Right now, despite two shows in a row getting canceled last minute; despite me embarrassing my friend who I haven’t seen in years by drowning my sorrows in cheap beer and throwing up in a dive bar full of hipsters; despite spending half of the next day hungover, wallowing in self-pity, I’m here. I’m here in this van, waking up at a rest stop halfway to my next show. I’m here with sand in my shoes, eating a pack of stale saltines. I’m here half-watching a man set up a table of t-shirts that have the word, “Florida” plastered all over them.
The other half of me is thinking about yesterday:
As I drove into Tampa I checked my email and found the show was canceled. I had to tell my friends in the area that it wasn’t happening, so after telling them I lied and told them I was driving to the next city. Once again I felt like a failure, and I just wanted to be alone. I’d driven 1,200 miles and all I had to show for it was a slowly draining bank account and a new beer I couldn’t drink. But since I had a free day, I thought I might as well hit the beach. I needed something to pull me up after two gut punches in a row, and the sound of the waves, and the sun has always had a way of rejuvenating the soul.
It was 85, but a salty breeze was coming in from the ocean. My notebook laid in front of me and my feet were buried in the warm sand. I could see a kid and their mom making sandcastles and laughing. I looked back at my blank notebook, hoping the words would come about something. They could’ve been about how I felt, or what I was seeing, or even wearing. I would’ve settled for, “That kid should stop eating so much sand, otherwise they’re going to have a bad night ahead of them.” But nothing happened. Just a blank page in front of me, and a bead of sweat rolling down my back. I sat like that for a long time feeling sorry for myself, but then I felt something more. A wave of anxiety was coming, but unlike the waves of the gulf of Mexico, it was large and thunderous. I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it, but I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t just sit there and wait it out. I was at a crowded beach in a new city. I couldn’t hide here, there wasn’t any place that felt familiar. It would wreak havoc and I would be petrified.
I walked back to the van and drove north. I didn’t know where I was going, all I knew was that I had to get away from Tampa. I felt like the city was going to consume everything I was and the only way to solve the problem was to run.
As I drove down the highway, every scenario for the upcoming days splintered into infinity. I was trying to find the best road that would get me to where I wanted to go, but no matter what street I took, or direction I went, it was wrong. I looked in the rear view, but every wrong decision, every awkward conversation, every failed interaction from the days before glared at me like a pair of high beams. The cycle of looking forward and backward continued. Cars passed by and new cities came and went, until I glanced at the clock.
It was midnight and I was beat, so I found the nearest rest stop and parked. It was time to sleep.
I turned off the lights and opened the trunk. I needed fresh air. Once again I sat staring out into the distance. The sound of the frogs and the crickets chirping covered me like a cool, heavy blanket, and without the light pollution from the city I could see the stars as they sparkled above me. It was in that moment of awe and wonder that I was no longer thinking about the past or worrying about the future. I sat there, being.
It’s been an hour or so and I think I’m ready to get back on the road. The man is still selling those t-shirts, or at least trying to. Part of me feels some sort of comradely with him. We’re both trying to make it work anyway we can, but despite the odds being placed against us, we keep going. I don’t know about him, but I’m scared. ‘Cause I don’t know where my next paycheck is coming from, and I’ve been struggling for a long time to make it work. Sometimes, after putting my whole being into this and seeing it flop, I just want to curl up and disappear.
But despite all of the negative things that come with making these songs and singing to strangers, I don’t think I would want to do anything else, ‘cause there’s something so wonderful and beautiful about it when it works. When you have a whole crowd of people responding to you playing, or even if there’s one person nodding their head and mouthing the words, that’s all you need. Sometimes I think that’s all I’ll ever need.