I had the pleasure, yesterday, of finding in my inbox a letter- a letter which contained some of the universe’s most timeless questions, sent by a nice young singer-songwriter from Texas. I decided to answer the questions here, because I felt like everyone, including myself, could benefit from the hashing-out of them. Also, after you read the post, I’d like to hear your comments on these most elusive of questions.
Sorry it took me so long to write you back. I’ve been trying to figure out all these questions to ask you, like you were magically going to give me the answer to life, but I guess I realized that you’re probably as lost as everyone else. I’m a singer-songwriter, and I live in Texas. I’ve done some hitchhiking and traveling around, but I’ve been pretty situated as of late and it’s been driving me crazy. The eventual plan is to be touring on the road. Writing and performing makes me so incredibly happy.
I have a really hard time dealing with people. I dislike how normal people are. I work at a diner and I feel like I meet the same person 100 times a day. People never do anything interesting, and it’s because they afraid of not having things. It’s like their possessions tie them down. I wanna tell them they’re missing out on the world. This all sounds pretty stupid I’m sure.
I thought of one more thing that’s been bothering me. Sometimes, being a musician I feel like an impostor. I feel like I have more in common with transients and homeless people than I do with a “normal” person, but because I have this acceptable tag line I can exist within society. It’s like people are accustomed to dealing with my character type just like if I were a mechanic or an investment banker. What I do conjures up some preconceived notion of what people expect I’ll be like. It’s almost unfair that I can ride the fence. I feel that if I didn’t have music I would most definitely be some sort of social outcast or at least more lost than I am now.
Recently, my goals as a musician have changed. I don’t want to have any part of the grossness that is the music business. I’ve read all of these books on successful music marketing and how to make it and what not, but it’s all infuriating. They take this beautiful thing and reduce it to a product. The major labels are bad, but the indie labels are even worse. The indie labels pretend to be about the music and artistic integrity, but mostly in the pursuit of record sales. Ultimately I want to travel, make records, and perform. Money is unimportant except for surviving and accomplishing those goals. Your stuff is good enough to be in a book, and you could sell those books, but I appreciate that you’re giving it away for free. If your life was more comfortable, it would be less interesting to read about.
(there were actually alot of really nice compliments in this letter, too, but I edited them out here, so as not to seem weird.)
Thanks for the really good questions. I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re struggling with. First thing’s first- you’ve got to stop judging yourself. The reason you can’t stand other people, the reason they all seem a little dull to you, like they’ve never done anything interesting and have no good stories to tell- is because deep down inside, you’re judging yourself. You’re afraid that you are boring, that you have no stories to tell- you feel trapped, like you’ll waste away forever in some boring routine, never actualizing that real, vibrant part of yourself that just wants to write and perform music- and you hate yourself for it. To get anywhere, stranger, you have to be your own best friend. You are in a relationship with yourself, till death do you part, and you need to listen to that part of yourself that is crying out for attention- even if that part of you is screaming for you to leave, to abandon everything, to just travel and write music and be free, which, in our culture, is seen as one of the most reckless and anti-social things you can possibly do. As soon as you acknowledge that part of yourself as being Ok, even good, even, for you, ideal– as soon as you let yourself walk down that path and see it as success, no matter what anyone else says- you’ll finally, really, start to like yourself- and suddenly, you won’t need to judge other people anymore. That snarky cloud of hate will just sort of fall away, like a hat you didn’t even know you were wearing. You’ll see us all for what we are- a complex mess of brilliance and weakness, driven forth for at least a little while, hobbled, eventually, by our addictions and the accumulation of passing time. And instead of seeing yourself in other people and hating them, you’ll see yourself in other people and love them- because you love yourself. And Tyler, when it comes down to it, other people are you- indeed, we each one of us, contains within us, the entire universe- like a little seed- and if I were to plant you in an empty lot, dig a hole and bury you there- all of history, all of time, all of human experience, every sunlit meadow- would grow from the ground where you were buried. Those people are you, Tyler. Those people are life. Don’t hate yourself. Don’t hate life. And speaking of life- you’re going to die. Why not just do whatever the fuck you want and be happy? I guarantee you, that if the thing you want to do is also the thing that makes you happy, makes you actually grateful to be alive- then that is exactly what you need to be doing. And if you’re not going to do that, you might as well just off yourself right now, because there’s no fucking point in doing anything else.
To review- you need to listen to that part of yourself. That reckless, wingnut, seemingly irrational part of yourself. Even if that part of you wants you to build a raft from plastic soda bottles and float away into the pacific- even if that part of you wants you to build a shelter of spruce boughs and live on a stream bank in the dead of winter- even if that part of you wants you to go to graduate school and get married and raise children- you need to listen to that part of yourself, Tyler. No matter what anyone tells you you “should” do- you’ll be no good to anybody as anyone but who you want to be. Indeed, many people go through life as incarnations of themselves dictated by other people- and are deeply unhappy, and consequently, fairly shitty human beings. Trapped, they find what pleasure they can in addictive, escapist bullshit- and one day, they die, and that’s the end. You have to die anyway. What the fuck are you afraid of?
And while we’re on the subject of being a good friend to yourself, let’s talk about honesty. Don’t lie to yourself. And don’t lie to other people, either. Have you ever had a strong emotion towards someone or something- like you hated your job, or had a friend who really brought you down? But you kept the job because you needed the money, and you kept the friend because you went back years and years? This is a form of dishonesty, my friend. You see, you hated that job- that’s reality. But you kept it, because you needed the money. And you didn’t like being around that friend- that’s reality- but you kept the friend, because you didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The thing is, you can’t change reality. Say it with me- YOU CAN’T CHANGE REALITY. And as soon as you start living in reality, my friend, you’ll start heading in the direction you were always meant to go. Even if it means losing touch with a friend, even if it means not having a job and being broke as fuck. You have to live in reality. I do believe it’s your only chance at any sort of life you would actually want to live. And while we’re talking about being broke as fuck, let’s discuss your privilege.
You have privilege. You’re a young, white, English speaking, able-bodied (I’m assuming all these things) man, living in the most powerful nation on earth. That makes you officially the most privileged person on the entire planet. Which means that no matter what you choose to do, you will have an easier time at it, and access to more resources, than anyone else in, most likely, the entire universe. Which means that if you decide to quit your job and be poor, you’ll have an easier time being poor (and finding another job- the universe will practically force money, comfort and convenience down your throat) than almost every other human being on the face of the planet. If you decide to say ‘fuck it all’ and just travel around, writing songs and performing, the skies, most likely, will split open and life will finally fall down all around you like you’re at god’s birthday party and you’ve just busted the piñata with a wooden baseball bat.
But Tyler, you already know that you’re privileged- people like your music- the validation of your fans, in fact, makes you even more privileged- and inside you still feel like the biggest loser in the world- you would rather be the homeless person on the corner than a successful musician with a record label, even though sometimes having a record label seems like the only way to make a living off of doing what you love. Which basically boils down to- you’re ashamed of your privilege and you’re afraid of selling out.
If your whole village was starving, Tyler, and someone gave you a fifty pound bag of dried kidney beans just because you’re white, would you redistribute those kidney beans to the starving masses, or bury them in the ground because you were embarrassed? The fact of the matter is, you have a shit-ton of privilege. That’s reality. So much privilege, it weighs on you like a burlap sack of dried legumes. Privilege, although it gives you access to resources, does not guarantee you access to happiness, precisely because of the self-hatred that comes along with it, mixed in the bag like bits of gravel. But let’s face it- you’ve got that giant sack of kidney beans, it’s not going anywhere, and you’d be a fool to bury it in the ground. What to do? And that brings me to my next point-
You can use your powers for good.
Stop feeling guilty about having the beans in the first place, and give those kidney beans away. Those are magic beans- as soon as you start giving them away, the bag refills- only now it’s not so heavy. Give a hearty “FUCK YOU!” to those who would have you sell your beans, to those who would buy your beans from you and sell them at a markup- fucking give the goddam beans away. Give away the whole goddam pile, sack and all- and know that you’ll find another one, because you’re just infinitely privileged like that. You are a conduit of the universe, and privilege flows through you. You’ve switched the spigot on the rusted pipe of your being, reversing the flow of privilege from the bottom of the pyramid to the top- it is now going down, in a steady, endless stream- down, back to the people it was taken from in the first place. You can do this, and the brilliant part is, it won’t actually make things any harder for you. You just have so much of it, is why. You really, really do.
Using your powers for good can look like a lot of things- and I can’t tell you what your thing will look like- but as soon as you acknowledge your privilege, which is there anyway, because it’s reality- the next fork in the road will be a little clearer, and when it seems to dead-end you won’t have a hard time finding the little footpath, and then you’ll be able to throw down your machete all together and stop hacking the bushes apart in frustration, and so on.
And as far as selling out goes- maybe you don’t like capitalism? That’s tough, because we live in a capitalism. You walk down the sidewalk of capitalism, you buy the coffee of capitalism, you stir in a spoonful of capitalism’s creamer, made from the milk of capitalism’s tortured cows. Again, reality. This capitalism made you, and a little seed of it resides within you, along with the seed for endless sunlit meadows and clean air that never gave anyone asthma. Capitalism is you- don’t hate yourself. At this moment in history we ride on an ocean of flowing money, and to survive in reality, you’ll need some money.
Do what feels right. And if that thing ends up making you some money, fucking use it. Having a little money will give you even more power, and even more potential for doing good. Buy some fucking land, and raise a garden, for godsakes! Buy a building in a neighborhood where people have shit for resources, and start a community center!
And if your problem goes the other direction- if you feel like you need more money to live the way you want, but can’t get that money in any way but a way that makes you feel like shit- take an honest look at the way you live. Do you need a lot of money for rent? Live someplace cheaper. Do you spend a lot of money at the bar? FUCKING STOP. Do you have college loans to pay off? That sucks, maybe you never should have gone to college in the first place. I still think you can figure it out. And if you just want to drop out and follow your dreams, I think you should do it. So what if it ruins your credit? Who the fuck needs credit? You won’t care so much about your credit, will you, WHEN YOU’RE DEAD.
And one last thing- you mentioned something about how nice it was that I gave my writing away for free, here, instead of trying to sell it for money. The truth is, in spite of the way it seems, blogs are only really accessible to the insanely elite in this country. You pretty much have to own your own computer to be able to veg out in front of a glowing screen all day, reading blogs. And there are still many, many individuals who don’t, if you can believe it, have their very own sixteen-hundred dollar laptops. Real books, printed on real live paper, are actually much more accessible than blogs, even in this day and age. Blogging, for me, is not an end, but a means for an end- there are actually quite a few books I’d like to write in my time. Once they’re out, you’re welcome to check them out from the library, and I won’t be offended. I’ll even send you a copy for free. Writing a book is not selling out.
I hope I’ve answered some of your questions. I’ve certainly answered a lot of mine, because, you see, I have many of the same ones you do- and I had no idea the answers were already within me.
Oh, and Eminem called- he made this inspirational video for you.