Your Life, Your Music
"If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn."
— Charlie Parker
The converse to this Parker quote is that if it comes out your horn, it’s because you lived it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about bias these days. Looking into my own biases and parsing out where, exactly, the playing of my horn is exposing those dark areas of things I cannot get behind no matter how many strident, angry voices tell me to.
What comes out of my horn for some time in recent history is predicated by my experience, thus the quote.
I have a true disdain for the public shaming, call out culture because a few years ago I was subjected to it. I unfriended someone (on fucking Faceborg) and that lead to public cries that I was a racist bully. I was not, nor am I, a racist bully so, of course, my bias tends to see any accusation of such with more skepticism.
I have a bit of a side eye when it comes to accusations of sexual impropriety because, again, many years ago, I was wrongfully accused of it. Luckily for me, the accuser recanted the very next day as her claims were quickly disproven but the hysteria and intentionally gullibility of those in power to fire me were such that the experience produced a significant battle scar. Mind you, this was decades before #MeToo.
Also, I’ve had a rough history with drugs and booze, had sex before puberty by a much older girl who was supposed to be babysitting me, was bullied relentlessly growing up because I was the outsider new kid everywhere, grew up poor, blah de fucking blah blah blah.
You know what? No one cares. Even if I weren't the avatar of all that is evil in the world (a straight, middle-aged white guy) no one would really care. They're all concerned about themselves.
You know what else? I’m completely fine with that. My shit is mine to deal with and that's the only choice I have so I do.
We all have scars and baggage and bad memories and shit that happened to us that wasn’t fair or consented to or deserved. I wonder why, after having a grown woman who worked and works as a social justice activist for death row inmates who were wrongfully accused, wrongfully accused me of assault to two police officers, I didn’t abandon all good will to women. Or to 40-year old Asian women. Or to 40-year-old Asian women who work in prisons.
Then I remember — I’m an adult. I have learned to cope with my emotional scars in such a way that prevents me from becoming a monstrous fuckhole hellbent on hating those I may have a bias against for anecdotal reasons.
I wonder why, after having been robbed on the streets of Chicago three times in 30 years (once at gunpoint) all by young, black men, I don’t categorize all young black men as violent thieves.
Then I remember — I’m a grown person. To assume my personal experiences are indicative of the entire species is the self-centered perspective of a child unwilling to reckon with the fact that, on a hunk of rock with over seven billion people in it, I am not really much of a deal in the grand scheme.
Sure, I could get online and find thousands of people robbed by young, black men and start a hashtag out of need for solidarity but it just means that thousands of people, all using their esoteric realities to fuel their prejudice of an entire group of humans, agreed to coalesce their childish self-involved worldview to create a club.
"If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn."
If the sum total of who we are is the recycling of our wounded souls, our broken hearts, our marginalization, our pain without the added growth from wrestling with them, learning from them, and putting them away, we are all doomed infants destined to keep picking at our scabs, exposing the bleeding, until all we are is the lepers of the world crying for attention.
The active phrase “live it” includes not only experiencing love and loss, joy, and pain. It encapsulates the wisdom derived from living with those things as well. Much of our bias doesn’t come from the ether as if boys were just naturally disposed to being sexist creeps or girls were genetically set in concrete as emotionally charged wrecks. Bias, be it sexual, racial, nationalistic, religious, comes from experiencing these aspects of the world and creating a mental judgment. That creation is the “living it.”
Recognizing that one’s personal experience does not, can not, dictate a more empathetic global perspective of humanity and balancing bias with rationality and humility is “living with it.”
If what comes out of my horn is rage and hatred, I haven’t fully lived anything but the emotional equivalent of a gaping wound that I refuse to let heal. When I hear that sort of jangled, dissonant playing from someone else, I can hear their biases in the tune.
I can hear the scabs being perpetually torn off, the blood flowing fresh yet again. I can hear the weariness in the voice, wondering why things have been so harsh and unfair. The riffs on being harmed by words or actions, the lack of accountability for the victimizers, the bawling yelps of “LISTEN TO ME!” all played out a thousand times before.
It’s a shitty thing to tell someone who has just encountered an emotionally damaging thing to “get over it.” It’s a defeating thing to respond in word and deed that “I won’t get over it.” Defeating because the life of reliving the pain, retelling the injustice over and over — to therapists, to your Faceborg friends, to the guy driving the Uber — is the only music that comes out of the horn.
Understandable though it is to want to change the behavior and music of others, the only music one truly has the power to change is their own.