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To Keep Or To Sell

I won’t lie: money’s been a little tight lately. Despite a few signs of economic turnaround, this still seems to be the case for most of my friends and loved ones. With an eye toward identifying some sellable assets to shore up our savings, I pulled my old trumpet out of the closet—a silver Bach Stradivarius, purchased many years ago when I was a teenage band nerd. I remember that it was pricey then, and by the look of online prices at least, the value holds up well. It’s been almost 18 years since I played it with any regularity, and probably 10 since I last took it out, washed it, and gave it a go. Today when I took the horn out of its case, I could still detect some majesty under its tarnish. Old? Yes. Serviceable, and possibly sellable? For sure.

Having prepped a bath of warm water, I held it in my hands and began pulling the pieces apart. It was a gentle soak—not much debris coming out of the bell, since it had been silent for so many years. Washing it—and watching myself do this—put me in a somber mood, more reflective than I’d been expecting, but reminiscent of bathing a loved one whose time had likely grown short. Many years ago, playing band music was really my only emotional outlet. In my pre-coming out adolescence, the pressure of succeeding in school and band, always being “first,” and making sure no one could find fault in my performances consumed me, and in many ways that pressure boiled over when I couldn’t channel my feelings through that slender, erect, conical instrument. I could be a bit of a dick in those immature years, needlessly competitive and over-sensitive because it really felt like the slightest vulnerability could bring me down and shame me in the eyes of my peers. I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t “perfect,” and that well-crafted instrument came to feel more like a part of my own body, capable of bursts of brilliance as well as sharp, defensive jabs when necessary to protect my fragile psyche.

When I came to terms with my sexual orientation and new friendships came my way, for the first time I felt safe to share all of who I was—and not surprisingly, my interest in that trumpet declined. College only accelerated that transformation as I found a love for the written and spoken word, community organizing, and social movements. Creativity came pouring out of my writing, the queer college magazine I started, and a novel I wrote in my senior year (but never published). Although music wove its way through everything I did, I felt little desire to pick up the horn. Later when I did, I had fun—playing along to Morphine songs and having spontaneous “bad music blues jams” with friends at parties. Still, as I landed squarely in nonprofit volunteer management, I lost track of the time and seldom felt the energy to dig the trumpet out and see what I could do.

So today I sat in my house, drying off this instrument that had been virtually an appendage for one complex stretch of my life. I got out the silver polish and started slowly working on the metal, and bit by bit the tarnish came off. The horn’s older, no doubt, but it gleamed as the sun emerged from a cloudy morning. I greased the slides and oiled the valves, all while carefully considering any imperfections that might affect its appraisal. Already I was getting excited, as I kept showing parts of it to my partner, demonstrating how beautiful the trumpet really looked. And finally—wasn’t sure I would do this—I put the horn to my lips and a clear, cold sound burst from it. Really not bad—I should take a decade or two off more often. Certain things came back right away—the embouchure, fingerings, vibrato, old ditties that were easy to try. The horn sounded good, but interesting to me was how I felt—different, secure, mindful of what this moment represented, and also aware of the absence of certain feelings—crushing insecurities and performance anxieties, frustration with my physical skills and existential angst. I asked myself if this could in fact be fun, and for the moment my answer was, “Yes.”

So, we still need money but I’m not sure I can bring myself to sell the horn. I also don’t know where this piece of myself fits with all the other parts that are in play right now—grad student, college instructor, researcher, writer, and occasional husband and housemate. But this integration process—taking a look at all the aspects of the self I’ve worked on, considering the pros and cons, and finding ways to make them fit together—feels more solid and secure with the trumpet restored and resting in the dining room. Jaxon says not to sell it, but I might still have it appraised.

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About Michael Lee

South Minneapolis queer writer, researcher, educator, and social change enthusiast. Currently researching and writing a biography of the late journalist Randy Shilts.

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