2008 marked the Seven Year Itch. I’d been a radio DJ in the mountains for the past 15 years, something I’ve always loved but have always needed to supplement with, you know, a real job. I’d chosen radio ad sales, keeping it all under one roof, and had a good run at it. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that like life had pushed the pause button: I was in a good-paying, uninspiring job selling clutter and doing donuts around an overly comfortable cul-de-sac of a relationship; both of which showed no signs of changing.
Was this it?
Nothing was glaringly wrong and things weren’t necessarily bad and so, my restlessness was all the more disconcerting.
But there it was.
Did things need to be terrible in order to make a change?
Most of all, I wanted to be curious about my life again.
“Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid,” says Frances McDormand to Billy Crudup in Almost Famous. Her son had been kidnapped by rockstars, but she had faith that Crudup’s Russell Hammond, the man behind the mischief, could still become “a person of substance.”
I’ve always written – to myself, to audiences I’ve never met, to people who’ve loved me dearly, and to people who never wrote back. I’ve written to capture snapshots in time, lucid moments in life that punctuate the journey and give cause for pause. I’ve always written things down and, like good coffee before the first thought of the day, it’s the ritual that I love: the ritual of putting pen to paper, cocktail napkins, motel notepads or unpaid parking tickets – it’s true – always makes me feel better, like I’m capturing a sensation for future generations or my own chuckle, five years later, when I clean out the kitchen drawer and find that crumpled-up “quotable”. Sometimes I write things down, just to be sure they really happened.
By the fall of 2008, I wanted to wonder about my life again. I wanted to wake up and not know.
So I cleared my plate of my 40-hour a week obligations and cleared my heart of its current commitment, to make room for the requisite amount of procrastination, time and emotional space to write – what some refer to as the art and discipline of loafing. Writes author Ariel Gore in “Bluebird”: “A loafer steps out into the world, and wanders here and there, in nature or through bookstores, looking for nothing in particular.” Gertrude Stein says this realm is essential to the creative life: ‘”It takes a heap of loafing to write a book.”
I went online and found a ’96 GT Convertible, 25th Anniversary Limited Edition, rosewood paneling on the dash (in case you were doubting my online auto-buying savvy). I’ve always wanted a convertible, though not necessarily a bright red one, but there she was on Auto Trader, just waiting to be rescued from Highland, Indiana.
I bought a one-way ticket to Chicago, took a 45 -minute bus ride in the pouring rain through Michigan City, Indiana, then on to a dark, dripping, sad little parking lot. An Indiana boy on an Indiana night handed me the keys to the car. And the soaking wet title. The forgotten verse to the Tom Petty song.
It was an anti-climactic first encounter with my very first convertible; not exactly a Top Down scenario.
Never fear: the sun came out, the top came down and RedRide and I became fast friends. I launched a new phase of solo road trips and lots of randomness, meeting people I’d never have known and spending time in places I’d wondered about, but never thought of going.
Open sky and open road…all that horizon cleared my head and while every day’s a bad hair day in a convertible, the world looks much better through oversized pink sunglasses. It was a perpetual Top Down situation. I parked the car for a hot minute, and went to Fiji; I went to Australia; I went to Nicaragua. And occasionally I took a wrong turn, or a Scenic Byway, and ended up somewhere I’d never known existed.
On one of life’s more random backroads, I crossed paths with a larger-than-life songwriter who took me fishing and drove me down a Deep Southern country road, to watch the sun set across the cotton fields. “Idn’t that a pretty little sunset?” he asked, taking a long pull from his bowling- pin shaped Budweiser. They like those in Mississippi. I learned that all this loafing was part of his workday: “I’m an artist,” he said, thoughtfully. “I get paid to watch the sun set.”
He went the way of most musicians, on to the next muse, the next sunset…but his words stuck with me. I think what he was trying to say is that he gets paid to be inspired. He’s found his calling, his passion, the thing in his life that makes time stand still. When he’s immersed in his work, he loses track of time and days go by while the outside world waits for him to return, refreshed, more himself than ever.
To get paid to be inspired. To make a living mining your true self.
When people ask me what I do – because people always wanna know what you do – it feels kind of flippant to answer: “I rock climb. I go for scenic drives; top down, heat up. I ski. I like to sit on my stairs and drink coffee and listen to music and text -all at the same time. I change chords from C to G, in just under 10 minutes. I surf the whitewash. I take naps. ” What they really want to know is what I do for work.
I tell them I’m a writer. It feels good to do what I am, and to be what I do.
I’m back on the radio with Sonic Byways, learning more about the music I love and bringing it to “the masses” online at aspenpublicradio.org, every Saturday night at 8 p.m. And I’m writing about it. And in my spare time, I’m still drinking coffee on the stairs, thinking semi-deep thoughts to start the day.
The plot is still thickening and most times, I feel even further from knowing the outcome; it’s an ongoing experiment, fine-tuning who I want to be and how I want to move through the world.
But I’m beginning to realize that’s the point. For me. That the journey is the destination. And like objects in the side mirror, the next inspiration may be closer than it appears.