The last semester of my senior year, the money from my GI bill ran out. I was working on campus 16-20 hours a week. Between the $427 a month I received from the GI bill, and the money I received from working, I was able to live. I was going to be hurting this semester and knew it. The only thing I had going for me was an awesome place to live, on the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph Aves. This is directly across the street for the campus. This was an historic building, very cool, with stylings from 90 years before. Some guy had a printing press in here, which made the building of some historical importance. I never took the time to find out who he was or what he printed.
I really enjoyed living here. I had a cool roommate named Nick that left me alone most of the time, never argued, never pried, and was a hell of a buddy drinker. This particular building had a 2 year waiting period to get in, and did not offer those on roommate contracts full renter privileges. Otherwise, when Nick decided to move out at the end of the semester, I had to go too. This really sucked! By the time I found out, it was too late to look for a place to live (this is the semester of my nervous breakdown, for those keeping score). I was barely making it out the door to complete the semester.
When I returned after the winter break, I had to sleep on a buddy’s couch for 3 weeks until my financial aid money cleared, and I had rent money for the semester.
(aside: college is the only place where it pays to be poor—sometimes)
When the money came in, I spent a week finding a place. Everything reasonably priced and distanced from the campus was taken. I ended up renting a shit-hole in Oakland. When I say shit-hole, I mean a drug, crime infested block directly under the BART tracks. The kind of neighborhood that cabbies wouldn’t get near. I often laid on the floor out of safety, happy I had a futon. It was the most depressed, dangerous place I have ever lived (as an adult) and I have lived in some real winners.
So, here I am, broke, living in danger every day, and just 2 months past a nervous breakdown. I am in my final semester at UC Berkeley. Looking at what to do next with my life. It is then that it occurs to me, “I need to rent an electric piano!” What a wonderful idea! I had started playing a bit over the winter break, learning chords and basic songs. I was hooked and wanted more. It had been a while since music had filled my soul with the joy and wonder it had in the past. If I were anywhere near in my right mind, the $60 a month rental fee would have been a red flag (hey dummy, you can’t afford it!). I did it anyway.
As the semester progressed, I spent evenings at home alternating between studying and learning piano. I began writing songs on it. Until this point, I had only written on guitar. Piano allowed my access to different parts of my creative brain than I could access on guitar. It allowed me to regain some footing in my head. It gave me confidence in my abilities. It made me put back into place pieces I had lost along the way. It was a healing, cathartic experience for me. Without it, I am sure, I would not have made as much healing progress as I did in those 4 short months.
Little did I know, I was months away from falling in love with my future wife, beginning a teaching career, having a baby…….. all things that I needed to be in my right mind to handle. I found out that sometimes the logical choice is the wrong one. Don’t be afraid to listen to what your soul needs!