Around this time last year, I wrote and published a blog post entitled The Loud Year, in which I lamented the divisions of 2016 and suggested a series of resolutions to make 2017 better. I proposed that we preemptively call 2017 “The Quiet Year.” Adorable, I know. There are plenty of memes that could succinctly communicate the difference in my perspective then vs. now, but to honor a recent hero of mine, I will only include one:
2017 wasn’t a quiet year.
That’s evidenced by the number of times I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone, or by the relationships I lost or strained as a result of “always talking about that stuff." It’s the meals I ate in my car because I didn’t have time for a table, the coffee conversations that didn’t end in handshakes or hugs, the number of unread texts in my inbox, the rotating supplements in my medicine cabinet, and the scores of unfinished documents in Evernote. As evidenced in last year's blog post, I counted on 2017 to be a prolific year for me. I thought that what my chaotic landscape required of me was a greater creative output. A burning house, I thought, needed more water. And that's when the hose went dry.
I didn’t publish my books this year. The darkness of the world around seemed to swallow me up every time I sat down at my computer, demanding some more direct course of action. What good is a fiction novel for a burning house? I thought. And yet, I couldn't decide what a more direct course of action might be. Nothing felt quite direct enough—nothing, that is, except for reading. I did a lot of it. After counting the books, I realized I read more this year than I had in the past 5 years combined, and from a wider range of genres. And when I didn't have time to stare at a page, I discovered podcasts. I’d been mostly ambivalent toward this art form until I realized that it was essentially a way to download information straight into my brain matrix-style, at which point I became all-consuming. I think I spent a lot of time in between the words of great minds believing that if I could just gain the right knowledge, I might be able change people's hearts and minds like my heroes had changed mine.
The thing is, I didn't do much of that, either.
I couldn’t stop the burning house.
I couldn't even make a difference. Of course, it was arrogant to think I alone could when so many others have already been trying for much longer than I have, and doing a better job of it. But when I finally got tired of fighting and took my eyes off the flames, I realized the others were there. They stood tired and burned, too, on every side. By the close of the year, I ended up spending much more time in their company than I did with a garden hose in my hand, which felt both deeply nurturing and yet, in an immediate sense, as inefficient as writing fiction. What good is a few good friends for a burning house?
I didn't realize the the lesson 2017 was trying to teach me until I heard it from the lips of Rose Tico in The Jast Jedi. (Yes, somehow I brought this train back to Star Wars, y'all).
"That's how we're gonna win, not fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”
I wasn’t sure whether or not I liked this line until I talked with my friend and brother Gemikal, who reminded me that putting out a burning house means nothing if I'm not invested enough in the people I love to help build new homes from the ashes. Our need to love each other will still exist even after all that we hate is destroyed.
I stepped up to 2017 like,
Here I am, use me.
To which the year curtly replied,
You’re not ready. Cultivate your love. Hone your craft. Let your ideas ripen. Stretch your mind and feed your own soul. Dare to start a family again. Give yourself up to “unlikely" relationships. Never stop asking yourself why it is you're fighting.
All of those lessons are lifelong undertakings. I mention them because, as I carry it all forward into the new year, they will inform how I go about the more concrete resolutions I have. And I have many of those.
Here are 4 things to expect from me in 2018.
1. “Telescope” Music Video
I recently got the privilege to work with Joshua Lockhart on a killer shoot in which we pretty much turned my entire house into the Upside Down for a day. The video perfectly captures the disparity between the faces we often project to the world and the storms that rage inside us.
2. The Lark Descending
My debut fiction novel (the first of four already-written manuscripts) was probably ready for publishing a year ago, but I’m incubating it just a while longer until it feels properly hatch-worthy to me. If I haven’t surrendered it by the end of the year, someone's going to need to call me out for being an insufferable perfectionist.
3. Record #2 + Documentary
This project has morphed so much and has already required so much of me. In August, SueAnn and I traveled to my hometown to gather footage, and I’ve been working closely with many of those whose stories we’re telling through song. Most of those songs have already been written, and some crucial songs are still in the works. It's really challenging me creatively. This record falls more squarely in the "concept record" camp than The Present Tense, and will take many more chances both musically and lyrically.
This fall, I wrote a 16-episode fiction podcast about monsters, ghosts, and who gets to decide how history gets told. I’m hoping to produce this on a low budget this year with the help of my community.
As always, thanks for reading and listening. 2017, with all its difficulties, was also the most successful year I've yet had musically. Thanks for putting me on your playlists and bluetooth speakers and radio stations.