I build myself up
And fly around in circles
Waiting as my heart drops
And my back begins to tingle
Finally, could this be it, or
Should I give up?
Or should I just keep chasing pavements?
Even if it leads nowhere
Or would it be a waste?
Even if I knew my place, should I leave it there?
I just drove fifteen hundred miles to conduct an opera (Momma’s not ready to get on a plane just yet).
You may well find that completely crazy. Honestly, I wouldn’t blame you, given that I share your viewpoint a not insignificant part of the time – for example, last night, as I limped toward my temporary bed, legs aching from thirteen hours in the car. But tonight, as I sit down to play through a gorgeous new opera at my keyboard, which I hauled up to my hotel room along with my yoga mat, clothes, shoes, and bath salts, it feels all over again like the coolest adventure in the world.
When did you start chasing music?
The music profs in the little college town where I grew up would take off to different festivals or instructional camps in the summer, and sometimes they traveled to sing Messiah or play a concert, so I kind of understood that musicians went around. But it was in college where I met folks who made me really understand what was possible – the teacher who would leave for weeks to play concerts, or the visiting artist who taught us for a few days before heading off to the next gig.
My mom has told me that when I was little, I never stayed in one lap for long; I was always working the room, seeing what was up everywhere. In college, when I met those artists, who had just been in, say, LA, and who were getting on a plane tomorrow to head to, say, Paris, my head spun. When I got a chance at that life, I jumped. And holy hell, it has been every bit as romantic and exhilarating as I dreamed. I’ve lived a bunch of places and played music in ways I expected and prepared for, as well as in ways that were complete and terrifying surprises. I have a wide, weird, wonderful net of connections. New is my normal. I got what I signed up for and more.
It’s hard. That’s real. It’s physically demanding, to start (I refer you back to the aforementioned keyboard move, and to the aforementioned bath salts). It’s also mentally and emotionally costly to move from place to place. You’re always re-evaluating where you stand in a new group of people, searching for new routines and certainties. For all the exhilaration of the new, of the performance and the applause, there’s the deep loneliness of the aftermath. In your hotel room or guest house or airbnb, you wonder what you’ve come home to (spoiler alert: it’s always just you). And those whom you love have to hang with all of this as well, which is a journey they can’t understand until they’re on it.
But hold on a sec. Is it easier to not have this itinerant life? If you stay in one place, do you inherently understand more about yourself? Is there any more of anything that’s guaranteed? Are we ahhhhtists the only ones who chase dreams?
If there’s anything we understand communally right now, it’s that every bit of this life is precious, it’s all dangerous, and we have no idea how any of it is going to go.
I’m thinking of MtMn getting on a plane seven years ago, flying off to Sydney to get on his first Celebrity cruise, which turned out to be awful and exploitative and full of amazing musicians. He’s more of a nihilist now, and also has more friendships.
I’m thinking of him building a fireplace out of local stone despite having no experience, which was risky and dangerous and resulted in one moderate injury (temporary) and one epic living room (permanent, at least in the context of our lives…and barring any Hill Country tornadoes).
I’m thinking of my brother’s family chasing deer and fish and beauty all over northern Minnesota. Of my sister getting another degree and giving her time to service organizations and to learning Pilates and to intentionally crafting a work life that allows her flexibility for all of it. Of my brother-in-law traveling to play golf with the college friends he’s kept for decades. Of my sister-in-law writing poetry and prose and mothering five kids and raging at her childhood religion and missing the parents who taught it to her. Of the brother who started learning banjo in his fifties, of the one who takes in animals to give them love and security.
Of my friends who pursued music with a passion and who are at the top of their profession, of those who did the same and are grinding it out, of those who left out of frustration or because of new passions, of those who stopped playing completely, of those who still sing, of those who teach, of those who listen.
Of my friends who found partners in their own high school, or in other countries, or in the later part of their lives. Who had children early, or who had them late, or who chose them, or who never had them. Of those who sorrow or rejoice because of that. Of those who deal with visas and red tape and citizenship, or who learn the names of everyone in their home town. Of those who end long marriages in the hope of something new. Of those who speak out loud things that many are not ready to hear.
Of those who rejoice in the completeness of their families, of those who are weathering the slow decline of someone beloved, of those brought low by catastrophic loss. Of those who wonder at their bounty and of those who cry out at a life of privation. Of those who wake each day with robust energy, of those who wonder with trepidation at the incremental changes in their bodies, of those who do not know good health.
Of friends who throw all the cards up in the air mid-game and change the rules, of those who are living the lives they planned. Of those whose parents are suffering and changing, of those whose parents are gone, of those whose parents are old and sharp and thriving.
Not one of the people in the sentences above has an easy road, or any guarantees. The inconveniences, the expenses, the impracticalities to each of these folks in pursuit of their dreams – or in the simple day-to-day management of their lives – are significant.
And we haven’t even gotten to the pandemic yet, the great chaos. The great equalizer.
Recently, one of my dearest old buddies said to me,
As far as I know, we only get the one life.
So friends, I think we should grab our dreams and hold on, and chase whatever freaking pavements are calling to us, whether they’re on the other side of the street or the other side of the globe.
Cheers from Charlottesville, y’all. Wherever you are, with heavy hearts or light, I hope you have a spare moment and a spare breath to rejoice. And if you don’t, take the one I’m sending to you right now.