It happened on Monday night as my bus pulled up to 7th avenue and 28th street. I was back in the city and I was back for good.
This is a very big deal for me on nearly every level - existential, spiritual, professional, financial, relational - everything is changing.
So what's the big deal? I mean, I've already been living in the city for almost three years, right?
Wrong. But let me rewind a bit.
The last season of my life began in Orlando, FL with three bike wrecks (including both literal and figurative varieties) in the spring of 2008. I spiraled quickly downward into a deep dark pit of despair throughout the summer that year as I coped with a lack of home, job, companionship, a sense of purpose, dignity, or vision for my future. I was beat down but not yet out for the count.
Despite this existential funk I managed to land a volunteer position with AmeriCorps, tutoring ESOL students at a high school in Apopka, FL. As I served throughout the year, I slowly picked myself back up to my knees. I began busking on the streets of downtown Orlando. Then to my feet. I taught group music lessons at Hope Community Center. Everything was happening in slow motion. My good friend Sam and I started a Peace Club at the high school. The crowd was hushed. By the end of the school year I had written enough songs about the aforementioned bike wrecks to record my debut album, Life Is A Bike Wreck (Better Wear Your Helmet). When I released the album on July 25, 2009, I lifted my head and looked my opponent dead in the eyes. This fight wasn't over.
For the following five weeks I hit the road, making my way from Orlando to Seattle for my first DIY tour across the country (with the indispensable help of myspace, which was - believe it or not - still a viable tool for musicians at the time); and just days after my tour ended, I was driving a loaded mini-van up to my new home - New York City. I anticipated further hardship, as I had just squared off against my opponent to continue the fight, but at least that season of transition was over... or so I thought.
I have indeed been headquartered in NYC for nearly three years now. But If I'm really honest with myself, I must admit that I've not really lived here. I haven't really made my home here. I haven't allowed my roots to sink in. Actually, it's quite the opposite.
A few months after moving to the city I grew very frustrated with my job search. I had intended to find work so that I could support my music and art. But instead I was spending all my time looking for work, not making any money, and certainly not making any music. Reasoning that I either had to increase my income or minimize my expenses, I sought out a group of people with whom I could dumpster dive for food. I became a full-fledged freegan and decided to pursue my music exclusively rather than continuing to seek out steady work.
A significant aspect of this commitment to my music was a desire and flexibility to leave the city at the drop of a hat, to hit the road for weeks at a time, to engage whatever creative pursuits I had in mind, wherever I wanted, without being chained down to any particular place or time. I knew that I would not have such flexibility at my disposal if I worked a conventional job; thus I sought instead only short term gigs and spent a great deal of time busking on the subway trains and platforms to earn my living. I had complete freedom and flexibility to hone my craft, to write, perform, create, and travel as I wished. I put out much more music, created a few more blog sites, and spent over six months out of the past three years playing shows on the road.
If anything, my intent was not to allow my roots to sink too deep into Manhattan's soil. And though I have enjoyed the artistic freedom and ability to move about as I've pleased, it has come at a heavy price.
For one thing, I haven't had any financial stability; I've lived day to day on the meager income from one-off gigs, busking and collecting donations at shows. Secondly, I've not really had a stable living arrangement (which is as true right now as it has ever been). To be honest, though, neither of these factors really bothered me. I was simply pursuing God from day to day and God was faithfully providing for my needs, even if it did seem ever-so-tenuous. I leaned on Yeshua's teachings in Matthew 6:24-34 (and even created a blog site about them) and was blessed by God's miraculous provision for nearly three years.
But in January this year, about two years after I'd made the decision to pursue my music career in the manner described above, I met with two leaders from Trinity Grace Church (Washington Heights) to discuss my plans for the upcoming year - including two months on the road in the spring and a summer recording session in North Carolina. My tour planning was already under way and I hoped to get the blessing and support of these mentors and friends.
But what I received from them that day was much more than just blessing and support. It was an exhortation - a plea that I quit leaving, that I finally stay in the city.
Click here to read part deux!