I know it’s supposed to be significant. It’s considered a turning point by … well, I’ve never been too clear on who decided it was a turning point. But I’ll be honest. Birthdays have never been a huge deal – I calculate my life around what I call “seasons.”
There’s the season of childhood, the early days spent roaming the farm. The season of growth, that oh so drama-laden time fondly labeled the “teenage years” and even college. I mean, I wasn’t truly an adult yet, not with three squares provided every day – complete with an endless supply of Lucky Charms.
Then it gets more complicated. And it’s here that I turn to one of my passions – music – to help illustrate, something I’ve been doing as I review my music collection in preparation to move to Kenya.
Life-changing first steps of independence
By the end of my year in Wyoming, I had gone through some tough times, times that might have derailed me. They were offset by the sight of the Big Horn Mountains sweeping around to the west, always there. Or the sharp tang of sagebrush and pine saturating the air along a winding trail. Or the car windows open, sun shining and the sound of tires crushing the red gravel of the unpaved, washboard roads weaving through the rolling hills and buttes.
Everything is just bigger there – enough to put your problems into perspective and show you the possibilities of a life lived fully.
Soundtrack Album: “Beautiful Letdown,” Switchfoot
Every time I hear the opening measures of any of the songs on this album, I’m immediately transported back to those days. I bought the album when I first moved there. The lyrics about living for something more, daring to step out and even the realization that failure is part of life spoke to me every step of the way. And it all pointed to reliance on God.
Funky, fruitful fork in the road
If I had made a five-year plan, it would have never included living for more than a year in New Hampshire. More to the point: such a plan undoubtedly wouldn’t have survived one year, let alone five.
What can I say about the Granite State? It was eye-opening for a young daily reporter. People care, intensely, about what is going on in their own community. Life ends at the town line though. They are the living embodiment of libertarianism – “Live Free or Die,” right?
It was a hotbed of story topics, enough for me to really work out what being a daily reporter entailed. But it was also … odd. I’ll never understand the single-minded devotion to the New England way; I will always be a “flatlander” to them.
Nothing against New Hampshire – it’s a beautiful corner of the world, and I met some great people there. But it was … different.
Soundtrack Album: “Make Believe,” Weezer
Just about the time I was trying to figure New Hampshire out, I bought this album. And suddenly, it all kind of made sense, in an alternative-rock-band-singing-about-self-deprecatingly-ironic-things kind of way. As long as I allowed myself to approach life with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, it all – made – sense.
So, it wasn’t as life changing as Switchfoot. Life isn’t always about that big epiphany. Sometimes, it’s the little things. Besides, I’ll always have a soft spot for Weezer. Takes me back to rides to high school soccer games, music blasting, singing at the top of our lungs: “IF YOU WANT – TO DESTROYYY MY SWEATERRRR, PULL THIS THREAD AS I WALK A-WAYYYY!”
Stop, do not pass go
I wrote about learning to wait. I talk about it. But I don’t know if I’ll ever shake this restlessness.
I think it’s why I came back to Pennsylvania. To take a deep breath, settle in and let the perceived pedestrian life in a small town, middle of nowhere-I-thought-was-interesting soak in. Because in the midst of that, I discovered friendships that I hope last a lifetime or two. I discovered a church community that showed me what a gospel-filled life could look like. I discovered honest-to-goodness life.
artist: Patty Griffin
In the middle of the ordinary, I came across Patty Griffin, a singer/songwriter I’d never heard before. I fell in love with her music – and quickly snapped up all of her albums. I’ve thought a lot about it; I have no idea which is my favorite. I love them all.
She sings about the ordinary things. She sings about the extraordinary. She has roots in gospel, folk, soul, country and classic rock. I may venture to say she’s one of the closest things to a female Bob Dylan there is right now.
No matter what I’m feeling, there’s a Patty Griffin song for that. And I’ve run the gamut during my time in Pennsylvania.
Country and I know it
I came back to the Ohio farm in November; little did I know I would still be there in May.
Sure. The fact that I grew up on a commercial sheep farm is a good conversation starter at parties. But after I went off to college and pursued my passion in journalism and travel, I wasn’t sure where it fit. It became a quaint novelty.
Sheep farming is anything but. It took earning my share of sore muscles, bruises and freckles to realize this, but I figured out why office jobs make me … itch. How can I enjoy that when I could be outside, away from the confines of four walls?
Soundtrack: Let’s hear it for COUNTRY MUSIC
I know a lot of people who despise country. I can hear the howls of rage from here.
I’ve always liked it. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I spent years of my life mucking out barns and loading hay, accompanied by country radio. Play a ’90s country song. Guaranteed, I know all of the words.
Let me clarify though: I’m not talking about country that gets played on pop stations. I call it bubble gum country. I’m not a fan. Sorry, Taylor Swift.
I don’t expect most to understand. It’s not necessarily a normal thing to grow up in the country anymore. But when you’re walking through the pastures on a crisp spring day, sweating your way through unloading of a ton of feed or driving by a field of freshly cut hay on a hot summer day, Lil Wayne, Britney Spears or Nicki Minaj don’t exactly blend well.
At least, I don’t think so.
Country is about telling a story, relishing the things that make country living unique. Like this song – a classic from 1994. Seriously, you’ve got a crazy story and enough mullets to last a lifetime – how can you NOT like this?!?! Ha.
Kenya and beyond
So what will be that next soundtrack? Right now, this period of transition seems to be a mix.
Possible theme song: “All I Can See,” Brendan James
Under-the-radar singer/songwriter/musician Brendan James first hooked me with his piano playing. Then, I listened to his lyrics.
I still remember the day I realized what he was saying in “All I Can See.” He was still so unknown that there were no online lyrics yet. I feverishly played it over and over and over, transcribing the words.
Those who journey can easily understand:
the more they see, the more they learn,
the more that they will be.
So this I swear to you and this I swear to me,
I’ll never rest til I’ve seen all I can see.
Possible soundtrack album: “Born and Raised,” John Mayer
Long ambivalent to his music because of its radio omnipresence early on, I heard his first new single, “Shadow Days,” and took a second – and third – and fourth – listen. I realized that in his honesty was the gritty story of growing up and making choices and learning – something he couldn’t help but do after this. The rest of the album doesn’t disappoint.
In fact, I’m pretty sure he wrote “The Age of Worry” just for me. Clearly.
Side note: Despite what some of the Rolling Stone commenters on the linked article might think, spending time in Bozeman, Mont., isn’t exactly akin to being exiled to Dante’s Inferno. Not even close. In fact, I think we can thank that wonderful spot for inspiring such musical goodness.
And hey, if it’s not the soundtrack for Kenya, perhaps it should be the soundtrack for The Year I Turn 30 – you know, if we’re going to go so far as to call it a turning point.
So, which albums, artists or songs narrate your life?