I spend my life interviewing strangers, many of which are deeply passionate about what they do. These are the folks that pique my interest, so much so that I feel compelled to track them down and write about their lives. I’m talking about anyone from a bluegrass musician to a ski instructor, an oil painter to a barbecue pit master, a blacksmith to a guy who sells boiled peanuts on the side of the road — each from a different background, each as unique and singular as their career pursuits.
And yet, they all have two things in common — they aren’t rich (at least by pop culture standards) and they’re as happy as a clam.
“What gives?” you might say. Well, if you’re fortunate enough to figure out what it is that “makes you tick,” then you’re already ahead of the game (of life). Now, Charles Bukowski, quite possibly the finest writer of the 20th century, once said, “Find what you love and let it kill you.” I don’t think good ole Chuck meant that in a literal sense, but he did mean it in essence. Yes, find what it is that makes your heart skip a beat, what puts a kick in your step, and let it consume you, let it drink your creative juices until you pass out in joyous exhaustion — a truly beautiful thing to behold.
When I recently interviewed acclaimed Waynesville painter Jenny Bucker, she told me, “Art is the one thing I get so excited about that I forget to eat, I’ve never enjoyed anything that much, and believe me — I love to eat and cook.” That statement stuck with me. It justified all of what I do, and intend to do, come hell or high water.
As a kid, I was raised in a pretty typical middle class household. Mom was a teacher. Dad worked as an immigration officer on the Canadian border. We weren’t rich, but we didn’t go without. And of what extra money we did have, my parents believed in spending it on trips and experiences, rather than material possessions. They wanted my little sister and me to see what existed outside our front door, and not from the glowing screen of a new TV or from behind the screen windows of a glutinous RV.
And that attitude of soaking in the world’s true treasures remains the core of my spirit. In college, I found myself at a crossroads of what to do and where to go in my life. I wanted to wander until something, anything stuck to my soul.
The day I realized I wanted to be a writer hit me like a bolt of lightning. In hindsight, it makes complete sense. I’ve never met a stranger. I have an unrelenting thirst for curiosity, travel and storytelling. Sure, “journalist” is one of the lowest paying gigs out there (when you enter the industry), and it recently surpassed “lumberjack” as the “Worst Profession in America,” but I think that’s all a crock.
By “worst” they mean, from an outsider’s perspective, “Why in the hell would somebody work so hard for a disproportionate paycheck?” That ranking and widely held attitude doesn’t take into account the incredible quality of life I’m able to possess as a writer.
Everyday is a new adventure for me. Each morning, I honestly wake up ready and excited to go to work. Who am I interviewing today? What town will I end up in? It’s a sense of purpose, intent and adventure that will always run wild in my veins. I knew right off the bat I’d never become a millionaire as a writer, but, you know, a millionaire couldn’t buy the experiences, interactions and magical moments I’ve been lucky enough to find myself in.
If you do what you love, you really won’t work a day in your life. It’s true. Do what makes your soul shine, what makes you sleep peacefully at night knowing you’re in pursuit of your destiny. If you can look yourself in the mirror and still recognize the face looking back at you, and honestly reciprocate the smile, you’ll never go wrong. If you can chase that sense of wonder and passion, you’ll never go wrong. And the monetary gains will come in time, for when you dive further down that rabbit hole within your creative spirit, you’ll discover the essence of you — the most valuable commodity there is.
That said, I live a simple, modest life in terms of material possession. I have a one-bedroom apartment filled with my books, vinyl records and innumerable photos of great times I think of fondly. My bills are paid and there is fresh food and cold beer in my fridge. I don’t need much because I already have everything I could possibly want.
I have a big paint-peeling porch where I sit and watch the world swirl by. In that moment, I shake my head in awe, a slight grin rolling across my face, for I am enjoying my own life in my own time. And parked in front of that apartment building is my old trusty musty pickup truck, ready for me to start her up, onward to another day in the paradise of the existence of a person who is heading for the horizon of his dreams.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 “The Queen of Bluegrass” Rhonda Vincent & The Rage will perform at 7 p.m. June 28 at the Martin Lipscomb Performing Arts Center in Highlands.
2 Andrews Brewing Company will have Porch 40 (funk/rock) 7 p.m. June 20.
3 The “Way Back When” trout dinner will be held at 5:30 p.m. June 26 at the Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley.
4 The “BBQ FUR You” fundraiser will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. June 20 at the Smoky Mountain Retreat barn in Maggie Valley.
5 BearWaters Brewing (Waynesville) will have Brushfire Stankgrass (Americana/bluegrass) at 8 p.m. June 19.