defence, I have walls of books from which I've learned a great deal, but it's about a 1:1 ratio of useful to unused.
The process of being forced to look at my life — by way of used and unused junk — has been somewhat eye‑opening and more than a little depressing. The author Annie Dillard wrote that "you open your safe and find ashes”. Although I don't know the meaning in its original context, that quote has become my mantra of sorts. To me, it means that anything worth keeping is worth exploring right now. Immediately, in fact. Otherwise, it becomes useless and obsolete. Saving things for the perfect time is futile. The perfect time is usually now.
So, with that in mind, the rule as I go through my cupboards is either "get rid of it” or "start reading it today”. "Get rid of it” or "start playing it today”. Coming back to it later (or indeed, opening the safe) deprives you of your original enthusiasm for conquering the task. Enthusiasm creates motivation which, in turn, creates progress, joy, more enthusiasm and more motivation.
If you're anything like me, and have lived in the same place for a number of years, filling it with junk, I strongly encourage you to use it, or move it!
David Ricard is an Emmy‑nominated TV and film composer living and hoarding in Los Angeles.