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This must be the place: ‘Just as long as the guitar plays, let it steal your heart away’

This year has been quite the whirlwind. It felt like 2018 was a rollercoaster I either didn’t buy a ticket to ride or was simply unaware of just how steep the ups and downs were. And I swear, I ain’t the only one in that boat of sentiments and emotions.

Coming into 2018, I found myself kissing my (now ex-) girlfriend in a room full of old and new friends in the frozen depths of our native Upstate New York. We all watched the glowing ball drop in Times Square on television. The room erupted in cheers and hugs. Cups of champagne and shots of bourbon passed around. Snowflakes and a frigid wind whipping against the windows, those inside warm and cozy. 

Now? Just about exactly a year later? She’s somewhere, anywhere in this vast landscape we call America. Lord if I know. She’s dearly missed and still greatly loved, always will be on my end of things. And here I sit, writing to you and yours, trying to make sense of that starting point last Jan. 1 and the steps and actions that have led to the here and now. What a difference a year makes, eh?

Everything seemed to fall apart in my personal life right after my birthday in February. From there, it was a tailspin — in my thoughts, actions and, most importantly, reactions. I started to distance myself from friends and family like a wounded dog hiding out under the porch or disappearing into the backwoods. 

Days blurred into weeks blurred into months and, before I knew it, the calendar on the wall stated it was late July. Where did all that time go? Had I really been in a fog for several months? Feeling the tension reaching a crucial point, I decided to pull the plug on Western North Carolina and hit the road. I needed to reconnect with those who know me the best and love me the most. 

So, I took off to visit my family while they were on their annual vacation up along the coast of Maine. Lobster dinners, white sand beaches, hearty laughter in solidarity with faces familiar. I wandered around the places and spaces of my youth in “Vacationland.” Sitting on a wharf with a cold beer one evening, I gazed out over the mysterious depths of the Atlantic Ocean, hoping to reel my old, jovial self in before my sanity set sail for destinations unknown. 

I was at rock bottom, at least emotionally. But, the funny thing is, just when you feel the most empty, sad and lost, clarity takes its cue and enters the scene. The heartache and lack of self becomes less and less each day, where you slowly emerge back into who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing. 

Returning from Maine in early August, I turned around and hopped on a plane to Denver to meet my parents in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was my mother’s 70th birthday present, with Jackson being her favorite place in the whole wide world. It’s also mine, too. And I hadn’t been back there since 2009, a place I lived and thrived as a rookie journalist in 2008. 

There’s something so cosmic and staggering when you see the Grand Teton mountains in person. These majestic, ancient peaks looming over you, just like the unimaginable emptiness of the surrounding Wyoming high desert prairie. 

Both of those landscapes put you in your place, where you genuinely realize just how you’re one dot amongst billions of other scattered dots on the planet, all zigging and zagging in some sort of haphazard, yet organized path to whatever destiny has in store for them (you, me and us). It isn’t to say all is for nothing, more so to show you how connected anything and everything is — it’s all one thing, one giant circle of motion and time. 

By the time fall appeared, I did the opposite of hibernate — I finally shed the layer of heavy, daunting skin I’d been walking around with for the better part of this year. Soon after, the stars aligned and I found myself at the crossroads of the biggest chapter of my writing career thus far. 

So, here we are. Late December. Everybody has either skipped town to visit family for Christmas or they’re well on their way while late Friday morning transitions into early afternoon. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to buy a last-minute plane ticket back to New York on Christmas Eve. Who knows? That’s the beauty of it all — this thing called life — where you take the blank canvas of today, tomorrow and the day after that, and paint it however you damn well please. 

Amid this whirlwind (now a slight breeze) in my corner of the world, I remain optimistic about the future. I see all the good that’s out there, of which most isn’t reported on by mass media or noticed on a national scale. But, it’s there. I bear witness to it every day, as you probably do, too. 

And remember, we have way more in common than we think — or are told — as a society. Happy holidays to you and yours. Onward to 2019, a year whose universal energy numerologist Felicia Bender says “invites us into the sandbox, onto the stage, and into the spotlight, and reminds us to play, to laugh, to find lightness in the shadows and to shine our light into the dark crevices in order to bring creative solutions to the global table.”

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 


Hot picks

1 There will be a New Year’s Eve celebration with The Colby Deitz Band (Americana/rock) and Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats (blues/rock) at 9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 31, at Mad Batter Food & Film in downtown Sylva.

2 The 5th annual “Franklin Ruby Drop” will be from 8:30 p.m. to midnight Monday, Dec. 31, at Town Square in downtown Franklin.

3 Balsam Falls Brewing (Sylva) will host Bird in Hand (Americana/folk) 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28.

4 The “Uncorked: Wine & Rail Pairing Experience” New Year’s Eve celebration will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 31, at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City.

5 Balsam Mountain Inn (Balsam) will host a New Year’s Eve celebration with The High Lonesome Dreamers 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 31.

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