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It’s been a hot minute, but I’m happy to be back, writing.
Have you heard “Hall of Fame” by The Script, ft. will.i.am? If not, go listen to it here. Go on. This’ll wait.
Okay. So you listened to it. What struck you most? I can’t guess for you, but for me, apart from the driving piano throughout, I’m always drawn lyrically to the chorus and to the “you could” parts. The beat underneath them, the instrumentation, the drive, the celebration… all of those draw me in and help me imagine the day when I’m “in the hall of fame.”
The “you could” parts especially hold possibility- the potential for change, for impact, for community. My other favorite moment is the “Be …” section. The snare drum underneath reminds me of marching band in high school: it evokes, subconsciously, a drive to move forward, aligned and en masse. A movement open to everyone. The inclusion of “students/teachers, politicians/preachers” holds up for us things that are often seen as opposites and therein implies that this opportunity, this quest, is open to all.
Do you know how long this song has been out? About 5 years. Like most music, the song intertwines with events in my life and clear memories of driving in my car or walking in the city, surrounded by the song, embracing the message and caught up in its joy.
And then recently, I found something new in the song. It had been a long work day with a consult client. We’d written and edited and edited and edited a cover letter for an application. I’d been staring at a computer screen for 10 hours. My eyes burned. My head was tired from word wrangling. My heart was tired from coaxing out the best and brightest from the client. I had a migraine the size of Texas.
And I realized that I didn’t miss these long days. I missed the people time, the laughter, the end product of written liquid gold, the money. But I didn’t miss the complete pouring out of myself over a lengthy period into another human being. I didn’t miss the attention to emotional wellbeing and the savvy to recognize when she was flagging and the fortifying of my resources to buoy her up and coax her into caring. I didn’t miss the feeling at the end of it all: nothing left inside of me for anything or anyone. Beyond empty.
I haven’t been long out of this sort of consulting work, and yet, in the time I’ve been away my schedule has been so much the opposite of that day. There’s been very little interaction with the outside world and much time devoted to unpacking my things in my new home, settling in, meeting neighbors, writing, reading, making new business plans. Very little emotional labor for anyone but myself and my cats. After 6 years of many days ending like the one described above, I’m ready to just recover.
While working in that capacity, much like my interaction with the song, I mostly focused on the highlights. I didn’t notice that as each year passed and my duties crept ever outward, I became less capable of doing the outside things that my heart was drawn to: the writing, the healing work, the big picture system-changing-pulls-it-all-from-you-work. I was empty.
I love the work I was doing. I love the people I worked with—like actually deeply love them, the way you love people when you’re in relationship with them, not just the thing when you say “Oh I love the people I work with, they’re great” sort of bit. And I focused on them. On how I was changing the world through the work I was doing. On the capacity for impact in the future. On the nurturing and developing and honing of their confidence and skills.
Now that I’ve stepped away from that work, I’ve thought about ways to return to the earlier stirrings of my heart. I’ve been writing daily for 2-3 hours with an accountability group. I’ve been researching during some of the other hours of the day. I’ve been moving my body—going for walks (okay, catching Pokemon, but still walks!), dancing around my house, cleaning my rooms. I’ve taken an incredibly useful reframe that Tanya Geisler brilliantly suggested to me and upended my routine into something that speaks more to creating my art and disrupting the world’s status quo.
Back to the song.
I was driving home after that very long day (after many not-very-long days) and, of course, cue rush hour traffic gone bad, which meant that my 50 minute drive became a 2 hour drive. In case you’re unfamiliar with DC rush hour, that means you move at about a 5 mph pace for much of the time, slower if anyone has had an accident or pulled onto shoulder. This is a really good time to blast songs and dance in your car: as long as you keep your eyes on the brake lights of the car in front of you. And on the three people trying to merge from different sides.
Onto this stage, what song came on? You guessed it: “Hall of Fame.”
As I sat, not moving, I caught words I’d never heard before… or at least never been drawn to: “don’t wait for luck/dedicate yourself/and you can find yourself”
When had that gem snuck into the song? And how perfect was that for my car ride after a long day dedicated to someone else’s dream? Dedicated to helping them make their mark on the world in the future?
Now, maybe you’re thinking “but wait, shouldn’t we help others reach their dreams?” Yup. I’m not saying that’s not a way to go. An important way.
However, I was struck by the word “dedicate”. A quick look in the dictionary told me that the meaning of dedicate is: “To devote (to the Deity or to a sacred person or purpose) with solemn rites; to surrender, set apart, and consecrate to sacred uses” (OED online) and: “To give up earnestly, seriously, or wholly, to a particular person or specific purpose; to assign or appropriate; to devote.”
To devote to sacred use. To consecrate (holy with (con= with, secra= holy). To give up wholly to a particular person or specific purpose. It got me thinking: what am I willing to give up wholly to a specific purpose? What am I that committed to?
For a long time, it was the aforementioned work. It was good work. Necessary work. Life-giving work. And, it is work whose time in that format has reached its natural end.
Now, though, what am I willing to consecrate myself to? What will I surrender to and set apart for? What will I choose, over and over, above all else?
For me, in this moment, the answer is that I am dedicated to my writing. I am dedicated to my family relationships. And finally, I am dedicated to the transformation that occurs when we put all of our food together to make a pot that feeds the whole community (a la my favorite story ever, Stone Soup).
The celebration part of that song, the “hall of fame”, everything that follows in the song hinges on those two teeny tiny little words: “dedicate yourself.” None of the “after” flies into your life on its own: the change in the world, the moving of mountains, the peacemaking, the systemic shifts. It all stems from dedication to something beyond.