I almost quit music in November. I had just finished Heart on Fire, and finally had time to breathe…. then it hit me. I didn’t want to do this anymore.
The frenetic pace of creation and the race to get the next thing done… are incredibly effective distractions. I don’t think I had ever really let myself feel the overwhelming intensity of the project until after the fact. I had been holding off a tidal wave of overwhelm and anxiety, and suddenly I didn’t have the energy to keep the walls up.
So the levee finally broke. I was done with music. I didn’t want to think about shows or mailing lists or booking calls. I didn’t want to fight with budgets and producers and engineers. I didn’t want to think about what I had to do to “get to the next level.” Truthfully, I didn’t want to talk about myself or try to get people to pay attention anymore… ever.
I was trying to figure out what sort of work I could do. Music has become – over time – the highest-paying thing I’m qualified for, so that aspect was gut wrenching. I started thinking about colleges and degrees and qualifications… could I be a producer or engineer? Music teacher? Songwriter without the artist part?
It felt like a bad breakup or a death in the family. I was rudderless, alone, confused, incapable of seeing reason. My friends were mad at me and saying things like “you were born for this” which – of course – only made matters worse.
I had some long nights of self-reflection. I watched a few too many tv episodes on netflix. I went out to dinner a lot… I wrote random, useless junk in my journal… and I played my shows… endless shows at the rate of 4 or 5 a week. Shows that kept the tigers at bay but did little else unless it was to strengthen my resolve to find another way to make my living.
So why am I telling you all this? Because most of it is a damn lie. Don’t get me wrong, the events and feelings are real… I really did turn in my resignation when it comes to music. But the reasons are lies. Sure, I was overwhelmed, but that’s not why I gave up. I was tired, but that’s not why I gave up. I am sick to death of trying to get people to pay attention to me and my music, but that’s not why I gave up.
I gave up for ONE reason: I was afraid.
I was afraid that I would pour my heart into my dream and it would turn out to have been a joke. I was afraid that no one would listen on the road, just like in the bars and hotels I was trying to escape. I was afraid that the music itself was good enough to get a few friends excited but not good enough to stand up to real scrutiny and speak for itself.
I was afraid of jumping out into the unknown world of the road without my guaranteed paychecks and my safe place to go home to. I was scared to change the status quo at all. That manifested itself in “Fuck it. I’m done with music.”
The reason I think this is important is that I’m starting to see a pattern:
***Before EVERY beautiful, major, incredible transition into something more meaningful, there is a wall of fire***
It looks and feels real. The warmth is overwhelming. Call in the helicopters. Nothing can be done until we put it out.
Except that’s bullshit. Something must be done now, and we can’t put it out, because it’s not real. But dammit, it feels real. And that’s what got me.
Early last month, mere weeks before I was scheduled to get on the road for this tour I’m in the middle of, I saw a video of a performer playing for a crowd and something hit me hard. It changed everything. In mere moments of witnessing that performance, years of heartache and songwriting, and passion and joy came back to me. I cried… for the first time in a while… and for a long, long time. I remembered myself. I remembered my love. I remembered the joy that got me through years of striving before I made a dime.
And that was enough to go through the fire. That was enough to calm the fear and move forward. And that’s all we ever really need: the courage for the next step. I am not reckless, and – on the whole – I’m not particularly brave. But now and then I find a way to be brave enough to get through another wall of fire. Of course, once I’m through it, I can look back and clearly see that it wasn’t even there. And though that never seems to diminish the terror the next time around, I think there is something vital that changes each time I go through it.
I am watching snow fall out the window in Fort Collins, Colorado right now, while recovering from my ninth road show in six days. I am on fire. I love to play music. I love to write music. I love the lights and the sweat and the fear and the elation that are the fundaments of a life on the stage. I love to see someone in the third row with a tear in her eye because I managed to say something well enough in a song to remind her of some truth she had forgotten or hidden from for a while.
I love and am deeply grateful for the privilege to get up in the morning and strive after something with a heart full of wonder. And most of all, I’m grateful for the people, opportunities, privileges and blind luck that have done the heavy lifting to make it all possible.
And I hope you’ll remember this too. There is no fire to pass through. It looks like it. It feels like it. But in truth, there’s nothing but an open door and a better life waiting on the other side of whatever we’re really terrified of. That thing that’s been in the back of our minds for years. The beautiful, terrifying dream that sits and waits for some inspiration that’s never coming… it’s only a step away… there are only a few tiny moments of courage required to cover endless miles on the roads to our dreams.
And I hope we can all come together and remind ourselves and each other that there’s no such thing as a smooth road. Our heroes aren’t anymore together by nature than we are. Nothing looks like it does on TV or the internet in real life. Real life is messy and uncomfortable and infinitely more beautiful than any kind of invented perfection. You have everything you need to make some noise, fall in love, and chase a beautiful dream.
So do I.
Here I go.
I hope you’ll join me.