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This must be the place: ‘Didn’t wanna get me no trade, never want to be like papa’

So, amid the whirlwind this past week of being published by Rolling Stone — my biggest dream and top bucket list item as a writer — I’ve found myself looking over my shoulder and reflecting on the road to the here and now. 

But, I’m also looking toward the horizon — a new vantage point — by which to find guidance into the next chapter of whatever this thing is we call life, reality and the quest for stability and creative fulfillment in a daily existence.

Beyond the sheer overwhelming emotion of gratitude washing over me after almost 14 years of blood, sweat and tears chasing this dream, I’ve been asked by friends and family alike dozens of times since last week about how I got to this juncture, and also questions that now linger — how do you feel, and what now? 

It’s one thing to be told relentlessly as a kid that, “if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything.” And, if you’re lucky and determined enough, alongside a steady stream of hard work, you can find yourself where you’ve always wanted to be. 

And yet, the thing that tends to get left out in the words of encouragement is how you feel once you’re finally standing there, holding your dream in your hand, thinking to yourself, “So, how am I supposed to feel right now?” Happy to be here? Somber to think of sacrifices made in the name of this dream? Rightly satisfied or only hungry for more? Maybe all of the above? 

Amid the questions posed to me recently, one was: “What kept you going all those rough years?” Well, for one thing, the “rough years” pop up now and again, regardless of where you are in your personal and professional life. It’s just part of the game of life, a natural ebb and flow of the human condition as we continue to grow, sometimes faltering, but relentlessly seeking balance in our interactions and attitudes. 

Truth-be-told, what kept me going was the mere fact that I had an internal conversation with myself very early on that — hell or high water — this is what I want to do with my life. Once you have that understanding in your thought process, you retain that much-needed stamina to push through obstacles — either physical or emotional. 

And there are key moments that stick out, especially those with former lovers. I remember one ex-girlfriend — when I was in my early 20s and living in Upstate New York — who, while we were eating breakfast together in a diner, goes, “So, when’s this writing phase going to end?” I looked at her puzzled and put my coffee down. “What do you mean ‘phase’? This is what I want to do with my life.” To which she responded, “I mean, why don’t you get a normal job like everyone else? Like at the prison or on the border as an officer?” 

There were moments where even my closest friends from my adolescence started to take digs at me. By your mid-to-late 20s, people around you begin to question the legitimacy of your aspirations. You’re not living a similar life to theirs, and somehow that offends them, usually afraid to question their own path, or urges them to speak up out of concern or projected humiliation. 

One night, my (former) best friend from high school and I were out for a beer. I was a young writer scrapping by. He had a pretty decent gig working on a farm. That night, he was buying whatever he wanted of top-shelf booze, almost as if to spite me. But, whatever, I was content by sticking with my Pabst Blue Ribbon happy hour special. 

At one point in the evening, he turned to me with a sly grin, “So, how’s the writing going?” I replied, “Tough, but I’m making it work.” “You really think you’ll write for Rolling Stone someday?” he shook his head in this sarcastic manner, as if to imply “you fool.” 

All of these people and roads chosen, paths ignored and faces now gone from my field-of-vision, decisions made in haste and decisions made selfishly or selflessly, all culminates into where you stand today, ultimately influencing the trek to tomorrow and to the day after that. It all adds up. It’s all one thing, you know? 

The craziest thing to consider is all of those times you came “this close” to throwing in the towel. Those lonely nights far from home wondering just what in the hell you had gotten yourself into. Those girls you felt you would throw it all away for, but didn’t. Those “Plan B” careers you considered following the economic collapse in 2008, but didn’t. The list goes on. 

I have no resentment toward that early and ongoing criticism, nor toward the choices I’ve made to get to where I am. I’ve always used it as fuel onto the fire of my intent. 

Besides, for every one push back or setback, there tends to be so many more folks who will understand what you’re trying to do, and cosmic moments that will nurture your intent. Often, just that in itself can, and does, also inspire their own endeavors — this back-and-forth of passion and pursuit. We’re all in this together, don’t forget that.

p.s.

Happy 75th birthday to the greatest rock-n-roller of all-time: Keith Richards. We love you, Keef. Rock on, brother. 

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

 

Hot picks

1 Bluegrass singer/mandolinist Sierra Hull will hit the stage for a special evening, “A Bluegrass Christmas with Sierra Hull,” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.

2 The “Christmas Bluegrass Jam” hosted by Raymond Fairchild will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, at Elevated Mountain Distilling Company in Maggie Valley.

3 Americana singer-songwriter/guitarist Kevin Fuller will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21, at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville.

4 Jazz/swing act The Russ Wilson Duo will perform at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, at The Classic Wineseller in Waynesville. 

5 The annual “Lights & Luminaries” will return to the streets of downtown from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 21-22. 

 

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