Aaron W. Voyles reflects on how commitment created opportunities for what he loves.
As a guy, I had a few options to try to impress girls. I could play sports, or I could be a musician. I was skinny and uncoordinated, so I chose musician. And despite the results I had in many of my bands, I’m proud of being a musician.
When I was starting ninth grade, I did not know how to play guitar. A buddy and I started a band called The Black Flames after, of course, “the black flame candle” from the movie Hocus Pocus. Obviously, we were a metal band.
I had received the guitar for my birthday after an eighth grade six-weeks guitar course, but I had been into music much earlier than then. First I had tried my hand at trumpet, then baritone, then a MIDI keyboard hooked up to a DOS computer. Despite the fact that I wasn’t very good at any of them, I kept going.
The Black Flames played our first show at a birthday party. I have no idea how we created enough “material” to make a set, but we were there. At the end of the show, the drummer asked the bass player if he wanted to start a band without me.
For some reason, the bass player stayed with me, when, again, I could not play the guitar. We added a hippie drummer and created the melange that only high school music can, mixing nu metal with Phish, punk with whatever was popular at the time. Somehow, we stuck around long enough to play a few shows.
I switched to a punk band, and this time I played drums. They already had a guitar player. I didn’t own a drum set, nor had I ever played one. I learned drums as we practiced. I got to be okay, and we continued the high school potpourri of music, infusing our punk with The Kinks and with Primus even.
I met a different kid who played acoustic guitar, and switched to a folk band. I didn’t know what folk music was, really. I remember trying to Kazaa “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” which I’d heard was a great song, only to keep getting some song called “Everybody Must Get Stoned.” I didn’t know what I was doing, but I continued anyways.
Moving to college, I did a brief stint with my roommate as the front man in a rock band. We later disbanded the Pete and Pete named Waiting for October. I purchased another drum set when the drummer in my roommate’s next band shattered his knee. At that point, I was in the most successful band of my career. We won contests. We played tons of shows.
Swashbuckler, as we were called, disbanded when I moved away to graduate school. On my own this time, I explored folk music again, primarily because it was easiest to play alone. All you needed was a guitar and the harmonica headgear, and you were ready to go.
As my career and my currently-pursued doctorate have taken over, my “shows” have been less frequent and my music less published. This is not to say it was supremely published before. Increasingly, my audience becomes those Facebook friends kind enough or unfortunate enough to click on my uploaded videos recorded quickly into my Mac.
Why am I telling you this? “This is a column on college men,” you say! Last week, I wrote about the power of commitments over complaints. There are two ways to view my situation above, one stuck in the language of complaints and one empowered by commitments.
In the language of complaints, it is easy to see that I didn’t have enough time or enough talent to make things work. It is easy to look at other people becoming successful and complain of not getting a big break. But what do these complaints do to my situation?
Complaints imprison us. Looking at my rock star career with the language of commitments, it is clear that I am committed to my love of music. I am committed to making music and sharing it. Those are the commitments that have guided me from metal to folk, from mandolin to drums. It doesn’t matter. It’s just music.
Commitments reveal more than just what we like, they reveal our responsibility and competing commitments. I certainly have other things I am committed to that challenge my time. My doctorate is one of them. My ability to have enough time to balance all my relationships and other interests is another.
Commitments force us to take responsibility for where we are in life. Complaining about the status of college men suggests that we are not taking responsibility for our own actions in creating an environment that allows for misconduct and sexual violence. Complaining focuses on blame and that blame not only imprisons us as educators, but it imprisons the very men we might be trying to help.
Complaining about college men makes college men, not us, solely responsible. I believe change must be a group effort. Yes, my music may be heard only by a very small audience. Yes, I may be invisible as an artist at times. Considering I am still not great at guitar, it’s amazing what my commitment has allowed me to do with limited ability. Together, with commitments, imagine what we can do next for college men.
Ditching the Dunce Cap is a weekly Friday column from Aaron W. Voyles on the University of Texas-Austin. He welcomes your comments. This column is not affiliated with the university.
—Photo Keith Ellwood/Flickr
—Edits by Nancy Lien
Also in Ditching the Dunce Cap:
Do We Just Complain About College Men?
I Can’t Write About Football
To Ditch the Dunce Cap
Can You Manage the College Male?
“Have at it, Boys” and College Men
The Challenge of Male Mentorship
Becoming a Beard Mentor
College Made Me Think I Hated Beer
An Ode to My College Roommate
Examining the Axe Effect
When Will You Grab Your Saw?
Do You Know the Mega-Dump?
If the Shoe Fits, Cheat