In dog years

In dog years

I used to think it would be hard being a dog, not knowing what was going to happen next — when the next meal would land in my dish, when the people would come home, where the car was going and when the ride would stop. It would be nice to be fed and walked and petted. It would be nice to not be expected to do the laundry, sweep the floors, pay the bills or hold down a job. But the thing I couldn’t give up about being the human in the relationship, I always told myself, was being in control of the whats and the whys and the whens.

I liked being the one driving the car. I liked being the one knowing where we were going and when we’d arrive.

But now my dog has cancer, and my whole year has not gone according to plan — at least not any plan I came up with. You don’t have to feel bad for me. I’m not sad. (Okay, sometimes I’m sad, but it’s not the overarching theme of my days.) In some ways this has actually been my best year, because I’ve learned a lot. Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I’m not driving the car. I don’t, as it turns out, have a clue where we’re going or when we’ll get there.

I’m starting to think my dog has it right. When he gets in the car and it stops at the vet, he looks a little bit disappointed. But every time he gets in the car, he acts like he’s going on a hike. Even if eight out of 10 trips lead to the vet, he still anticipates a hike. He still wags and barks and thanks the universe for the woods and the trails, the streams and the good smells. He’s fully invested in that hope, without any disappointment of a dream unfulfilled. The dream is always fulfilled — it’s fulfullable, which is basically pre-fulfillment — because it remains a possibility. This trip might stop at the vet, but that means the next one is the hiking trip, right?

And anyway, there’s always the whole drive to wag and bark, to anticipate and hang an excited nose out an open window.

I, too, want to live in that hope, and part of that hope comes from not knowing. Ultimately being the driver gives us about as much control as captaining a ship through a typhoon. Just because we’re holding the wheel doesn’t mean all that much. Nature, other drivers, fate, destiny, good luck, bad luck, potholes.

All these decades have I really successfully fooled myself into thinking I knew where this was all heading? How long I have, what I can accomplish, what my greater purpose is? Hell no. Those questions fill me with existential dread. I’m intimately acquainted with anxiety, with teeth grinding and clammy-palmed fear. I long for control because I can’t stand this feeling of free-falling. And yet to be human is to make peace with (or not to — many of us don’t — it’s a legitimate option) an existance shrouded in mystery.

The one in control is the one hanging an excited nose out an open window and anticipating a really good time around the next bend.

If not this bend, then the next.

That’s the meditation: be happy in the now. Wag, sniff, eat treats, relish walks.

Pet a dog.

Top tips for being a rockstar

This essay was originally posted at Booker Like a Hooker.

Stage setup

Stage setup

I probably can’t (or at least shouldn’t) advise anyone on being a rockstar. I realize this might come as a surprise since I just published the novel How to Talk to Rockstars, thus asserting my own expertise on the subject. That, and the book is based in part on my own experience as an arts and entertainment writer and editor. This August will mark 12 years officially interviewing touring musicians in a full-time-employment-with-official business-cards capacity.

If you subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule (that’s the number of hours of “deliberate practice” it takes to become an expert in any field), then I’ve got more than twice that under my belt — even after you subtract lunch breaks and watching back episodes of “Castle” at my desk. (For the record, I do not watch back episodes of “Castle” at my desk. Who would do that? Not this girl.)

But a 2014 Princeton study supposedly debunked Gladwell’s theory. I’m no expert on rockstars with or without Princeton (or Gladwell) — not on being one, not on talking to one. How to talk to rockstars (the idea, not my novel … well, maybe my novel, too) is actually an enduring mystery in my life. And I’m OK with that.

Birdhouse

Birdhouse

In fact, one of the things that keeps me excited about my day job, more than a decade in, is that the creative process in its many genres remains mysterious, elusive, wondrous and inspiring. It’s the wilderness in this world of instant accessibility, constant contact and utter disconnect. Art is the one place where we’re way off the map and, at the same time, completely connected to our source. It’s the antithesis of social media without being antisocial. It’s where we’re most vulnerable, most human, most true.

So maybe that’s what I would say to any would-be rockstars out there. Be more human. Be more of a conduit to that wilderness. Be more authentic; be a beacon to those of us seeking authenticity.

Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba performing at LEAF

Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba performing at LEAF

I would also say I know that’s terrifying. Creativity is a scary prospect. Writing a book sure is. To be alone with the blank page is to stare into the abyss. That’s actually thing I’ve said dozens of times for dramatic effect. And I’m probably not the first person to have said it — it sounds suspiciously like something I probably heard from one of my MFA professors and managed to co-opt by virtue of a foggy memory. But lately looking into the abyss is less dramatic and more … something. Not quite comforting but, like, what’s so terrible about an abyss? It’s not necessarily a black hole or dark matter or one of those “Star Trek” anomalies. It’s just the unknown. And life experience, 20,000-plus hours in, has taught me that most unknowns, once addressed, are completely navigable.

Music, however, refuses to be completely navigable. It remains — at its best, at its richest — unexpected, emotional, surprising and overwhelming. It’s a shot to the heart, a jolt to the psyche. It’s a time machine back to who we once were, a post card from past selves and a missive to future versions of ourself. It has the power to render us, in the moment, undone. It contains the ability to recast us, for the length of a song, cooler than we really are.

Sculpture park at Punta Sur, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Sculpture park at Punta Sur, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

I would say to future rockstars, go there. Go farther. Dare into the abyss, into the wilderness, into the world beyond the world. Lead the mission; strike out on a hero’s journey; lean out over the precipice and don’t fear the fall.

The world needs rockstars. Not big egos. That’s not what I’m talking about. But seekers, seers, those who walk on stage, larger than life, and remind us of our own inner starpower. And, for that matter, I’d say that anyone who accepts this mission — to be more true, more human, more creative and more of a light into the dark heart of our collective artistic source — is already a rockstar. No tour bus, logo t-shirts or fan base required.

“How to Talk to Rockstars” reviewed in WNC Magazine

I’m so thrilled that WNC Magazine featured a review of How to Talk to Rockstars in its July/August issue. And even better, it’s on the page beside four Asheville album reviews. Perfect.

Whirlwind New York trip in photos