November, 2017, the 3rd and final move for my job was upon me. As luck (or perhaps force of will) would have it, I finally returned to sunny Florida after 18 months. I took a role in Saint Petersburg, Florida and it felt like everything was finally falling into place in my career. As was the trend for each move though, music took a backseat for the first few months of my new living arrangement. From the moment I moved back to Florida there was my best friend’s wedding, Thanksgiving, lots of unpacking, Christmas, and of course a ton material to learn for the new role.
It wasn’t as if I was purposely trying not to play, I kept telling myself that I’d get back to it when I have the time. I didn’t “have the time” ever it started to seem. You hear it all the time, and it’s painfully true. You promise yourself you’ll do something later, and then the days quickly turn to weeks; then one day you realize that you haven’t done whatever it is you said you’d “do when you had the time” and it’s been months, or years even. I swore up & down that as soon as Christmas was over I’d pick up right where I left off in Tucson with the music, but that didn’t happen. And then whenever I was gallivanting downtown I’d watch musicians and always silently wish that it was me on that stage and berate myself for slacking off on my music. Yet I kept doing nothing to further that dream. I already learned in Tucson that the only way to make music happen was to deliberately set aside time and make a conscious effort, but it seemed that I forgot that lesson almost as soon as I learned it.
Finally, seven months later, I stopped making excuses and accepted that I was in fact the only thing holding me back. I accepted that I was not putting in any work to chase my dream of being a musician. And thankfully, I decided to change that. Given that I was still incredibly terrified by open mics though, I thought that I’d try a new approach for sharing my music. I’d seen enough videos on Facebook and Instagram to learn that all it took to get your music into the social media world was a phone, and I had one of those so all I needed now was some courage and commitment.
I was consumed with nervousness and excitement at the thought of recording and uploading a recording of my playing & singing. I waited until a day I knew my roommate would be out of the apartment, set my camera on the computer desk, and recorded several takes of what I considered at the time to be my best song, “Uneasy Feeling”. It’s funny looking back at the video (it may still be on my YouTube Channel) and seeing that I didn’t even include my head in the shot. I told myself that I wanted to protect my identity, but really I was still very shy and insecure about sharing my music with the world. After re-watching all the song takes I selected the best one, created a YouTube channel, uploaded the video to the channel, and shared the video on my Facebook.
My god, my nerves were on fire after I posted the video! I must have checked the post every 5 minutes to see if people were commenting & liking it. Of course I hoped as much as a person could that the video would be a huge success. But I was so unsure of myself. I had never shared my singing/songwriting with family & friends like this, let alone share it online where it will live forever for anyone to see. It was incredibly exciting, but also came with it a feeling of “This is it. This will determine if I have what it takes.”
I did not become viral, or anything close to it. But I did receive an overabundance of support and encouragement from friends and family:
- Great job man! Great voice and great playing!
- Damn dude. That is a very well written song right there. Good lyrics and good guitar.
- Who knew my little brother was so talented?
- That was really good, not what I usually expect when someone says,"hey listen to my awesome song!" LOL
After posting this video and reading every comment about 100 times over the next several days, I was over the moon. I finally graduated from the mindset of “There is something in me that can write a meaningful song” to a mindset of “There are meaningful songs in me that people like”. I was riding the high and started working hard on recording and uploading. From June to September I uploaded 8 videos, six original songs and two cover songs. If you’ve been keeping count (but why would you honestly?) I only had five finished original songs to my name. So by the time I uploaded my fourth song on July 17th I was dying to write more songs, acutely aware that I was quickly running out of material to share. There was a work in progress that felt promising, but the mostly finished song sat around unfinished for weeks. I had slowly fallen back to where I started with songwriting, always starting a new song but never finishing it. Thankfully in September, after spending half of a Saturday & Sunday on this song, I managed to finish it and upload it; but by this time I sensed that something inside me was off. And I knew it was having a serious impact on music.
It felt nearly impossible to ever sit down for long and work on a song. Without realizing it until I was deep in the clutches, I had once again slowly fallen into a state of disarray and depression over the past several months. You see, every time I shared my music and received feedback it brought a mix of emotions that started to negatively compound. On one hand, I felt amazing to be able to do the thing I love and share it with people who liked it, it made me feel alive. On the other hand, I realized more and more how I did not ever really feel this way with my job in Saint Pete. That started to eat away at me, and make me question a lot about my life. I started to question if I belonged in engineering, and then I’d subsequently question if I belonged in music. I’d go back and forth, always finding another reason to support one and suppress the other. I started having an identity crisis, not sure which of the two “sides” of Austin was the real one, the one that needed to be nourished and sought after. And by the time September came, I’d slowly became detached from everything in my life. It was unfortunate, it was unfair, and it was a difficult place to be.
So I did something crazy. Two weeks in advance, I booked a solo trip for my birthday weekend to a small cabin up in the Blue Ridge Mountains in a city I’d never heard of before called Marshall, North Carolina. I couldn’t fully explain what I was feeling or what gave me the courage to do something so brazen (brazen for my life at least). All I knew was that I needed time alone, away from all the comforts, distractions, and troubles in my life. I promised myself that I would figure out once and for all if I had it in me to be a musician, I would make the choice in Marshall to chase or finally give up this dream. It was an extremely daunting goal, but I told myself that if I could write a new song every day while I was there, a place free from all the distractions and attachments, then I did have what it took to be a musician and would finally commit to my dream.
On the morning of Oct 2nd, 2018 I packed the necessities and left for Marshall. I arrived early in the evening and spent most of my arrival night chatting and sharing stories with strangers in the town brewery. When night came I want back up to my cabin of solitude and admired the stars in silence. The following day I woke up feeling anew, excited by the challenge set for myself. I had breakfast and coffee and then sat down with my guitar and notepad to get to work.
I was strumming my guitar and staring into the mountains, in an almost meditative state, somewhere between a human soaking in the overwhelming beauty of nature and a man slowly pondering where he is in life, both physically and mentally. I began to take inventory of everything I was feeling: the pleasure of escapism, the unnatural quiet of being alone in this cabin, and the freedom to sit here and create for as long as I wanted. I thought about the conversations & stories I shared with strangers last night, I thought about the question I kept getting from family & friends, “You’re where? What are you doing there?”, and I thought about how behind the facade of an artist fleeing to nature for inspiration, I was running away from problems. And then, as it all began to stir inside me, I poured my soul into the page:
________________________________________________________________________ I heard you went away, to a town on your own
And found it so nice, to be unknown
You said it felt strange, how good it felt to be a stranger
They asked ‘where you from’, ‘tell us what you do’
You shared many old stories, except now they were new
And everyone listened, to every word you said in that little town bar
The air cleaned your lungs, and the sights cleared your mind
You said watching that sunrise, was seeing for the first time
The way the trees bowed, as the breeze kissed your nose felt like coming home
But you knew you couldn’t stay there, as much as you thought that you could
Cause your heart was nowhere to be found
And after some time, you came to realize
The things that you ran from, you need in your life
And no new town, as good as the come
Could ever replace, the one that you ran from
Because there and only there, there and only there
Live the ones that you care for
I heard you came back, with a brand new outlook
On the life that you live, cause of the trip that you took
But there may come a day, you dream once more of
Dear Marshall (2018)
In the span of about two hours, I started and finished “Dear Marshall”. It felt as effortless as one would hope songwriting could always be. There wasn’t a single question in my mind about if this song was good enough, or if it had enough meaning and purpose. It was a confession of everything I was feeling and believed in that moment, and I felt like it so clearly expressed the contradictions I felt inside. Even though I still had three days left, after finishing this song I knew that I had found my answer. There was a musician in me, and he was the real Austin. Finishing this song was the moment I knew there was no turning back.
Each day after that I started a new song just as I set a goal to. I didn’t finish any of the other songs though. But it didn’t matter at all that I had ‘failed’ my goal. I went to Marshall, NC to find the courage to chase my music dream, but found something much more important than that. I found the courage to start changing my life into the one I wanted to live, as I summarized in my journal a week after I returned home:
“I found what I wanted in the mountains, and as such left a day early like I swore not to. I am a man of constant contradictions am I not? Like I said, I found what I was searching for though. As I sit here on my couch in St Pete, I feel a calm resolve about my decision to go back to Gainesville. I don’t know much, but I know the next chapter of my adventure awaits me there.”
I wanted to be a musician and I wanted to return to the city I left 2.5 years ago. Now, thanks to my time in Marshall, I was finally ready to do something about it, regardless of how scary it seemed.