Music is Nice

There have been roughly 20 songs that have deeply impacted my life. The majority of the songs in my library however, are mostly just nice to listen to on a road trip or fun to dance to at a party, but have no significant meaning to me.

In my own music, I want to write meaningful songs, but I might only write one of two in my whole life … at least in my listener’s opinion. Sometimes the sound falls flat. Sometimes the lyrics could be more expressive. Sometimes my voice is not emotional enough for the listener to feel what I am saying.

And that’s ok. For me, it is enough to always be in the process of creating.

Music is so awesome, but it’s not everything, in my opinion. I get so much peace and enjoyment out of creating music, but I know that I cannot look to music for my worth. I imagine that I’ll write songs for a long time and maybe I’ll capture some good ones, but I want to take away pressure that everything has to be so deep … or really, so anything at all.

The Prince of Nod

I am a young boy, waiting in the reeds. I crouch and make myself as small as possible, trying not to disturb the small creatures. The soft light of my home ripples in the pond as my mother calls me back inside. I’ve been trying to collect bullfrogs in a small inflatable pool; up to my ankles in mud. The green leaves are as fresh as they can be and in the distance, a faint thunderstorm echoes mildly like knocking on a soft, dead tree. The water in the pond has baked in the sun all day and remains warm to the touch while I run my fingers through the tall grass that extends out of the banks.

Up the hill, my family prepares the dinner table out on the porch; a chandelier of candles drips intermittently and the wax solidifies onto the glass table top. I take my time walking up the drive, cool blue and fresh green painting a summer’s night with fireflies sparkling in the valley between our house and the neighbor’s. Nothing could feel more safe.

I have trouble remembering how perfect it was then, my family was whole – no one was sick or separated. This was our castle on the hill and we ate dinner that night in a suspended oasis, covered from the storm by a plexiglass ceiling fixed to the side of the house. I was lucky. I don’t feel that way as much anymore.

Small Victories and a Solid Night

Making music is vulnerable. Here’s my heart and soul in a song, do you like it? That’s what we’re asking (through misty eyes) when we, as artists, show you our work.

Years ago, I was admitted to a mental hospital for the first time. Got out and was depressed for a solid year. I was suicidal. My stomach was in knots. I wrote a song about the experience a year later. Played it at open mics for 3 years until my fingers bled each time. Got access to a recording studio. Paid two-hundred dollars that I didn’t have to get a decent recording. Put the song on Soundcloud. 10 people heard it. Played it more at open mics over the course of four more years. A total of a hundred people have listened to it.

It’s hard work … but tonight, I felt a little victory.

I haven’t recorded many songs to date, really. I’ve been trying to piece things together and pay for studio time when I have the money or find friends who will work with me for free. Something switched in me, and now I’m trying to get some solid recordings down almost hurriedly. I released a song to Spotify last week and have been showing people and sending it to them.

Tonight, my friend, Caleb and I went to a bar called ‘Three Spirits Tavern’ in Bellevue, Kentucky and grabbed a few drinks. We shot the shit with the bartender and he made us some whiskey mixed drinks. He asked us what we did for work.

I feel nervous when I hear this question because what I’m doing right now isn’t exactly bringing in the cash. Sometimes, I feel like I should lie. And when I do tell the truth, I question if I should call myself a musician – he who doesn’t know all his scales.

“I’m a musician,” I said nervously. He asked what instrument I played and the kind of songs I wrote. “He’s got a song on Spotify,” Caleb said nudging me to speak up.

After some clarification on spelling, my song was playing in this bar over the speakers. We had been listening to solid music from the moment we walked in. Blackstreet, Alanis Morriset, The Verve Pipe all had been playing and when my song came on … it didn’t kill the mood. It kept pace with these great tracks I had grown up with. It was almost as if it belonged.

I was trying to hide my smile when the bartender said, “Play it again,” the moment it ended. I was one Vieux Carre and a beer deep at this point so, I was feeling pretty toasty.

I want to celebrate the victories right along with all the work I’ve put in. I must admit though, it doesn’t feel like work when it’s something I love this much.

Megaphone

It is not until I’m seated in a reclined position that I realize how heavy the mental burdens of the day have been. Then I can see how unwieldy they really are. 

I’m wondering out loud a lot to my fifth grade definition of God. “Why all this pain? Why all this broken and bent and tragic? What are we doing? What are You doing? Do you love us, still? Did you ever at all? 

Basically, it boils down to : this life is really hard. A real slog at times. 

God doesn’t like to be asked direct questions, it seems. He likes to whisper in the wind and speak in a mourning dove’s song. I’mma be honest, I get pretty tired of discerning meaning from the breeze on a blade of grass (that’s a joke). 

How about some megaphone responses? Maybe he does that too in the face of tragedy, but I’m talking some straightforward, not cryptic, unmistakable commentary. I mean all of this light-heartedly (for now), but it would be nice to see some road signs marked, “Tyler, go here.” 

I’m in a life-lull for the moment and a big, clear push is welcome. 

 

Fly Away – a meditation

“One bright morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away.”


I want you to notice how soft that line is; how light and divine. It’s like the sentence is angled into a crescendo somehow; like the end of the sentence is taking flight above the clouds.

Sing it over and over in your head. Get lost in the idea of flying away. Pick up and leave every heavy thing behind. I don’t have to name the heavy things. We all know what they are. We recite them again and again until the area between our brow wrinkles.

But letting go of every heavy thing sounds nice, doesn’t it? All those recitations suddenly forgotten completely. And instead, that line above replaces them. The morning is bright, the race is run, I’ll let go of everything and just fly. 

No need to overcomplicate things; just flight and a new perspective from on high. 

 

Are you free?

Are you free?

My first answer is: “more than most of the world.” I can travel as I please and communicate easily and keep my contacts close. But on second thought, I don’t know if that’s entirely true. In America, we seem bound to our screens and our commercialisms and our need to be well thought of.

Do I feel like I am enslaved? You have to know there is a problem before you can solve it and maybe asking the question in reverse can force an answer. Personally, I do feel enslaved and as I look around, I see everyone else is also.

Even leaders who proclaim a message of freedom, they’re enslaved right along with the rest of us. Folks who preach Jesus still enter their cells at the end of the day. People who propose confidence secretly rely on internet message boards. Popular artists need followers in white-walled museums.

I am enslaved to lust (that’s one sin that will throw a hush over a crowded fellowship mall) and the idea of a stable relationship. I dwell on these ideas; ruminate and bargain with God that I might have a taste of the sweet dessert of marriage. I feel that I am not complete unless I have that kind of partnership and I cope with the void by filling my head with lust at times.

I am imprisoned by appearing successful. It is not even being successful it’s appearing successful. I want my community members (reaching all across the country via social media) to think I’m very busy; making money and contributing. This slavery is not as pernicious as some others in my life, but I wonder what freedom could do to alleviate my ‘keeping up appearances.’

I am held captive by depression and mental illness. There are times when I do not get to choose when I am deeply sad, instead that state of mind chooses me. Now, there are things within my control (what I eat, how much sun I get, how much quality time I spend) but there is also a great force working against me no matter how well I’m caring for myself.


All my peers, (and unfortunately my heroes as well) are enslaved. They turn minor inconveniences into unscalable mountains. They work relentlessly and lose their family. They compare and self medicate and rage and cheat and lie.

I have grown weary of those who propose quick solutions to the problem of these shackles; snake oil salesman who flash a remedy but act in hypocrisy. I see their quick temper with their children while they act pious on Sunday morning. I see their struggle with alcohol while they preach sobriety. I see their unconfidence masked as boisterous clamouring.

All this to say, I know that the people of this world are human; friend and stranger alike. I have no problem embracing their humanity, but it is when they masquerade as free and stable and confident that I take exception.


So in a world where I see slavery, what does it mean to try for freedom despite?

Do I need a:

  • Retreat to recenter myself and learn new coping techniques
  • Life coach to point me in an ambitious direction
  • Therapist to uncover childhood trauma that I could then overcome
  • New church small group filled with people in my same season of life
  • Deeper connection with my friends built on accountability
  • Social club to connect with like minded people and explore a hobby

The answer is probably yes, in part, to all of those things.


I have had deep struggles with God and before I talk about faith issues, I want to approach the topic with realness and rawness, because I do not want to sound cheesy.

An idea has been presented to me countless times as I have grown up in non-denominational churches: Don’t rely on anything in this world for freedom, rely on God.

I recently have been thinking a great deal about perfection and how Jesus is the only idea that has ever been presented to me in that way. To me, a perfect person seems like good inspiration in the quest for freedom.Even if I have to think of him as a metaphor at times.

What if I could take my messed up life – filled with depression and comparison and lust and shame, work on those things through therapy, ect. and take on God’s perfection and freedom for myself.

I don’t think freedom comes without work. We have to remember where our security and stability comes from when someone else degrades us or humiliates us. However, moments of pain are small matters compared to retaining personal freedom.

I also want to be prepared when it’s my own mind that’s doing the attacking; attempting to tear down and damage me.


Is my salvation secure? Can a person who struggles with lust lose their salvation? What does it mean that I’m not attending church regularly anymore?

These are all questions that swirl around my mind. The church at large has said a lot of things on similar issues, basically scaring congregations into believing it’s Jesus plus something else (like three devoted quiet times a day or consistent church attendance) that’s required for us to be saved.

But it’s just Jesus that paves the way for our salvation. Just his perfection that grants us freedom and what I’m trying to say in this piece is that we can partake in that perfection and in that freedom; not relying on our own work.

It’s not, “Is my faith good enough?” it’s “Jesus lived a perfect life and that’s what God sees when he looks at you.”

It’s not, “One too many fuck ups and you’re out of the club,” it’s “Jesus died for all past, present and future sin.”

It’s not, “I’m not a confident person so, I must not know God,” it’s “Rely on God solely for matters of worth because all other things are fleeting.”

What do you want to be free from?

And what has the power to set you free?

Confidence lacking

Confidence is something I’ve lacked my whole life. People have told me I need to gain confidence; everyone from my mom to my pastor. I would love to feel comfortable in my own skin, in my beliefs, in my doubts, in my struggle with depression and mental illness. But I’m not – not really anyway and on top of that, I’m not sure how to work on it.

Maybe if there was a special pill I could take in the morning (along with the litany of other pills I already take … what’s one more?). That sounds nice and easy.

There are not many areas where I can hold on to confidence and feel secure in myself. I am an average musician, with an average voice. I am a poet who has never been published. I am an author with a book collecting dust. I have never experienced success in the workplace. I have a disorder that makes all manner of those things difficult. I care about my friends more deeply than they care about me. I suck at romantic relationships, to use a word that doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of this piece. You get the idea.

But I am kind. And I am honest. The world does not need more confidence in my opinion before it needs more kindness. I’m not saying confidence is not important, it clearly is. However, it comes down to: what I want to practice in my life. I want to practice kindness before everything else.

I want to practice honesty too; telling it how it is with no white-washing or bullshitting. And maybe, I’m realizing, confidence can come from those places instead of some vacuum that I don’t understand or some elixir that doesn’t exist. It can be born out of those top-tier things, like love for your fellow man.

I might have to be ok with a confidence meter that is perpetually half-full. I don’t know how to work on increasing it. I do know how to be more kind. There are always ideas in my head for that. I am naturally very honest and it could be that my apparent lack of confidence is really just a proclivity for telling the truth. The average man or woman probably feels the slights and nervousness that I feel, but doesn’t voice them. Along with their doubts and failings and unsuccesses.

Maybe it is not I who should be more confident, maybe it is you who needs to be more honest.

I am fascinated by confronting myself and telling the truth about every situation. ‘Know thy self’ seems like an idea worth pursuing and who knows, confidence could come with it some day.