Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Third Album Kind of Life

I want a third album kind of life.

For some of you (probably more of you than I really want to know), this term is a bit anachronistic. Archaic, even. But, for many of my friends - those who worked with me in college radio or even later in Christian broadcasting - you get it. You remember what it was like to have physical copies of new CDs in your hands. This hearkens back to the days when we tracked units sold and rotations on airplay, not digital downloads. Now the analogy might be better phrased "I want a third single kind of life," since 90% of people you hear online or on the radio now are best described as one hit wonders (neither being Idols or anyone with Talent, despite what "reality TV" might want us to believe).

But I digress.

For me, the music scene during college was nothing shy of epic. It was all about the discovery of a new artist or band. Not so much in that we kept moving from one performer to the next like ADD monkeys with a radio dial; instead, we sampled from a buffet of styles and musicians to enrich our musical palates. And once you discovered a new band that spoke to you, you latched on. You latched on with a drive, loyalty and fervor that is only experienced in your late teens and early 20s.

I remember during my later years in high school and on into college when I would discover a new artist. Their first album would typically be nothing but passionate. There is a mentality and drive that grips them: "I have to get this out there. It may be my one and only shot. Not at fame, but at just getting my foot in the door and my voice in people's ears. I have something I HAVE to share, and I will give of my all to do so." And it shows in the quality of the music and lyrics they share.

Then comes the second album. More often than not, the second album is categorized by something called "the sophomore slump." What causes this slump is that the studio, the executives or the performer decided it was best (and/or financially lucrative) to try and capture lightning in a bottle for a second time, mimicking the stylings of what made them loved as a performer in the first place. And more often than not, it falls flat: the songs either too closely resemble the music from the first album, they are too different for the general public to enjoy ("Yeah, this is okay, but I liked your earlier stuff better.") or it's "too commercial" for the fans, the ones who supported with heart and soul the first album.

But then...then comes the third album. Usually, some time passes between the bombing of the second album and the arrival of the third. During this off time, the artist tries to rediscover who they are and what they believe in. Wounds, received from critics, fans, and self-inflicted, need to be healed. In a number of ways, a rebuilding of a sense of purpose and personal meaning has to come through. And in this healing comes maturity. Clarity of vision about what you want to sing about and why. The third album has much of the same passion and drive as first, but it's free from mistakes of second album. This one is different; it's deeper, and you can feel where the growth has come from. Typically it is a critical success; not popular among the masses by any means ("Again, I liked your earlier stuff better."), but it resonates with fans. And it is something that the artist tends to stand by and say they are proud of. And when they talk about the pride they have in their third album, it's not the same pride they have from the first ("I'm just honored to be here.") or their second album ("Yeah, I'm a star, and I know you guys like my music."). This is a piece of their soul. Sales don't matter as much as they did before. Now it about beauty and the artistry.

I want a third album kind of life.

I want to live a life where I have learned where I have made mistakes - not just admitting to them and learning from them so as to not repeat them, but learning where they came into my life and why. I want to sing a new song, one that is more me than what others believe I am expected to sound like (second album) but still carries the heart of who I am (first album). A life where I am comfortable in being free to be the me I am supposed to be. Arrogance, pride, and self-centeredness - along with doubt, insecurities, false modesty and fear - have been left on the cutting room floor. This is a life which is new yet familiar, soaring yet grounded, and honest. Truthful. Without reason to live under a shadow of doubt, deception or destruction.

Spiritually, the idea of a new song resonates with Psalm 144:9, Psalm 96:1, Psalm 33:3, and Isaiah 42:10 (plus "40" from U2), but ultimately, it's all about embracing the ability and willingness to sing that new song and not go back and keep humming the same few bars over and over again.

I want a third album kind of life.

One you will never find in the bargain bins.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Identity Thrift

Although Ashley has this unusual bias against Twitter, I find, as a stay-at-home parent, it's an invaluable social tool. Far moreso than Facebook; no one on Twitter has invited me to start a farm yet. As a matter of fact, NONE of the opportunities for speaking, writing, or pretty much any other seismic life shifts that have happened to me in the past two years would have been possible without the friends and connections I have made in 140 characters or less. So the Twitter score is something like God: 4; Ashley: 0.

Some of the most amazing friendships I have developed in the last three years first came about through some random Twitter connection. One of the emotionally conjoined items I have found that I share with a number of these people is that we are stay-at-home/work-from-home parents. Granted, based on our respective years serving in this gig, some are more like grizzled veteran whereas I am the green recruit. However, we've swapped more than a few war stories about our kids, their similarities, our parenting styles, our potty training escapades leading to eventual uncorking of wine and beer bottles...

And in doing so, we began doing what every parent does at some point: describing ourselves through the singular lens of being so-and-so's mom or dad.

Now I will admit: my kid is freaking awesome. In one hour of one day he can be more amusing to watch and listen to than I have been for the totality my life, and people used to tell me I was funny. Now they just raise an eyebrow and tell me to act my age. As parents, we should place our kid's importance, happiness and well-being before ours (so stop eating all the cookies while he takes a nap, Sonny). The same should be true for how we hold our spouses or partners, considering them before we consider ourselves.

However, when we only share stories about our kids and not us, or when we talk about nothing but what it's like to be a parent or a spouse, we cheapen the potential for friendships we are given. Parents, especially the stay-at-home variety, may shift into this in discussions as a default setting, because sometimes we are so preoccupied with explaining why Legos are not meant to be inserted into heating and cooling ducts, or finding some way to get them to eat something other than chicken fingers that we can't see straight. Truth be told, I feel like my social and conversational skills have atrophied to the point that they are closer to Helen Keller's at the beginning of THE MIRACLE WORKER than to what a mature, educated, adult male who has spent the entirety of his professional life working in the field of education should have.

Sadly, we also sometimes use our kids as shields. We only tell stories about them, because otherwise, we'd have to talk about ourselves. We'd have to dare to be honest, trust to be open, and have the unmitigated gall to remember that we are an individual. When we don't, it means we tend to hold others at arms length and don't allow them close enough to our heart to develop a true relationship with them. Even worse, it's a form of idolatry towards our kids. And the last time I checked, God took a pretty dim view towards anything that was set before Him.

This isn't to mean that we should never talk about our families (it would be physically impossible for me to do so; seriously, my kid's hair is a great conversation starter if nothing else). It's simply that every so often, I need to remind myself - and be reminded in love by my friends - that when people ask how I'm doing, they're asking about me and not necessarily just about my family. I have no problem with calling out friends when they begin to define themselves through the eyes of their relationships ("Can you please talk about something other than how awesome your new man is?"), so I need to be comfortable with walking out of my glass house and placing myself into the mindset of remembering that I am more than the sum of the diapers I have changed.