At the end of 2012, I made a corny post about what the year meant to me. Although it’s not likely that many people will ever care to read this sort of thing, it’s something that I’ll want to look back and read several years from now, if for no other reason than to see how my psyche changes from year-to-year.
So 2013 started slowly. I wasn’t doing a whole lot, particularly on the professional front. I was unemployed and still chasing dreams of being a professional musician.
At some point, I decided I would work part time (or even full time if I could find such a job) doing something mindless and boring, just because it’s hard to make a reasonable living playing music (especially in the beginning), and the job market for my degree, journalism, was so barren in my area. So I applied at different places, retail and the sort, without much success. People didn’t want to give a low-level job to someone with a college degree; for one, they wanted someone who would stick around for awhile, and another they would be in the awkward position of potentially being less qualified than the guy they’re managing.
So I went to a temp agency in early spring. Surely they would find me something. This particular temp agency specialized in office temp work.
“We usually don’t really do anything for people in a…journalism background,” the nice woman who was interviewing me said. “We focus more on people who have office experience.”
You know, because journalism doesn’t involve office work.
So, anyway, that was a dead end. I was coming closer and closer to the inevitable crossroads that my entire life had been building up toward. I could stay in Murfreesboro for the foreseeable future (hell, maybe forever) and try like crazy to be a professional musician. Or I could follow one of the several job opportunities in journalism that might crop up a few hundred miles away.
Through winter, spring and summer, I stayed put. I saw a few opportunities that I felt I was qualified for come and go. I wasn’t finished trying my hand at music.
The summer was a magical one. My close friends and bandmates, we spent hundreds of hours together. If you had to ask me what we did, I’m not sure I could give a clear answer. Not because my mind was altered in any way that would impact my memory, but because it wasn’t what we did that mattered. It was, you know, just hanging out. Just talking. Just living.
One night does stand out in my memory, however. August 10th. Our band played a show at a speakeasy (no, really) called “The Grind,” and it was a total disaster. The PA system was not loud enough to keep up with our ridiculously loud instruments, thus the vocals of me and the bass player were completely drowned out. Oh, and I broke a string playing one of our songs. And the owner of the place hated me. I said some curse words and showed off on guitar, so what.
At the end of the night, when we were expecting to be paid (as was promised), we received $20. Not each. Total. To split three ways. Kind of shitty.
Despite all of this, the night was still fantastic. For one, I got to hang out with all of my friends and do something I absolutely love doing: play live music. Also, my younger sister was there to watch me play, so that was cool. And after the show was over, we went back to a friend’s house and we hung out and partied all night long–I’m pretty sure I remember passing out at like 5 a.m. or something. It was fantastic.
From that night, it was mostly downhill. I was growing increasingly frustrated with the aimless nature of my stalling music career. I didn’t want to be famous, I just wanted to make enough money to live off of, and to maybe someday start a family. If that sounds crazy, it’s because it is. One thing was repeatedly made very clear to me through my time as a professional musician: the lifestyle of the musician did not mesh with what I wanted for my future.
I consider myself to be a natural writer. Not in the sense that I’m good at it, but in the sense that I constantly feel the need to write about something. So I had the itch. I wanted nothing more than to wake up in the morning and know that my day would be devoted to writing something. Anything.
A position came open at the local Murfreesboro paper, The Daily News Journal. I decided that this was it; I would retire my dreams of being a musician and write for the local paper. Hell, maybe I could even keep playing music on the weekends. It’s just it would take a definite back seat.
I didn’t get the job. They didn’t even call me for an interview. To be fair, when I saw the reporter they had hired, a talented young woman who I went to journalism school with, I could hardly blame them. I would have chosen her over me too.
But I had the idea in my head that I was going to focus on journalism. As it was, I would send a resume to any of the papers within an hours driving distance that had an opening (which were few and far between), and I even got a couple of interviews. I never ramped it up and sent out resumes to longer distances though. I just wasn’t ready to leave my friends, my family, behind.
On October 4, I was scanning some online job boards when I came across a listing for a newspaper in Sevierville, Tenn. I looked up the location and saw that it was roughly a three-and-a-half hour drive from Murfreesboro. I considered just sending a resume and figuring out the rest later, but I sat on it.
The next day, I consulted with my sister. I told her that I thought I could get this job, and that I would have to figure out a way to move out there, though I didn’t actually know how that would happen. She supported me all the way. It’s what you want to do, she told me, so go do it. I didn’t have much money, but she offered to loan me some money if I needed it to get started. She even said she would go with me on the long drive if I got a call back for an interview
I though about it some more, and ultimately I decided to send a resume on Oct. 7. A few days later I got a call back from the editor.
“You still looking for work?” he asked me.
“Yeah, I am.”
He asked when would be the best time to schedule an interview, and I told him either Tuesday or Thursday. Those were the days that my sister had off from school and I wanted her to go on the drive with me. We agreed to have it on the following Tuesday afternoon, 4 p.m. Eastern.
The drive was long and crappy, but I made it out there. My sister waited in the car while I went in for the interview. Most of my clips were feature pieces from my time at The Tennessean as an intern, and they wanted to know if I could handle hard news. Of course I could. Even if I couldn’t, would I really say anything else in an interview?
I felt like it went well. The two editors interviewing me, Jason and Kenneth, seemed like genuinely nice guys. They joked a little bit with me and kept the mood somewhat light, while still keeping it serious enough. They asked when I would be available to start, and discussed the pay and benefits. I thought that was a good sign.
When I returned home, I told my friends about it. They were devastated. They weren’t ready to see me go. The band wasn’t ready to die. But they also saw that it was something I had a hunger for. They begrudgingly accepted that I might no longer be a major part of their lives.
The following Friday I got a call from the editor, and he offered me the job. I was ready to accept it immediately, but he still gave me a couple of days to mull it over. I told my friends and family, and they were proud. Sad, but proud.
I agreed to start the job on October 29th. I figured that would give me enough time to get my shit together, say my goodbyes, and try to figure out where the hell I was going to sleep for the immediate future.
My last days in Murfreesboro were spent playing video games with my little brother, hanging out with my little sister, giving heartfelt goodbyes to my friends and putting some of my things in boxes.
I looked around for apartments before I left, but I didn’t lock anything down. Rather than call and try to get an extension to when I was going to start, I decided to rent out a motel room for three nights, and try to find something, anything, while I was there. If I couldn’t find anything, then, well I don’t know. I’d figure that out then.
Two nights before I left, my younger brother and I went to go stay the night with my older brother. It was something we had done on weekends before, albeit not recently. At least not since his son was born about four years ago. We played video games and watched some TV and just hung out. We were just being guys, I guess. And it was weird and bittersweet. It was good to bond with my brothers, but weird that in the back of my mind I was thinking, “I don’t know when I’ll see you guys again.”
I guess when you’re used to seeing people regularly for your entire life, it’s normal to have those weird thoughts lingering in the back of your head. That night when I was going to sleep on his sofa, everything hit me for the first time. I suddenly realized that I was leaving home. I wouldn’t see my brothers and sisters every day. I would see them at holidays and the odd weekend that I decided to make the trek home.
And worse than that, I was about to drive out several hours away and stay in a motel, with no definite future beyond that. It scared the hell out of me, and I started crying. It was a weird cry. Not because I regretted my decision or changed my mind, because all that would require was a phone call to reverse that, but because I realized that I finally had to grow up and be my own person. It’s just weird.
I sent a text message to my younger sister, Amy, because she’s the rock in my life. She cheered me up and made me feel better. She told me she would come and stay with me any time I wanted her to if I got lonely. I knew that wasn’t true, she doesn’t even have a car at the moment, but it didn’t matter. It was nice.
The following night, the night before I left, I had more of those choked-up moments. When I hugged my little brother, Alex, before he went to sleep and told him I’d miss him. I could see his eyes getting glossy. I don’t know if he cried, but after I went to bed that night, I did. It’s just one of those things, I guess.
The next day, on October 28th, my parents helped me pack everything up into my car and I set out for Sevierville. My dad probably gave me more hugs in that one morning than he had my entire life up to that point. He looked like he was about to cry, and probably because he was. My mom composed herself better, but she and I are closer than my father and I are, so I know she was the same way on the inside.
When I got to the motel, I found that it was alright. It certainly wasn’t home. I went and looked at a few apartments, and a “room” for rent (it was actually more like a mattress sitting in a slightly large closet), but didn’t have any luck. My grandmother, who I’ve never been close to, told me I needed to come see her at some point. She lives in Morristown, Tenn., which is a little more than an hour away.
My first day at work was reminiscent of my first day as an intern at The Tennessean in the summer of 2012. I was nervous, unsure of what I needed to do at first, and then they threw some assignments at me and it was all just a reflex. Everyone I work with is nice and understanding of the occasional rookie mistake I make. I knew from the first few hours I worked that I was going to love this job.
The apartment/living space search didn’t get any better. I told my mom I was scared, I didn’t know what I was going to do and I didn’t want to live in a motel for any extended period of time. She suggested I call my grandmother and ask if she would help me.
I didn’t want to ask her for money–I had a job and would eventually make plenty of money to afford my own place–and it was weird to ask for a loan, particularly when she had spent (wasted?) money on other grandchildren who never repaid her. So I called and asked if I could stay with her, prepared for her to give a, “no, I’m sorry,” kind of answer, but she said she would be more than happy to let me stay.
So ever since Halloween night, I’ve been staying with my grandmother, saving money so that I’ll have plenty of money to get a place and get all the utilities turned on, as well as maybe put a couple of pieces of furniture in that bad boy (I’ve recently started filling out apartment applications, so soon hopefully I will have a place of my own).
During that time, I’ve gotten to know my grandmother and found that she and I are actually a lot more alike than I realized. We’re both quiet and stick to loose routines. She’s a sweatheart and offered me a place to sleep, as well as dinner every night. It’s going to be weird when I have to learn how to cook for myself.
Although I was enjoying my job, I was missing the hell out of my family and friends. Particularly my family, though, because I had grown accustomed to seeing them every day. So I was counting down the days to Thanksgiving, when my mother and my brothers and sisters would be coming to East Tennessee to have Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt’s house.
We didn’t even really do anything while they were here, but it was awesome. Just hanging out and doing nothing. Talking. I liked seeing them, even though it meant I had to sleep on the couch for a few nights (they stayed at my grandmother’s house, where I was staying, and the bed I was sleeping in was taken by my mom, sister and nephew, while the other available bed was taken by my brother and his two children). There was a weird moment where I got in an argument with my older brother about something, but it was no big deal. Otherwise it was perfect.
That process of counting down the days started over for Christmas. The days couldn’t drag by any slower. Because I had only earned one vacation day, and the only day off for Christmas was Christmas day, I was facing the horrifying prospect of being off only two days. Not nearly enough time with the family.
Fortunately, my boss is an awesome dude and he let me work a Saturday to sort of earn an extra vacation day, so I ended up working half a day on Christmas Eve, and then being off Christmas, which was a Wednesday, and the following two days and the weekend after it, giving me the time I got home on Christmas Eve through when I left on that Sunday to spend with my family, making it just more than five days. Awesome.
And to make things better, the assistant editor (who was the only editor working on Christmas Eve, and I was the only reporter working) told me that he didn’t really need me to do anything else at about 11 a.m. on Christmas Eve, so I could go ahead and go.
Normally that drive, from Sevierville to Murfreesboro, is long and tedious. For whatever reason, on that Christmas Eve, it flew by. There was very little traffic and I was so excited to see my family, I don’t know, it just felt like the drive was short.
When I walked in the door at a little before 2 p.m. Central time, my mom was busy making preparations for the annual big Christmas Eve dinner we have, and she looked over at the door and shouted out, “My baby!” and ran over and gave me a big hug. Normally I’d be like, “ahh what the hell, mom?” but it was different now, so it was all cool.
I spent Christmas Eve just sort of hanging out with my family, soaking everything in, knowing I would be leaving much too soon. The dinner was magnificent, as always, and we later had a family game of Apples to Apples that my parents really enjoyed.
Christmas morning was Christmas morning. We opened gifts and joked and laughed. We had our staple Christmas morning breakfast: S.O.S. It either stands for “shit on a shingle” or “same ole shit,” I’m not 100% certain. It’s something that my dad picked up from his time in the navy, in which at the end of the week all of the left over food was tossed into one pot and cooked together, then served over toast. Our version is ground beef, tomato sauce, peppers and whatever else my dad feels like tossing in.
For the rest of that day, and pretty much until I left back for East Tennessee, I played video games with my little brother and hung out with my other family members just not really doing a whole lot of anything. On Friday night I did go see some of my friends.
Before I had left to go home, I took my car in for an oil change, and it was discovered that my power steering pump was leaking, so I had it replaced. The replacement part was apparently faulty, and it was also leaking, which left me with absolutely no power steering once I got to Murfreesboro. It sucked, and put a hamper on hanging out with friends on Saturday, because that was the day that I decided to do something about it. I ended up just filling it up with fluid and hoping for the best (spoiler alert: it worked out alright).
It was another tough goodbye to my family when I left on the Sunday after Christmas. I had decided ahead of time that I was aiming to leave by 2 p.m. Central time. Early that morning, my little brother an I had a nice scrambled egg and sausage breakfast, and when I wasn’t watching football with him at noon, he got upset. I had to at least stay for the first round of NFL games he said. But I had that four hour drive looming over me.
My mom kept finding reasons that I shouldn’t go back. The car wasn’t safe to drive, she said, because where the fluid leaked onto the belt, it then shot all over the engine. And the slick belt could slide off. When I mentioned my stomach giving me discomfort, she tried to jump onto that being a reason I should stay for one more day.
A little before 2, I was sitting on the arm of the couch, my younger sister was sitting on the middle of the same couch, and my mother was taking ornaments off the Christmas tree. “Well,” I started to say, and as I finished the sentence with, “I guess I’d better be going,” my younger sister said at the same time, “no, shut up.” It was kind of sad.
I gave everyone one last big hug and said good bye. For whatever reason, that singular moment, the saying of good bye, is the hardest thing. All the moments leading up to it, you think you can handle it. And all the time afterward, you think that it’s not really as bad as it felt in that moment. But for that moment, it’s rough.
The drive back to East Tennessee was much longer. I got back at about 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, just a short time before dinner.
I spent New Year’s Eve in one of the more unique ways that I ever have in my life. Earlier in the evening, I ate candy and read a book. Then I played some Pokemon, because why the hell not? I went to sleep at around 11 p.m. It’s the first time I haven’t watched the ball drop, and it was just because I didn’t feel like it. I had a long couple of days of work to start the week out, and I just felt like getting a head start on my sleeping.
So that’s how the year wrapped up. A year in which I made the jump from struggling musician to rookie newspaper reporter. A year in which I left all of my family and friends to go chase my passion of writing. A year that I won’t soon forget.
Everything about my life changed this year. Hopefully time will tell that it was all for the better.