At some point, there must have been warnings on plastic bags. The thought entered my dream a few years ago. In slow-motion, I found myself gazing out at the world. Like a tortoise bowing its head, I remembered I was carrying something precious in a plastic bag. I checked the bag to ensure the top was open and was relieved to find the contents unharmed. The sequence played over and over until I awoke.
In February 2018, it had been twelve years since my third and final singer/songwriter release. They say that for a career in music you need to be tenacious, and I had been throughout my twenties and beyond. Still, after three albums and years of juggling tours between day jobs, the unsettled life of a touring indie musician unmoored me. On stages along the eastern seaboard and the West Coast, I found that music and I developed irreconcilable differences. Even before my dream, a question haunted me. Could I return to music?
A vacuum will always fill. While at first, life without music was quiet, it didn’t stay that way. I found work and enjoyed much of it. I found love and didn’t want to drive away every weekend. After a few years, I wondered if my story had turned into one of those I’d heard from others, about someone’s old band days. Though my guitar gathered dust, something in me resisted the idea that music and I were over for good. One morning I woke from the vivid dream and sensed that my subconscious was warning me about a fragile wisp of something that I once valued, then neglected, and would soon lose entirely.
Within a few weeks, I urgently, tenderly picked up my guitar. What came was a song called “Someone Else’s Dream,” which opened a dialogue within me. It asked, What makes a well-lived life? When I look back at my life, what do I want to see of myself?
Sometimes, when I’m willing to pay attention, a dream that wakes me from a night’s sleep will carry deeper messages. This one came with a warning: my creative self was in danger of suffocating. When you’re young, you don’t know how wide the chasm can grow between who you are and who you want to be. The dream warned me that the distance between the two might soon be too great to bridge.
Waking is hard. As the story goes, Rip Van Winkle arose from a long slumber and missed the American Revolution. But is the alternative to go back to sleep? Catching up on what I missed during the music industry’s recent revolution remains daunting. Still, I wonder, as the poet Mary Oliver asks: What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Sleep? Or sing?
I choose to sing.