This must be the place
You can’t ignore it.
That little voice in the back of your head, always interrupting your daily train of thought, pushing up into the foreground of your mindset, pecking at you like a duck with a reckless abandon to get its point across.
This week marks my fourth year being in Waynesville. It was right around this time I first ventured into Haywood County in hopes of landing a gig at The Smoky Mountain News. My initial assignments were to track down a handful of features at Folkmoot. So, the international dance and music festival holds a deep and meaningful place within my ramblings.
And now, here we are, four years later. Endless miles on Southern Appalachian back roads. Innumerable experiences with unique and captivating folks that I might have otherwise never had the privilege of crossing paths with, let alone sit down, interview, photograph and write about.
In essence, I get paid to wander and talk to strangers, a point spiritually and financially I’ve been aiming to reach since I entered this haphazard industry of characters and chaos known as journalism. But, echoing out from the back of your head like some familiar voice in the Iowa cornfields of good ole Ray Kinsella, it returns — your conscience.
You’ve reached the “top of the mountain” of your aspirations, and yet those who encourage you up that steep slope of your dreams and what it will take to get there, well, they forget to add in one thing — once you stand tall atop that mountain, you can now see clearly, and also see other mountains in the distance.
Now what? It’s a question I’ve been mulling over since the last snowpack at the Cataloochee Ski Area melted and the first flower emerged in the noonday sun of another spring in Western North Carolina. And as I mention these thoughts swirling around my head to others, an odd look appears on their face, “Are you serious? You have the greatest job in the world, how in the hell aren’t you just happy with that?”
See, right there, that’s the key to their statement above — “just happy.” Well, obviously I do feel sincerely grateful for what I get to do and who I get to interact with on a daily basis. But, for me, for those wild and restless souls out there, we’re never “just happy,” because we’re always moving, always exploring, endlessly curious about what lies around the next corner, madly in love with all the world and its unknown surprises of people, places and things.
Luckily, I have a publisher who truly understands my wants and desires. He’s as much built on wanderlust, curiosity and passion as I am. Thus, that’s why I not only stay loyal to the newspaper and its vision, but also feel comfortable in voicing my thoughts that float out of my mouth in his presence — “I’m wondering what the hell is next, where to now?”
The “where to now?” can be anything, an emotional or physical state of being. Emotionally? I’ve tied up most of the loose ends in my heart and soul, where nowadays I get what “the deal is” in who I am, what I want to do, and where I want to go in life. Physically? I’ll never quench my internal thirst for discovering a new town or talking up another person I’ve yet to meet (because all friends were strangers at one time).
In my four years roaming Southern Appalachia, I’ve dug pretty deep into the beauty of the culture and its people here. But, personally, I feel I’ve only just uncovered the tip of the iceberg. So much more to track down, so many more faces and stories hiding way out in depths of the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains.
And I do listen to that voice. Just because you’ve put down roots, which would seem like treason to your wanderlust ethics, doesn’t mean you’ve turned your back on what you set out to do and conquer when you were finally handed that college diploma those many years ago. It means you’ve found solid ground, something many of us journalists didn’t even know would exist in 2016, let alone in 2008 when a lot of us were at the bottom of the totem pole when the economy tanked.
There’s a certain beauty to that solid ground. If you keep looking ahead whenever you stop for a moment, you might just miss out and not notice the most important thing — now. It’s those moments amid friends, family, and perhaps even in your own glorious solitude, that prove to be the most valuable. It’s those experiences you sometimes forget you’ve already had that your younger self would salivate in knowing someday you’d be in those incredible, serendipitous situations. Money might buy you a new house or car, but experiences within the confines of pure love and honest friendship buy you something money can’t purchase — a life well lived.
What does the voice say? Spend some time in France and finally write that novel about that year you spent living in the Wild West of Eastern Idaho. Head up to Alaska so you can finally say you’ve been to all 50 states. Bolt over to Los Angeles and wander all the dive bars and music venues on the Sunset Strip you’ve read about since you were a kid. Take that six-month sabbatical and hike the Appalachian Trail. We all have our victories in our own time, and for that, stay hungry, stay relentless in your pursuits, and never lose sight of just how lucky you are to be alive in the world.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 Country/rock star Aaron Lewis will perform at 9 p.m. Friday, July 29, at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.
2 The “Smokin’ in the Valley” Western North Carolina BBQ Festival will be July 22-23 at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds.
3 Renowned bluegrass/gospel group Balsam Range will perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, on the lawn of the A.K. Hinds University Center at Western Carolina University.
4 The Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival will be held at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24, at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.
5 Nantahala Brewing Company (Bryson City) will host The Colby Deitz Band (Americana/bluegrass) on Friday, July 29.