Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Scenic Overlook

Fall 2010: I traveled North to the shores of Lake Superior, South to the bowels of Kansas, East to the reminiscence of Milwaukee, and then West to the rest stop. Yes, the rest stop. A destination unto itself. A perfect punctuation point to conclude this series of road trips, or road work, as I prefer to call it.

All of this road time was solo and a somewhat measurable exercise in brain development, i.e. a lot of time to reflect and process and create and plan. Time in the past I have hated, but this time, it was different. I actually found a lot of joy and self-fulfillment during the long hours of solitude. So much so that I began to wonder if my true self is actually the guy on the road, the guy who takes the bold step of leaving the cocoon, mildly rootless, venturing out to the relative wild to work, and advance life on his own terms. 

Now, of course, I say this not at the expense of anything. I think the thing that actually has made these trips easier is that I am able to maintain a closer home connection by way of cell phone, text messaging, e-mail, ubiquitous wi-fi, and so on. All combined, they help ease the loneliness, to lighten the dark shadows that follow along with the miles. They unclutter the mind for purer musings. Without those lifelines, it would be quite a different venture. And, in the end, as satisfying and necessary as these brief times of solitude are, both for personal and musical growth, it is always an even greater joy to come home. I guess maybe I am not that guy.

The last of the series was a trip to Milwaukee to complete work on a DVD project for Hal Leonard Corporation. I have driven that long stretch of highway, I-94, Minnesota to Milwaukee and back again, a hundred times or more. And, as the common story goes, the drive is about consuming the miles, getting from point A to point B as fast and efficiently as possible, essentially, to get the drive over with already! However, this trip (and on my previous trek to Kansas) I took a different tack. I stopped a few times, took a few moments, and just did my best to enjoy. After all, it was in the peak of Fall, my favorite season, the weather was consistently glorious, and I found the expansive rural landscapes to be mesmerizing.

Shooting the DVD project was a grueling process. The day was long, having to play perfectly and speak generally off the cuff without error for nearly 9 hours in total. The shoot was staged under the bright, persistent gaze of the studio lights (I can now see how interrogations can be so disorienting and successful) and it took everything I had to stay in character the final two hours. When it was done, I felt like I had climbed Mt. Whitney all over again. I was left drained with a complete loss of perspective on what I had just accomplished. As per usual, in my mind, I could have, should have, done so much better. I often get so wrapped up in my own head, self-critical to a detrimental effect, rarely, if ever, do I enjoy the process of a work in progress. Ditto for my life at large.

On the drive back home, heading West, I paused at a rest stop just outside of Black River Falls, WI. This particular rest stop caught my eye as it also offered up a scenic overlook. I found the path that led to said overlook and began to walk (first having to ditch the internal clock pestering me to get home) and just kept walking some more. The paved path led into a wooded area which ultimately converged with a kind of boardwalk right through the trees. Besides the hum of the neighboring highway, it was very peaceful. And I was alone.

After what must have been about a 1/4 mile stretch, I reached the scenic overlook - a still pretty swath of picked over trees as far as the eye could see. Despite the somewhat arid condition of the foliage, there was a lot of beauty to behold. Another mesmerizing landscape and an obvious metaphor - the scenic overlook that was my life and work for the year. Yep, this was a good old fashioned stopping to smell the roses moment, actually seeing the forest despite the trees so to speak. The DVD work was suddenly intoxicating, a realization of a job well done, and I extended that feeling of good will to the work over the course of the year and to my life in general. I actually started feeling right about what I was doing, had done, and do have. From this vantage point I saw the blessing that is my family, I saw my good health, I saw my friends, and on and on. I surveyed the scene, the scenic overlook of my life and work so far. And what a stunning landscape it is.

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