Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lost in America

Sometimes we need to be reminded that everything that happens in our lives is a bridge to somewhere. Even if you seem to be trolling peacefully along and the bridge falls out from beneath you. Yesterday afternoon, I made my way to campus, my daughter in tow, for an event the Honors College was hosting, a session with Pittsburgher Bill Deasy. Deasy, a former member of the band The Gathering Field that had the hit "Lost in America" in the mid-90s, is now a singer, songwriter, novelist, and screenwriter.

What I appreciated most about Deasy's talk was that he didn't sugarcoat for the students the difficulty of following one's passion. In these kinds of freshmen orientation bits, people usually drum up the advice that you can be anything you want to be, the sky is the limit, all the world is at your feet, sounding an awful lot like a US Army commercial in the process. Deasy instead spoke honestly with the students about how, if you believe you are a talented individual and have something to offer the world, you have to fight every single day to get your work heard. He addressed all the small dishonesties of the music business, the disillusionment that comes with discovering those dishonesties, and the struggle that follows when your life turns off the path you laid out for yourself. And he argued that truly successful individuals find that profession that makes them completely uninhibited, that allows them to wake up every morning, open their arms to the world, and say, "I am doing exactly what I was born to do." And he made it clear just how hard it is to be true to oneself in a world where the bills have to be paid, the children taken care of, etc. etc. What I finally heard, however, was hopeful: that being true to one's art is crucial to one's happiness and sense of self-worth.

When I was 18, the first time I heard Deasy play, I was an awful lot like those freshmen sitting in the audience yesterday.  I felt invincible, as though the whole world really was at my feet. As I looked around at their faces, I could see that youthful, rather distrustful sheen, that look that says, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've heard this all before. The best laid plans often go astray. That's something that all of you adults say." And I'm sure Deasy, almost 20 years ago, felt invincible also, strumming away at his guitar on the border of big things - a recording contract, stardom, 10,000 fans singing along with every word of his songs. Now, almost 20 years later, I think I can truly appreciate his words, how easy it really is to get lost in America and how much struggle it takes to remain passionate about your early dreams and ambitions. Which is, in the end, a battle worth fighting.

Everything is a bridge to somewhere. If you keep your eyes wide open, your wits about you, and your passions alive.

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