Having spent most of my adult life in the company of artists (my first job was in an orchestra) where high risk behavior is the norm, almost a membership badge, it is rather quite a feat that I myself have not acquired their habits and indulgences.
Smoking is a default past time for most music people. They look to it as a biological need as essential as eating or more precisely, breathing. Smoking has been used for as many purposes from laxative to a ritual to ward off bad luck and everything else in between. Good thing I outgrown the habit. Clean lungs for years now.
Being acknowledged with perfect notes, timely tempo, & the end of a good run, were all occasions to celebrate and celebration meant drinking. Being stuck in the corps, playing badly, and the end of a bad run were reasons to commiserate and commiseration demanded drinking. In the orchestra, complaints about hang over, splitting headaches, and the possibility of fainting before the end of rehearsals were daily conversational fare during breaks. As were sexual conquests of the previous night. A running tally of the most cavalier among the boys was regularly updated. The girls had their own more discreet tally sheet as well.
Those who tried drugs were lost in that quicksand in no time fast.
I have lost friends to alcoholism, drugs, pregnancy, and even AIDS. On hindsight, a young man just arriving from the province, I was a likely candidate for high risk behavior. I wanted to belong. I was interested in all things new. I was up for any dare. What steered me away from high risk behavior was my profile. I believe now it is a combination of so many things, from my upbringing, my early education, and what I wanted.
If you grew up climbing trees, swimming in rivers, running against the wind, jumping off cliffs, fishing in the sea, you know there are other ways to feel better. To celebrate life. To appreciate yourself more.
On days when the sun wasn’t out and the rain was too cold to bathe in, there were the countless worlds inside books. Being alone wasn’t a problem. It was a chance for some quiet. Quietude wasn’t bad. Quietude was a blank page I can create worlds in. Silence and solitude were friends that even now I still seek out with mindful purpose.
And lastly, I wanted a life in the arts. Most of all I wanted to sing. Having wanted that all my life, it was clear to me what smoking was going to do to me. It dries up the throat, and a dry throat loses the brilliance of its sound. Add to that the stink of smoker’s breath. Alcohol binds with the water in your body for it to be released and of course resulted to dehydration. It does accumulating damage to one’s brain. And of course, there’s the uncomfortable hangover to look forward to the next day. Who needs that? If you’re happy, why end it so soon? If you feel bad, why make it worse? It’s one day wasted when you could be practicing. When you could be working on getting better at your art. A life in the arts is already one big risk. Come to to think of it, all of life really is. Just crossing the street is risk enough. And the excitement of getting across safely and being able to live another day to fight for your dreams, who needs more excitement than that? Another reason was that I was aware how my family was susceptible to substance abuse. My father was an incorrigible alcoholic even after an aneurysm and a stroke. He finally had to give up his love for the bottle on his 2nd fatal stroke which ended everything else for him. I have cousins who have had to be rushed to hospitals on drug overdose. Knowing that somewhere in our genes lurks that one renegade gene making us especially vulnerable to the hold of addiction, I knew that if I even dared to start, I’d be down the drain with one sip. I was 24 when I had my first beer. Before that I have flatly refused, secretly drained, or just subtly avoided every offered alcoholic drink. More than a few times, I have been tied down by friends who thought it would be fun to force alcohol on me and were treated to my impersonation of a whale spouting a fountain. My first drink was when I turned 24 and I was fully convinced of my strength to avoid things I wanted to avoid. It was a planned affair. I asked all the friends I could round up to be witnesses. It was an act of trust. I was finally trusting myself that I was clear enough of who I was. I wasn’t a drinker. My next drink would be a year later. I can handle my alcohol. I handle it gingerly and not very often.
Now sex, sex is a different matter altogether. A big city makes experimentation so much easier. So many anonymous chances to take. As disposable as candies in a wrapper. Something a small town cannot afford you. The fear of being seen with some stranger in a town where you know everybody and everybody knows not only you but even those whom you know. The shame of being seen going inside a seedy motel. These are, to my thinking, better deterrents to promiscuity than even the threat of STDs. I cannot claim to have been untainted by this particular high risk behavior. Details would be out of taste. I have always insisted on safety though. Or as some friends of mine call, the illusion of safety that a condom offers. At this age though, I’ve come to see the truth in what some smart-aleck said about sex, that without affection, it’s just friction. It gets old.
High risk behavior is dancing on one’s grave. It’s tempting fate to cut you down in the middle of a party. It’s a coward’s ticket out of the great race. One’s grave isn’t the best place for dancing. Dancing is wonderful on a stage, with people looking on, knowing they cannot do half of what you are doing. Dancing is lovely on a beach, under the moon, with some one you love. But dancing is best in your living room, just flapping your arms and being silly with friends, with chips strewn all over and soda spraying on everybody. Why choose the risk to lose when there’s the risk of winning?