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Wisdom

Drew Daniel

Teacher, Musician

Drew Daniel is half of Matmos and all of The Soft Pink Truth. He is also an associate professor in the English Department at Johns Hopkins University and the author of 20 Jazz Funk Greats and The Melancholy Assemblage: Affect and Epistemology in the English Renaissance. He lives in Baltimore.

How do you manage to exist so fully in two worlds?

The only trick I’ve learned is to sneak up on my own mind and trick myself into believing that I can pull this off. And that not only is it going to be okay but that it’s a pleasure. If everything that you do is time you steal from something else that you should be doing- making music when you should be writing, writing when you should be making music– then it’s like you’re eating “forbidden fruit” all day long. So what might sound on paper like having two jobs—i.e. burnout and fatigue ahoy—in fact becomes this kind of never ending manic spree.

How do you manage to exist so fully in two worlds?

Everything starts with “to do” lists that you have to obey, even as you know you will also have to ruthlessly edit them and adjust on the fly because things aren’t going to be the way you expect. The only way that makes sense for me is to prioritize what is at the core of each activity (making music, reading and writing and teaching) and to just sacrifice a lot of the rest (seeing movies, vacations, catching up with people).

How do you manage to exist so fully in two worlds?

My “to do” list always starts with the same sentence: “Remember to enjoy this life that you chose.” That sounds kind of harsh and blame-y but it’s important to understand that what you do in life really is contingent and could be otherwise. It’s up to you. I feel very lucky that I’ve managed to stay amphibious this long, but sometimes things flare up in one world or the other and you’ve got to apologize to people and lose some sleep and maybe not go as deeply in either direction as you might like because the other needs minding. That’s the sacrifice part. Also: having two lives means that you might have to take longer to finish things in both of them. I spent twelve years writing my first academic book. I spent five years on one Matmos album. You get there when you get there. But if people can have kids and be in bands or have kids and hold jobs that they love then surely I can be a professor and a musician. That’s my hope.

How do you manage to exist so fully in two worlds?

The price is that I live with a certain “imposter syndrome” interior monologue that never goes away, about both music and academia. I do have fantasies of what my life would be like if I just did one of these things rather than both. But the truth is that I would really miss the other half, and sometimes there’s a parallel processing going on, where you work on a record but part of your mind is thinking about an argument for a talk, or you’re giving a talk when you notice something that becomes an idea for a song. In general, though, I like to keep my two worlds separate, Jekyll and Hyde style. My calendar is a checkerboard of music and academic life and that’s okay. It almost feels normal.

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