Musically Declined (Originally posted 2/6/18)

- You may have stumbled onto this blog entry by accident...maybe you follow the band I play for most regularly...maybe you're genuinely interested in what I have to say - which incidentally isn't much in the verbal sense most of the time...I'm more of a thinker that occasionally has great timing for one-liners, and comical quips to get a rise out of a group I'd been sitting silent in for most of the night...or perhaps 2017 was also an impactful year for you as well. Regardless, I hope if you take the time to read this entry you feel as though it was time well spent. 

There are definitely times when I wake up throughout any given week and wonder how the hell I got here...endured years of abuse..uh..er...."experience'" playing music in clubs and shitty venues with great bands, and great venues with horrible bands. Rides in vans, RVs, buses, trains, planes, and countless automobiles that all eventually break while you're riding in them. Disagreements with bandmates, managers, fellow musicians, stage crew, and sometimes even complete strangers. I even taught middle school band for 4 years...that experience alone probably taught me most on how to manage chaos in general...the funny thing about chaos is you KNOW you won't be able to control it, yet you know you need to some how figure out how to allow the sense accomplishment to always overshadow the challenges it took to get there. On paper, the institution of higher learning for me was The University of Central Florida, but in life, it's been the aforementioned experiences...the interesting thing is that I can't possibly imagine trying to navigate life without BOTH sets of those experiences. 

I am 40+ years of age now...I have had close family members leave the world behind and endured watching others come very close to the edge (who are still with us at the time of this entry, which I'm thankful for). I have watched friends self-destruct, I have navigated divorce, extremely bitter breakups, and I have tried to comfort friends to the best of my ability after suffering the loss of a child. I have had things stolen from me, I have donated my time to charity, visited foreign lands to give to the less fortunate and also play music, and I have made many mistakes both in life and in work situations. I have had moments of complete and utter doubt and disgust and other moments of absolute elation and amazement that have moved me to a sobbing mess of a human. All of it - all things have brought me to this precise moment - I cannot possibly regret any of it - no matter how stupid or lucky I was - I own it - and I wouldn't change a thing...if I could - I probably wouldn't be moved to be writing what will likely be a novel of a blog entry. 

This entry is serving a number of purposes. One, I need to get comfortable writing more again as if I were in college because - (cue the triumphant music) - I AM now officially a Grad Student. Just began my studies via online coursework through the University of Chichester across the pond in England. I'll get more into this later...but writing is going to play a big role in the completion of the degree. Two - I think writing is a great way to reset for me. Once it's out there, I think I will feel like I won't have to carry or wear certain info around with me anymore and I can simply leave it on the Blog - come back to it every now and then and remember - "Oh yeah, that is when I was really pissed (or happy) about that." I'm getting old! And I'm finding that my brain has less and less space to store things - but I'm learning how to get out in front of that. 

The choice to pursue a graduate degree has been a challenging one to make...especially at "40ish". I have had people say - "why would you do that...pay all that money to go back..you MUST be happy with what you're doing." The fact is I'm thrilled with what I've been doing, what I've done - and what's most exciting (and sometimes scary) is where I haven't been, but want to go. 

So where do I want to be?  Happy. Interested in life. Loving what I have and what I do with the time that I have. Using that time wisely, and eager to wake up the next day to live it again - with or without someone to share it with. That last part is the tough one sometimes. I've learned that it's super easy for we has humans to fall into a mode to where we start to define who we are based on how long or how successful our personal life is...and soon begin to rest all of our self worth on whether or not someone is interested in us...or worse case, weigh it heavier based on the number of "Likes" or attention we receive in social media land. 

Despite the fact that I've been married, and divorced, gone through some pretty heavy life lessons and remain a childless bachelor at 40ish years old.....I know everything I've done has led me to right where I am, right now...and I know that I'm doing at least a few things right with my life. Yesterday I found an old hard drive and brought it back from the dead and began looking through old photos of bands, former significant others, and snippets of life. I ran across an odd file entitled "Musically Declined". And it read as follows: 

Musically Declined
I am thirty years old, divorced, and sitting in a mobile home in Nashville, Tennessee at 3:38 AM. Today is February 25, 2007. In the distance I hear the whistle of a train trailing off into the night. The house is quiet, I’m the only one awake as we did not work this week due to the absence of a guitarist who we hope will arrive on Monday.  The house is ugly, with dirty floors and bunched up dark red carpet. The heat only works on half of the house and my room stays cool, sometimes cold at night. In the kitchen there are boxes of .33 cent bags of instant noodles, a few loaves of bread and various other newly purchased food from the local dollar store. This place, I lovingly refer to as “The Band Cave”. Yet, I refer to myself as a professional musician.
I have no children and no responsibilities other than some student loans and a car payment. I live primarily on the road with five other guys and I get paid to play music in bars and clubs across the United States. This is the life people love to fantasize about, where you can meet and maintain meaningless relationships with women in every town you visit, where you can drink all night every night while you do your job and no one cares, and where the biggest thing you have to worry about when you get up every afternoon is which video game or TV show you want to watch before you take your next nap. You save your money only to spend it on the next night’s bar tab, or to buy the next best $5.00 shirt you can find. I keep my clothes in a large clear tote and I wear most 2 to 3 times before washing. 
When I was nineteen, I swore to myself that I would NOT.... be exactly where I am right now when I turn 35. So the way I see it, I still have five more years to work on things. There are two schools of thought here. 1. This is who I am, and safety net or not, I’m doing this until I reach my goal. 2. I do this until I cannot survive without medical insurance, or a steady income, or a meaningful relationship. Because in this line of work, you almost can’t have either of those things. The problem is I love what I do, and I am willing to deal with all of these things in order to do it. The best part about what I’m doing is that I have chosen this over the “other” fantasy that everyone wants, known as the “American Dream”, AKA domestic bliss.

It was just a single entry. It was like I was writing it that day to remind myself on a later date that what I was doing was going to lead me....to exactly where I am right now. Spooky huh? 

Now almost exactly 11 years later - in Nashville, TN - I'm sitting in a clean, well kept structure with central heat and air - that I own...I am alone, but that's just because I live alone. Listening to my dryer run upstairs as I type on the computer I paid for..Sitting in a room full of musical instruments I have paid for myself with earnings from a music career I reluctantly returned to after leaving a failed marriage and a steady teaching job back in 2006. The retracing of my steps - has been an adventure. Somehow back then I knew what I was doing...because of that, I MUST have faith in myself now so I can retrace my steps again in another 11 years with the same sense of pride and accomplishment. One of my favorite quotes ever was the following....I occasionally recite it in my head in the toughest moments. 

"The prizes of life are at the end of each journey, not near the beginning; and it is not given to me to know how many steps are necessary in order to reach my goal. Failure I may still encounter at the thousandth step, yet success hides behind the next bend in the road. Never will I know how close it lies unless I turn the corner. I will persist until I succeed." - Og Mandino