Insights and Healing with Patrick Moore


“Not Even Music”

On two different occasions a college professor rejected my work, in front of the class.

Along with math, I chose to take several semesters of music theory. In the final weeks of my last music theory class, the kindly youngish professor had invited his own music theory professor to come to our school for two things: a performance of his own compositions at the music hall, and a visit to our music theory class to have a listen to our compositions.

In the first semester I learned the rules of counterpoint and in this semester we created one-page compositions. I worked on my composition in one of the second story piano practice rooms of the lovely old music building designed in 1909. My composition was influenced by a feeling or emotion that I felt or wanted to feel.

When the famous composer came to our class, a few brave students handed their sheet music to him. He set each one on the piano stand and sight-read it, playing on the piano. Then he gave his comments. After seeing a few other students receive this feedback, I must have felt it would be okay to share mine. He played it and then looked at me sternly. “This isn’t even music,” he said as he handed it back to me. I was shocked, stunned, and perhaps I swallowed some other emotions in there somewhere.

I was thinking I might become a musician but I believe this moment shifted my direction in life (I became a construction worker instead, not really by choice but default). I believe I am better off for not having become a musician/composer at that time. So maybe that rejection turns out to have been a synchronicity. However, decades later I realized the chord progression I had written is similar to a part of a song by Jean-Luc Ponty and to part of a song intro on a live Earth, Wind & Fire recording. Apparently what I wrote was music!

If this were the only example of my professors rejecting my work in a personal way, I might have forgotten or buried it in my mind.

When I later attended graduate school for math, I chose to take a 400/500 level creative writing class. The professor was a published author with a couple books out. (I just checked Amazon and she now has thirteen novels to her name, including a pushcart prize.) The first story I wrote for the class was a day-in-the-life of myself as a carpenter’s helper. I called it The Refinery, sort of ironic given no refinement existed in the story–certainly the three characters were quite unrefined. Following directions I printed ten copies of The Refinery and passed them around the table, to be critiqued by the following week by each student, the TA and the professor. The next week I received back ten copies, all with good comments and good suggestions from all but the professor, who wrote only “See me.” When I saw her, she said my story was not complete, that I would need to redo it. Why is it not complete? It did not have a plot, she said. I agreed it did not have a plot, but did that make it unacceptable? I did not rewrite the story, which probably irritated her. I just couldn’t bring myself to rewrite something for reasons I did not agree with, when the other nine people seemed to find value in it. Nearly forty years later I have begun reading Steinbeck, and I find The Refinery resembles the style of his beautiful descriptions of grimy details and hard luck of the working class.

It came time for my second story, called Porous. This story had a plot but I admit it was a little fantasy or magic but set in the present day, so it wouldn’t fit a genre. The plot was that a young protagonist (much like myself) lived in a house with 5 guys, one of whom had a seawater aquarium. The friend told me the spiny starfish is unlike a regular fish. He is porous, so the seawater simply flows through him. He does not need a barrier to keep his own blood from the outside. The seawater acted as his blood to circulate what needed to be circulated. Then there is a nuclear bomb that wipes out everyone. (This was 1986, still in the Cold War). Insects survived but no humans, except the protagonist. By the end of the story the protagonist learns to be porous, with respect to the radiation, and he is sort of remade or reharmonized by the bees. Again I printed ten copies and handed them out. The following week I arrived on time and received back nine copies of my work, all with nice comments (better than my first story) and good suggestions. The teacher was late. When she came in looking stern, she did not sit down but pointed at me and said, “You, I need to see you outside, now. Bring your things.” I followed her outside and she said my story was “Not even a story.” She was very upset and emotional and told me I was removed from her class for not following the instructions. She went in and I did not.

My musical composition was “Not even music.”

My story was “Not even a story.” Coincidence? What were professors thinking? Are they still that way?

My wife Traci had a similar experience with her senior photography project when she was in college also in the Eighties, but I’ll let her tell her own story..

 

The good part of this story is, while the musical rejection halted my progress as a composer, I did not stop writing.

A year after the 1986 story rejection, I printed off a dozen more copies of Porous and began sending them out. In 1989 while staying home with my newborn daughter I wrote a novel called Nonjudgment Day, in pen, in a spiral notebook. It was a dark comedy, following a group of evangelists who wanted to see the Messiah so badly that they were willing to instigate nuclear warheads against one of the major superpowers, which they would think were the enemy so they would retaliate, ending human life as we know it. Since the evangelists believed prophecy literally, they were certain this global destruction would bring about the second coming. Well, what happened surprised them. I can’t remember now, maybe some sort of embracing radiation perhaps like the Porous story I had written earlier, and some sort of forgiveness for the misguided terrorists who destroyed the world. In the style of Life of Brian.

By now I have (guessing) about a hundred short stories and novels begun, though none finished yet.

In 2015 I attended a writer’s conference and got an appointment to show six pages of a book idea to an agent. It blended short fables using wolves, coyotes and the cells in a tree as characters, with nonfiction about the power of group mind. The agent did not wait for me to speak but began a barrage of how my work would not fit any genre, and what was I thinking, and why was I wasting her time? 

This definitely put a damper on me showing my writing for a while. I was really inhibited after this third major rejection. I realized the group-mind book wasn’t really publishable, or not that way, or if I am going to write something there is no genre for, I need to be really resilient. I need to be able to handle rejection to be able to move forward as a writer–even aggressive rejection that sounds personal.

It took decades, and a couple years after the agent rejection but I am growing a sense of humor about it. Maybe by now, the rejections I have experienced as a music composer and writer are better for having happened that way. Or they soon will be.

One of the stories I am currently working on takes place at the first Writer’s Conference on the Moon. The teacher is a frustrated writer who had several number-one bestsellers of space-adventure-existential-comedy, and now he has writer’s block. He is on contract and owes his publisher one more book but he can’t do it, so they gave him an option to teach this writer’s workshop on the moon, to fulfill his contract…

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