Where Did I Park? : The Neurodivergent Musician

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?

Author: jenbluhm

Jen Bluhm is Waltzing On Waves out of Minneapolis. She is a performing & recording artist, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, Award-nominated film composer, & Neurodiverse Neurodiversity/Mental Health advocate. This is her first foray into writing for a blog. It will be awkward . . .

One thought

  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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