Work

I just woke up from the strangest dream.. There was some kind of man-made tunnel, a military project of some kind that had been executed poorly, and there had been some kind of nuclear/chemical process used that had gone horribly wrong and had since been irresponsibly abandoned. Many people had been killed and many animals had also died by wandering into the tunnel, and it had some seriously bad energy. There was a woman who had taken on as her life’s work the restoration and healing of this place, and her voice echoed over some ethereal loud speaker as she narrated her process of coming to realize this as her calling, as majestic as Sigourney Weaver narrating the workings of the oceans in Planet Earth. In high Hollywood fashion, I crawled through the tunnel army-style on my belly, scraping through debris and dirt and dead things, my hands trying to shield my eyes and mouth from the noxious chemicals that still polluted the place. Her omnipresent voice thundered her vision as I crawled toward the light on the other side, symphony swelling as I came close, and she shepherded me as I started to rise upward towards the light. “For all the creatures who have died here, for all the harm done….” She held my head in her hands as I cried (I was pre-transition for some reason, with long hair and no beard) and cleared all the gunk from my lungs and eyes, “This I realize as my life’s work…” and it was clear that she intended to heal the struggling toxic people that were crawling out behind me and bring justice to those who had died. Then I awoke in my bed, and realized that I was missing my morning appointment because I set my alarm to PM on accident.

How very dramatic and, as I write it out now, very explicit. I have been reading “Mindfulness and Meaningful Work: Explorations in Right Livelihood” edited by Claude Whitmyer, a collection of writings from various Buddhist/spiritual folks on the concept of finding work that flows out of you naturally, has a positive effect on the world, and also meets your basic needs. This dream is fairly reminiscent of the piece I read right before I turned out the light, although not half as dramatic. That was all me, I guess. I have been wrestling with the ambiguous concept of livelihood as a newly thirty year old self employed artist, especially at this time of reinvention and overhaul. I am out of my normal alternating flow of touring and intoxication, and I have been giving myself permission to take things slow, avoiding the stress and guilt-driven scrambling that has thrown me off wagons past, but I am getting bored, as well as broke(r). I have never been anything like an overachiever, I have never been seized by a compelling urge be productive based on a desire for personal worth, it either happens when I am moved or it doesn’t. I am in a place however, that I can no longer rely on the anguish of unresolved internal conflicts and hypomania to prompt me to produce work. That magic thing that happened when I was a crazed unmedicated nexus of emotional baggage and body disphoria doesn’t happen by itself anymore, now that everything is pretty much out on the table. It’s hard to be possessed by things you know are there and are now friends with. I can’t say that it was particularly enjoyable always being bashed around by internal storms; most of that time I spent clinging for dear life, pleading endlessly for some understanding and calm. Serenity and contentment were a far away land in my dreams that I was likely to never see, or so it seemed. What a long and horrid toxic tunnel.

I am seeking a shift in my creative output, one that is more so demanding itself, like coming upon a chasm on the road to somewhere. Those surges of productivity that came bursting forth under pressure need to transition into a slower, more intentional and skillful expression. This is not how I am used to doing things. It seemed easier to chalk up my direction in life to whichever way the winds blew me, and their unusual intensity was often times my justification for not attempting to steer. Funny, in those days I would have given anything for a reprieve. Now I am struggling with the realization that not only do I sometimes have to row, but I have to learn to use the rudder. I suppose the upshot for the art is that I get to speak on many different topics, rather than only what happens to be tormenting me at the moment. In the stormy days I produced many of what I call “journal entry songs” that lacked cohesion and tact and quickly, relevance; objective craft given over to temporal emotional intensity. This new mode of operation requires a new routine, and effort to bring that routine into natural practice. And that means no more sleeping in until noon.

Most of this insight is based specifically on my craft as a songwriter, which is important, but my explorations of Right Livelihood encompass all the things I do in my life. And it will certainly take more action than just writing songs to pay the bills, even with my ridiculously low overhead. There are many, many more things I would like to do and contribute. Apparently, this is me telling on myself. I’m ready to make some shit happen. I’m bored and I’m in debt, and it’s time to get moving. I am very happy for the lady in my dream, she seemed to have such a powerful and clear cut epiphany about her purpose, and it seemed like specific action flowed out of her like a river down a mountain. Mine is feeling more like the sluggish Sacramento River meandering south from Shasta all the way to the San Francisco Bay on an endlessly flat plain.. the culmination a good 400 mundane miles from the start. For one who claims to enjoy any high number of miles on this earth, I suppose I should challenge myself to find the beauty and the lesson in this particular monotonous stretch, and know that at some point the water will make it back to some exciting headwaters high up on some snowy summit somewhere. For now though, perhaps it is time to take the oar into my own hands and move myself along.

j

 

6 thoughts on “Work

  1. “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily — life is but a dream.”

  2. Joe –

    I loved your learning to row and use the rudder metaphor. Reminds of something a sailing instructor (and psychologist) once said to me: “You can’t change the wind. You CAN adjust your sails.”

    Keep rowing, Joe. Long meandering rivers may be dull to some, but they are powerful forces of nature, none-the-less.

    Hope to see you in the fall –

    Karen S.
    aka Ty’s Aunt Karen

  3. Joe-
    I have loved your music for a while now and remember when you guys opened for the Indigo Girls in Chicago. That is the day I really fell in love with Coyote Grace. You sang a song for the friends of Bill W. As I looked around people either did not get it or were not paying attention. I thought “how cool he is in recvoery and is so open about it”. I have been an addictions counselor for many years and addiction is still such a hush hush. Just wanted to give you my 2 cents and take it or leave it but the “boredom” makes me nervous for you and believe me I pray for your recovery. Hopefully you find some way to fill that void in all positive ways. If you need a sober companion in Chicago you have someone that would joyfully accompany you!
    Carolyn

  4. Drama and adventure…and over processing are a potent combination. Handle with care. Maybe sometimes better to just enjoy the view grasshopper, than to try and understand why the river flows.

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