press on

Wendy Carlos nearly single-handedly popularized the Moog synthesizer, using it to record “Switched On Bach,” the highest-grossing classical album of 1968.  She was also born a man.  As sales of this vinyl, attributed to Walter Carlos for obscure commercial reasons, skyrocketed, she dealt with the accompanying fame in double-drag, trying to pass again as Walter for interviews, even though she had been undergoing hormone replacement therapy and living day-to-day as Wendy for years.

It’s difficult to imagine what a struggle her life must have been, long before the fame brought it into public focus.  The pain of her childhood, the bravery required to actually transition her gender.  Mainstream America wasn’t exactly brimming with acceptance for gender-dysphoria in 1968.  Hell, it hardly is now.

But sometimes there really is a pot of gold at the end of an awful shit rainbow: difficult as her life surely was up to and through meeting Robert Moog, all her struggles were eventually rewarded.  She become hugely successful, a critically acclaimed artist, and a full-fledged woman, both physically and publicly.

She and her Moog were even recruited by Stanley Kubric to score A Clockwork Orange and The Shining — Yeah, remember that?  That was Wendy.  She refused to accept the life that was expected and demanded of her, and her stubborn persistence paid off.  It’s a happy ending of sorts, and as she would say in an interview years later:

“The public turned out to be amazingly tolerant or, if you wish, indifferent … There had never been any need of this charade to have taken place. It had proven a monstrous waste of years of my life.”

As nice as that is for her, I don’t trust happy endings.  They’re dispensed as reality to a public hungry to believe, creating a feedback loop of inflated expectations and inevitable let-downs.  The truth is, for some people it really is just shit.  Not everyone is Wendy Carlos; we don’t all get a pot of gold.  In hindsight, a great many people who dared to want were doomed from the start.  What they got instead was shame, and embarrassment, and public humiliation.

It happened for Wendy though.  Against all odds, she got what she wanted.  The end of all our struggles, yours and mine and everyone who wants, could still be a pot of gold, a great final success, an escape and a relief.  On the other hand, it could all just be shit, up one end of the rainbow and down the other.  You can’t control your fate, and from the bottom looking up it’s impossible to tell what’s on the other side.  What you can control is your definition of success.  That, and how hard you’re willing to try.

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

–Calvin Coolidge

“When you’re facing an impossible task
the only thing to do

–my mother

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