I was 34 years old. My entire life’s work of pursuing a record deal had come crashing down around me Behind-The-Music style. I’d gotten wind of a cruise ship job that literally went around the world. It seemed the perfect remedy for my lost and broken heart.
For the first month aboard the ship I was mostly in rehearsal for the cheesiest comedy lounge show of all time. I had limited time off, but I did try and poke my head off the ship when I could— which at that point was traveling through the Caribbean. Those were mostly tourist ports with palm trees and colorful huts serving up fruity cocktails with paper umbrella garnishes.
Once the “show” was open (I need to put show in quotes for my own dignity’s sake) I was finally free to spend some time away from the ship, which was then making its way through the Amazon.
The water of the Amazon river looks like thick creamy coffee. There are strange bugs EVERYWHERE. I stepped onto the muddy shore of this new world and had the brain altering moment a lot of people have during their semester abroad, after which they return to school saying “cheers” and “no worries” nonstop.
Here was an entire people… far away from any sort of life that resembled mine… living their whole lives right here on the Amazon river. Their houses were on stilts. There was a man with a monkey and you could touch it for a dollar (and I did.) Music I’d never heard playing on the radio from someone’s open window.
A person might live their whole life right here in this small rainforest village. They’ll have a dream of their own that takes place in this context, not mine. They’ll love. They will experience loss. They’ll build a house of their own on stilts. Then someday fade away into history. A history so far away from mine.
It made me feel small. and insignificant. Every dumb thing I’d stressed about– my record contract, all the time traveling from city to city playing in smoky rock clubs hoping to get someone’s attention, all this stuff that had eaten up so much of my soul… just utterly and completely did not matter.
What did matter? It was a new question. One I’m still answering a decade later.
The answer might be something in the realm of this: The things that matter exist right in front of you. In the world you are actually living in… not someone else’s. Artists especially fall victim to a thing.. something about being quite concerned about recognition in some hypothetical existence far away from the one you are presently in.
The man on the Amazon with the monkey couldn’t care less about my failed record contract.
As I get older, my attention has calmed down to focus on the things and people directly in front of me. That’s what time does to a man I guess. I still want to create. I still want to tell stories through music and other genres, but the desperate energy of youth is gone.
That’s a good thing.
I’m at the beginning of this phase of artistic creation without the pressure of expectation. What does that look like? Time will tell…
(PS I want to clarify something… when I say without the “pressure of expectation” I do not mean I don’t want my films and music to “go somewhere.” To be clear, I most certainly do… but it’s with a different energy. My self worth and daily happiness do not depend on it.)