This must be the place: The best things in life are truly free, singing birds and laughing bees
Woke up this morning with the thought of the impending summer, impending “state of being” for all of us slowly sliding back towards to some sense of normalcy amid “all this.”
Packing up the truck in my native Upstate New York and heading back to Western North Carolina, it feels like the calm before the storm of what’s to come this summer, and moving forward.
A friend texted me yesterday asking about plans in late July. I responded truthfully, saying, “I’m pretty much booked up every weekend through November.” I sent the text and caught myself in that moment, where my thoughts immediately drifted towards, “Don’t forget to slow down. Don’t forget what you learned and harnessed during the shutdown.”
My mind is racing towards every bright light and opportunity that exists in my beloved music industry. But, my heart is trying to pull back the reigns and aim for a balance between my personal and professional life, a balance that always heavily tipped towards my career than my private endeavors.
I’ve always chosen the written word over anything else in my existence. That mindset, at least I feel, is how you succeed in the creative realms, where you have to live and breathe your passion to find financial footing and career advancement.
But, to that point, the shutdown proved that you can find a balance between chasing your dreams and not lose sight of building personal relationships, of making time to be in nature, of taking steps back from the daily chaos of your life to find calm and silence on your own (and in your own time).
It’s perfectly fine (and admirable) to be happily busy and productive, especially when you truly love what you do. But, don’t kill yourself in doing so. Easier said than done, right? I know firsthand how to completely lose sight of your personal dealings because your only focus is work and pushing ahead.
For us in the music industry and the written word, a lot of that comes from always scraping by to get by, so you’re always in survival mode. Before the shutdown, right around January 2020, I was completely burned out, physically and emotionally.
The previous year was the most productive year of my career. I wrote hundreds of articles and covered 26 three-day music festivals in 32 weeks. It was insanity, but I seemingly couldn’t turn down any opportunity, seeing as a lot of those festivals came to be with Rolling Stone knocking on the door asking if I would drive endless miles to attend a gathering.
Why would I ever turn down those chances? A true dream come true, especially after years and years trudging through this industry to make a name for myself. So, I jumped on any and all opportunities. And by January 2020, I was delirious, completely exhausted.
I remember grabbing some coffee with my newspaper publisher (a dear friend and mentor) and telling him how tired I was, how I wanted to take a few steps back from everything to clear my head, restart the computer within. He agreed.
It was suggested that I take a long trip somewhere and just not write articles or answer emails for a period of time. I made a decision to do so and prepared to pull the plug on my career for the first time since I was 21 years old. Pull the plug and plug it back in once I found myself again.
Well, the ship off date was to be early March 2020. And we all know how the rest of that year turned out, eh? I was shocked and confused as we all were as to how everything eventually panned out. But, aside from the obvious nature of the chaos and unknowns of the shutdown, the plug had been pulled on my daily existence, whether I was ready to take the plunge or not.
My beloved music industry stopped and, for good or ill, I could finally take a moment to catch my breath and clear my head. And I did. I hiked more last year than ever before. I escaped into the Great Smokies and Adirondacks on a daily basis. I was able to return to my native North Country during the summer months for the first time in years. I got to see my niece blow out her birthday candles for the first time. I was able to attend summer barbecues with old friends and small family gatherings that normally I wouldn’t be around for.
In essence, I was able to make quality time for people and things that I’d usually not be able to commit to. I was present, and living “in the now.” And it felt amazing. I could focus on other things besides writing and live music.
After a year of this, I’ve been able to find this much-desired balance between my personal and professional life, where before the lines were so blurred because of doing what I loved that, well, I loved doing it so much that I became distracted from many things I should have given attention to: love, friendship, peace of mind, etc.
Throughout this past year, I’ve been interviewing all kinds of acclaimed musicians, asking about how the shutdown affected their lives, on and off the stage. They all pointed to the same things I felt, experienced, and have written about above.
Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers telling me how he won’t tour as much anymore, won’t kill himself to be on the road constantly, to spend more time with his family and friends back at home. Travis Book of The Infamous Stringdusters, in reference to the music industry, saying, “It’s not, ‘When will we return to normal? It’s ‘What’s next?’” Grace Potter saying how she’s come full circle in her life with the shutdown, being able to process her past and make sense of “it all.”
To which, a few days ago, when I interviewed Charley Crockett, he mentioned how the shutdown has stopped him from running around like a chicken with its head cut off, that he’s realized how fast and hard he was going “to not be left behind” by the music industry.
Wild stuff, right? With all of which circling back to what I’ve been saying this whole time. That said, as much as I’m ecstatic to see my industry friends and live music peeps once again, to have plenty of shows to look forward to again, to hit the road once again to destinations unknown, I have to not lose sight of myself like the “before times.”
I have to never forget the lessons learned and feelings experienced during the shutdown. The idea that “it is OK to not be OK” and to know when to slow down and smell the roses. Keep the steady pace of progress and passion, but know when to let go of the gas pedal from time to time.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
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Looking for the nod to Daniel Johnston, quoted as your title. What a great song: “The sun don’t shine in your TV.” Many of us found peace in the mountains and other natural places during this time. Your sentiment that we not forget is wise.