Where Did I Park? : The Neurodivergent Musician5 min read

I’m at least an hour and half early.  I didn’t know what parking would be like, and tran­si­tioning from Mom brain to Entertainer brain is a one-way street.  Did I remember every­thing? Do I have my music? Did I take my meds? Crap! I forgot to take my meds.

It’s okay, I have them in my purse and if I take them now I should have some sup­port by the time I have to per­form.  I park and put my flashers on. There is no place near the venue to park. 

Did I bring any busi­ness cards? Yes. They are in the case with my reading light. My music stand!!! Oh. Phew, it’s here. I unload my key­board.  It’s heavy.  I roll that sucker into the venue.  No one holds the door open because chivalry is dead.

I make two or three more trips for my ukuleles and guitar.  I get back into my minivan and drive a ¼ mile away to park and walk back in my high heels.  The stage isn’t ready for me. I begin to pre­pare the stage the best I can and try to guess how far away from me my music stand has to be so that the audi­ence can see me and I can still see the music.  It’s dark and it’s so noisy in here. I wonder if the sound tech­ni­cian will be here on time.

I get the stage set up.  My music is in order already because I had been obsessing about the set list for the last week (at least).  It needs to make sense. The sto­ry­line is impor­tant. God, it is so loud in here. Should I have a glass of wine?  No. It’s hard to stop drinking because even though it brings the noise down, it is hard to stop, and I can’t play well if I’ve had much to drink.  

The sound tech­ni­cian is here.  I only have 20 min­utes before I am sup­posed to start.  Soundcheck. I hate this part. What am I sup­posed to play?  Do I sing some­thing that I am going to sing again in my set? I just want it to be over with so I say every­thing sounds fine in the mon­i­tors.  It is not fine.  It hurts my ears.  It hurts my whole body.  It’s not nec­es­sarily because it is too loud, it’s some­thing else, some kind of unpleasant shimmer … I can’t find the words, so I just take it.

I’m on.  I feel so awk­ward.  Time to choose to not hate myself for what­ever hap­pens next.  I begin.  Ukulele intro … “What I really wanted … was to walk into the sea.” Though some­times, I start with a mis­take instead, “What I really wanted … was to stand there and not speak.”  Recover Jen, it’s okay.  No one else knows.  You don’t have to start over, but you can.  This time I stop.  I say, “I’m gonna try that again.”  The story is impor­tant.

Pay atten­tion to your music, Jen.  The next few songs are going well, some people are plug­ging in.  That helps. Oh, no! Oh, please no! Don’t seat that table of seven right in front of the stage. The three with their backs to me start a con­ver­sa­tion. I can’t not listen to them.  I lit­er­ally cannot block out the con­ver­sa­tion …

What is gonna happen when I hit that spot where the music cuts out? They are going to be shouting over the loud mea­sures that happen right before it.  I’m so tired all of a sudden.  I don’t want to be here.  Where can I go to cry after I’m done?  This whole inner dia­logue is hap­pening while I am singing and playing.  I am feeling des­perate.  Why can’t I tune it out?  Why can’t I get into the “zone.”

This. This is why I have my music on stage with me. This is why the pre-show anx­iety is so great.  I cannot do this again.  I just can’t.  I close my eyes.  When I open them, I panic for a moment because I cannot access the part of my brain that holds the words and chords to the story I am trying to tell.

I was born to working musi­cians.  In many ways, I am genet­i­cally engi­neered to be a per­forming musi­cian.  I have quality parts for it anyway.  However, what I know now, is that I am also an Aspie with Inattentive-Type ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder.  I can remember the huge binder(s) of music charts my mom would haul along with her to gigs and the many reminders to my dad as to what song was being played as he would some­times forget the changes in the songs.  

Back then, I looked at my folks’ needs in these areas and I judged them, as I didn’t see the other bands needing charts and reminders the way my par­ents did. I didn’t rec­og­nize the charts and reminders as accom­mo­da­tions for neu­ro­log­ical dif­fer­ences. I could go on about what I think has gone undi­ag­nosed within my family, but again, that isn’t what this is about, even though I believe my brand of diver­gence is genetic in its origin and envi­ron­mental in its severity.  

On many occa­sions, people have made com­ments about how much more pro­fes­sional I would come off if I didn’t use music.  It isn’t like I hadn’t already been har­boring that thought for 20 years. (I have.  I have been har­boring that thought for AT LEAST 20 years.) Thanks for the reminder.  I am a pro­fes­sional, I know what I am “sup­posed” to look like and be able to do.  My charts are my nec­es­sary accom­mo­da­tion.  Really, they are the thing that anchors the ship that is me in the storm that is my envi­ron­ment at most venues.

It is so dif­fi­cult for me on many levels to play rooms that are not the­atres or lis­tening rooms.  Every show is chal­lenging for me due to my neu­ro­di­ver­gence if I am entirely honest. It blows my mind that so much is hap­pening inside me when and while I play a show.  I am coping prob­ably 75% of the time.  However, that 25% and the cumu­la­tive min­utes of moments that happen, when I am present and the audi­ence is hooked, are like the heavens opening up and light bursting every­where.  It’s those moments where the story, not just the words — the whole of the story makes con­tact. And that is why I put myself through it. Those are the moments that the audi­ence remem­bers and we all tran­scend our cir­cum­stances.

But now, the show is over, and I am numb.  The house music is turned up and my brain gathers the scraps of energy to focus enough to tear down my equip­ment, pack it up, and haul it out.  Oh, wait. Where did I park?

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1 Comment

  1. Jen, I love this so much! Short term memory for us Aspies tend to suck! Mine does. You are a beau­tiful writer and I’m sure musician- and so brave to con­tinue per­forming despite obsta­cles!!!

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