The evidence was all around me. All I had to do was pay attention.
It started one routine day a few months ago. I was working an afternoon shift, catching up on some paperwork. My sergeant called me to his desk. Like any other cop, I started going through a mental list of what I’d done in the past day or so that would merit an unsolicited page to see my supervisor. I couldn’t come up with anything.
He was waiting for me, and his face contained a rather curious look. I didn’t even have a chance to ask what was wrong. He just spat it out. “What are you still doing here?” he asked.
I was taken aback. “What do you mean? I work here!”
“Yeah,” my sergeant said. “But why? I mean, THIS is what you love doing! THIS is what you’re passionate about! Why aren’t you doing this?” It took me a moment to realize he was pointing to his computer monitor. That’s when I saw it.
I’d recently made my boss aware of my web page. Apparently, he had been doing some reading. I was now staring at something I’d written a few days before. Sarge also knew my book was on the verge of being released. And now his question made complete sense. Nevertheless, he repeated himself. “Why are you still here?”
“Well,” I explained, “As much as I love writing about music, this is the job that actually pays me! Plus, you know, health insurance and a pension. Can’t get that from chasing bands. Not yet.”
My sergeant nodded understanding, and then offered a solid piece of advice. “Don’t waste too much time,” he said, and then dismissed me. Odd how that conversation has stuck with me.
Ladies and gentlemen, that was Exhibit A.
It’s not one incident, but the culmination of several. Each incident revolves around the same word. That word is passion. I’ve heard that word tossed at me by all comers. Friends and acquaintances, the musicians I admire, casual readers of my words, and now book critics. Each of them telling me how much I love music, based on the words I write about the subject. And I can’t deny any of it. I love music. I love writing about music. It’s a raging fire spewing forth one word at a time from my fingertips to my keyboard. The gigs I’ve seen pile up, the number of musicians I’ve met increases, the CDs in my collection bulge from their shelves. And I couldn’t be happier about it. This is where I want to be. This truly is my passion.
A fan (I suppose he’ll be good with me calling him that) sent me a very nice present. What it was I’ll keep between the two of us for now. The present included a note from him. I was struck by something he wrote. “Thanks again for all your years of service,” the note read, “But maybe it’s time for Cedric to do the stuff Cedric wants to do.” Believe it or not, I had never really considered my future from that particular angle. But it made perfect sense! If there’s one thing I’ve never done over a long period, it’s exactly what I want to do! Maybe it’s because I hadn’t truly found my calling. Until now. Yeah, writing in general (and music journalism in particular) is what I want to do.
Exhibit D, aka The Final Nail in the Coffin:
I was struck by what legendary drummer Bill Bruford wrote in his marvelous autobiography, which I recently finished. Like me, he was a “lifer,” where his occupation was concerned. But he finally reached the point where he knew the end was near, and he couldn’t do it any more. “With three-thousand concerts and a hundred CDs since the start line, I find the landscape between me and the finish line not quite how I had imagined it,” he wrote. “Instead of the smooth fertile plain of endless imagination stretching to the far horizon, I find further progress blocked both by the rocky mountains of inadequate technical ability and the gulf of imaginative shortcomings. I cannot quite summon the ability necessary to create, absorb, interpret, and contribute to new music in new circumstances quickly enough.”
I was instantly able to parallel what Bruford said with my own career. I just knew my job would get easier once I had 20 years on. Instead, it has only gotten harder. My body is starting to break down, and I clearly don’t have the physical abilities I had 23 years ago, when I first donned my badge. I don’t possess the innovation and guile of many of the young officers I work with (more than a couple of whom I trained). What’s more, I can no longer summon the will to achieve at their level. It doesn’t matter to me any more. Not like it does to them, anyway.
Don’t get me wrong: when I come to you on a call, you’ll get all I have toward helping you. But it’s not the same. I doesn’t feel like it used to any more. It doesn’t mean as much. I’ve been doing this for too long. Roger Murtaugh of the Lethal Weapon movies was absolutely right: I’m gettin’ too old for this shit! I’m ready for something else. I’m ready for what’s next.
My first book has been released. To my personal amazement, the material for a follow-up was right in front of me. Over the past few weeks, it has begun to reveal itself in huge ways. I only hope I’ll be able to keep up with the Muse’s demands. There are at least five other books running through my head on top of the next one. I just need the time to sit down and explore them.
I’m hoping all this writing finds its way to the right set of eyes, and that set of eyes can show me the path to a paying position doing what I love doing most. I’m not asking for a fortune. I’m just looking for a little something to help augment my meager pension. Meanwhile, I keep writing. Paid for or not, the words won’t stop flowing. And I’m well aware of how fickle the Muse can be. I will continue to accept this gift for as long as she deems fit to bestow it upon me. And I do so with the utmost gratitude.
Not only do I see what I want to do, I see where I want to do it. And it’s not in St. Louis. I have to go where the most music can be found on nearly any given night. I need to be where there is almost zero chance for musical boredom or complacency. I can’t make the move for two years yet. That should be enough time to get ready.
I’ve said to friends more than once I hoped my book would open the doorway to a new world. Well, I believe that is starting to happen. My life is full of regrets, particularly of opportunities I let go past me without a second thought. Not this time. I’m taking hold of this opportunity, and going where it takes me, if only because I really want to go there.
And so I find myself ready to prove F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong. I believe there are second acts in American lives. The key is to recognize and acknowledge when the curtain descends on the First Act. Many of us fail to see it. I don’t want to become one of those people who holds on to the wrong job for too long, and becomes a shadow of himself. I always remember what John McEnroe said about being an aging athlete: “The older I get, the better I used to be.” It’s funny, but that doesn’t mean I want to embody it.
The curtain has begun its slow descent, and I’m getting ready for a costume change.