On my 2023-- A Year Whittled Down to Just One Story

It has been my lifelong ambition to never own a pet. Pets are impediments to personal autonomy. They're tethers to an unchanging state. They're the non-thumb having maintenance of the status quo up until the moment where it's not, where they cause damage-- to your property, to themselves, to your schedule, to your finances. I've never seen the emotional benefit of owning pets. For the price of always having to deal with some new hair that invades your belongings, we receive a warm body with a face that doesn't speak your language. The spontaneity in life that comes with having pets isn't from your deciding to change plans and stay out at night later or go off on some far off trip at the spur of the moment; such zigs and zags are a result of that supposed loved one running off into the neighborhood because of a loud noise or eating something left out on a counter that has to be pumped from their stomach at an exorbitant cost. At some point in my life, I finally reached that mountaintop where I didn't have a pet of my own, nor did I have to deal with the consequences of someone else's actions by living with someone who has a pet. I'm not doomed to look after my sister's dog or landlord's cat or my roommate's dog. My choices in life are my own and I determine my own path. At least this was the case until I got a day job.


I've been too exhausted to pace, and I've always loved pacing. I've spent the majority of this year in my house in the woods on my own, still in search of a roommate, and growing more accustomed to having my own space again while finally having the money as an adult to feel like I can make the space my own. I moved out from my parents' house some ten years ago now. I'm currently living in the second house in the woods I've had in my life, something I never thought possible. I have a job now that gives me a sense of security to some degree, something I've come to embrace the closer I get to age 40. However, the job has also taught me a better understanding of "full time job". I don't even spend time walking back and forth, talking to myself, working out my problems like I used to. Now I just keep my problems like a weight on my back, never expressing them to the open air and feeling relief, unfruitfully expressing them as half-baked anecdotes to uninterested passersby.


Amongst my many complaints about pet ownership, I've often said that owning one means you can't be away from your house for longer than 12 hours. This has become the case with my day job. I haven't been able to depart from it for longer than a day. Even when I've escaped from it while traveling, it still has required my attention from afar. As well as things are going, something about it always seems wrong. I've wanted this job for some time and was glad to have it, but it's consumed my life in such a way that I don't find it as much as pleasure to myself and it's soured my mood to such a degree that it has created a ripple effect of malcontent around me. 


I've always said that I became a writer because I knew that I would always complain in life, but I knew that if I were to do so, the complaints would have to be amusing. Complaining is my creative outlet. It's how I process life. I endure through transforming the irritating and the overwhelming into digestible observations. I marvel in the nuts and bolts of absurdity. I pass the time as best I know how by talking through circumstances, always endeavoring to make the better. Yet in this constant consumption, this black hole of unquenchable duty, of occupation very closely approaching the morass of pet ownership, I don't know how to make my complaints amusing anymore.


I don't want to complain entirely about my job. It's a good job. People enjoy the services I provide and they love the facility. I have the confidence in myself to know that I know how to keep a thing running, like all the other things I've kept running in my life. I've run publications and annual festivals; I've run a radio program for a decade and a half; I've run an art gallery; I've run a bar. I have a good head on my shoulders and I'm generally courteous in customer service and office settings. I'm an odd character, but not so odd that I'm not manageable. I'm excellent at jumping through hoops. I'm an asset, even in my eccentricity. To a certain degree, I think the folks around me know all this. Yet, I don't really like the person I've become in the midst of this. This engine seems to only run on energy and I'm steadily questioning why it has to be mine. Yet most importantly, I haven't been that much of a writer this year and it distresses me.


First and foremost, I am a writer. I have always been that person who knew his life's ambition was to be the person who best reframes things ever since I saw that commercial for Splashtown that said its lines were shorter instead of it saying people didn't go there anymore. I'm that moon, reflecting the light of the stars around me, but to pull that metaphor even further, I'm also pulled to their gravity. I've lost control of my own orbit and I don't like the feel of it.


I've spent the bulk of my professional career writing about jazz music and I haven't felt more disengaged from the scene in my life. Part of this is due to the fullness of my day job, part of this is not having the old blog to run anymore and not needing to have my finger on the pulse as I used to, and part of this is just plain aging. Yet as I reached the end of the year and I had to make my lists of favorite albums, pushing the line until Tom Hull had to give me the warning push as the jazz critics' poll deadline was looming, as I dragged my feet on writing blurbs about my decisions which subsequently delayed the PostGenre year-end list's publication until Boxing Day, as I realized I had no list whatsoever of non-jazz artists because I didn't spend any time listening to much outside of pre-established playlists I had made or assignments for DownBeat album reviews, I realized I just wasn't really a music journalist in 2023. It truly wasn't my occupation. I didn't have that same curiosity. There was less stumbling upon things in this last year. It didn't cease, thankfully. I still heard things through the grapevine that I always tended, but the weeds had overgrown and the fruit had overripened. Like the vestiges of the internet that maintained it, I, too, feel the sense of entropy and enshittification that were the things that kept me connected to the world, how I looked after my passions, how I made my contribution in return. Twitter fell apart, algorithms fed us more ads, we're rebuilding in code and instances what the river of ideas flowed so freely before, only now giving us dribs and drabs. I'd fight for a way back to talking about my passions in music and art, but to what? To where? How?


Why?


It's important. I feel that it is, if only in part because I've always felt that way and I don't know what to do and who I am if I didn't at least act in the memory of that feeling. There's a responsibility in maintaining my part in the continuance of advocating for the genre that is jazz, of observing things in the world from my specific perspective that people sometimes find interesting to read. I can talk on the radio and people like what they hear. I can speak on a stage and people find me engaging. This year has continued to prove this. But why does it all feel so hollow? Why does this all feel like it wants more of me than I'm willing to give? Why do I not even feel the will to write anymore? What happened to the stories I used to tell?


In this last year, I've felt more comfortable in a Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs sense than I have at any point of time before in my life. I feel some degree of financial stability. I drive the car my father bought in Atlanta. I have it insured and everything, I've even got AAA. I rent half my house in the woods. I manage a darling, upstart business that's getting good acclaim and just about everyone who's experienced its services have had a wonderful time there. I've continued to produce live jazz shows when they've come on my plate, including my SXSW day party for its ninth year. I've been invited to be a visual artist at events. I've presented and performed in a theater downtown twice this year. I was the best man at a friend's wedding. I've sung every note of Al Jarreau's "Spain (I Can Recall)" in front of groups of people on two separate occasions. I have continued my run of hosting two modern jazz radio shows-- one for 14 years, the other for 3 years. I've continued my work helping run an art gallery for nearly nine years. I've put on its campout festival fundraiser for its third year. Just about everything I've written about on this blog in the last year has been a playlist of my radio shows and the shoes I wore that day.


For a writer, I gotta say, there used to be more.


My day job is like a pet, and I've become one of those people who talk all the time about their pet, and I really don't care for those people, especially as a person who has had as a lifelong ambition never to own a pet.


Like everything else, I'm in the ongoing process of finding a better balance in things. It's not like I've never been stuck with the responsibility of looking after someone else's pet before.

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