Through the Turning of Another Year

The calendar again. Our Western way of marking our arrival at the same point in our annual trek around the sun, complete with rituals poignant and frivolous. Goals and resolutions are made and broken nearly as soon as our solar positioning has changed. Some reflect on accomplishments and others on failures; a self-graded report card for the past year. Perhaps it is natural for us to one to regularly take stock of ourselves and our earthly journey, but that feels like an unfair burden when connected with a night of celebration (perhaps with modest debauchery) and its aftermath.

I've been wrestling with a lot of feelings as our collective orbit brings us to what we call 2024. I'm going to say first and foremost that simply surviving 2023 was a smashing success. A lot of dear people didn't. 

I have observed frequently that the biggest change that happened during the pandemic was in us ourselves, as humans individually and in civilized society. WE behave differently, alone and with others, even as our world slowly returns to "normal".

Our mobile technology has become another organ, and it is at least affecting our behavior if not our brain chemistry. Some of us are hooked on the feel good of memes and puppy videos, while others seem to seek out fuel for their rage. An enormous amount of money goes into the "click industry," deepening our digital dependence and feeding those desires, obsessions and addictions, and in significant measure with fictional content.

I'm having to confront the very real analog possibility that my life the way I've lived it for the last quarter century may no longer be feasible. The pressure comes from virtually every direction. Smaller venues struggle to stay open, and the listening room audiences are aging and diminishing in number. There is an overwhelming surplus of talented artists who want to play those rooms, so it is easy for venue managers to fill every available date and more for 12 to 24 months in advance, and yet struggle to fill half the seats for most of those great shows. That's not new, but it's definitely become a lot challenging as people have found it easier to stream content at home and skip the driving - especially at night.

Quite a few of my friends gave up touring and performing during the pandemic. And yet Covid still threatens our livelihood - at least a dozen artists I know cancelled shows over these past few weeks when they and/or their hosts got sick. I've written at length about the catastrophic demise of recordings as a component of an artist's income due to streaming (see "The Demise of What, Exactly?"). There is also the incoming asteroid of AI (artificial intelligence), whose impacts are already being felt throughout the creative world, and yet we can't know how it will reshape that future even six months out.

Truthfully, I think all of these things are symptoms of something larger. I often lament to Michelle that I make beautiful wagon wheels, and I understand now what it must have felt like to those master artisans as the mass-produced rubber wheels overwhelmed the market. I am certain they and I have experienced a range of similar feelings, including fear about the future. It is doubtless familiar to many of my readers who've been supplanted by technology in some way in their chosen vocations.

For those of us who are called to make art, we've probably always doubted ourselves, but never doubted that the world needs and benefits from creativity. To be lucky enough to be good enough at something that people value it sufficiently to make a semblance of a livelihood from it is living the best life indeed. And I have been blessed to live it, which makes it that much harder to ask, let alone answer, the fundamental question; "what now?"

Goals? Survive 24'. Figure something out. Do the things I do to the best of my ability whenever the opportunity arises. And yeah, keep doing my best to be a good dad, partner and above all, human.

Resolutions? Keep showing up. Even if I don't have a clue what to do when I get there. Keep creating. Keep learning. Keep sharing. Keep an open mind to the possibilities yet unseen. Keep valuing the good in other humans.

And keep some faith in something. That especially includes myself. I've been good at lifting up others, and I am grateful to be thought of in that way. The impulse comes naturally; my mom has taught me well. But in 2024 I'm going to need to be a lot better at lifting myself up too. I am definitely nowhere near as good at that as I once was, or need to be now.

So what's next? I honestly don't know. There are shows to do, workshops to teach, vets to help tell their stories, people aspiring to play guitar and/or write songs. Is that enough? Emotionally, it's wonderful to be needed and to be able to help people through music in a variety of ways. Economically, in a word, no. And I don't know how to resolve that, but I'm going to figure it out - somehow. The crystal ball, that for a quarter-century has helped craft some semblance of a business plan 1, 3 or 5 years out, is maddeningly opaque. For all of us.

I still do make lovely and lasting wagon wheels.

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