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art theplaceWhy do you do it?

Sitting in a tiny coffee shop in downtown Knoxville last week, I was posed this question by a high school kid. I knew the answer, at least in my head I did. But, to be asked for a vocal response, it was a surreal experience to hear the words subconsciously come out of my mouth. 

 

“Why?” I replied. “Because everyday for me is an adventure, everyday I wake up excited to go to work, and that doesn’t happen for a lot of people. Yeah, sure, there are those who went for a well-paying job and got the nice car and house, but more often than not they aren’t happy, and aren’t doing what they love. You can have everything you ever wanted in the world — all of those material things — but what matters most is how you feel about what you see in the mirror.”

With that statement, I looked the teenager right in the eye. He smiled and shook his head in approval. He has aspirations of becoming a journalist someday, and through his teacher (my friend) was able to meet up and interview me about what it’s like to wander and write. And as we talked for the better part of an hour, I noticed all the people rushing in and out of the coffee shop. They had looks of urgency, looks of confusion, frustration and everything in-between. 

From an early age I’ve been able to notice and observe those facial expressions, and to listen to what people said about their own lives. Yes, of course, there are plenty of folks who do love what they do. But, I always find it so odd when I constantly come across people complacent with their existence. I want to walk up to them and shake them back into reality, “Listen, you don’t have to do this, there are ways to reach your dreams.” 

“But, I have bills and responsibilities,” they’d say. We all have bills and responsibilities. There will always be bills to pay and responsibilities to adhere to, so do what you love in the process. Make it work, come hell or high water, because when all is said and done, do you want to know you spent your life chasing someone else’s dream or your own?

My dream is to become the greatest writer of my generation. Sure, it may seem like a loaded aspiration, but who cares? I want to write features, stories and books that inspire and spark a fire within the reader the way my literary heroes lit my fuse. I’ve set that goal way up in the heavens above me and I’ll spend my lifetime getting closer and closer to it until one day — God willin’ and the creek don’t rise — I can grasp it.

Throughout my gig in life, I get to interact with people and the world around me. I have genuine conversations and experiences with strangers about what their passions are and what it means to be a human being. Face-to-face interaction is a lost art in a modern world. The more connected we’ve become with technology, the more we’ve become disconnected. We hide behind Facebook profiles and Twitter handles, and yet, when we do interact with each other, we don’t know what to say, we don’t look each other in the eyes, we don’t feel comfortable about what to do or how to act. 

For me, I get to have an honest conversation with another person, and find out what makes them tick. It never ceases to amaze me how incredible humanity is, how the seemingly most boring person on the outside is actually one of the most fascinating, once you give them the time of day. 

The beauty of journalism is being able to venture into all levels of society. One day I’m talking with a state senator about politics, the next I’m hanging out on a street corner with the homeless. One day I’m in the kitchen when a world-renowned chef talking about how seeing someone happily satisfied from their dishes is everything to them, another day I’m in the backwoods trying to put into words what it means to truly be alive at the top of a mountain — all of it is relevant, all of it’s beautiful. The more I explore the world around me, the more of a grounded perspective I get on not only society, but also myself and my place in it all. 

We all only have one trip around this universe — you might as well do what makes you truly happy.

 

Hot picks

1 Former N.C. Poet Laureate Fred Chappell and poet Dana Wildsmith will offer a joint reading at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 21 at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva. 

2 Country sensation Scott McCreery hits the stage at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at Harrah’s Cherokee Event Center.

3 The Get Right Band (funk/reggae/rock) will perform at 8 p.m. Nov. 14 at BearWaters Brewing in Waynesville.

4 A special presentation of Appalachian stories of the “unusual” with Gregg Clark will be held at 11 a.m. Nov. 15 at the Rickman Store in Cowee.

5 Brushfire Stankgrass will perform at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville.

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