I spent many of my younger years playing bluegrass music competitively.
At one point in my teen years, I was a national mandolin champ, complete with the big four-foot trophy, the photo ops, and the total red-faced teenage embarrassment.
In fact, as long as I steered clear of known hazards such as cooking and sports and stuck to what I knew, I could pretty much count on succeeding at whatever I put my mind to…..at least when it came to setting and achieving the kinds of goals that were measured with ribbons, trophies, and write-ups in the local paper.
Drawing. Songwriting. Starting a new concept nonprofit. Publishing a book. Launching my parrot, Pearl, into fame and (hope hope hope) fortune.
These “top moments” have been grand. Fleeting, but grand while they lasted – and more than a bit daunting too.
Daunting because I’ve also had a generous share of what I call “bottom moments”….and these are a lot harder to forget.
For instance, I spent many of my “first book/nonprofit startup” years spent working a series of dead-end temp jobs I was neither temperamentally nor administratively suited for. As a new freelancer, I scrabbled (and sometimes still do) for ill-fitting writing gigs where the only takeaway memory tends to be that I should have tried harder to stay awake through those high school English grammar classes.
And then of course there were those two solid decades I spent thoroughly hating my body and everything about myself and my life.
One of my bluegrass mentors during those particular years was a songwriter, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist named Tim O’Brien. Off-stage he was quiet and shy. Onstage….well let’s just say that midway through their sets, his band at the time, Hot Rize, would morph into a completely different band called “Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers,” complete with period costumes and pseudonyms. Fabulous. I drove around during those years with an “I am a Knucklehead” bumper sticker – bright red – plastered to the back of my long pale yellow un-airconditioned ride.
It seemed any identity other than “me” would do in the midst of my personal eating disorders storm.
But today, two and a half decades older and hopefully a bit wiser, I look back and realize that the real reason I looked up to Mr. O’Brien was because of his songs. With titles like “It’s Lonely at the Bottom Too,” “I Fell in Love (and I Can’t Get Out),” “Hold to a Dream,” and “Lone Tree Standing,” I felt like somehow, there might somewhere be someone who also knew what it felt like to be me.
Lately “It’s Lonely at the Bottom Too” has crossed my mind more frequently, because lately I have realized something new about myself. I tend to struggle at both ends. When I am at the bottom end of things, I rail against fate’s obvious unfairness and how I should have more money/success/love/friendship/peace/health in my life. When I am at the top end of things, I rail against stupid people who don’t “get” my vision/further success roadblocks/how I should have more money/success/love/friendship/peace/health in my life.
In fact, in some ways the top side is harder, because from the mountaintop I can see the entire vast world and all the other things I didn’t even know might be possible from down around its foothills.
The moral of this story is, apparently there is a lot of wisdom in bluegrass music. And also in perhaps finding a way to make wherever I am a happier place to be, rather than continually attempting to launch myself far, far away towards any other extreme.
Today’s Takeaway: How does it feel when you are at the top versus at the bottom in your life? Do you ever notice you have some of the same stressors and fears – albeit from a different perspective? When are you happiest – as in, what does your life look like when you experience moments of pure contented joy?