Tuesday, September 25, 2018

How to be a Person


(this is an extended and updated version of a previous social media post)

9/9/18 in Washington, D.C.
(photo by Brian Seldon)

This time last week I rolled back into Indianapolis after ten days on the road, playing six shows, driving 2400 miles through ten states, and enjoying some of my favorite days of travelling and playing music I had ever experienced in my life. Since then I've been starting a new job and have been absurdly busy, but today has given me a little space by which to give a legitimate reflection of the first part of 2018's tour. 

I decided to spend some time on the road playing solo shows first, and then doing a few long weekend ventures with my band across the midwest, so this is kinda the first chapter.



Elohim
I spent the entire Spring and Summer working a (very) part time gig setting up tables and chairs at a wedding venue and with all my extra time that wasn't spending being so anxious that I couldn't get anything done, I was emailing like a madman to try and book a spread out tour for the rest of the year. My friend Joshua, a fellow Indianapolis songwriter and go-getter, encouraged me in some flat out profound ways and managed to hook me up with several years' worth of research and connections to get my feet on the ground with booking. I just can't emphasize enough how much time I spent emailing this year. I somehow booked eight shows for a ten day solo run, but two of them fell through within a week of beginning the trip, so I was down to six. It isn't uncommon for these things to happen and it's sometimes necessary to be emotionally prepared for such things to fall away at any instant, but it turned out to be perfect. 

This would be the longest I had ever been away from home by myself playing music, but I never felt alone once. Okay, maybe once. I got to spend some quality time with an overwhelming number of old friends in most of the cities I visited, and had a series of conversations between stage times that revolved around a few specific themes, and it became clear that I needed to have these very conversations all in a row, concentrated into a few extremely powerful days in several new environments, connecting and engraving them into my consciousness in a way that I'm going to try to do justice in explaining.

8/16/18 in Indianapolis
(photo by Fred Miller)

I think my biggest struggle that has followed me over the last two or three years has been coming to grips with the parts of my identity that are disparate from what society tells me I need to be as a man. 

I haven't always dealt with this, but really when I started to transition out of my high school self into being a young adult, I started to become more honest about who I am and have been trying my best to be at peace with it ever since. 

Through these conversations on tour, my questioning of what it means to be a man was validated and lifted up beyond what my wildest imagination would allow itself to believe. I was shocked at the freedom I've found to lean into the diversity I bring to the picture of humanity. I've been blessed with a mind and expressive tendency leaning heavily toward the feminine side of life, and it's been a gradual, beautiful, and intensely fulfilling path toward accepting that in myself since I was probably sixteen or seventeen years old. I feel like I was under the impression growing up that if you were a male, you needed to be masculine; vice versa if you were female, and any variation of that was "an abomination to the LORD," but that's total bullshit. 

My friend Kurt gifted to me nearly a year ago a book called "Man Enough" that cites Jesus as being the perfect combination of masculine and feminine traits in a human being. That's what makes Jesus such a perfect model for people of all diversities to model themselves after. This is skipping ahead a bit, but my friend Chad enlightened me during the tour that even though "God" and "The LORD" are often represented as masculine entities, they are not in the least male or female, because those words pertain to sexuality, not traits of character. When God made us in his image, he created each of us with the diversity and beauty that he himself signifies in his being. The Hebrew term for God used throughout the Old Testament, "Elohim," *actually* leans more toward the feminine characteristics of God in its usage. This idea of God isn't popular in (church) culture because it's not easy to differentiate the masculine and feminine characteristics of God into something easily explained, and it's why it's so uncomfortable to question it. The very nature of God is mysterious, and we, mysteriously and wonderfully made humans, are made in his image of mystery and wonder. 

This idea of embracing the feminine as well as the masculine sides of my expression as something beautiful instead of shameful is a new idea to me and has given me a freedom I could have only dreamed of a a few months ago. To celebrate the ways I stand out instead of hiding them away and to be more aware of the different parts of the image of God I reflect are what makes the diversity of my place in humanity so important for me to recognize. 

Literally the most punk rock thing I can do at this point is to embrace that instead of hide and be anxious about it. 


9/8/18 at Cyntheanne Music Festival
(photo by Cassidy Parker)


Tour Began at Cyntheanne Music Festival in Noblesville, Indiana on Saturday, September 8. It had been pouring rain for a few days and our full band set was soggy and loud, but lots of fun. I was pretty worn out and emotionally absent because I was (honestly) nervous about the next week and a half, but Cyntheanne is always full of wonderful friends, listeners, and new faces, so we were honored to be there. 

The next morning I woke up at 6AM to hit the road for a SoFar Sounds show in Washington, D.C. It poured blinding rain nearly the entire drive, but I had snacks and Harry Potter audiobooks to keep me company for the nine hours there. I realized I didn't really know a single person in D.C. once I got there, but got to play my first SoFar show, and if you haven't heard of SoFar, I highly recommend you check out what they're all about. It made playing in a new city at least ten times more enjoyable than showing up in a new place to play for no one. There were around fifty or sixty highly attentive souls in the room that night and it was actually unnerving how well they listened and made the night incredible. After the show, I drove to Maryjo and Jonny's apartment downtown, the latter of which was playing a gig of his own that night, and stayed on their couch, per the recommendation of our friend Joshua. Their pitbull mix Stella and I enjoyed a much needed few hours of shuteye and I enjoyed some sweet conversation the following morning. I'll never forget my shock at Jonny guessing the color of my Strat when I told him I assembled it myself. I went to this freaky coffee shop in town and ordered a tea and did a bit of laptop work upstairs in what may have once been an apartment living room, then I hit up a Goodwill on my way out and bought this little cassette deck for five bucks that I think I might use for some backing tracks for future solo shows, but we'll see. 


9/9/18 in Washington D.C.
(photo by Brian Seldon)

I then had a couple days off with my parents in Kingsport, TN and I was alone with them really for the first time since my brother was born in 1995. On Tuesday morning, I had the chance to spend some time at my favorite Johnson City venue and coffee shop The Willow Tree, where I talked with the store owner Teri and her probably future son in law Sam about the state of the music industry, show attendance, and house shows and left feeling super encouraged to keep doing what I'm doing. My favorite part of Kingsport was probably going out to pizza with my mom Tuesday night and having a beautifully honest and raw talk that I don't know had ever really taken place between us before. We got into my Mom and Dad's different parenting styles, struggles with the book of Joshua, my mom's faith and growth over the years, and her thankfulness for me in her life. I've been wanting to have a talk like that with her for as long as I've been alive. Something pretty unexpected happened on Wednesday morning. I was planning on meeting my Dad at the camp he's the director of and having lunch with him, but I was first at home for a couple hours on my own. 

For some reason, being alone in my parents' new house, seeing so many worn artifacts of what seemed like a distant past life, thinking of my brother and sister currently living in separate continents, and being obsessed with tracking a hurricane I was about to drive into, I lost it. 

I literally walked around and cried for like an hour, mourning the past, feeling in some way homesick, and letting myself feel the entire wake of my childhood wash over me like a freshly dried blanket felt like when you're sick and five years old. I'm a pretty nostalgic person in general, but I can't remember an instance where I felt the sentimentality hit me so hard. I dwelt in embracing that feeling for a while, but locked the door behind me and drove to my dad's camp. 


2nd Wind
It was incredible, and I told him. He drove me around on a Gator through trails and over obstacles that didn't seem quite safe or possible, but I got to see that whole daggum camp and everything it had become over the last couple years, and I was just hit again with the wonder of how God leads us to different incarnations of life while we are still living. We went to Barbarito's and I hugged him bye as I finally decided to drive through the edge of hurricane Florence to Carrboro, NC. 

Aptly named for the occasion, I played the 2nd Wind that night after a legit jazz band and I got paid what the other two songwriters forfeited in their hurricane cancellations. I spent some time catching up with my Lee friend and "Run" violinist Hannah that night and it was full of tough stuff, but beautiful truth. 

Grazing the edge of the heavy hand, I eked out of the hurricane's way the morning after and met my friend Chad for tacos in Asheville. This was the Elohim conversation, which left me feeling so incredibly validated and loved. We talked further about ministry, gender expression, church, marriage, work, and Asheville. 

The show that night was in this strange hippie basement in west AVL, home to the band Sister Ivy and my new friend Rachel. It was a steamy and packed-quarters night with a stage you could hit your head on if you got too excited. There were some especially warm and attentive personalities that night to make it as quintessential Asheville as I could imagine.

9/13/18 in Asheville, NC
(photo by Chad Smith)

At this point in the tour, I started to feel a little more relaxed, and it did take up until then to really feel that way. The conversations I was having started to permeate the song introductions and words surrounding them, which started to connect back to itself in a beautiful way. After hanging out more with Chad the next morning and hitting up the view of a Baptist cemetery on my way out, I drove to Maryville, TN, the town I lived in for the first eighteen years of my life to meet my dear friend Adam. After catching up at the Chick-fil-a at the mall, talking about Youtube channels, subreddits, and growing the reach of my music, I got to tell him just how grateful I am for all of the pivotal moments of my life that he influenced: moving to Johnson City to finish my degree, attending our RUF campus ministry, drinking wine for the first time, beginning art school, pursuing the woman who is currently my wife, and helping me record a good portion of my first album in 2009-2010. 

At the show that night, I felt like I actually locked in to my set for the first time. 

It was a house show in Maryville at the home of an RUF friend named Kyle and my friends Kelsi and Cody opened for me with a sound system that could probably fit in a glove box. I sold a good deal of merch, played one of my favorite sets ever, and got to catch up with my dear friends Izaak, Tanner, Jamie, and many more. I even got to visit my Mamaw, Papaw, Aunt Peggy, and mom before leaving the next afternoon.

9/14/18 in Maryville, TN
(photo of Kelsi Walker, by Brandon)

Chattanooga turned out to be my favorite show of tour. I had never played for that many people in Chatt, but it turned out to be a little over forty. The Mailboxes played after me and I got to see many old friends who were over the moon encouraging and sweet to play for. It was a dream. Afterward, The Mailboxes, a guy named Steven, and my Lee friend Caleb went out to grab a bite to eat. Before landing our third attempt at finding a place that was open past midnight, I got to really talk to Caleb for the first time in around seven years in the car. Caleb is the leader of a beautiful and amazingly successful indie rock band in Chattanooga (we met when he was a freshman and I was a sophomore at Lee) and I've looked up to him (sorta from afar) for many years. I told him all this and all the ugliness that could have been covetousness or jealousy faded away from me. It was a talk I've wanted to have with him for a long time and it was met with grace, encouragement, and humility. All five of us laughed our guts out at dinner(?) with wild stories and kindred spirits. I stumbled into the guest room of my brother and sister in law's house soon after at 2AM and slept hard. We woke and made French toast and hung out with my nephew until I left for Nashville.

9/15/18 in Chattanooga, TN
(photo by Jillian Ivey)

I met one of my best friends Chris and his wife Jen for fancy bagels in West Nashville and after seeing their apartment, Chris and I went to Farmland Studios near Lipscomb to record some stuff for fun. How he got studio time there for free just blows my mind. Pretty sure I'll be recording my next album there if at all possible. After recording a few tracks to possibly be committed to my tape deck later on, we went to dinner and I finally enjoyed some vegetables and probably one of my favorite conversations ever with Chris. It was a deeply spirited and intelligent reflection of the grace and agentic nature of God that I see in Chris every time we hang out, but especially when we get into some real shtuff. We talked about parenting (one day), music, but mainly gender and the Bible. This is when I was about to share with him some stuff I had learned (quite) recently and I felt so dang validated in what I was learning that I could fly. We got some beers at Publix, watched Adventure Time, and I had an incredible night's sleep on their air mattress. 

9/16/18 in Nashville, TN

The next morning I got up too early and went to meet my old camp friends Peter and Dixie for (great but expensive) coffee in downtown Nashville. We caught up, talked about their Rav4 randomly flipping in Kenya, jobs, marriage, and life, when Dixie asked me how I was doing creatively. This is the hallmark of a true friend when they ask questions that make your heart turn and leap at the same time- but I told them about my struggle with writing music that I maybe didn't like. It's been about a year since I wrote an entire song and I was beginning to feel antsy and impatient, but I had a ton of words and a ton of musical ideas, yet none of them fit together yet. Peter then began to look like he was cooking up an idea, and historically Peter has spoken incredible truths and unbelievably poignant turning points in my life since I met him at Camp Wesley Woods in Summer 2011. (Also where I wrote Forest Fire, Ages, and Dirt.) He told me what in my mind I now call Peter's Challenge, which was to write three songs this month, no matter how bad or whatever. Set them aside, and come back a month later. If you like them, keep going in the direction, but otherwise, just keep writing a few songs at a time until you clear out the pipes. This has been a technique I'm always afraid to do lest I miss out on creating something really good, but this same cycle occurs literally every time I move toward creating a new album. 

That was on September 17th and today is the 25th.

After sitting down this morning for my first day off in nearly three weeks, I structured out nine ding dang songs. They might not go anywhere, but it's a start. 

This time I'm finding the same pattern emerging yet again- when I write initially, the songs are scattered and there are a few moments of gold, but for the most part they're whiny and not very fun to play, save a few parts. This batch of songs are beginning differently in that none of these have dropped out of the sky even kinda mostly formed as I had hoped. These are gonna be hard fought, much like all the songs of Lower, Permission. Getting started is the hardest part. I'm so excited to see where they're gonna go.

9/13/18 in Asheville, NC

Embrace
The songs taught me so much on this tour. The shows were full of such attentive, present listeners, and as the week went on the songs found a special rhythm I’ve only found when playing several dates in a row. Show after show, I grew closer to the heart of the song and was finally able to lock in, enjoy, and let go. Each conversation along the way showed that when we give ourselves permission to embrace ourselves and to celebrate our varying combinations of masculine and feminine, we can be a glorification to God, making the body of Christ and society overall a better, richer, and more shameless place. 


To everyone who came to a show, organized, hosted, let me sleep on their couch, pet their dog, bought me food, bought a shirt, hugged, spoke, and listened, I am inexplicably humbled and blessed by your generosity and kindness. This is what I bleed for; this is why I go out and bring my songs to people. I know music requires so much faith to pursue, but I feel so fortunate to be able to share in recognizing its significance and beauty together through these shows. 

Thank you thank you thank you thank you.

9/9/18 in Washington, D.C.
(photo by Brian Seldon)

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