Nashville is such a city of promise. It reminds me a bit of the California Gold Rush of mid-1800. Some lucky random guy found gold in an old mill, and before long, 300,000 men, women, and children flocked to the Golden State from all over the country, and even as far away as Latin America, Europe, Australia and Asia. A handful of people recovered millions of dollars worth of gold, but most people went home none the richer. As you can imagine, the boom brought with it a considerable amount of economic good for California.
Unfortunately, the Gold Rush wasn’t without its negative affects, as Native Americans were attacked and pushed off their land, creating race and ethnic tensions. Not to mention environmental harm caused by prospectors literally overturning every stone, trying to get their piece of the pot.
When I first heard there was gold in them there hills of Nashville, it wasn’t long before I knew I needed to pack up my wagon and trek across the country from Minnesota to see what I might uncover.
Heck, I had as good of a chance as anybody, right? I remember thinking a well-intentioned, charismatic, halfway-decent singer like myself stood a pretty good shot at a record deal. I had bought records and seen concerts by artists who appeared to be a lot more mediocre than me. People say the record industry just puts out crap. I say, why can’t they just put out my crap?
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It has become very important for me to identify what the Evil Voices In My Head are telling me. If I don’t, I just feel overwhelmed by fear and stupidity.
For instance, as a writer I hate walking into a bookstore. Part of me wants to find something interesting to connect with, some new writer that will affect my life like Anne Lamott or Eugene Peterson. All the covers plead for me to judge their contents by their prettiness. Truth is, sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. But instead of discovering beautiful new literary connections, I get bowled over by the silence. Like leafing through page after page of a dating service notebook filled with women last named A-G. So much muted potential, prettied-up with a fancy exterior. But mostly, it’s the overwhelming silence of all those unsold books that is so deafening to me. And I really want to be one more of the unsold authors stacked on those disorganized shelves? What could possibly be wrong with me?
All those words on all those pages. All those hours spent by someone somewhere, hoping their efforts would have some value. All those months waiting for a publisher to pick up their manuscript. All those hours wondering if that publisher will ever do anything to promote their dang book, or if it will just get lost in the shuffle of their better-selling, celebrity-driven, ghost-written titles.
It’s very similar to going into a record store and seeing all those unsold CDs just sitting there, patiently waiting for someone to give them a chance. So much unnoticed music. At the same time, there are so many artists that sell a ton of records. So many authors who sell a ton of books. And still, so many artists and authors who have personally affected me. I’m grateful they chose to throw their heart down the chute of creativity so that I could have my life changed by their expressions.
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It started off beautiful. The sun was shining and the temperature was unseasonably warm for December. It was Tuesday, which meant Scott and I would try to get together for coffee, like we have been doing for probably 15 years. We talk about our favorite TV shows, sporting teams, music, and recent travels. It kind of feels like we’re those old guys that sit around the coffee shop and talk about not much. It’s comforting and stable, in the midst of these very disposable days. As we talked, the clouds starting gathering about, and increasing their darkness.
I ventured a thought-provoking question in Scott’s direction, one of my most favorite things to do over coffee. “So what do you hope happens in the coming year? What are you wishing for?” Before he even answered, I was both hoping he’d ask me, and then just as quickly, realized I actually didn’t want him to ask me. So I listened. It all seemed pretty reasonable. Meaning, quite doable.
Then he asked me. “So, what about you?”
I sat silent for a second. I started to feel a little sick in my stomach. All these things I’m wishing and hoping and praying for flashed through my mind like it was 1993, 1994, and every year since. I said a couple things out loud, a couple of things that seemed reasonable. But I was stunned by the frustration I started to feel. I’ve been wishing for the same things for so long. Other people have been waiting and hoping for me, as well. I can only imagine they’re getting worn out, like me, wishing for my success, frustrated by the lack of something breakthrough-ish happening in my professional life.
It started to rain on my drive home. And I felt the clouds in my spirit turning very dark. “Am I so crazy that I can’t give up on my dreams? Am I that guy? Or am I setting the world record for persistence! Am I committed and loyal, and fiercely driven by my calling? Or am I just hitting my head against the same worn out wall, hoping that it will stop hurting?” The questions make me want to eat ice cream.
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I was just asked how it’s going with my sobriety. I can’t imagine what my face looked like because my mind started racing at 300 miles per hour, attempting to scan every conversation I’ve had with this guy to figure out exactly what he might be referring to. It’s not like we’re the closest of friends, you know, like someone I would tell my secrets to, who would then be given permission to ask me questions like this. I had just told him how meaningful, joyful, and story-filled are my times on the weekend working in hospitality at a local hotel.
“I mean, it must be difficult being around the alcohol and people drinking all the time,” he clarified.
My head was still spinning. I’ve lived my whole life doing what the best publicists do for all the celebrities—spin control. You know how they take their client’s random acts of stupidity caught on tape and turn them into something career-building? That’s what I do for my biggest client—me. Except it’s a bit more subtle. If I can keep up the appearance that everything is the way it’s “supposed to be” then there won’t be anybody trying to get underneath, to see what’s really brewing in my cauldron of gooey pleasantness. There’s nothing intriguing about nice.
Being nice is a great way to keep people at a distance. And for an attention-hungry, insecure, emotionally-driven narcissist, I can get pretty hungry for attention. So I’ve learned subtle ways to manipulate people into giving me a taste of the sweet honey I crave.
When you show a chink in your nice, especially if it’s a briefly revealed glimpse of pain on your face, it concerns people.
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