I have a friend who is just starting out in the music business. Although I’m not anywhere close to functioning at the level of “professional musician” that I would like to be, I’m a little bit farther along in the journey than she is. She invited me for coffee so that she could “story collect,” her way of compiling the “best-ofs” from others’ journeys to help her shape hers.
I met with her the morning after returning home from two weeks on the road. I got off a plane at 5 in the afternoon the day before. I thought that I would take a little nap and get up around 7ish to explore dinner options (since planes and airports do not have many offerings for gluten-free vegans). But I awoke instead at 5:30 the next morning, still wearing my clothes from the plane, unsure of where I was and what was happening. It was then (at 5:30 in the morning), that I finally changed into my jammies and set my alarm clock for 7:30, when I awoke, showered and took off to meet my friend.
Life used to be life-like, now it’s more like show-biz. I wake up in the night and I don’t know where the bathroom is. And I don’t know what town I’m in or what sky I am under, and I wake up in the darkness and I don’t have the will anymore to wonder—“Dilate” by Ani diFranco
Because the experience felt so stereotypically “rock star,” which makes it even more absurd because I’m not really that rock star in the first place, I shared it with her upon her arrival. This led the conversation to my travels.
In a week’s span, I visited three states that I’d never been to before: Indiana, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. I’m contemplating buying a map and pinning every place that I visit (I’m always impressed when I see those in other people’s homes).
I got to meet and play with Shawn Mullins. We had a wonderful, warm reception by fans who went above and beyond, even taking us on a sightseeing tour in Louisville (which included Churchill Downs and the Louisville Slugger). Then because we were in the area, (in a move that Claire called, ‘the most fun thing that we’ve ever done”) we stopped in Cincinnati to watch the guy who produced our latest album play music with the band that I want to be when I grow up. Sitting there, a little starry-eyed and awestruck, ten feet from my idol, eating a vegan picnic feast with smuggled-in alcohol, coming off of a few days of being treated like rock star royalty, I thought, “Wow, I’m totally living a charmed life.” And this was before I even got to the Newport Folk Festival a few days later.
When I was in the eighth grade, I had journalism class with a girl named Lisa (who was rumored to be Elijah Wood’s childhood pen-pal). Based on the previous two years of our shared middle school experience, I took her to be a mean, nasty girl and stayed away from her. I don’t remember the circumstances surrounding this event, but I remember that she and I were both bent over a layout with rulers in hand when she said with more honesty than I’d ever heard from her before, voice full of exasperation, “Do you not get why I hate you so much? You’re too perfect!” The room got deathly quiet and I was totally humiliated that she publicly announced her hatred for me because Mama Bear always taught me that hate is a very strong word that you should never use on other people.
It was only later that the righteous indignation set in as I thought, “Wait, you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about!! I’m the editor of the yearbook because I came in on weekends and stayed after school day after day last year as the assistant editor to learn how to do this well. I have [had at the time] a cute, taut little bikini body because I play soccer three days a week and have to go and run in the park with my team for conditioning practice three more days a week. I have good grades because after I spend my evenings playing soccer, I stay up ‘til ungodly late hours finishing all of my homework. For every one minute you see that you perceive as “perfect,” there are five hours of unglamorous, really hard, work behind it.”
Actually, when the righteous indignation set it, eighth grade Sarah probably just thought, “What a bitch” (I know that you’re not supposed to say those types of unkind things, but at thirteen, I wasn’t quite at a place yet where I could respond in love to yucky things that people say). Last week, while watching Over the Rhine, almost as soon as the words, “I’m living a charmed life,” entered my head, the memory of Lisa unearthed itself and I remembered the sting of what I thought had been long forgotten, “I hate you because you’re too perfect.” For a brief moment, I felt guilty for being so pleased with the recent developments in my little Sarah Mac Band world—it all just seemed too perfect.
While I was verbalizing these thought, my story collecting friend interrupted me, “You know, I get your emails and I look at the stuff that you guys post on Facebook and it does seem like it’s always a party in the Sarah Mac Band. But why would you post the boring stuff like, ‘we spent three hours today playing the same section of the same song over and over again because we can’t seem to get it right.’? Of course, nobody wants to hear about that, because that’s not the dream that we have for you or the dream that we want to buy into for you. Enjoy the charmed life when you can because when it’s not like this, remembering this is what will keep you going.” And… in less than half an hour, it’s turned around and the student teaches the master…
That conversation on Wednesday morning stuck with me until Friday afternoon (because I usually ruminate on things for a really long time) when all the pieces came together. Things in Sarah Mac Band Land are no longer overwhelming and seemingly hopeless. We’re pushing the boundaries of what we have done in the past and getting confident in ourselves and comfortable with new things. We’re really excited about what we do. We’re making strides that I never expected to make. We have a really, really good new album coming out in a month. People want to pay us money to come to their city and play music for them to listen to—not like background music for their local jook joint, but for them to sit down in seats and pay money to be quiet and watch and listen to us play songs that we have written.
We are in a good place with a good trajectory. But it’s the direct result of a really long time (embarrassingly long if we compare ourselves to other bands who are a lot farther along than we are) of busting our tails and denying ourselves the things that we thought we wanted. There were long dry spells when all I wanted to do was drop out of the band because it made me absolutely miserable. It was too hard and we didn’t have any fun and sometimes didn’t even talk to each other outside of practice and the only thing that kept me in was my fear of being the jerk that ruined everything for Claire and Charlie. But even though years of suicides and stadiums and sit-ups make you throw up when you’re doing them, they will get you a spot on the varsity team your Freshman year (albeit the least skilled, weakest and probably least qualified team member, you still get a letter for the ugly jacket that you never bought). And years of playing dirty bars to six people and learning how to read each other without even talking to each other and getting better at our instruments and crafting 10 bad songs to get 1 worth playing for an audience yield to a reception akin to the prodigal son’s return banquet even when you’re 1000 miles from home.
This oyster is my world. My oyster’s got a pearl. This ain’t no dress rehearsal, I’m a very lucky girl. I’m on a roll.—“I’m On A Roll” by Over the Rhine
So I’m thankful for the times like these when it’s just so perfect that I can’t even stand it. I won’t be sorry that it’s going so well, because when we inevitably hit a new bump in the road, I’ll need something to carry me through and remind me that the running until you pass out and the staying up all night to finish your homework is worth it.
Thanks for letting us be on your varsity team.
Thank you for honoring and celebrating with us all of our hard work and effort.
Thank you for my little piece of charmed life.