This morning I struggled to rise. While some days bring with them a dawning of boundless hope, others weigh heavily like leaden clouds on the horizon. Today began with darkness and the scent of ozone and rain. It would have been easy to roll over and seek escape, but I did not.
Three years ago I bought a house. I believed it to be the best decision for me, and at that time it was probably true. Today, however, I am moving out of that house and preparing to sell. Time have changed, and I with them.
Preparations for today have stirred up memories like sediment in a stream, and my mucking about has only brought up more. In some ways, it was an act of desperation. I’d enjoyed exceptionally low rent for several years, but the house I’d lived in would soon sell. I had to move, and nothing on the market could match my budget. Oddly enough, here in Memphis a mortgage payment could be far less than rent, and it didn’t hurt to know I would ultimately be investing money in my own pocket rather than a landlord’s.
As for other reasons, I was seeking a more “normal” life. My life has never exactly conformed to the status quo. Sometimes I see that as an amazing gift. Others, I wonder what I’ve been doing with my life. At that point in time, I knew the life I had been living needed to change. For the me of three years ago, change meant more stability and more money. So I began pursuing a management career at Starbucks and bought a house. I know I hoped it would bring some legitimacy in the eyes of others, and maybe a wife.
You may wonder, how did that work out for me? Well… not bad. And not in any way like I planned.
For one, I never saw the money I hoped for. Turns out management is not something I’m well suited for. And the house, while quickly paid off due to an inheritance, became a time and money sink. I never had enough to make it the house I’d hoped it would become, and I realized 1,600 square feet with a front and back yard is a lot of real estate to manage for one person.
That said, these past few years it has been a gift. Paid off, it gave me the freedom to leave Starbucks, and after the chaos of my experience there I needed to leave if only for my mental health. In the interim between my sister selling her house and purchasing a new one, it provided a home for her, my niece and my nephew. And when a friend needed a new place to stay, I had an extra room for him. But most of all, this house has been part of a process of learning about the world and myself. I better understand the value of my time and mental well being. I had to learn that lesson through imbalance of a job, a life and a home.
All in all, it served its purpose and I am grateful I made the decision. But as I mentioned before, times have changed and so have I. I’ve rediscovered my long lost dream. I’ve found peace in who I am, and I am not trying so hard to match up to what others think is normal. (Note, if you happen to be looking for a life partner, it might do well to find someone as crazy as yourself.) And I am free. Free from most of the obligations of my peers. It is startling to realize I have the same freedom I did the day I first braved the world and left for college.
Thankfully, I also have a little more experience and, I hope, wisdom. And soon, once the house is sold, I will also have a fair starting point for this next stage of life.
All in all, I guess life is still life. I made the best call I could at the moment. I ran it for all it was worth, and now it’s time to move on. I don’t regret the struggle. I certainly don’t regret the blessings that shined linings of silver on sullen, grey clouds. They made me who I am, and have laid and are laying the foundation for what comes next.
& what’s next?
Well, I’ll save that for another day.
2019 was a special year for me. It opened the door on dreams I had locked away. Hope awakened belief, and I began to listen to voices that had, in all likelihood, always been there. Voices daring me to embrace the dream. A dream I had never been able to completely do away with no matter how broken or battered I became. And last year, I took my first steps as I started writing songs and played my first solo show.
Now, it is 2020 and the dream continues as I take up a new challenge. I find it interesting that this is 2020, the scrip for perfect vision, especially as this is a year of clear vision for me. Over the next year, I will be documenting my journey via social media. When I chose to accept the challenge, I knew I would have a lot to learn. But that was the point of the challenge. To live openly in hopes that someone else might find inspiration and begin a journey of their own. Maybe, in chasing my own dream, I can help someone else also embrace who they are and what they hope for.
What is that going to look like? Well, the big picture goals for the year are to share the story and to write enough music to record my first EP. In order to reach those goals, countless smaller ones await me. One, selling my house to open the door for more time and financial freedom. In a word, simplify. Two, write the first song. It’s in the works as I refine my aforementioned ugly, little baby. Three, begin the social media journey that will hopefully inspire and encourage while building a platform for my music to come. Today marks my first steps here as, in a short while, I will record a short video on Instagram much like this post – a declaration of intent and an invitation to join the ride. Once I have it ready, I’ll post it here so you can join me there as well.
This may well be the first year I have ever began with such a sense of purpose, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me. Already the wheels are spinning, and it looks like its going to be a wild ride!
It was a little over a year ago that I first heard of Never Angels. I don’t recall the details clearly, but the man who told me about them gave clear advice.
Be careful what you say you’ll never do!
He recalled his own past and the fate changing words, “I’ll never live in (insert state name here).” It was then, he said, that God sent out his Never Angels, and he soon found himself pastor of a church is that very state.
While I don’t necessarily believe in the existence of a covert branch of the angelic realm bending fate against our will, I have come to appreciate a healthy challenge to my own “Never”s. Looking back I’ve started many sentences with “I never”. I don’t have to look far. Take last weeks declaration as an example.
“I’ll never again own an Apple product!”
But today I ate my never pie as I read reviews of the new iPhone 11. Put bluntly, for the path I intend to take in the near future it may be the best tool for the job. And it may not be, but if it is… Well, I’ll own another Apple product. Worse yet, I’ll be the better for it.
You see, Never is a dangerous word. Never is a biased word. Never is a closed word. Never refuses to look any deeper than its expectations, and I am learning to be wary of Never. I think Never might be one of my greatest enemies. He draws close and pretends to protect me while holding me back. He provides the well intentioned platitude that gets in the way of the new, of growth and of adventure. He blinds and distracts me from the tools I most need. Worst of all, he feels safe.
But I think maybe I don’t need him. I need a whole cadre of Never Angels helping me go places I never thought I would!
Over the past few days I’ve been busy binge watching Songland. From where I stand, it feels like a master class on songwriting. Not only do I get to hear constructive criticism from some of the top writer/producers in the music industry, I also get to see how they transform good songs into great songs.
One particular concept hits close to home. One Republic’s Ryan Tedder summed it up in a word – duality. I think of it in terms of Yin Yang philosophy where Yang is present in Yin and Yin is present in Yang. Each has an element of the other within it. In life the brightest light often casts the deepest shadow, and without the contrast we might never recognize it for what it is. This has always been a struggle for me. Not only with music, but in any form of creation. As an Enneagram seven, I prefer to live in bright places and, pun intended, make light of the shadows.
I’m learning. In order to make the beautiful ideas more than pure idealism, I have to expose the pain and hurt that makes it real. It requires honesty and vulnerability. Not only with my readers or listeners, but first with myself. It isn’t easy, but I believe it is necessary. That kind of honesty is where shared experience sets the stage so that great ideals have a chance to become real in the lives of others. It brings the divine into the realm of mortals so that maybe, just maybe, we allow it change our lives.
“I find I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”
Red, The Shawshank Redemption
If you’ve ever tuned a guitar, you’ll know that when the string is in pitch you can hear the other strings resonate with it. When I heard this quote yesterday, I felt a deep resonance.
To put it in context, you have to understand the importance of hope in The Shawshank Redemption. At first, Andy is warned off by Red. “Hope is dangerous,” he says. “Hope can drive a man insane.” For those who aren’t familiar, these are the words of a man who has long been a prisoner. You may be able to identify. I know there have been times in my life where it seemed wiser to abandon hope and simply accept my present existence, painful as it may be. I am thankful. To date, I’ve never manged to abandon hope.
Neither did Andy. His words, written in a letter left for Red, give voice to the life he lived prior to his escape. He writes, “Hope is a good thing, may be the best of things, and no good thing every dies.” I think that these words were a lifeline to Red who chooses to act on them by breaking his parole and going to meet Andy in Mexico. He exercises the right of a free man. The right to choose. It reminds me of words I heard many years ago. There is but one thing no man can take from us, our right to choose.
It is on this journey to Mexico that he utters the words that prefaced this post. Those words continue filled with hope for his future. “I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
I am reminded that freedom, real freedom, does not guarantee us an outcome, only a journey. Not every hope will be fulfilled. Pain and suffering will also await us on the road, but the journey is ours. And while the conclusion of the journey may be uncertain, it is an adventure filled with excitement and hope. Excitement at the thought of what lay ahead, and hope for the fulfillment of our dreams.
Such is the journey of the free. I hope that you are living yours as I am striving to live mine. May we all find courage to set our feet to the path, hope to keep us on it, and the “excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”
So, where will you go?
Wednesday night I received an unexpected gift. It began with what I believe to be an act that flowed from who I am. Nothing I would consider profound or special, just thoughts from a lingering conversation given voice. For once, normal doubts had no weight and I spoke these words of encouragement. I never guessed I would get an immediate response, let alone what would follow. What had been set in motion, even before I said a word, left me in awe.
I tried to engage more deeply, to put into words my excitement for what another person would set in motion. And I couldn’t. Try as I might, I had no words. Nothing seemed big enough to encompass what had happened. I had but one thing to share. My heart was full! Even now, I am filled with gratitude and a sense of awe. Thankful to have stepped into God’s stream and excited to see where it flows.
In the end, though I may not ever understand fully, I found these words in my last journal entry that helped me see the power of identity and being to lead us into the dance.
“The truest me seems to erupt most readily from thoughtlessness, from a point of emptiness beyond the doubts of conscious thought. I often only recognize him in hindsight, as an observer who sees the past. A statement, a text, a conversation, a moment recognizable as true self as seen from afar. I long to live in this state of being, this state of ‘me’. Something to think more on and strive for. It is fearless. Courageous. It is bigger than doubts. Because it just is. … This may just be me waxing philosophical for the sake of ego, but I do believe living in my identity brings assurance and strength of character. Enough so to overcome the doubt inherent in my broken humanity and give me hope. Hope for a future, for opportunity, and, probably more importantly, honesty and authenticity when opportunity arises.”
I wonder if these true self moments are the times I am closest to God. They are certainly the times I am closest to who He created me to be. And for just a moment, he let me see the results of His handiwork.
And you know the best part of it all?
Knowing that it has very little to do with me. The most amazing things He set in motion are His glory in another and I can’t wait to see what comes of it!
I pulled into the parking garage, picked a spot and settled back to listen to one more song. I reached for the keys, took a glance at the clock and laughed.
I had an hour to kill.
I snatched up my new book and left the garage. The day was warm. Not the usual choking heat of late July, but a milder heat. Almost comfortable. I glanced around for a place to camp and quickly found it. A tree and two benches sat amidst a riot of color and sculptures at Overton Square.
I managed at least ten minutes in the shade before my mind began to wander and I gave up all hope of making any headway in my book. So I lay down, a closed book for a pillow.
And a new world opened up before me.
For a few minutes I simply enjoyed the colors. The mural was not new to me, but I had never taken the time to do more than casually take it in. Today, I drank it in, and when I’d had my fill. I checked my eyelids for holes.
My attempted nap didn’t last long. Closing my eyes only freed my mind to wander wildly about in frantic thoughts and unanswerable questions. My eyes returned to the mural, and with it, to the painted reliefs in the brick wall next to it. On then to the bare whiff of a cloud standing bright white against the sky. I tried in vain to make some image of the sparse cloud, but if any dragons or faeries resided there, they had no intention of revealing themselves to me.
I tried to rest again, only to be interrupted soon after by a sudden brightness. The orange glow behind lidded eyes turned a bright yellow and I scowled at the glare penetrating the leaves of my not so adept guardian. I examined his leaves and the large number of gaps through which the light danced.
After a time, my eyes returned to the mural with its bright colors, only to discover him staring out from the window in unremarked black and white, the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. He looked out on the rest of us wine in hand, untouchable and imperturbable. I wondered at what he might be about and may have found my answer in the shocked expressions of the Seussian children staring out their nearby window in shock. I checked my own surroundings, but whatever set them on edge had little to do with me.
Checking my watch I found I still had ten minutes left until my appointed meeting, so I tried to drift off once again. It didn’t last. I promptly gave up and rose. I looked one last time upon my mural, for now I surely felt a bit of ownership in it, and discovered that fluorescent flowers had sprouted beneath Hitchcock’s window.
In the end, my unexpected hour held a lesson for me. I had taken the mural for granted. It wasn’t until I took time to return to it again and again, forced or otherwise, that I truly began to see it. And with every return it held something new.
I wonder what I’ll find next time.