vocation vs. calling, and the music in my head

There is a big squishy pile of obsessions on my mind right now and no way to sort it out besides grabbing one slippery tendril and starting to pull.
A week ago I saw these guys live. It got me back in touch with a lot of thoughts, dreams and wonder that I had as a twenty-something…

The last time I’d ever seen Terry Taylor was 16 years ago, when Daniel Amos played Atlanta. It was disturbing and humbling to see him in person after all that time. Long ago, he’d sat with me and a friend of mine after the show and patiently indulged all our sophomoric questions. Also, Derri Daugherty of The Choir did the same.
At that time, I was a budding musician, starting a college band as a freshman at Furman, and writing my own songs. I wrote more songs that year than any other year of my life. I was honestly, seriously considering a career as a musician, singer-songwriter. And frankly I wasn’t a huge fan yet of either band. And, more frankly, I don’t know that they were at their best. Both have really matured and come out with what I think is their very best work in the last 5-6 years, especially DA (their newest album, Mr. Buechner’s Dream, is their best work ever, and should be owned by everyone). Now I look back on meeting them and I think “wow, that was terrific.” At the time they were all in LA (Terry and most of the crowd he plays with in various acts is still there; Derri is now in Nashville, I think) and they almost never make it to places like Georgia or North Carolina to play.
Here’s the kicker: I was also wanting to go to seminary, to be a “professional Christian” of sorts. I wanted to minister to others in a way that engaged my creativity, my hunger for art and my penchant for intellectual challenge. To a great degree, these people and their music, as well as the music of Michael Roe of the 77s, Mark Heard and Gene Eugene of Adam Again, and others, were walking, talking, singing metaphors of the kind of faith I wanted to practice.
Fast forward to 2002. I’m a father of a 6yr old girl; husband to my wife for 12 years now (whom I met just a few months after that Daniel Amos concert 16 years ago), I’ve lived in several other cities. I tried seminary and gave up on it when fundamentalists took it over. I ended up studying literature & rhetoric, writing poetry and fiction, getting an MA and MFA in the same. I tried teaching and gave up on it because I lack the patience for teaching college freshmen. I fell into this Internet thing and became obsessed with it, really to the point of it becoming a new “faith” or “calling” for me.
Also, in the meantime, Mark Heard and Gene Eugene died, each at different times and at the height of their creative powers, both with little or no warning.
Then last Friday in Charlotte, NC at an intimate little club, the three remaining members of Lost Dogs (Terry Taylor, Mike Roe, Derri Daugherty — all still missing Gene, gone now about 2 years or so), a kind of “Traveling Wilburys” supergroup, playing their guitars, and playing some of the most amazing, powerful music I’d ever heard in my life, songs that had gotten me through some of the toughest moments of my life, and the most joyous. Between the three of them and their other bands and projects, they represented the vast majority of songs I give a damn about in the world. Not until I sat there and listened did it really sink in.
I’m a little overwhelmed, actually. I’m not sure how to explain what it made me feel. But it helped me remember that my life is bigger than right now, my job right now, my car and house right now. I remembered that I had other dreams and could have them again, or have others later. It got me on eBay looking for out-of-print albums that I’d owned at one time and sold like a fool, and some that I hadn’t bought when they were around, so that I could hear a lot of these songs I’d missed out on over and over. It got me thinking about putting fresh strings on my guitar and getting busy.
What does any of this have to do with my job, the books I’ve been reading lately, or the Internet or Information Architecture? Almost nothing. Other than the fact that IA is marginally fulfilling as a vocation, but compared to what I used to feel as a songwriter and performer, it pales in comparison. I have callouses on my left hand fingers now for the first time in years, and I have melodies circling in my head that don’t come from the radio or CD’s, and some words bubbling around in there that aren’t related to ROI or clickthroughs. So, I suppose making decent money as an IA is ok. But my avocation, my “calling” is finally getting some much-deserved airtime. I don’t know where it’ll take me. I don’t know where anything will take me.

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  • http://symetri.org/gray El Gray

    Creativity rocks. Unfortunately, the window of Internet Radio is closing as an outlet.

    (your use of ‘airtime’ made me think of this. I was streaming my old college radio shows on Live365 until they had to start charging a fee.)

  • http://www.arrival5.com john peele

    hey drew, this article SO reminds me of how i remember you. passion oozes out of you sometimes. and then the other times symetri seems to get in the way. God gave us all spiritual gifts. seems as though you are getting (back) in touch with yours. put it to good use. even if it means sacrificing financially. God Bless You!!

  • http://www.memekitchen.com/ Andrew

    Thanks for the comments. I’ve been in touch with spritual gifts all along, actually. It’s just that they’re feeling a little more relaxed about “career” and getting the itch for more extracurricular creativity.
    The spiritual part does feel as if it ever went away; it’s just coming full circle.
    Remains to be seen what comes of it, though.
    Sacrificing financially is something we all have to do sometimes, I guess. I did it from the time I was in college until I was about 30, for the sake of being a minister, then a teacher, then a poet. All of which were quite spiritual callings to me. Then I started figuring out how to do something rewarding *and* make some dough at it too. For a variety of family reasons, I’ll likely never get to just follow my muse again, but I had a good run at that, and it really didn’t make me happy either. What makes me ecstatic is being able to do stuff for my family and provide opportunities and room for them to explore their creativity too. I’ve always been a little vicarious/voyeuristic that way. In a big way, that’s a calling as well.

  • John

    well said.

  • http://www.vanderwal.net/random/index.php vanderwal

    Andrew — This is very refreshing. At many points in my life I have thought about seminary (that has not been a serious thought in about 10 year) and have been through very similar paths with music. I have kept my albulms and occasionally return to them. One of the nice things is the new house we moved into came with a piano in the basement. I am recalling many of the musical part to the songs I have composed, but still missing the lyrics.

    I had found a daily devetional reading that could be easily synched with AvantGo that really kept things in perspective, but it no longer works as a couple months ago. A lot of my professional life was formed from skills learned from spiritual leadership training. This also triggered an interest in having a much better understanding of communication to better share information with others. The profession of information sharing, and creating efficient methods of doing so is where I spend much of my professional life and personal life these days. I try never to forget where I plug-in and what keeps me sane, but it is tough.

    I have a handful of albums (mid-80s) let me know what you are looking for I may have one or two.

    Peace.

  • http://studioid.com Michael

    > IA is marginally fulfilling as a vocation, but compared to what I used to feel as a songwriter and performer, it pales in comparison

    It’s good to read someone else saying this. I know IA for me, as well, is not my calling, it is merely my occupation. It sits well below my love for my wife and son, my budding buddhist spirituality, my need to express and create. All of these things want more of my attention because work does get in the way. Alas, we have to eat, so there is no away around spending time working. But the priorities are the thing. I just try hard not wait for some later day to start living. A year ago, I seriously entertained the idea of going back to school for the PhD program in LIS. After a good month of talking to PhD students, my wife and searching my soul, I decided I didn’t need it as it would get in the way of living. I made the right choice. I also taught for a short while and decided that that got in the way as well. I know that I will never write a book related to the work I do because there’s just no love in it for me.

    You know, it was good to hear your thoughts and to express my own here. It’s nice knowing I can check friends’ sites out once in a while and read such intimate thoughts. I’m sometimes afraid of putting myself out like that, but I respect your willingness to do it. Perhaps it’s because of that self-effacing poet in there.