Report from I-40 heading west to Conway, Arkansas -- Reports are Back!: When I was in college, I wrote my thesis on Plato's Gorgias. Just in case you haven't had a chance to read it, the Gorgias poses the question, "What is the best life?" Don't rely on the Wikipedia page about it because the book they describe is nothing like what I read! Plato throws his lasso around a few possibilities of best life vocations: ruler, soldier, philosopher, and poet. That leaves out a lot, I know, like doctors, mechanics, and software developers. But you can kind of squeeze most jobs into one of Plato's categories. I'd put mechanics in with rulers because our mechanic told us that our Jeep was no longer ready for cross country treks, so I am writing from his tinyness Mr Tomato (our non-diesel VW Golf).
I can't say exactly why I majored in Classical Political Philosophy except that my Dad suggested I major in something more practical than visual art (he doesn't remember making this suggestion and it's ok because I got a second bachelor's in visual art just to cover all the bases), but I have always been deeply interested in what people choose to or have been called to do in their lives.
I do this weird job where I fight entirely against my nesting nature all of the time. Six or seven times a year, I spin myself (and my true love who was perfectly content tinkering in the music studio) out of our nest to spend a jillion hours in a car to perform music for a few hours (not joking - on this tour out west, we'll drive 5000 miles, about 83 hours, over 49 days, to perform 15 to 20 hours of music). This job is absurd and sublime in its absurdity. We mostly write songs about a tiny community in the Appalachian mountains and sing them to people from Los Angeles to London. In order to do this, I write people or we meet people and ask if we can play a concert for them, and if they say yes (thank you for saying yes), and when enough people who all live near each other say yes, we put six instruments and a bunch of other stuff in our car (or on a plane) and we go. It's all so loose and held together with the cosmic scotch tape of friendship, good will, and a love of music.
When I was finishing up my thesis (which was good, but flawed because of sleep deprivation and the slipperiness of floppy discs, so I accidentally turned in the the draft before the final draft which still makes my stomach queasy), there were a lot of consulting firms and banks lurking around Davidson College making offers. A tiny person inside of me thought about that life of fabric covered cubicles, business clothes (hosiery every day!), water cooler chats, staff fridges, and mounting tiers of domestic furniture bliss from Ikea to Crate & Barrel to Bloomingdales. I thought about conference calls, meetings, and using words like "actualizing" and "potentialities." I thought about the Gorgias and how this job was the job of the soldier who might one day be a ruler and I gave the banks my answer. And thus, I gave myself a 90% pay cut, took a few illuminating detours through grad school for a few years, and heard the call to my best life at the Old Time tent at Merlefest back in the early 2000's where we'll be playing next spring.
I still think about the Gorgias quite a lot which suggests that my thesis, though flawed as a scholarly paper, actually served as a culmination of my learning and a pushing forward into my own future thinking about what is the best life. I imagine not everyone feels that way about their thesis, so I feel lucky about that.
I feel lucky to be here at all, lucky to be freely crossing the country in a reliable vehicle with plenty of food and water on a mission to create and share art. What a luxury. What a luxury to consider what is the best life when I turn on the news everyday and hear of people living in fear, fleeing war, homeless, despised, dispersed, and seeking relief, fighting for life.
It is my work as a poet to write and at times, like when I think of refugees and homelessness, my job can feel frivolous. But I also realize that stories are the mighty connectors between people - electrical stardust maps of our search for the best life for us all. That's what I intend my stories to be - cosmic scotch tape between you and me. So, I am going to make reports, long and short, and I look forward to hearing what you say.
Let's travel together and see what we see.
First concert tonight at the Conway Library, Conway, Arkansas, 7pm!