This city is ridiculously huge. By “city”, I mean the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area. Living in the relative peace and tranquility of South Hillsborough, it’s easy to forget that our inhabitance here is part of more than 4.2 million fellow inhabitants in the 19th largest metropolitan area in the United States. But those numbers tell only part of the story — this city is huge.
I was recently reminded of the sheer size of the place because I wanted to buy something from a person in Holiday. If you don’t know where Holiday is, I can tell you: it’s almost to Mars. Seriously. In driving to Holiday, my wife and I never left an urban area but we drove for more than an hour and a half. The trip took so long we ended up stopping for dinner along the way, lest we would have starved to death among our own fellow inhabitants in this poster child for urban sprawl known as the Tampa Bay area.
What could possibly have been worth driving to Holiday for? A road case — a wooden box, covered in heavy-duty material with big ol’ casters and industrial-strength fold-down handles. It is designed to carry the various odds and ends of musical equipment, usually to venues for live performances. Of course, I told myself that I needed the road case in order to flee should our choice of a new-to-us home near the river turns disastrous, with a storm causing the river to join us in our living room. But the real reason wasn’t so sensible. The truth is, I harbor a fantasy of sorts that I’ll actually perform somewhere someday and that fantasy stretches to the point where I don’t horrifically embarrass myself in the process.
I love my wife. I have a job that I love, working for people I respect. I live in a beautiful place and have wonderful friends. Why on earth would I harbor a secret desire to potentially humiliate myself in front of groups of people for no real gain whatsoever? The answer to that is: I haven’t a clue.
The weather this past weekend was beautiful. It was, borrowing a word from singer Jimmy Buffet, a perfect example of Floridays. It seemed that festivals sprang up everywhere in response to the first cooler days of the season. At an art and music festival at Valencia Lakes near Sun City Center, Michelle was particularly struck by one artist named Stanly R. Acosta. At the festival, this young man was putting himself out there for all to see without a hint of embarrassment and rightly so. He had talent — lots of it.
I’m not so sure the same could be said of me and my music. It was only weeks ago that Michelle came home with an electric guitar, inspiring my return to music after 26 years. It’s one thing to impress her from the second-bedroom-turned-music-room of our small house; she is accustomed to dealing with my ego already made somewhat fragile and uncertain by simply writing to 100,000 people each week. It’s one thing to write and not see the outcome as newspapers land on driveways, but it’s another thing to actually put yourself out there — in person — to stand before the harsh and unforgiving gaze of a potentially indifferent public, such as Mr. Acosta and all of the other artists did at that festival last weekend.
For Mr. Acosta, I have no doubt that it is a calling. In my mind, music now joins writing, photography and sailing in what I’ve convinced myself is a calling that I can hear with my mind’s ear. My concern is whether my calling is less the voice of God or nature or whatever and more the voice of a schizophrenic lunatic living inside my head.
As we journeyed to Holiday-lying-just-short-of-Mars, I noticed the people in the cars that surrounded us. Some of them looked unhappy, some looked downright miserable. Perhaps it was the nightmarish traffic, but I wondered to myself if, in trying to live, they have ignored their calling, and their hearts and souls have paid the price for the money in their wallets. Yes, admittedly that’s a stretch to take away from a scowling man or woman sitting behind the wheel of a BMW in a traffic jam on U.S. Highway 19, but maybe not so much. While certainly some of us were meant to be accountants or attorneys, I think many more of us were meant to be something we are currently not. We all have a calling, I think. For the most part, we feel we have to ignore it in order to be sensible or just to survive.
Writing the book that is inside of you or drawing out the images your mind can see aren’t things that have to cost money. If we can just get past the naysayer that lives in our own heads, I believe we can live our dreams — or at least take steps towards fulfilling them. What do we have to lose in trying? I can survive a little public humiliation if it comes to that. After all, I have a dream (along with my day job to fall back on, God willing).
This is a big city and potential opportunities are on every street corner and down every avenue or, perhaps, even in your own backyard. What is your dream? What are you going to do to make it happen? You don’t have to be miserable in a traffic jam, you can be who you are supposed to be. Just let yourself do it. And then make it happen.