Have you ever realized, like deep down in your soul, your mind, and your heart – that you have, in some way or in every way, been to hell and back – and perhaps you’re even now still staring down the flames?
If so, this blog is for you.
I recently spoke from my heart in our Arkansounds.com debut press release about why we are committed to giving back and using music to reach people in every way we can come up with. I mentioned the healing power of music, referencing how my favorite bands and songs have helped me through many “potholes” on this road we call Life – and how those favorite songs and bands continue to provide a palpably joyous soundtrack for the many good times, or periods of smooth travel, if you will.
This analogy has been stuck in my head since I interviewed the members of Eureka Springs-based band Red Oak Ruse about their self-titled debut album released September 2. I liked it, a lot. This one song, called “Dust in the Rearview Mirror,” simultaneously shouted at and caressed my spirit, and as I drove home from Eureka Springs blaring and studying it, I had to pull over for a good, cathartic cry.
Here’s a quote from the album review that resulted:
Once I heard Track 2, “Dust in the Rearview Mirror,” I was hooked. Fiddler and co-lead vocalist Michael Schembre’s voice shines, with a childlike, gentle quality that’s rarely paired with the power he also portrays, not just in projection but in message. Justin Thomas Easter’s backup vocals are on point, adding much depth and sophistication, along with his catchy lead guitar hooks.
Well once in a while you still cross my mind
And I get to thinkin’ on the past
Well it makes me sick, then I think about it
And realize I wouldn’t change a damn thing
‘Cause every mistake that I’ve made in life
And every single wrong deed
No matter how bad it hurt or proved that I’m a jerk
It turned out to be just what I need
So I’ve made up my mind
No more livin’ in fear
‘Cause after all it’s just dust in the rearview mirror…
After all it’s just dust in the rearview mirror
‘Cause when you learn to just let it go
And release your pride and your hate
You can live your life despite trouble and strife
In a way other people can relate
So I’ve made up my mind
No more livin’ in fear
‘Cause after all it’s just dust in the rearview mirror…
After all it’s just dust in the rearview mirror.
In my car, listening this song, I saw this mental GIF so to speak – because it seemed like the same scene was on repeat … definition of insanity much? – an image of me driving an old, dirty-white passenger van; I was on a gravelly-rough country road in the mountains. I had it in drive, and I was moving, but barely. As is often the case on unpaved county roads in the Ozarks, it was curvy, hilly, meandering through beautiful sparsely-developed woods.
You can’t go very fast on these roads, even your skills and wheels can handle it. Because: Potholes. Especially in the stormy seasons. Torrid rains + natural springs everywhere = huge ruts and deep holes, and you can’t see them much in advance with all the sharp turns in the road.
In my brain, I saw me Granny-driving, careful but also attempting to feel carefree. Now and then, I’d see a pothole and slow down to a crawl, maneuvering the nature-made manholes. When I slowed, the cloud of dust chasing behind the van all down that road would start creeping up – I could see it through the van windows on each side. I’d start frantically rolling up the front windows, feeling my chest tighten, thinking about the tires, the alignment, whether I was running late for whatever, whether my dogs hanging their heads out of the sides of the van could breathe OK with the dirty air all around us. Quickly, I’d find myself diving into the What If Rabbit Hole…
I need to take better care of them, Lucy is getting old, what if this hurts their lungs, we drive down this road a lot, she’s always hanging out the window, so is Faith, so am I for that matter… God I can’t afford a vet bill, what would I sell to raise the money? The new sofa set? The fiddle? My soul? Yep… definitely… (Gotta love anxiety.)
Something interrupts my freight train of worry.
It’s OK. I passed it, the tires didn’t bust, I can roll the windows back down now. I can keep going and even speed up.
And as I accelerated, guess what? I could breathe more deeply. I could feel the sun’s Vitamin D soak in, hear the music playing in the van again. I noticed the gorgeous scenery all around me again. I saw content cows and happy horses, enjoying Mother Nature’s buffet. And then I’d notice: The dust was squarely behind me again.
That catharsis that day felt so good… and after about 15 minutes of journaling on my phone as I dissected the lyrics and sounds, seeing this vision or whatever it was, smiling through my tears, I felt this overwhelming energy and hope, and new revelations began coursing through me – and so many ideas about how to take even bigger steps forward than I had already this year.
I sat and considered, over and over, the bumpy-road scene playing out before me as clear as day, still listening to Schembre and Easter sing through my speakers. I have thought of it frequently since, and it continues to motivate me.
Yeah, sometimes sh!& sucks, and we have to slow down. We have to think long and hard, pay closer attention to everything, work harder to keep moving forward. We face hard decisions that maybe our heart doesn’t want to make just yet. But will my actions, my decisions, result in a heart more full in a week? In a month? In a year? Or less full? What is going to suffocate me? What is going to cut off my air? What is going to cripple my heart and spirit? Alternately, where is the sunshine? In what direction is the road smoother, the sky clearer, the joy and peace and gratitude overflowing? Shouldn’t I just keep heading there? Like, no matter what? #getbusyliving, isn’t that the idea?
I have learned, this year, several things that have changed me to the core; those ^ questions that I now ask myself daily, if not hourly, comprises one of those big lessons. I thought I’d learned this before, but in several key ways, you might say that Life “took me back to school” this year. But unlike some prior periods of my life, this time, I paid attention and worked my ass off, and I didn’t give up nor allow my impatience, grief, or pain to lead me astray. I got enough sleep; I ate well; I read and studied a lot; I prepared for the “tests” and rocked most of them.
Now, you might say my grades are starting to roll in… And let’s just say I’m making me proud of me again.
It feels SO GREAT to have a cup so overflowing that I daily find myself lifting up strangers: telling the gas station attendant vexed by the cost of her new hairstyle that it looks beautiful, because it does … telling the friendly man in the Walmart parking lot who’s encouraging others that he is the love of God embodied and that he just made my day, because he did … whatever. All the time. It just comes out of my mouth. And it feels so fabulous. So free. So Me.
That feeling, that gratitude, keeps intensifying… In my mind, I see me cruising down that county road, and the gravel has just turned into a pock-marked, partially paved path. There are still holes and ruts, but it’s a lot easier to breathe, I don’t have to frantically roll up the windows as often. And when I am forced to slow down to get past an obstacle or I get confused about which way to turn, the dust following behind me doesn’t so quickly catch up and consume me – and when it does start to seep up, I see that the cloud of crap doesn’t look all that dark and deadly any more.
• • •
More recently, I’ve been moved and inspired by a new album from a different Arkansas band. Last month, I interviewed Arkansauce, and we talked about their growth over the past year, a new album, an epic, sold-out Fayetteville Roots Fest show, and their big plans for playing George’s on New Year’s Eve. Here’s their new album stream:
Before the interview, I had seen Arkansauce live about 10 times, and I have loved their music for a while now. But I confess to have never really listened – like the way I had really listened to the Red Oak Ruse debut album – to Arkansauce’s studio stuff. So after the interview, I got all the albums and put them on repeat. I’ve probably listened to them each five times a week for the last month, maybe more.
Their lyrics have been hitting hard the last few days – and propelling me further forward inside and out.
“Movin’ On” has helped me expel some more of the set-aside sadness from the loss last year of what I mistakenly believed was my soulmate relationship – and all my regrets, my mistakes, and the trauma and damage that I now see that relationship caused. The part of the song where my soul cries out in the most pure, most healing manner:
I’m movin’ on…
I cut my losses yesterday
I tucked my tail between my legs, turnd around and walked away
I thought of every single thing that ever gave way to losing you
But then, I involuntarily smile as I sing along to the rest: “I’m movin’ on, slowly but I’m gaining ground … I’m movin’ on.”
I have laughed, a lot.
For example, at memories made at Mulberry Mountain music festivals, memories sparked by the song “Backwoods”; at the simple working-man’s celebration of “Ain’t Gonna Work”; at the provocative promise of the you-can-go-home-again road trip anthem “Ride, Ride, Ride”:
And we will ride ride ride
Back home again
Up the old river valley
Away from all this sin
Let the cheap libations
And sweet celebration begin
We will ride ride ride
Back to where we began
And I have pumped my fist in the air!
I have shouted “THANK YOU” and “WOOO HOOO” at the top of my lungs at Whoever Out There is watching, in particular while listening to “Me Being Me.”
Because over the past year some of the hard decisions I’ve had to make have included removing myself from toxic situations, relationships, and “friendships.” And the haters are a-hatin’ … It seems each time I take bold steps to improve Me, steps to do what’s right for Me so that I can get to a better place – a place from where I may serve a positive purpose on this planet – someone or something actively works against me. Or, a few of them, even. (And God forbid I step into the Strong, Smart, Independent Boss Woman role, even if gently.)
But you know what? Karma. Call it what you want; every religion and even scientists and moviemakers teach it. What goes around comes around. You reap what you sow. Momentum and inertia. Get busy living or get busy dying.
Previously, I’ve always been uncomfortable or even pained when anyone was unhappy with me, whether I deserved it or not. Now, I don’t mind anymore. Not one bit. Others’ happiness, their self-esteem, their need to tear me down to make themselves look better – they don’t matter.
I’m doing Me, because I am worth it, and because it means I’m doing what I have to and putting myself in the position to accomplish the things I was put on this earth for – or at least I’m making progress, in so many ways! (Thank you, God! Thank you, Friends! Thank you, Karma!) And, as Arkansauce says, “If me being me upsets you, maybe we need to rethink this further through … Don’t let me being me upset you.”
This realization, this confidence, this awareness of where I’m headed and gratitude that I’m headed anywhere forward at all – it’s incredibly empowering. I love the last verse of Arkansauce’s “Me Being Me”:
I think what it may be is you don’t want someone like me
There ain’t nothing wrong with that at all
But if that is the truth then what you might wanna do
Is get the hell outta Arkansas!
[Insert fist-pumping here!]
You see, I’ve never been a small dreamer. I’m a BIG dreamer. And my motto – when I’m healthy and happy enough to stay in touch with it – has always been to “leave it better than I found it.” A friend, a coworker, a lover, a home, a campsite, a dance floor. Ha.
And I’m not gonna stop being Me. Never again. I’m never giving up. I’m never turning back. And I will never again allow someone else’s issues with Me being the best Me alter my path nor impede my health or happiness.
• • •
Ideas are continually flooding my brain these days for this new business and the ways we can make a difference for hurting people using the healing power of music and helping Arkansas musicians along the way.
And as that occurs, I think to myself, Don’t get overwhelmed. Take stock of where you are. Write down your ideas. Make a plan. Keep driving. Don’t recklessly speed. Wear your seatbelt. Watch for hard turns and potholes. Hey, look at that! The road is smoother! I know where to turn, too. There are more signs here. All over the place actually. It’s going to be OK.
I am, though, overwhelmed in a few wonderful ways, realizing all the little and big ways Life is better now. How much happier I am. How that happiness is solidly pegged to the pain of the past. How my passions and my profession have joined forces to find purpose – purpose that is a product of that pain.
And, here I am again, all gushing with gratitude. The dryer just beeped with clothes needing folding, the kitten needs dinner, bills need to be paid from an empty bank account, the rugs need dog hair vacuumed up. The website briefly crashed while I was writing this; tech support calls took up two hours. I have a list 10 miles long of things that need doing – work, house, and personal things. I’m low on time, low on resources, and low on energy.
But got-dang! I am happy to be here. I am the opposite of low on passion, on motivation, on drive, on determination.
So I’m dancing around the living room with the fur-babies, taking a Chore Day break, singing at the top of my lungs to Arkansauce and Red Oak Ruse … beaming Charlie Brown Hearts. And making friends with the tech support guys on the phone. Ha.
Do you know what it is that makes you dance around the living room? Do more of that, whatever it is. Turn on some good music, get out of your What If Rabbit Hole, and #getbusyliving. And for God’s sakes, sing.
PS: Thanks for reading, y’all. Seriously. Every share on social media, every visit to our website, every idea or letter to the editor you send us, every music-related event or post on Facebook that you tag Arkansounds on, it’s all huge. It’s all vital to our mission and our survival. And I am beyond-speechless grateful for the love shown to Arkansounds thus far, in just our first week. The Arkansas music community is the best part about living here, hands down. Thank you.