Birth of a Vision
On the morning of August 7th, 2012, visions were calling. After nearly a decade of full-time teaching in a futile atmosphere of simulated work, I was burned out, and the idea of getting real work done in the world was incredibly appealing to me. I made my decision over coffee and resigned later that day. I spent the evening celebrating with my friend Jenny. All things seemed possible on this particular day, and that feeling was amplified by our celebrating late into the night.
But, the night ended badly.
I never would have guessed that less than twelve hours after the courageous decision to do an about-face in my career, I would lose my apartment to a devastating fire.
Sometime after 2am, I was cooking my first macaroni and cheese dinner in years. Health, be damed! I was in celebration mode! As I was reading on the back porch, the fire alarm went off. I quickly grabbed a towel from the kitchen and waved it under the alarm until it finally stopped sounding. I went back out onto the porch only to hear the blaring alarm again. This time, I turned off the pan of water, thinking that there was some residual, blackened food on the bottom of the pan. again, I flapped the towel under the alarm.
Just then, my roommate Thomson ran down the hall into the kitchen and yelled “it’s a real fire, Steve! It’s a real fire! Get out, get out!” As Thomson bolted out the back door and down the stairs, all the lights in the house suddenly went black, sparks popped out through the walls, lights and sockets and black bitter bacon scented smoke rushed forth from a bedroom down the hall. It was my other roommate’s room.
“Daryll!” I called from the kitchen. “Daryll!”
Thomson sprinted back up the stairs and hollered, “he’s out already, we gotta go!”
I bolted onto the back porch, snatched up my laptop and raced down the stairs, skipping two steps at a time.
Making my way up the side of the house towards the street, I was confronted by a massive dragon flame clawing its way up the length of the building. My landlord was spraying water on the fire with a hose, and a crowd was gathered on the street. Soon, there were firetrucks, police, and EMTs.
Watching the smoky tangerine scene of firemen axing through the house, hollering and breaking windows, with the knowledge that I was burnt out of this home forever, I thought to myself…
Wow, this is going to change everything.
Reeling in a state of anomie
Anomie is not a popular word. But I like it. It is a state of groundlessness with no reference points, a Zen garden without the stones. I had my artistic goals and the vague desire to move to New York City. I also dreamed of pursuing a Ph.D in Organizational Behavior or a related field. But without a consistent job to ground me and with the lack of a home base, I was permanently a fish out of water, reeling in confusion, chaos and directionlessness. I was literally all over the place. Throughout August and September, I divided my time between living in my car and crashing with friends. I did consulting work in New York City for housing cooperatives and coached teachers undergoing evaluations in Boston.
I also spent long hours watching UFO documentaries on YouTube and Netflix. It had become a pastime to seek unreality in the wake of a life that was becoming increasingly unreal.
But, there was one thing in my life that did ground me, and it was a major factor in my decision to leave teaching behind for a while. It was a fictional documentary I had been working on for nearly ten years, called Eric Left Riverton. This film was based on found footage I had collected over the years and was essentially a vehicle for an album of the same name which I had completed in 2005. This piece and the accompanying music had meant so much to me through the years, and I had wanted for so long to have the time to bring it to fruition.
For most of September, I went to bars and coffee shops in Boston and Brooklyn with my Macbook Pro laptop, and edited Riverton with Final Cut Pro 7 software. By the middle of the month I was really making progress, and I was delighted beyond measure to have the time to finally realize this vision. All was going well… that is until the evening I chose to walk through the Washington Heights burrough in Manhattan with my laptop conspicuously sticking out of my backpack.
I was robbed of that backpack in the wee hours of the morning, sometime after 3am.
All of the work I had completed -nearly 80 hours of intense editing- was gone. And so was the only grounding force I had -the tool I used for writing, networking, and creative projects. Without that laptop, I was screwed.
Thomson once again came to the rescue, insisting on mailing his Macbook Air to me, and I resolved to send him the money for the stolen laptop (which he had generously loaned to me to help me with graduate school projects and Eric Left Riverton). I asked him to mail it to an address in Boston. When I received it a few weeks later, it was black and smoky from the fire. Thankfully, it was fully functioning.
Up and running again, I was determined to get back to work on Riverton. Question was, where would I do this work? Which city would provide the network, resources, contacts and collaborators that could keep me on the straight and narrow?
The answer came when I was invited to play a song for a wedding.
Boston, you’re my home
On October 12th, my dear friend Deb got married in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood in Boston. Her groom was Ernie, who, months later, would be one of the main contributors to Eleventh Hour Shine. It was an honor to play a song for the actual ceremony and I spent days preparing for it. Somehow, just by playing this one “gig”, I never made it back to New York as a resident. Instead, Destiny would have it that I was to re-invest in the Boston community that I had known for nearly twenty years.
Two developments made Eric Left Riverton possible again. First, I found the lead actor on the day of the wedding. A few days later, I was able to retrieve the original footage and previous editing sequences for the film from the hard drive of a computer that was damaged in the fire.
On a whim, I took a walk after the wedding ceremony to search for this gentle-spirited older gentleman I had seen many times at the James Gate Restaurant and Pub. I had always thought he would be a good candidate for the lead role of “Eric”, so I took a chance to see if he was there no this Sunday afternoon. He wasn’t. But, to my surprise and delight, I ran into him on my way back to the wedding. His name is Tom Minehan. He was taking a stroll with his wife Ginny. That chance encounter sealed my fate as a continuing Boston resident, as I spent the remainder of the fall shooting scenes of Tom and his wife and recording voice-overs of Tom for the film.
This project had been held up for years due to my career, and it was a relief to see it finally coming together.
But, humming in the background like an unlocatable machine in a basement was another emerging vision that would fuse all of my interests together… a recording project that could demonstrate the principle of stewardship that I found missing in institutional life. I could not stem the tide of my eagerness to find an audience for things I care about, and I somehow knew that an ambitious album might be the dreamcatcher, a context for demonstrating what can be achieved in an innovative, mission-driven atmosphere where all participants are invited to serve as the architects.