Songs of Susannah: Music is my first language





When I was a child, I was taught that I shouldn't hide my light under a bushel. People are given talents for a reason. When you have a calling, don't make like Jonah. Listen, heed it, or else God can rather brutally redirect your path until you do what you're meant to do.

My career path reminds me of Jonah. Jonah was supposed to go to Nineveh to preach, but he didn't think he'd be successful, so he got in a boat and went the other way. He took the wrong path, though when he finally got to Nineveh, he was actually very successful.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path."

Jonah can tell you, God can be very brutal about redirecting your path when you are on the wrong one, when you hear a calling and you don't heed it.

As a teenager, I had a calling. I realized that I was supposed to be a musician when I grew up. My Sophomore year of high school, I told my piano teacher, and he made me learn scales and do more music theory. He had me enter piano competitions. He told me it was going to be much harder from now on.

I thought I should major in music education (this was before Save The Music), because it would be practical, but my heart was always in composing music. I had been writing about 3 songs a year since I was a child (though I made up many more as a toddler that I can no longer remember, since making up songs was my original form of communication, when I was too echolalic to communicate through speech).

I wrote more music my Junior year, and my Senior year, I wrote at least 26 complete songs and 3 incomplete songs. Before the school year was over, I wrote, "Yesterday was a Good Friday, and I mean that in more ways than one. I have now written 78 songs." (I suspect many of those songs were unfinished; I probably was not counting many of the ones I wrote before high school.) I saw myself as a composer, and I felt called to write music.

By the end of my first semester of college, I thought it was a siren song. I was totally burned out from less than a semester as a music major, and I didn't want to play anything except my own compositions and whatever else was in my head (usually, my own covers of alternative, new wave, and folk music). Throughout college, I felt very tempted to major in music. I had reinterpreted my calling as a path leading to my doom, an inability to support myself financially.

I love anthropology. I could not get enough of it. I was the best in my archaeology field school, and I even loved the parts all my classmates hated. I planned to be an archaeologist, until my back exploded (a slight exaggeration; the same disc has slipped nine times). It never occurred to me that I would not get better, and I graduated with a useless degree, because my body could no longer perform the job that my education qualified me for.

I went to graduate school for Museum Studies. The program was a bad fit; I was not called to work in a museum. After that semester, I tried to get a job for almost a year before I finally got a low-paying pink collar call center job an hour's drive from home, which did not even require a high school diploma or GED. I worked there for six years.

When my vocal cord became completely paralyzed, I was angry at my mother for telling me that God paralyzed my vocal cord because He didn't want me to work in a call center. If so, why that way? Because why would He also take away my best chance at succeeding as a musician? What could He want from me?

Vocational Rehabilitation was no help, as they could not find a job that I could do, and of the many thousands of jobs I applied for, only three even bothered to tell me they weren't interested. I was totally unemployable, and was denied both Unemployment and Social Security Disability. I fell through a crack in the system.

Finding myself in that crack, I wrote a book manuscript. When it was nearly finished, I lost both the backup copy from my flash drive, and the hard drive on my computer, within 48 hours of each other. All that work, just gone.

I wrote another book, this time a finished one (about a completely different subject), and then felt too much anxiety about how personal it was to even send my query letter to the publisher I had selected.

I got pneumonia in February, 2015, with no health insurance, and, fighting it with wild oregano and lungwort and a few other herbs, I thought I might die. Looking back on my life, I realized that my one regret in life would be that my music would die with me.

Here I am, full circle. I don't know why I was lead on this path, with all these rather brutal health crises and subsequent ongoing disabilities, that are going to make it much harder for me as a musician. I don't know why majoring in music was a mistake I needed to be directed away from.

I certainly don't understand this circuitous, labyrinthine path I've been on for over twenty years, that has lead me back to where I started.

I just know that I can really relate to Jonah. Being in the belly of a great fish is no picnic, any more than back problems, vocal cord paralysis, or rejection are. No one wants to be partially digested and then spit out. It remains to be seen whether or not I will meet with Jonah-level success when the people of Nineveh (a.k.a. the people online) finally hear my music. I just know that the calling never stopped, and, having run out of all other options, I'm giving this a go.

-- Susannah M. Rolfes, January 10, 2020