The Great Escape
I’ve mentioned this before, but, damn, do I love a great escape. That whole fight or flight instinct thing somehow got cut in half with me. When life gets stressful, when things don’t go my way, when I am overwhelmed by the immensity that is involved with fundamental change, my first instinct – scratch that – my only instinct is to grab my passport and my favorite pair of Converse and get the fickity fuck out of Dodge.
You don’t believe me. Allow me to illustrate (brace yourself, you’ll be here for a few hundred words):
In 1993, I was about to graduate from high school. Growing up in a small town in Montana, I went to school with the same group of folks from Kindergarten on up. This made evolving in any meaningful way difficult. For me, especially, because of that whole no fighting instinct thing I just mentioned. To overcome this, I could have dyed my hair and pierced my nose within the comfortable tuition of the state university of my hometown, but no. I packed up my shit in a trunk and moved to Iowa City, IA to study (and this is real) Francophone African literature for a whopping $20k/year and dyed my hair and pierced my nose from the safe distance of 2000 miles away from everybody I ever knew… a luxury for which I am still repaying the Federal Student Loan program. After two years, I returned to my hometown, fifteen pounds lighter with black hair, a nose ring, and a two-hundred-pound chip on my shoulder. How you like me now, Missoula?
Two years later, I was in a serious relationship, my first real relationship. We lived together. We were in love, but we were young and things weren’t working out. Did I do the mature thing and break up with him? Nope. You guessed it. I came home one afternoon and announced that I was moving to New Orleans after graduation, alone. I lied to him and told him that we could do the long-distance thing. Then I lied to him again, from the safety of my new home in New Orleans and told him that I had cheated on him. For which, rightly so, he immediately dumped my lying, cheating, pathologically incapable of conflict ass and told me he never wanted to see me again. Problem solved.
Wait. It gets better.
The year 2000. I’m working for Nine Inch Nails (yes, that NIN). Things that are covered by an NDA I signed (and this is also true) to a certain Prince of Darkness, Inc. got, shall we say, uncomfortable. Did I power through? No, of course, I didn’t; haven’t you been paying attention? I took the first gig as an audio engineer I could find and bailed on NIN while they were mixing the Fragility 2.0 DVD, thus forfeiting my first really big album credit rather than muscle through for another year. Nice, right?
2003: I convinced my band to leave New Orleans, where we had just landed three huge gigs and were regularly opening up for the biggest area act at the time, and move to Los Angeles to start from scratch.
Seriously, what the fuck?
2005: I bailed on my band to do movie scores.
I repeat my question.
2006: I bailed on Los Angeles to move to Baton Rouge. That’s right. I left L.A. where I was doing remixes for people who have won Grammies, to move to Baton Rouge, LA and become the head of tech support for a pro audio manufacturer.
And this is where my great escapes ended. I have been little Miss Stick it the Fuck Out through thick and thin for the last 12 years.
But looking back on it, I really just indulged in the greatest escape of all. I gave up.
I gave up yearning for something extravagantly outrageous. I settled for what was easily and readily achievable. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that, except for one little thing: I was not wired to desire what is easily and readily achievable.
It is audacious to think that one of these outlandish goals to which I’ve strived at one point in time or another would arrive within my grasp with minimal effort. Because the truth is, to reach that highest hardest peak, you have to be willing to risk it all. And that is fucking scary. It would also be a lie to tell you that every one of those escapes was a bad decision. At least one of them probably saved my life.
So, when I finally got up my gumption and began to climb towards a faraway, unachievable goal six years ago, I looked up at that distant mountaintop and thought, if I just get up there, that will be enough.
But after That Old Devil Sin was released, I looked ahead and realized I had stumbled up the side of a mountain range, not one individual peak. And this is something else that I’ve struggled with my entire life. The ability to celebrate a victory, even if it isn’t The Victory.
I’ve written, performed, engineered, produced and released three full-length albums. That’s something.
I’ve written, orchestrated, and performed the soundtracks for two independent films. That’s something.
I’ve done remixes for Grammy winners. That’s something.
I’ve written and released four novels. That’s something.
So what if my band never got a record deal? We still kicked ass.
So what if those films never made it to Sundance? My scores were great.
And maybe the Clementine Toledano Mysteries will never be best sellers. And that has to be ok. Why? Because I love them and am proud of them and at the end of the day, that has to be enough. That has to be sustenance for my ego and my soul.
Because the reward for good work should be work well done. That is your reward. All the fame, the fortune, the accolades, none of it means a damned thing if you’re not willing to stand on whatever peak up which you’ve managed to climb and take in the vista.
There is no escaping hard work. There is no fast track. There are no corners to cut. And truth be told, in those moments of frustration, escaping to a new mountain range that, from a distance, looks easier than the one you’re climbing seems like a great idea. But what you find when you get there, is just another series of mountains that are just as challenging.
Of course, there’s always sticking it out on the flatlands. Walking one foot in front of the other, mindlessly trudging day after day, admiring the mountains in the distance, happy that you’re not the one who will be climbing them today. And maybe that’s the choice. The Big Scary Choice that we all have to make:
The risk of failure or the failure of taking no risk at all.